PROVO — New Play Project is a unique and important organization. It gives individuals with ideas and aspirations a vehicle to express themselves artistically and gain feedback from audiences. The Bent Sword is the first show produced by New Play Project that we have ever attended, and it was a great example of the service they can provide. New Play Project’s goal is to provide a “creative and free environment for aspiring actors, playwrights, directors” and the result is getting to see unique new works, from local playwrights that otherwise would go unseen. The Bent Sword was a wonderful opportunity to witness the creative process firsthand.
The Bent Sword focuses on a young peasant boy named Steffin who dreams of going on grand adventures, rescuing distressed damsels, and fighting evil wizards. When a wise old story-teller convinces Steffin that his dreams are in fact reality, he leaves his home to begin a quest to defeat the evil Lord Bore, a dark figure who steals dreams and locks them away. The novel and the musical were written by Stephen Gashler, who also stars in the production as Steffin. He first came up with the story over a decade ago when he was a 4th grader painfully familiar with Lord Bore in the public school system. The grand adventures and characters he and his friends would play out during recess eventually served as source material for his novel which he then adapted into the musical.
This week, Gashler has the opportunity to workshop his musical at Provo Theater, in a production directed by Teresa Gashler. New Play Project is a non-profit organization running on a low budget, and the entire cast and crew is made up of volunteers. The production, therefore, was minimally produced without an extensive costume or set design, but the team was able to come up with enough to make it work. The most impressive feeling that we were left with was that this cast was completely dedicated to the material and its message. This was especially displayed from Gashler himself playing the part of Steffin, most likely since he has been living the part in his imagination since childhood. The damsel Porkatha (Kira Jacobs) and our sage JimBob (Randy McNair) was also very well cast. Many of the performers did struggle musically, but this may, in part, have had to do with the fact that the music was often very hard to hear.
The musical itself has some weak elements, but this is an opportunity for the production team to grow as they gain feedback from audiences through the talk back sessions after the show. Since this show was based off of material with a lot of history, we understand it would be extremely difficult to cut anything out when adapting it to the stage version. The author himself said that cutting scenes is like “cutting an arm off of your own child.” As hard as this may be, we felt that by cutting the material even further, the themes important messages would come across more clearly. For example, there were too many characters. The characters should be re-examined more closely to tighten focus on the message of the play, which may involve cutting some beloved characters and completely re-writing others. Overall, we believe the result would be a more engaging show. It is a charming play with interesting characters and subject matter, and by continuing to cut and workshop, it would be an excellent piece for young audiences. It could help many a 4th grader overcome Lord Bore.
The great thing about this play is that it’s all about living your dreams no matter what anyone says and that is exactly what Gashler has done. That is something that we truly admire. How many of us think, “I should totally do ____,” and never take it any further for whatever petty reason? Gashler has the courage to make his dreams reality and we hope to see more of that from artists like him at New Play Project.