Thursday, December 13

Hired hands


Two former bruins beat hundreds to win

Adam Agardy and Timothy Cubbison of Horseless Cowboy Productions
advertised their “The Hired Gun Play Competition”
playwriting contest solely on the Internet and were expecting a
moderate amount of applicants. The contest was set up in May 2005
as a way to break the ice and gain exposure for their production
company after relocating from Austin, Texas, to Los Angeles in
2004. Turns out a lot of people found the site.

“We got hundreds and hundreds of submissions,” said
Agardy. “It was a lot of reading. There are just so many
writers; people will jump at the chance to get a play
produced.”

Plays came in from as far away as Australia and London and from
high-profile writers who have worked on TV shows such as “The
X-Files” and “Frasier.” But through pure
coincidence, it was two recent alumni from the UCLA School of
Theater, Film and Television who snagged the top prize. Kristin
Pesceone’s drama, “Out of Gardenia,” and Jesse
James Spero’s comedy, “Kicking Gravity,” will
show at the Dorie Theater at the Complex in Hollywood, and will run
from today until Nov. 6.

“Kicking Gravity” is about quadruplet former child
actors who reconcile after their mother is trampled by an
elephant.

“I wanted a comedy about death,” said Spero.

Pesceone’s play is a drama about a younger woman who
seduces an older man, takes him back to her place, and then holds
him hostage.

Each play is approximately one hour long and will run in
succession.

And while Agardy said he did not have a particular type of play
in mind at the beginning of the contest, he knew it needed to be
character-driven and well-written.

“If you start with poor writing, 90 percent of the time
you’ll have a poor product,” said Agardy.
“Especially with theater, since it’s so intimate. If
what they’re saying doesn’t ring true, then it’s
not believable. (The audience) is right in front of you.”

The fact that both winners are from UCLA is even more surprising
given that its playwriting program is so small.

Spero said there were only five students who began in his class,
two of whom left after one year. Keeping the program small makes it
more competitive and allows each student to have the time and
resources to produce plays, according to Spero.

The program does not teach writing so much as provide a
productive writing environment.

“It was good just to have a bunch of other minds to bounce
ideas off of and to have a community and structure to help you go
forward,” said Pesceone of her time at UCLA.

Pesceone spent one year in the program and graduated in 2005
with a master’s degree in theater with an emphasis in
playwriting. Spero was at UCLA from 2000-03 and received his
master’s in playwriting as well.

Neither Spero nor Pesceone planned on taking up playwriting as a
full-time career after graduation; Pesceone wanted to pursue an
acting career, and Spero was burned out from theater and wanted to
expand his resume into film and television.

Both entered the playwriting contest on a whim, so winning came
as quite as shock.

“It was so long ago that I applied, I didn’t even
remember that I had,” said Pesceone. “But (winning) is
great because people get to see (my work) and that’s kind of
the whole point.”

This is both Pesceone’s and Spero’s first
professional production, and they are discovering that the scale of
their student productions was much smaller. When Spero finished
“Kicking Gravity” three years ago, it was produced as a
student play at UCLA for around $100.

“(The play) takes on a life of its own when actors and
directors get involved. You kind of have to give the play
over,” said Spero. “At UCLA, I was at probably every
rehearsal because plays were developed as production went
on.”

Since beating out the competition, Pesceone and Spero have
picked up their pens again, but neither one has plans to turn
playwriting into a full-time career just yet.

“There’s not that much money in theater; I have a
day job, definitely,” said Spero. “(But) since being
involved with this production, I have a new idea for a play, so
I’m excited for theater again.”

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