New Harmony 2009 Revisited PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 21 January 2009 14:27

Returning to a place where you have had a very good experience is not always the best thing to do. . .except when that place is New Harmony and the experience is the New Harmony Project.

New Harmony INThe Project has been held for 23 years in this unbelievably green southwest Indiana location. It’s purpose has always been the same: To help playwrights develop new works that “offer hope and show respect for the positive values of life.” To this end, writers, actors, directors and dramaturgs head for this very southern Indiana town the last two weeks May bringing their creative energy and their talent . I visited the New Harmony Project for the first time last year, because daughter Deirdre Lovejoy was one of the actors. When she was asked to return, there was no doubt I would want to be there as well. Of course, I only went for the final week and all I did was listen, but to a confirmed theater buff, there was no greater place to be. In the first place, New Harmony itself is a popular vacation destination. You won’t find a nightclub or a thrill ride anywhere, but turning back the clock in a town that was founded by the Harmony Society, a religious sect, in 1814. The Harmonists came from Pennsylvania and returned there in 1825 after selling the town to a Scottish social reformer and education pioneer who collected notable thinkers and scientists to the banks of the Wabash River. What you will find is a serene environment where bicycles and golf carts are the primary modes of transportation, where night really falls darkly and you can feel stress easing away. It’s a popular spot for weddings and conferences the year round. It’s the perfect place to concentrate on your objective

With the Project, the objective has been to read, re-read and re-re-read scripts, both for stage and screen, with the aim of polishing them as much as possible within the two week period. This is accomplished by bringing to the table (literally) professional actors, a director and a dramaturg for each script. The selection process begins with a call for new scripts, more than 100 are submitted annually. A 10 page synopsis for each is read by a committee which then narrows the field and requests full scripts. These, usually 20, are read and harmony table read

For 2009, four were chosen for “full development” and two others, for one-time reads. I sat in on the former process for two scripts At the tables, all those involved shared ideas, suggestions and comments on the works in progress. Rewrites were done daily, with changes printed off on different color paper so that, in one case, the final script look rather like a rainbow. Words, sentences, paragraphs and even entire scenes were reshaped overnight. Watching this process was indeed humbling and a bit awe-inspiring.. There were morning and afternoon rehearsals for all four, the location of each announced by Project Director Joel Grynheim during the lunch and dinner in the New Harmony Inn dining room. The evenings were open for first reads, parties, writers discussions, and (my favorite) the annual Harmon-anny, during which talents other than writing — mainly musical — were shared. In the middle of the final week, high school students with an interest in drama were invited to spend the day, sit in on rehearsals and participate in discussions. I sat in on a musical theater workshop given by two award-winning musicians, Debra Barsha and Lance Thorne, who wowed the students during their two sessions to such an extent that none of the young people wanted to leave.

 Debra Barsha and Lance Thorne At each, the students were asked to write down their thoughts on whatever they wanted. No surprise, the majority chose feelings, relationships and the future. Taking their papers at random, Barsha and Thorne created songs from each one, some uptempo, some ballads and all utterly amazing. One, which they titled “The ABCs of Love,” was taken a step further and included (with credit to the young “lyricist,” who was present) in the final program, “A Taste of 2009,” presented Saturday evening during a benefit dinner for sponsors, donors and the all-volunteer board members of the New Harmony Project. From the last Thursday night through Saturday, readings of the four full development scripts were open to the public, which also was invited to share opinions. Thanks to the electronic age, one of the selected writers who was unable to attend, was video conferenced via laptop cameras with her director and cast, sharing thoughts and emailing suggested rewrites. The positive energy throughout sent even this on-looker home with the assurance that good theater, positive theater was — and would continue to be — eternally green, rather like New Harmony.

Last Updated on Monday, 02 May 2011 03:08

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