A week-long intensive playwriting workshop prompted eight local writers to create eight original 10-minute plays.
The Workbench New Play Workshop, held June 11-18, is the brainchild of New York-based playwright Greg Paul. He and his wife Lisa Dove return to Park Rapids each summer as technical and stage directors for Northern Light Opera Company musical productions.
For the second year in a row, Paul has teamed up with fellow playwright Melanie Goodreaux to lead budding playwrights through a series of writing exercises.
Writers had just seven days to go from writing a blank page to presenting their work to a live audience.
“It’s a very intense and very exciting process,” Paul said.
For inspiration, the writers chose a mundane object – either a bell, lipstick, bone, ice pack, band-aid, deck of cards, flashlight, or Lucky Strike cigarettes – to inspire. their story.
For example, a woman finds a bone on her family’s porch, leading her to discover the culprit of a recent series of murders in Henry Johnson’s play, “The Bodies on the Porch.”
Describing the style as “1980s slasher”, Johnson said the piece was based on a true story. A sophomore at Park Rapids, he was the youngest participant in the workshop.
They had about four days to generate a draft, then they met with actors and director Julie Kjenaas to prepare a stage reading.
The sketches were performed on Saturday, June 18 at the Armory Arts and Events Center.
Paul explained that the purpose of a stage reading is that “it’s really about the script itself. It’s not so much a great performance. It’s so that you, the audience, can really hear and get a sense of the story and what this writer is trying to show you.
The lipstick in “A Bitter Shade of Red” triggers flashbacks of a young woman being murdered by her boyfriend. It was written by Park Rapids Area High School (PRAHS) 2022 graduate Evelyn Guajardo.
Two neighbors battle isolation and reality in Maeve Bolton’s “The Leaked Lives of Mrs. Meevy and Jenny Harbo.” Bolton is also a recent PRAHS graduate.
In “Billy on Crime”, main character Alan Guajardo’s past comes back to haunt him, forcing him to return to crime. Alain graduated in 2019.
Mara Hanel, a summer resident of Belle Taine Lake, participated in the workshop for the second time. Hanel said she was looking to bring authenticity and drama to this year’s story, “Am I Dead Yet?” He looked at the impact of alcoholism and the COVID pandemic on a family.
Finn Paul titled his play “A Little Town Called Bullcrap”, centering on a narrator’s personal television realization that he wants his roommate dead.
“Chromia”, by Jennifer Geraedts, explored self-acceptance. Its main character has irises of two different colors.
Ardaschir Arguelles of Bemidji wrote about the true meaning of giving in “Life is a box of bandages”.
The six-member cast included Lisa Dove, Frankie Jager, Aaron Kjenaas, Emily Kjenaas, Devin Kordahl and Ray Niedzielski. Lorri Jager read the stage directions.
Niedzielski said, “It’s so fun to see the creativity.”
Goodreaux said it’s helpful for writers to reflect and talk about their craft.
Saying she was “genuinely moved” by the themes of these short pieces, Goodreaux added, “My goal is to create artists who are proud of their work and eager to keep creating.”
It’s a feat “to have eight new writers who made them think or evoke any feeling or moved them in any way,” she said.
Funded by a grant from the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund of the Region 2 Arts Council, the workshop was free. It was open to all interested writers – no previous playwriting experience was necessary.
The project was also supported by the Northern Light Opera Company and private donations.
Paul said he hopes to receive another grant next summer to continue the workshop.
“It has been a real treat and a pleasure to work with these writers,” he commented.