March 7, 2013

Writing exercise births comedic play


---- — WESTPORT — Spoon up homemade soup, break some bread, and listen to “Bat Jar,” written by artistic director Shami McCormick, at the Depot Theatre’s monthly “Soup & A Play Reading” Sunday evening.

“It’s not political; it’s not controversial; it’s comedic,” McCormick said. “It takes place in a restaurant that’s about to open and (is) going through its last finishing touches. The grand opening is the following week, and these people come to this private dining room.”

The protagonist Julie, a young chef, introduces her parents — a criminal investigator and an English teacher — to her fiancé’s parents — a hair-salon mogul and his much-younger wife, a former arms dealer.

“The problem is they come from two different worlds, and they’re trying to plan the wedding, and they have different perspectives of what kind of wedding and what the elements of the wedding should be,” McCormick said.

The play’s title pairs Julie’s and her fiancé’s initials, which are central to one of the conflicts.

“Between bad service and different viewpoints, these people are trying to move forward with a plan that can please all of them. The characters are a lot of fun to me. My goal was to put four people in a room that would not be together normally and see what happens,” McCormick said.

“Bat Jar” is the result of a writing exercise given to McCormick by playwright Debbie Brevoort at a playwriting workshop at Rollins College in Winterpark, Fla.

“The assignment is to put a group of people in a place and write for 10 minutes, but in that 10 minutes you can’t have them discuss religion, politics, their health, the weather or say anything confrontational.

“Then, you change the rules for one of the characters and write for another 15 minutes. You go through and keep changing the rules. It’s an exercise in writing quickly and creating both character and structure rapidly.”

McCormick was very interested in writing a stylistically different kind of play with an economy of words.

“I tend to be very wordy. It was a really good exercise for me. Working against a clock, you have to keep writing because you will run out of time, and if you don’t use up that time, you don’t get very far in the process. It was a very disciplined activity for me to try to come up with a story line. I have six people at the moment. One is very tangential to the activity of the play,” McCormick said.

Editing was also very limited as part of the exercise.

“So, you’re really dealing with first impressions and trying to create structure and character in a very short time using this convention of changing rules. It helps you not to fall in love with your characters very much because you constantly have to pull the rug out beneath them. It’s difficult for a novice writer. We like our characters and want other people to like them. The playwright has to continuously change the ground rules and shake things up. When you’re in love with your characters, your instinct is to not to let anything bad happen.”

McCormick said she’s nervous about Sunday’s reading.

“It’s more of a romp than anything else,” she said. “There are no bad words. It’s audience friendly.”

Email Robin Caudell:

IF YOU GO WHAT: "Bat Jar" by Shami McCormick at "Soup & A Play Reading" series. WHEN: Soup 6 p.m. Reading and discussion follows. WHERE: Depot Theatre, 6705 Main St., Westport. ADMISSION: Donations gratefully accepted. CONTACT: 962-4449