Charlottesville Playwrights Collective

Interview by Cory Kuklick
Issue 55 • September 2017 • Charlottesville

When these writers couldn’t find the right organization to produce their work, they did what any self-respecting creative group would do — team up with a local venue and do it themselves.

Above: Sean Michael McCord

Sean Michael McCord is a busy man. A full-time job at the University of Virginia’s library and a family at home is already a full plate, but that barely scratches the surface for this California native. He’s hustling to keep pace with a playwriting renaissance happening in Charlottesville, efforts that are most visible with his brainchild, the Charlottesville Playwrights Collective. After a year’s worth of preparation, the group is ready to host their first production, Moving, an original full-length play written by McCord, debuting on September 7 at Belmont Arts Collaborative.

Scene from Moving

Growing up in the San Francisco Bay area, McCord dabbled in theatre before moving to Los Angeles to attend film school at UCLA. Outside of the classroom, he honed his skills by working on independent films and writing unproduced screenplays. His Silverlake apartment would become the inspiration for the plot of Moving, but back then McCord was just plotting his next move. “In my late twenties, I came to the point where I realized that I still loved the movies, but didn’t particularly like Los Angeles, so I sold all my stuff, packed up my VW Rabbit, and moved across the country to NYC,” he remembered. “After a false start in publishing, I ended up in a much happier place, managing a comic book store in Greenwich Village. During that time, I met my wife. It was her job that brought us to Charlottesville.”

Seven years ago, McCord’s son was cast in a show at Live Arts, a local community theatre, and McCord volunteered to support the show off-stage. That experience caused the old passion for theater he had put aside to resurface. Having never written a script before, he decided to join the Live Arts Playwright Lab. “I wrote my first piece for theater—a highly personal account about a memory of my father—and it was accepted into the show,” he said. “Working with a director and watching an actor say my words cinched it for me. I was hooked on theater.”

McCord enrolled in Hollins University’s graduate playwriting program in 2015, giving him a chance to complete his MFA and hone his writing skills. He wrote Moving during his first year there. It was also there where he was introduced to Bob Moss, a professor and director who had been helping playwrights collectively self-produce their own work since the 1970s. That concept—a collective of playwrights putting on their own shows, using their own scripts—inspired McCord. He came back home and started pitching the idea to other playwrights in the area, and ultimately, the Charlottesville Playwrights Collective was born.

One of the best parts of auditions for me was hearing how funny, yet poignant, this script actually is when performed.

Joncey Boggs, Director of Moving

“Being a literary town, we have many writers in Charlottesville,” said McCord. “The Playwright Lab is a great resource for meeting other writers and getting input on drafts of scripts.” Despite this creative potential waiting to be unleashed, they couldn’t find the right fit for their more ambitious projects. “We are all highly appreciative of Live Arts for giving us the space and granting us the opportunity to produce our shorts show every summer. But the Live Arts model is not to produce full-length works, so the only way to make that happen in Charlottesville was to start our own company.”

For the Collective’s first show, they held an open call for member scripts, the main requirement being that submissions be ready for production; out of five entries, Moving was selected. McCord and Marty Moore would serve as co-producers, Joncey Boggs was brought in as director, and auditions were held in June. “Auditions were very interesting,” said Boggs. “I always love seeing folks turn out to practice their passion and craft, but it was particularly exciting to have some newcomers to the area come out. One of the best parts of auditions for me was hearing how funny, yet poignant, this script actually is when performed. I knew I liked it when I read it, but to see it performed just confirmed my enthusiasm for the project.”

Scene from Moving

Moving takes place in a Los Angeles apartment and spans the course of three decades. Couples come together and move apart, with the cast of five transitioning through life within a single space. “The script is as much a love story to the Silverlake apartment that I lived in for five years,” said McCord. “I was fascinated with the idea of this place, which meant so much to me, also serving as a home for many people before me and many people after. I loved the idea of placing a story over thirty years in one house and how that space might affect the people who move in and out.”

CPC is currently operating out of the Belmont Arts Collaborative, a black box theatre operated by Melissa Charles. She is the owner of Dreams Made Real, a youth performing arts school, and was looking for partners to better utilize the space. Two more shows are scheduled for the pilot season as the Collective continues to formalize as an organization. The group is working on its bylaws and will soon be forming a board of directors, the end goal being to be officially recognized as a 501(C)3 non-profit. In the meantime, there’s a lot of hard work to be done. “We are in full rehearsal Sunday through Thursday nights,” said Boggs. “We are working through the technical parts of creating including blocking, scene dynamics, character development, and the nuances of storytelling as a collective body. There have been a lot of laughs and some tears, as the script calls for, and a great spirit of creativity.”

Scene from Moving

Moving, the debut production of the Charlottesville Playwrights Collective, will be performed on September 7, 8, 9, 15, and 16 at the Belmont Arts Collaborative. Shows start at 8 PM, donations welcome. To learn more, visit cvilleplays.org.

Photography by Tristan Williams

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