Inside the Hotchner Festival: Scott Greenberg

Aspiring playwrights debut new work Sept. 22-23

student works on play for Hotchner Festival
Washington University senior Scott Greenberg's play, “Raindropped”, will be part of the A.E. Hotchner New Play Festival Sept. 23. Here, Greenberg (center) works on the play with director William Whitaker (left) and dramaturg Carter Lewis. (Photo: Jerry Naunheim Jr./Washington University)

Elliot is the worst best man ever. He tries to fall out of love with the bride but falls out of an airplane instead.

In “Raindropped,” Scott Greenberg, a senior in Arts & Sciences, explores the idea of tumbling from grace, both figuratively and literally. This weekend, “Raindropped” will receive its world premiere staged reading at Washington University in St. Louis as part of the annual A.E. Hotchner New Play Festival.

In this Q&A, Greenberg discusses “Raindropped” and the playwriting process.

Greenberg (Photo: Jerry Naunheim Jr./Washington University)

You’re an acting major and recently landed your first professional role. What drew you to theater?

I’ve always been a writer, but acting captured my heart when I was cast as Rocky in a high school production of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” I’d never acted, so starting with a raunchy musical was terrifying. But it also introduced me to a Scott I’d never met. It was otherworldly fun.

Tell us about “Raindropped.” What inspired you to write it?

“Raindropped” started as a question. Imagine you’re on an airplane with God. What do you ask?

I was so curious. I asked everyone I knew and got lots of insightful answers. But ultimately I decided on … nothing! I thought I’d be too afraid of knowing anything so huge and absolute. And so I wrote the scene: a man on an airplane with God.

Around the same time, two of my best friends graduated. They moved away, happily dating, to start a new life. And I was ecstatic for them but also torn up. Sure, we have phones and planes, but what happens when the people at our core accelerate away?

So what’s the play about?

The skinny is this: Elliot’s an exile, and trying to atone for a grave transgression. Now he’s best man at a destination wedding between two old friends, Liz and Beth.

But maybe he and Liz have history. And maybe he has a mysterious attraction to Liz’s sister. And maybe he’s running away from his dying brother, Charlie. And maybe, just maybe, the universe is doing everything in its power to help him stop messing up.

I want people to think about what they’re running from and where they’re running to. Is home your biological family? The family you make? Or is it something more spiritual? And how does where we’ve been haunt what we allow ourselves to believe?

Helen Fox performs. (Photo: Jerry Naunheim Jr./Washington University)

As a playwright, what do you learn from the workshopping process? How does it feel to hear your words aloud?

When I write, I hear the rhythms in my mind. But then other actors start reading it, and the rhythms can be so different. And that’s wonderful. You realize when the score is unclear, and when the actor is onto something better. It’s a living process.

Writing for the stage forces a kind of compression. You don’t have the same room for exposition that, say, a novel or serial television provides. How do you manage that challenge?

You have to straddle the line between artistic subtly and clarity. So many times, I’ve realized that something makes sense in my head — because I have all of the unwritten context — but confounds everyone else in the room!

As writers, we put so much of ourselves into things and then expect people to just understand. But it takes a lot more legwork. You have to make that translation from brain to page.

Nathan Lamp (left), Lucas Marschke, Fox and Hannah Dains rehearse. (Photo: Jerry Naunheim Jr./Washington University)

About the Hotchner Festival

The A.E. Hotchner New Play Festival begins at 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 22, with junior Chisara Achilefu’s “Super Boy,” directed by Andrea Urice, teaching professor of drama in Arts & Sciences.

The festival continues at 2 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 23, with Danny Marshall’s “Desperate Times,” directed by Henry Schvey, professor of drama and of comparative literature, also in Arts & Sciences. The festival will conclude at 7 p.m. that evening with Greenberg’s “Raindropped,” directed by William Whitaker, professor of the practice in drama.

Sponsored by the Performing Arts Department in Arts & Sciences, the festival is named for alumnus A.E. Hotchner, who famously bested Tennessee Williams in a campus playwriting competition. The festival is coordinated by Carter W. Lewis, playwright-in-residence. Guest dramaturg is Richard J. Roberts, resident dramaturg for the Indiana Repertory Theatre.

All readings are free and open to the public and take place in The A.E. Hotchner Studio Theatre, located in Mallinckrodt Center, 6445 Forsyth Blvd. For more information, call 314-935-5858, visit pad.artsci.wustl.edu or follow on Facebook.

Natalie Thurman and Marschke practice. (Photo: Jerry Naunheim Jr./Washington University)

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