Friday, May 6, 2011

Are You All Right in There?

A one-act play that I wrote titled Are You All Right in There? is being  performed at Westerville North High School in Westerville, Ohio this weekend (May 5, 6, and 7). This production marks a major landmark for this little play that could.

From a recent production of Are You All Right in There?
performed at Saint Bede Academy in Peru, Illinois.

25 is the magic number. This weekend's performance marks the 25th production of the script. Strangely enough, the storyline was written 25 years ago this month. A celebration is in order. Or, at the least, this blog entry.

In May of 1986, when I was a sophomore at Berkeley High School, I was running late to class (no big surprise there). I literally almost tripped over a girl who was sitting alone in the empty hallway, her back against the lockers. She was crying, broken-hearted. Immediately, the scene intrigued me and her story (imagined, of course) began to form in my mind.

I went to work on the first draft of Are You All Right in There?, in the form of a short story. In it, a high school student named Gina Harbor, locks herself in the master bathroom at a raging party and reflects on her life, particularly the superficiality that constantly surrounds her, the people who have left her feeling disenchanted - her promiscous best friend, her unfaithful boyfriend, her emotionally unavailable mother. Gina's life is at a crossroads, as she's about to leave behind the small town life she's always known and breakaway, bound for college.

Contrary to popular belief, the story is not autobiographical. Although, the character of Gina certainly contains many elements of my own personality (particularly her sense of humor, love of tacos, and references to The Young and The Restless), she was much more mature emotionally than I was. She was someone that I aimed to be, but hadn't come close. The charatcer of Madeline is not based on a real person. However, she is definitely a composite of girls I knew with bad reputations (they were always the most fun to hang out with in high school). In the earliest version of the story, the character of Mickey was not the dumb, beer-drinkng, fake-crying jerk he became later. In the first draft, he was loosely based on a male dancer/model I had a crush on at school - and much of his dialogue came from a note he'd written and passed to me secretly once I got to class, just moments after the crying girl in the school corridor inspired me.

Nothing ever came of the short story for ten years.

From the first Chicago production of Are You All Right in There?

In the spring of 1995, when I was a student at American River College in Sacramento, I signed up for a creative writing class instructed by Harold Schneider. During the semester, I dusted off my long-forgotten draft of the story, revised it (including a major transformation of the character of Mickey, greatly influenced by the character of Jordan Catalano on the then immensely popular television series My So-Called Life). Mr. Schneider returned my story with the life-changing suggestion that my story would be better told in the format of a one-act play.

Although I was majoring in theatre at the time, I wasn't sure how a one-act play was written. I'd never thought about writing anything but angst-filled fiction and really pathetic poetry. I went to the school library and studied the format of Tennessee Williams's This Property is Condemned. I used the script as a template, molded Are You All Right in There? into a one-act play, and - exactly two weeks later - submitted the script to be considered for an upcoming student-directed one-act play festival.

My script was selected. And, I can honestly say, my life has never been the same since.

The first actors to play Gina and Mickey:
Marta Sobelman and Carlos Perez.

The first production was a hit, due mostly to the outstanding performances of the cast. Marta Sobleman originated the role of Gina and, truth be told, she's owned the role ever since. In the many productions I've seen of the play since, no one has been able to come close to Marta Sobleman's truthful interpretation of Gina. Carlos Perez played the role of Mickey, who came up with the idea to douse his eyes with beer and pretend to be crying to appeal to Gina's sympathies, while standing outside of the bathroom door and begging for her forgiveness. It was such a genius idea, I immediately added it to the script. Kimberly Faye Greenberg was cast against type (she was often the ingenue in our school productions, paritcularly musicals) and tackled the often-misunderstood role of Madeline fearlessly. It's no surprise to me that Miss Greenberg found incredible success as an actress. She is currently starring in the critically acclaimed off-Broadway musical One Night with Fanny Brice.

Poet and artist Bryan Northup also had a tremendous hand in making the first production happen. Aside from being my best friend at school (we met in a creative writing class and shared a mutual love for tragic female poets, particularly Plath and Sexton), he was a constant source of support and encouragement from my artistic endeavors, no matter how crazy or ambitious others thought they were. Not only did Bryan design an eye-catching flier, his incredible black-and-white photos of the cast helped create a tremendous buzz for the show.

Kimberly Faye Greenberg and Marta Sobelman in a promotional photo
for the first production of Are You All Right in There?

The success of the play at my college caught the attention of Stuart Smith of the Motherlode Stage Company in the nearby town of Loomis. Mr. Smith contacted me and offered me a month-long run of a collection of my one-act plays. I was thrilled and accepted the offer.

There was just one problem...I didn't have any other one-act plays.

I locked myself away from the world for a couple of weeks, and after a self-imposed writing marathon, emerged with a handful of sketches (rather than what I consider to be fully realized scripts). Later in my career, some of these original sketches would be developed into produced plays.

Marta Sobelman reprised her role of Gina in
a subsequent production of the script in Sacramento.

Not only was the production of my one-act plays a success (again, due mostly to the cast which was comprised of my theatre classmates from American River College, including the immensely talented Melita Ann Sagar who, among many other things in her career, went on to star in the first production of my stage play Somebody's Baby, which earned me my first award for playwriting), but the theare company paid me.

This was a huge turning point for me. I don't want to say that I was influenced/inspired by money, but to offer a starving college student compensation for something I had created and for something I loved to do, it was the major shot of confidence I needed.

From the Atlanta production of Are You All Right in There?

From there, Are You All Right in There? soared. In 1999, editor Jocelyn Beard selected an excerpt from the script to be featured in The Best Women's Stage Monologues. Once the collection was published, I was overwhelmed by the response from actors, directors, and producers, who wanted to read the entire script. On an average, I was receiving close to one hundred emails a week from people who wanted the script.

In 2003, the publishing company Playscripts, offered me a contract to publish Are You All Right in There? I accepted their offer and Are You All Right in There? became my first published play.

I've never looked back since.

Me with the original cast of Are You All Right in There?;
Marta Sobelman, Kimberly Faye Greenberg, and Carlos Perez.
Photo by Bryan Northup.

1 comment:

  1. What a wonderful journey!


    Carsen Taite



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