Arts & Entertainment

LYNN NOTTAGE

Arts and CultureCultureBarbara StanwyckEntertainmentGaming

Best known for the prize-winning "Intimate Apparel" (an SCR co-commission), Brooklyn-born Nottage, 43, spins imaginative tales that zip through time and space.

A reading of "By the Way, Meet Vera Stark," the story of a woman's improbable journey

from maid to movie star, will be held at 1 p.m. Friday.

"I AM interested in the personal aspects of history, more than history in big, bold letters -- the kinds of intersections that occur between people who might not normally come into contact. Each play happens in a different way. It can begin with a quotation I can't get out of my head, or I can hear the character speak to me. Sometimes something I read will outrage me. 'Vera Stark' began when I saw a 1930s film called 'Baby Face,' with Barbara Stanwyck and Theresa Harris. I was surprised by how progressive the film was, how it showed a relationship between a black woman and a white woman that seemed somewhat authentic. Harris was so beautiful and strong and magnetic. I began to wonder who she was, and how she would negotiate Hollywood.

As a writer, I know a play because I've been living with it for a year. What I find interesting is the play that I haven't heard -- what I can discover through development, which is what happens when a director and actors get involved. This festival allows you to hear a play for the first time with a rehearsed reading in front of an audience. It's exhilarating and terrifying. First, you have people who are actively involved in the process giving you feedback, including people who are playing the specific roles. I will spend two or three days around the table, fleshing out the text, answering questions, rewriting, clarifying, ripping my hair out. Then I get to share with an audience.

At the festival something truly terrifying occurs: The audience can write feedback. I got a stack of 200 responses and it took me two weeks to read the first comments. Once I did, it was really helpful and a little vexing. But for a playwright, the final collaboration is with an audience. Unless you are willing to engage them creatively, why are you writing a play?

I certainly dwelled in development hell for a long time. That's when you're given readings over and over, but you don't move beyond that to production. But to be in a process and feel like you have some aspects of forward momentum is much more useful than sitting alone at the computer not knowing whether your play is going to have a life. I'd rather be in development hell than be nowhere."

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