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This summer, playwright Arlitia Jones visited the Playhouse with Associate Artist Michael Evan Haney for a weeklong workshop of her play Summerland, which will have its world premiere in the Thompson Shelterhouse in February 2017.

Based on mesmerizing true events, Summerland tells the riveting tale of William H. Mumler, a spirit photographer with a talent for taking haunting images of ghostly visitors. Set in 1869, the story follows Mumler’s meteoric rise and fall, from his wildly successful studio business, which boasted Mary Todd Lincoln as a client, to his indictment for fraud.

For five days in May, Haney (who will direct the production) worked with actors Ryan Wesley Gilreath, Barry Mulholland and Amy Warner to give Jones an opportunity to hear the play before its rehearsal process begins next winter. After the workshop, Haney took some time to answer questions about the process:

What happens during a workshop?

We read the play (with very smart actors) for the playwright. I like for the actors to express their thoughts from their character’s point of view — pointing out the sections of the play that they like and the areas that are unclear or confusing. We want the play to be ready for production and in the form that the playwright wants it to be. I, as the director, ask lots of questions as well — about intentions of the characters and of the playwright — what she meant or wants to mean.

What productions receive workshops?

We usually do workshops of plays that have never been produced — world premieres. We want the play to be as ready as it can be for the first production. We don’t want the playwright to see the premiere production and say, “Now I know what I need to do to make it better.” We want to help the playwright make those changes in advance so that our first audiences see the play in the best possible shape.

What are the benefits of a workshop?

I find a good workshop enlightens the writer. Hearing the play aloud can open up the writer to new ideas that hopefully make the play clearer and more profound. Usually there are many rewrites that come out of a workshop that better the story.

With Summerland specifically, we had a wonderful workshop. Arlitia is a terrific collaborator — we learned a great deal and are in the process of reworking certain aspects of the story. The actors helped with wonderful comments and ideas, and Literary Associate Anita Trotta and 2015-16 Directing Fellow Kristin Clippard were also great additions to the room.

To learn more about the Playhouse’s world premiere production of Summerland, visit the production detail page.
Photo of Michael Evan Haney and Arlitia Jones at the Summerland workshop by Aly Michaud.