Posts Tagged the keys to the universe next door

Video: “The Keys to the Universe Next Door”

Part 2 of my account of Overnight Sensations 2012, the annual 24-hour play project at Hollins University. (You can find part 1 here, along with background here.)

When I drew “science fiction,” my first thought was to do a baseball play. I figured it’s not what people would expect. However, I did baseball last year, when I drew horror (see “Strong As a Bull,” about baseball and steroids.). Still, I started quizzing the cast on whether they were right-handed or left-handed, just in case.

At that point, I hadn’t had a chance to study the bios of the seven cast members to see what special talents they had. Most of them I knew already. Then director Drew Dowdy whispered into my ear that Becky Marshall was an opera singer. Not just an opera singer, but an adjunct faculty members who teaches the History of Opera at the University of Virginia.

That cinched it. How could I let such a rare and exquisite talent go unused?

So my script dealt with . . . opera.

The basic plot: Twenty years ago, a scientist discovered how to unlock the door to an alternate universe. All it takes is a sonic key, and he used his opera-singing wife to sing the notes that open the door. Problem is, that door slammed shut — with her on the other side, trapped in a horrible alternate universe. Now, he’s trying to find someone with the same, clear voice to sing those same notes so he can rescue her. Hence, “The Keys to the Universe Next Door,” which attempts to channel H.P. Lovecraft.

The script (with help from Drew Dowdy’s expert direction) makes use of Becky’s incredible voice. We see Martha Boswell (who was in my piece last year) on stage, able to see and hear this universe, but with no one able to see or hear her.

The biggest challenge I found was dealing with a 7-person cast. That’s bigger than we’ve had in the past. I had several ideas which I liked but quickly discarded because I didn’t think I could make them work with seven actors. Even in my first draft, one actor had only three lines (I fixed that in the Saturday morning revisions.)

The audio here isn’t the best, but you’ll get the idea, I hope.

Here’s the full cast, and some still photos:

* Professor Arthur Wellington: Michael Mansfield
* Theodora, his daughter: Theano Mavroidis
* Martha, his wife: Martha Boswell
* Mrs. Marshall, an opera singer: Becky Marshall
* Cassandra, her daughter, and an aspiring opera singer: Emma Sala
* Agent One, a mysterious federal agent: Jason Burton
* Agent Two, equally mysterious: Blair Peyton


Becky Marshall and Emma Sala


Michael Mansfield, center, flanked by Blair Peyton (left) and Jason Burton (right)

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Photos from Overnight Sensations 2012

That's me, in the jester's hat, sitting in the back of the auditorium with fellow playwright Ben R. Williams (in black, foreground) and actor Mike Allen (in red). In front of us is actor Chris Shepard.

For the fourth time, I took part in Overnight Sensations, the annual 24-hour play project sponsored by the Playwrights’ Lab at Hollins University in conjunction with Mill Mountain Theatre and other arts organizations in the Roanoke Valley.

The drill is the same each year: The writers, directors and casts gather on Friday night (this year at Hollins, since Center in the Square is undergoing renovations). The writers draw randomly a director. The director draws a cast. And then we alternate drawing a genre, a setting and a theme.

Then it’s off to write. On Saturday morning, the directors and writers assemble for a production meeting at 8 a.m. About noon, the actors arrive for an afternoon of rehearsal and then at 8 p.m., the curtain goes up.

It’s always a fun show and a great chance to work with some talented people, from both around the Roanoke Valley — and the whole country.

This year my director was Drew Dowdy, whose work I’ve admired on Roanoke stages before but whom I didn’t really know. He turned out to be fantastic. Between us, we then drew “science fiction,” “nursing home” and “overcoming weakness.”

I’ll have more to say about the script I produced — “The Keys to the Universe Next Door” — in the next post.

Until then, are some photos –– courtesy of the Playwright’s Lab — from this year’s event: Read the rest of this entry »

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