This season the company members of Peninsula Players have been thrilled to have hosted three post-show discussions with playwrights and to have two playwrights in residence during the rehearsal process.
Sean Grennan was in residence and tweaking the script for the world premiere of “Now and Then” at the top of the season. I am happy to report “Now and Then” was performed at the Lamb Regional Theatre in Sioux City, Iowa and at South Park Theatre in Pennsylvania through September.
Post-show discussions offer playwrights a chance to not only answer questions from the audience, but to receive feedback as well. “Miss Holmes” playwright Christopher M. Walsh was asked what inspired him to adapt Sir Arthur Doyle’s characters in such a fashion.
Basically, he said, he and his wife are fans of the BBC’s “Sherlock” and were curious to see the female Dr. Watson in CBS’s “Elementary.” As they chatted, it became a game of “what if?” What if both were female? What if it were the 1890s? And thus, “Miss Holmes” came to be.
“Salvage” playwright Joseph Zettelmaier was able to join the cast and director Greg Vinkler during the first few days of rehearsal. During the post-discussion for “Salvage” the audience learned Joe tweaked a few things in this version. He changed the heritage of lead character Jason to Irish since actor Matt Holzfeind has reddish, ginger hair. “Keeping Jason Italian didn’t seem to make sense,” Joe said.
Joe also updated the time-line of the story by updating current events, such as tweaking
Hurricane Katrina (2005) to Hurricane Harvey (2017). After the post-show I continued to ask Joe questions, and he was kind enough to answer:
Q. What sparked your interest in writing?
A. I was an apprentice at a theatre right out of college. While there, we were given the task to produce a “dark night,” a performance of our own during a time in which there was no play. I volunteered to write something solely because I’d never tried that before, and it was love at first type. From there, I was fortunate enough to work with Lanford Wilson, who imparted a metric ton of knowledge. Again, a very different writer from myself, but an invaluable mentor.
Q. Would you consider “Salvage” a work in progress?
A. I don’t think anything I’ve ever written is a final draft. This is the fourth production of “Salvage” and I’ve made changes every time. I love tinkering, and tailoring a performance to the people I’m working with.
Q. What surprising insights have you learned from patrons?
A. Feedback is a vital part of the process for me, though in rehearsals, I tend to really try to focus on just getting it from the director. But the fun thing with a post-show talkback is the immediacy of it…the audience hasn’t had time to go home and rethink everything. They’re there, responding to what they saw just minutes ago. Audience talkbacks have absolutely helped me create a final product. For my play “It Came From Mars,” a piece of audience feedback pointing out a tiny inconsistency in the play helped fuel the next draft. The joke I used to correct that inconsistency ended up becoming one of the biggest laughs in the play.
Q. What does your theatrical background consist of?
A. Though my training was in acting and directing, the majority of my professional career has been in playwriting. I’ve been fortunate enough to be produced in many states, and even outside the country a few times. I was profiled in American Theatre Magazine in 2012. I’m also a member of the Dramatists Guild, an at-large ambassador with the National New Play Network, a resident playwright at First Folio Theatre, and Executive Director of Roustabout Theatre Troupe.
Q. What was the spark of “Salvage?”
A. It’s several things, I think. My mom’s family was born and raised in Detroit, and the city is still something that matters to me. As a writer, I’m drawn to Americana, to unusual corners and aspects of our country. There was a store that I used to visit that was very much Hidden Treasures (the store in the play). I kept feeling like “There have got to be great stories here.” So one day I started writing one.
Q. How do you describe comedy-drama? Does “Salvage” fall into that category?
A. I tend not to think about specific dramas when I write, because I don’t think life really clings to one specific milieu. I’d describe comedy-drama as life. I’d like to think “Salvage” falls into that.
Q. Are the choices Matt Holzfeind and Melanie Keller made for their characters surprising to you?
A. See, that would be telling. I will say both came in with incredibly strong senses of who these characters were.
Q. How was Peninsula Players described to you? How did reality differ?
A. Mutual friends tried to describe it to me. “Beautiful.” “Bucolic.” “Like nothing you’ve ever seen.” No description came close to it. For a while, I was a park ranger. This place appeals so deeply to my love of nature and my love of theatre. If I didn’t have to leave, I’m not sure I ever would.
Q. What did you find unique in your Peninsula Players experience?
A. I’ve never worked in a summer stock before! I’ve never had the chance to actually live in a theatre complex, build these fast friendships, really spend time focusing on the work and nothing else. It’s basically a writer’s dream come true experience.
Q. What excites you about “Salvage’s” cast and creative team?
A. Everything. Ev-er-y-thing. Melanie’s a dear friend and I’m always thrilled to work with her. Matt and the production team are new to me but I’m consistently amazed by their insight. There’s a real sense of cohesion here, everyone being on the same page. It’s made for a delightful week.
Q. What do you hope people walk away with from having seen this play?
A. I hope they find themselves wanting to come back and see it again, once they know how it all turns out. I hope they also find themselves thinking about the things that bring them joy in life, no matter how mundane they may seem. Jason at one point says “The stuff people spend money on…the stuff they want, not the stuff they need…that’s how you know who they really are.” I hope they think about what their “stuff” is.
Q. Do you have a collection?
A. I’m a fan of many nerdy things, but I don’t collect any one thing. I’m more someone who grabs stuff that catches my eye at the time.
“Salvage,” a comedy-drama/mystery-romance set in a contemporary collectibles shop in Detroit, is performed Tuesday through Sunday at 7 p.m. at Peninsula Players, except for Sunday October 14 at 3 p.m. for information or tickets visit www.peinsulaplayers.com or call (920) 868-3287.
Join us around the pre-show bonfire with a hot cider from the Luna Bar or hot chocolate from the Canteen. Weather permitting, the bonfire is lit around 6:15 p.m. We hope to see you where the sun sets, the curtain rises and the stars shine!