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Beck Center for the Art’s ‘Seminar’ scratches at the creative process

Andrew Gombas, Aily Roper and Scott Plate
Andrew Gombas, Aily Roper and Scott Plate
Pat Miller

Seminar

Rating:
Star4
Star
Star
Star
Star

It is said that every person has a book inside of them (including yours truly).
At one point or another every single educated person in the world has thought about being a writer. It is simply human nature to want to share experiences of either true or imagined adventures. If this were not a hard fact then the numbers of twitters, Facebook entries and Blogs would be greatly reduced.

What does it take to be a professional writer?
What does it take to be a professional writer?
Beck Center for the Art

What does it take to be a professional writer? For one it takes courage. Look at the lives of the great writers such as Jack Kerouac (who hitchhiked across country and wrote a book about it), Ernest Hemingway (who traveled the world in search of adventure and based his novels on those real life experiences) and Tom Wolfe (who traveled in a different way to places only the mind can go).

It also takes a thorough understanding of the poetry of your language which you find through reading great writers. It takes hard work and a thick skin for writing is not unlike purifying gold by taking tremendous amounts of heat to separate the precious metal from the slag. Add to this a healthy dollop of patience, humility and self confidence it is no wonder that great writers are few and far between and most of the really great ones are neurotic.

Seminar” by Pulitzer Prize nominee Theresa Rebeck is a comedic tale about the writing process and what it takes to be a truly great author. Leonard (Scott Plate*) has worked in the writing field for most of his adult life. He is an author, teacher, editor and world traveler much in the vein of the big three mentioned earlier. Due to his literary prominence, Leonard is able to conduct ten week intimate writing seminars (at $5,000 a pop) of four possibly promising writers that he has handpicked. They meet weekly in a plush six room apartment in New York City’s Upper West Side where Kate resides.

Leonard is pompous, condescending, brutal, demeaning, dismissive and most importantly honest. He is exactly what this small group of wannabe writers needs to see if they truly have what it takes to survive the rigors of writing on a regular basis.

It is Kate (Lara Knox*) whose family has apparently owned the apartment since colonial times and due to rent control pays scant on the spacious digs. Kate is a sexually frustrated feminist who has worked on the same story for six years.

Douglas (Brian Gale) has family ties to the publishing business through an uncle and who speaks bad dialog that he had discovered in some obscure turn of the century novel. He drops phrases such as “the exteriority and interiority” of a prominent writer’s colony that he frequents due to his family connection as well as droll and archaic phrases like “magic realism” and “post modernism”.

Izzy (Aily Roper) is a young and very attractive man trap whose main ambition is to write trashy romantic novels based on her broadly hinted “life experiences”. She is the personification of her own writing desires.

The final piece of the puzzle is Martin who has cashed in everything in order to come up with the seminar’s fee. He is now homeless and without possessions in a gamble to see if he truly is a good writer. His problem is his reluctance to share any of his work.

At the first meeting, Leonard reads up to the semi-colon of Kate’s first line and dismisses her six years of labor as being “over-refined”. He makes note that she has beaten any soul out of the work by overworking it. The work makes such a negative impression on Leonard that he cannot resist slamming it again during other sessions as the play goes on.

Next on the hot plate is Douglas. Leonard at least gets past the first line and after a quick read announces that the work is “good” (which seems to be the judgment of other teachers as well) and that Douglas is destined to make “lots of money in Hollywood” where “good” is richly rewarded. This is of course a slam to any serious writer.

Izzy offers two pages of “bad sex” writing which impresses Leonard enough to have a brief tryst with her. His pronouncement of the work is that it is great for what it is. In the meantime, Kate submits a work from “a black transvestite gang member” which in fact she has written in revenge for Leonard’s panning of her “masterpiece”. Leonard goes gaga over the work and wants to include this new marvelous writer in the group. The only problem the author does not exist except in Kate’s mind..

Martin (who Kate has allowed to move in to one of the many apartment rooms) reluctantly submits his work for Leonard to criticize only to find that Leonard is bowled over by the work. It is Martin who is the real genius of the group and in the end is the one who benefits the most from the experience.

Over the course of the play people fall in and out of love and bed, tempers flare, war is declared, truces are made and greatness is discovered. Along the way, bits of Leonard’s past come back to haunt him as well. In truth it is an honest work that imagines the trials faced by anyone facing the terror of a blank page or screen.

Beefs and Flubs: This is an excellent play that is given its just due by a notable cast who has worked hard to take on the personas of the characters. My only complaint would be in the shouting scenes whose volume overwhelmed the space of the small theater. Subdued rage might have worked a bit better.

Prude Alert: There is language as well as sexually explicit content that some might find offensive. Those who distain such action you might do well to stay home.

Shooting From The Lip (In My Opinion): “Seminar” is a masterfully honest portrayal of the many stages and levels of professional writing. It proves that great writers do not so much reach greatness; rather they are kicked up to greatness by someone with thick boots. This one is worth seeing for all the twists and turns.

Seminar is directed by Donald Carrier, the Associate Director for the Case Western Reserve University/CPH MFA Acting Program.“Seminar is ostensibly a play about writers, but it is applicable to the lives of any creative person,” remarked Carrier, whose career as an actor includes nine seasons at the Stratford Festival and three seasons at the Old Globe. “It captures the competitive aspect of artists at work in a comedic and profound way, and provides the audience with a window into the rigor and discipline involved in the creative process.”

Members of the cast include Scott Plate (Leonard) and Lara Knox (Kate) who appear courtesy of Actors’ Equity Association.

Beck Center for the Arts will be presenting the regional premiere of “Seminar” from through June 29, 2014 in the Studio Theater. Show times are 8:00 p.m. for Fridays and Saturdays and 3:00 p.m. on Sundays. Tickets are now on sale. This production is recommended for mature audiences age 17 and older.

Tickets for Seminar are $29 for adults, $26 for seniors (65 and older), and $12 for students (with valid ID). An additional $3 service fee per ticket is applied at the time of purchase.

Group discounts are available for parties of 13 or more. Purchase tickets online at beckcenter.org or call Customer Service at 216.521.2540 x10. Beck Center is located at 17801 Detroit Avenue in Lakewood, just ten minutes west of downtown Cleveland. Free onsite parking is available.

Beck Center’s production of Seminar is presented by special arrangement with Samuel French, Inc. Programming at Beck Center for the Arts is made possible through the generous support of the Ohio Arts Council and the generous funding provided by the citizens of Cuyahoga County through Cuyahoga Arts and Culture.

Celebrating its 80th anniversary, Beck Center for the Arts is a not-for-profit 501(c)3 organization that offers professional theater on two stages, arts education programming in dance, music, theater, visual arts, early childhood, and creative arts therapies, free gallery exhibits, and outreach education programming.

For more information about Beck Center, visit beckcenter.org.