Playwright Anne Negri says the “seed” for future writing was planted during childhood, but admits she lost her zeal for creative writing for a good decade or so after taking so many middle and high school writing classes focused on academic style writing. Negri shares that “a graduate school playwriting class brought it back out of me.”
Negri now lives, and teaches theater to public school students, in Illinois. But she earned an M.F.A. in theatre for youth from ASU in Tempe, where she took a playwriting class because she “wanted to be around playwrights and talk to them.” The professor told her she had to write, and a ten-minute version of her first full-length play was born.
The initial piece took “a few weeks to a month” to write, according to Negri — who says she “shopped it around” with various playwrights at ASU and other folks in her college program. Negri recalls the day associate professor Pamela Stewart chased her down to adamantly tell her, “You have to see where this goes.”
Negri says the play grew with each draft as “new themes came to light.” Eventually Negri submitted it to a Kennedy Center Theater for Young Audiences playwriting competition, which recognized her work with its 2009 playwriting award.
The play, though performed by friends of Negri at Space 55 the following year during the 2010 Phoenix Fringe Festival, wasn’t yet in final form. Even the name needed changing — because the original title referencing the name of the boy at the heart of the story puzzled those who tried to pronounce it.
It didn’t help that a man who saw Negri’s “fly/lyf” (pronounced like “life”) at the festival approached her after a performance to say, “I love those little flies.” Negri says the winged characters in her play “are sort of human creatures.” Despite the bird language used in the play, she says, they’re not birds. Or bugs.
Negri took her play, complete with new title, to a biennial national playwriting competition and symposium presented by Indiana Repertory Theatre. The Bonderman Playwriting for Youth event is “a forum through which each playwright receives constructive criticism and the support of a development team consisting of a professional director and dramaturg.”
“With Two Wings,” which shares the name of a folk song by Red Grammer, was selected as one of four 2011 Bonderman finalists. And it caught the eye of David Saar, who was there that summer directing a different production. “He heard me read the play,” recalls Negri, “and saw the finished product.” But then he did something more. He gave the play wings.
Saar shocked Negri by calling soon thereafter to say he wanted to produce the play during Childsplay’s 2011-12 season. Normally, says Negri, the road from initial interest to full production takes many years. But Saar, founder and artistic director for Childsplay, was eager to bring the play back home to its Arizona roots.
It’ll take flight later this month as a Childsplay world premiere –perhaps inspiring other young writers to try their hands at playwriting. Negri’s advice for aspiring playwrights is simple — just write. And share your work with others. You never know when an idea might soar from page to stage.
Note: Costume renderings in this post feature designs by D. Daniel Hollingshead for Childsplay’s production of “With Two Wings.” Click here for show and ticket information.
Coming up: More wings & things