Location is everything for Marion playwright

Mar 20, 2019

MARION — Tabor Academy English teacher Mark Howland may have stumbled into the role of playwright accidentally, but seven plays in, it’s clear he loves it as well.

“I’d been working on shows for a long time and [colleague Richard VanVoris] said ‘I think it’s time you wrote a show,” Howland said.

So he did. Howland wrote “Cedar Beach” as one of his seven plays, and had it performed at Tabor Academy around 2012 or 2013. The plot deals with a family that jointly inherits a house, and has to decide how and whether to maintain it.

“Some of that comes from my own experience. My grandfather owned property on the Cape and it passed to the next generation,” Howland said. His family also has property on a lake in central Massachusetts.

Reading the book “Big House” inspired him to examine the complex family dynamics that come to light in jointly owning a property.

“We have been able to navigate that pretty well, because it’s a summer cottage and it’s a basic place.  But we have cousins who have not fared as well due to a combination of varying degrees of interest and geography, people who live further away and can’t use it.” Howland said.

He hopes that Marion residents will be able to relate to the issue as well.

“In this area there are properties that are jointly owned, and then you run into the problem of how do you maintain it? Can you keep it in the family? Does everyone use it the same way? Can everyone afford taxes, the upkeep?” Howland said. 

Although not directly involved with planning the staged reading, Howland is interested to see how it is done, because “Cedar Beach” is “a show that has a number of adult characters in it, which is always a stretch for high school kids.”

However, he is also grateful for his location at Tabor, and the benefits it affords him as a playwright.

“I am spoiled. Because of where I work, there’s a confluence of factors that make writing a play an interesting challenge and a very doable challenge. With [colleague John Heavey] I’d be able to send to him scenes and drafts, and he’d give me wonderful feedback, and I’d go back and revise them.” Howland explained.

“And then when you go to the students you there’s another opportunity to change it because of what they bring to the show. So the rehearsal process meant that there were some changes,” he continued.

Having a venue and not having to sell tickets, or sell the rights to the play to someone else, and having summers off to write also make the process easier. 

Now he has found another venue for his play, “Cedar Beach,” which will appear in staged-reading form as part of the Marion Art Center ArtWeek events on April 29 from 7 to 9 p.m. Howland will also be on hand to answer questions about the show afterwards.

A staged reading is not a full play with memorized lines, actors will rehearse at least a little bit “so actors are comfortable with the script, their characters, and each other,” Kate Fishman of the Marion Art Center Theater Committee explained.

They sit at a table for most of the reading, with scripts before them, but are also free to stand or move as the script dictates.

The staged reading will be free, but interested attendees should register online at http://www.marionartcenter.org/artweek/.