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Show and Tell: Last Chance

August 6, 2014

S&T backyard photo

Last spring, I was approached by a group of former students eager to begin their lives as artists and hungry to make art.   I am lucky to work with students whose art I respect and I was honored that they would look at the work of a professor and be eager to make it their own.  So during a series of meetings over coffee at the Evergreen Cafe, a plan was hatched to present weekly readings during summer 2014 of  several episodes in Last Chance, my theatre serial.  Only one hitch…they didn’t have a space.  So I did what I thought was the logical thing…I offered them our house.

S&T

Our house is a rowhouse in Baltimore (basically three single-wide trailers stacked on top of each other–a basement and two upper floors 14’x40′) with a backyard roughly the same size as the footprint of the house.  We often entertain and our home has been featured in an article in What Weekly Magazine and in an article by Moscow critic John Freedman on the Trust for Mutual Understanding website, but this was a weekly commitment to using our home with the potential for invited audience…our central air was out…and it was summer in Baltimore.

A bit of backstory:

Last Chance: tales from a broken heartland is a series of episodes about life in the fictional rural town of Last Chance.  I began writing the series in 2001 with the episode “Trash” and every year or so have written additional episodes.  There are currently 10 episodes about Last Chance:

  • “Trash”*
  • “Ain’t Nothin’ Quik ‘n Easy”*
  • “Watersheds”
  • “Loser”
  • “Ninjas & Squirrels”*
  • “Cut Once
  • “Measure Twice”
  • “Trailer” !
  • “Enough”*
  • “Tall Buildings”

Each episode looks at a different aspect of the community.  In this series, there is no central character, and people have commented that the town is the protagonist in this series.  Some episodes (*) stand alone and have been produced at festivals, universities, or community theaters.  One episode is new for summer 2014 (!).  Only once before, at Generous Company’s Gumbo 2012, had anyone attempted to present more than one or two episodes as an event; at that time seven episodes were presented.

I worked through scribbled notebooks of notes from the 2012 Gumbo event and began to think of this as Last Chance and not a bunch of separate plays.This summer I worked to make these full length plays part of a series; part of a new whole.  I worked to give each episode a greater sense of focus and urgency from the plays that had previously seemed a bit meandering.

I learned many things from this process, but here are a few that stand out and reflect the reward for taking the risk:

  1. The deadlines were great, generating a new play and strong revisions of other plays.
  2. As a small, but faithful, audience gathered we found our community growing…new friends welcomed into our home to see an evening of theatre.
  3. The energy and thrill of having a performance in our home must resemble the joy that people hosting house concerts feel, but there’s another energy with theatre: risk and danger… and the heartpounding reality of people fighting in your living room when you have a 90-pound dog.

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During their six week residency at our home, the Show and Tell Collective presented seven episodes from Last Chance: Trash, Ain’t Nothin’ Quik ‘n Easy, Loser, Ninjas & Squirrels, Cut Once, Measure Twice, and Trailer.  Charlie Herrick also penned an article about the summer called Home Theater, and it captures much of the spirit of the Last Chance experiment in presenting theatre in our home.

As a culminating event to this summer series, the Collective rented Church and Comany, a dynamic and homey space in the Hampden area of Baltimore.  A great end to a great summer.

S&T event photo

 

 

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