Playwrights Mark Hopkins, left and Charles Netto’s new play is set in bar at Super 8 Motel and opens this week at Lunchbox Theatre. Photo by Gavin Young, Calgary Herald.
Some plays are inspired by history — personal, national or military. Some arrive in the world commissioned by whoever’s paying.
Super 8 came from a prop and a quote.
Lunchbox Theatre’s newest production, which first sprang from the quills of Mark Hopkins and Charles Netto around this time in 2010, was created as part of the 10 Minute Play Festival, a 24-hour marathon in which local theatre companies create, write, rehearse and stage a 10-minute play in 24 hours.
The prop (which every group also received) was a clock, and the quote, according to Hopkins, was one misattributed to Dr. Seuss: “Don’t cry that it’s over. Smile that it’s happened.”
Each group gets handed their inspiration Friday night, then sets to work.
“I was handwriting (scenes),” says Netto. “(Then) Mark was typing (them). I started directing the first scenes while Mark was still writing the second scene.”
“Total insanity,” says Hopkins.
That’s a pretty wide-open canvas to begin with, but Hopkins and Netto are pretty imaginative guys.
They’re the co-founders of the Swallow-a-Bicycle Theatre Company, a local collective of actors, writers and artists who stage performance creation shows at various site specific locations around town. Their highest profile gig has been producing the Freak Show and its subsequent sequels at the last five High Performance Rodeos, as well as last year’s iRobot.
Additionally, this year, Hopkins associate produced the entire High Performance Rodeo, and is the man behind We Should Know Each Other, a bi-weekly house party he hosts at which he hopes to one day meet everyone in the city.
If anyone could turn a Dr. Seuss quote and a clock into a story, it was these two guys.
And it started, as these things often do, with an image, followed by many hours of panic, writing, rewriting and finally, exhaustion.
“We had talked about a man on a highway who sees the yellow neon glow of a Super 8 sign,” says Netto. “And that got us — especially Mark — looking into intricate details about Super 8.
“About two in the morning,” he adds, “we came up with the idea of someone making ridiculous complaints at a Super 8, and just started asking ourselves what were the silliest complaints one could come up with at a Super 8?”
That set in motion the 10 minute version of Super 8, which generated such strong buzz that Netto submitted it to Lunchbox’s Suncor Energy Festival of New Work play development program.
Much to Netto’s shock, he received a phone call shortly thereafter from Lunchbox artistic director Pamela Halstead.
“I remember getting the phone call,” Netto, “and it’s not like I always think this, but she said hey, it’s Pam from Lunchbox, and the honest thought in my head was, you don’t need to call me to tell me we’re not in. It never for a second crossed my mind that she would take us up on this little gem of ours.”
Halstead delivered good and almost-good news: the play had been selected for its reading series (good). The catch? The playwrights needed to expand it into an hour long script in a single work week.
Although considering the play’s birth story, a whole work week may have seemed like an eternity.
The upshot of it all: working with a generous group of theatrical collaborators, including actors David LeReaney, Karen Johnson-Diamond, dramaturge Sheri Wattling, and Halstead, the young playwrights crafted an additional 50 minutes of material in four days (at the same time they were performing a play that Swallow a Bicycle had been commissioned to do in Vulcan).
The play, which now features David Trimble and Kira Bradley as a pair of lonely wanderers who meet in the lounge of a Super 8, is a testament, Hopkins says, to the collaborative nature of this city’s theatre community, where everyone, it sometimes seems, chips in to work on each other’s new work.
“We were really lucky,” Hopkins says. “You couldn’t ask for a better collaborators — to have Shari Wattling as your dramaturge? To have David and Karen as your actors? The feedback we were getting in those sessions was just incredible.”
“The amount of incredible Calgary actors we’ve had working on this has been amazing,” adds Netto.
And while it’s a little mainstream to go from producing a site specific freak show to writing a show for Lunchbox, Hopkins sees the move down theatre row as one more step in his theatrical and personal journey — for one thing, there’s a lot of Lunchbox patrons he hasn’t met yet that he can now invite to his We Should Know Each Other parties.
“It’s such an honour,” Hopkins says. “We’ve really been embraced by the theatre community here. It’s really cool to see it being done by Lunchbox Theatre.”
Preview: Lunchbox Theatre presents Super 8 by Mark Hopkins & Charles Netto at Lunchbox Theatre through Feb. 25. Tickets and info: lunchobxtheatre.com or 403-265-4292
© Copyright (c) The Calgary Herald