You have lived a complex life, at least long enough and conflicted enough to have learned a thing or two worth sharing. Your experiences, if transformed into a stage play, would be funny, sad, full of rage, tragedy, drama, and humanity.
So why not do it? Why not write a ten-minute play and see it performed by skilled actors?
John Frank—creator, actor, director, playwright, muse-in-residence, and founder of 2nd Act Players—not only asks that question, he provides answers.
Of course, not all stage plays are unequivocally autobiographical because writing for theater is not stenography. But stagecraft is a large mirror that reflects life back at the audience.
Be a writer, he says.
The premise of Frank’s call for the six new plays that will be staged September 23-24 at the thespian launching pad depended on writers itching to see words turned into human form.
But wait, there’s more. The top two scripts, as judged by the 2nd Act Players audiences at the “staged readings” in September, become eligible to be produced in 2018 as fully staged performances.
Frank suggests 2nd Act Players is—and will always be—on this hunt for its next playwright. Always another opening for another show. The industry of birthing new plays with new players continues uninterrupted.
The troupe also is soliciting actors for Frank’s new two-act Moving Boxes for three weekends of performances between Nov. 4-19.
That play, like all the troupe performs, hinges on one, eponymous metaphor—the second act of people’s lives often produces the most meaning and transformation. Frank artistically has mined his rich experiences in youth, marriage, divorce, war, and middle-aged male angst.
This “moving an elderly mom” tale reveals Frank’s mother, his fingernails-dragged-across-the-blackboard relationship with her and her much different relationship with her granddaughter. Frank’s daughter is co-writing the script. “I really wanted my daughter’s relationship reflected in the show,” he says.
This self-reflection leads 2nd Act Players to inevitable trends. “We do more plays about older people than most theater groups do,” he says. “Most community groups do the classics, but why should we do what everyone else does?”
The central 2nd Act metaphor often analyzes common experiences that almost anyone would recognize if they are pushing 60. Plus, advancing age often infuses advocacy with urgency. People with balky tickers will recognize the cardio-vascular impulse. “I was 59 and always wanted to write a play, and then I had a heart attack, so I figured I better get busy,” Frank says.
Though the 2nd Act Players have plied their craft as an officially incorporated nonprofit since 2015, this year’s new-work solicitation marks a rising departure off the wordsmithing launch pad that has given 40 new actors a shot at applause, and seven new plays (four by Frank) exposure to paying audiences. This year the source of the plays tilts with seven new ones, most contributed by outsiders.
Igniting the write-a-play initiative makes even more evolutionary sense because the Players now have a permanent home—the long-revered stage and theater at Northminster Presbyterian Church in Evanston.
Their maestro possesses well-honed ambitions. Though it’s well enough to label the 2nd Act Players as “start-up theatrics” now, what Frank envisions is a reliable audience not dependent on an inner-circle friends, old classmates, or relatives of the cast to buy $20 tickets, which cover about 60 percent of putting on plays. Obscurity is quaint, but not necessarily a good marketing tool.
“And more than that, the goal is to have attending our plays be an impulse buy,” he says. “You want strangers who ask themselves ‘What can we do this weekend?’ and one of their thoughts is to attend a play at 2nd Act.”
Theater groups must earn that loyalty.
Frank appears intent on constructing an institution, not just staging amateur “civic” performances. As a “non-equity” house, 2nd Act pays for services, but is non-unionized. Frank pays actors a $50 stipend (gas money), directors ($200-$1,000), stage managers ($400 to $500) and buys performance insurance ($750 annually). “No period pieces yet because costumes are expensive,” he says with a laugh.
The troupe’s annual budget—subsidized by donations and advertising—has pushed toward $15,000. Thus, it pays for his little stage army to rouse up playwrighting draftees.
That survival model sounds daunting because it is. But after 40 years as a professional business journalist, Frank was ready for a life surrounded by artful partners immersed in higher motives. He found them.
And now, he’s looking for you.
For more information about 2nd Act Players, visit evanston2ndactplayers.com.