Lee Blessing, a Pulitzer-nominated playwright, held a staged reading of his play, “The Hourglass Project,” Jan. 30 and 31 at the Lorton Performance Center.
Blessing has written more than 20 plays and screenplays throughout his career. “The Hourglass Project” was a recent commision by the Hendrix College Department of Theatre Arts and Dance in Arkansas.
The production at TU is only the second time the material has been on stage. Professor Michael Wright, who teaches Creative Writing, Theater and Film, said that students had three days before the first showing to work on the play.
While the production is important, Wright said this week has “been even more important for teaching students.” “The play was not perfected (by years of reproduction on the professional stage),” Wright said. The play, according to Wright, gave students an opportunity most theater students don’t get throughout college.
“Some universities are unadventurous,” Blessing said. But he is “more interested in theaters and universities doing new and more recent work,” and had a “great time” organizing the reading here.
Blessing and Wright have a long history, which was part of the reason “The Hourglass Project” was brought to TU.
After Hendrix College performed the play, Blessing contacted Wright and others about taking it on as well. Wright “loved the idea of it.”
Blessing had also been to TU two or three times, with both his work and previous students, when he worked at Rutgers University.
As for “The Hourglass Project,” Blessing was influenced by the book “The Singularity is Near” by Ray Kurzweil. He wanted to write roles for 20 year olds, but “wanted a different take.” “The Singularity is Near” touched on a fascination of Blessing’s.
The book describes when humanity’s knowledge of science, technology and themselves will collide to create a “quantum leap” in understanding and ability.
According to Blessing, technological advances raise “a lot of questions of how we behave, the degree to which we change ethically, morally, and how we’ll do when faced with those kinds of decisions.”
He treats the topic with a “somewhat comedic tone,” however, because it is “too grim of a topic to treat in a dramatic light.”
The topic was new to Blessing, although it was something that fascinated him.
“I write a lot of different plays,” Blessing said, but he “just got attracted to this idea.” He likes to experiment with a variety of styles and genres, and “The Hourglass Project” was an example of this.
After the staged reading, Blessing had a talkback with the audience. He noted, however, that “most everything I learn comes from watching the audience.”
An audience is “at their most honest and eloquent” during the production itself, when he can watch reactions.
At talkbacks, he does hear “very interesting and relevant points” as well.
While Blessing is currently writing a play to world premiere in April, he is constantly revising former ones, including “The Hourglass Project.”
“I’m always trying to get them produced,” he said, noting that he’s “sometimes successful.” One of his plays from the 1980s is set to run in France this year.
Wright hopes to have a full production of “The Hourglass Project” next year.