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  • Writer's pictureLowell Bartholomee

Notes from the Playwright

Lowell Bartholomee reveals the inspiration and development of his latest collection, premiering August 5 at Austin Playhouse's new West Campus location.

Previews of Departing Attractions contains pieces that span my entire writing life. The oldest piece was written in 1994, shortly after arriving in Austin. The newest is still being written because I’m bad at time management. All of them owe their existence to Austin theater’s continued habit of encouraging new and unknown creators and easing the threshold of entry to getting work on stage and in front of audiences.

The two primary accomplices in this are Fronterafest and ScriptWorks. Fronterafest was and still is simply the best and most powerful gateway drug for anyone with an inkling to put something they made in front of eyes they’re not related to. Anyone with a plan- and not even a well thought out one- can pay a small fee and put whatever they’re thinking of on stage. After a couple years of that it gave me the confidence to join ScriptWorks (then Austin ScriptWorks). I wouldn’t have previously thought I could join a playwright organization, but by then I had a few titles under my name and some success at Hyde Park. In the years since, ScriptWorks has been a regular goad to make me sit and write and learn from so many fantastic writers.

The cast will reflect this span as well, including actors I met my first year doing theater here as well as actors I met just recently on ScriptWorks’ Out of Ink showcase, and everyone in between.

Even though some of the pieces have been around for a while and have been staged here and elsewhere over the last twenty-some-odd years, all of the pieces have been reworked for this production. In some cases, this turned out to be an interesting process. It wasn’t so much rewriting as getting into an argument with myself from a couple decades ago. Things I thought were funny then, particular takes on various topics, just that annoying obstinance of youth (or what was left of it back then)… it was a good time to interrogate some of that thinking, make some fixes, expand horizons that I didn’t think about back then. And, weirdly enough, it didn’t lead to that mopey “oh, if only I was that young again” thinking. I’m glad to be in a place where I can rethink some of these things. The only thing that beats youth and energy is living long enough to outlast your assumptions.

I’m looking forward to diving into these pieces with some new and old faces and using whatever I’ve learned since they first appeared. We put up a collection of pieces at the long gone Blue Theater in 2002 and then took a version of that to New York Fringe in 2004. So much has changed in the meantime. For one, we now document shows with digital photos that are easy to file and recall. All of the documentation for those productions were on physical film and are unfortunately lost to time and house cleanings.

I’m thrilled to inaugurate Austin Playhouse’s tenure at a new space and to add a space to Austin theater. Right now, Hyde Park Theatre is the only existing building I’ve had my work produced in. (Not that anyone is ready to mount a plaque or anything.) So many spaces gone. The Blue. The Off Center. Salvage Vanguard’s Manor Road space. Too many to name them all but those are the ones closest to me. The very first space I had a piece performed in- The Chicago House- was gone before some of these other departed spaces were born. Time passes along with other things. I’m proud to do this work in a new space available to Austin creators.

The title of the collection nods at loss and that thread runs through several of the pieces. Some of that has been brought out more through rewriting, but it’s not a new element in the work. I guess it’s something that’s always been very present in my thinking, at least based on written evidence. The last couple of years have definitely put an emphasis on loss, so it was natural to bring those threads out more as we prepared these pieces for a new life. But none of it was added onto the work. For better or worse, I’ve always been in the mindset of saying goodbye.

I remain grateful (and not a little surprised) that Lara contacted me to put a show together. My work ethic as far as writing goes has never been everything it could be. She first contacted me a couple of months into lockdown- right when we were being told that Shakespeare knocked out King Lear during quarantine so we should get to work- and we talked about what would become this production. At the time, my brain felt frozen like maybe a lot of people’s brains did. I’m glad Lara didn’t just shunt this off as another dead end. And I’m glad I was able to approach these pieces with the pandemic in the not-quite-rearview-mirror. It definitely affected some of the writing. So much so that my wife suggested I pull it back a bit. But this experience is so in our DNA at this point that it’s very easy to let it run.

And I’m excited to try out some new pieces. As always. Excited and terrified.

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