A pair of local playwrights on the bill at Walking Fish


He might have be­gun his ca­reer as an act­or and a play­wright, but Walt Vail soon gave up life upon the stage for a full-time life be­hind a com­puter.

“At my age, act­ing has be­come much more dif­fi­cult be­cause it cre­ates too much anxi­ety, anxi­ety like stand­ing on stage and sud­denly for­get­ting your lines. Now that’s anxi­ety which I can do without,” said Vail, whose one-act play Neigh­bors will be fea­tured along with Mark Borkowski’s one-act With­in the Skins of Saints at the Walk­ing Fish Theatre, 2509 Frank­ford Ave., through June 19.

Neigh­bors, ac­cord­ing to Vail, re­volves around a couple with a 6-month-old baby who are hav­ing ter­rible, dan­ger­ous dif­fi­culties in their mar­riage.

“The couple’s neigh­bors have been watch­ing them with bin­ocu­lars for many, many months through their win­dow blinds,” Vail ex­plained. “Ac­tu­ally, this par­tic­u­lar play began in a work­shop at the Phil­adelphia Com­pany some years ago. The chal­lenge was to set your play in an or­din­ary place such as a liv­ing room and think of something dif­fer­ent for the people to do.”

Vail de­cided his char­ac­ters would play games with chairs, such as mak­ing the chairs in­to ra­cing cars so they could pre­tend they were ra­cing. With that as his premise, he ex­plained that the play then de­veloped more over the years, with read­ings and more pro­duc­tions, and even­tu­ally be­came much more per­son­al.

“As I dug deep­er in­to the storyline, I real­ized the play was partly about al­co­hol­ism” Vail said. “I thought at first it was about a young wo­man who wanted to have a baby but sud­denly real­ized she had to take care of it while at the same time want­ing to go back to her ca­reer.

“I thought about mak­ing it all about post­partum de­pres­sion, but then real­ized how much I had her drink­ing throughout the play,” Vail con­tin­ued. “That made me real­ize her drink­ing was a large part of the prob­lem. I my­self have nev­er been a drink­er, but I have been a fa­cil­it­at­or, so I think I knew enough about the prob­lem to make it real.”

While Neigh­bors sud­denly took a turn in its storyline, Vail said that is not a sur­prise.

“Some­times, many times, you have an idea in your mind and then it goes off some­where that ends up sur­pris­ing you. You’re draw­ing un­con­sciously on your own ex­per­i­ences, and after a while the ideas be­come a little more con­scious as you write,” he ex­plained. “I re­mem­ber in one of my early plays I was writ­ing about my broth­er’s broken mar­riage, and soon began to real­ize that the play was ac­tu­ally about my fear of hav­ing a broken mar­riage my­self.”

At­tend­ing John Bartram High School, where his in­terest in theat­er first began, Vail re­called work­ing and try­ing to save up enough money to go on to col­lege.

“In my seni­or year in high school, in or­der to save up that money, I began work­ing every af­ter­noon at a G.E. plant. And that’s when I dis­covered what I didn’t want to do with my life — and that was work in a fact­ory. Most of my fel­low stu­dents were go­ing to have to work in factor­ies, so I knew I was go­ing to col­lege — no mat­ter what.”

Real­iz­ing his dream, Vail headed off to Penn State, ma­jor­ing in psy­cho­logy but ac­quir­ing enough cred­its to take elect­ives like act­ing and writ­ing courses. Once gradu­ated, he began to do the things he thought were what he de­sired most, un­til act­ing soon fell by the way­side.

Today, Vail is a mem­ber of the Phil­adelphia Dram­at­ists Cen­ter’s Play­wright’s Circle, where plays in pro­gress are read aloud. He also uses read­ing by act­ors of early drafts to in­form him­self about how his plays are work­ing.

His next play, Young Fre­d­er­ick Dou­glass, is part of the Jun­eteenth Leg­acy Theatre’s Jun­eteenth Fest­iv­al of New Plays in New York. His play Peep­ers, which is based on Neigh­bors, cur­rently is sched­uled for pro­duc­tion in late Au­gust and Septem­ber by Vag­a­bond Act­ing Troupe. And his play, Si­lent Night, is set for pro­duc­tion at Philly’s Fringe at The Ro­tunda Sept. 1-7.

Vail said he’s thrilled to have Neigh­bors staged at The Walk­ing Fish Theatre, ad­mit­ting he’s faced cer­tain kinds of chal­lenges in­her­ent to writ­ing plays.

“You have to be more in­vent­ive when writ­ing just one act,” Vail con­cluded. “The chal­lenge is to do something right away that grabs the audi­ence’s at­ten­tion and then get them in­ter­ested on an emo­tion­al level right from the be­gin­ning.”

Neigh­bors and With­in the Skins of Saints are be­ing presen­ted through June 19 by B. Someday Pro­duc­tions and The Jef­frey James Rep­er­tory un­der the um­brella of “Funny Dan­ger­ous”••


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