Student playwright makes debut

Zachary Landau | Staff Writer
Zachary Landau | Staff Writer
Zachary Landau | Staff Writer

By Zachary Landau | Staff Writer

For many aspiring artists, it can be difficult to find opportunities to have your work examined by experts, let alone published. Fortunately, programs like the Pittsburgh New Works Festival seek out amateur playwrights and offers them the chance to have both. Duquesne junior economics major, Evan W. Saunders, was one of the lucky writers whose work was selected to be produced at the Off The Wall Theater in Carnegie. His play, “Thread,” debuted last week and is being shown for two more nights, Sept. 23 and Sept. 24. He shared his experience with the Pittsburgh New Works Festival, how “Thread” came to be chosen, and his future aspirations below.

Question: How did you hear about this opportunity? As I understand you are part of the Pittsburgh New Works Festival. 

Saunders: I wrote “Thread” back in my freshman year, and I just sort of shoved it away for a while, let it collect dust in the back of my computer. … [W]hen I started to write more plays, I took it to the technical director of Duquesne’s theater department Justin Sines, and he said, you need to take it to John Lane, who is the head of the theater department, and John told me, you need to submit this to the Pittsburgh New Works Festival. I never heard about it before; it’s a festival of one acts mostly by Pittsburgh playwrights, but they get submissions from all over the world. So I submitted [my play] and I was lucky enough to have my show chosen for full production.

What makes your play unique?

S: It’s about two people who wake up from an one-night stand to find they are connected at the wrist by a thread, hence the title. And so it has all the fun of a rom com, like a “500 Days of Summer,” but you watch the demise of their relationship. So it has a nice mix of comedy and pathos in a nice, little, less-than-20-pages script.

Was there any inspiration for “Thread?” Was there any particular event or just a general sense of, I want to do this?

S: I think around the time I wrote it a lot of my friends were in relationships of varying commitment, and I guess sometimes, when you’re the single friend, you can have some interesting insight into that. … I just got this idea of the physical manifestation of the connection two people can have and sometimes it’s great, and sometimes it just seems like you’re stuck with this person.

How long has “Thread” been in production? You said you wrote it freshman year.

S: I submitted it in spring of 2016. I found out it got accepted in the summer around July, and casting was also in July and I had a hand in that. Through August is when they started rehearsals. Actually I have only been to one rehearsal. Tonight (Sept. 15) will be the first time I will be seeing it finished.

Who are the people who are working on this? Are they professionals? Students?

S: Each play is produced by a local theater company. The one that picked my show is the Summer Company…. They rehearse here, their shows are in Genesius over the summer, they draw on the Masquers community a lot. …Auditions were open to anyone in the Pittsburgh community, so there are people of all shapes, sizes, and occupations in this and the whole festival.

And what was your involvement like? Do you just write the play or did you have an active role in production?

S: Well, what’s really cool about the New Works Festival is that they want their writers to have an active role in the production, which isn’t always the case. A lot of the time, with writers, you’re supposed to keep your hands off, don’t touch, let the director take the wheel and don’t backseat drive. And I was fortunate that I got to work with a director who was always telling me when rehearsals were, would let me watch, offer feedback. For the most part, I trusted my director’s decisions, so I was content to keep my hands off the wheel there.

You’ve worked extensively with the Red Masquers, yes?

S: Yes I have.

How has your experience being in plays or even just within the Red Masquers influenced your experience with the New Works Festival.

S: I think it was George Clooney who said, the difference between being an actor and a director is that it’s more fun to be the painter than the paint. So as an actor, or a tech person, or even the director to some extent, I feel you’re kind of being the paint. Whereas the writer gets to have that oversight, and in an artistic way, that’s great, but also in a practical way, you need to know what can an actor actually do, what can you actually put on stage. Is it possible to connect two people with thread for twenty minutes and have it not look ridiculous. A lot of the really practical stuff is what I learned with the Red Masquers.

So what has been the most exciting part of this process? Or do you think that hasn’t happened yet?

S: So when I got the announcement and I got the email, everyone I told was freaking out. Of course you have to tell your mom, and she was super excited. My family and my friends were all, oh congratulations, that’s awesome, that’s great, and I kept my cool. I’ve been telling everyone that I won’t get excited until I’m in the seat, when the lights go down, at which point I’ll be freaking out.

I can appreciate that.

S: It’s a delayed reaction in that you do the work so many months ago, and then eventually it hits. Especially with one like this when it’s been written for a year before being produced. You kind of forget it happened.

Would you say this wait has been pretty frustrating though? … [i]s there something else that makes you uneasy about this?

S: Honestly, not really. As a writer, and as someone who is looking to have more of their work produced, I’m always looking for the next hit, the next kill so to speak. I am excited and I do want people to have a good reaction to this, but I know that it’s not the be all, end all. It’s out of my hands, and it’s all I can do to keep my head down to keep writing and to keep working.

So you basically tell yourself that this isn’t your magnum opus, not at the age of 20.

S: I hope not! I like it, but hopefully I have something a little more epic.

Would you recommend people to submit their work to the New Works Festival?

S: Totally. It’s been a great experience getting my toe in the water and produce and what that process is like. As a writer, especially a playwright, getting into that industry is very much [submitting] constantly. Any time you find an opportunity for someone read something, or even if you think it’s a long shot, it’s so important to just try, as cheesy as it sounds. …There are hundreds of playwriting competitions out there.

What is in the future for you?

S: I’m hoping to get more productions of “Thread,” having “Thread” produced elsewhere. While it’s not my magnum opus, hopefully, it is a good show, and I want as many people to see it as possible. I’ll be submitting to Premieres. It’s the Red Masquers’ student-written showcase, so with any luck, you’ll see my work in Genesius in a few months. And we’ll see what else is in the works.

Anything else you want to share about this play?

S: I know the theater is about a fifteen minute drive from campus, which I know can be a little groan-inducing when you’re in college…. I would encourage people to support local theater. A lot of great writers and actors and directors are all working on this, and there’s a lot of great theater out there to see. So I highly recommend people to go see it.

This interview has been edited and condensed.