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.
all the places that give us discounts, makes us feel welcome and help us unwind.
- Salmon River Brewery: http://salmonriverbrewery.com/
- My Father's Place: https://myfathersplacemccall.com/
- The Sushi Bar: http://sushibarmccall.com/
- Cafe 6 Three 4: http://www.cafe6three4.com/
- McCall Pancake House: http://mccallpancakehouse.com/
- Toll Station Pizza: https://tollstationpizza.com/
- McCall Brewery: https://mccallbrew.com/
- Payette Dream Coffee House: https://www.facebook.com/Payette-Dream-Coffee-House-372670993156764/
- Bistro 45
- Stax: https://www.staxeats.com/mccall
- Shanti Yoga Studio: https://www.shantiyogastudio.org/
- Spa Del Sol:https://www.spa-del-sol.com/
- The Barn Owl:https://thebarnowlmccall.com/
- Peak Fitness McCall: https://peakfitnessmccall.com/
- McCall Lake Cruises: http://www.mccalllakecruises.com/
In addition to the McCall-Donnelly High School gymnasium (pictured above), we've rehearsed, set up office space, held workshops and have even had readings in a huge variety of spaces:
However, no matter what space we're in, we always feel fortunate to be there and grateful to those who open their doors to us.
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 formally called Design Sense, that became Under a Big Sky. It was a page one rewrite... 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.
The 2020 Conference... made possible by Zoom!
In fact, the 2020 conference played host to our largest company of artists ever! More than 70 artists in 17 states, across 4 time zones worked on plays with 8 amazing playwrights. We were even able to continue our work with the student playwrights at McCall-Donnelly High School (one of our highlights of every conference).
We presented 3 public zoom readings with over 300 audience members attending from 24 states and 3 countries! With audience members stretching from Hawai'i to Belgium, one reading bridged across an 11 hour time difference! But our largest pool of attendees came, as always, came from our home audience in McCall, Idaho. We came away from the 2020 Conference tremendously grateful for the technology that enabled us to extend our reach far beyond anything we could have imagined, as well as the opportunity to connect with the home and heart community we were so deeply missing in McCall.
Our actors were sent green screens -- you can see them in the photos with our Production Manager, Ed Baker, who helped us all solve our many technical problems -- and Skip Mercier designed virtual backgrounds to bring actors into the same virtual space. (But we'll thank Skip more later!)
While we of course missed McCall mightily, the marvels of 21st century technology allowed us to have design meetings, rehearse -- and even socialize! (The only thing we couldn't do was have a virtual hot springs trip!)
You can read more about the 2020 conference in this lovely article in American Theater, written by one of our conference playwrights and board member Patrick Gabridge!
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