Monday, September 15, 2014

I Interview Playwrights Part 694: Robert O'Hara



Robert O'Hara

Hometown:  Cincinnati

Current Town:  New York City

Q:  Tell me about Booty Candy.

A:  It's a satirical exploration of the life of a young Playwright, Sutter. He is Black and Gay and it follows a non linear path through short scenes or playlets several of which was written over many years and now formed into an abstract narrative.

Q:  What else are you working on now?

A:  I'm finishing a rewrite of my play called Zombie: The American which is a dystopian satire set in 2063 with the first Gay President facing a second civil war and Zombies in the basement of the White House. It will have its world premiere at Woolly Mammoth Theater in DC this coming Spring. I'm also workshopping a new play of mine called Barbecue, about a crazy family performing an Intervention at a Barbecue.

Q:  Tell me, if you will, a story from your childhood that explains who you are as a writer or as a person.

A:  When I was probably in the third grade, my ink pen burst in my pants and the boys said I had gotten my period and I didn't know what they meant and when I got home I asked my mother what a period was and she looked at me dumb founded and then said, "Look it up, that's what I bought you that dictionary for."

Q:  If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?

A:  The price of a Ticket.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  Lorraine Hansberry, George C. Wolfe, Tony Kushner, Edward Albee, Caryl Churchill, Suzan-Lori Parks.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  Bold and Adventurous.

Q:  What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?

A:  Go see plays. Learn what is being done. Then do something different.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  BOOTYCANDY at PLAYWRIGHTS HORIZONS!!
 
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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

I Interview Playwrights Part 693: Matthew LaBanca



Matthew LaBanca

Hometown: New Fairfield, CT

Current Town: Woodside, NY

Q:  Tell me about Good Enough.

A:  Good Enough is about the anxiety that surfaces when we care too much what other people think. It's something that I've personally struggled with, and when I realized that I wasn't alone in my need for approval from others, I thought it would be a good subject for a show. Showbiz folk or not, people have told me they relate to this problem. They might be getting married to the wrong person out of expectation, or going into credit card debt because they want their wardrobe to turn heads. Or they might buckle under the pressure in an audition room. I think worrying what people think of you affects many of us without even realizing it, and my personal twist on it was a bit of a paradox. I was being so good, so nice, and so ambitious in so many areas of my life, which people tout as a social virtue. But I was still losing. I was trying to avoid judgment and condemnation from others, and giving up my full authenticity in the process. And I finally said to myself, "That's too big a price to pay. I have to be ME!!" I love that this piece allows me to be so truthful. I hope that people might see themselves in me, and realize that embracing your whole self, including your flaws, can create a sense of healing and wholeness.

There are so many firsts for me associated with this project: I'm performing my own writing. In a solo performance. At Theatre Row. In a festival that picked me!! Kira Simring from the cell is my director, and she's so smart and so dedicated to the piece. I'm also working with David Palmer, a lighting/projection designer who is adding a lot of panache to the storytelling.

Q:  What else are you working on now?

A:  This has been a year of creating my own work, and my own opportunities. I started to become a little disillusioned with the business (maybe we all go through phases like that), and thought, "I can't just be about kick-ball-change anymore. I want my work to really say something, to really mean something, and hopefully shift people's thinking, not simply entertain." I wrote a cabaret that I performed in earlier this year, which touches on themes of bullying. It was really well received, and I'd like to do it again. And I'm working to give Good Enough more life beyond United Solo.

Q:  Tell me, if you will, a story from your childhood that explains who you are as a writer or as a person.

A:  I started performing as a little kid. 5 years old. I grew up with a family that had a professional magic act. My Dad is a member of the Society of American Magicians, and everyone in my family was recruited: my mom, my older brother, and me. I think about it now, and it's all just crazy to me!! The grand illusion we did was called the Metamorphosis Trunk, which appeared to be completely empty, but in the blink of an eye, I would appear inside and get hoisted out of the trunk for the show's grand finale, while I waved an American Flag. 5 years old. Talk about applause!! I still have memories of red, white, and blue footlights.

I've had dreams of performing my whole life - but only gave myself permission to call myself an actor after my family saw me perform in a national tour of the King and I, where I went on for the lead. Part of that story is in Good Enough, but I remember being on the bus the next day, looking out the window, and saying to myself, "I am an ACTOR." Almost like I was coming out to myself. I had been performing for almost a year, getting paid for it, but I needed my family's approval to seal the deal so badly. I actually used to be really embarrassed about it, a la, "Why couldn't I make this decision on my own?!!" Good Enough shares the journey I took to detangle my need for approval away from my pure love of the work.

Q:  If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?

A:  The pricing. It's outrageous, and makes theatre elitist. Theatre should be, in general, much more accessible to all. One of the things I love about my festival, United Solo, is that tickets are very affordable, around $20.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  Good Enough runs for three performances at United Solo: September 22 @ 9pm, October 5 @7:30pm, and October 7 @ 9pm. A few of these shows are almost sold out, so get your tickets ASAP via Telecharge at 212-239-6200. Also, my website is MatthewLaBanca.com, if you want to read my blog or follow me on social media. Thanks for reading!
 
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Tuesday, September 09, 2014

I Interview Playwrights Part 692: Robin Rice Lichtig



Robin Rice Lichtig

Hometown: ​ Williamstown, Massachusetts

Current Town:​ New York City​

Q:  Tell me about In the Beginning...​

A:  ​​For Articulate Theatre Company's Articulating the Arts, the painting I chose​ was Van Gogh's "Starry Starry Night." My play IN THE BEGINNING... riffs on one of an endless number of stories the painting inspires. It's not ​only one sky over one landscape in one moment. Stare at that Van Gogh sky long enough and your head spins. Inside my spin-cycle head the world whirred back to before the beginning of time. Time as we know it is a human invention, so I was presented with timeless characters on the outer edges of space. Take it from there, Ms. Playwright. Thank you, Mr. Van Gogh. ​

Q:  What else are you working on now?​

A:  In addition to one-act plays and the always tedious task of submitting scripts to potential producers, I'm in the midst of work on a number of full length plays. GENTLY DOWN THE STREAM began as a one-person, one act (LISTEN! THE RIVER) with a run in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. There are upcoming readings of the now five-actor, full length in September and November with the Town Players of Pittsfield (MA) and in New York (directed by Wendy Peace) under the auspices of the League of Professional Theatre Women. Our guide through the story of GENTLY is a cat. It's a true story about loving, letting go and learning to love again. I'm also very excited to begin rehearsals on LOLA AND THE PLANET OF GLORIOUS DIVERSITY with Marcus Yi as director/choreographer. We'll be collaborating to infuse the poetic play with movement, aiming toward a workshop production in NYC in March. LOLA begins after the world has been devastated by war. A group of young people are all who remain to build a new world. I'm also working with director Bricken Sparacino on EVERYDAY EDNA MAE which was just accepted into the Frigid Festival in NYC after development thanks to Emerging Artists Theatre and my playwriting group Manhattan Oracles. EDNA MAE will be on stage in February. I have just started sending LUST & LIES to potential producers. This play was inspired by the true crime novel "The Murder of Dr. Chapman" by Linda Wolfe (1831, a scandalous murder in rural Pennsylvania). I challenged myself to write a three-character, one setting play and this is it. Finally, right now I'm about to begin draft 2 of MARGIE, a large-cast, all female, wildly imaginative, wacky and funny yet painfully real play that takes a look at body image. Did I say I'm also a writing cohort with America-in-Play? Okay, now I want a nap.

Q:  Tell me, if you will, a story from your childhood that explains who you are as a writer or as a person.

A:  Images from my childhood:​ Mom's gardens, backyard view of Mt. Greylock, riot of autum​n​s​, sparkle of New England winters​, the new Clark Art Institute filled with Impressionists. ​One ​story ​is ​rising to the top. I'm 10. ​A ​July Sunday. My family is visiting friends w​ith a farm in South Williamstown. ​While the parents sit around doing ​boring ​grownup things ​involving beer and ​t​alk​, I'm charged with taking care of my two younger sisters​. ​​​​The kids and I visit the horse​s​ in the meadow. Dodie is horse crazy, so that's all she wants to do. ​I wander ​off​ toward the Green River with Pip padding behind. It's over a hill, not far​. I remember ​looking down a steep bank, ​holding Pip's hand, watching the c​ool water ripple past, imagining how incredible it would feel on my itchy ankles. I settle Pip on a rock with a stick to dig in the dirt, take off my sneakers and ​sweaty ​socks, sit on the bank. I ​swear I ​was just going to ​sit there. ​I​s it my fault the bank turned out to be clay​? Like a seal on a slide, ​I​ sl​ipped down and landed plop in the water​. Oh my God it felt good! But even better was the clay. A whole section of bank was ​gray-​green, slick, perfect clay.​ Much more enticing than the plastic-wrapped stuff in the toy section at Woolworth's. ​It was impossible to climb up the ​slippery ​part of the bank so I ran down river, clambered up, ran back and started digging. Pip was soon helping. Dodie ​heard our ​shrieks and ​came to ​j​oin in. The cold clay yielded before young fingers​ -- squishy heaven! ​I took off my shirt ​a​nd got my sisters to do the same​. We piled as much clay as we could onto our shirts and dragged them over the ​field, circumventing cow patties and horses, ​back to the house. ​I don't remember the looks on the adults' faces when we three appeared, semi-nude, covered in clay, grinning ear-to-ear​. I don't remember what punishment I got as the big sister who let the little ones go near the river. I don't remember what sculptures I made with that ​particular ​clay. But I​ vividly​ remember ​t​he colors of that summer afternoon, the feel ​and smell ​of the clay, and the joy of creating​ ​with it. That was only the first batch of Green River clay for me, ​but it sums up the feeling of many years of ​making art. ​After a career as a fine art printmaker I segued ​in​to playwriting, but those early Berkshire Hills days are embossed on my brain. Color and movement, sound and light are as important as the human characters in my plays.

Q:  If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?

​A:  It would be more democratic. (People wouldn't have to pay so much to see it. Playwrights wouldn't have to go to the "right" schools to gain the attention of producers.​ Our government would help considerably more so producers wouldn't have to spend all their energy searching out private donors.)

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  Thornton Wilder, August Wilson, Caryl Churchill, Mary Zimmerman, Tennessee Williams, The Greeks of course, Naomi Wallace, Annie Baker, Connie Congdon, Looking for Lilith in Louisville (movement!), New Georges (scramble time!), Ping Chong, Elevator Repair Service, Terrell Alvin McCraney and his infusion of rhythm into his words. So many others I'll think of the minute this is over...

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?​

A:  I'm a stickler for structure. Pretty much every good play has, for me, the elements: MDQ, conflict, dramatic action, crisis point, journeys for the characters, etc. So the best of theater -- the plays that excite me -- have basic structure but they're not neat. The bones don't show. They're definitely not boring. They're messy​ and creative. And they're about something that sticks in my mind long after blackout. I love theater that has fun with time, movement, and unfenced space. I love plays that grab my heart, squeeze it, and make it bleed or sing.

Q:  What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?

​A:  Learn basic structure and don't forget it, but then tuck it away and allow yourself to soar.​

Q:  Plugs, please:​

​​A:  Watch for EVERYDAY EDNA MAE in the Frigid Festival and a workshop production of LOLA AND THE PLANET OF GLORIOUS DIVERSITY in early 2015. My play about NY Victorian photographer Alice Austen, ALICE IN BLACK AND WHITE, will be coming to NYC in 2016 with Looking for Lilith Theatre Company. ​I have synopses of all my plays at www.dramamama.net. ​I'm always happy to send a script to producers for consideration.

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Monday, September 08, 2014

I Interview Playwrights Part 691: Diana Oh



Photo by Tessa Beligue

Diana Oh

Hometown: Los Angeles, CA

Current Town: NYC

Q:  Tell me about {my lingerie play}:

A:  {my lingerie play} is a collection of 10 underground and unconventionally located visual and performance installations in my lingerie:
https://www.facebook.com/mylingerplay?fref=nf

Q:  What else are you working on now?

A:  Diana Oh is GOING ROGUE shows, an indie feature, Baby No More Times, reading Letters to a Young Artist by, Anna Deveare Smith.

Q:  Tell me, if you will, a story from your childhood that explains who you are as an actor, writer, or as a person.

A:   I saw a pigeon die in my mother's hands once. It broke me. So much less about the pigeon. So much more about everything that came before the pigeon. Can't think about it without choking up.

Q:  If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?

A:  $ (Funding, Rent, Funding, Affordability, Funding) but we're getting clever about it.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  Kathleen Hanna

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  The ruthless kind.

Q:  What advice do you have for artists just starting out?

A:  Honor the blank page.

And then I read these everyday:

“Put your ear down close to your soul and listen hard.” ~Anne Sexton

“Art is not about thinking something up. It is the opposite–getting something down.” ~Julia Cameron

“Don’t think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art.” ~Andy Warhol

“It’s better to fail in originality, than succeed in imitation.” ~Herman Melville

“Faith is taking the first step even when you can’t see the whole staircase.” ~Martin Luther King Jr.

“Most of the shadows of this life are caused by our standing in our own sunshine.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

‎”Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.” ~Robert Louis Stevenson

“Everyone has talent. What is rare is the courage to follow the talent to the dark place where it leads” ~Erica Jong

“No artist tolerates reality.” ~Nietzsche

“Don’t market yourself. Editors and readers don’t know what they want until they see it. Scratch what itches. Write what you need to write, feed the hunger for meaning in your life. Play at the serious questions of life and death.” ~Donald M. Murray

“Recognizing power in another does not diminish your own.” ~Joss Whedon

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” ~John Quincy Adams

“Some people feel the rain. Others just get wet.” ~Bob Marley

“Be yourself — not your idea of what you think somebody else’s idea of yourself should be.” ~Henry David Thoreau

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.” ~Steve Jobs

“Don’t try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It’s the one and only thing you have to offer.” ~Barbara Kingsolver

”If you can see your path laid out in front of you step by step, you know it’s not your path. Your own path you make with every step you take. That’s why it’s your path.” ~Joseph Campbell

“Never be bullied into silence. Never allow yourself to be made a victim. Accept no one’s definition of your life; define yourself.” ~Robert Frost

"The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.” – Alice Walker

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  {my lingerie play} on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/mylingerplay?ref=hl
{my lingerie play} on Upworthy: http://www.upworthy.com/she-stripped-down-to-her-underwear-on-a-busy-street-and-held-up-2-bags-and-everyone-stared
Diana Oh is GOING ROGUE on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DianaOhIsGOINGROGUE?ref=hl


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Friday, September 05, 2014

I Interview Playwrights Part 690: Georgette Kelly



Georgette Kelly

Hometown: New York, NY (Yorkville)

Current Town:  One foot in NY and one foot in Chicago.

Q:  Tell me about "Poetic Memory."

A:  In June, Christopher Norwood first approached me about writing a site-specific play set in a garden in Brooklyn as part of the Communal Spaces Festival that he was producing with Lillian Meredith. Unfortunately, I was out of town, and we decided that I couldn’t take the commission because I couldn’t visit the garden. So I filed the idea away under poor timing.

Weeks passed. And, devastatingly, a friend of mine passed away after a long fight with cancer. On the day of his funeral, I began to write about him. He was a poet and, as I wrote, I tried to imagine him in poet-heaven, playing word games with all the poets who had gone before. I wrote all that I could face writing. Then I checked my email distractedly.

Christopher Norwood was once again in my inbox, asking if I would re-consider writing a play—for a space called The Garden of Hope. I said yes, immediately. I desperately needed hope and a garden; the timing was remarkable. It was only later that I learned the full extent of the coincidence: The Garden of Hope was created by a group of people in memory of their friend, Hedi Kravis. In the same way, I wrote Poetic Memory to honor a friend who passed away too soon, and to imagine how he might live on in poetry.

Q:  What else are you working on now?

A:  I am currently rewriting In the Belly of the Whale, a full-length contemporary adaptation of the Jonah story, which I recently workshopped at the National New Play Network’s MFA Playwrights’ Workshop at The Kennedy Center. I am also writing a 10-minute play based on the story of Scylla and Charybdis from The Odyssey for RedLeaf Theatre.

Q:  Tell me, if you will, a story from your childhood that explains who you are as a writer or as a person.

A:  My father writes children’s books, and as a child I was his guinea pig. When I was maybe 7 or 8 years old, he came up with the idea of a workbook that taught iambic pentameter to children. As he developed it, I wrote dozens of poems in meter, each one inspired by a different one of my stuffed animals. I think it explains a lot about my relationship to language.

Q:  If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?

A:  I would have everyone check their ego at the door. And hire more women and artists of color.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  My teachers: Tina Howe, Barbara Butts, and Ann V. Klotz.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  I get excited about non-traditional storytelling, potent language, expansive visuals, and queer perspectives. I also get excited about drama as an educational tool.

Q:  What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?

A:  First, be kind. Second, listen to kismet. Third, choose the paths that inspire you—and require you—to keep writing. Even when they are the paths of greatest resistance.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  Please check out my website, GeorgetteKelly.com, and Twitter @georgettevkelly.

Current play: Poetic Memory, directed by Lillian Meredith in the Communal Spaces Festival. September 6, 7, 13, & 14 at 2:30pm, in The Garden of Hope, 392 Hancock St, Brooklyn. Performances are free!

Upcoming readings: Ballast, finalist for the Alliance/Kendeda Prize (February 2015 in Atlanta, GA and late spring 2015 in NYC).

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Wednesday, September 03, 2014

I Interview Playwrights Part 689: Sari Caine


Sari Caine

Hometown: NYC

Current Town: NYC. So fun mildly-embarrassing fact about me that I didn’t realize existed until it randomly made its way out in conversation (for the first time) with Tina Howe during my Hunter grad school interview (I am happy to say I am going to be attending despite this awkward moment!)

I have actually not Left NYC for longer than a two month period of time.

I think Tina said something like, “Oh Sari…” there was a long pause, we were standing by the elevator, waiting, and that just said it all. She kindly added, “You need to go to Paris right away!” which I heartily agree with.

I tried to cover my NYC gaffe by saying something like, “I haven’t traveled out of NYC very much, but I think of people as my geography.” I do think this is true.

In fact, three years ago I actually moved back in with my parents so I could save money for producing and keep writing and taking acting jobs that didn’t pay enough and cut back on my chess teaching, and so now not only have I never left NYC for longer than 2 months, I am also right back where I started! However I recently read that Martha Plimpton still lives where she grew up in NYC, and I hope this is true, because it makes me feel much better. If it isn’t true, and you know me, please don’t tell me.

Q:  Tell me about Mr. Landing Takes A Fall.

A:  A woman secretly decides to put her family's longtime home up for sale. When a young couple stumbles into the house, a darkly comic dystopian journey begins. What does Home really mean, and how do you live with the ones you love -- or leave them?

It’s a drawing room comedy really. Which then gets turned on its head. Older couple and younger couple. Picture the Lunts in their twilight years, played by the remarkable (and non-twilit yeared!) Adam LeFevre and Kathryn Rossetter. They bring so much to it, they are hysterical and heartbreaking.

So it’s this drawing room comedy, taking place in what seems to be an American Suburban house, but things are slightly off (which is inherent to a Slightly Altered State productions) you can’t quite put your finger on it right away, and gradually the structure of the drawing room play falls apart, and –without giving too much of anything away- I will just say there becomes nothing ‘mannered’ about these four people anymore.

Q:  What else are you working on now?

A:  I try to always have at least two things to work on, so that there’s always something ‘fun’ I can turn to, when the other piece becomes not fun to work on anymore, but difficult. The eventual trouble with that, is as the ‘fun’ play progresses, it also becomes ‘not fun’ to work on, and spawns its own procrastination project, which will in turn take on its own life, becomes not fun, etc.

Interesting side note, I read that Dickens went mad at the end of his life and suffered from the ongoing hallucination that characters from his novels were chasing him, and he would run from them down the street, swatting them away with his cane. I fear that, add a cat or two, and some plastic bags and wild hair (perhaps Dickens had that?), that could easily become me too.

I started getting back into fiction this year, and am working on a novella The Earl of Edinburgh (and trying to find out what Novella really means these days) on the obligatory web series, and helping develop a new series for TV -if it gets picked up, that is… I’m also trying to finish three plays that are almost (ha!) done, and excited to be starting grad school at Hunter with Tina Howe and Arthur Kopit, I have promised them I am going to start something new, which excites and terrifies me.

Q:  If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?

A:  I feel like philosophy and poetry and theater have become these things –I was just having this conversation with Adam in rehearsal actually today- that used to be considered essential to humanity, and now are seen as a bit obsolete, and even frivolous.

I think with all these gadgets we have now, and various other forms of technology, we are damaging our ability both to concentrate and also to day dream –which is crucial to our making progress both as individuals and as a species, most great discoveries result from daydreaming–Our actual instances of real “in person communication” when did that even become a term, by the way?? with our peers is diminishing. These are all areas where theater can bring us back to the present, and give us a shared collective experience. I guess I would change how exorbitant it is to produce, largely owing to space (I am working with a great theater advocacy group now called League of Independent Theaters which is currently beginning to address this, as well as other things, they gave us a GREAT rehearsal space grant) and I would try to take theater, in a sense, out of the proscribed box of ‘theater’ to not have it be something safe, and removed from life. As a culture, we have so few ritual ceremonies and things that acknowledge the need to feed the spirit as well.

Try to make it more instantaneous, more relevant to people –by which I don’t mean ‘contemporary themes’ persay- and to make it more available, because I do believe that it is an important and ancient outlet for people which allows them to question their lives, re-remember and reach for their dreams, and touch something larger then themselves. Theater, to me, should be something so alive that it crackles, and excites you and reaches you from the stage, and compels you to feel and think.

We live in this day and age of ‘how to’ there’s a ‘how to’ book for everything, and an obsession with doing things the right way, it’s important to see people in our society who don’t try to find the right way to do things, but search for the genuine and honest and individual way, and don’t try to identify and follow the rules all the time.

I’m sorry if I’m on a soapbox here, but I’m also a teacher, and I see everyday how overscheduled kids today are or on the other end of the spectrum, not given access to arts in the education system, and in terms of education, the idea of ‘teaching how to think’ is being replaced with trying to stuff their heads with memorized information regardless of what it does for them, what they will make of it, and whether it will give them an independent and self-capable way of looking at and understanding the world once they leave school.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  I have so many! I can’t put them all here but, to list a few: I grew up acting as a kid in NYC, and a lot of my theatrical heroes were the older actors I would hang out with backstage. There’s a new breed of actor today, who does yoga, and sells real estate, and a lot of self help and vegan food. Now, that descriptions also describes me! but I still miss the old days with these actors who smoke and drank and swore and got into fistfights. There was a wonderful combination of these erudite people, who spent a lot of time on the road and were pretty street-wise, who could quote Shakespeare, or anything, at the drop of a hat (and often did), lived out of suitcases, and were the most open, available, compassionate (in an often hidden way) hugely humorous people, who would have gigantic rages, and get into brawls. It’s just another time, but I do miss those grandiose yet humble personalities, and they always find their way into my plays. Especially this one.

I was so fortunate in that I have had some wonderful mentors, who are now sadly both departed. They were such artists in their own right, Freddy Kareman who was my acting teacher, and Stephanie Scourby who was my singing teacher, and so much more than that. They were completely devoted to their craft, and they were also amazing people, with strong values and opinions and understandings of the world. They would tell me wonderful stories of my favorite American playwrights, and the Lunts, and Eva La Galliene’s company, and the Adlers, and Uta Hagen and Herbert Berghof, and many more. When I was a kid, I read all the old biographies and autobiographies of actors who were on the vaudeville circuit, and then others who were part of the Group theater scene. The life of an actor has changed so greatly since then, and I am constantly inspired and humbled by the foundations they set for us, and how hard they worked. A few books that come to mind are Leo Adler’s, Shelly Winters’, Elia Kazan, Harpo Marx’s book, Fred Allen, Ruth Gordon, and Arthur Miller’s Timebends.

In terms of writers, Shakespeare is still the most amazing writer for me. He is capable of anything, and has everything in his plays. There are so many writers I love, in no particular order: Tennessee Williams, Tom Stoppard, Harold Pinter, Joe Orton, Oscar Wilde, Beth Henley, Phillip Barry, Noel Coward, Kauffman and Hart, Clifford Odets, Herb Gardner, Euripides, Brendan Behan, Shaw, and Tina Howe, who I am excited to start studying with at Hunter this fall!

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  Good theater excites me! I don’t mean that in an obnoxious way, but if the material is good and the actors are engaged, I don’t care about the style or format.

I guess my caveat is that plays are things which should belong in theater and not on a tv screen.

My favorite show growing up was Fawlty Towers. I adored it, still do. I even had a dream where I got to meet one celebrity, and my dream self chose John Cleese! Of course I never ended up being able to meet him, even in my dream.

Q:  What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?

A:  Write a lot, and read a lot. I love Stella Adler’s take on being an actor, which is not exclusive only to her, that actors are studiers of human behavior –again, just had this conversation with Adam in rehearsal! I firmly believe writers, directors, musicians, for all people in creative fields, that it is our job to be aware of what is going on in the world, to have a comprehensive knowledge of music, literature, history, philosophy, science, and especially all mythological. Everything that is human, animal really, is our collective history and unconscious, and feeds our ability to create authentic work that will speak to us all throughout all times. Stay aware of your dreams, all my material ends up eventually featuring a dream or two! Deadlines! Surround yourself with people who’s feedback you can trust, and learn who to listen to when. Have a project that is the ‘fun’ project to work on, while you’re working on your main project. Hear things outloud read by actors!

I read something in Earnest Hemmingway’s ‘A Moveable Feast’ that I loved, he wrote –I’m being lazy here and not finding exact quote- that you should always leave a little something for tomorrow. In other words, stop while you’re still excited, before you’ve written down everything you wanted to say, so that the next day you can return with a clear entry point.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  My show, Mr Landing Takes a Fall, will be premiering at The Flea, Sept 12- Oct 5. My theater company Slightly Altered States is producing it, we have an amazing design team, and Wonderful cast with Adam LeFevre, Kathryn Rossetter, and then myself and David Rigo (my producing partner). Dave and I first formed the theater company 3 ½ years ago with the goal of producing this play, and didn’t want to do it until we had all the right circumstances, which I’m happy to say now we do have.

Kef production is doing ITS ONLY KICKBALL, STUPID at Hartley House, and Metropolitan Playhouse is doing ICEBOUND.


Q:  Tell me if you will a story that explains who you are as a writer or as a person.

A:  STORY

Alright guys, I have put this at the end, because it is a long one. Read it, or skip it, but it is a good one! And one I’ve never even tried to put down before. This is the story of “that time I took the Jimson Weed by mistake at summer camp, thinking it was something else (obviously) when I was ten.”

When I was ten, I as at this wonderful working farm school and camp, Treetops, and there was this ageless woman there, Mildred, who has since passed on. She knew everything about the woods and how to make pancakes out of acorns and blueberries, what to eat, what to use medicinally, and having just read My Side Of The Mountiain, I found this thrilling. I still do! So August comes, and it is time for the annual Wild Foods Festival, in which we forage the woods during the day, and have a huge “wild” feast at night. I was sent to collect Milk Thistle, and went off happily with a basket into the woods. If this sounds like a version of little red riding hood, read on!

Now, I had a terrible habit of eating things I found, mostly lemon grass, blueberries, and the occasional pine needle I would chew on. In this case, I tried some of what I thought was milk thistle, went back to the feast, and as it progressed, began to feel distinctly odd. Faces were growing larger and smaller, colors brighter, and I began hearing strange melodic riffs, not entirely unpleasant. So, being a shy and internalized ten year old, I excused myself without mentioning any of this to anyone, and went back to my lean-to. In my lean to –which I shared with three other girls- sound began going in and out, as though someone was cupping my ears over with sea shells, and then letting go. There were a couple older campers sitting on my friend’s bed, and I was trying to be cool for them, and not the weird quirky person I had developed a reputation for being. As I’m sitting there trying to be cool, my friend who had beautiful long blond hair suddenly grew a tail and other distinct mermaid features and started singing the loveliest song into a sea shell, then the older girl suddenly grew long talon-like fingernails, aged into an old crone before my eyes, scratched her face off, turned into a huge bird, and flew away.

So, once again finding myself unfit for company, I excused myself, and left the lean to. I assumed –and rightly- that whatever was going on was clearly something going on with me, and not anyone else, and I thought I’d wait it out and whatever it was would pass, then I would figure it out later. I’ve always tended to be more of an observer and disliked drawing attention out of vulnerability. I came to the edge of a hill that went steeply down to the lake, stood over the edge, and contemplated my sudden confidence in my ability to fly. As I stepped toward the edge to do so, a giant wooden cross rose up from the lake before my eyes. Now I am not, nor have I ever been religious, so this cross was a somewhat bizarre sight for me. I stared at it, focusing sharply trying to figure out what it was doing there, until my eye was caught by a tiny ant. This ant was struggling to carry an enormous burden up the wood, and kept falling down. In a flash of –I don’t know what? Some kind of ten year old spiritual enlightenment?!- I thought, That’s It! If we all helped each other, we could make it all the way up, carrying any burden.

I moved again towards the edge of the hill towards it to help. Just then my lean-to mate came out to find me and ask if I was okay. I discovered I had lost ability to speak. It wasn’t so much that I couldn’t, as that, when I started to formulate words, it seemed so unnecessary and burdensome, I chose not to. But I wasn’t concerned, as I felt like I could, if I really wanted to. So she took me to find the late night counselor who of course always played his guitar by the dying embers of the fire, in the center of the farm. I’ve actually never tried to set this down in writing before, I think it’s really meant to be told out loud. But, to sum up, I had decided at this point not to talk, really overall not to engage or express myself unless there seemed to be a real need, because breaking the stillness and the pool of quiet I found myself in, seemed to require a dangerously high level of reason.

They took me to the nurse at the nurse’s office, who wasn’t there, and tried over the course of that night and I believe the next day to feed me saltines and bananas, I remember smiling kindly (I think) but refusing both. I was much more interested in everything that was going on, not in a looking around and paying overt attention feeling, but I was aware of many things, like a deep thick spider web of the strongest waves, gently pulsing all around, of which I was a part. I was too full for food. You’ve probably deduced by now I was on some kind of wild-growing edible drug, and I was; I had quite randomly picked and eaten –it was later determined- Jimson Weed.

Apparently the soldiers of Jamestown in 1776 had an encounter with Jimson Weed too, it was rather Shakespearean:

Captain John Smith, founder of Jamestown. In 1676, British soldiers were sent to stop the Rebellion of Bacon. Jamestown weed (Jimsonweed) was boiled for inclusion in a salad, which the soldiers readily ate. The hallucinogenic properties of jimsonweed took affect. As told by Robert Beverly in The History and Present State of Virginia (1705): The soldiers presented "a very pleasant comedy, for they turned natural fools upon it for several days: one would blow up a feather in the air; another would dart straws at it with much fury; and another, stark naked, was sitting up in a corner like a monkey, grinning and making mows at them; a fourth would fondly kiss and paw his companions, and sneer in their faces with a countenance more antic than any in a Dutch droll.

"In this frantic condition they were confined, lest they should, in their folly, destroy themselves - though it was observed that all their actions were full of innocence and good nature. Indeed they were not very cleanly; for they would have wallowed in their own excrements, if they had not been prevented. A thousand such simple tricks they played, and after 11 days returned themselves again, not remembering anything that had passed."

Interestingly enough, that seems to be where Datura gets its American name Jimson Weed from –Jamestown. Otherwise, The genus name is derived from dhatura, an ancient Hindu word for a plant. Stramonium is originally from Greek, strychnos στρύχνος "nightshade" and maniakos μανιακός "mad".[31] Mad Nightshade, that seems apt to me. There’s also a little ditty: The phrase "Red as a beet, dry as a bone, blind as a bat, mad as a hatter" has been used to describe Jimson's effects, and it does a good job of summing them up.

The nurse was finally roused to come and deal with me on her one night off. They were all made even more angry by the fact that I would not speak, I was mystified by that myself. I felt certain if I opened my mouth and tried, I could. But, like I said earlier, the idea of starting to try to open my mouth, to say something, seemed… Obsolete?

So they took me on a midnight ride the next night (I believe it was the next night, the details certainly escape me, but I have done my best to piece it back together) to Lake Placid’s hospital, where the doctor there, a short squat little bearded man with a devilish looking moustache (or so I remember) told me to walk in a straight line (it tickled me to see I couldn’t, I hadn’t noticed that before) and then asked me if I was tripping. Relieved someone finally understood my difficulty with motor skills, I nodded my head yes. He released me, telling them I was on drugs. He wasn’t, of course, wrong.

As this “trip” progressed, I did see things. And I went in and out of varying degrees of awareness with the world. At times it was too difficult to concentrate on what was going on around me, because I was so absorbed; at others, I felt only mildly detached. Likewise the hallucinations; sometimes straight on visions, and others just a ceaseless throbbing-pulsing of the walls (which continues to occasionally visit me to this day), elongated faces of those around me, and echoey noises when they talked, most of which could be adjusted to and ignored. I don’t remember a lot of this. What I do remember clearly, is being locked in to the nurse’s quarters, a not uncomfortable if boring four white walls with a bed and a desk kind of room.

I had an interesting experience in the bathroom. As I was washing my hands, I heard a voice coming from behind me, and turned to see a full-length human-adult sized pink bunny lounging in the tub. It was talking to me, I can’t remember everything it was saying. But it had a sort of film-noirish way of speaking. Like a giant pink Humphrey Bogart bunny. The conversation (which was lovely because I didn’t have to reply out loud, it could hear my thoughts) went something like this (Bunny out loud, me silent):

Bunny: “You know what your friends are all doing right now?”

Me: “What?”

Bunny, slightly sardonic laugh: “They’re all getting their picture taken for the camp photo.”

Me: “How do you know?”

Bunny: “Right at the bottom of this hill. They’re all there now.” rising from the tub and coming to stand behind me at the mirror: “Bet you wish you could be there, don’t you.”

Me: silence…

Bunny, soft persuasive whisper in my ear: “So why don’t you?”

Me: “What?”

Bunny, impatient: “Why don’t you go join them?”

Me: “Because I can’t get out. I’m not supposed to go anywhere.”

Bunny, laugh: “You’re going to listen to them?”

(Side note: Any time I’ve heard voices in my head –only from hallucinogenic experiences- they’ve all been renegades, slightly mocking me, and inciting me to rebel against authority!)

Me: … What can I do? The door’s locked.”

Bunny, with a ‘oh I guess you’d better give up then’ gesture, put his hands in his pocket area, and begins to walk away.

Me: “I can’t do anything-“

Bunny –immediately beside me again- whispers in my ear: “The window.”

I look at the window. It is small and very high up.

Me: “I can’t reach that.”

Bunny: “I guess you’d better give up then.”

Sits on tub, mock-twiddles thumbs. Me: waiting, watching him.

Bunny: “Or, I could help you, give you a lift.”

Short end to this, the Bunny gives me a lift so I can reach window, I open it, and crawl out. I move through the blueberry bushes and get cut up on the thorns, reach the bottom of the hill, in time for the camp photo –they were all in fact waiting there at the bottom of the hill. All I can tell you about that is this, I was in fact in the photo, I was supposed to be shut into the nurse’s office, I can’t remember how high the window was, but I know for a child of ten suffering from poor motor skills and terminally weak upper body strength, getting out alone would have been very hard to do. Did an imaginary bunny really give me a boost out of it? I can only point disbelievers to “Harvey.” And that is all I will say. That, and I still have in my possession that photo, of August at Treetops, everyone smiling, doing regular camp photo things, me, dazed and glassy-eyed, having just tumbled through the blueberry bushes, not quite focusing on anything at all.

Around this point, my family was called, and my sister and mom made the 7 hour journey (did they drive through the night?) to come up and get me, nobody quite sure what was wrong, “She just went…?” speaking in hushed voices, but in front of me, as though since I wasn’t speaking I couldn’t hear.

So my mom and sister arrive. My poor sister, who was always getting dragged into my scrapes. Distinct memory of kids huddled together watching me as my bags were packed and I was placed mute into the car. Still not speaking, no desire to. Communication felt like a heavy barrier.

On the car ride back, I do remember brushing my teeth, then spitting out the front window, realizing just in time the implications of doing that in a moving car and ducking, only to have the toothpaste spit fly back and hit my mother …

Once home, back to 23rd st in NYC, the round of doctors’ appointments begin. Trips to the neurologist: they placed foam-like things and wires on my head. Did I get an MRI? Catscan?

“Her brain looks fine.” They said.

Was it week two now? Still difficulty with motor skills and no speaking, not eating except what I was forced to, I felt different now, more with it, but still as though I were on top of a giant light house, looking at everything down and around me through a small point that widened into a wide sweep of a light beam onto objects far away. No longer strictly hallucinating, just the walls pulsing, and occasionally the floor rising slightly up and down, like it was its own private ship. Stairs were, and remain to this day, a challenge. Was I a clutz beforehand? Certainly. So I can’t blame it all on the ‘trip.’ Revolving doors, corners of things, moving away from things in time, or towards them, anything depth-perception related, coming into surprise-contact with mirrors, are all a bit tricky for me.

I don’t remember speaking, or feeling afraid, but apparently I told my sister I thought I was dying. What I remember though is not feeling scared, but that I had retreated, which I had a tendency to do anyway, only this time I was on the other side of things, with no real understanding of how to get back. Finally, at their wits end, my parents took me to Bellevue. There, I remember the chin-rest had blood on it, and I wouldn’t put my chin down and I wouldn’t tell them why. Coming back into the examination room to make me, my mother saw the bloody chin rest and had a fit. The regular questions, the regular confused responses. One day she was… and then she wasn’t…

As it happened, this time was different. There was randomly (I swear this is true!) a convention of poison specialists from around the world being held at Bellevue that day, just a few floors above us. I remember a room full of doctors, the typical ‘Walk in a straight line’ (I couldn’t), and that they kept hitting my knee with the rubber hammer, and saying ‘Look, no response!’ and me thinking, “Why do they keep hitting it then?”

It was they who determined what I must have ingested, looked at the pictures of milk thistle and jimson weed, seen it grew wild up in the Adirondacks, and matched it to my symptoms. Told us I was very lucky to have suffered no real damage. And then, it was like a mask had been lifted out from over me, I was fine, I was alright, it was a case of ‘food’ poisoning? At least, the doctors chuckled, her hallucinations were benign. An adult-sized talking pink bunny? Could have been much worse. Suddenly, I could talk again, it felt awkward and unfamiliar. I was secretly reluctant to try, knowing I had found a place of solitude and stillness, realizing I would lose that once I re-engaged.

The walking improved. For the next couple years, my immune system was weakened and I had to eat a very strict diet of basically rice and broccoli and potatoes, multitudes of supplements a day. Things like the smell of fresh paint made me dizzy, the walls throbbed and the floor rose at the slightest glance, as though mocking me. Then it faded too, though after that I grew fascinated with my newfound ability to make them breathe slightly in and out by will, a trick I still keep to this day.

I recently came across a folder with the doctor’s report covering the next couple years, listing symptoms, strict diet policy and supplements to follow, huge amounts of allergies. I remember finding all these restrictions and the supplements annoying.

“But when will they stop?” I asked the doctor.

“When you feel better.”

“When will that be?”

“When you don’t notice how you feel at all.”

I thought about that for years.

And returned to the farm-camp as soon as I was able, though the reputation of being ‘that weird girl who saw full-length pink adult male bunnies’ was one I never could out grow. One person even gave me a card with a bunch of pink bunnies on the front.

I hesitated about including this story, because I don’t want to give the impression that this happened and changed me, I don’t feel like it did that. I feel rather that it deepened / made me more deeply who I already was. And if you think this would have scared me away from either the Adirondacks or a real teenage experimentation with drugs, all I will say is this … I still go to the Adirondacks every summer.


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Sunday, August 31, 2014

I Interview Playwrights Part 688: John Greiner-Ferris




John Greiner-Ferris

Hometown:  Cincinnati, Ohio

Current Town:  Quincy, Massachusetts, where the rent is cheaper than Boston’s.

Q:  Tell me about Turtles.

A:  Turtles is a full-length play that I am producing through Boston Public Works this fall in Boston. The play is the result of a professor I had in grad school who said, if all you write are plays with three characters using a couple of cubes because that’s safe for a theater to produce, that’s all you’ll ever get produced. So I just went wild. I wrote the script to tell this particular story about a single mom and to artistically push myself and all the theater artists involved in the production. Turtles has a cast of five women and one man. It’s about a mother who at the top of the play is living by the side of the road with her two kids in their car. Her journey is running from her past and trying to find happiness. The script is written so that the cast is ethnically diverse, and there is gender bending with two women playing multiple roles, some of them male. I wanted to see and give a woman the chance to play, for example, a male lawyer telling the lead that she’s a bad mother and her kids will be taken from her. I wanted to see a woman play a man sexually hitting on a woman. I wanted to see what would happen with those scenes, with both the actress and the audience. I think it’s a pretty cool play. I am P1 in Boston Public Works, so I am the first playwright to produce and I didn’t have to think twice about choosing Turtles to present to an audience. I feel that good about it.

Q:  What else are you working on now?

A:  I pretty much just focus on the full-length plays, and try to write one a year. I start by asking myself, is the theater a good place to tell this story, and why did I choose to tell this particular story in the theater? I’m working on maybe draft #2 of a play called, The New American. It’s set in a world and a time pretty much like now, either during the Great Recession or the Financial Recovery, depending on your viewpoint. I’m trying to write it so the characters and their values converge and slam together, and I’m just pushing myself to use this Grand Metaphor we call the theater to tell the story.

Q:  Tell me about Boston Public Works.

A:  Right now Boston Public Works (www.bostonpublicworks.org) is a grand experiment to see if self-production is a viable model for playwrights in Boston. It started when two other playwrights and I got tired of listening to playwrights, including ourselves, whine about not getting plays produced. BPW used the model 13P established as a departure point. Just like 13P, we’re going to produce one play each, and then disband. BPW continues to evolve as we figure out this business of self-production. What’s great is we’re in this unique position to pretty much redefine everything we’re doing, and the proof will be to see if we actually can cause change. It’s a DIY world, and we’re doing it ourselves. It’s the second decade of the 21st century, and there are tools at the artist’s disposal that 13P didn’t have. They didn’t have social media or robust web development technology or crowd sourcing. Boston Public Works is all about proving that, with dedication and a lot of hard work, playwrights can circumvent the traditional route to production and do it themselves, at the same time scoring some incredible intellectual gains and artistic experience along the way.

Q:  Tell me, if you will, a story from your childhood that explains who you are as a writer or as a person.

A:  I’ve always been able to write—it just came naturally to me—and I knew by about the time I was seven years old that I wanted to be a writer. I was the kid whose essay was always read aloud in class by the teacher, and on the rare occasion that it wasn’t, I would get mad at myself and make sure the next one was read. I learned early on that the written word is simply a reflection of what’s going on in my mind, and that writing gave me an identity; it was something that I could always do that made me feel good about myself. I write almost every day, sorting out my thoughts, maybe writing a poem, or trying to do something as silly as writing a perfect thought in a couple of words. Even while answering these questions, the emotional and physical connection between the intellect in my brain and the physicality of my fingers tapping on the keyboard gives me pleasure.

Q:  If you could change one thing about the theater, what would it be?

A:  Aside from getting rid of white being the default race in theaters in the United States (okay, I know I just snuck in a second one there), I would like to wave my wand and turn the theater into a place where playwrights have taken control of their artistic work, lives, and careers. Through Boston Public Works I have become a passionate proponent of not just playwrights, but all artists, as entrepreneurs. The music industry is way ahead of theater artists in this regard, where musicians are eschewing labels and running the business end as well as making the art. I don’t know when the power was taken away from artists, but I think it’s time that all artists regain it.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  There are so many the playwrights who just absolutely floor me and inspire me, and because I’m pretty new to this profession, I keep discovering new ones that blow me away, which is great. Start with Tennessee Williams (the opening stage directions to The Glass Menagerie are to die for.) There’s August Wilson for writing about his world so poetically, Sam Shepard for being such a badass, and Caryl Churchill for her politics and especially for Mad Forest. I use Suzan-Lori Parks’ 365 Days – 365 Plays for pure inspiration when I get stuck. I keep rereading Jose Rivera’s Marisol. Right now I’m on a Naomi Wallace tear. I love the worlds Wallace creates that are set in these claustrophobic settings and the stakes are so incredibly mute but so freaking high.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  So many kinds of theater excite me. I like to escape my own world as much as I can, so I like to be introduced and taken to different places that I know nothing about. I like to hear a good story. I like creative, different, imaginative, surprising uses of the theatrical space. I like theater that challenges my perceptions, beliefs, and opinions, or challenges my sensibility of what theater is “supposed” to be. And if you can do all that in one production, then you can die a happy playwright/artistic director.

Q:  What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?

A:  I’m so new at this—I’ve been writing plays for only five years—so I’m going to default to that same professor in grad school who said, just do your own art, and if it’s really cool and exciting, people will be attracted to it. Ever since I started working on Boston Public Works, I’ve felt so empowered. I’ve reread my answers to these questions and I sound so cocky, don’t I? But it comes from being in control of my art. And I would suggest that all artists define their own success. I think the important thing for any artist to do is not compare themselves with anyone else. You are unique, and if you don’t focus on your own vision your art will get tainted.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  Turtles, at the Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts, October 24 to November 8. And www.johngreinerferris.com.


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Saturday, August 30, 2014

Now Published and Upcoming Shows

Look what was just published!

Clown Bar



Collect them all!


Here they are on amazon.


Upcoming and Ongoing Productions of My Plays--

Clown Bar (remount of production #2)
Pipeline Theater
Continues at  the Box, NYC  (opened June 14)


Nerve

Production #16
DePaul University
Chicago, IL
Opens June 5, 2015

Hearts Like Fists

Production #11
California State University Fullerton
Fullerton, CA
Opens September 26, 2014

Production #12
Santiago High School
Corona, CA
Opens October 16, 2014

Production #13
The Episcopal School of Texas
San Antonio, TX
Opens November 19, 2014

Production #14
Know Theatre of Cincinnati
Cincinnati, OH
Opens March 27, 2015

Production #15
Stephens College
Columbia, MO
Opens April 9, 2015




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