Saturday, July 12, 2014

I Interview Playwrights Part 676: Ry Herman



Ry Herman

Hometown:  All over the place, really.

Current Town:  Edinburgh, Scotland

Q:  Tell me about Alice in Chinatown.

A:  It's a project that began in 2010 ... I was living in Honolulu then, and the local burlesque troupe, Cherry Blossom Cabaret, wanted to put on a full theatrical show -- that is to say, one with a plot, recurring characters, and significant dialogue, instead of the variety-style shows that are more common in the genre. They decided they wanted to loosely adapt Alice in Wonderland, but make it about the burgeoning arts scene of Honolulu's Chinatown. I was brought in to work on the script, which I ended up co-writing with a member of the troupe named Mabsy. I've now worked on four shows with them total, either as author or co-author, and this year Mabsy and I wrote a sequel, Alice in Chinatown: Through the Looking Glass.

One of the most eye-opening experiences for me as a playwright has been how great it is to write parts for a specific group of people, instead of writing a play in isolation and sending it off to strangers. Especially this group of people, since they're all amazing and creative and multi-talented. The troupe includes not only amazing striptease artists, but also professional or professional level singers, actors, dancers, choreographers, aerialists, contortionists ... one of the ways I start out each time is by basically asking, OK, anything special you want to do in the show? This year, the answers included two fencers who wanted to have a sword fight, a hand juggler, four singers, an aerialist who wanted to do a lyra piece, and someone who wanted to do a striptease in the dark in a costume made of electroluminescent wire, among other things.

When I first started working with them, I discovered to my surprise that instead of being constraining, trying to fit all of these things into a coherent narrative is remarkably freeing. Instead of being a limit ("you must include this thing in the show") it feels like anything is on the table ("you can even include this thing in the show!") I've never felt like I've had the problem of sacrificing thematic or narrative richness in the service of using someone's talents; instead, I feel like I get to use everyone's talents to add to the themes and narrative. AIC: Through the Looking Glass was primarily about identity, belonging, and finding your place in the world as you find out who you are. And also a love story between Alice and the White Rabbit.

Q:  What else are you working on now?

A:  At the moment, I'm working on a science fiction novel, which Mabsy is actually going to illustrate. In terms of the stage, I've just started the planning stages for a show -- it's so early on that the basic idea for it could still change -- that I'm hoping to have written in time for next year's Edinburgh Fringe Festival. (I've just moved to Edinburgh recently, and I'm looking forward to the Fringe; this year, my goal is not to bankrupt myself at it.)

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 was mostly raised and socialized by my family's cats. However, they gave up on me when they realized that no matter how hard they tried, I was never going to hunt mice well. Since the mousing career path was closed to me as a result of my incompetence, I turned to writing instead.

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

A:  I'd want theater ticket prices that are comparable to, say, movie ticket prices, and at the same time everyone in the theater paid what their time and effort is worth. (Also world peace and a unicorn ...)

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  Tom Stoppard, who used theater and language to examine theater and language, and made it fun and meaningful. Stephen Sondheim, who redefined what a musical could be as an art form. Jeff Daniels, for building the Purple Rose Theater.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  The theatrical piece I've seen that excited me the most during the last few years was Sleep No More. Probably because it was both innovative, entertaining, provocative, and amazingly well done. So, I'd say those are the things that excite me.

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

A:  There is no one right way of writing a play. If there's a play at the end of it, you did it right.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  A number of Ry Herman's plays are available from Samuel French (Voices In My Head, The Monster) and United Stages (Man On Dog, in the collection EATfest: Best of Fest). Excerpts from Ry's plays (Vamp, Voices in My Head) are available in the Meriwether collections Scenes and Monologues from the Best New Plays II and Women's Issues Volume II.


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Friday, July 11, 2014

I Interview Playwrights Part 675: David McGee



David McGee

Hometown:
Tokyo is my birthtown. Temple City, California, is my high school town. New York is my lifetown.

Q:  Tell me about Party In The USA.

A:  Party in the USA! is a drug comedy about the financial collapse. It's based in part on the life of Joshua William Gelb, who's directing it. As the economy was collapsing in 2008, Josh was temping at a major financial institution, illegally squatting in the Plaza Hotel, and did acid for the first time. That's pretty much the perfect summary of the current US: stoned out of your mind, illegally and temporarily in the lap of luxury, aware of the epic shit that's about to hit the global fan, and unable/unwilling to do anything about it. It's a screamlaugh of anger and shock at the state of the financial world, a ridiculous picaresque, and a full-on manic dance party all at once. It's got Russian folktales and German anarchists and talking bears and bucketloads of Bud Light Lime. Plus jokes!

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 three years old, I apparently came to my mother, fairly distraught, and told her that my butt hurt. "Where does it hurt?" she said. I pointed at my elbow and said "Right here." "Honey," she said, "that's your elbow." My eyes went wide with shock and worry. "Well if THAT'S my elbow," I said, "what happened to my butt?"

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

A:  STOP WRITING BORING PLAYS. STOP PRODUCING BORING PLAYS. I don't mean to shout but OK YES I MEAN TO SHOUT. You can do literally ANYTHING in a theater, so you better have a goddamn good excuse if what you choose to do is have rich people talking in a living room about their feelings.

Q:  What else are you working on now?

A:  A production of a play called All the Luck that's... um... about rich people talking in a room about their feelings. BUT (elbow?) it's a hotel room rather than a living room and also it scrupulously refuses to be boring. I think. It's got leprechauns in it, if that helps. I think it helps. I'm also the cohost of a sex and relationship advice podcast that doesn't really give advice. It's called Sex for Smart People (That Means You). As of yet, no leprechauns. There's time yet.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  At the moment, I'd say they're The TEAM, Witness Relocation, Anne Washburn, Dave Malloy, Young Jean Lee, the Krepsko Theater Group in Prague, and whoever's giving Arjen Robben diving lessons (HEY-O!).

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  My favorite kind of theater is theater that acts like a fucking race. The kind of race that slow and steady doesn't win. Vibrant and kinetic: a collective fever-dream.

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

A:  Skip the exposition. We'll figure it out. And remind everybody to hurry!

Q:  Plugs, please:


A:  Party in the USA! At Underbelly's Topside theater as part of Edinburgh Festival Fringe! Tickets! A link to our Fractured Atlas donation page because (surprise!) we are self-funding and (double surprise!) we don't have any money. So if, you know, your personal finances aren't in crisis, we sure would love your help.


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Thursday, July 10, 2014

My play Clown Bar extended!!!

photo by Suzi Sadler


Clown Bar, my clown noir play, soon to be published by Sam French is enjoying a remount from last year in the super fancy space, the Box on the Lower East Side with almost all the same cast. www.pipelintheatre.org  It just extended until Aug 23.

Here are some nice things people have said about the play:

Critic’s Pick; “Adam Szymkowicz’s script is unabashedly silly but also shrewd, paying homage to film noir and pulp novels.” --New York Times


"Mr. Szymkowicz has created a new world out old parts, breeding a brand new species of creative animal. He is, in fact, making his own rules – and the pleasure of obeying them is all ours." –New York Theatre Review (2013)


“Throughout the show, enjoyable pauses in the action allow for a song, dance, joke, a reenactment, shoot-out, etc. It is a testament to the strength of Mr. Szymkowicz’s writing that the tight narrative framework of Clown Bar supports these kooky interruptions. Clown Bar is a really gratifying theatrical experience, silly but also moody and mysterious.” –New York Theatre Review (2014)


“completely ridiculous and utterly heart-wrenching.” –Charged FM


“(an) exceptional theatrical experience.” –Theater Pizzazz


“Clown Bar is a top notch immersive event that is unique and bound to be a cult favorite.”--Theatre In The Now


“Due to the cleverly written script by Adam Szymkowicz, the show is such a marvelously detailed and novel spoof of the genre.” --Theater Scene


“a campy and clever play… Written by gifted scribe Adam Szymkowicz … Clown Bar is an entertaining riff on the old Hollywood crime dramas from the 1940s. A charming indulgence, we recommend donning your best clown nose and catching this scrappy production before it packs into its clown car and zooms away. –Flavorpill NY


“The script is tight and funny—hard-boiled schtick.” --The Fifth Wall


“Adam Szymkowicz’s script is a case study in meticulously crafted playfulness… some of the most quotable lines ever heard in a play… Clown Bar is a fantastic way to spend your evening. If you love clowns, go see this show. If you hate clowns, go see this show.” --nytheatre.com


“Clown Bar does detective story spoofs one better by employing every single familiar crime-movie trope — brooding hero, crazy crime boss, conflicted gun moll, hooker with a heart of gold — and making them all...well, clowns. It’s weird how well this works: playwright Adam Szymkowicz has combined two inherently ridiculous forms of entertainment and created a perfect storm of ridiculousness.” --Theatre Is Easy


“There’s not a streak out of place in Clown Bar‘s greasepaint; I can’t think of a better nightcap than the shot of extra funny currently being served by Pipeline Theatre Company.” --That Sounds Cool


“original and terrific… a wonderful idea, dark and funny with priceless moments.” –Time Square Chronicles


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I Interview Playwrights Part 674: Laura Schellhardt




Laura Schellhardt

Hometown: I was born in Alexandria, Virginia, and my family moved around a lot when I was growing up. But we've been in Chicago for the longest stretch of time now, so I consider it my hometown.

Current Town: Chicago, IL

Q:  Tell me about your play in the Kilroys List.

A:  So THE COMPARABLES is a dark comedy about three women vying for control of a high end real estate agency. It emerged in two shifts. The first incarnation was inspired by the series of town hall meetings Julia Jordan launched at New Dramatists several years concerning why female playwrights were so scarce in the Broadway/Regional Theatre circuit. There was some abysmal statistic - something like 10 or 12 percent of the new plays produced around the country that year were by women. So the statistic got me thinking - and by thinking I mean it threw me into that frenzy of rage and despair that often (for me anyway) results in art. However, it was actually a series of comments on an article about those meetings that inspired the plot. A female reporter wrote a thoughtful summation of one of those town halls, and for some reason it prompted a slew of vicious comments from readers - one of which stated women would be happier if we just accepted that men were the creators in this world and women were the caregivers. And that comment was made by a woman. So that happened, and then I started to write.

That version of the play though was just a series of scripted half-thoughts until Braden Abraham and I began discussing a commission for Seattle Rep. Originally we wanted to adapt Genet's The Maids, but it's difficult for American writers to secure those rights - so we decided that what we loved about that piece was its rumination on the specific nature of female cruelty - the unique way women compete with women - and all of a sudden those half-thoughts began to take shape. The play isn't an adaptation of The Maids, and I hope (pray?) it's funnier than The Maids, but it shares the same primary theme.

What else are you working on now? Honestly? Right now I'm working on a way to type with one hand while I hold my newborn with the other. Also how to function on three hours of sleep. Also the world's a whole lot more delightful and terrifying with him in it, so I'm working on finding a balance between those two states of mind.

Writing-wise, I'm working on a commission from The Goodman Theatre about the first state-certified electrocution in America, as well as a young adult piece about a group of kids trying to escape the island they live on in search of a better future. This goal is made difficult by the adults in their lives and the gators surrounding the island. Electricity and reptiles - that's my creative life these days.

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

A:  Well, when I was seven I had the opportunity to meet President Reagan, and I turned it down in favor of the buffet table which had chocolate-covered strawberries the size of my fist. For some reason that story seems relevant to my work.

The story that keeps coming up as I think about that question though is a production of Choose Your Own Adventures that was put up at my grade school in Virginia, with five actors playing fifty roles - including inanimate objects, animals and the weather. I was young at the time, but I know that event was formative for me somehow. It was funny and surprising and seemingly impossible, and also it required physical virtuosity - which I think has become one of my definitions for success.

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

A:  I know most people say it should be less expensive - and I agree with that. I'd also love it if the nightly news replaced some of their sports coverage with arts coverage - or here's a thought, cover them both - so more kids saw both as equally viable options. I'd also like more theatre - mine included - to involve specific communities in process and production. I think that's the fastest way to grow new audiences across the country. That wasn't one thing, sorry. I'm big on change.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:   Oh, most of them are teachers. Paula Vogel and John Logan have been guiding lights in my life - professionally and personally. Paula's changed so many people's lives for the better - I mean, she's got the Pulitzer in drama, but she should also have a Pulitzer in humanitarian effort. John taught me tenacity and rigor. My former acting teacher, Mary Poole, taught me that vulnerability is not a weakness. Also my siblings who find humor in even the darkest of events. Also my husband - who's a classical musician - has a professional discipline I will never achieve, but it's important to have something to shoot for. Also now my son for whom everything is new. I'd love for more of my world to feel new again.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  I like theatre that moves quickly - not short productions necessarily, but work that has a fast pulse. Also theatre where cruelty and beauty collide. Also theatre that demands its performers be physically or linguistically virtuosic at some point (or all the time.) And I'll see any play with a chase scene in it.

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

A:  Stay in the game. Unless you fall out of love with the game, then do something else. And don't compare yourself to anyone else. And don't expect that the things you thought would be the most fulfilling are actually the things that will be the most fulfilling. They might be, but also they might not. Oh - and figure out how to type quickly with one hand, because one day you may have a newborn, and that will be a useful skill.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  Here are my Chicago shout-outs: Dog And Pony Theatre Company - doing some of the most innovative work in the city, check them out. Ike Holter - follow his work. His new play especially - Exit Strategy - is fantastic. All the writers in the Goodman Theatre's Playwright's Unit - that's a personal plug but mostly a plug for that program and the plays that come out of it. Anything Hallie Gordon commissions for young adult audiences at Steppenwolf. If you're interested in learning about the new classical music scene - check out the Spektral Quartet. I'm married to the violist, so I'm biased, but also they're commissioning a lot of new pieces themselves. And finally - if you're in Seattle next winter (2015), go see The Comparables. We've got one hell of an ensemble.


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Wednesday, July 09, 2014

I Interview Playwrights Part 673: Katie Forgette



Katie Forgette

Hometown: Seattle, Washington

Current Town: Seattle, Washington

Q: Tell me about A Facility For Living:

A: The play is set in the not-too-distant future. Dick Cheney is our new President. Medicare has been replaced with something called The Senior Provision Act or SPA. SPA's motto is: You cause it! You pay for it! The aged and infirm are housed in Federal Nursing Homes which are renovated Federal Prisons. The prisoners have been outsourced to Pakistan with the exception of a lucky few who remain to take care of the residents. The story takes place in the day room of SPA Facility #273, overseen by Nurse Claudia and her aide, the lovable felon, Kevin. When a new patient is admitted--a former stage actor--all hell breaks loose. It's CUCKOO'S NEST meets GOLDEN GIRLS, a black (gray?) comedy that asks the question: "If the taxpayer is picking up the check for your medical expenses, what is your responsibility in terms of maintaining your health?"

Q: What else are you working on now?

A: I'm re-writing and, as always, attempting to market my plays.

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

A: As a kid, I was in love with old movies. I was particularly fond of prison movies. At about this time, my mother operated a daycare center out of our home. (This was in addition to taking care of her own 9 children and caring for her invalid mother who lived with us.) In the summer months I was her helper--that is, whenever she could rouse me from sleep or a television coma. She would ask me to, "Do something with the children!" So, I'd round them up and take them into the backyard and cheerfully inform them, "We're going to play a game called Detention School--and I'm going to play the part of the Head Matron!" Among my brothers' many derelict British sport cars, I had the kids (ages 5 to 10) sit in two rows and I would inform them of their crimes--grand theft auto, armed bank robbery--and then tell them that they were to atone for their sins by being very quiet and, most importantly, obeying the rules. (The kids seemed quite taken with the idea that they were juvenile delinquents and had rap sheets.) As part of their punishment, I would read aloud from the Encyclopedia Britannica--with a pop quiz to follow. We would go on contemplative nature walks, their heads bowed and hands folded in front of them. All responses to my questions were to begin: "Salami, bologna, we love you with all our hearts!" And, of course, part of their rehabilitation was mandatory participation in the Detention School's theatre program. All plays having been written by--you got it--the Head Matron. Our productions were hindered by the fact that some of the actors had not yet learned to read.

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

A: Well, it would certainly be nice to see more produced plays written by women. But that's become such a worn-out lament, you know? The statistics just don't seem to be budging much. I heard an interesting comment from an artistic director at a children's theater once. She said, "Little girls will sit through stories about little boys; but little boys will not sit through stories about little girls."

Q: What kind of theater excites you?

A: The kind of theater that makes me forget everything else. Arthur Miller said, "The job of the artist is to remind people of what they have chosen to forget.” But it's my feeling that the job of the artist is also to help people forget—temporarily—what haunts them.

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

A: Be careful not to seek too many opinions about your work. Two or three readers are plenty--choose wisely. Smart, theater-savvy folks--preferably people who read lots of plays. And even then, don't take any one comment too much to heart. It's all a crap shoot and nobody really knows anything for certain. One thing you can control is how much you write. The more plays you finish, the better you get. Once you've got a draft, take a break, maybe a few days or weeks, then re-read, re-write, re-peat. Be patient. As my mother used to say: "God's delays are not God's denials." Personally, I'm pinning my hopes on being discovered posthumously.

Q: Plugs, please:

A: Theater Breaking Through Barriers, Detroit Rep, Kimber Lee (talented writer, wonderful not-crazy person), Barter Theater. ACT Theater. Seattle Rep. Abigail Adams at People's Light. Hedgebrook.

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Sunday, July 06, 2014

I Interview Playwrights Part 672: Will Connolly


Will Connolly

Hometown:  Montclair, New Jersey

Current Town:  Brooklyn, NYC

Q:  Tell me about Fly By Night.

A:  "Fly By Night" is a musical I co-wrote with former Yale Drama classmates Michael Mitnick and Kim Rosenstock. I believe it's described as a "darkly comic rock fable". We just finished our run at Playwrights Horizons. The story centers around a group of New Yorkers preceding and during the great Northeast Blackout of 1965. It's about life & death, light & darkness, the extraordinary & the mundane, and the ability to feel both tiny and immense in a universe that is random and chaotic but also incomprehensibly vast and beautiful. And it's a story about music - How the rhythms we adopt (or break) in our lives can come to define us, and how something as seemingly invisible as music can possess very real healing powers and create connections to the people around us.

Q:  How did the three of you make this musical together?

A:  Kim & Michael were in the playwriting program at Yale School of Drama, and I was in the Acting program. Kim applied for and eventually received Artistic Directorship of the Yale Summer Cabaret, and she proposed writing an original musical to conclude the season. Meanwhile, Michael and I were becoming fast friends, working on plays and songs together throughout the school year. When Kim approached Michael about writing a musical, he suggested adding me to the team. Kim and I had never worked together, but we had both admired each other from afar and were eager to create something new together. So the initial decision was a pretty easy one to make. From there, we developed an "all hands on deck" type of process, where every creative decision - book, music, and lyrics - filtered through all three of us, and nothing was put on stage that wasn't approved by all three writers. Over time, we worked to make our three voices feel like a singular unit. It required compromise, patience, and rigorous thought from all three of us to maintain the checks and balances and create something we could all stand behind.

Q:  What else are you working on now?

A:  I actually have some down time for a change! While writing "Fly By Night", I was also in the original company of "Once", which was a beautiful experience on multiple levels. That said, it was also a massive commitment. Between performing in "Once" and writing "Fly By Night", my schedule has been pretty packed since graduating from school. Now that both experiences have concluded for me, I am excited and terrified by the open landscape that lays ahead. In the meantime, I'm writing and recording an album of my own original songs, playing music gigs at various venues around the city, I'm participating in all kinds of readings and workshops (including one by some guy named Adam Szymkowicz), auditioning, and hustling just like everybody else.

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

A:  I would make it affordable for everyone - audiences and artists alike. It's pretty depressing how expensive and exclusive theater is today. I tend to only see shows where I can get a comp, or I know someone involved with the production who can sneak me in somehow. Very rarely, a show will come along that I am so eager to see I will just say "fuck it!" and buy a ticket. But for the most part, it's just impossible and/or wasteful to participate. Even the term "non-profit" has evolved into an oxymoron. Also, it would be nice if playwrights had a union, right?

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  I am lucky to have had many inspirations over the course of my life, and in many different fields. Because I come from an acting background, I have to say Mark Rylance, Bill Irwin, Dianne Wiest, the late Philip Seymour Hoffman. That's an obvious answer, I suppose. I'm afraid my playwriting heroes are equally cliched - like Beckett, Chekhov, Albee, Martin McDonough. Steve Martin is a wonderful writer and composer, among other things. More recently, I think Amy Herzog and Annie Baker are doing really beautiful work. I'm a bit biased, but the creative team on "Once" were some of the most astounding individuals I have ever met. John Tiffany, Steven Hoggett, Enda Walsh and Martin Lowe are all endlessly inventive artists. Their work has been consistently brilliant for years now, and somehow they continue to get better and better. Musically, I think Dave Malloy is the most exciting composer / songwriter in the game today, and probably in many years. Nico Muhly is really wonderful too. Who else...? Oh! When I was a teenager I LOVED Mary Zimmerman's production of "Metamorphoses". More recently, I think David Cromer and Sam Gold have staged a handful of fantastic pieces. Sonya Tayeh is a poet of the human body. I've been fortunate to work with some terrific designers as well, like Natasha Katz, Bob Crowley, David Korins, Jeff Croiter, Paloma Young, Clive Goodwin, and so many others. What they do is simply masterful. I have also had a number of teachers, especially at NYU Tisch and Yale School of Drama, who are certainly heroes to me. And my friends! I have so many brilliant friends - actors, musicians, songwriters, playwrights, directors, dramaturgs, designers, managers, professors - they are all amazing and they inspire me every single day. And finally my sister, Kristen Connolly. She's my hero.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  Anything that's fearless, and anything that's truthful. I also like to laugh. And I enjoy watching people play musical instruments. Simplicity is elegance. Less is always more.

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

A:  I feel like I should be asking this question rather than answering it. But like anything, I'd say it takes constant practice and repetition to make any real progress. Failure is the foundation for all learning. If you're afraid to fail, or preoccupied with trying to create a product that will please everybody, you're just digging yourself into a ditch. Also, be careful who you let into your world - there are a lot of judgmental jerks out there who get off on bringing people down, and conversely, you don't want to be surrounded by "yes" men/women either. The best collaborators (and friends, for that matter) will be encouraging but never dishonest. Recognize that some things may be out of your control, but you do have the power to pick and choose who you want orbiting your little universe. Then, just try to honor your truest sensibilities, work hard, don't be a dick to people, and allow the chips to fall where they may.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  I love this part! Of course "Fly By Night" (duh). We should have a cast recording out this fall. My friends at Lesser America just closed a show called "Carnival Kids", which was great. I encourage people to keep an eye on them because they are relatively new and doing really terrific work. And of course, Studio 42! Moritz and co. are super heroes of the theater world! And that goes for my friends at Ars Nova as well - they take chances on new artists, and in our current climate that takes real courage. I'm also a newly appointed artistic advisor for the Fourth Street Bar Association through New York Theater Workshop, which is really exciting because I have loved NYTW for many years, so I gotta give them a shout out. And for the folks on the west coast, my sister is playing Desdemona in "Othello" at The Old Globe! Go see her! She's amazing.


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Monday, June 30, 2014

I Interview Playwrights Part 671: Ruby Rae Spiegel

 
Ruby Rae Spiegel

Hometown: Brooklyn, NY

Current Town: New Haven, CT

Q:  Tell me about your play on the Kilroys List.

A:  Yes! It’s called DRY LAND, and it’s actually going to be produced this September by the fantastic young group, Colt Coeur, and I’m going to be working on it this summer with Adrienne Campbell-Holt, my director, at New York Stage and Film’s Powerhouse workshop, and then at the Ojai Playwright’s Conference.

DRY LAND is my first ever full-length play, which is about two girls on a swim team in central Florida attempting to abort one of the girl’s pregnancy. One of the ways DRY LAND was born (an awkward pun) is that I’ve swum all my life (I was on a swim team for a good chunk of middle school— impressive, I know), and have always found pools and locker rooms fascinating—the echoes, the pattern of the tile on the floors when you swim, the way the female body looks in a racing bathing suite and a swim cap (etc.). I find myself drawn in my writing to settings that are on the periphery—half of my last play was set in a bathroom at a Barmitzvah—so the girl’s locker room felt like a natural choice.

The more emotional core of the play came from a feeling that I had about a year and a half ago after I had had sex with someone that I liked, but wasn’t particularly close with, and was afraid that I had become pregnant. That intense feeling of aloneness, that the problem affected me and only me and that it resided in my body, literally on my person, was really startling and stuck in my mind for a while after the possibility of pregnancy was a material concern. The final puzzle piece was when I read an article in The New Republic called “The Rise of the DIY Abortion,” and I saw theatrical potential in the kind of intimate bodily acts that are demanded of you if you attempt to abort a fetus non-surgically. Also from a political standpoint I found it interesting that articles that detail these realities are somewhat common, but seeing them embodied is somehow too close to that experience. Of course many women do embody that reality, so maybe showing it on stage could be a kind of radical form of empathy for that surprisingly common, yet often silence experience. So bringing those pieces together, the aesthetic interest in pools, the personal emotional connection, and the interesting political and theatrical story I saw in the article, created the groundwork for the play as it stands now.

Q:  What are you working on now?

A:  I’m working on writing the script for a short film by the artist, Chris Rubino based off of a Donald Barthelme short story. A friend from school connected us and I was just really excited about his vision for the project, and the challenge of both adapting something and writing for film— neither of which I’ve done before.

Q:  Tell me a story from your childhood that influenced who you are as a writer or as a person.

A:  This story actually kind of relates to the subject of DRY LAND. So my mom brought me to a pro-choice rally when I was like four or five, and I was pretty bored at first— it was crowded and loud and not the most kid friendly place. But about halfway through I perked up and started chanting along with the crowd. My mom was so proud—they were chanting, “What do we want? Choice! When do we want it? Now!” I was halving a blast, shouting at the top of my lungs, and then my mom put me on her shoulders. She soon realized that I wasn’t actually shouting the real words. I was yelling, “What do we want? Toys! When do we want them? Now!” (I thought it was a pro-toys rally.)
This relates only tangentially to my writing— but I misspell almost every other word I write (I’m dyslexic) and I’ve found that some kind of wonderful things actually come out of it. Spell-check thinks that I mean a different word, and oftentimes I end up keeping the misunderstanding because it was actually better than the word I first intended. Not that a pro-toys rally is better than a pro-choice rally, but you get what I mean.

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

A:  I would make it free. Or at least super cheap. I know everyone pretty much says this, but it just shows how important it is!

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  Right now my biggest heroes are Annie Baker and Sarah Kane. How I Learned To Drive by Paula Vogel was my first favorite play, and the Shipment by Young Jean Lee changed the way I saw the political reach of theater. A lot of my artistic heroes are actually conceptual artists and photographers, like Lorna Simpson, Carrie Mae Weems, Glenn Ligon and Cathy Opie, because they constantly teach me about the intersection between form, aesthetics, and content. Also I think the short story has a lot to teach about theater.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  Good theater. I know that sounds somewhat stubborn, but I think I’ll like anything, from a splashy Broadway musical to a five hour long performance piece in a parking lot if they’re done well. Seeing something executed brilliantly is always exciting.

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

I don’t feel like I am at a place to be giving out much advice, since I’m still trying to figure it out myself— but the one big thing I’ve learned is not to take too much advice in general. Try things out, see if they work for you, but always listen to what you feel you need even if it seems strange. I’ve been told many times to try to make a schedule for myself where I write every day for a few hours. I’ve tried it, and it just doesn’t work for me. Maybe my advice is to not take too much advice from people who have a strong sense of the “right” way to do it. This isn’t a radical position, but I definitely don’t think there is one right way to work!

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  A reading of DRY LAND for Powerhouse at Vassar on July 27th at noon, and another reading at the Ojai Playwrights Conference on August 10th also at noon.
AND the Colt Coeur production from September 6-26 at HERE Art’s Center in Soho!


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Friday, June 27, 2014

I Interview Playwrights Part 670: Gabrielle Reisman


Gabrielle Reisman

Hometown: New Orleans, LA / Urbana, IL

Current Town: Brooklyn, NY

Q:  Tell me about your play in the Kilroys List.

A:  CATCH THE WALL follows a pair of middle school girls in New Orleans as they try to make a bounce music video to honor the memory of a slain local MC. It also follows their young Teach For America teachers, who struggle to enforce a button-down charter school culture in the laissez-faire climate of New Orleans.

Before going back to grad school, I worked for several years as a teaching artist in New Orleans public schools. Public education after Katrina was a massive pedagogical experiment. After 2005 most (now all) of the public schools in the city became public charter schools. Their survival was dependent on their ability to raise standardized test scores fast. Most schools I worked in were staffed with first or second year teachers with Ivy League liberal arts degrees and no formal teacher training. Schools lauded these young teachers’ educations over their local counterparts’. We repeated call and response mantras like, “Where are we going?” “We’re going to college!” We never talked much about what college actually was. There was something overtly classist about it. There was a fairly large communication gap. So much of what my student's said was misunderstood and misinterpreted by these new transplant teachers.

One of the cultural clashes I saw most was over students’ relationship to bounce music. Bounce is a super fast New Orleans strain of hip-hop. Dance music. Bounce is loud, raunchy, unapologetically local, and beloved by most kids I taught. The kids in CATCH THE WALL run bounce as a form of resistance, a push back in part on the rigidity of their school, but also a tribute to where they are from- a basic call and response to be seen.

There are no easy answers in education reform. New Orleans is a city where contradictory things are true all at once and on top of each other. And then we celebrate that. I’ve heard CATCH THE WALL described as a “sprawling, thumping amoeba.” It is a wild play- a dance club crashes down on a classroom, a janitor strips off his uniform and becomes a charter school founder, a ghost inhabits the body of a young teacher. Quite a bit of the play lives in the imagination of these students and teachers. It’s lawless, in a lot of ways, and asks a lot of open-ended questions.

Q:  What else are you working on now?

A:  I'm working on a draft right this moment of a three woman adaptation of KING LEAR called STORM, STILL. where Lear's daughters play all the characters for each other in their father's backyard. It's part eulogy- Lear has just died- and part chid's game of pretend. It's pretty fast, and funny, with a lot of swapping of men's hats, and reinterpreted Shakespearian soliloquies, and everyone in the audience eating BBQ chicken and drinking sherry at some point.

THE PANAMA LIMITED is another fast paced piece that I'm working on about transformation, and the ways we build relationships from shared fantasies, and parrots. There's a queer couple that are failing at having an affair, and a pair of train hoppers looking for a fabled community to home them. All four take a trip to a wet Southern city where their tracks all begin to intersect. There's a couch that becomes a boxcar that becomes a hotel bed that becomes a boat. There's some fire shooting from people's hands, and people taking mercury. Sometimes it's a little sexy and sometimes it's a little sad.

I also write collectively with Underbelly, a multiple playwright/designer collaboration that builds journey plays in forgotten spaces. We're in the very beginnings of a new piece about the Dust Bowl. We're hoping to workshop that a little in Austin in September.

Later this summer, I'm planning to wade into a brand new play about miracles and disaster politics, and about the ways we live in the aftermath of natural and man made disasters called ST. BRIAN OF PERPETUAL LIGHT.

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 about ten, the other neighborhood kids and I formed our own nation and quietly seceded from the United States. We called the country Anabru (the name of our hometown spelled backwards). We wrote up a constitution where kids could vote, and run businesses, and I guess theoretically drive cars. Only kids could hold public office. Once you entered puberty you had to resign from government as your capabilities for logic would be compromised by adulthood. Our neighborhood was sandwiched between the downtown and the railroad tracks. We garbage picked things for shanty cities, for a national detective agency, a short lived restaurant, an olympics. We signed treaties with other child nation states that emerged during Anabru's sovereignty. Every day was an exercise in recasting our pretty funky neighborhood as something magic, and mythic- recasting ourselves as founders, and rulers, and explorers. I served two terms as president then resigned. I'm still pretty invested in that kind of recasting.

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

A:  Demystify the resources. Talk openly about money. Artistic Directors and other gate keepers (but also really all of us): once a month take yourself on a date and go see a new play in a place you would never ever go to. Get off at the wrong subway stop and wander around in another neighborhood. Get lost more. Eat suspicious things. Say yes to strange places and new food and talk more to strangers and see if it opens up the way you are envisioning your own resources. Let both the art and the business of theatre be an exercise in hospitality.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  Kirk Lynn for pushing me to eat more plays, and instilling an ethos that a rising tide lifts all boats. Lisa D'amour in the way she pushes for connectivity and inclusiveness in New Orleans and New York. Laurie Anderson. Naomi Wallace. Sybil Kempson. Jeff Becker. The Rude Mechs. The awesome playwrights at UT whose smart teaching and input made a massive impact on my plays. The Celebration Company at The Station Theatre, where I grew up making plays and seeing new work.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  I love plays where the invitation is part of the performance. Plays that are funny and scary at the same time. Plays that queer space. Plays that are going on the journey with me and maybe don't know everything. Also singing and dancing. I've been really, really into singing and dancing lately. I'm beginning to think it's the best, and maybe everything should just be a song.

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

A:  Make your own work. Put your plays up on their feet in your yard or basement or out on the street. You will learn so much as a writer an theatre maker. Be friendly. Be hospitable. Say thank you. It you want to go to grad school, take a couple years off first. Get a job that's not in the theatre. Make things with your hands. Work, work, write, travel, listen, read plays, see plays, talk to strangers, expand your taste. Listen. listen.

Q:  Plugs, please:
A:  Underbelly as a company, but also Katie Bender and Abe Koogler, the two amazing writers who I collaborate with. They are so dang good! Read their plays now!
Will Davis, who is such a super smart director and theatre thinker. Also Sarah Saltwick, Basil Kreimendahl, Arron Carter's kick-ass plays.

Theatre makers in New Orleans! There is so much vibrant, risk-taking work getting down in this city. Goat in the Road, The NOLA Project, Southern Rep, Skin Horse, ArtSpot. The New Orleans Fringe Festival

NNPN's New Play Exchange.

My brother Walker's new restaurant, Kebab. My brother, Morgan Orion, who is a brilliant singer-songwriter.   


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Tuesday, June 24, 2014

I Interview Playwrights Part 669: Mac Wellman



Mac Wellman

Hometown: Cleveland, Ohio.

Current Town: Brooklyn, NY.

Q: Tell me about your upcoming reading at New Works Brooklyn.

A: Apropos of THE OFFENDING GESTURE:

Item.
In Helsinki in 1941 Tor Borg’s dog, named Jackie, was able to perform the Nazi salute– when his master said “Heil Hitler”. Somehow this came to be known by the Germans, who were outraged, and summoned a meeting to discuss the matter with Finnish authorities. (This scene is presented in the play.)

Item.
Iraq was indeed created by one Winston Churchill in the 20's. It can be argued that it is an unworkable nation as such, and never ought to have been made in the first place as the three main nationalities (Sunfish, Shits and Turds in the doggish world) of Sunnie, Shiites, and Kurds have little in common but a palpable hostility.

Item.
Adolf does mean “Noble Wolf”, and his favorite joke is the one recounted, and likewise for his favorite movie. The legend of the “Corn-wulf” is an old German one, and Germany is “The Land of Evening”.

Item.
But the dogs however sweet and loveable are not much when it comes to abstract thinking– their logic is sincere, but very doggish. Jackie’s desire to save Finland from invasion by redirecting Noble Wolf’s ire elsewhere is however understandable. Churchill’s bulldog “Wuffles” is, as she reveals a fabrication, but as such it does the job.

Item.
The Nazi party was indeed the first party of No– as Noble Wolf admitted on several occasions, but it surely was not the last. Oddly, Noble Wolf and his top Nazis wrote down very little– they knew it might not be wise considering many of their policies. Hence, the strange practice known as “working towards the leader” which involved trying to intuitively grasp what the Leader (Fuhrer) wanted done.

Item.
The moon cats observed and comment on the dogs’ predicament with a mixture of scorn and sympathy. I imagine I’d ask either Michael Roth or David Van Tieghem to do the music. Once that is done we’d figure out how too split up the moon-cats’ tercets

Q:  What else are you working on now?

A:   Taking notes on various things, poetry and a novel, not a play. And a Morphology of Small Errors (political)....

Q:  What can you tell me about the MFA program you run at Brooklyn College?

A:  You should ask others about this as well! I have little regard for notions of "creative writing", and try to get students to learn how to think (no one can teach them how to write!) and how to learn on their own, but as part of a generation (their own).

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 once walked around our house backwards because according to my parents I "wanted to see what it looks like".

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

A:  Invent ways of doing theater that were not dependent on a craven and mediocre press. Furthermore, the corporate obsession with the bottom-line is a terrible problem with our theater.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  Just look at the folks you interview

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  Theater that is alive in the moment....

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

A:  Don't listen to your elders-- except obviously for me.

Q: Plugs, please:

A: Recent ones: Benson, Burke, Jarcho, Stess-- all terrific.


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Thursday, June 19, 2014

I Interview Playwrights Part 668: Ross Howard



Ross Howard

Hometown: Wigan, Lancashire (UK)

Current Town: London

Q:  Tell me about Picture Ourselves in Latvia.

A:  Well, it’s billed as a contemporary comedy on contemporary England. Where “Desires are suppressed and aspirations muddled for both the staff and patients of a psychiatric ward. Rank and rule clash with what the heart and mind want in this environment of division and distraction”. And that pretty much nails it. People should still go though because I haven’t given too much away there. I always liked how Lorca depicted Spain in THE HOUSE OF BERNARDA ALBA. That’s not all he achieves in that play, but I remember his example, in particular, and the aspect of an environment with a sort of metaphorical framework having a lasting impression on me. So that was my starting point or seed if you like. It’s about some men and some women living among one another and all the inner and outer noise and physical and mental confines that come with that. And if we’re going to be even broader about it, it’s about England. Maybe the New York audiences will think “And America too probably”. And I could see that, having spent some time there. Anyway, that’s my play. You’ll have to see what the relevance of Latvia is. I’ve also been told it’s very funny. I should mention that. It’ll be my third collaboration with the brilliant Sarah Norris. Sarah directed the New York production of my play ARTHUR AND ESTHER back in 2007 and last year with the company she co-founded, New Light Theater Project, she directed my short play FRISKY & THE PANDA MAN at the Samuel French Off Off Broadway Short Play Festival. We were fortunate enough to be named one of the five winning finalists with that. So we’re looking forward to this a lot and we hope people like it.

Q:  What else are you working on now?

A:  Two things. A slightly surrealist family drama about a Latin American immigrant family in the US called HYENAS IN THE BACKYARD. All about narrative and owning memory, family, identity and all that kind of thing. Perhaps you'd call it "postcolonial".  I saw that definition the other day and it sort of fits with what I've been doing. Also the characters are predominantly female. So that’s interesting for me. The play’s been knocking about in my head for a couple of years, so it was about time I got going on it. And then I’m also working on a solo piece about a female life coach just starting out and that's entitled LET’S GET DIFFERENT (WITH TINA WINDERMERE). I'm enthused about both plays and I'm optimistic they’ll both be ready by the end of the year

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

A:  It’s not a story per se, but growing up in England, where by comparison people don’t directly say what they really want to say, means you’re sort of born into the task of trying to figure out what the hell it is people want you to do, or not do, or you are trying to decipher what they want for themselves. It’s a pretty good grounding for writing for the stage, I think. I should also add that moving to the US in my 20s and living among Americans, as I did for a time, gave me the pathological optimism you need to make playwriting some sort of vocation, despite all its obstacles. That might not be quite what you're after but I think that combination explains why I’m a playwright today.

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

A:  It’s a shame it’s too expensive to put on plays. On the whole, theatre needs considerable funding, and then on a certain level, the need for funding perhaps influences the content of the work that would attract funding. And then we get into this business of social initiative-led work (not as a whole a bad thing) or where a play’s topic seems a little more important than the quality of the work. I’m assuming that’s the reason behind a lot of poorer stuff we see anyway. I like to give people the benefit of the doubt here. But we've all got to find ways around this and I'm sure the smart people out there will find them.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  I admire a lot of playwrights, and I have to say most are American, so congratulations on that front. But if you’re going to use the word “heroes”, then Chekhov and Arthur Miller in particular stand out. They both wrote with a great conscience and compassion but neither one of them were afraid of throwing their characters under a bus when it came time to. I think those are good principles to write plays by.

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

A:  Be patient. Take an interest in everyone you meet. You should anyway, let's face it. But write as much as you can and in different ways. Stretch yourself. Read and watch a lot of plays. Get to know and listen to actors. Write a play while always bearing in mind that the reader is in no way obligated to finish it, so you have to make them want to. Then more broadly, imagine what your ideal body of work will say about you and be specific about what you want it to look like and proceed with that in mind and take responsibility for it. It is true that collaborations and connections are important, and you need opportunities and breaks and favours from others, but to have something that you’re solely responsible for will keep you focused and independent and it will always be something to come back to and to gain confidence and move forward from. And you’ll probably find through doing that, you’re going to attract other people, collaborators and opportunities to you anyway. From there, as you were: Be patient, take an interest in everyone you meet and repeat. Those are my main things.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  PICTURE OURSELVES IN LATVIA is presented by New Light Theater Project and runs at the Access Theater, New York from July 10 through to August 9. Also NO ONE LOVES US HERE, ARTHUR AND ESTHER and my collection of short plays OUR WALK THROUGH THE WORLD are now available and published by Samuel French.


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