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By Brian Robin

An Attention-Grabber

Director David Ivers

Meeting for Worship by Ana Nogueira kicks off this year’s Pacific Playwrights Festival. It tells the story behind life at a Quaker high school, where students and teachers gather weekly. Here, they sit in silence—sometimes bored, sometimes passing notes and sometimes waiting for the spirit to speak through them. But what happens to this ritual when a scandal threatens to unravel the fabric of their Quaker values? And what does it cost to stand up and speak?

We chatted with Pacific Playwrights Festival Co-Director and Director of The Lab@SCR Andy Knight about Nogueria’s work and what makes it a compelling read.

Q: Tell us about your initial reactions to reading Meeting for Worship. What was it about this work that grabbed your attention and didn’t let go?

Andy Knight: “I think what grabbed me the most—and what grabbed all of us on the Artistic staff—​was how vivid Ana's writing is, how expertly structured the play is, and how its questions (both answered and unanswered) stuck with me long after I first read the play. It's a 19-character drama, a true ensemble piece, that centers on the students and faculty at a Quaker high school in the aftermath of a disturbing event. (I'm being somewhat vague here so as not to give the plot away.) Throughout, the characters all grapple with what to think, how to feel, what to say, and what to do—and Ana writes those internal and external conflicts with an unflinching honesty that's complemented by empathy and a sharp wit. Although it's ​about something very serious, there's a lot of humor throughout.”

Q: Being that this is a commission, what is SCR’s relationship with Ana? What was it about her writing style that brought her into the commission fold (so to speak)?

AK: “SCR first commissioned Ana in 2017, with an Elizabeth George emerging writer commission. The result of that commission was a play called Which Way to the Stage (although it had a different title, Mask Only, when we developed here at SCR). Which Way to the Stage had a reading in our 2019 Pacific Playwrights Festival and later went on to receive its world premiere off-Broadway at MCC Theater. Meeting for Worship is Ana's second SCR commission and her second play to be read in PPF. We first got to know Ana's work as a playwright not long before we commissioned her in 2017. There was so much we loved about her writing, but I remember we discussed at length how brilliantly she crafts dialogue. She pays such close attention to idiosyncrasy and subtext in her line-to-line writing, and it makes her dialogue really leap off the page.”

Q: Describe her writing style.

AK: “Many of Ana's plays live in the genre of realism, and there's a very contemporary feel to the way she writes—even when her plays are set 20 years in the past (like Meeting for Worship) or a not-so-distant future (like her play Empathitrax, which premiered off-Broadway in 2016). To me, Ana's plays are deeply rooted in character and often very funny as they adroitly reveal uncomfortable or startling truths and ask difficult questions. As an SCR commission that's now being developed in PPF, Meeting for Worship very squarely fits into SCR's mission of bringing new works to life in an all-embracing way. Ana is a playwright whose work we've been passionate about for years, so we're thrilled that she wrote the play with SCR in mind and that we've been able to support it at each stage of the process thus far.”

Q: What do you hope audiences take away from Meeting for Worship?”

AK: “I hope that, after seeing Meeting for Worship, audiences want to talk about the play as much as I do. I hope they want to talk about all the ‘Whys’ in the play and not just about ‘What’ happened.”

About the author

South Coast Repertory

South Coast Repertory is a Tony Award-winning theatre is known for producing classics, contemporary hits and world premieres, for having the largest new-play development program in the nation and for advancing the art of theatre in service to the community. 

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