My wife Randy and I recently attended a staged reading of the play “A New Heart”, written by Pooja Chawla, directed by Gwen Outen, and presented by DayDreamers International. It was an entry in the Page-to-Stage New Play Festival at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. A talk-back followed the performance, where the audience was queried about the performance, pluses and minuses, and ways to improve.
A New Heart: Meghna believes her heart is broken and is in desperate need of a new one. She is full of hope when she comes across a small clinic in town that claims to restore hearts to brand new. Little does she know there are several others in the clinic’s waiting room seeking the very same thing from Dr. Free’s unconventional methods of healing. What ensues is a journey into the many facets of the human heart to see what makes it tick as well as triumph. – from Event page on Facebook
DayDreamers International: DayDreamers International is a global arts organization that aims to help creative people honor their gifts and follow their hearts. We believe art has the transformative power to heal the world. We provide a safe, collaborative, and supportive platform for creatives to create art with the purpose of raising the world’s consciousness. – from DayDreamers International Facebook page
This was my first experience attending a staged reading.
I initially connected with Pooja through Periscope. I learned about the play from her Facebook timeline.
Subsequent to the performance, I interviewed Pooja about how the play came to be and why she decided to hold a staged reading. The interview is later in this post. But first …
What is a Staged Reading?
The primary purpose of a staged reading is for an audience to critique the playwright’s script, both positively and negatively. A secondary purpose is to help the director and/or theater company determine if the script needs changes and/or if a full production of the work should be considered.
A staged reading of a play is not a fully-staged event – for example there are no sets or scenery. Typically, the actors are uniformly dressed (e.g., all in black), and the actors are either sitting, or standing at a lectern. There is minimal movement around the stage.
That is why one of the most important elements of a staged reading is casting someone to read the stage directions. This person must enable the audience to visualize the settings and locations, and maintain the audience’s interest while doing do. This helps the audience visualize the environment in which the performance takes place.
Now that we have been introduced to the concept of a staged reading, …
Support Our #creatives Interviews Pooja Chawla
I interviewed Pooja to learn about her and about “A New Heart”.
1.Introduce yourself to our readers.
Pooja: I’m an Entrepreneur, Actress & Playwright from the DC area. From a very young age I was drawn to the creative arts. So much so I took it upon myself to share my love of theater with children by starting a theater arts education program called CARE ACTOR which AWAKENS CREATIVITY in ages 2-15 years old. I’m proud to say we will be celebrating our 10th Anniversary this November. While I cherish teaching kids my passion for theater, my next venture is to get immersed in a professional acting & writing career for myself.
2. Is “A New Heart” your first work as a playwright?
In 2013, I had the great opportunity of co-founding the Fortune Cookie Collective with two other talented playwrights, Chinita L. Anderson and Misha Clive. We went on to produce a play that featured 3, 25 minute plays exploring different relationship dynamics called Bedroom Mirrors for the Capital Fringe Festival. That was my first fully produced work. A NEW HEART, the play I am currently working on, is my first full length play (75-120 mins).
3. How did you come up with the concept for “A New Heart”?
A NEW HEART is the second play in a trilogy of works which I called the heart series. In my first produced show that was featured in Bedroom Mirrors, I explored the idea of a broken heart through the break up of Simran & Tej. Hence, the first play explored a wounded heart, A NEW HEART reflects a healing heart, and my next piece (which I am formulating right now) will be about a whole heart. So I had a general idea what the play would be before I started writing it, but I didn’t quite know what it would be about until the characters came to visit me. When A NEW HEART entered my imagination I heard Meghna’s voice first. Meredith inevitably came with her, but I had no idea until I was almost 30 pages into the script that this play would ultimately be Dr. Free’s story. That was a pleasant surprise!
4. Why did you go the staged reading route? Are there advantages as compared to a fully staged production?
One of the great things I love about a crafting a theater production is the workshop process. Many theatrical works take time to shape. Because the Kennedy Center Page-to-Stage festival encourages sharing pieces that are in progress, a playwright like myself can test out a piece to get a better sense of its strengths and weaknesses. In fact, I presented the first 30 pages (Act 1) of A NEW HEART at Page-to-Stage in 2014 and got a lot of great feedback. I figured why not do that again but with the entire show. And, of course, the ultimate goal is for it to become a fully staged production. Perhaps, a touring production.
5. What is your process for fine-tuning your project?
I will be working closely with a Dramaturg, a literary advisor, to help me through the revision process. I am also a part of a writing group of fellow female playwrights called VA Writer’s Circle in which we hear each other’s pages and offer feedback. And let’s not forget the fellow actors! I may invite a few to get on board to help me hear the piece out loud before sharing it again with the public.
6. Will there be additional staged readings for “A New Heart”?
Absolutely Yes! When, however, is what I do not know yet.
7. Do you plan to go all the way with a fully staged production?
Again, Yes. I most definitely see this show coming to a theater near you!
People can get in touch with Pooja through Facebook and Instagram @daydreamersintl
Photos from Staged Reading
All photos from Pooja’s Facebook timeline.
I was overwhelmed by the concept driving this play. It got me thinking about the human heart in a whole new way. The actors were amazing in their performances, making the most within the confines of the staged reading. The people reading the stage directions achieved the desired effect as I could visualize the settings. I hope our readers will have an opportunity to see this great play.
The talk back segment was very useful to those associated with the project. I participated and provided some thoughts.
I will be following the continued development of this project – besides wanting to see the play again as it develops, I always want to become familiar with the process.