Volleyworld

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

posted by Rob Ackerman, playwright of Volleygirls

In drama and in sports, it’s called a play. You try to make a good play.

I grew up in theater, as an actor, director, craftsman, and playwright, but I can’t recall a sports play that actually shows us a game’s action. What’s up with that? Why hasn’t anyone tried this?

Well, for one thing, it’s not easy. Even as I type these words, days before opening night, I’m not one hundred percent sure it’s possible. That scares me. It all does. Put yourself in my shoes. Or socks. I tend to write in socks.

There I was, at my desk, working on my very first commission for A.C.T., a theater I’ve admired for decades. I had my lists of characters—players and parents, coaches and staff—tacked to a bookshelf in front of me. But how could I set them in motion when so many voices in my head said no, no, no? How could I trespass in Girl World when I come from Man Swamp? How could I dream up a bunch of jocks when I’m not a real athlete? Was I out of my mind? What was I thinking?

You can’t think too much. Not in sports, not onstage, and especially not with pen in hand. At some point, after you’ve done your homework, you have to let go, let your characters be characters.

What do I know about girls? I’ve got two daughters, two younger sisters, a mom whose identical twin has three daughters, and a wife who is an advice columnist for Girls’ Life Magazine and author of a book called Girltalk. That’s a start.

The play’s landscape also encompasses the orderly tree-lined streets of my hometown in central Ohio where I attended a boys’ school that was paired, thank God, with a girls’ school.

And, yes, I love sports, always have, always will. I watched all the 2008 Olympic volleyball, I never miss an episode of Friday Night Lights, and have seen more sports movies than I ordinarily care to admit. I follow Ohio State football, Yankees baseball and Knicks basketball, and for nearly 20 years, I’ve been playing competitive co-ed volleyball with a New York team founded by a Palo Alto pal, Cathy Roos. Last season, we even won a championship.

Still, none of this felt like enough for me to get started on a new play. I needed more. I needed Anne Gravel. Coach Gravel mentored my older daughter in JV volleyball at Trinity School, three blocks from our apartment in Manhattan. This year, my younger daughter’s senior year, Annie coached varsity, so I called to ask if I could shadow her, from preseason to practice, warm-ups to games, and be part of it all, even the Trinity Tiger huddles. She said yes.

I watched the kids play and yell and coax and curse and win and lose and get hurt and get better. I winced when they fell apart and cheered when they came together. And then I started to write.

Producers Craig Slaight and Melissa Smith trusted and encouraged me to create Volleygirls. Director David Keith nurtured the script, picked great players, and found a gifted team of designers, coaches, and technicians. I am wildly indebted and grateful.

Now I’m in San Francisco for final tech and dress rehearsals. The actors are finding their rhythm; technicians are huddled at dimmer boards and laptops. Everyone is ready. We all have a story to tell. So here we go, people. Come on, Ladyhawks. Let’s play ball!
 
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