NEWBURYPORT – After writing 17 full-length plays, Nancy Haverington had grown accustomed to the "flesh and blood" storytelling allowed by the stage. But penning her first screenplay, she said, felt like "constantly falling off a cliff."
"There is a night and day difference," said Haverington, of Newburyport. "Writing it was a risk, and it was scary."
Haverington left her job at First Parish Church in Newbury to pursue playwriting as a full-time endeavor, and has had her works produced by theater companies in New York City and Boston, as well as at the Actors Studio of Newburyport.
But when she sat down to write "The Silent Seed," a coming-of-age story based on bringing up her son Jude, she was conflicted. Jude was born deaf, and Harrington knew that traditional theater could not truly represent a piece of his and her life that was, above all, silent.
She opted for a more visually focused approach, using silence as a key element to portray the experience of her protagonist. Scenes shot from his perspective are left without sound, while characters often communicate with sign language onscreen.
Once the script was finished, Haverington sent it for consideration for the 2017 Nice International Film Festival. To her own surprise, "The Silent Seed" was nominated for "Best Unproduced Script."
The festival will be held May 13-20 in Nice, France, where Haverington's script will be read along with those of other nominees by a group of judges. Haverington's main hope is that the festival will allow her to meet a producer who can bring the script to life.
"I'm amazed," said Haverington. "It just seems wild that it's my first screenplay."
But this is not the only time one of her debut works has received recognition. Her first play, 1995/1996's "Michael," earned her the Harvard Arts Award. At this point, Haverington said she believes the authenticity of both works has been a key component in their success.
"If I stay authentic and write what matters to me, it matters to others on a human level," said Haverington. " It goes past structure, past performance and straight to the human soul."
With "The Silent Seed," Haverington tells the story of Jude's struggle to define himself despite others' expectations, and of her own struggles in advocating for him. The screenplay's title comes from a poem she wrote for Jude when he was an infant. Jude, now 40, owns and runs a shop in Newburyport also called the Silent Seed, specializing in rare and unusual plants from around the world.
Jude's unique talent in working with plants, Haverington said, was a key inspiration for her during the writing process.
"I've always loved watching him. It's almost like seeing a secret ritual between him and the plant," said Haverington.
She said she has learned lessons in perceptions from her son's experience, many of which seem to have carried over into "The Silent Seed."
"He has taught me to experience the world through my eyes, through my senses," said Haverington. "His coming up was a lesson in how to embrace silence, and how to look at nature visually."
Though it was difficult at first, Haverington said that once she understood the screenplay-writing process, she became addicted to it. She has already started work on her next screenplay, a Newburyport-based story of Mary Moody Emerson, the aunt and mentor of transcendentalist writer Ralph Waldo Emerson. She is currently running a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for the screenplay's production.
Haverington said the biggest takeaway from her recent success is the importance of having confidence, and that she hopes her feat will inspire other writers to stand behind their compositions.
"If you believe in your work, you can conjure the courage to send it out," said Haverington. "The worst that can happen is rejection. It happens all the time, and you learned from it.