by Vince Melocchi
In 2001, my first full-length play, FIGURES, which deals with the world of action figure collectors, had just completed a 3 week workshop run at Pacific Resident Theatre in Venice, California. Afterwards, fellow writer and actress Valerie Dillman approached me about starting a writer’s group at PRT, suggesting that we should “meet and help each other develop our work.” It was the start of a journey that would help bring to life Valerie’s hit play, SARAH’S WAR, my plays LIONS (published by Samuel French) and JULIA (which eventually went on to Off-Broadway at 59e59 Theatre), and OUT THERE ON FRIED MEAT RIDGE RD., a hit comedy by Writer’s Group member Keith Stevenson. In different ways, the seeds of all these plays were planted in the Writers Group.
LIONS grew out of a 24 Hour Play Festival the group put together. Each writer was given three actors, a director, a title – and just 24 hours to present a finished ten-minute play before a live audience. I drew the title “A Night of Lions.” It made me think of the unemployment picture in Detroit and their losing football team, so I created a play about that. It turned out well, so I decided to expand the play into a full-length. As I worked on it, I continued to bring scenes and rewrites into the group each week. As the play took shape, I contacted Guillermo Cienfuegos, a director whose work I admired, and we developed and produced the play in PRT’s Co-op. The Co-op is a wonderful and unique element of Pacific Resident Theatre that allows any member of the theatre to book the space and present anything they want for a limited 3 week run. Marilyn Fox, the Artistic Director of PRT, approached us about making LIONS a mainstage production. With the support of our theatre and our subscribers, LIONS had a sold out run with terrific notices and award nominations, and it was subsequently published by Samuel French.
In 2006, we presented an evening of one-act plays set in a diner. Six writers from the group were given a simple task – write a one-act play about anything you like, so long as it’s set in a diner. Valerie Dillman wrote a scene between a mother and father after they have seen their daughter leave for the Gaza Strip to function as a human shield. From this one scene, her play SARAH’S WAR was born. After bringing pages into the group and receiving very useful feedback from the members, it was also developed in the Co-op and went on to a critically acclaimed production at The Hudson Theatre in Hollywood.
Recently, I proposed we do a staged reading series using plays developed in the group over the course of the year. My idea was that we would give each writer an opportunity to have their play read before an audience twice – so that changes could be made if necessary between readings and writers could make the most out of the experience. The series was such a huge success that we are repeating it again this December. From that series, OUT THERE ON FRIED MEAT RIDGE RD. by Keith Stevenson emerged and is currently enjoying a sold-out Mainstage run, and three others are slated to be produced in our Co-op – including my newest play, WELCOME TO SANTA.
The PRT Writer’s Group has been blessed with a terrific artistic home – surrounded by loving and caring actors, directors and technical staff without whom our new works would not be possible. Our words are just letters on a page until they are brought to life by the artists at PRT. Through the Writer’s Group, different people from different backgrounds come together in support of a common goal. It’s a safe and challenging artistic home for our members. This environment allows the Writer’s Group to work as a team, pushing each other to become better playwrights, storytellers and artists. That’s the thing that really excites me.
It’s not always easy, but it’s worth it.