Act OnePublished 5:01am Sunday, June 30, 2013
A Southland English teacher is hoping an upcoming experience will help him accomplish his goal of writing a full play and bringing it to the stage.
Southland English teacher Tim Brennan’s one act play “Hear Me Now” was one of three plays selected to move on at the Heartland Midwest Theatre Company’s one act play competition in Bloomington, Ill.
Brennan’s play will be performed, and he’ll attend a workshop with Mary Ruth Clarke — the original writer of “Meet the Parents” — on July 12, 13 and 14. Brennan hopes to learn from Clarke and discuss how to convert his experience writing short plays into writing a full play.
“I think I’m ready,” he said.
But writing a full play is only the first step, as Brennan also wants to bring his piece to the stage.
“You don’t want to write one and put it in the drawer,” he said.
“Hear Me Now” focuses on family relationships, particularly about a mother and daughter who live together after a divorce. Events unfurl after the mother finds a condom in her daughter’s possession, and the father enters back into the fold, too.
“The play is about a dysfunctional family,” Brennan said.
Brennan described the play as a “dramady,” in that it starts out lighthearted before ending on a more serious note.
This won’t be the first time one of Brennan’s plays have been performed by the Heartland Theatre Company in Bloomington, Ill., as his 10 minute play “Reciting Emily Dickinson” was performed there a few years ago.
Brennan was not involved in theater during his youth, but he was asked to run the theater department when he was hired in Southland.
“I had no clue what I was doing at all, and you could tell the first couple plays I did,” Brennan said.
After some hands-on learning over the years, Brennan now says is proud of the schools’ performances when he was theater director from 1984 to 2005.
Brennan’s playwriting dates back to 2004 after a challenge from a friend. He was complaining about the lack of solid scripts for school shows.
“She said, ‘Well, why don’t you write one,’ so I tried,” he said.
After writing his first short play, “Bedtime Story,” Brennan was invited to watch a performance of it.
“It was a blast,” he said. “It was more fun to go watch it.”
Brennan’s plays have been performed at Rochester’s Repertory Theatre and as far away as San Diego and Maryland. While he prefers to stay off stage as an actor, he said it’s a lot of fun to watch the performances.
“I’ve made it a point to go watch my stuff,” he said, “because it helps tremendously.”
Despite decades heading Southland’s theater, Brennan has only acted a few times. He once played the part of God in his own short play “About Something” at a local church, but he described the process as a challenge. Now, he has little desire to act in or direct his own plays.
Instead, he appreciates the multiple facets of theater and likes to keep them separate.
“You’ve got a writer, you’ve got actors and you’ve got a director, and each has their own vision,” he said.
At Southland, Brennan teaches eighth to 12th grade English, and he teaches creative writing classes where he incorporates playwriting.
Brennan’s experience writing plays has carried over into the classroom. While he prefers to keep his teaching and playwriting separate, he has given his own plays to students to read as example.
“I think it’s important that students know that I participate in what I teach,” Brennan said.
In class, Brennan’s students write one, two and three minute plays in working their way up to 10 minute plays.
One of his student’s plays was performed at a theater in New York a few years ago.
In class, he prefers not to grade creative work on a traditional A, B, C scale; instead, they read and critique the work.
“If you write it, you’re successful,” he said, “because everybody is a writer.”
Still, his students have been a key source for inspiration, as he’s had hundreds of students pass through his classroom for inspiration.
“The girl that’s in the play, Lydia, I’ve had a girl like her in class every year,” he said.
That inspiration from characters isn’t traced to one single student, but Brennan said he’s taken qualities and traits from many of the parents and students he’s met over 30 years of teaching.
“The mom, the dad and the child in the play, I’ve met personally hundreds of times,” he said.
One of the best sources of material, for Brennan, is everyday life.
“I listen to other people’s conversations,” Brennan said, often using them as lines in a story.
Brennan also writes and has published poetry, and he noted the poetry and playwriting have improved the other.