Sometimes, you’ve just got to take things into your own hands. Tahnee Cadrez, a senior majoring in visual and performing arts, realized this when, in a moment of senioritis panic, rented space on campus and decided to produce her self-written play all by herself.
“I told myself, ‘I’ll never be able to do this after I graduate,’” Cadrez said.
Her play, Surprise Party, will be performed in the Village Gate Theater on Feb. 21 and 22 at 8 p.m. It tells the story of Allen, the 20-something son of Billy and Ruth, who reveals to his parents that he is gay and having a baby with his partner of a year via surrogate. In an attempt to show Allen that they are supportive of his lifestyle, his parents decide to throw a party in honor of their new grandchild-to-be. The party, however, goes haywire when Billy puts the wrong date on the invitation and other family secrets are revealed.
The play was originally a project for a basic playwriting class at USC, but Cadrez decided to explore the idea further in a directed research course with School of Dramatic Arts faculty member Oliver Mayer.
The events of the play are “pretty far-fetched,” Cadrez said. Most ideas for the plot just came to the writer during the process. She did not outline or plan the story.
“It sort of wrote itself,” Cadrez said. “I mean, it didn’t, it was hard, but I would be writing and think, ‘This would be a good twist.’”
For Cadrez, ideas come not while sitting at her computer, but when she is just walking around.
“I store it away and put it in later,” Cadrez said. “Sometimes it’s an image that inspires me. Or an idea will pop into my head, and I have to figure out how I am going to get to that point in the story.”
Characters, however, are Cadrez’ passion.
“[I’m a] huge, huge advocate for character,” Cadrez said. “I could give a crap about a story. I’m all about who the person is and how to convey that. I just want to represent everyone accurately — not just make them an archetype or a stereotype.”
Two of the play’s main characters are gay, and Cadrez wanted to ensure she represented them in a realistic manner without stereotypes.
“I’m not going to put them in a feather boa,” Cadrez laughed.
And though it was not a conscious decision, many of the characters are based on people in Cadrez’s life.
“I think there’s always an element of someone you know in a character you write,” Cadrez said. “I focus on relationships, husband and wife, mother and son. That has been influenced by a real-life situation. But it’s subconscious. I’ll read and realize I’ve taken it from a real person in my life. It’s never deliberate, it’s always after the fact.”
Cadrez’s love for these characters is partly what motivated her to direct this production herself. In her first directing endeavor, Cadrez has greatly appreciated having actors to provide feedback on her play. This is the first time she has heard actors’ voices perform her text, something she finds exciting.
“I wanted to hear what the actors thought; they’ll say things like, ‘I don’t feel like I would say this,’ which is great,” Cadrez said.
Throughout the three-week rehearsal progress, the cast has had many discussions about different elements of the play. Many lines allude to the past, and the actors were eager to discover what Cadrez was referring to. Cadrez, however admitted, “They’ll ask me what happened, and I say, ‘I don’t know!’” As a group, they were able to reach conclusions about relationships and pasts.
Though Cadrez is enjoying the process, she admits the preparation was a bit thrown together. After renting the space in November, Cadrez got busy producing the recent production of RENT. January quickly rolled around and Cadrez realized she still hadn’t gotten a team together. She had to make adjustments, and decided to direct her own “rehearsed reading,” meaning the actors have some costumes and props, as well as blocking, but still hold scripts. The decision to direct it herself was a tough one. “I don’t want to mess it up, but I also don’t want to mess it up myself.”
Her decision to create this type of production was brought on not only by time and people restraints, but also for a deeper reason.
“A lot of [Independent Student Productions] aren’t read for a full production,” Cadrez said. “I think I was protecting myself a bit, subconsciously, by doing a rehearsed reading.”
Regardless, Cadrez is glad for this type of flexibility, because it allows her to change the lines up to the night before.
“It helps me restructure things, because it’s all in the throes of rewriting. It allows it to be all about the text,” Cadrez explained.
The production, funded by a highly successful “GoFundMe” online campaign, also found assistance from a San Francisco-based art support group called New Oppulence Arts. The company works to encourage the production of original artwork of all forms, including plays. NOA has helped Cadrez both with marketing and with credibility.
“[NOA] makes me seem more official by having their name to back me up,” Cadrez explained.
Cadrez hopes the audience talkbacks after the performances will help her receive more feedback on the play. She is looking forward to continuing to pursue playwriting in Los Angeles after graduating. Cadrez knows playwriting is not an easy path to take, but plans to stick with it for as long as possible.
“It will be a freelance thing for a while — a long long while,” Cadrez said. “But even if it’s just a hobby, I’m down with that, because it’s fun.”
This post has been updated.