"I started to notice it was a really very dramatic situation, what was happening. And people were bringing a lot of themselves."
Lawrence Dial finds the drama in a playwriting workshop
In a particularly memorable scene in Lawrence Dial's new play In the Room, which takes place in a playwriting workshop, the instructor decides to light a match. He tells his students, "As it's burning I want you to…"
He pauses for a beat before adding: "Well, just see what it tells you."
That mental exercise was lifted from Dial's own experience. "I remember having the feeling of, 'This is stupid. It's just a match,'" he recalls, "But then later really thinking about it and how it was related to structure."
And so he put that moment in his play, which runs through November 13th at Alchemical Theatre Lab. The match is lit by a fictional playwright named Seymour, a washed-up scribe with one notable title to his name; he decides to teach a playwriting workshop to fill his time.
Dial has plenty of other reference points to guide Seymour's behavior. After all, he has participated in 18 writing workshops in the last six years. He started signing up after having his first child and becoming a stay-at-home dad. (He's now the father of two.) "I had to keep myself on deadlines with writing," he says. "I could see how easy it was, especially for the first year, how time could slip away. I started taking these playwriting workshops and courses, just like in the play." And while in the room, "I started to notice it was a really very dramatic situation, what was happening. And people were bringing a lot of themselves."
But even though In the Room is a play about writing a play, and takes place in a white-walled space filled with chairs and long tables, it is not a dull affair. It contains colorful characters who are an amalgamation of people that Dial encountered in his own courses. After attending so many of them, he realized there were two types of people he saw most often: "I think there are playwrights who want to do playwriting as a career and they know that and they're sitting down thinking, 'I want to do this, I'll probably go to grad school and I want to pursue this as my life,'" he says. "Then there are the people who start out and think, 'I'm going to try this out and see if this is something that's for me. I've always wanted to write a play and this will keep me on a deadline and help me do that.'"
A scene from 'In the Room'
In the Room contains both of those types, and a few others: an actress who now wants to write, a playwright using the class to workshop a play he's been working on for years, and a first-time writer who is using playwriting as a way to work through family problems.
Dial admits there's a piece of himself in each character. "Scott at one time was me," he says, referring to a younger character who is struggling with how to begin his play. "I've been blocked in a class, and it's the worst feeling that any writer can have --being blocked and being nervous, all of your peers around you making these nice strides in their play and you're just stuck in the same five pages you were in last week, and you can't progress for whatever reason. That is definitely a very real thing that happens a lot."
Dial adds that he actually had to tone down the real-life drama for this production, which is presented by Slate Theatre Project and Kelli Giddish in association with Wheelhouse Theater. "It's typically more dramatic in the class to be quite honest," he says. That's because when writers come in, they don’t leave their personal issues at the door. Instead, they crop up in the writing. "It almost always becomes therapeutic," Dial says. "When people write, they give themselves an excuse to be very personal."
And it is the personal, of course, that makes for great drama.
Follow Diep Tran at @DiepThought. Follow TDF at @TDFNYC.
Photos by Jeremy Daniel Photography. Top photo: The cast of In the Room.
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