From Process to Production: Jennifer Austin and Anne Dantz Discuss Their One-Acts

Student actors performing in Austin’s and Dantz’s plays include (left to right) Richard China, Celia Altidor, Maggie McCarthy, and Christina Mevec.

A black comedy about a bizarre family reunion and an edgy psychological thriller about a farm family in crisis: How do writers come up with these ideas? These are the plots of one-act plays by English graduate students Jennifer Austin and Anne Dantz. These two playwrights let us in on their processes as they anticipate the staged readings of their plays at St. Rose on Tuesday, April 19, at 7:00 pm in the Campus Theatre under the direction of Paul Lamar.

The idea for “Bitter Brunch,” by Jennifer Austin, began with characters. “My ideas spring from myself and people I know,” said Austin. “They become a combo of this, and then become their own beings.” Once she developed the characters Austin had an idea of where she wanted her play to go, but she kept an open mind commenting that, “Things often change in the process.” Austin said that one thing that she thinks is particularly interesting about writing characters for the stage as opposed to texts is that in texts characters “don’t always say what they mean. An actor’s actions on stage can reveal character nuances in a completely different way.” Austin also used Dr. Kenneth Krauss’s advice when thinking about writing: Write what you know. “It makes your writing nearer and more natural to you,” Austin said about taking Dr. Krauss’s advice. With her play being produced and staged, Austin does have some anxiety about seeing her work in action. “You have to let someone else take your baby and interpret it, but that’s the role of the director,” said Austin. In terms of the effect she wants on her audience, Austin said, “When you hear your words, it’s hard not to hear that internal critic saying ‘Oh, I should have written this instead.’ I just want it to invoke the emotion I intended.”

Anne Dantz took another approach in writing her play “Figment,” but like Austin, Dantz’s writing was grounded in what she knew. About her process Dantz said, “I read a newspaper article that covered a suicide of a farmer about 70 miles south of Albany. He shot half his heard of cows and himself. ” This event shocked and interested Dantz because it hit her at home. “I grew up on farms,” she said. “I know the kind of man this was and what could have driven him to this.” After being inspired by this tragic story, Dantz pulled from farmers she had known and the problems they faced to pose a possible reason that could have driven the farmer she read about to such an awful end.  While Dantz expressed no anxiety about seeing her words come to life, her only hope is that the audience will be entertained by what she has written.

Both Austin and Dantz expressed further hopes for their plays. Austin said she would like to turn her one-act drama into a screenplay. Austin commented, “My dream would be to sell the script, maybe to HBO or Showtime because they seem like a good fit for my story.” While Dantz had never written a play before “Figment” and said she doesn’t really consider herself a playwright, Dantz did comment, “It might be neat to see a community group put it on,” or she might just like to write for a community theatre group in the future.

Austin and Dantz had some advice to led to anyone who is interested in playwriting. “For any writer,” Austin said, “reading is at the top of the list, and for Drama, to see as many productions as possible is important. See as many plays as you can to be in that world and that mindset.” She also commented that “for Drama, a simple thing to do is to read your dialogue out loud and to write in contractions because that’s how people talk.” Dantz’s advice was simple: “Write what interests you, or what you think might interest others.” If you are interested in writing Drama, a good place to start might be by reading the favorites of Austin and Dantz. “Angels in America” by Tony Kushner and “How I Learned to Drive” by Paula Vogel are two of Austin’s favorite plays. “Henry IV” by William Shakespeare, along with anything else Shakespeare are among Dantz’s favorites.

The team of talent that will stage Austin’s and Dantz’s plays is led by Paul Lamar, who is standing-in for Dr. Krauss (on sabbatical). Lamar admits that he was “delighted, if slightly nervous,” when asked to direct in Krauss’s absence. Now he finds, “No need for the nerves.  The plays are first-rate, and the cast and crew, many of whom are Krauss alums, know their way through the production process. Now I’m just delighted.”

The staged readings of “Bitter Brunch” and “Figment” are one night only and free, so come early to see the talents of two of St. Rose’s playwrights in action!

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2 responses to “From Process to Production: Jennifer Austin and Anne Dantz Discuss Their One-Acts

  1. Just had to note that “Angels in America” is not by August Wilson but the amazing Tony Kushner. Wilson is one of my favorites, as well. I just wanted to correct the mistake.