Local writers explore playwriting with New York pros

The Workbench New Play Workshop, held June 11-18, is the brainchild of Greg Paul, a New-York based playwright.

New York-based playwrights and teachers Greg Paul and Melanie Goodreaux lead a discussion after Saturday's performances. The playwrights were Ardaschir Arguelles, Alan Guajardo, Maeve Bolton, Henry Johnson, Finn Paul, Mara Hanel and Jennifer Geraedts. Not pictured: Evelyn Guajardo.
Shannon Geisen / Park Rapids Enterprise

An intensive, week-long playwriting workshop spurred eight local writers to create eight original, 10-minute plays.

The Workbench New Play Workshop, held June 11-18, is the brainchild of Greg Paul, a New-York based playwright. He and wife Lisa Dove return to Park Rapids each summer as stage and technical directors for Northern Light Opera Company’s musical productions.

For the second year in a row, Paul partnered with fellow playwright Melanie Goodreaux to lead budding playwrights through a series of writing exercises.

Writers had just seven days to go from a blank page to presenting their work before a live audience.

“It’s a very intense and very exciting process,” Paul said.


For inspiration, writers chose a commonplace object – either a bell, lipstick, bone, ice pack, Band-Aid, deck of cards, flashlight or Lucky Strike cigarettes – to inspire their tale.

For example, a wife finds a bone under her family porch, leading her to unravel the culprit behind a recent string of murders in Henry Johnson’s play, entitled “The Bodies Under the Porch.”

Describing the style as “a 1980s’ slasher,” Johnson said the play was based on a real story. A sophomore at Park Rapids, he was the youngest workshop participant.

They had about four days to generate a rough draft, then they met with actors and director Julie Kjenaas to prepare for a stage reading.

The skits were performed on Saturday, June 18 at the Armory Arts and Events Center.

Paul explained that the purpose of a stage reading is that “it’s really about the script itself. It’s not so much a big performance. That’s so you, the audience, can really hear and get a sense of the story and what this writer is trying to show to you.”

Lipstick in “A Bitter Shade of Red” triggers flashbacks of a young woman murdered by her boyfriend. It was written by Evelyn Guajardo, a 2022 Park Rapids Area High School (PRAHS) graduate.

Two neighbors combat isolation and reality in Maeve Bolton’s “The Disclosed Lives of Mrs. Meevy and Jenny Harbo.” Bolton is also a recent PRAHS graduate.


Alan Guajardo's 10-minute play opens with a robbery in progress at a jewelry store. Devin Kordahl, at left, and Emily Kjenaas portray characters confronted by Frankie Jager and Aaron Kjenaas in this stage reading.
Shannon Geisen / Park Rapids Enterprise

In “Billy on Crime,” Alan Guajardo’s main character’s past comes back to haunt him, forcing him to return to crime. Alan graduated in 2019.

Mara Hanel, a Belle Taine Lake summer resident, participated for the second time in the workshop. Hanel said she sought to bring authenticity and drama into this year’s story, “Am I Dead Yet?” It delved into the impact of alcoholism and the COVID pandemic on a family.

Finn Paul titled his play “A Little Town Called Bullcrap,” which centered around a narrator’s personally televised realization that he wants his roommate to die.

“Chromia,” by Jennifer Geraedts, explored self-acceptance. Her main character has irises that are two different colors.

Ardaschir Arguelles of Bemidji wrote about the true meaning of giving in “Life is a Box of Band-Aids.”

In this scene from "Am I Dead Yet?," Lisa Dove and Ray Niedzielski depict a couple confined at home during the COVID pandemic.
Shannon Geisen / Park Rapids Enterprise

The six-member cast involved Lisa Dove, Frankie Jager, Aaron Kjenaas, Emily Kjenaas, Devin Kordahl and Ray Niedzielski. Lorri Jager read the stage directions.

Niedzielski said, “It’s so fun to see the creativity.”

Goodreaux said it’s helpful for writers to think and talk about their craft.


Saying she was “genuinely moved” by the themes of these short plays, Goodreaux added, “My goal is to create artists that are proud of their work and want to continue to create.”

It’s an achievement “to have eight new writers that made anyone think or evoke any feeling or moved them in any way,” she said.

Funded through a Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund grant from the Region 2 Arts Council, the workshop was free. It was open to any and all interested writers – no prior playwriting experience needed.

The project was also assisted by Northern Light Opera Company and private donations.

Paul said he hopes to receive another grant next summer to continue the workshop.

“It’s been a real treat and pleasure to work with these writers,” he commented.

Shannon Geisen is editor of the Park Rapids Enterprise.
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