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This is the Dawning

Updated: Aug 6, 2022

I WROTE MY FIRST PLAY in high school. The subject matter is hazy, these many years later. I don't even recall the title -- only that it was a satire based on the film "Rosemary's Baby."

It was probably awful. How could it not be? Until that point, I had never

seen a play, not even my own school's annual musical.

Then, in junior year, the English department took us on a class trip to New York to see "Hair." To this day, I still can't believe it.

Just imagine nuns sitting in the audience during the close of Act I. Did the good sisters really know that their students would be witnessing “live” a bunch of naked hippies cavorting across the stage, chanting "beads, flowers, freedom, happiness"?

Only scrim and dimmed house lights saved us from damnation that day.

Truth be told, it was thrilling. All of it. The majestic Biltmore Theatre (now the Samuel J. Friedman). The butterflies just before curtain-rise. The groundswell of a professional orchestra. The voices. The bodies. The spectacle somehow making it feel as if it's all happening just for you.

FAST FORWARD 17 years to a newsroom in New Jersey where I’m working as an assistant metro editor.

A coworker and friend casually mentions she is about to begin a playwriting class at the Walnut Street Theatre School, just across the bridge in Philadelphia. Would I like to join her?

Hmm. Sure, why not?

Little did I realize The Walnut Street Theatre's program would provide an extraordinary opportunity to quickly learn not just the craft of playwriting but also how to work collaboratively.

Each semester the playwriting students worked on creating a scene. After a few weeks, they were paired with student directors.

After another couple of weeks, the acting students auditioned for the writers and directors. The scenes were cast and rehearsals followed.

The semester ended with a studio showcase featuring everyone's scenes.

Not quite spectacle, but pretty damn amazing for a theater neophyte.

My first showcase was a scene from the one-act, "Madonna's Stash." (Lately I've been thinking of revising it.) I stayed with the program for another five years, under the direction of the superb dramaturg, Ernie Tremblay. In the end, I left with my first full-length play, "Shelter," inspired by a true story that I had worked on during my day job as a newspaper editor. (Hold that thought.)

Within that year, the stars aligned and the play was selected for a festival production at Freedom Theatre in Philadelphia.

AS MY JOURNALISM career progressed, I continued writing plays, taking classes, joining writing groups, and entering contests.

However, because I reamined a working journalist, I always had a hard time thinking of myself as a playwright -- taking myself seriously as a playwright -- even when I'd win a contest or place as a finalist. Afterall, if I truly was a playwright, wouldn’t I be doing nothing all day but writing plays?

All I know is journalism has consistently helped inform my work. It's imbued my writing with healthy doses of snark and cynicism, but also with big helpings of crusader thrown in. It’s given me the skills to develop character and find creative ways to try to make sense of the madness behind the headlines.

News, like theater, is a living thing.

When I retired from full-time journalism a couple of years ago, I was finally able to dedicate myself completly to playwriting. Then, the pandemic hit. And, well, you know the rest of that story, as the virus continues to challenge an already supremely challenged industry.

Still, I feel blessed and am especially happy for the additional time to devote to a craft that first excited me long ago as a curious teenager sitting in the dark, waiting for Aquarius.

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