TRAVERSE CITY — Take a brand-new script, offer theater lovers a chance to help workshop it, and stage the final version for local audiences.
That's the idea behind the Old Town Playhouse's first New Play Project, a behind-the-scenes look at the intricate process of making and revising a new play.
For a $15 printing fee, participants like Traverse City retiree Diane Clark get to sit in on the process — from initial workshop meetings with the director and playwright, to open "cold" readings, auditions, cast read-throughs and rehearsals — leading up to opening night.
Clark has been involved in music and theater all her life and said she's intrigued by the play development process. She's even considering writing a play of her own.
"What I wasn't expecting is that they would be changing lines up until practically the 11th hour, which makes it difficult for the actors," said Clark, who went from observer to participant when she agreed to help coach two of the actors. "It's evolving as they go along."
Throughout the process, the theater team explores and analyzes characters and plot rationales, learns how the rehearsal process affects revisions and how the contributions of writers, directors, actors and tech personnel all combine to develop a finished piece.
"It is such a beautiful process," said playwright Anne-Marie Oomen, whose dark comedy, "Secrets of the Luuce Talk Tavern," has been workshopped since fall. "They've all been authoring right along with me."
The two-act play premieres Friday, April 13, at the OTP Studio Theatre at the Depot, at the corner of East Eighth Street and Woodmere Avenue. It revolves around a run-down northern Michigan tavern — dart board, bar stools, beer signs and all — family secrets and a bedraggled group of lakeside villagers.
There's Helen Luuce (Lilli Zaunner), the Luuce Talk Tavern's brassy but matronly proprietor; daughter Lizzie (Veyda DeAgro-Ruopp), who must come face-to-face with some harsh realities of life; Burt (Al Lien), the bullish and blustery bus driver; Minnie (Bonnie Deigh), Burt's meek, petunia-planting wife; Van (Michael DeAgro), an itinerant worker with a mental illness; Clyde (Bart Ingraham) a banker who's about to foreclose on the bar; and Susan (Sarah Bielman), a Department of Natural Resources officer who must deal with an injured swan.
"It's quite a complex plot with wonderful characters with so many levels," said director Jeanette Mason, who has collaborated with Oomen on four other plays. "The characters jump out from the page totally alive.
"The thing, as a director, that makes this so enticing is that these actors want to know the motivations," Mason said. "And since Anne-Marie is there, they ask her questions and questions, and she will go back and find the answers. She's the most open person and is so willing to accept contributions."
Oomen said the collaborative process of play development means checking your ego at the door.
"What we're thinking about is how to make a really good story for the audience, how to tell this tender, sad, funny love story in a way the audience will get," she said.
"Secrets of the Luuce Talk Tavern" runs through April 28. General admission tickets are $13 plus fees at www.oldtownplayhouse.com and TREATickets.com.