Frank Katasse, Robert Anderson, Kathleen Harper and Stacy Stout perform in a staged reader's theatre in 2009 at the Back Room at the Silverbow Inn, reading winning plays from the Juneau Playwright Project.
Story last updated at 11/11/2009 - 11:54 am
Picture it: Juneau, summer 2007. An aspiring writer with a stalled career and a baby on the way does what locals do when it's sunny and they have no work: he goes fishing.
And while this writer-let's call him, oh, "Jess Church"-doesn't catch a single salmon, he gets something that lasts not only through winter, but on into the rest of the decade: a way out of his creative funk.
Turns out the woman whose boat he's on serves as treasurer of the Juneau Douglas Little Theatre and she's looking for submissions to its first, and soon to be annual, one-act playwriting competition, the Juneau Playwright Project. It also turns out "Jess," like every other writer at every other skill level everywhere, has a partially written script he's been meaning to finish for years.
The contest details sound enticing: two winners; no entrance fee; judging panel composed of leading Juneau writers and artists; fully staged JDLT production of each winning script; and perhaps the strongest motivator of all, a cash prize of $250.
So "Jess" dusts off the script. He discovers, hey, not half bad (it's not half good, either, but it's at least a third good, and that's a start). Reinvigorated, he completes, revises and submits "Relationship Insurance," a half-hour comedy about a hapless couple who, as the title suggests, tries to insure the relationship. (It's a lot funnier than it sounds.)
And wouldn't you know, the play wins. Well, technically, according to the score sheets it finishes second (by one point) to "Coming Home," by Erik Boraas, about a young man who shows up on his ex-girlfriend's porch after running away and living off the land for five years.
Okay, let's drop the charade: "Jess Church" is really me. Seeing my play performed on stage for the first time and hearing the audience laugh, then laugh again (then again), ranks as one of the prouder evenings of my life. And no one welcomed me to Juneau quite like former Mayor Sally Smith, who specifically sought me out during intermission to offer her congratulations. Oh, and the check for $250 didn't bounce, either.
In fact, so emboldening was my experience with the Juneau Playwright Project that I not only joined JDLT's board, but I became president. One of Alaska's oldest theater groups-we celebrate our 50th year during the 2010-2011 season-JDLT represents community theater in its truest essence. While, Juneau boasts several theater companies that feature local actors and directors, JDLT is the only one that produces main stage plays written exclusively by local writers.
Of course, as president I'm ineligible to submit. So I have to do the next best thing-get as many other people to enter as possible. In no particular order, here are 10 reasons why you should submit a script to the Third Annual Juneau Playwright Project:
1. No entrance fee.
2. No previous experience necessary. For all three winning playwrights thus far-me, Erik Boraas (who also won in 2008) and Rick Clair (2008, "Cure for the Common Cold," a powerful piece about war and loss)- this was our first play.
3. Validation. For Boraas, who wrote "Coming Back" as a distraction from the novel he was also working on, this was the best part of winning. "I'd written before," he told me via telephone interview, "but this was the first time I felt like a writer."
4. $250 cash prize.
5. Short plays are just that: short. "It's a very achievable goal," said Boraas. His first play one took a month; the second, "pretty much one very long night."
6. $250 cash prize.
7. Everyone has an idea for a novel, screenplay or memoir. Heading into the colder, darker portion of fall, why not sit down and actually develop it? It's better for you than watching TV and drinking beer, and not nearly as hard on your liver. "Plus, there's so much talent in Juneau," Boraas said, adding: "we don't have to import our plays."
8. Learn about theater. Sitting in on rehearsals (especially while not having any production responsibilities yourself) can teach a lot about the technical aspects of theater.
9. Audience. For a writer, seeing an audience's reaction to your work can be invaluable. Even if your play doesn't win, it's still read and critiqued by a judging panel.
10. Did I mention the $250 cash prize?
The Third Annual Juneau Playwright Project is open to local writers of all theatrical genres. Scripts should be roughly 30-45 minutes. Two first-prize winners receive $250 and a three-performance run in early 2010, funded by a grant from the Juneau Arts & Humanities Council. The deadline is no later than Dec. 11, 2009 at 4:00 p.m. at the JAHC. Visit http://jdlittletheatre.org/ for more information.