My play SHIFTING GEARS at Theater Works.
An Interview with Richard Warren

Indie Theater Now asked Richard Warren a few questions about his play Shifting Gears.

What has been the development process for this play? How many drafts? Has the play changed incrementally, bit by bit, through collaboration/rehearsal/workshops – or do you write a draft, mount it, and then go away and rewrite?

The development of SHIFTING GEARS was unusual in its development process and pivotal in my development as a playwright. It was first written in the mid-1990s, the first full-length play I'd ever written. Of course my friends marveled at it, but more critical eyes let me know that I had a lot to learn. I loved the story but not the play, so many plays and years later I took another crack at it. This new draft had two workshops through Phoenix Theatre's (AZ) 2nd Draft Series and was well received. From there it moved to a very successful month-long run at Canyon Moon Theatre in Sedona. And now, several years later, it will receive an extended run at Theater Works. I still love the story and am now pleased with the play.

What do you as a playwright learn from collaborators, such as actors, directors, designers, and stage managers? What do you learn from reviewers and critics?

I learn a ton from collaborators, things I'd never thought of, things I'd never think of. I make a strong distinction between the script and the production. I'll generally sit in on a few early rehearsals to meet my collaborators, convey my thoughts on the play and answer any questions. From then on I only attend rehearsals when asked by the director. I will call from time to time but only to discuss the progress. After I see the production, I steal all the good elements and make careful note of the bad. For later productions, I also tend to seek out directors and actors I've enjoyed working with. It makes life so much easier. I rarely learn anything from reviews, but often gain insights, after the fact, from personal conversations with reviewers and critics I know.

Are readings helpful? If this production is a staged reading—what do you hope to get from the process? If this is a full production, has the play had staged readings, and if so, were they beneficial (and how)?

I always have staged readings. It's the only way I can discover what works or doesn't. By "staged" reading I mean the actors enter and exit, move back and forth, get up and down, etc. There's generally no need for actual set pieces, props or special lighting and sound effects; only what's absolutely necessary to tell the story. Finally a staged reading must have an experienced actor to read the stage directions. I feel they're as important as any other member of the cast. A less than "staged" reading is helpful, but not as helpful.

What has been the biggest change in this script since you started writing it?

The biggest change in this script came through experience. I'm now better at the craft. Not that I'm brilliant, but I'm definitely better.

Do you ever hate any of the characters you write? Is that a good thing or a bad thing? What do you do about it when it happens?

I never hate any of my characters, I don't see how I could write them if I did. I do however hate many of the things they think or say or do. After all, I have to create conflict to create a compelling story. Untimately each character has to be able to somehow justify himself to himself.

posted January 4, 2015