Heartland Update

Back in February, I found an image of the Dark Knight pointing at me Uncle Sam style, commanding me to quit procrastinating, “Work on your art,” and I vowed to myself that I would maintain radio silence until Heartland was done. Since then, the play has gone two complete overhauls: one leading up to a 4-hour reading/workshop in May with a few of A.C.T.’s brilliant M.F.A. students, and another incorporating what I learned from that workshop, leading up to Just Theater’s New Play Lab’s public reading in June.

The June reading boasted the talents of some of my favorite actors: A.C.T. core company member Anthony Fusco; two M.F.A. second-years, Rebekah Brockman and Ethan Frank (who wrote about his Heartland experience); and Dena Martinez, whose work I hadn’t seen before, but whose expertise was invaluable in our short 4-hour rehearsal process. My fearless director Molly Aaronson-Gelb barely had enough time to get through the 110-page script with the cast before the reading had to begin, and when I sat down to listen amidst a small crowd of friends and colleagues, I was completely confident that my second act was a train wreck.

Happily, it wasn’t a train wreck. None of it was. Oh, it needs loads of work and a third complete overhaul. The first 25 minutes needs to be cut down by three-fourths, the last 15 minutes needs to be cut in half, there is way to much explaining and not enough revealing, the ending isn’t earned, the characters don’t remain true to themselves . . . I could go on. But I will say, I wasn’t at all embarrassed by what I presented, and that feels really good. There were no moments when I cringed. People I trust see the same faults as I do (and some others I’m not sure I agree with), but they also see the potential. And their encouragement is vital.

Both springtime rewrites were good, undoubtedly herculean steps in the right direction. But they were also exhausting. The next one is going to be even more punishing. And so, I’ve written notes to myself and I have put those notes to the side. I am stepping away for a few weeks, and hopefully when I return, I will have fresh eyes and a whole lot of energy.

Sunset over Corn Field by George Farmer

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