David Bald is a Network Playwright at Chicago Dramatists, where scenes from his plays Daddy and The Last Reunion have had staged readings in the Scene Shop Showcase. This past June, The Last Reunionreceived a staged reading at Three Cat Productions as part of the Next Draft Series. In a previous life, David taught English literature and composition at Lyons Township High School in La Grange, Illinois. He, his wife Marilyn, and their golden doodle Pepper live in Geneva.
When Jason told me the theme of Holiday Stories would be the ‘other’ at Christmas– the ‘other side of Christmas’– I knew right away where and when I would set my piece: in a homeless shelter on Christmas Eve. Through my church, I volunteer to prepare and serve meals every other month at Hesed House, a shelter in Aurora. I have always been interested, as a person and as a playwright, in communities. You may not think of a homeless shelter as a community, but it is. For many homeless people, the shelter is their home, a community that has more in common in human terms with the communities where you and I live than you might think. At the same time, while some residents of a shelter may have been there for years, on any given night people come to a shelter for the first time. They come for a reason and they come with a life story. So there was the story for my play: a teenage girl comes to a shelter on Christmas Eve carrying a guitar case and joins three long term residents of the community. Over the course of the play, they do battle but they also take care of each other; they change her, and she changes them.
Django, the title of my play within the whole play Holiday Stories, is my first produced play. I only began writing plays five years ago. At my home theater, Chicago Dramatists, I have learned a lot in that time about how to write a good play (especially from my amazing teacher and mentor, Will Dunne). I’ve learned that characters must have objectives for there to be drama, that they must strive to achieve their objectives in the face of obstacles, that an audience will only respond to the story of the play and to its emotions if the characters are interesting people in conflict with each other and sometimes with themselves.
What I had not learned but have learned over the past six weeks at Three Cat was how a play is really produced, how the production team, including the playwright, work together to make a good play. Through the experience of table reads, interaction with Jason and the actors, rehearsals, previews, and, finally, production, much of what I had already learned about playwriting was confirmed. But I learned many new things as well: how to find that perfect balance between a)advocating for my sense of what ‘Django’ is and how it should play and b)‘letting the play go’ so that Jason and the actors could bring to bear their sense of the characters and the drama ‘Django’ would become on stage. I learned how to assert my rights as the playwright for the good of the play. Words in the script of a play can’t be changed without the playwright’s permission. One of the actors in ‘Django,’ wasn’t aware he was changing the tense of a verb in the script from past to present. This may not seem like a big deal, but it actually really mattered, and I was able to congenially and through proper production procedure, to get through to the actor both the proper tense and the reason his character must say ‘was’ and not ‘is.’
By letting ‘Django’ and its function in the whole play Holiday Stories go to Jason, the actors and the rest of the production team—marvelous Roy for music, marvelous Pat for lighting and scenic design, and marvelous Jess, for all a stage manager does, I learned why they call a production a production. The team brought my script to life. The playwright imagines how the play will ‘play.’ When the production team nails a certain moment, that’s great. When they enhance the script or create a special dramatic moment that the playwright never imagined, that’s even greater. In ‘Django,’ there’s a wordless song. I made that choice. But I didn’t choose the song or melody; I didn’t sing it, thank God; I didn’t act it, thank you again, Lord. Jason, the director, and Sarah, the actor took care of all of that in a way so true to the character and the play that, sitting in the audience on opening night, I was deeply moved.
(Previews are December 4 & 5. The regular run is December 6 – January 3. Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 7:30pm and Saturday matinees at 4:00pm at the Berger Park Coach House Theater at 6205 N. Sheridan in the Edgewater neighborhood of Chicago. Doors open 30 minutes prior to curtain. Learn more here.)