Lindsay Price’s new romantic comedy is making its world premiere this week at The Bard’s Town, where it won the Bard Award, rising to the top of hundreds of submitted scripts to be selected for production this season. “Drinking Perfume” was the runner-up for the Bloomington Playwrights Project’s Reva Shiner Comedy Award last year. The play opens Thursday in the theater upstairs from the Highlands restaurant.
Directed by Beth Tantanella, “Drinking Perfume” is a romantic comedy about Stan (Sean Keller) and Claudie (April Singer) – a nerdy guy in a bow tie and a pink-haired manic pixie dream girl type – thrust together by an unseen force that knows that there’s more to both of them than meets the eye.
Stan and Claudie are a bit different from Price’s usual protagonists in one way – they’re adults. Price has a thriving career as writer of plays for schools and student performers, like a young adult (YA) novelist for the stage.
On the phone from the Crystal Beach, Ontario offices of Theatrefolk, where she’s playwright in residence, Price explained that she occasionally takes a break from writing plays for younger casts to write plays aimed at adults.
“Plays like ‘Drinking Perfume’ are sort of my busman’s holiday,” she said with a laugh.
Literally – Price wrote “Drinking Perfume” over a summer vacation, inspired by her actor husband who kept getting cast in two-dimensional “nerdy guy” roles because he fit the physical type.
“Drinking Perfume” runs through June 29, and in lieu of traditional ticketing, the theater is suggesting patrons “pay what you can” (more information here).
Like most playwrights, Price began her career writing plays aimed at an adult audience (what she calls the “quote-unquote professional market”), but a chance move to a small Canadian town that happened to have a very bustling high school theatre scene opened her eyes to the possibilities – and needs – of young adult casts.
“A lot of times, when theatre is done by students, they’re taking adult plays and trying to make them applicable for the high school experience, it just doesn’t work,” Price said (think: “Death of a Salesman” performed by sophomores). “I thought – I can do this. I can write plays that are written for them, for their voice, for their issues, for their age group.”
That doesn’t mean writing fluff – it’s more along the lines of adapting “Antigone” for a contemporary high school setting – but it is a learned skill, and it has its unique rewards. Price says she especially enjoys her job because of the enthusiasm and energy the casts bring to the process.
Now, Price averages about 400 productions a year across Canada and the U.S. and overseas – a production record that would make her the envy of most “quote-unquote professional” playwrights. Still, just as YA novelists struggle with the perception that their work is less serious than their adult-oriented counterparts, Price has encountered the same attitude in the theatre world.
“To be honest, I grappled with it myself when I started out. If I’m writing for schools and I’m writing for kids, it’s not professional. It’s amateur. It’s not as serious,” she said. “What I’ve come to learn is that’s bogus, it’s a big crock. The reason for that is I don’t know if adult theatre now really changes lives anymore.”
“We go and enjoy. We can go and have an opinion, and be blown away or get angry, but I don’t know if it changes lives. We have so many things we can be influenced by. In the school market, theatre is changing lives every day,” she added.
She has stories: the terrified 12-year-old who, thanks to the rehearsal process, transforms into a confident, social kid by opening night. The middle-school musical chorus member who couldn’t bring herself to sing on stage until the final performance. A student with Asperger’s syndrome who comes into his own socially – and is now mentoring his fellow students – through working on plays.
“I had a teacher tell me that a student read one of my monologues about suicide and feeling feelings, and came up to her after reading the monologue and saying ‘this is how I feel, and I need help, will you help me,’” Price said. “So I don’t pay attention anymore to the people who say I’m not professional, or I’m not as good as such-and-such or I don’t matter, because I’m in the trenches and I see my stuff matter.”