A Post-Show Discussion with Playwright Billy Winter and Director Rebecca Rovezzi
By Caity Cook
Playwright’s Labs are a unique experience that allows student playwrights to develop their work over the course of the semester with the support of the department. I talked to this semester’s playwright, Billy Winter ’18, and his director, Rebecca Rovezzi ’18, about what the process was like for them. Below, read along as the two reflect on the play, “You’ll Be Fine,” the challenges of working on a piece based on a true story, and the power of collaboration.
CC: Billy, what inspired you to write this show?
BW: Oh god, I don’t know what inspired me, but, you know, the events of the show are based on a true story. It all happened.
RR: It didn’t all happen.
BW: Well, okay. It’s based on a true story that happened in my town. I was not super close with Jane, but I had known her since elementary school. One day, last fall, I just started writing and it grew from there.
RR: Didn’t you consider it to be therapeutic, in a way?
BW: Yeah, it was. It was very therapeutic for the grieving process, to get my feelings and thoughts out, well, not onto paper because I typed it, but onto paper.
CC: Billy, what was it like to write a play based on a true story? Rebecca, what was it like to direct one?
BW: It was tough. I wanted to stay as faithful to reality as I could while still maintaining an interesting story. I had to kinda make it theatrical, so that involved combining people into more concrete characters, adding things that didn’t happen but maybe could have happened.
CC: Rebecca, what was it like for you?
RR: Difficult at times as well. I think part of my job was to provide a perspective that wasn’t close to the actual events and didn’t know about what actually transpired, and looking at it from a purely theatrical sense. It’s always a conscious thing, especially when we’re dealing with a tragic incident that really happened, to keep in mind that you don’t want to sensationalize, you don’t want to disrespect anything. But this isn’t a dateline special or report of the events. This is based on the events, but all of the scenes are generated from Billy’s imagination.
RR: And I think that it’s also important for me to really think about the characters as characters and not real people. Because then we can look at them and say okay, well, is this character three dimensional? What’s this character’s point of view? I think sometimes this was helpful for both of us. Because Billy knows some of these people, or knows the people that inspired them, so in his head they are always three dimensional characters. For me, it was about how much of that is conveyed. So it was really just about providing a different perspective.
BW: Yeah, it was hard—it got easier as time went on—to separate everything I knew about the real people and shift that towards these fictional characters I was creating. I think that once we kind of changed the names of the characters we were like, okay, these are different people.
RR: Yeah, that was something I felt strongly about too. That happened at the beginning of this semester.
CC: What was the most exciting thing about the Playwrights Lab process?
BW: I loved getting feedback from the talkbacks, and also from the actors. I loved getting to collaborate with them and Rebecca, to make it work better as a piece of theater and sound more natural as far as dialogue goes.
RR: Yeah. For me, the most important part of my creative process as a director is collaboration. And the Playwrights Lab process really lends itself to that. I’m very adamant about everyone in the space being vocal about how they’re feeling and generating the material together. So for me it was important that everyone felt like we could talk. The ultimate goal is to help Billy, and I think everyone really rose to that challenge. What’s also really exciting about it is the fact that you get two opportunities to showcase the piece over the course of the semester. The idea that we’re working on something that is constantly evolving—not just over the two readings but on a day to day basis— is really exciting.
BW: Rebecca will come in with new ideas, or the cast will come in with ideas, or I’ll come in with new ideas, and things will just grow. Even from a time where I was like “Oh, this is pretty close to being done” to now…it was not done.
CC: Having finished this process now, what would you say is the most significant thing you’ve gained from it?
BW: I think I’ve learned a lot about the playwriting process. This is the first play I’ve ever written. From where I started last fall with it to now, I’ve learned so much about how writing a play works, how to make a piece of theatre.
RR: As a director, I think that working with a playwright in the room is a whole different ball game. If you have an issue with the script, the playwright is obviously not in the room most of the time, so you have to dig deep into the text and try to solve the problem. You have to find a way to make it work, to understand it. But a lot of it is on you to figure that out, whereas with the Playwright’s Lab, if there was something that wasn’t clicking for me in the script I could just turn to Billy and say, “What does this mean?” It was really about serving the play and doing what we could to help Billy develop the piece. And it wasn’t as much about my directorial vision for the piece, as it was about how I could work in the room and explore the text with the actors in a way that would help him find out what worked and find out what didn’t in the play. Which is really cool.
CC: What was it like to work together?
BW: It was the dream!
RR: Yeah! The cool thing about working with Billy is that we both get each other and we can totally challenge each other, but there’s never any animosity. It always comes from a place of love. I think we have a friendship that has a lot of respect in it. I don’t think you can collaborate in this way with every single one of your friends, but this friendship works in a professional sense.
BW: Yes. And I feel like I’m so lucky to have had Rebecca as my director for this process, because I’m so emotionally attached to this piece. I felt comfortable sharing it with Rebecca and going into those deeper questions.
RR: I hope you knew that I had your back. I think some people might have gone into the piece and been afraid to push him, but I don’t think I was. There were some nights where he probably hated me for it, but I think some cool things came out of it. I was going to make him explain things, I was going to make him justify his choices. I wasn’t just going to let him make them. And I hope that that was helpful.
CC: Billy, what’s next for this play?
BW: Well, it’s not done. That’s another thing I’ve learned. I want to keep working on it. I think there’s still a lot that can be done with it. I want to make it the best it can be. Even if that’s not a thing I can reach, I’m going to keep going for it. It’s a potential senior project for me, I think.
RR: I think the next step would be to get it up on its feet, without scripts in hand. Sorry, I know this was a Billy question, but I thought I’d throw my two cents in.
BW: Rebecca’s two cents are worth two dollars.
Caity Cook is a junior English major and Theater minor. She is Editor-in-Chief of the Skidmore Theater Living Newsletter.