Alice Scovell, in many ways, has had it all: educated at Harvard, a law degree, raised in a family surrounded by successful siblings, author of children’s books, board member of a New York theatre company, mother, and now grandmother. Yet, there was a dream that was stubbornly hanging around: to write her own play and see it produced. Now, at 64, it has happened.
And can you believe she had the chutzpah to write a sequel to Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest?
Alice Scovell is one of the women who will be performing at our Age Boldly Act, a special event during our NYC Insider Tour from April 20–24.
“Well, well, well, it looks like having a degree in English literature isn’t so useless after all,” says Nell Scovell, Alice’s highly successful comedy-writing sister. “So much goes into getting a first play produced. First, you have to write something extraordinary. Then you need to understand the theatrical landscape and get your work to the right people. This means you have to be good at sitting alone and creating as well as good at making connections. It’s really impressive that Alice had both those skill sets.”
And skillful and impressive it is. The Rewards of Being Frank picks up—few years later—where Wilde’s classic, penned in 1895, left off. Yes, Algernon, Gwendolen, Cecily, Earnest, the great Lady Bracknell, and the others are back. What spurred this return visit? “One day, I pulled the original off my shelf, and it still made me laugh,” Alice says. “Unlike Shakespeare, for example, Wilde’s dialogue and characters may be weirdly old fashioned, but [they are] still understandable and relevant.”
The Play’s the Thing
She did not stop writing for several weeks. A first draft was hatched. Next up came finding partners. While some hesitated, Stephen Burdman—the force behind New York Classical Theatre—jumped in. But off-Broadway stages are hard to secure, and he talked her into submitting the play to the Cincinnati Shakespeare Festival (which does more than just the Bard).
The show is silly, charming, and full of laughs as it exceeds expectations of a sequel.
“Friends asked if I was out of my mind,’” says Alice, “but it turned out to be one of the best decisions. There were weeks of rehearsals, and I cut 14 pages, which my sister calls killing your babies. But the play is better for it. And the costumes, sets, and cast were top notch.” There was an opening-night party filled with cucumber sandwiches and the like, and the reviews were all glowing. (“The show is silly, charming, and full of laughs as it exceeds expectations of a sequel. It captures many of the same qualities of the original.”)
There were healthy arguments along the journey. Alice is a tiny woman, physically, but a strong one in all other ways. She sticks up for herself, most notably to the men in the theatre business to whom many cower. “This is a collaborative medium,” she reminds herself and others. “I can take a blow, but I don’t give in on my principles.”
Act II of the experience is now underway. The cast, costumes, and director are currently ensconced in an off-Broadway production. The Rewards of Being Frank has just premiered and is scheduled to run through April. Theatre critic and historian Ron Fassler says, “It takes a lot of guts and self-confidence to dive into Oscar Wilde territory. Her intelligence shines through in her writing and, most importantly, so does her sense of humor.”
Producing a First Play: The Rewards of Being Patient
Alice’s message to other women, especially of the non-ingenue variety, is, “Follow your dream, don’t give up. And be a role model. The greatest supporters of this project have been my three kids. They know I’ve always been about the theatre, and they are so happy that this talent has been recognized.”
And what will Act III look like? “I’d love to see us get a commercial production somewhere for an extended run,” says Alice. “The nicest thing someone said is that ‘this play will possibly be going on the next 100 years, just like the original.'” Not bad for a budding Boomer playwright who is proving the rewards of patience.