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Playwright Adam Bock helps CCRI
students learn to tell a story on stage
Oct. 26, 2012
Alexander Rotella, a second-year fine arts student at the Community College of Rhode Island cast in the CCRI Players’ recent production of “The Receptionist,” was having a bit of trouble figuring out his character. Fortunately, the playwright was there to answer his questions.
Adam Bock, writer of “The Receptionist” and other acclaimed off-Broadway plays including “A Small Fire” and “The Drunken City,” visited CCRI earlier this month to meet with the CCRI students who were performing his play. He also conducted a mid-afternoon writing workshop and an evening question-and- answer session about drama in America.
Meeting with the cast of “The Receptionist,” Bock – dressed like a college student himself – chatted with the students about the theater business and answered their questions about the script and its characters.
“I think of him as a guy who probably played lacrosse in college,” he explained to Rotella about his character Mr. Dart, eliciting a chuckle. “He was very popular,” Bock continued. “He’s a good guy, which makes it a little scarier. I think it’s too easy to make him a villain.”
What’s so scary about a company man from the central office showing up in the middle of a workplace comedy? “The Receptionist” begins with a tone similar to “The Office” but something darker is lurking just underneath. The company’s secret will involve all of its employees and raise questions about the nature of complicity and personal responsibility.
“The whole play turns on the secret,” Bock said. “I wanted to avoid having it be about good vs. evil. It’s more about being human.”
The CCRI production starred Erin Archer, 2011 National Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship finalist, as the titular receptionist Beverly Wilkins.
“I’m very excited to have [Bock] here because I really like this play,” Archer said. “To get to meet him and get his perspective is amazing. There were a lot of questions that we had that we couldn’t answer from the script alone.”
CCRI Assistant Performing Arts Professor Luke Sutherland, the director of the CCRI Players’ “Receptionist,” said, “It was a great opportunity for the students to have the playwright come in and meet with them. He was able to give them insight into the characters and the world, the environment that these people live in.”
For all of his advice, and despite how tempting it may be for the young actors to portray their characters exactly as the actual playwright intends, Bock insisted that the script is really just a blueprint for the actors’ interpretation.
“It’s important that you guys make your own show for this particular place,” he told them.
After meeting with the cast of “The Receptionist,” Bock held a writing workshop at the Flanagan Campus open to all students and staff called “The Playwright’s Voice.” Participants explored the challenges of telling a story on stage, where they have only dialogue to work with and cannot use the descriptive narration that a novelist can.
Attendees performed a writing exercise centering around two characters who both want the same thing, whatever that may be. Bock supplied prompts such as “two colors, an animal, an occupation, a season and ages.”
Bock’s visit to the college concluded with an evening presentation that Linda Murphy Sutherland, a 1991 CCRI alumnus and wife of Luke Sutherland, moderated and CCRI President Ray Di Pasquale attended.
Murphy Sutherland invited Bock to CCRI after meeting him at Emerson College, where she works designing certificate programs complementing the school’s arts, communications and visual arts curricula.
Bock himself has Rhode Island connections: The Canadian-born playwright attended Brown University and remained in Providence for eight years afterward, working at the Trinity Repertory Company and painting houses on the side.
The Charles Sullivan Fund for the Arts and Humanities at CCRI sponsored the visit. Sullivan was a CCRI English professor well known in the area’s drama scene who died in 2010.
“I knew Charles Sullivan, so it’s wonderful that that fund would bring me here,” Bock said. “He was funny; such a charmer.”
Bock was in Oregon during the run of “The Receptionist” at CCRI and was unable to attend. But, he said during his visit, “I think they’ve got a really good handle on it and they’re going to do a great job.”