For Don Zolidis and Jonathan Rand, the co-playwrights of the HHS 2017 Fall Play that was performed November 10 and 11, Humbletown: The Greatest Town on Earth, the process of writing the play was not quite as theatrical as the product that came from the session.
"My brother Devin was always suggesting that Don and I should collaborate in some way,” Rand said. “So one day, I just sent Don an email or text and just said, ‘Alright, we should just do this.’ Living in different states presented a challenge, but these days technology makes it a bit easier, so we decided to give it a shot.”
The majority of the writing occurred over Skype calls and emails.
Before the writing process of Humbletown, the two had worked together as Rand published Zolidis' plays. However, this was the first time the two wrote a play together, as well as one of the few times each of them had done major collaborative work in the way that they did so with this play. Between the two, the only notable partnership was when Zolidis worked with his composer on a musical, a process he described as a much longer, more difficult process.
However, the collaboration ended up working out as seamlessly as the organization of it suggested it would. The alliance between the two turned out to be a natural fit.
“We both write similar styles of plays, so it seemed like a pretty seamless type of collaboration,” said Rand.
Within the process itself, there was inspiration and influence coming from all kinds of sources.
For example, the decision on the play’s location of Minnesota, decided primarily by Zolidis, had some unexpected roots.
“In my own mind, I think Minnesota is inherently funny. I just love the accent, and it seems like it’s a good homey-folk kind of place. Minnesota has the right kind of sweetness where you can mock it relentlessly.”
They said were also inspired by other films and plays, such as Thornton Wilder’s 1938 play, Our Town, and the Leonardo DiCaprio-starring film The Aviator. However, the two said the inspiration came in a more humorous sense than what would be expected from a 20th century American classic and a Martin Scorsese-directed drama.
Rand said that almost 95 percent of the opening scene was originally a parody of Our Town.
“(In Our Town) there’s this three-page monologue in the opening, and it talks about climate, and is more or less a Wikipedia entry on the town,” said Zolidis. “I always thought, ‘That’s just kind of silly! Why are you doing that?’”
As for The Aviator, Zolidis said that a scene in which Leonardo DiCaprio’s character, a wealthy recluse at this point in the film, is discovered to have been living in seclusion in a Las Vegas hotel, was a major influence for one particular scene that he claimed was his favorite scene to write.
Since the publication of Humbletown in 2015, they have not been able to attend a performance of the show. Zolidis was present for the stage reading of the debut performance of the play and Rand was able to view it via Skype.
Zolidis did say that while he cannot say how roles have been played differently in various performances of the play, he believes that actors will be able to bring their own energy to their roles and make them different from the performances that precede and recede it.