Mount St. Joseph University

Playhouse in the Quad

Dateline: student newspaper

By: Mario Pellegrino

File Under: drama, musical, theater

To have strangers read one’s writing out loud in front of you is one of the strangest feelings in the world, and often nerve-wracking.  This format is even weird, since I know you are reading this and I don’t know who you are.

But while learning to write a play, it has become most clear to me that what I write down in a script is going to be one of the most public expressions of my thought written down.

Since the beginning of the semester, I have been venturing out to Mt. Adams every Monday night to take part in a playwriting class, sort of an independent study course, with Y York, a playwright practically in residence at the Playhouse in the Park.  She’s there almost every day, giving input on what plays they should perform and she’s almost always writing one herself (she has published over 30).

York is an eccentric woman who in moments of revelation will burst out in praise of a beginning playwriting student’s skill or accomplishment, quick to find a comparison to “Hamlet” or “Hedda Gabler”.  She embodies what I’ve always expected a “guffaw” to look like—one loud and pronounced “HA!”  If you can get her to guffaw at the end of your scene, you know you’ve done something right.

I’ve always given some thought to playwriting, at least ever since I began working in the theatre.  Though humble and simple as it was, in the eighth grade, I took pride in being the stage manager for my grade school’s first musical ever—“The Music Man”.  Though I would only appear on stage if needed, I instantly learned every line for every part and would tell you how I thought each part should be played, as well.

I went to high school immediately interested in my school’s well-renowned theatre program, and found my place in the props and effects crew, but always wanted to know what was going on in the rehearsal theatre while I was painting.

After stage managing two musicals at the College of Mount St. Joseph, I decided to reboot the college’s old Drama Club, and finally I would get to do what I had been wanting to do all along—direct, or in other words, make the play go the way I wanted.

When creating good ties with Playhouse in the Park this year through various events, Sister Marge Kloos also saw an opportunity to enroll a student in the playwriting class York was offering.  She asked me, and I pounced on the idea.

Now, each week I go to the Playhouse, armed with a fresh scene of two or three characters I’ve been bouncing around with for a long time.  Each week they’re placed in a new situation, or York makes us investigate their background.  Or we just have exercises where the characters are placed in front of a camera like on reality shows, letting them let loose with everything they’ve ever wanted to say about another character (think “Real Housewives”—it can get trashy and boozy and a lot of fun).

Then everyone in class reads your script, taking parts, as if performing a dramatic reading onstage. The writer gets no part in this exercise, except having to listen.  We’re not actors, but we try to bring to life what the writer envisioned through dialogue. When the torture is through, York gives her encouraging guffaw followed by eccentric and useful advice, or she simply says, “That wasn’t the assignment, but I like what you did.”  Usually she follows with the same eccentric and useful advice, so all is not lost.

I don’t think the goal of the class will be to have completed an entire play by the end of October, when the class is finished, but I know I will have a strong footing, and definitely most of a play I could continue to work with. I’ve been exploring the same characters since September, and some have been in my mind for much longer, so I know where things are going.

At this point, I think I would drop dead of embarrassment if my play was ever produced. But then again, I’m getting ahead of myself.