Bit by Bit, Second Thought Theatre's STEP Reveals Play Development Process

Dallas theater company's next new play development event is January 28

Second Thought Theatre STEP 1
Ana Hagedorn

Although Second Thought Theatre has not been able to stage a play for a live audience in nearly a year, the Dallas theater company’s STEP program allows audiences to witness the creation of new work from the comfort of home.

STEP stands for Second Thought Emerging Playwrights and its inaugural series is a three-part online program focused on the process of creating a new play. The first STEP program was in December and the second part is January 28. The series wraps up on February 19 as part of the theater’s annual fundraiser, Second Thought State of Mind.

After producing only one of its 2020 productions, Second Thought Theatre was forced to cancel the remainder of its season because of the coronavirus pandemic. In June, the company introduced its new artistic director, Carson McCain.

Carson McCain
Carson McCain
Carson McCain is the new artistic director at Second Thought Theatre.

McCain tapped into her passion for developing new plays to create pandemic-friendly programming while honoring the theater’s commitment to employ DFW actors who are part of Actors Equity Association (Equity). “I’m really excited to be developing STEP. I’m excited to be working with E.E. Adams, who is our playwright, and to find the little joys we can in this development process,” McCain said.

When the theater company realized Equity would only issue contracts for Zoom performances, McCain decided to commission a play tailored for the online medium. “How can we create on Zoom?” McCain said. “What could we actually write that plays with the medium? Is there somebody excited about the ways we could use it to make it feel like theater? Let’s not ignore that we’re on Zoom.”

McCain was immediately intrigued with Adams’ approach to the project. She did not want to write a pandemic play, but she could not get the concept of isolation out of her head. The play’s current working title is Libra Season and features a cast of five. “What she has come to us with is a play that has elements of isolation, has elements of the workplace, has fantastical and magical elements like goddesses and also your friend the camera who might be watching you sinisterly or maybe not,” McCain said. “The question I came away with from the first draft, at least, was how much am I willing to give of myself for stability?”

The STEP program was developed specifically to engage audiences through the entire creation of the play, making patrons feel like insiders. “So many people I speak to don’t know what it takes to make a play from the ground up,” McCain said. “People love to see what’s going on behind the scenes. How can we bring that experience to people now? How can we include people in the process and teach people a little bit why investing in new plays is useful and what your money goes to if you donate a new play initiative?”

The December installment of STEP was a public reading of the first draft of the script. The theater sent the audience a Google Doc of the script so everyone could watch the playwright take notes during the reading. “Watching her brain work is something I learned people like,” McCain said.

Second Thought Theatre STEP 2
Ana Hagedorn
Second Thought Theatre commissioned a new play, specifically written for Zoom.

The audience reacted to the themes of the show, understanding that it was not a complete, polished play. “We didn’t get any feedback that was like, ‘Man, I wish she had done more,’” McCain said. “Our audiences are so smart. They get it.”

The second part of STEP is a live full working rehearsal. The theater will show the collaborative relationships of the theater-making process and flesh out more technical aspects of a Zoom performance. “How can we make the entire cube feel like a set? How can we have people moving in and out of the frame or moving their devices in ways that feel exciting and interesting to take full advantage of the medium as a set and not just a flat surface?”

The final part of STEP will be a performance of a portion of the final play, celebrating the artists’ ability to create something new during a pandemic. While the future remains uncertain for live performances, McCain finds hope in the tiniest of steps, the “small incremental moves toward good.”

Learn more: http://secondthoughttheatre.com/

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