LAKE UNTERSEE was selected from more than 100 full-length play submission to the 2013 Source Festival. Before it was submitted for Source it received development support from our friends and DC neighbors The Inkwell. Here Inkwell Executive Director Anne McCaw talks about her experience with the play.
The journey to Lake Untersee
by Anne M. McCaw
Executive Director, The Inkwell
I recently got a sneak peak at the Source Festival’s upcoming production of Lake Untersee by Joe Waechter, sitting in on a first run of the play in full. I’ve a vested interest in this beautiful play, and it was a thrilling moment to see it up on its feet. My associates at The Inkwell and I are so grateful to the producers of the Source Theatre Festival for having such great taste (in our humble opinion) to choose this play for production. Before I share my thoughts about the run-through, let me tell you about my journey to Lake Untersee — the one imagined by Joe — which began nearly three years ago.
I’m the Executive Director of The Inkwell (www.inkwelltheater.org), a theatre company here in Washington, DC that supports playwrights in developing new plays that push boundaries. Every 18 months, we ask writers to send us their most imaginative and ambitious plays. A team of between 60 and 90 readers then review each and every play at least three times. After three rounds of review, we choose between 20 and 30 to explore with a team of directors, dramaturgs, designers, and actors. Our collaborations with playwrights take many forms, but they start with an initial conversation about their plays and then a development process we call a FIRST CONTACT showcase. Over a week, we explore 20-minute excerpts of the latest draft of three plays with a team of directors, dramaturgs, and actors. At the end of the week, we present the excerpts, with each dramaturg as guides for audience members.
I was one of the first people from The Inkwell to read an early draft of Lake Untersee in 2010. I was immediately taken with the play’s lyricism and humor. I remember laughing out loud as I read Phyllis’ lament about her teenage son Rocky, whose primary form of communication is grunting. And I was pulled into Rocky’s predicament expressed in a mix of poetry, imagery of Antarctica, teenage speak, and a devolution of language as Rocky struggles to express his secret desires. Lake Untersee was one of 23 plays we chose to explore after reading more than 350. I’d like to say we did a perfect job of introducing Joe to The Inkwell’s development process, but that would be a lie. In fact, we gave him an awfully bad first date, putting him in a rehearsal room with a serious mistake in casting. It was a painful moment for all of us. We didn’t want to let go of Joe, so we invited him back for a second exploration of a 20-minute excerpt of his play about eight months later. He graciously accepted. I’m pleased to report that we learned a lot from our error, and we had a terrific time working with Joe, looking specifically at the ending of the play. I was the dramaturg for the process and have since worked with Joe and the folks at the Source Theatre Festival on the play.
I’ve now read Lake Untersee at least seven times (I now have trouble keeping count) in a variety of iterations. I’ve read four different endings of the play. I’ve seen each character grow in complexity. I’ve seen the language of the play become leaner, deeper, more poignant. And as many times as I reread the ending of the play (which came out of the FIRST CONTACT development process with The Inkwell), I still shed a tear or two.
With a few weeks until opening night on June 12th, it’s a nervous and thrilling time for the actors and director at the Source Festival. I felt their tremendous passion for the play on May 22nd when they presented their interpretations of it for an audience that consisted of the producing staff of the festival, the production designers, myself, and Joe.
In seeing this first run-through (often known in the theater world as a “stumble through”), I was reminded of all the reasons I love the play — and that reading a play over and over is an entirely different experience from seeing it performed. As delighted and moved as I have always been by Lake Untersee, I don’t think I fully appreciated the play’s depth until I saw key moments fully realized.
I laughed even harder at the interplay between Rocky and his mother. My breath caught in my throat when Rocky made a snow angel and then a snow dog (yes, it’s possible) on the carpet of the rehearsal room. I found new favorite moments like Rocky and his father’s girlfriend staring at an unfinished mural. And I think I understand Rocky’s journey in way I never would from just reading lines of dialogue and stage directions. I hope you all will join the expedition to Lake Untersee — with Rocky and his family, with snow angels and icebergs and penguins and aliens. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.