Members of The Sandbox Artists Collective, Yussef El Guindi, Brendan Healy, K Brian Neel, and Juliet Waller Pruzan have written four new one-act plays for the group’s annual festival that opens today in the Fremont neighborhood.
The four recently revealed why the one-act format works for them, as well as the story behind their titles (both long and short), and what it is like to bust a dance move in a busy Seattle street.
What type of story could you tell in this one-act play that you couldn't fit into a longer (or shorter) form?
Healy: I read an interview with a fiction writer who said a novel was like inviting the reader in to see your house, walking them through each room and closet, allowing them to inspect the attic and foundation; a short story was bringing someone into only one bedroom and letting them test out the bed, showing them the photos on the dresser, check the view from the window; and a poem was showing someone a keepsake and saying, "this here, this is worth holding and remembering." I guess you could apply the same analogy to a full-length play, a one-act, and a ten-minute play.
El Guindi: For me, there’s less “unfolding” to do in terms of laying out the world you’re about to invite the audience to observe. I usually like to jump right in (in “medias res”, as they say; jumping into the thick of things). With a short piece, that becomes more of a necessity. Not much room for fat. Everything has to count. You still want to create the feeling that the audience has participated in a “full meal”. But everything can be much more concentrated, focused. You can also tease out a one-act from the smallest of things: a gesture, an overhead conversation, a question asked, a flirtation with an idea or metaphor one would not necessarily want to belabor in a two hour play.
Pruzan: I wasn't setting out to do this but for “Cumulus,” it seems I attempted to do all the things that can be tricky for a thirty minute one-act. So, in this case, cramming as many people, places, and cumbersome objects into a short period of time. I marvel at the director, cast, and entire crew for the magic they have done.
Neel: I began to write “iI” with the thought it would be a ten-minute play — just a moment of realization that these three characters would have in the wee hours of a hackathon after stumbling upon an invention of earth-altering proportions. When I finished writing the first draft, it was twice as long as I’d intended, and still needed additions to flesh out the situation. After the second read-through, my director Annie Lareau said she felt it could be expanded to full-length. A hackathon is a wild backdrop with lots of crazy situations and details to explore, and the richness of these characters makes you want to know more about them.
All of you came up with fascinating titles. What makes a title work, or not work, for you?
Neel: Often times, a title will arise during the writing of the piece — a line of dialogue will inspire something, or a larger passage will infer a meaning that can be summarized or metaphored into a title, something like that. That’s what happened with ‘”iI.” A few times, my titles came before everything. My third solo show “Double Climax” was like that. I was in Kansas City when I said to myself “’Double Climax’ would be a great title for a noir movie.” So I wrote the screenplay and later adapted it to the stage. A few times, titles never came at all. I’d complete the piece, even go through re-writes, and still nothing. That sucked. In the end I just choose something and lived with it.
Healy: I get teased quite a bit for my titles, both by friends and theatre critics. They're long. I have some exceptions, but for the most part the jibes are spot-on. I can't help myself. I don't know when to shut up. A title is part of the play, I think, so it's more than a label or a description. It's a sampling But I like playing with that function of sampling, showing a hint of the style of the play about to be performed. (Healy’s title for this festival is “Things to Say When It's Too Late to Say Them, aka Proof You Were Here.”)
El Guindi: I kept wanting to have a longer title for this piece, such as “The Tyrant Has The Floor.” But everything after “The Tyrant” felt superfluous. The play is about a tyrant, so let’s just call it “The Tyrant.” In terms of titles in general, I fluctuate between wanting to be pithy or ornate. When in doubt about what to call a play, I usually ask myself what the piece is about in one or two words and call it that.
Pruzan: I always had some variation of “Cumulus” in the running. “Cumulus” was the cleanest. I was trying too hard with the others.
Your group photo for this festival is charming. Who came up with idea of cutting a few dance moves under the bridge and how did you pick your particular pose?
Pruzan: I was being a reluctant dancer so (Sandbox member) Amy Love cajoled everyone into dancing with me.
El Guindi: I honestly don’t remember the impulse behind the pose. But it’s interesting how the different poses all sort of work in consort with each other. True, if unintentional, collaboration!
Neel: I remember stepping into the middle of the street and thinking that may not be such a good idea. So I figured that I may as well make a more creative impression on a vehicle if it hit me. Then the other writers joined. As playwrights, we had a pretty good chance of getting run down, but a dance troupe? They’d hit writers, maybe, but never dancers.
This year’s four brand-new works are “The Tyrant” by Yussef El Guindi, “Things to Say When It's Too Late to Say Them, aka Proof You Were Here” by Brendan Healy, “iI” by K Brian Neel, and “Cumulus” by Juliet Waller Pruzan.