Thoughts on the “Powder” playreading.

September 21st, 2007 at 06:13pm brian

I asked Adam Preston, the playwright who brought “Powder” to us, to take a little bit of time to write about his experience with the reading and with writing the play. I want to thank him for such a well thought out response. I’d also like to encourage those of you who were at the reading to share your experiences as comments to this post.

“When Brian Caspe asked if I would be interested in having a reading of my short play ‘Powder’ under the auspices of the Prague Playhouse Theatre I jumped at the chance. I do not need much encouragement to visit Prague (where I lived for a year around 2004) and I have real faith in this little play – so any encouragement it receives I embrace warmly. I sent the play to Dave Fisher of the Bear Educational Theatre and asked him if he would be interested in directing the reading. I have admired Dave’s work ever since I saw his companies performance of Chekhov’s ‘The Bear’ performed at 8 am on a winter’s morning in a school in a Prague suburb. I had then asked him to come and see a production of Chekhov’s The Proposal’ which I was putting on in an apartment and subsequently we presented the two plays together at Na Pradle Theatre.‘Powder’ tells the story of the last days of Percy Therburn – an artist, adventurer and mariner who retired to the banks of the Helford River in Cornwall in the 1950’s. When he was in his final decline he lived in a small hut in the woods. Armed against imaginary enemies, frustrated at his inability to finish his last painting, and determined to die with the sound of the river in his ears the stage was set for a drama that has entered local legend in the region. In writing this play I have gathered as much true information as I could, stirred in a little imagination, and come up with an old fashioned ‘yarn’. As Shakespeare puts it, I have told the tale ‘with advantages’.

The plan was to fly into Prague on the Thursday the 6th September and go straight to Gusto Restaurant in Vinohrady to rehearse with the actors. However on arrival Dave informed me by ‘phone that there was a problem at Gusto. Having lived in Prague I did not allow this to stress me and I did not expend too much energy on trying to understand the problem (the restaurant had no water – therefore no rehearsal). We just rescheduled for the next morning.

At 11 am on the Friday I marched down Vinohradska and soon saw the figure of Dave Fisher with a suitably Powderish looking actor (Stephen Evonuk) standing outside Gusto. The restaurant still had no water – therefore no rehearsal.

We were soon joined by the third actor (David Fellowes) and were now presented with a problem. The event had been publicised and the general feeling was that quite a few people were coming. We had to find a venue within easy walking distance of Gusto so that the audience could be redirected to it. It also had to be somewhere where we could rehearse through the day. Fortunately the combined knowledge of foreigner-friendly venues in Vinohrady possessed by our little company was considerable, and after a couple of false starts (the Russian video library was having building work and a café I used to see live performances in had been turned into a library) we found ourselves seated in Noel’s Lounge.

However – although this location was ideal there was still an apparently insurmountable problem. There was live music scheduled for the evening – at the exact time of our performance. It was at this point that my easy-going optimistic view that somehow things would work out collapsed and I allowed in a brief flood of despair. However – a miracle – it was somehow agreed that we would perform for half an hour during the performer’s ‘break’. The fact that the performer himself was not involved in this decision didn’t seem to bother anyone – and we proceeded to rehearse.

We had decided to do an ‘on book’ rehearsal. This means that the actors have to cling to scripts but they also attempt to perform some of the action of the piece. For me this was essential. On paper ‘Powder’ may seem somewhat staid – how exciting can a play about an old man dying in a hut be? But in fact there is violence, humour, and emotion and a good deal of it is played out in action – not words.

We reassembled at 5pm for some more rehearsals and by this time the machinery of the Prague Playhouse Theatre had wirred into life and created a new poster – with the new venue – for the reading. Brian Caspe efficiently stationed himself at gusto and at 7.30pm shepherded an audience to Noel’s lounge.

We were performing in a side room at Noel’s lounge and there had been some debate about whether it would be big enough. As it was it was exactly right – the room was packed, with quite a few people standing – but it was not uncomfortably packed and there was a suitably intimate atmosphere for a drama set in a small wooden cabin. The blues guitarist had agreed to let us perform for half an hour and, with myself narrating the stage directions, preceded by a short introduction, we presented an ‘on book performance of ‘Powder’ – it’s world premiere.

There is a distinct difference between a play that has been performed and one that hasn’t. Only by seeing some kind of performance can you gage whether the thing has any life, or potential for life, beyond the page. What was so enchanting for me was to see that, despite the distractions of actors reading scripts, trying to pronounce unfamiliar Cornish names, dressed in the wrong clothes and without sets, props, sound effects or stage lighting – despite all this the audience were taken into the world of Percy Therburn and his last battle. We got laughs in the right places and in the middle of the land-locked Czech Republic, something of that mystical worship of the sea was being conjured up. For me it was enough to make me believe that a proper production of ‘Powder’ was something to be avidly sought.

Afterwards the comments from the audience were uniformly positive – with one or two positively gushing with enthusiasm. From my point of view this was an extremely worthwhile and gratifying experience and I am grateful to Dave Fisher, David Fellowes, and Stephen Evonuk for agreeing to participate and to Brian Caspe for everything he did to make this happen. It only remains for me to say if anyone would like to read Powder with a view to putting together a performance, please do get in touch with me either at – or through Brian at the Prague Playhouse Theatre.