Seeing a finished, finely wrought piece of art — whether it be sculpture, dance, play or film — is an awe-inspiring experience. For those of us who perhaps nurture our own creative expression, getting a look behind the scenes at such a work in progress can be even more exciting.
Hence the attraction of UC Santa Barbara’s Launch Pad, a theater program providing a safe and nurturing environment for playwrights to write while seeing their work come to life on stage, fully realized.
On Jan. 7, the media and members of the theater community were invited to the inaugural design presentation and read-through with the cast, playwright, director and designers of the new Launch Pad Preview Production for 2014: Untitled IV by Ruth Markofsky. The original script by playwright Alison Tatlock is directed by Risa Brainin, a UCSB professor and department chairwoman who developed the Launch Pad program.
In addition to Brainin and Tatlock, set designer Nayna Ramey, costume designer Devon Painter, lighting designer Michael Klaers and sound designer/composer Randy Tico each took a turn giving a brief presentation on their contribution to the production and some of the concepts and inspirations behind it.
Then, for those who cared to make an evening of it, a full reading of the play. A rich discussion followed among cast, writer, director and crew, and one particularly enthusiastic guest — yours truly — who always has something to say.
Brainin summed it up well.
“Launch Pad plays are preview productions, halfway between workshop and world premiere,” she said. “While they are indeed ‘products’, they are still ‘in process’.”
And that’s the beauty of this program; after each performance, a similar discussion takes place. Unlike the traditional Q&A session, with the artists taking questions from the audience, here the writer and director perch on the edge of the stage and question the audience: What did they think? What did they feel? Was there anything they would change if they could? Over the seven performances, the playwright and director continue to make script changes, which go into the performance each night. Audience members get to provide unique input, contributing to the development of the work.
Untitled IV by Ruth Markofsky runs Feb. 27 through March 8 at UCSB’s Hatlen Theater. The central character of Ruth will be played by professor Anne Torsiglieri, along with a combination of faculty, community and student actors.
— Justine Sutton is a Santa Barbara freelance writer and frequent Noozhawk reviewer. The opinions expressed are her own.