Today's blog post is by Tira Palmquist, president of the Seven Devils New Play Foundry Board of Directors.
The Seven Devils Playwrights Conference focuses on new work by amazing playwrights from across the country, but it truly takes a village to make it all happen -- interns, stage managers, company managers and our staff. On behalf of the entire board, I want to make sure that we send our most sincere thanks to these hardworking individuals -- because without their work and dedication, the conference just wouldn't happen.
First, none of what happens at the conference would be possible without the year-long efforts of Jeni Mahoney (Producing Artistic Director), Paula Marchiel (Managing Director), A.P. Andrews (Literary Manager), Mallory Metoxen (Artistic Associate) and Ed Baker (Production Manager). From the entire board, a HUGE thank you to all of them!
I know that Jeni, Paula, A.P., Mallory and Ed would join me in thanking the stage managers and interns who make sure that the daily work of the conference goes off without a hitch. As Ed will frequently remind the company, these are the people who get there first, and leave last. These are the interns who clean our spaces, who build the props and sets, who paint everything gray to build the world of functional neutrality (there might need to be another blog post just for that!). These are the stage managers who make sure that there are sharpened pencils, new script pages, water and coffee to keep the company alert, and snacks in the kitchen to feed everyone at breaks. These are the individuals who help with technical work, doing errands for the company, driving folks who don't have drivers licenses... It may be impossible to list every task they do during their time at the conference.
Suffice it to say that is a group of individuals who don't often get the limelight, but who truly deserve it today!
Your support of the conference helps make it possible to hire all of these individuals, too. So if you haven't made a donation yet, we hope knowing that there are so many people dedicated to the development of new plays will inspire you to do so! And, as ever, we thank you for your support!
They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but it would difficult for me to put a word count on the gratitude I have for Earl Brockman and Sarah Jessup, two amazing photographers whose hard work and vision has become an integral part of the Seven Devils Playwrights Conference experience, has enabled us to share that experience with friends, family and funders and serves as the basis for an incredibly rich archive of the past 20 years. - Jeni Mahoney
Of course its notoriously difficult to snap a good photograph of a photographer, but I do like this photo of Earl of the deck of my cabin in Idaho. Earl (on the left) is with my Dad, Jim (right). I love this photo because it reminds me of what great friends they would become over the years.
I met Earl just before the very first Playwrights Conference in 2001. I was looking for someone to take few photos, just so we'd have a record of the work, and someone recommended Earl as being one of the few photographers who could take decent photos in the Alpine - something that would be especially tricky as we'd be working in a dark theater, against a black background with grey set pieces and props and - because everyone was working - I didn't want him to use a flash. Earl agreed to give it try, though I didn't get the sense that he was particularly excited about it. His wonderful wife, Frances, was a regular at the Alpine and acting in a show for us. I suspect his willingness to snap a few photos for us had more to do with that than with anything we were doing.
But it didn't take long for Earl and the Conference to fall in love with each other. Earl enjoyed a challenge, photography in the Alpine is challenging! He also enjoyed the rehearsal process and the opportunity to catch glimpses of artists at work (the magic behind the magic) and managed to do it all without ever distracting from the work that was happening in the room.
Much to my surprise, the day after the first reading, Earl came to me with a handful of gorgeous 8x10 photos and asked me if I wanted them. Did I??? And just like that a tradition that has lasted 20 years was born. Each day Earl would bring in new photos and we would post them in the lobby. By the end of the Conference, the lobby would be covered with photos. These photos became a living history of the Conference in real time.
Amazingly, after a lifetime of working with film, Earl transitioned to shooting and printing digitally in 2003 and he did it without skipping a beat. Even when he was put on oxygen and had to carry a canister around with him, Earl was there and the photos were masterful. Looking back on the impact Earl had on the Conference, it's hard to believe that 2004 was his last year with us as company photographer. Of all Earl's many gifts to the Conference, perhaps the greatest was talking Sarah Jessup into taking his place.
Believe it or not, its even hard to get a picture of Sarah Jessup! Here she is talking to Paula Marchiel - again on my porch in McCall.
For 15 years, Sarah has been the Conference photographer. Oh, did a mention that she's also a doctor. A cardiologist. And still, like Earl before her, she shows up at the theater every day with the most amazing 8x10 photographs! Oh, and the only thing better than her company photos, are the company photo shoots featuring hypeman and funny lady Maggie Rosenthal (who is herself a talented photographer.)
Sarah is super stealthy. She has an astonishing ability be in the room taking photos - even during an actual reading with an audience - without anybody even noticing. Sarah also takes it upon herself to make sure that we get a photograph of every artist, intern and staff member at the Conference. This is no small undertaking. And these aren't just photos, they are portraits. I find this tremendously moving. She sees us. All of us. And she gets us. Seven Devils is about the work that we do together, and Sarah has become an integral part of that work.
And so today, we are sharing our gratitude for Earl Brockman and Sarah Jessup. Two amazing photographers whose talent and vision have truly helped to shape Seven Devils and make it what it is today.
Seven Devils Fall Fundraising Campaign in happening right now!
Slideshow: one photo from each year of the Conference
Our work with the high school playwrights wouldn't be possible without all the conference playwrights, actors, directors and dramaturgs who sign on to serve as mentors for these young writers. So today we're sharing our gratitude for all of you!!!
Yesterday's post was dedicated to the nearly 100 McCall-Donnelly High School Playwrights we've worked with over the past 20 years, so it seemed only fitting that today we'd honor Judy Anderson and Audrey Swanson, the two amazing drama teachers who have kept this partnership alive and thriving!
In 2001, the intrepid Judy Anderson was already teaching the only High School playwriting class in Idaho, so the partnership with Seven Devils seemed like a perfect match. Working with Judy, we designed a program that would give those drama students with a particular interest in writing and a strong work ethic, the opportunity to actively develop the plays they'd been writing in class with a professional director and mentor and a cast made up of professional, student and local actors.
From the beginning, Judy made it clear to the students that participating in Seven Devils wasn't a prize for good classwork, it was an opportunity to do more work with professionals who expected you to show up on time and ready to go. She challenged students to dig deep and write about the things that mattered to them. For the community, the student plays quickly became a window to students' dreams, fears, ambitions and concerns. The talkbacks following student plays fueled exciting and sometimes surprising cross-generational discussion.
When Judy retired in 2014, we didn't quite know what to do. Judy not only taught a kick-ass playwriting class, she also cast student actors and helped to sort out scheduling for students, many of whom had jobs (and all this nearly always during finals week!)
Imagine our joy when Audrey Swanson stepped onto the scene! She jumped into the Conference feet first, and with some support from long-time Devil Amy Rush, got the students up to speed and in a new and exciting groove. One of the amazing and unexpected gifts of this moment was the opportunity to revisit the program as a whole and figure out how to find a path forward that matched Audrey's teaching style and sensibility.
We were thrilled to find exciting new ways to work with Audrey when the pandemic shut down McCall-Donnelly High School in the spring.
When you support Seven Devils, you help to make this amazing program possible!
To donate go to: https://www.sevendevils.org/support.html
Hands down, one of our favorite things about the Seven Devils Playwrights Conference is working with the student playwrights of McCall-Donnelly High School. Their boundless enthusiasm, theatrical ambition and youthful conviction inspires us and reminds us to stay focused on those things that are honest and important and true. They lead us back to ourselves, and as we urge them on and encourage them take the stage boldly, we are reminded that we must do these things in our own work as well.
Today's post is dedicated to all the high school writers who came to us and who trusted us with their work, so let's hear from them!
The video below was made by Ben Verschoor, one of our former student playwrights who went on to become a Conference playwright and recently received his MFA in Writing for the Screen and Stage from Northwestern University! Congrats, Ben, and thanks to you and all the students who shared their stories with you!
Even a world wide pandemic, that kept us from traveling to McCall couldn't keep us from our commitment to the student playwrights of McCall-Donnelly High School!
With students learning from home, intrepid Literary Manager A.P. Andrews provided the drama program with video lessons and exercises, and a troupe of "best of" mentors provided playwrights with one-to-one support, all of which eventually led to a reading on Zoom.
Some of the many wonderful worlds we've visited,
Me: Um. Hello.
Deer: Haven’t seen you here before.
Me: I just arrived. Am I dreaming you?
Deer: What brings you to McCall?
Me: I’m a writer.
Deer: Ahhh. You must be here for Seven Devils.
Me: Uh huh. So you’ve heard of it?
Deer: Everyone in McCall knows about Seven Devils.
Me: Huh. Are you sure I’m not dreaming you?
Deer: You’re the writer, maybe you’re writing this as it happens.
Me: Maybe. Can I ask you something?
Deer: Actually I’m in the middle of dinner.
Deer: Don’t mind me. I don’t eat writers.
Me: Good to know.
Deer: That was humor.
Me: Also good to know. OK. But will I see you again?
Deer: Probably. I live here. Aren’t we lucky?
Me: Yes. But — will we talk again?
Deer: Only if you listen.
These are James' actual photos!
New plays can take their time revealing themselves, it’s an unfolding that is almost always surprising. I’m grateful to Seven Devils and my time in McCall for the chance to listen. For this writer, every day is a story, every moment is a moment. And every ending is another beginning. But only if you listen. And so it is with new plays. It’s all there — but only if you listen.
In 2019 I had the good fortune to be invited to Seven Devils Playwright Foundry to work on my play “The Robertassey.” When you write a play, you write at 2 am, and 6 am, and 4 pm and sometimes you forget there’s such a thing as fun. But they haven’t forgotten at Seven Devils. They’re completely serious about the work, but then they don’t forget about the ice cream, sushi, good wine, boat rides, bike rides, walks, conversation –all taking place in this ridiculously beautiful and unique town of McCall, Idaho. Which has a big lake right downtown. Like it was Barcelona and there’s the Mediterranean. That’s an exaggeration of course, but it has that kind of thrill to it. And where I got to meet Jeni and Paula and AP. And the generous family who put me up in their little apartment over the garage, which fit me like I was Cinderella and this was the right slipper.
I feel gratitude for the experiences I had at Seven Devils, for my director and my cast, and my dramaturge, and stage manager – I learned from all of them. And I am grateful for Jeni who, in the course of a conversation about nothing very much, would suddenly ask me a question like “would you say your play is a comedy about grief?” I feel gratitude for what I learned about my play while I was there, gratitude for being in the company of people who love what I love – theatre, language, acting, who believe that the stage is where you step out of the world of artifice and lies, in order to tell the truth.
What’s the difference between gratitude and thankfulness? I looked it up on Google where I read that gratitude is a feeling and thankfulness is an act. I hope my words express my feeling of gratitude. And here the act: thank you Seven Devils for everything.
A note from your blog authors!
Today's Blog Takeover is by Randy Reinholtz!
Thank you, Randy! (Under a Big Sky, 2019)
It was the beauty of the land, the space to think, and the kindness of the people I encountered at Seven Devils, that empowered me to rewrite a script formerly called Design Sense, that became Under a Big Sky. It was a page one rewrite. While the character names remained the same, most everything else about the script changed. The former script was heartfelt but clumsy and it had a halting pace. I needed to be brave to do the work the story merited.
There were so many talented people all around the conference, I could have easy conversations and become inspired. The local folks were engaging, present, and informed. The acting company was extremely talented. The playwrights had something to say and were pressing at the edges of form to make important points in compelling stories.
I continue to be grateful for the vision, tenacity and care that the leadership of Seven Devils has gathered together to hold this conference each year. It was wonderful to be a Native playwright, Choctaw to be exact, in a place that was both connected to the land yet the folks who were not Native didn’t require me to explain who I was or what I was trying to do. I was able to focus on the work I needed to get done.
That process takes me back to Idaho again and again, First with the University of Idaho and now with theatre companies in Idaho that want to produce more work by Native American writers.
Today's Blog Takeover is by playwright Heidi Kraay
(New Eden, 2014; Kilgore, 2011). Thanks, Heidi!!
The first time I was invited to be a playwright at Seven Devils, I was floored seeing my work at the center of attention. As a Seven Devils playwright, I learned that if I wanted something to be done in a certain way on stage I could write it with audacious specificity and IT WOULD THEN BE DONE THAT WAY. I'd been under the impression that the director, actors and designers could change or ignore what I had on the page -- showing fundamental unlearning I needed right quick.
As a playwright who tries to help others understand that their writer's voice matters and that they have rights, this changed perspective -- no longer shying away from being as direct as I want -- has been essential for me. While I'm grateful to this company for a number of reasons, like being better able to ask intentional questions about my own play before taking it through a development process with others, or being able to lock a draft safe and then play to my imagination's content, learning to trust my words on the page helps me stand stronger as a playwright -- and keeps me working in this art form.
A note from the blog authors!
Ok, maybe I’ve had a sufficiency of espresso. Maybe it’s because I’m working on a musical? My first. My composer/songwriter explained to me that songs in musicals are used to express those emotional moments that are just too big for regular dialogue. When one's heart just has to burst forth with love, with joy, with...gratitude!
From Brian Watkins (General Store, 2012) Seven Devils was the first place that I felt my work was truly upheld as the important center of the process. A place where writers would crawl out of their respective isolation, into a light of enthusiasm, and even collective reverence, for the playwright’s work. When I had doubts about my play, Seven Devils countered with creative support. My play left McCall with wind in its sails. For that, I am forever grateful."
What does this all have to do with the Seven Devils?
Let me sing their praises. I’ll put some musical notes here...♫♪♫... because my heart does swell up and want to burst forth in a snappy show tune when I think of all that Seven Devils has done for myself and other playwrights.
I've had many wonderful moments with Seven Devils: working on my play, Veils, in beautiful McCall, Idaho with an amazing group of theater professionals; backroom readings of my plays at Jimmy’s in NYC; getting to mentor high school playwrights, continual support of my work and career, and most lately, the honor and joy of being accepted to the Board of Directors...♫♪♫...!
This last year has been a dark, dark time in the theater, in our country, in the world. It's been really hard. However, even though theaters have been closed, playwrights (perhaps under the influence of Turkish dark roast and quarantined emotion) have been writing like mad. They need us, a chorus of support, to help raise their voices and get their plays seen and heard.
SUPPORT SEVEN DEVILS TODAY!
Seven Devils Playwrights Conference Family and Friends
McCall Donnelly High School
Michele Raper Rittenhouse
Samuel Brett Williams