The start-stop process for any writer is a frustrating one, with storylines, characters, and arcs stunted before they reach maturity. Sure, not every idea is worth continuing beyond its first page, but who’s to say?
Maybe PHIT Comedy can say: They’re reviving their monthly Page One showcase. The event materialized first at ImprovBoston, then through PHIT’s 2013 Fringe Festival offering. It continued as part of PHIT’s Dynamite Series from February 2014 through April 2015, and now it’s back.
For a Page One affair, playwrights bravely offer up the first page of an unpublished or unfinished play. From there, improvisational teams of actors take up the style, characters, and setting of that story, creating their own hourlong tale while bringing the initial writer’s concept to conclusion — after reading the page for the first time on the night of the show.
Taking a page from Bruce Graham
The Page One showcase coming up on February 25 features playwright R. Eric Thomas; past participants include Douglas Williams, Charly Evon Simpson, Joy Cutler, and the always estimable essayer of all things Philly-lingo (and February birthday boy), Bruce Graham.
Graham (whose Any Given Monday is currently onstage at Germantown’s Stagecrafters) enjoyed the Page One process. “What the hell, right,” he laughs, remembering how he dug through his files for a one-page play only to find it under the title One -Page Play.
“I throw nothing out. I’m a recycler,” says Graham of a page from which he began taking notes for a newer play. “You want to go out — end the page — on a note that spurs an improvisation, pushes along the next action. It was a morning scene, with a woman going out shopping — a boring husband-and-wife conversation — until one asks the other, ‘Which gun are you taking?’ That’s a sadly realistic vision of the present, so there we go.”
Derringer or bazooka?
Showing up that night to see the first-time performance of his page, Graham was pleased with what he saw.
“People attending an improvisation are along for the ride,” he says. They “know what to expect beyond the usual audience/theater interaction.”
He believed that the actors remained calm (“even mundane”) within his vision: “They kept it going, made it bigger, but they stayed within my original context and language.” Graham thinks that because the PHIT team played it straight and pursued the page’s deadpan, banal humor, he was able to walk away with concepts for where he might go now. “Take the Derringer for light shopping or a bazooka for a heavy day out. Either way, it’s tough making satire when things are so crazy at present.”
Page One, part of PHIT’s Dynamite Series, will take place on the fourth Saturday of each month. The next performance is coming up on Saturday, February 25, 2017, at 7:30pm at the Adrienne Theater, 2030 Sansom Street, Philadelphia. Tickets ($12) are available online or at the door.