From Harvard to Scotland

by Guest Blogger

By Joshua McTaggart '13

Staging a piece of new theatrical writing in the hallowed halls of Harvard is a unique experience, but the opportunities to revisit a project once it has been completed are rare. The pace and intensity of extra-curricular student theater means that once a show closes and strikes, you’re already knee-deep in your next production and the recently mounted feat can sometimes slip away into a distant memory.

Fortunately, this summer I have the rare opportunity to head back into the rehearsal room for my play The House of Shadows, which premiered in the Adam’s Pool Theater in April and will run for three weeks at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in August. The aim of returning to rehearsals will be to clarify all aspects of storytelling involved with the production’s revival in Scotland.

This sense of revival is an odd and stirring sensation for directors who usually have to come to terms with a play and its process coming to an abrupt end. Although notes given to an actor can sometimes adjust weaknesses in a live performance, it is more often the case that the production is in a place that cannot be considerably changed without heading back into the rehearsal room. In most cases of student theater, making these kinds of substantial changes is difficult.

The inability to make these changes can be incredibly infuriating for both writer and director. Putting a play in front of a live audience provides necessary but subtle feedback as to whether the writing is clearly telling the story, and in most cases highlights where the directing suffocates the writing. Rectifying writing issues can be done on paper, but to portray these changes on stage the actors and the director must return to the rehearsal room.

With The House of Shadows, I now have the opportunity to return to both the writing and the staging to reassess the crux of the story I am trying to tell. Instead of putting my writing and rehearsal process down to experience and moving steadfastly onto my next theatrical project, I must confront the weaknesses of my writing and work to overcome these in collaboration with the actors in the play.

In theater there is no substitute for a rehearsal process, and a play cannot simply be improved by "quick fixes." The actors and I will have to go back to the beginning, dig out the heart of our story, and attack the piece as if it were our first rehearsal once again. Only then can we confront the play in a manner appropriate to reviving it for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Even with this renewed rehearsal process, the play will undoubtedly evolve when it is put in front of a completely different audience in Scotland. Editing, reviving and revisiting the play is both daunting and exhilarating, but the summer-long process will ensure that the story we tell on stage in Edinburgh will be distinctly clearer and more engaging than the story we told at Harvard.

Joshua McTaggart '13 is the writer and director for The House of Shadows.

[Caption: Bryan Kauder '14 (foreground) and Peter Bestoso '14 performed in "The House of Shadows" at Adams Pool in April. The show heads to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in August. PHOTO: Annie McGrath '13]