Tuesday, June 30, 2015

I Interview Playwrights Part 758: John Minigan






cross-posted to Samuel French's  Blog
 
John Minigan

Hometown: Beverly, Mass.

Current Town: Framingham, Mass. Sad that I'm still in Massachusetts? I guess it's sad.

Q:  Tell me about your OOB play:
 
A:  I almost never write to prompts, but two summers ago, I saw a call for superhero plays (I had none) and for noir plays (also, none). So I ignored the calls and worked on other projects. And The Maltese Walter popped suddenly into my head, completely.  It's been an adventure. In a little over 18 months, it's had something like 15 productions on three continents. I'm super-excited to be in the Sam French Festival--last time was 29 years ago--and to work with Hey Jonte! Productions, the group that did a great production of a full-length of mine at the NY Fringe last summer. They are fabulous. Every playwright should be so lucky.

Q:  What else are you working on now?
 
A:  I'm a high school theater teacher, so other than devised pieces with my students, my production schedule only allows time to write in the summer, two months a year, but I write feverishly then. I have two full-length projects in various stages this summer: Little Ant Renovation, a sort of magical-realist-kitchen-sink play about what becomes of the immigrant families a couple of generations after coming over, and The Queen of Sad Mischance, about a the relationship between a college student and her boss, a Shakespeare scholar losing her memory.

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 one of four kids in my family, much younger than my three older siblings. One afternoon when I was about 10, I found a letter to my older brother on the dining room table, written by a woman who visited often and brought gifts at Christmas. I opened the letter and read that she was glad my older brother had told her about our other brother's deployment to Vietnam. "After all," she wrote, "he is my son." It was a surprising way to learn that your siblings are half-siblings, that your father had a different life at one point, that you didn't really know the people in your house, etc. I guess it's where I got the idea that sometimes the backstory is the important story, and why the forward action of my plays often reveals the past.

Q:  If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?
 
A:  I think the biggest change I'd love to see would be in the audience. As a playwright, director and teacher, I'm saddened that so many only want to go to the theater to see a story they already know. I'm lucky to live in the Boston area, where new work is really exploding and building audiences interested in hearing stories that will take them to unexpected places

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?
 
A:  I hate turning into a cheese-ball, but mostly it's my students. Adolescents can be amazingly open, clear, powerful and honest as actors and writers. I've also been inspired by almost every actor and director I've worked with on new pieces. And the folks I studied under at Shakespeare & Company long ago, particularly Kristin Linklater and Kevin Coleman. 

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?
 
A:  I love when I'm enjoying the entertainment value of a piece and then gasp because I've just felt something I never expected to feel and understood something I never knew.

Q:  What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
 
A:  Turn off the editor and just get it on the page. Then hear your friends read it. Then do the real work of shaping and making sense. And when you submit, submit a LOT. The more you send, the more chances you give them to say "Yes."

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  I'm excited about two full-lengths on stage this fall: a fifth production of Breaking the Shakespeare Code, outside Chicago, and the premiere of Concordance, a hallucinogenic period piece about the line between faith and insanity, in the Boston area.

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Tuesday, June 23, 2015

I Interview Playwrights Part 757: Vanessa Garcia






crossposted to Samuel French's  Blog

Vanessa Garcia

Hometown: Miami (that’s right, born and raised in the MIA, the 305).

Current Town: I am currently living between Miami and Los Angeles, doing a little back and forth.

Q:  Tell me about your OOB play:

A:  The play is actually inspired by my hometown of Miami. In a sense, it’s about the dangers of the melting pot – that’s an old word, used-up, and sort of a cliché -- but I use it here to say that “transient” places like Miami can get very hot, and not just because you can fry an egg on the sidewalk in the summer. But, because you have a group of people who are trying to survive, or start anew; who are fleeing and fighting and sometimes flying – all within the perimeter of a city sitting near the bottom of a peninsula, surrounded on three sides by water. The kind of news we get in Miami and other big cities often revolves around the clashes that result out of these migrations and mechanisms for survival. I wanted to do a little exploration in this piece as to how someone ends up as a 15 second newsflash, thousands of miles from home -- I wanted the backstory to the 15 second newsflash.

Q:  What else are you working on now?

A:  I’m working on the revisions of a play called Grace, Sponsored by Monteverde, which is getting produced out in LA by JustA Theatre. What I love about this company is that they are young and full of the passion you have when you are starting a company, starting an endeavor you really believe in. Their excitement is invigorating. They are also super talented. The same play is going to have a reading in Miami by Thinking Cap Theatre on August 3 of this year – Thinking Cap is one of my favorite theatre companies in South Florida, they take risks, which I really admire. And, Ruddy Productions in NYC, who I’m super excited to work with, is also developing the play.

I’m also working on a nonfiction book called My Cuban Routes. That’s about American Born Cubans and their relationship to Cuba.

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 a kid I spent a lot of time at my grandparent’s house. My grandmother is Cuban and my grandfather was born in Spain, but often considers himself Cuban because of the time he spent in Cuba. One of the most vivid moments I remember about being in their house was this time that my grandmother saved these tiny birds. They had been nesting in a palm tree, right outside her bedroom window, but the nest fell and the mother disappeared. My grandmother, frantic, went to pick up these birds, which would have been eaten up in a second otherwise. She brought them inside and she taught me how to nurse them. We gave them tiny pieces of bread and I helped name them: Pirouline and Saltarin. One of them ended up dying but the other grew in strength – Pirouline -- and flew all over the house. When we saw that he was strong enough, we let him go. But the power of that story is in what I found out after. My grandmother was so intense about saving those birds, so tragic about their fall from the palm tree. I didn’t understand it until later, when I found out how she had lost her mother. How she had been forced to flee Cuba, leaving her mother behind, and how her mother had died shortly after in Cuba, without my grandmother being able to say goodbye. The story I later heard about my grandmother and her mother gave depth and light to our birds. Stories feeding stories, making lives, building history and family. This kind of thing, over and over again, this is what made me a writer, I think.

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

A:  If we could all find a way to remember why we do what we do, that would solve everything.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  New Work. New work is the best because it’s so alive. Because it morphs and grows in front of you from these budding baby drafts into these clumsy adolescents and then, finally, into fumbling adults. I use those words in the best way possible. Because I believe these fumbling adults are exactly what we are trying to capture. These fumbling adults are a mirror of who we are; a goal to be attained in the writing.

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

A:  If you really want to do this, do it. It can be magic. But, if you sort of want to do it, do something else. The road to magic is pretty patchy, and you have to fight the crossfire of wands that are trying to make you disappear. I had a painting teacher that told me once that talent wasn’t really anything else aside from guts and desire – I believe that. So if you’ve got the guts and the desire, go for it.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  Apart from the plays and companies I mentioned above, there’s another big thing happening. My debut novel will be coming out by Shade Mountain Press in September. It’s called White Light. Shade Mountain is an amazing publishing company, focusing on female writers working in literary fiction. The editor, Rosalie Morales Kearns, is one of my current heroes.

The book will be at selected bookstores and also on Amazon. I’ll be reading from it in Miami, New York, and LA. You can follow me on my events page: http://vanessagarcia.org/events.php


I am so unbelievably grateful and happy that Juggerknot Theatre Company is producing the short (http://www.juggerknottheatrecompany.com). They are this really great company, lead by Tanya Bravo, that bridges Miami and NYC talent. It's such a great idea and I'm so lucky to have them spearhead and take me on.



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Friday, June 19, 2015

I Interview Playwrights Part 756: Nicole Pandolfo



Nicole Pandolfo

Hometown: Gibbstown, NJ

Current Town: New York City

Q:  What are you working on now?

A:  I’m working on a play that moves non-linearly through time and has whole scenes where seemingly peripheral characters become the main focus, which may or may not be a completely insane thing to do. It’s called LUSH and follows Mia from teenager to mid-life as she navigates her self-destructive urges and life flings her and those around her in directions they’d never imagined. The play travels from places like a high school reunion in New Jersey in 2002, to a honky tonk in Tennessee in 1982, to a television studio on the East Coast in 2026. It’s been a lot of fun to write and is about how if you’re not careful, your life could be marked by the love you missed. I’m also working on a play off of a prompt from my MFA advisor Tina Howe to set something on prom night in New Jersey. It’s about 17-year-old Denise, an aspiring marine biologist, who has been a victim of acquaintance rape by two of her classmates, and her one-legged friend Crystal, who is on a mission to lose her virginity, dealing with prom. We see the two of them navigating this high stakes evening as outcasts searching for both independence and inclusion. I’m also working on a television pilot and my first screenplay.

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

A:  These are more moments that stand out, but I remember spending a lot of time staring out the picture window in my living room waiting for my dad’s car to pull up, which more often than not never did. In day care, a kid bit me and when I told the aide about it my punishment for being a tattletale was having a literal tail pinned to my backside for the rest of the day. My mom wouldn’t teach me how to ride a bike because she was afraid I’d get hit by a car, and so I spent summers three blocks behind all my friends furiously trying to keep up on my scooter. And finally, I spent many an evening on my Granny’s lap while she drank Manhattans and smoked cigarettes.

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

A:  I would wish that theaters would produce more work from emerging artists with more than 4 characters in the play. This is partially because I’ve got lots of badass plays with 5-9 characters and so do many of my friends, and also because plays are so much fun when the world is full. There are great 2, 3, and 4 character plays, but sometimes I just want more flesh and blood.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  Larry Harbison (find me a greater lover of the theatre) Cher, John Leguizamo, Tina Howe, John Patrick Shanley, Craig Lucas, Dan Lauria, and Laura Cahill. Also, I’d like to shout out that the most perfect playwriting Master Class would be led by Tanya Barfield, Cusi Cram, Tina Howe, and Francine Volpe.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  If it isn’t boring or pretentious and the people on stage care deeply about things, I’m usually pretty damn excited to be in the audience.

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

A:  I hope you are lucky enough to have a close family member or parent that supports you whole heartedly so that when you call them crying every two-three weeks they remind you that someone very big in your life believes in you. If you don’t have this, then make sure you find someone who can be this person for you, friend or mentor, because there will be many dark days in the course of a career in the arts, and these people are essential to keeping you alive. My mom and a few close friends do this for me when I panic that I should have become a dentist or accountant; both excellent fields that I would be horrible in. (PS thanks Mom for being the best! Couldn’t do it without you!) But I also think it’s important to let yourself acknowledge these moments of despair because it’s really hard and painful a lot of the time. I’m convinced that the people who are never affected by the pain of the hard parts are either sociopaths or delusional. Also, something new that I’m learning now is that no matter how good it gets, what you’re looking for deep in your soul is probably not going to be found in your career, but it sure does help when things are going well. In general, try to have a good time as much as possible, because what’s the point of anything else. I wish you the very best of luck and happiness. Also, maybe write some 2-4 character plays so someone will produce them.

Q:  Plugs, please

A:  My one-act play I Thought I Liked Girls will be performed as part of Jersey Voices July-August in Chatham, NJ. Also, A Bad Night, the documentary play about acquaintance rape that I’m co-writing with Amy E. Witting will have a reading on October 5th. For more info www.nicolepandolfo.com

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Friday, June 12, 2015

Upcoming: 1 reading, 7 productions

UPCOMING READING


Colchester

Welcome to Colchester, a town of dashed dreams and fervent hope, history and longing. And there's a hardware store too.


JAW, A Playwright's Festival 
at Portland Center Stage
Portland, OR
July 24 or 25, 2015.
   
UPCOMING PRODUCTIONS

Where You Can't Follow

Workshop production
Chance Theater
Anaheim, CA
August 19, 22, 23

Hearts Like Fists

Production #17 of Hearts Like Fists
Actors Bridge Ensemble
Nashville, TN
Opens September 11, 2015

Production #18 of Hearts Like Fists
Damonte Ranch High School
Reno, NV
Opens November 11, 2015

Clown Bar


Production #8 of Clown Bar
The NOLA Project
New Orleans, LA
Opens October 22, 2015

Production #9 of Clown Bar
Idiom Theater
Bellingham, WA
Opens October 2015


Production #10 of Pretty Theft
Dark Matter Theatre
NYC, NY
Opens October, 2015

Production #11 of Pretty Theft
James Madison University
Harrisonburg, VA
Opens April 26, 2016


PUBLISHED PLAYS


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Thursday, June 11, 2015

I Interview Playwrights Part 755: Kate Benson



Kate Benson

Hometown: Evanston, IL

Current Town: Brooklyn, NY

Q:  Tell me about the play you just won an Obie for. (and Congrats!!)

A:  Thanks! The play is called A Beautiful Day in November on the Banks of the Greatest of the Great Lakes; it is a Thanksgiving play with sports announcers, and an American Family Play turned upside down: it is the children who destroy their parents, in the end.

Q:  What else are you working on now?

A:  A play about nuclear bomb proliferation, called Desert (for now), another play with the Assembly Theater Company called I Will Look Forward to This Later, co-written with Emily Perkins, and a play for the Clubbed Thumb Biennial Commission called Super Magic Wild Forest.

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. The theater obsession started in second grade, when Dr. Fisher cast me as the narrator in the Anansi Fables for the parent open house; the rest of my class got to make and wear animal masks, and I was really jealous of them until the performance, when I realized that they didn't have any lines, and all of the adults had to listen to me. She also gave me a shirt she got in Africa to wear for the performance that fit me like a dress. I thought that was pretty cool.

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

A:  I wish it were open to everyone.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  Mac Wellman, Ngugi Wa Thiong'o, Erin Courtney, Lisa Kron, Lear deBessonet, Anton Chekhov, and Bertolt Brecht. But I'm trying to stand down from heroism right now. But those are the people in my head, when I think about who's doing or has done amazing things.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  The kind of theater that makes me ask questions about the way that I live; the kind of theater that surprises me.

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

A:  Keep going. Read everything. See as much as you can. Fight bitterness. Find the people who are working in ways you find exciting.
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Tuesday, June 09, 2015

I Interview Playwrights Part 754: Nikkole Salter



Nikkole Salter

Hometown: Los Angeles, CA

Current Town: Bloomfield, NJ

Q:  What are you working on now?

A:  Woolly Commission, screenplay adaptation of a novel, University of NC Chapel Hill Commission, Pace University Commission, NJPAC commission, The New Black Fest's UNTAMED commission. (Yikes)

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

A:  Hmmm. Don't know if there's one story that wraps it up... at least not one that I'm evolved enough to recognize. Off the top of my head, I will say that I grew up in Los Angeles going to performing arts schools - that was my extra curricular activity of choice (anything to keep me out of the sports my mother loved and thought would be my ticket to college...I showed her!). Marla Gibbs Crossroads Arts Academy, Faith Acting Studios (both defunct) and Amazing Grace Conservatory shaped me immensely, and were/are very involved in creating community based theatre with excellence. I grew up watching theatre professionals pursue commercial careers while devoting at least an equal amount of time to developing institutions and platforms for their community's stories. My first opportunity to write for the stage was issued to me by a woman named Deirdre Weston, co-founder of Faith. She was a theatre actress and writer from Philly's New Freedom Theatre. There were a bunch of us who had been training and performing under her tutelage since we were like eight and nine years old. Around 13, she said that it was time that we graduated from our sketch showcases and assigned plays to cohesive storytelling of our own creation about more adult subjects...that everything theatre could do was not all fun and games, and that our voices were as important as anyone's. She took us through a series of exercises exposing us to the realities of enslaved and oppressed women of African descent in America to open our imaginations. She assigned reading. We listened to Nina Simone's "Four Women," repeatedly and discussed our thoughts and research. Then she asked each of us to create a character and write a monologue that was inspired by the song and our research to perform. She said it was very important that we do a good job because, though our renderings would be fictional, the women and their stories are based on something very real. I was honored to be a part of that process. I was determined to do a good job. I was filled with purpose. And, looking back, that process taught me that stories weren't about me at all. My writing, my performance was the means by which stories delivered information, changed minds and opened (or closed) hearts. Yeah... I guess that was my beginning.

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

A:  I'd change the baseline income of a theatre professional! I'd make companies again so people can be salaried, and insured and part of a team so that the national focus moves from one of individual competition to collaboration. I'd make it so people could be professionally married. So that they could build families. I'm not into dating or one night stands.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  This is a big question. All the people who've commissioned me and anyone who has (or will) commit to encouraging, supporting and giving me a platform. LOL. I know I'm supposed to say the names...Lorraine Hansberry, August Wilson. Shakespeare. Luis Alfaro. Charlayne Woodard. Vito Zingarelli. Lynn Nottage. Tony Kushner. Al Freeman. Alice Childress. Phylicia Rashad...but I think my some of my heroes are also my contemporaries. I've watched the launch of the Hip Hop Theatre Festival and the development of the cultural institution HiArts through an amazing woman and friend, Kamilah Forbes. I've watched the journey of Dominique Morrisseau, Katori Hall, Danai Gurira, LaNelle Moise, Tarell McCraney. The Kilroys. The New Black Fest and Keith Joseph Adkins' commitment to new voices. The honesty and creativity of Stu or Glenn Gordon. The rise of Chadwick Boseman. Lydia Diamond. Kirsten Greenidge. Sanjit DeSilva and his wife Deepa Purohit showing how to juggle raising a family and a thriving professional life. My girl Josie Whittlesey and her Drama Club, making theatre function in our society to improve the lives of young people. The tireless work of Karen Evans with the Black Women Playwrights Group. I watch the triumphs of the Sade Lythcott, Jonathan McCroy and the team at the National Black Theatre. The integrity and generosity of Marshall Jones, III and the way he and Amie Bajalieh hold the line of legacy at Crossroads Theatre Company. Ricardo Khan, his partnerships with the international community and his commitment to the stories of the African diaspora. Cheryl Katz who is willing see the difference between a quality play and a play that affirms her world view (and always produces the quality play), the dedication she has to the community in which her theatre exists... and the sparkling work she and her team do at Luna Stage. Bob Egan who leaves his cushy job to make room to do work that inspires him, freelance. Antoinette LaVecchia. Christine Toy Johnson. The inspiration of Mina Morita or Lauren English taking on leadership roles. The times that Susie Medak or Michael Maso set aside time to talk with me about things not related to performance, but our business and the responsibilities of our industry. Kathy Perkins who holds it down as a Black woman lighting designer, and who made it a part of her duty to make sure that other woman of color can be seen as viable options for employment on stage and behind the scenes. Sandra Adell who bothers to make sure the plays of Black women get published. Somebody say Lin-Manuel Miranda! I could go on and on and on. I know and see A LOT of people doin' the damn thing. Their stories inspire me daily.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  Theatre that is the perfect seamless blend of artistry (not the kind of theatricality and spectacle that shows itself for its own sake, but the kind that is employed because the story is enhanced by it), substance (In my view theatre functions to help us evolve as a society, as humanity... stories that challenges us with its honesty and perspective... stories that do a thorough job of dramatizing why real conflict exists around an issue without letting you see the strings of the artists...I like learning something) and entertainment (you've got to keep me engaged and interested and, if you can, on the edge of my seat... not ahead or behind... heart open). I like the kind of theatre that has me leaving talking about themes and how they are related to my life... not the kind of theatre that has me leaving wondering where I'm going to eat. I love theatre that can show me how I'm connected to something that I may not've thought I was connected to. I like work that is bold and fearless (not for shock value, though...that's cheap). I appreciate work that demonstrates how a dynamic has an impact on multiple tiers of society - macro, micro.

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

A:  Write. Don't wish for what you don't have, the grass often only appears greener. Find someone (or someONES) to give you a chance and champion your work. Learn from my mistakes. Own your voice. Did I say write?

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  Next Season: CARNAVAL going to Theatre de Poche in Brussels. LINES IN THE DUST and REPAIRING A NATION going to ETA in Chicago. Recently joined the board of TCG (yay).

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Monday, June 08, 2015

I Interview Playwrights Part 753: Jacques Lamarre



Jacques Lamarre

Hometown:   I was born outside of Philly in Paoli, PA. Paoli had just built a new hospital and if you were the first baby born there, you would get all sorts of great prizes like free diapers and onesies. I came in 6th place, starting life as a crushing disappointment to my mother. I spent most of my (de)formative years in Amherst, NH, so that is what I rightly call my hometown.

Current Town:  I live outside of Hartford, CT in a small city/large town called Manchester. I think we have more breakfast places per capita than any other in Connecticut. That's my kinda town.

Q:  What are you working on now?

A:  As I am totally ADHD, I'm always working on multiple things. I have a reading coming up of my new Scientology comedy, HONEY LABREA - THE LONELY THETAN. I am finishing up my 12th show for drag queen Varla Jean Merman for the Provincetown summer season. It's called VARLA JEAN MERMAN'S BIG BLACK HOLE and we send her into outerspace I just finished writing a new comedy called THE PLAY THAT HATES YOUR PLAY, and am working on a new one called THE BARONESS, about "The Sound of Music" from the Baroness' standpoint.

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 a child, I would root for The Baroness in "The Sound of Music." She had better hair, better gowns, and wouldn't have anything to do with children. When I got to high school, I rooted for Chillingworth in "The Scarlet Letter." I thought Reverend Dimmesdale and that whore Hester Prynne got just what was coming to them and, of course, they had a precocious child, making them even more worthy of my disdain.

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

A:  I helped put together a playwrights forum two years ago that included the amazing David Lindsay-Abaire. He said (and I'm paraphrasing) that it is essentially impossible to earn a living just as a playwright, which I found profound and sad. As my play I LOVED, I LOST, I MADE SPAGHETTI has been a success, I've been grateful. Not a lot of people are as fortunate as I have been. During the process of acting as my own agent, I see how some theatres will negotiate you down on royalties and pull out all sorts of hidden fees before they pay you. I understand the economics of the theatre is hard nowadays, but when a union stagehand can make more money than the playwright who conceived the work, something is askew. I'd like to see a General Manager try to withhold a percentage of group sales from a lumber supplier.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  Tennessee Williams is my absolute favorite. He was funny, poetic, tragic, and adored the outsider, what he called "The Fugitive Kind." Of the playwrights currently working, David Lindsay-Abaire is a hero of mine. He manages to be honest, real, funny, and, at times, absurd. Although I've only seen one of Charles Ludlam's plays, I think if he were alive I would be hanging on his every word. His work informed some of my trash camp heroes like John Waters and Varla Jean Merman.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  The kind that is not afraid to have fun and be funny. It seems like everyone has gotten so serious, even when writing comedy. This is what my new play THE PLAY THAT HATES YOUR PLAY is all about. I wrote it after seeing IT'S ONLY A PLAY, which I greatly disliked. A lot of theatres equate "new play development" with "I'm making a serious statement about blah-blah-blah." I'm like, "Fuck that. It's Saturday night and the tickets are $60 a pop." Write a good play, give 'em a good time, and if they choose to learn something or be touched, great. I'm not against dramas. I've written a few, but there is something about comedy that is harder and more delightful for me.

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

A:  I have two bits of advice...

Work with good people. You will have the opportunity to work with a lot of assholes, but to quote Sweet Brown, "Ain't nobody got time for 'dat." I'm amazed at how the theatre seems to give certain folks license to not treat other humans well. I've seen directors pitch screaming fits. Actors behave petulantly. Writers refusing to support their work. I know we are all artists here making art and being arty, but that doesn't give you permission to step on one another. We're all in the same boat and want the same things, so chill out and enjoy the fact that you get to do what you love.

And make your own opportunities. I went the whole submission route for playwriting contests. Got my first one and then never got another. Don't write for a contest; write what YOU want and then find a theatre that is brave enough to do it. Unless it's crap, in which case, become a better writer or try your hand at pottery.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  Local theatre. I know the theatre world orients toward New York and it is fun to see a big starry, splashy show. Within 15 minutes of my home in Connecticut, I have seen some spectacular work at TheaterWorks, Hartford Stage,Playhouse on Park, and Little Theatre of Manchester. It's a lot less expensive than New York City and can be every bit as satisfying.

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Sunday, June 07, 2015

I Interview Playwrights Part 752: Nate Eppler


Nate Eppler

Hometown:  Flint, MI

Current Town:  Nashville, TN

Q:  What are you working on now?

A:  I’m working through rewrites on my play GOOD MONSTERS premiering next season at Nashville Repertory Theatre (Frank is a Iraq War Vet and police officer who moonlights as a security guard to make ends meet. Safira was a shoplifter. She was running. It was dark. He thought she had a gun. She didn't. And now Frank's the guy who shot an unarmed teenager. But the dead don’t always stay quiet and now, while he waits for the trial, she haunts him every night. ) And just starting the submission process on my new play THE ICE TREATMENT ( Left behind on the garbage heap of history and misremembered by everyone –herself included- the world’s most infamous Olympian reinvents herself by writing the blockbuster screenplay of her epic struggle to become The Greatest Ice Skater Who Ever Lived. The problem is how much of the past she’s going to have to rewrite to do it.)

Q:  Tell me about Nashville Repertory Theater’s Ingram New Works Lab:

A:  We’ve been called a ‘magic island’ a couple of times this year, and actually that’s not too far off. Our goal is to make an honest-to-goodness capital-H-Home for our playwrights, so, you know, all wishes are granted. Each year, thanks to the generosity of Martha Ingram and now the support of the NEA, Nashville Repertory Theatre supports the development of five new plays for the stage; Four by emerging playwrights (Ingram Lab playwrights) and one by a playwright of national or international reputation (our Ingram Fellow.) The fellow typically works on his or her new play already in progress and the emerging playwrights develop a brand new play from scratch. We’re a generative residency where the playwright is given what they need as they need it during the earliest stages of development. Once a month we fly the playwrights down to Nashville to work on their plays with actors, directors, dramaturgs, designers and whatever professional support they require (including, like, a million phone calls and meetings with me.) Over the course of nine months the playwrights go from a pile of sentences to a muscular first or second draft of their brand spanking new play. As we are a development program first and foremost, our program’s only interest is to give the playwright a home to write the play they’ve been dying to write. We celebrate at the end of the year with a great big festival for Nashville audiences and livestreamed and archived on HowlRound TV for everybody else. We put the plays in front of our audience not as finished products but as art-in-progress to help launch them into their next stages of life. Tori Keenan-Zelt, one of our Lab Playwrights and all-around badass, described it like this: “It's challenging, but not competitive. It's a little bit like when you jump on a huge trampoline with your best friends, and you all go flying in different directions and into each other and, when the bounce hits just right, higher.”

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 grew up in Flint in the 80’s and the economic collapse of the city probably informs a lot of the stuff in my plays. And I grew up Irish Catholic so, you know, the past is buried both inefficiently and very close by. I know that’s pretty much the the core of me; All my plays are in some way exhumations. But instead of stories about economic death or what’s buried in the backyard, I’m going to tell the story about the fire hydrant. The week we learned to ride bicycles my brother and I went to the Emergency Room three times in four days. This is true. We are not athletes. The third trip was Carl getting a concussion because he fell off his bike and into a fire hydrant. He made it pretty far down the block, a good three or four houses away, and then he sort of wobbled and tipped over, and smashed his head into a fire hydrant. And it’s not like our block was full of fire hydrants or something, there was just the one. Even at the time I remember thinking Of all the places to fall, of course you go headfirst into the fire hydrant. Anytime anybody asks about a lesson from childhood or whatever, this is the story I think of. You’re going to fall, there’s no question about that. Mom and dad are gone and you’re going to fall at the moment you are just learning to ride the bike. You are going to fall at the worst time, in the worst spot, and everyone that can help you is going to be all the way down the block. You are going to fall. And that’s the exact moment when the world starts throwing fire hydrants at you. This idea is essentially where I start with my plays: They’re kind of about people who are stumbling or falling down and then, you know, the world starts throwing fire hydrants. That’s when I get really interested.

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

A:  I spent like three days on this question. I know the four hundred things I’d change; narrowing it down to one is daunting. Top three: 1) I’d invite everyone to the conversation. Total commitment across the whole community to diversity of voices. 2) I’d make it cheaper to attend and pay the artists more, even if it meant less large institutions and more small-to-mediums. And 3) I’d I think maybe I’d invite more people who are good at the business of business into our business.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  Always Chekhov and Caryl Churchill. And Josie Helming. And Doug Wright and Donald Margulies and Teresa Rebeck. And Caleen Sinnette Jennings and Melanie Marnich. And Paula Vogel and Steven Dietz. And Gary Garrison. And you, frankly.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  I’m a sucker for comedies in big houses. But I will say this: On balance, I think I’m always a little more juiced by a smaller company aiming to punch above their class than a big company doing the big they already know they’re good at.

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

A:  Structure is the magic trick. Learn it. Do it. Amaze your friends. Also: Sometimes we get into trouble by the way we frame things, and how we forget that simply re-framing them is an option. What I mean is: Think of the first draft as typing. Type and keep typing until you have a draft. Writing is when you get to the rewriting much farther down the road. If you take the pressure and preciousness out of the first draft you won’t freeze up as much and before you know it you’ll have something worth worrying about.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  My new play GOOD MONSTERS has its premiere Feb 11-27 2016 at Nashville Repertory Theatre (www.nashvillerep.org) , but I’m much more comfortable plugging other people’s stuff so: If you’re in NYC this month definitely go see TOGETHER WE ARE MAKING A POEM IN HONOR OF LIFE by Dean Poynor (www.inhonoroflifetheplay.com) June 4-28 2015; Look for Tori Keenan-Zelt this summer on Dusty Wilson’s MDQ podcast (www.mdqpodcast.com) with her play TRUTH DARE… ; If you’re at the Finger Lakes Musical Theatre Festival be sure to check out SKIN AND BONES by Andrew Kramer and Ben Clark (no joke: it’s a musical about The Bone Wars) July 9-11 (www.fingerlakesmtf.com); and applications are still open for the 2015/16 Nashville Rep Ingram New Works Lab. We’re accepting applications until midnight June 21st at www.nashvillerep.org/ingram-new-works-application


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Saturday, June 06, 2015

I Interview Playwrights Part 751: Dave Malloy



photo by Michael De Angelis

Dave Malloy

​Hometown:  Lakewood, OH

Current Town:  Brooklyn, NY​

Tell me about Preludes.

​Q:  Preludes​ is a "musical fantasia set in the hypnotized mind of Sergei Rachmaninoff"; it's a dreamlike piece based on a 3-year period in Rach's life, when he suffered severe depression and writer's block following the disastrous premiere of his First Symphony. He eventually began to work again after seeing a hypnotherapist, Nikolai Dahl, to whom he ended up dedicating his famous Second Piano Concerto, written during this period.

It's a pretty different piece for me; it's closer to Three Pianos than Great Comet or Ghost Quartet, but more than any of those this is really a proper "play with music," and most of the music is Rachmaninoff's; I've only written like 6-7 traditional songs, and even those are mostly based on themes of Rachmaninoff's. And I've written these bizarre things where two or three people just talk to each other, with no singing at all; these are called "scenes." But music of course plays a huge role in the piece, with many scenes meticulously choreographed to Rach's piano works, all being played onstage by our amazing pianist, Or Matias. He and actor Gabriel Ebert play two halves of Rachmaninoff; so the piece is also about their relationship, and all the dichotomies they may or may not be representing: composer/pianist, writer/muse, action/inaction, success/failure, passion/sloth. It also deals with Rachmaninoff negotiating his own dubious position in classical music history, and how he deals with criticism, expectation, work ethic and inspiration.

Q:  What else are you working on now?

A:  A little bit too much! A teenage dance-a-thon​ musical  with Krista Knight and YMTC ​in Berkeley, CA is next, called Don't Stop Me; a​nd​ I have 3 collaborations ​in development ​with director Rachel Chavkin: a Moby Dick adaptation, a Prince Hal adaptation (compressing Henry IV 1 ​and​ 2 and Henry V), and a piece about Taoism, evolution and debate called The Happiness of Fish​ at ACT​. Plus Ghost Quartet is going on tour, and the four of us have talked a bit about making a new piece...

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 spent a lot of my childhood watching old science fiction TV shows and reading Stephen King and Ray Bradbury; so I think much of my aesthetic actually comes from that world, even when the material is not overtly fantasy or sci-fi; I just love the weird and dreamy.

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

​A:  We change things all the time!​ So maybe: I would like to change the the persistent belief that there are meta-institutional things that need to be changed.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  The first thing I saw in NYC that blew me away and made me certain I wanted to do theater forever and ever was Richard Foreman's​ The Gods Are Pounding On My Head!; I just had no idea you could make such surreal spectacle til then. Among theatrical composers, Sondheim of course, Meredith Wilson, early ALW, Schönberg & Boublil, Robert Ashley, Robert Crumb, Tom Waits, Björk, Prince and Beyoncé. Contemporary theater favorites include Young Jean Lee, Anne Washburn, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, ERS, Half Straddle, Nature Theatre of Oklahoma, and Lin-Manuel Miranda; and of course I'm constantly inspired by my many lovely and amazing collaborators, including Rachel Chavkin, Alec Duffy, Rick Burkhardt, the Ghost Quartet folks, Banana Bag & Bodice and Eliza Bent.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:​ Anything that plays with and breaks the form: durational pieces, music/theater hybrids, immersive pieces. Pieces with booze and hooting but impeccable craft. Vastness and darkness and echoes. But I'm a sucker for an old fashioned musical or well-made play too.​

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

​A: I would focus on self-producing work, rather than chasing readings, grants, retreats, fellowships, writers groups etc.​ You can learn so much just making a ton of terrible messes for no money. Plus it's way more fun.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:   JACK is celebrating 3 years this summer and keep getting better and better. James Harrison Monaco has a show at Ars Nova's ANTFest, Tales For Telling, that I can't wait to see. I'm going to see Anne Washburn's 10 out of 12 at Soho Rep next week and am super psyched. And Ghost Quartet is headed up to Mt. Tremper Arts this summer, where there are a ton of other amazing things happening too.

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