When Brian Cox worked at the Saline Reporter he talked with fellow journalist Margie Bovee about her idea for a community arts center in Saline.
“I watched her take Two Twelve Arts from an idea to what it is now. It was really a remarkable accomplishment,” said Cox.
Now, Cox, editor of the Detroit Legal News and aspiring playwright, is excited because Bovee is helping take the script of his first play, Clutter, from script to the stage.
Clutter, starting Peter Knox, Laura Tanner, Mario Merola and Saline’s Pat Collins, plays at 8 p.m. April 12 and 13 at Riverside Arts Center, 76 N. Huron St., in Ypsilanti. Tickets are $7 or $6 in advance or for students.
Written and directed by Cox, Clutter is produced by From Around Here Productions, a new theater company launched by Two Twelve Arts Center, Saline’s community arts center funded by Margie Bovee’s family foundation.
Cox has worked at a novel, written short stories, and worked in journalism. He began writing Clutter two years ago, but admits he didn’t know the first thing about taking a play to production.
That’s where Bovee, who also teaches drama, steps in. In their Saline Reporter days, Cox and Bovee talked about theater and plays. Bovee tried to start an improve group within the Two Twelve Arts Center, but it the initiative fizzled. Recently, Two Twelve Arts Center launched a creative writers group that meets on Sunday nights.
“We all read our work to each other. Then Brian started reading Clutter and a spark went off,” Bovee said. “I said, ‘You know, we could produce this. I could produce this. Two Twelve could produce this.’”
Bovee took parts of the script home and called Cox Monday morning.
“She told me she wanted to produce the play. It was all very new to me,” Cox said. “I didn’t know the path to production.”
Neither did the new producer, Bovee laughed.
Two Twelve Arts Center launched From Around Here Productions and named Clutter as its first play.
“That’s how a lot of things happen around here. You get an idea and you go with it,” Bovee said.
The April 12-13 productions of Clutter are staged readings, a minimalist form of theater without elaborate sets and costumes. Actors read from the scripts. The purpose of the staged reading is to gauge the effectiveness of the script. After the productions, Cox will ask questions and seek feedback from the audience about various elements of the play. He’ll use the feedback to make revisions to his script, and then could begin shopping his new and improved script around.
Clutter is about a man who has experienced a difficult marriage and must make an important life decision. The character retires to his office to make his decision and runs across many items that trigger memories of pivotal and regretful moments in his life.
“It’s about clearing the clutter of memories and regrets away so that he can make this decision,” Cox said. “And it’s about a man and his marriage – a marriage that maybe wasn’t a very good one.”
It’s not a Rodgers and Hammerstein family musical. It’s a drama meant for adults.
That’s one of the things that makes the play such a great opportunity for Pat Collins, a Saline resident and veteran of many community theater productions.
“I love it. Brian wrote a great play. For me, it’s a new challenge. I’ve done comedies. I’ve done musicals. I’ve done stand up. I’ve done little shows and big shows, but I’d never done a drama,” Collins said. "I like the idea of having a local theater company that helps local writers put new plays on stage. Brian and Margie deserve a lot of credit."
He said he also liked the idea of acting in a play that no one had ever seen or read before, and playing characters that nobody had any preconceived notions about. Nobody, that is, except the author.
Being the first actor to breathe life into the characters dreamed up by the author does present some challenges.
“Sometimes it’s hard to recognize what it is he’s thinking,” Collins said.
Cox admitted there were challenges in directing a cast to play his characters.
“But I’ve got a great coast. There are times when I can see something doesn’t work, but then I can work with the actors to fix it. When it does work, it’s awesome,” Cox said.
Cox said that writing a play was a great experience.
“I loved writing it. I’ve done a novel. I’ve published short stories. I’ve done journalism and I’ve enjoyed all that. But I really loved working on this play and I had this sense that I should have been writing plays years ago,” Cox said. “Writing it was a lot of fun.”
Editing it hasn’t been as much fun. As he explained to the actors during a recent rehearsal, it’s difficult to chop scenes and lines that were written with purpose. So far, Cox has edited 25 pages out of the script.
Cox said it’s been a thrilling process.
“This has been a great opportunity to watch a play come to life and work with actors,” Cox said. “I love that this is my play and that we’re doing it. But what really excites me is the next one.”
From Around Here Productions plans to produce two plays by Michigan playwrights each year.
Bovee said Cox’s Clutter was the perfect debut production for the new company.
“I love it. My hope is that this goes on stage and people will have a great experience and great response, and that Brian’s play will get tighter and it will go on to the next level,” Bovee said. “And then we’ll get even more plays from writers around here and give more opportunities to writers and actors.”