Behind the Scenes: Student playwright pens successful script

Junior Jennie Conway hardly expected that a play she wrote last spring would be performed on stage at Geneseo, let alone that she would direct it. Finding out that Veg S.O.U.P. wanted to make her creation a full-fledged production led Conway to extensively revise her original work. Conway’s play is about a detective and fiction writer Emma Fields who shares the stage with Lizzie Gordon, a protagonist from her own book. Gordon, as an alter ego, helps Fields sort out many of her real-life problems. The play becomes a murder mystery when Fields discovers she is tracing her father’s murder.

Conway originally wrote “Case Reopened” as a nine-page submission to the English department’s spring 2013 Creative Writing Contest. She had written a number of screenplays for a class at the time, but most of her theater experience was in stage crew. Remarkably, this was her first attempt at playwriting, but she won the contest.

Conway cited crime dramas as one of her primary influences.

“I started to get into procedural cop shows, which I had never gotten into before,” Conway said. “I started to get into ‘Castle’… and that was a little bit of an influence on me, with wanting to write a crime/mystery story.”

After “Case Reopened” won the English department contest, Veg S.O.U.P. invited Conway, and a group of other select writers, to submit her work to be considered for production.

Conway set out on a dramatic revision process to prepare the play for the Veg S.O.U.P. committee, which involved lengthening the script from nine pages to 64. Conway said the revisions occurred in two very broad jumps completed over surprisingly short periods of time.

“The first jump, I got it to 40-something [pages], and that took me a week,” Conway said. “The revision to add on the other 20 pages took me about a week also.”

The revised dialogue features a lot of dramatic intensity, but it also makes use of dry and sarcastic humor presented in jabs and banter between characters that give the script a realistic and relatable quality. Conway said some of the process of adding intensity to either the dramatic or comedic moments involved feedback and interpretation from her actors.

“Some of the things weren’t even intentional but came out in rehearsal with my actors and the way that they were saying lines or the way that they paused or moved,” Conway said.

Being a director of her own play has given Conway a unique perspective on how difficult certain aspects of her script are to stage, as the staging features some unique scenarios.

Most of the script in present time is limited to Fields and Gordon, but it often flashes back in time and shows a young Fields and her family. The script also involves a number of phone calls, which are actually staged so that viewers can see both callers. Conway said these scenes were particularly difficult to stage.

“Case Reopened” will run at 7:30 p.m. from Nov. 21 to Nov. 23 in the Robert Sinclair Black Box Theatre. Tickets are $5.