Acclaimed playwright Cheryl West’s work has been seen on stages from Washington state to Washington, DC. She’s written for the big screen and for television. This woman knows her stuff.
But every time West starts a new script, she tries to remember how it felt when she began writing plays more than 20 years ago.
“I think it’s important to stay open,” West explains. “And to approach every new work with that same kind of enthusiasm, a little bit of fear, a little bit of surprise.”
This fall, West brings all of those emotions to her new play “Basket Cases.” It’s about a group of mothers who meet in the gym, watching their daughters try out for a basketball team. Like all of West’s plays, “Basket Cases” was inspired by a personal experience.
“Both of my daughters play sports. And I feel as if I’ve spent the past four or five years in gyms,” West says. The play has elements of comedy, but at its heart, West says “Basket Cases” is about letting go of your children as they get older.
Although you might assume, given West’s theatrical track record, any new script she develops will be snapped up for production, you’d be wrong. Like most playwrights, West writes and then submits her plays to a very public workshop process.
This month, “Basket Cases” is one of three new plays Seattle Repertory Theatre Artistic Director Braden Abraham has chosen for the Rep’s New Play Festival. All three scripts will be performed for an audience in a small, 99-seat rehearsal space. Abraham says there’s no scenery, only bare-bones costumes, and some of the actors will have their scripts in hand during the performances.
The idea behind the Festival is to give playwrights a chance to see how an audience reacts when actors perform the words they’ve written.
“Actors are amazing!” West enthuses. “They’re the other tool in the process because they teach you things about your characters that you may or may not know.”
So do audiences. West says she’s been at workshop performances where she wants to apologize profusely. And she’s received feedback she doesn’t always welcome.
“Some audience members can be … frisky,” she says.
In the end, West will take both audience feedback and what she gets from watching a rough performance, and she’ll use it to help her reshape and refine her play. “This workshop will be very helpful to see if I have something here that can be chiseled, honed and reshaped.”
Seattle Repertory Theater’s New Play Festival runs October 17-26. West’s play “Basket Cases” will have four workshop performances.