Working on a new play brings with it one constant - almost nothing will stay constant. Unlike, say, a Shakespeare play, whose text has been frozen in place for hundreds of years, we are working on a play that's brand new, so there's a chance that the play we had on day one will be entirely different from the play that's on the stage opening night - we could start with a moving story about two prisoners on death row, and end with a story about, say, dancing space robots. Well, okay, THAT's not going to happen. But I think people would be surprised at how active and changing a new play (or musical) can be.
We have the luxury of having our playwright right there in the room, and the great good fortune that our playwright, Nathan Louis Jackson, is not only immensely talented, he's also incredibly easy-going. It's not always the case that an artist will be open to input regarding their work, but Nathan will listen thoughtfully to the actors' thoughts on their characters, or to details of the prison system that someone has found, or our director's thoughts on the shape of the play. Occasionally he'll make small changes right there, but more often than not he'll say "let me think about that, Dawg," and come in the next day with a batch of new pages, sometimes inspired by the discussions, sometimes entirely new thoughts and directions.
While most of these are simply small polishes, it is fascinating to watch a small change in a line give a different insight to a character, or have a new line cause a shift in your loyalties during a scene. Lines you love end up cut because they aren't necessarily relevant to the world of a new draft, and new ones even more perfect arrive. Scenes are moved, or some fine surgery is performed to move some of its content earlier in the play, and some later. The play is truly a living, shifting entity, and every day it gets closer to what you, as the audience, will see on the stage. And wow, just wait until you get to that dancing space robots scene. Awesome.
Anika Chapin is the Assistant Director for WHEN I COME TO DIE.