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'Lost' and found

One playwright perfects the creative process

 by Philip Haldiman
 published on Thursday, September 28, 2006

Hal Ley (Squirt), Amber Snow (Girl) and Kyle Wills (Alpha) in the ASU Herberger MainStage Theatre production of “The Lost Ones.” /issues/arts/697953
Tim Trumble / Courtesy of Herberger College of Fine Arts
Hal Ley (Squirt), Amber Snow (Girl) and Kyle Wills (Alpha) in the ASU Herberger MainStage Theatre production of “The Lost Ones.”


The characters in the play "The Lost Ones" have a difficult time with dialogue.

Squirt spits out clipped sentences when the threat of an adult becomes imminent, much like the ratta-tat-tat of semi-automatic gunfire that envelopes his world.

Alpha, as his name implies, is the type-A leader male, whose main identity comes in the form of his vocalization: "I. Me. Mine."

And the lone female character speaks less than fellow playmates who have been, "long time gone."

The U.S. premiere of playwright Laurie Brooks' "The Lost Ones" is running as the ASU School of Theatre and Film's season opener on the Lyceum stage through Oct. 1. The play, which made its world premiere in Cork, Ireland, in 2005, follows the journey of three forgotten children left to fend for themselves in a world riddled by war.

The play has been riddled by changes since its debut. Brooks says the artist and audience contributions that have led to these changes typify the creative process that most playwrights use to develop their work.

"Some of my best comments have come from [researchers for a play] and directors, and you can also learn a great deal from your audience," Brooks says.

The characters in "The Lost Ones" live in a world of combat, and the only inspiration they have is a battered copy of the book "Peter Pan." The characters come to believe that they are the "lost boys" of the new millennium.

They are, as "Peter Pan" puts it, "the children who fall out of their carriages when their mother is looking the other way... If they are not claimed in seven days, they are sent away to the Neverland."

But the children in Brooks' play might not be so lucky.

Whether the characters in "The Lost Ones" make it to Neverland or not is a decision that Brooks leaves to the audience. And she doesn't take their opinions lightly.

Brooks says a play, until production, is a constant work in progress, always under the microscope for change, but not at the expense of the author's vision.

Brooks adds that playwrights use a process called "devising" where the playwright comes together with a group of theater artists to perfect ideas using methods like improvisation and storytelling.

Babs Smith, a first year Ph D. student in ASU's theater for youth program, recently experienced this collaborative process during a workshop spearheaded by Brooks. "It's a brainstorming session basically. [Brooks] might say to her actors, 'OK, you're in a war-torn environment, and your character is a 10 to 12-year-old boy.' Then she'd let the actors play," Smith says.

This type of give and take has become Brooks' standard operating procedure. She says one of her main goals is to open the doors of communication through her work in the theater so our world doesn't end up like the one that Squirt and Alpha live in.

One of the ways that Brooks gets feedback is through her after-play interactive forums.

After the play's opening night on Sept. 21, Brooks posed a question to the audience: "Do these kids survive?"

What followed was a bevy of responses

It is a free flow of ideas in which participants discover "what it means to be human," Brooks says.

Smith says this type of forum is very eye-opening from the audience members' point of view. But it can be equally informative to the author.

"It engages the audience and it also, from a writing standpoint, allows for the possible re-development of the play," Smith says.

Brooks started developing this after-play discussion 10 years ago as a means to reach audience members who are still in a vulnerable state after seeing the performance. She says it also creates a sense of community.

"I am on a mission to inspire theaters to value and appreciate audience members beyond the role of spectator," Brooks says. "This play is embedded with so many ideas, and people have a lot to say. So why not ask?"

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