The coronavirus pandemic has been a difficult time for theater artists, in Rochester and everywhere. Actors aren’t able to rehearse, directors aren’t able to prepare, producers aren’t able to promote.
If you’re a playwright in the midst of the pandemic – once the feeling of staying at home settles in, you look at the plays you’ve written and see which ones are good to revise or create anew.
One of the older projects that came up to the surface for refurbishing was Carey by Design.
It was just one of those random ideas that somehow appeared in my head one day, and never let go. The first draft was written in the summer of 2018, the season where outdoor shows are a normal occurrence.
As the script evolved over time – which included revisions right up to and after the Wednesday night rehearsal, the story I wanted to tell managed to come together. A theater director tries to do it all with her latest project, an outdoor production of Faust with a hipster vibe. Carey Walker is a strong force – she grew up as a sick child and as the daughter of a beloved high school theater director, but she made it through to become a successful theater artist. Yet when we meet Carey and her director mother Shelby, the rehearsal process for the show – and the elements – have rattled her.
Shelby does what any mother does when she sees her daughter in trouble: call in help. She gets it from one of her former students, Emmy Jarrett, who has just graduated college for theater – with an emphasis on design. Emmy is brought in to take some of the pressure off, helping out on costumes. Shelby sees this as a needed benefit for the show, Carey sees this as a threat to the way she works.
And to make matters worse, the leading lady of the show needs help as well. Anneliese “Annie” Sherwood, a close friend of Carey’s, is trying to get her key monologue right. And she also finds herself trying to help Carey overcome her pain. Annie is not only the typical best friend and comedic humor, but she also provides key insight into the title character’s frame of mind. She is that essential.
There are personal elements scattered throughout the play, especially in the forming of the characters, seen and unseen. The writer of the hipster Faust adaptation Carey is trying to stage is a reference to a prior character written in two other plays I have done. And my sister Kristin provided a key clue to Carey’s physical state. She also provided valuable insight for the play’s conclusion, in how the emotional reactions would be presented realistically. It certainly helped in the importance of trying to get the script emotionally right, especially from what I hope is a somewhat realistic view.
While Carey by Design has theater as its foundation, the story is a more personal one in nature. It is about a young artist who believes she can do it all, but realizes it is all right to have the people you love help you finish the story you want to tell. Just like theater, life is not a one-person show. Life is a full production – raw, funny, messy and at times quietly powerful.
To Amy Canfield, Andrea Daszkiewicz, Jane Farrell, Maria Sanguedolce and Gretchen Woodworth, thank you for creating that atmosphere – even in a workshop setting. When you have quality talent reading your script, no matter how incomplete it might be, they still manage to make it soar. In my case, they definitely did.
Justin Rielly is the playwright of Carey by Design. He is a four-time TANYS-winning playwright and director, and the founder of Aspie Works.