Sunday, August 02, 2015

I Interview Playwrights Part 769: Matthew B. Zrebski



Matthew B. Zrebski

Hometown:  Austin, TX

Current Town:  Portland, OR

Q:  What are you working on now?

A:  I am currently in the initial drafting process for a play, titled Chrysalis. It was commissioned by the Young Professionals Program (YP) at Oregon Children’s Theatre and will premiere in April of 2016. The piece has eight teen characters. It also requires me to compose original music for mostly a cappella singing. I am exploring themes of generational change through a modern myth - the transformation of humans in ways that can either be a result of enlightenment or a dangerous and threatening morphing into savagery. Focus groups have been conducted with various teens to help in highlighting issues that matter to them.

Q:  Can you tell me about Playwrights West?

A:  Playwrights West came out of PlayGroup, a collective of playwrights assembled by the incredible Mead Hunter when he was Literary Director at Portland Center Stage. In 2009, we decided to move into a production model for our company, not unlike 13P - where one writer would receive a full production of their choosing approximately once a year. The first show was in 2012 (Patrick Wohlmut’s Continuum). And it has continued each year with Licking Batteries by Ellen Margolis in 2013, The Sweatermakers by Andrew Wardenaar in 2014, and the upcoming Dear Galileo by Claire Willett in 2015. Membership has changed a lot over the years, but we typically have 8 to 10 members at any given time.

In 2012, we launched our education program called Teen West. Initially this has been a collaboration with Wilson High School Drama, where each year, a Playwrights West member pens a play specifically for teen performers, where every character must be a teenager. The idea is to go from page to stage to publication so as to build richer teen centric works. I serve as the Education Director for Playwrights West and run this program each season, serving as the director/dramaturg for the plays. In year one (2013), we had a festival of one acts called The Warning Label: Water Down by Debbie Lamedman, Arm by Matthew B. Zrebski, and Verge Warnings by Karin Magaldi. Year two (2014) saw the premiere of The Waves by Patrick Wohlmut. And in year three (2015), Ellen Margolis’s Prime was produced and was also featured in The Fertile Ground Festival.

Q:  Can you tell me about Promising Playwrights?

A:  I am currently the Resident Teaching Artist at Portland Center Stage and since 2004, I have been teaching the Visions and Voices program for the organization. We go into six area public high schools during the school year and teach six-week playwriting residencies to drama students. Most years, we teach between 150 and 180 writers. In the spring, 22 are chosen to have their work presented in staged readings at PCS. And from those 22, 6 are chosen as “Promising Playwrights” to participate in JAW: A Playwrights Festival in the summer. This is a commissioning program where the writers pen new, 5 to 8 minute duet plays under my mentorship. In less than two weeks, the pieces are written, developed, and then presented as staged readings during the kick-off to the festival. The playwrights are paid for their work and treated as emerging professionals. It’s an incredible opportunity and many have gone on to pursue playwriting careers.

Q:  What is the Portland theater scene like?

A:  Since moving here in 1997, the scene has gradually and steadily expanded. I would now call Portland a vibrant theatre town, especially given our modest population. There are numerous organizations of varying sizes, many with a large regional presence like Portland Center Stage, Artists Repertory Theatre, Oregon Children’s Theatre, Portland Playhouse, Third Rail Repertory Theatre, Milagro, and Profile Theatre. And then there are extraordinary smaller companies that take incredible risks on new work, devised work, and innovative adaptations. Theatre Vertigo, Post5, defunkt theatre, and Shaking the Tree are just a few. In the winter, Fertile Ground has become an explosive fringe festival where new work is front and center. And then, of course, there is JAW at PCS which serves to anchor our focus on new plays.

What excites me about the future of our scene is we have more and more theatres able to offer AEA contracts. I firmly believe that a town that can support union talent is a town where theatre will thrive. I am also happy to see more and more artists coming here to treat Portland as a destination city, rather than a springboard town. In the past, many came here to build a resume and then move onto bigger markets. Though that certainly still happens, more and more are arriving to call Portland home and are able to sustain a level of creative satisfaction here.

I do desperately wish to see much more cultural diversity (this area is so very Caucasian) - but I’m thrilled that in terms of style, there is a lot of variety.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  I want my theatre expressly “theatrical”. And by that, I guess I mean that I believe theatre begs an audience to engage their imaginations in ways that film and television do not. I am a huge lover of cinema and TV - but those art forms happen to you. Theatre happens with you. When I buy a ticket, I am contracting with the artists to play make believe - to suspend disbelief and fill in the world with my own creativity. In this way, I steer away from literal representations and naturalism. I love work that defies genre, challenges ideas and has a muscular thrust of theatrical magic - a full bodied use of stage language. I also love the feeling that I’m being invited to consider something in a new way…or for the first time. That “something” can be political. It can be stylistic. It can be structural. It can be spiritual. But truth be told, I have little interest in sitting and watching another family in a living room work out their issues. I think film and television do this better. I crave a theatre experience that breaks the boundaries of the three-dimensional world I walk around in each day.

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

A:  One: Don’t become a playwright, become a theatre artist who writes plays. Study it all. Know how to tape out a set. Know how to change a lamp. Know how to approach a monologue as an actor. Know how to stage a difficult scene.

Two: Always consider, “What am I asking the audience to consider when the curtain call is over?” Great art asks questions.

Three: Schedule your writing time like it’s critical. Because it is. Yes, your writing time is as important as that wedding you must attend, or going to the “day job”. It must be at the same level or it will get pushed aside.

Four: Write plays you would be first in line at the box office for. You can only predict yourself as an audience - no one else.

Q:  Plugs please

A:  I already mentioned Chrysalis which opens next April. But as a general shout out, I’ll mention that one of my most successful productions has been my musical, Ablaze: an a cappella musical thriller. I wrote the book, music, and lyrics and also directed the premiere. It won several major awards in 2013. The original cast album is unique in that it was produced to give the listener the entire aural experience of sitting in the audience. Every word of the piece has been recorded along with the brilliant sound design by Em Gustason. Producer Brandon Woods did a marvelous job, and I’m so thankful for Woodsway Entertainment for releasing the album. Future productions and publication are now pending. My hope is more and more will come to know this work in the next few years.

The website is at: http://www.ablaze-the-musical.com
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Wednesday, July 29, 2015

I Interview Playwrights Part 768: Ellen Struve



Ellen Struve

Hometown: Omaha, NE

Current Town: Strangely enough, Omaha, NE. We were transferred there from Chicago for my husband’s job about ten years ago. I had been writing, but only secretly and sporadically in Chicago. There was something really powerful in returning to the place where I grew up and reconnecting with my original impulses.

Q:  Tell me about your play at PlayPenn.

A:  It has a crazy long title with intentional misspelling. PRINCE MAX’S TREWLY AWFUL TRIP TO THE DESOLAT INTERIOR. It’s pretty wild and uses a lot of anachronisms. The lead roles are played by women. Sometimes animals address the audience. It is about a real expedition up the Missouri River in the 1830’s. This German prince and amateur naturalist/anthropologist hired a Swiss watercolorist, Karl Bodmer, to document his trip up the Missouri River during the last few years of autonomy for the tribes of the northern plains. Bodmer’s watercolors become these influential documents of the American West. The prince’s journal… not so much. The trip was a lot more difficult than they imagined. The play winds up being about then, but also about now—about our relationship to each other and our environment and our history. But funny, too.

Q:  What else are you working on now?

A:  I’m halfway through a play about immigration in Central Nebraska. While working for the Nebraska Arts Council, I became fascinated by the demographic shift in the kind of small town my dad grew up in. Also, working for a government agency made me question the idea of citizenship in a new way.

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

A:  One August when I was little, maybe 5, the neighbor kids threw a backyard circus. Basically, it consisted of gymnastics, imaginary tightrope walking and some admittedly mediocre baton work courtesy my older sister. I was younger than the rest of the kids and had to fight for my spot. I wanted to be a tiger. I wore this wool felt tiger costume from a couple Halloweens past and came up with a lion tamer act. I nearly passed out from heat exhaustion while roaring, jumping through a hula hoop and doing somersaults in the 95 degree heat and Nebraska humidity. I started writing when I was six.

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

A:  Number one is affordability, but we all know that has to change.

I’d also like to see more live music in theatres, not just musicals. In plays, but also for pre-show. Why not an opening band? If you have money to renovate a lobby, you have money to buy an actual piano—you can keep it in your schmancy lobby. Maybe pay someone to play it every once in a while. It will be live. It will remind people that they are alive. And isn’t that why we come to the theatre in the first place? I think we need all the help we can get in that regard.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  The actors, directors and artists in my community who create theatre because they must. Omaha theatre survives on a mountain of generosity provided by its practitioners. I admire generous writers too. Ruhl, Wallace, Wilder, Odets, Gilman, Alfaro and Guirgis and the ever amazing Sibyl Kempson to name a few.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  Theatre that costs something. Not money, but a piece of the creators’ souls. I want to be able to feel some of the effort put into a play. I enjoy a buffet of styles and voices, but there has to be something there that feels a little expensive, a little revealing, for it to mean something to me.

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

A:  Get knocked down. Cry two tears. Get back up. Say, “I’ll show them.”

And don’t be afraid of moving back home. It might turn out great.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  Playwrights, submit your amazing plays to Great Plains Theatre Conference so that I can meet you in person and submit your plays to PlayPenn so that you can have three solid weeks to live in your play.

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Tuesday, July 28, 2015

I Interview Playwrights Part 767: Sara Israel


cross-posted to Samuel French's  Blog
 
Sara Israel

Hometown:  Delmar, NY

Current Town:  Los Angeles, CA

Q:  Tell me about your OOB play.

A:  I have a series of six related short plays called “The Sense Plays.” My OOB play, “Tastes Like Teen Spirit!”, is one of them. The plays are designed to fit together as one production using eight actors, but also written to be pulled apart and produced independently of one another. Beyond each of them tackling a sense, my goal was for each to take on a complicated but universally felt aspect of what challenges us as we walk through the world. In “Tastes Like Teen Spirit!” a 19 year-old female intern is punched in the mouth by an older, female bigwig at a marketing consulting firm, because the Powers That Be want to know what the teenager’s blood tastes like to her. Why? Because teenage girls “matter” now in the world of consumerism in a way that has far exceeded their “worth” in times past. Yay? It’s a complicated and funny business to suddenly matter.

Q:  What else are you working on now?

A:  I have a new play and new screenplay fairly far along in the hopper. I also direct things that I myself do not write—and I especially love helping talented playwrights shepherd new work.

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 in second grade, our elementary school had a Latin American Fair. The fifth graders organized the game booths. One “game” was to guess the population of Latin America. I was pressured by cool fifth graders to “play,” and nervously and arbitrarily wrote down a number. They looked at me strangely after I did. I felt immediate shame for somehow not writing down a cool enough number. But no. Instead, it turns out I was less than 100 people off the official census population of Latin America—even though to this day I wouldn’t be able to tell you what geographically qualifies as that region per the World Census. I won a dime-store goldfish. My parents were pissed that the school would give a 7 year-old a goldfish without getting parental permission. I named her (him?) Glitter, and she (he?) lived more than two years just to spite them.

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

A:  Greater access to a greater range of theater experiences for everyone on stage, behind stage, and in the audience, in every which way that “access” entails. (That’s not asking too much, is it?)

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  Oh, I could give such a long list, but instead I’ll focus on Wendy Wasserstein, because her play “Isn’t It Romantic?,” which I read in a summer playwriting class between 9th and 10th grade, was freakin’ revelatory for me at the time. My dad, who is awesome, jumped on board with my fandom. At the end of that same summer, he bought me an anthology of her work. For me, Wasserstein is a theatrical hero because she intuitively understood some universal truths about the lives of women, then dared to take those truths and create real and specific female characters to journey through them—stories and characters and conflicts and joys and heartaches and humor that moved through and reflected the decades of her own life as a woman, as a writer, and as a creature of the theater. When she passed away—well, I’ve never been sadder at the death of someone I never personally knew. And thinking about it now, I still feel the loss of what she won’t write—what truths she won’t be able to uniquely tell—about women in their 60s, 70s, and 80s.

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

A:  Seek out, surround yourself with, and always value talented, thoughtful, collaborative, and supportive people, not just in the theater world but also in life. (The latter can be just as important to your writing.)

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  www.SaraIsrael.com. Also, I’ve said this before on other platforms but I’ll keep saying it, I “plug” encouraging everyone experiencing art—be it theater or otherwise—outside our individual box. Whether you’re a creator or an audience member, there are so many ways we can inspire ourselves that we just could never be able to anticipate.

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Thursday, July 23, 2015

I Interview Playwrights Part 766: Jillie Mae Eddy




Jillie Mae Eddy

Hometown: Hingham, MA

Current Town: Brooklyn, NY

Q:  Tell me about The Boys Are Angry.

A:  Well, the script says that the play takes place ‘in the age of the new wild west: the internet’. I love writing about outlaws. I love the American fascination with the outlaw. AJ is the would-be outlaw of THE BOYS ARE ANGRY—he’s a blogger. In his life offline, he’s a mostly directionless trust-fund kid, but online he gets to be a kind of self-styled cowboy of the lawless frontier. AJ is, what David Futrelle would call, a New Misogynist. His ideology is a mash-up of Red Pill theory, Pick Up Artistry, Men Going Their Own Way style separatism, and talking points from the Men’s Rights Movement. So the play deals in some pretty hateful thinking. The words coming out of AJ’s mouth…This is the nastiest stuff I’ve ever put on paper. And my last play was about a pair of poisoning, stabbing, prescription-drug-dealing dog killers.

Quinn is AJ’s lifelong best friend. He’s a romantic. And the play follows what happens and what changes between them when Quinn falls in love. When he thinks he’s found ‘the one’.

I started writing THE BOYS ARE ANGRY in the wake of the Isla Vista Killings. Elliot Rodger wasn’t just a troubled kid—he was a part of a very real hate movement. The way the New Misogynists appeal to lonely, insecure young men…It’s terrifying. It terrifies me. My first idea was to make a documentary film about the real, flesh-and-blood people making the ‘Manosphere’ turn—but the play came out instead. And the play is funny! I don’t think I set out to write a comedy about twenty-first century misogyny, but…well, that’s what it is. AJ is funny. And charming. And, of course, he’s despicable, but he isn’t just one thing.

I mean, it’s a dark, dark comedy, but it’s a comedy. It’s scary and twisted and maddening—it’s fun in the way that monster movies and slasher films are fun. It even has a little original music. Two songs. ‘Never Again’ and ‘Don’t Say No’…I’ll let you take from those titles what you will.

Q:  What else are you working on now?

A:  Right now, when I’m not working on THE BOYS ARE ANGRY, I’m working on my first solo album. I’ve been putting it off for so long because I’m always working on so many things at once, but I just couldn’t wait any longer. Whenever I get a free minute, I’m recording. We actually used songs from the album in the first two teaser trailers for THE BOYS ARE ANGRY, so if you want a preview, that’s where you’ll find it.

I’m developing a rock show called 28. It’s about the 27 Club, but it’s also about doomed love, suicide, and selling your soul to the devil. And I get to work on it with both of my favorite directors, Sam Plattus and Maridee Slater. They’re set to play the leads but the idea is to have Sam direct the first act from his character’s point of view and Maridee direct the second act from hers.

I’m in the research phase for a musical neo-western called AMERICAN WILD, OR LAY ME DOWN. It’s set in a dystopian near-future, in a United States with disappearing coastlines and an insurmountable divide between rich and poor…as I said, it’s a near-future projection. I’m borrowing a lot from The New Economy Movement, from the legends of Jesse James and Robin Hood, and from the films of John Ford, Sam Peckinpah, and Sergio Leone. The text is going to be a mix of Old Western, contemporary American, and Mexican slang. And for the songs—I want to take the country western idiom and filter it through hip hop and Latin sounds.

The show I’ve been working on for the longest—since 2012—is THE GIRL FROM BARE COVE. It’s a folk opera. Twenty-four songs. Right now it runs about ninety minutes, but when I’m done reworking the script, I think it will run about two hours. Sometimes it’s hard for me to work on it. I’m so close to it. It’s the story of a young woman trying to move on from a decade of sexual abuse, and it’s semi-autobiographical. The details aren’t all mine. It’s a sort of fairy-tale, magical realist interpretation of my experience as a survivor. We’ve done two workshops in New York—one at the Alchemical Theatre Lab and one at The Cell. I’m trying to figure out the next step. I need to get it out there.

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 growing up I used to sing duets with my older sister all the time. In the car. Around the house. Every year at her piano recitals. And whenever she wanted to sing a boy-girl duet, she made me sing the boy’s part. She had this lovely, tinkly soprano voice, and I ended up developing this low, brassy alto range—I think I sang like that until college. I had a wonderful classical voice teacher who unlocked my high soprano range. And it was strange because every play I acted in up through high school—I was always cast in a character role. I was never the leading lady. I think that was partly because I was such a weird kid, and I was always trying to make people laugh—I was the baby in my family, and making grown-ups laugh was the only way I could join the conversation. But I think it was also because of that low, brassy voice. Especially in musical theater, which is mostly what I grew up on, the low brassy voice goes with the character role. But I loved those parts! I loved making people laugh. And then I got to college, and suddenly everyone was saying: you’re the ingénue, you’re the ingénue, you’re the romantic lead. And I’m sure my voice wasn’t the only reason for that—I mean, it sounded really different to me, even my speaking voice, but I’m sure the difference wouldn’t have sounded so extreme to anyone else. But I was so…confused. I didn’t know what else had changed. I’m not…I mean, I don’t think of myself as ‘classically beautiful’. And then in grad school, they didn’t know what to do with me.

But I think my takeaway from all of that, especially as a writer—I’m not interested in two-dimensional characters. Unless it’s to make a point. All of my characters are ‘character’ roles. They’re complicated people. I don’t write ingénues. Again, unless the lack of agency and complexity is the point. And I’m especially interested in writing complicated, three-dimensional roles for women because we’ve gotten the short end of the stick for so long. When you’re being ‘typed’ as a woman, you’re either the romantic lead or the best friend. And when you get older, I guess that becomes the mother—or you’re not getting work anymore. There are so many more ‘types’ out there for men. And I was so heartbroken when nobody saw me as the character actress anymore because all of the ingénues I saw and read were so boring!

I also write a lot about gender. In every play I write, I’m looking at that sort of forced—and totally false—binary opposition. THE BOYS ARE ANGRY is all about gender roles. How we teach boys to be men. How we teach girls to be women. What’s nature, what’s learned. What happens when we don’t fit in the categories we’re stuck in. I was asked recently, in another interview, to name some of my favorite roles—and I realized, maybe for the first time, that the two roles I was most excited about…neither of them were women. Petruchio in TAMING OF THE SHREW. And Crow in THE TOOTH OF CRIME—who I got to play as this badass, gender-fluid, Bowie-esque rock star with red eyes and hollowed out cheeks. I got to be scary and deadly, and I loved it. It all came full circle—right back to singing the boy parts because my sister made me. So thanks, Leesie.

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

A:  I wish it were more accessible. And I don't just mean the subject matter. I wish it wasn't so all about New York. People can watch movies and TV almost anywhere now--all they need is a WiFi connection. So, I mean, first of all, I think the current landscape of endless adaptations and jukebox musicals is completely unsustainable. It's making commercial theater completely irrelevant. If I can stay home and watch the same story from my couch, I will. And if the music is really good, maybe I'll buy the soundtrack. But I'm not going out to the theater. The culture of risk-aversion in theater right now...it's so short-sighted. Financially and artistically. If you only looked at the musicals on Broadway right now--with the exception of HAMILTON, maybe FUN HOME, maybe a few others--you'd never guess we were in the Twenty-First century. We need to revive our regional theaters. And we need to start more. We need to bring theater into people's communities. We need to make it relevant. Make it matter. No more same old stories by the same old white men. We have to move forward already. And I think we need dedicated companies of artists making theater outside of New York. Making theater out in the world. Getting invested in their communities. Getting their communities invested in them. I think we need to change the conversation. It's not: how do we bring people back to the theater? It's: how do we bring theater back to the people?

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  When I was growing up, Julie Andrews and Judy Garland were the big two for me. ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ was the first song I ever knew by heart. When I got a little older, Madeline Kahn slid into the top three. As far as playwrights go…Sarah Ruhl. Lin-Manuel Miranda. A lot of the people who influence me as a theater-maker come from outside of the theater. Gillian Welch and David Rawlings. Sandra Cisneros. The Muppets. Maria Bamford. Hari Kondabolu. Mike Birbiglia—he walks the line a little bit. He’s a comedian, but his more recent one-man shows are incredible works of theater. His technique as a storyteller, his ability to tie together so many disparate threads—it blows my mind.

I think my biggest heroes in the theater world right now are my collaborators. The whole creative team on THE BOYS ARE ANGRY: Sam Plattus, Xander Johnson, Nate Houran, Lily Prentice. Maridee Slater, my partner in crime—who’s also producing THE BOYS ARE ANGRY for FringeNYC. I’m surrounded my so many brave and talented artists—it’s inspiring. I feel so lucky.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  Theater that has something to say. Something new to say. Or a new way to say something old. I love theater that's inventive. I love feeling like I've never seen this before. One of my favorite shows that I've seen in New York in the last two years--since I moved here--was Peter Petkovsek's production of THE BLIND. The audience was scattered around the playing space, seated on pillows. And the actors were all around you. But the theater was completely dark. Pitch black. So you can't see a thing, but you can hear voices coming from everywhere. And the way Peter did use light in that show--I don't know that I can explain it in any way that would do justice to what an incredible experience it was. Because it was like nothing I'd ever experienced before—and it’s still like nothing I've experienced since. That's what I want when I go to the theater. And it doesn't have to be a technical feat. It can be the playwright's ideas or way with prose. It can be an actor's performance. But I get most excited when I see something new.

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

A:  Find the people you want to work with again and again. Find your artistic family, the people who will support you unconditionally. Help each other. Grow together, take risks together—if you want to go far, go together.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  THE BOYS ARE ANGRY is going up at The New York International Fringe Festival on Friday, August 14 at 5PM; Tuesday, August 18 at 7PM; Friday, August 21 at 2:30PM; Sunday, August 23 at 3PM; and Friday, August 28 at 9:15PM. And we're performing at The Steve & Marie Sgouros Theatre, which is on the third floor of The Player's Theatre at 115 MacDougal Street in the West Village.

Tickets are available online at fringenyc.org/basic_page.php?ltr=B#TheBoy--just click on the date you want tickets for. Buy your tickets early because we have limited seating! And you can follow us on Twitter @mainelandprods or read more about the show at mainelandproductions.com/theboysareangry.

If you want to know more about any of my other upcoming projects or about my album, you can follow me on Twitter @missbogencounty or check out my website jilliemae.com.

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Wednesday, July 22, 2015

I Interview Playwrights Part 765: Nehprii Amenii



Photo by Steven Hass

Nehprii Amenii

Hometown: Augusta, Georgia

Current Town: Brooklyn, New York

Q:  Tell me about the Women Playwrights International Conference.

A:  The Women Playwrights International Conference is an event that happens every 3 years. Each year it’s hosted in a different country, from Switzerland, Mumbai, and Philippines. This year it was held at the University of Capetown in South Africa. Women playwrights from around the world submit scripts in hopes of begin able to share their work with an international audience. A local director and cast are assigned to work with each script. In addition to the staged readings, there are daily keynote speakers, panel discussions, writing workshops, and evening performances. This years conference, was scheduled to coincide with the Grahmstown Arts Festival, which is the largest theatre festival on the African continent, so participants were really inundated with inspiration. It was an honor to share the stage with playwrights from around the world such as Talia Pura of Canada, Fatima Uygun of Scottland, The Gurilla Girls, Herlina Syarifuding of Indonesia, Mumbii Kaigway of Kenya, and more…

Q:  Tell me about your work that was selected for the conference.

A:  My selected play is titled “Food for the Gods” It’s a play about light and invisibility , inspired by the killings of black men by police, and other systems of authority. Food for the Gods is an experiential triptych or sort; a multi-media performance installation, where the audience physically moves through three unique spaces and emotions. It uses mixed-media and mask-puppetry to explore the process of dehumanization, positive and negative space. At the WPI conference, I was honored to work with director Megan Furniss who was able to create a powerful staging of a pretty complex script. There’s a trailer here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gYpj3NFtcuI

Q:  What else are you working on now?

A:  I’m working on two projects at the moment: I’m directing a piece by Scott Patterson entitled “Ebon Kojo” for the Charm City Fringe in Baltimore. He is a classically trained pianist, inspired by Sun Ra, interested in exploring ways to turn traditional piano concerts into theatrical events. He’s written a one man sci-fi musical. I think it’s gonna be pretty funky. Simultaneously, I’m “building” a solo performance of my own. I’m forever, exploring ways of merging my worlds as a writer, performer and visual artist. So, I have an exhibit opening September 17th at the Renate Albertsen-Marton Gallery, here in Brooklyn. It is very much inspired by the self portrait installations of Jee Young Lee and museum performances of Theaster Gates. The installation will stand as an independent exhibit of words and images with regularly scheduled performances. I’m excited to work again with an amazing director, Martin Balmaceda who has grown to be one of my favorite comrades and people. (I haven’t settled on a title yet, “Analog” or “The Seed Project” I’m sure the curator will force it from me soon.) It is a personal exploration of my own identity beyond the boundaries of social classifications, race, culture and responsibility to it.

“There is a woman’s body standing solo on a hillside. She is constructed of plywood. Particle board. The stuff of speakers boxes. With black coating.

Spheres. Amplified sound givers make up her limbs. Her belly. Her breast. Her finger tips are turntable needs. Her mind is a flat. Metal. rectangle. A circuit board. It is her that is programed. It is her that must give voice back to the people.

But She is injured. A mess of wires hang from a gashed open voice box. And copper tips have begun to exposed themselves from her black coating. And they catch moments of the light. She could be kin to the fireflies.”


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

A:  Great question. Ummm… Mud pies. I remember, I was the best at them. My friends would make a mud pie what would last for just moments before crumbling. But mine would last for days… weeks even, and stay perfectly round and smooth. I was in Georgia, where the dirt is red. And I remember at 4 years old, trying to explain to my friends “you have to dig really deep until you get to the sticky dirt!” well, later I realized, I had discovered clay. (Interesting that also became my first fine arts medium.) And, I guess, that experience is not different with my writing or who I am. I try to dig really deep down into myself… where things get pretty sticky…and honest. And from that place, I try to pull up the dirt and turn it into something smooth, refined—beautiful..…and something that can have long lasting impact…. Hahah, there it is. It’s all just Mud pies!

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

A:  I’d change how dependent it has become on technology. Perhaps it’s my overall puppetry and street theatre background, But, I’ve been a part of powerful performances that needed so little. Where the humans are the instruments, hand held lighting, and images created by the hands. I think of theater in Bali, where performances are made by the light of oil lanterns, banana stalks, and humans. And it will sound contradictory, because I too love the big shebang and glam of large performance spectacles! But it feels like the difference between the current action packed movies vs. the deep build of the old black and white films. Simplicity is grand and difficult to achieve. I often joke whenever doing a load in for a show, that I’m gonna create a theatre company called “Theatre in the Bush!” because when traditional theatre was happening in the bushlands of South Africa, or when the theatre of Aeschylus was being performed on rounded dirt floors of Greece…I just don’t think there was all of the hoopla of cables and electricity! I think the writing and the story should be the most beautiful and electrical thing present.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  Two of my favorite directors are Julie Taymor and Zhang Yimou, for their imagination and keen ability to create BEAUTY. Paul Robinson, for using art for political impact. Zora Neal Hurston’s ability to translate her work as an anthropologist into theatre. Her work as a playwright is not so highlighted, however, she was writing these creative, humorous, rhythmic plays steeped in folklore and science! I’m inspired by Dan Hurlin, as a multi disciplined artist, that has carved a niche for himself in the theatre world that incorporates all his art forms as visual artist, writer, director, puppeteer, and dancer. Erik Ehn, who totally shatters the form and restraints of how a play lands on the paper. Alvin Ailey--- who wrote and created powerful theatre via dance. I’m inspired by theatre artists that push and blur the compartment of this thing called “theatre.”

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  Ritual theatre. Processional Theatre. Experimental Theatre. Theatre that is immersive. Theatre that has substance and meaning. Theatre that is heavily visual. Theatre that takes place in unexpected places. (I’m a sucker for flashmobs.) I don’t tend to be moved by naturalistic theatre; However, I am moved by intelligence. So, writing such as “Freud's Last Session” by Mark St. Germain, that was staged as simply two men having a conversation in an office, to me, it was exciting and steeped with audience participation. Participation via the mind and so much engaging thought.

Q:  How do you imagine ultimately using your voice as a writer?

A:  One of the most exciting pieces of theatre I’ve seen to date is the 2008 Bejing Opening Olympic Ceremony. Ultimately, I would like to write and create such an anthropological storytelling spectacle that inspires the hearts of a global audience. ( I’ll need a lot of electricity for that! )

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

A:  Write a play a day. It’s good practice for self-acceptance.

As my playwriting coach and teacher Cassandra Medley told me, when I felt my work was too visual and lacked proper dialog “Take what you deem as your limitations as a playwright—and embrace them your unique style as a playwright.”

And submit, submit submit.

Q:  Plugs Please:

A:  Curing the Void - FringeNYC - The New York International Fringe Festival Saturday, August 22, 2015 from 12:00 PM to 1:20 PM (EDT) New York, NY

Luyanda Sidiya’s SIVA (seven) see it wherever you can!

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Tuesday, July 21, 2015

I Interview Playwrights Part 764: Katharine Henner



cross-posted to Samuel French's  Blog

Katharine Henner

Hometown: Cincinnati, Ohio

Current Town: Brooklyn, New York

Q:  Tell me about your OOB play.

A:  The Brighter the Star is about two coworkers at an unusual job that, upon meeting, agree to despise each other for the rest of their lives. The appearance of a third party causes them to reconsider their divisive instincts.

If I dug deeper, I would discover this play is about the two warring natures inside of my self and how each feels about spirituality. Is it necessary to have spirituality in order to live an examined, self-actualized life? I think part of me thinks it’s silly, like believing in Santa Claus when you are an adult. But part of me truly wonders and hopes that believing in magic will unlock a richer, wilder world.

This play is a new creature of mine and I wrote it specifically for the OOB festival. I’m grateful for the opportunity to work again with one of my favorite directors, Bob Teague. He’s incredibly supportive and challenges playwrights because he is a writer, too. We’re currently assembling the rest of our team.

Q:  What else are you working on now?

A:  Two pilots to sell for television. One is a half-hour comedy with my writing partner, Matt Cook. The other is a solo project which is based on an industry that not many people know about.

I’m also in the outlining stages of developing a full length play that focuses on a tight-knit group of friends and a witch hunt to find the sociopath manipulating from inside their circle. It’s a (dark) comedy.

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 five, I had a recurring dream where a dozen other children and I lived in the wings of an old theater. We slept in sleeping bags and would perform a variety show every night for a sold-out audience. The electricity I felt, the aliveness of the dream penetrated my waking life.

I spent hours practicing the perfect signature for my secret stage name, “Katty Williams.” (I know, yikes.) I tap-danced in the Kroger grocery aisles, hoping someone would discover me and show me the way to the old theater. If my parents or teachers took me to a show, I couldn’t bear to sit in an audience and watch. The actors were openly stealing from me! They stole my sympathy and my laughter. They used my energy to power their performance, to make themselves more alive than I was.

I wanted to be up there. Like them. I wanted to rob and pillage and leave broken hearts in my wake.

As an adult, I still side with that dramatic kid. Except if I’m going to steal something from my audience, I try hard to offer something much better in its place.

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

A:  I enjoy this question. Although it sounds quite harmless, it’s actually provocative. If I say one thing to change about theatre, chances are that someone is doing it or has done it already. Perhaps it needs a bit more help or exposure.

However, I do envy London and its treatment of theatre. Theatre is embedded in their culture in a way that the U.S. does not understand. All citizens are aware of it. If you read a financial newspaper in London, you will see a theatre review. If you are a student, the opportunity to see theatre is free or very cheap. You don’t have to go a theatre to see a show. You can go to a theatre just to hang out in the lobby, grab a coffee or a pint, and absorb the energy.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  My parents named me after Katharine Hepburn. What large shoes to fill! She was a brave woman both in and out of the theatre. If you want a good cry, find a clip of her reading the letter she wrote to Spencer Tracy 18 years after he died. I’m haunted by the emotions she could draw from herself.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  I will like and even love your play until one of the following things occur: 1) your play turns into a lecture that I, as a silent audience member, cannot participate in; 2) you touch me/single me out and it’s unearned; or 3) you insist upon striking and reassembling the set after every 2-minute scene. Why are there so many chairs?!

Seriously though, I'm pretty excitable. But also calm. So calm. You can still invite me to your party.

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

A:  Find a 24-hour play festival in your area.

The festival combines you with a director, a selection of actors, and often a theme or a prop. You have 24 hours to write, rehearse, and present a 10-minute play. The process is an adrenaline rush and forces you to finish a script. It’s also a chance to meet new theatre connections and possible lifelong collaborators.

I met my director, Bob, at my first 24-hour play fest in New York. The theme was “horror” and we ended up presenting a play about two acrobatic succubi and a man in love with his IKEA chair which I half-wrote in Esperanto. I loved the experience.

Also:

Consider all of the people in your life that tell you writing is difficult, that being an artist is difficult, that the path is full of lifelong pain and sacrifice. Even if they are not a writer or have absolutely NO experience in the industry--don’t ignore them. They hate that.

Maybe they’re right. Maybe it is hard. But you’re the hero and you’re going to do it anyway.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  I love collaboration. I also love writing stories. You can reach me at katharine.henner (at) gmail (dot) com.

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Monday, July 20, 2015

I Interview Playwrights Part 763: Stella Fawn Ragsdale




Stella Fawn Ragsdale

Hometown: Powell, Tennessee.

Current Town: I split my time between Sunnyside, Queens and the Hudson River Valley.

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 actually identify first and foremost as a farmer. Still not sure I identify as a person.

Q:  Tell me about your play in Summer Shorts, Love Letters to a Dictator.

A:  It’s about an unworthy American farmer upon whom the Supreme Leader, Kim Jong-il, bestows his great and glorious wisdom.

Q:  What else are you working on now?

A:  Finding new and greater ways to praise the Supreme Leader.

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

A:  More censorship. Freedom of speech is overrated.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  Kim Jong-il. Kim Jong-un. Dennis Rodman.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  State-controlled theater.

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

A:  Write plays that glorify your government. Make yourself a tool of the State. Don’t talk about South Korea.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  North Korea is #1! Also, Summer Shorts.

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Saturday, July 18, 2015

Next up

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, 2015. 4pm.
   
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
Tomah High School
Tomah, WI
Opens October 23, 2015

Production #19 of Hearts Like Fists
Damonte Ranch High School
Reno, NV
Opens November 11, 2015

Production #20 of Hearts Like Fists
University of Findlay
Findlay, OH
Opens April 13, 2016

Clown Bar

Production #8 of Clown Bar
Good Luck MacBeth
Reno, NV
Opens October 2, 2015.

Production #9 of Clown Bar
Idiom Theater
Bellingham, WA
Opens October 15, 2015

Production #10 of Clown Bar
The NOLA Project
New Orleans, LA
Opens October 22, 2015



Production #10 of Pretty Theft
Dark Matter Theatre
NYC, NY
Opens November 5, 2015

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


PUBLISHED PLAYS


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Friday, July 17, 2015

I Interview Playwrights Part 762: Kevin Kerr



Kevin Kerr

Hometown: Kamloops, BC

Current Town: Victoria, BC

Q:  Tell me about Unity (1918).

A:  Unity is set at the tail end of WWI in a small town on the Canadian parries in the weeks around the outbreak of the Spanish Flu -- an influenza pandemic that traveled around the globe in a matter of months and killed an estimated 20 - 50 million people. Canada had particularly high casualties in the war, but the flu killed more Canadians over the course of several weeks than died in four years of fighting. But that's only the backdrop. The play itself explores the infectious nature of fear, our ongoing fascination with the idea of the end of times. It's a coming of age tale told from the vantage point of a young woman contending with a rapidly changing world. It's love, sex, and death at the edge of the apocalypse.

Q:  What else are you working on now?

A:  I'm in rehearsals for a piece called The Night's Mare -- an outdoor spectacle about a community haunted by the ghosts of a eyeless horse and her rider whose world is turned upside down when a power couple from Hollywood show up to research a possible movie and have in tow their precocious nine-year old. The child is left in the care of a local 18 year old girl who is drawn into the haunted forest by the kid and into the heart of her darkest fears. A long night's journey into day. It's a family friendly comic thriller.

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

A:  My ideal would be that every play produced itself changes one thing (or more) about theatre... that is to say that theatre would be recognized as responsive, immediate, ever-changing, shape shifting. That every play is about two things: it's about the thing its about, but its also a manifest -- the playwrights vision of what theatre can become.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  Caryl Churchill, Robert Lepage, Shakespeare and every kid currently in theatre school

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  Physical, spectacular, athletic. Theatre with more questions than answers.

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

A:  Find your collaborators, don't think of playwriting as a solo act.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  Unity (1918) receives its NY premiere with Project: Theater at The Gene Frankel Theatre August 6 -23.
www.projecttheater.org.
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