By: Staff Writer Annie Tang
Smoke Signal: What prompted you to write this play? Have you been wanting to write one for a while?
Tanya Roundy: This play was actually written about 10 years ago. I was commissioned to write and direct a melodrama, and they gave me several choices. I was like, “I could write this and we wouldn’t have to pay for it,” so I wrote one. And then, as people acted it out, they added more lines, so we wrote that in. Several years later, I directed it for another high school production. They added in lines and used improv, and made it something new; we added in those lines and changed it. And every year it just gets a little more and a little better. It’s a great script to just let kids improv and let them understand what a melodrama is. It’s got all the bad punny jokes, but they can make it their own. They can create their own characters and just really develop it.
I’ve written several plays. I love to write plays: different genres, different types. This one just allows the kids to have a lot of fun and play, so that’s why we chose it this year – so the kids can have some fun.
SS: How long did it take you to write this play?
TR: About a week. It’s a really simple play. I’ve written other ones that have taken three months, but this one was easy. It’s just a fun play.
SS: Did you base this play off of any real life events? What were your inspirations for this play? Were your characters based off of any real life people?
TR: Originally it was just based off of the basic stock characters. A melodrama is based on the stock characters of a villain, the hero, the heroine – very cliche, very stereotyped. As it goes on though, when I cast it, to be able to have fun improv, I try my best to pick people that I know will be able to play that kind of thing, or will have some fun making a new character.
For instance, for this casting of it, my son is always talking. So we gave him a silent part of a criminal at large, who’s just littering everywhere, and he’s silly. He took it to the extreme to make him a mime. And so he’s playing it up to the utmost of this very straight, silly silent character. I try to pick people that can have fun with these characters and can bring them to life.
SS: How did you come up with the title of the play?
TR: It’s based off of the old melodramas from the 1800s and early 1900s. You have a very long title, and it’s usually something that’s happening in the play itself. The main characters are Darrel Dobetter, and our villain is Lucifer Rockbottom. So you play with the idea of Darrel Can’t Do Better or Lucifer Hits Rock Bottom as the title to play with the words and to just be silly. And they play with those words all the time, with the names and those ideas, throughout the play as well.
SS: Which part was your favorite to write in this play and why? What would you say was the most difficult part to writing this play?
TR: The most difficult part to write are always the straight scenes that you have to get some information across, but you want it to be interesting as well. Those are always the hardest to get some comedy, some wit in. Doing that, I created some characters that would be fun, like Gabby Gossip and Nora Nosey, who would be wanting to find out the information and being gossipy to try and create some fun, interesting characters who would disseminate the information, but make it engaging.
This year there’s a person who, we put her into a scene, wasn’t normally written in, and she created her own name. She ended up creating herself this character that has this society for women that are gossipers, but that also do good for the impoverished. She came up with this really long name for this society and this big book of rules. She ended up writing up a whole scene and this whole character into the play. Which, again, is part of what makes these types of play fun.
SS: What did you do if you ever had a writer’s block?
TR: Anytime I have a writer’s block, I went back to different types of plays of the same genre. The things that I read, I think: “Okay, how did they deal with this? What did they do?” Because melodramas are very punny with silly jokes and vaudeville slapstick, I would watch some of the old vaudeville acts, watch some of the old silent films. I’d watch Charlie Chaplin to get some ideas for how to incorporate some ideas and how to make a scene work.
SS: What do you think was the biggest obstacle you had to overcome during the production stage?
TR: Getting kids to stop improvising so much and to move on to the next scene. Sometimes they come up with so many ideas, and they try to get them all in there. At some point, it’s like, “Okay it’s too much. Now we have to bring it back.” I want them to play and such and create their own. And I think that was the hardest part: going, “Okay what do we take out and keep and make it work? And have the timing going?”
At this point now, the hardest part is that we don’t have an audience. So they’re like, “Is it funny anymore?” Because the audience typically boos, yays, or laughs. And it’s hard for the actors to know, “How long do I wait for a boo or a yay? Are they going to laugh anymore? Is this working or not?” Now my job is to sit out here and to go “Yay!” or “Boo!” or laugh, so that they have a way of gauging where they’re at.
SS: What was your favorite part of this whole process?
TR: Seeing the kids just have fun, be silly and laugh, and to improvise or find their characters. There were so many interesting things. There’s so very few opportunities in our school these days anymore, and in life in general, to just be silly. So that’s what this whole play is about; just having some fun and being silly for a while.
SS: If you could do one thing differently, what would it be? Is there anything you wished you did or didn’t do? Any regrets?
TR: Not really any regrets. Things that I always do differently is that I’m always reflecting on how I would run the rehearsal process differently. I don’t know if I’d do anything completely differently; I might just change how many days I do rehearsals, and how long rehearsals go. It’s always a matter of self-reflection every play I do. And every play is different, so you change it, and it doesn’t work anymore for that type of thing. So after this many years of doing it, there’s not that many things I’d do differently, except for unique personalities getting together, and how in the future I’d work with those students.
SS: And now for a more personal question: what is your favorite play?
TR: Once the musical – by far the best musical, next to Wicked, in so many years. As far as plays go, Lend Me a Tenor is such a funny play, so high-paced. It’s slapstick, but witty at the same time. So I think that’s my favorite play right now. It’s always changing.