In the world of print journalism, Dash Thirty Dash signifies the end of a story. However, this weekend in downtown Indianapolis, Dash Thirty Dash will take part in the inception of the IndyFringe’s first annual Diva Fest. A four day mini-marathon of five plays that celebrates the minds and work of women playwrights from Indiana.
Dash Thirty Dash is an original work from first-time dramatist Amy Wimmer Schwarb that serves as her personal swan song to the newspaper industry in which she first cut her professional teeth. You see, while this is Schwarbs first foray into the world of scripts and set designs, she has spent the better part of two decades in print media. Her current contributions to the Circle City can be seen in the award-winning magazine Indianapolis Monthly, where she serves as executive editor.
Before the lights go down and the curtain goes up at the IndyFringe Theatre building–on the corner of Mass Ave and College–this weekend, Amy took a few minutes to discuss her play; which is loosely based on her time spent at the St. Petersburg Times in Florida.
The story begins around the time of the 2004 presidential election, when the eyes of our nation cast a judgemental glare on the Sunshine State and its hanging chads of 2000, and ends the day after current president Barack Obama was elected our Commander in Chief. Set in rural Florida, they play, ” Is a two-fold story. It is about the modern challenges of the news industry, but it is also my love letter to newspapers,” says Schwarb.
The time frame for the piece was carefully chosen due to the juxtaposition of our country having a new president for the first time in eight years, and what seems to be the death throes of a once unstoppable industry.
The idea for such a story started taking root in those early days of her career when, “At some point at the (St. Petersburg) Times, I just found myself standing in the middle of the news room and said to myself, there is a story here.” Amy added, “I felt I was in the middle of a real transition period for the newspaper industry.”
Writing a theatrical piece that comes to life in front of an audience is an interesting proposition for an individual who has spent her professional life bleeding her thoughts onto the pages of a publication for the world to read. For the most part , Schwarb has always been in control of what her work says. Now that her words are brought to life by actors and a director, it has given her a new perspective on how her work is perceived.
“As a writer you put things out there and people can compliment you, but you never get to see people reacting to your work as you do with a play,” said Amy.
Not only is it a new experience to watch others respond in real time, but it is tough when the work is semi-autobiographical.
“It’s sort of a high, but it also makes me a bit self-conscious at times because, even though the story is pulled from my experiences with my former coworkers, it is told from the perspective of one character and that character is sort of a 25-year-old version of me working in that small Florida news bureau,” she said. “So certainly there is a lot of me in it too, and I didn’t first realize that until I sat in on rehearsals.”
It seems to be the rule rather than the exception when discussing how a writer gets their work from concept to completion. It is a process that is never easy and usually takes place during the proverbial eleventh hour. Schwarb’s experience was status quo in this regard.
The skeleton of the Dash 30 Dash first started forming during Amy’s time writing and reporting for the St. Petersburg Times. However, life didn’t come to the play until Amy came back home to the Hoosier State and decided the time had come to put her feelings into words.
She let her collection of random thoughts and stories germinate for 18 months or so, but the true heart of the play was written as most of the best work from newspaper and magazine writers is, when there is an approaching deadline.
It was at the end of last year, 2009, that Amy new she wanted to get serious about finishing Dash 30 Dash. Convenient happenstance is all it was when Schwarb found a middle of January 2010 deadline for the IndyFringe Diva Fest here in her own backyard of Indianapolis. “The way that their deadline fell at the end of the week and right after the magazine’s (Indy Monthly) production, allowed me to take a week off and write. So basiclaly I gave myself 5 days to complete the project”
Amy is more than happy for the chance to showcase her work and personal feelings about the industry and profession that helped make her who she is today. But if there is one thing she hopes this weekend’s audiences take away with them it’s that, “So few pieces written about the journalism world are written from the perspective of a journalist, so few works are respectful of what we do. I hope that non-journalists get a little bit of a feel of what goes into the work and how serious the work is taken,” she said. “And how a journalist holds them, the independent reader, as somebody they are trying to serve.”
Regardless if you are a lifelong purveyor of print, or just an Internet addict, this is your opportunity to see first hand what goes into making news come to life every morning on your front step and breakfast table. More than that, it is an opportunity to support your Indiana neighbors in expanding the ever growing Indianapolis arts scene, so get up, get out and get downtown for the first annual IndyFringe Diva Fest and Dash 30 Dash.
For more information on the other plays and schedule for this weekend’s performances, visit the IndyFringe Web site here.
Directory of Indianapolis theatres and performing arts venues
May 6 to May 9, 2010
IndyFringe Theatre Festival
The IndyFringe Building
719 E St. Clair St