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Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Share Your Theater Story - Matthew Weaver

 Haley Forrester

Thanks to Matthew Weaver for sharing his theater story.

One 2019 opportunity that will stand out for me was getting the chance to see my one-act play THE GREAT FISH AND JONAH produced as part of the Spokane Civic Theatre's Playwrights Forum Festival. 
The play is a humorous retelling of the story of Jonah and the whale, ahem, great fish, from the Bible. 
I was on the way to hang out with my brother, driving along Hawthorne Road in north Spokane (I don't know why this detail, the road I was driving upon, seems pertinent, but it does, so that's why I include it) when the idea popped into my head: Jonah and the whale are best friends. 
It was too adorable to pass up. The opening lines of the play came almost immediately, fully formed.  
As I wrote it, I definitely was considering submitting it to the festival. And as I wrote it, I began to hear the voices of two performers I'd seen and come to admire in other plays in previous festivals, Tristen Canfield, herself an excellent playwright (drop everything and read her THE WINDOW) for Jonah ("Yeah. I know how their minds work. Watch ‘em turn me into a guy and stick me in the Old Testament.") and Dave Rideout - also an excellent playwright and now an NYC actor! - for the whale, ahem, great fish, Herman. (Because OF COURSE he's named Herman!) ("And along comes a hero ...") 
I was delighted, of course, when the play was selected for the festival. And also delighted when it received a parallel production in Burien, WA, during the Burien Actors Theatre's Playwrights festival, directed by Rachel Rene and starring Haley Forrester as Jonah and Rex Waters as Herman. 
The first evening of auditions went very well. The second evening, I took my director, Matthew Harget aside, and said we'd get wonderful actors no matter who was cast. But just for his information, when I wrote the play, I'd heard Tristen and Dave's voices in my head. 
In what seemed like the very next moment, both Tristen and Dave walked through the door to try out. 
Everyone did a fantastic job, but it worked out that Tristen and Dave were available and willing to bring life to the parts. 
The festival emphasizes the importance of giving playwrights the opportunity to fully experience the collaborative process, so I got to watch first hand as Matthew, Tristen and Dave gave their all to bringing my words to life. As I told a friend, sometimes it was very hard to remain calm during rehearsals, and not just sit there, gazing adoringly as two very good actors and a very good director treated something "little old me" wrote, like it was a real play or something. They'd deliver a line one way, and it would be 
WONDERFUL, and then Matt would make a suggestion and they'd make a change, and it would be just as WONDERFUL, in a completely different way. Writing can be such a solitary activity; it was fun just to be in the room! 
This was one of the first times for me, as a writer, to have actors actually take on the roles I'd written for them. I could get used to it ... It was just as much fun to attend the Burien show, after watching rehearsals, and to get to see it fully-staged, and to see the similarities and differences, where I'd been pretty hands-on, to available over e-mail but mostly hands-off. I was over-the-moon pleased by both productions. 
It was especially meaningful, gratifying and humbling for me when the play received the Spokane festival's Adjudicator's Choice Award. And to get to reveal to both Tristen and Dave during audience talkbacks that the parts had been written with them in mind.
The entire thing was a gift, from beginning to end. Nineteen is my lucky number, and this was a year when I was 38 (19+19) in 2019, and the whole entire GREAT FISH AND JONAH experience is one that stands out in a particularly meaningful year.
Pictures are of Dave, Tristen, me and Matthew Harget from Spokane, and Haley Forrester from the Burien production. (Please credit Burien Actors Theatre for this photo.) 
GREAT FISH & JONAH is on New Play Exchange, as is Tristen's THE WINDOW
The Spokane show is also available on YouTube (at about 1 hour 13 minutes in):

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