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The Play With a Mind of Its Own The playwright and director of "What Once We Felt" listen to their script
By Julia Rosenfeld

During a recent rehearsal for What Once We Felt, playwright Ann Marie Healy and director Ken Rus Schmoll had an idea for restructuring the end of their show. Healy took the suggestions from the rehearsal room, went home to her computer, and started working on new pages.

And then something happened.

“Ann Marie called me the next morning and said, 'Nope. The play rejected that idea,’” Scmoll says. “And it was true. As soon as she said it, I thought, 'Right, that's exactly right.'” Healy agrees, adding, "It was like the play pressed the eject button. I tried to put it in, and it just resisted."

Not everyone listens so acutely to a script, but after eighteen months of working on What Once We Felt, now playing as part of Lincoln Center Theater's LCT3 series, Healy and Schmoll have developed a strong artistic rapport that allows them to authentically connect to the show and to each other.

LCT3 was created to foster just that connection. Now in its second season, the series was launched by Lincoln Center Theater to produce new work by emerging writers, allowing them the space to experiment and to team up with directors interested in creating something new.

What Once We Felt demands that amount of attention. Set in a parallel universe where the last book to be published in print is about to be released, it imagines an extreme and darker version of our own culture. Babies are downloaded via computers, the lower classes struggle just to travel between different areas of town, and of course, it’s still impossible to get a seat at the best restaurants.

"The play is huge in scope," Schmoll says. "It's really about a society, an entire city, a people, and all that implies and encompasses. There are a lot of plots and a lot of subplots and a lot of story and storytelling. You almost can't see into the distance, up or down or right or left or around it.”

That range is why the play seems to be able to create a path all its own.  “It is such a complete, specific entity,” Schmoll explains. “It has really dictated what it wants to be. For us, it is an example of standing back and allowing it to tell us what to do with it.”

After a year and a half of readings and workshops and rehearsals, Schmoll and Healy have learned to listen carefully to the play and to each other. "It's been a very free and easy conversation,” Healy says. “Ken's thinking how the story will be told in three dimensional space. That's really useful for me because our conversations have helped me shape the scenes, but not necessarily in language-based ways. Sometimes it's thinking how people move in space and how this will look on the stage."

She smiles and adds, “That’s what’s fun about the theatre. You get to bring your writing into a room and then all these people chime in with ideas on how to present it."

Julia Rosenfeld is a writer, teaching artist and the editor of TDF's Teen Theatre Magazine PxP .