Wednesday, June 29, 2016

I Interview Playwrights Part 858: Reina Hardy




Reina Hardy

Hometown- definitely Chicago

Current Town- Interlochen, MI (teaching playwriting at summer camp)

Q:  Tell me about Bonfire and your Sky Candy show.

A:  Bonfire is the culmination of a very chill yet very helpful year-long development process that I've been doing as part of Pipeline's Playlab. I'll be presenting a reading of a play that's been tricky for me to write, and I feel like I'm the poster child for the usefulness of this process.

"Agent Andromeda and the Orion Crusade" is a devised circus show, helmed by my director soulmate Rudy Ramirez, and starring the fine aerialists of Austin's Sky Candy troupe. The phrase "devised" sounds kind of artsy, but this is going to be an action comedy romp loosely inspired by Barbarella. Loosely, because we wanted to be queerer and less vintage in our demented sex positivity, and also because we wanted a real plot. A cheeky, referential sci-fi plot, but a plot nonetheless. I finished the rough draft of the script a couple weeks ago, and I'm really, really happy with it. It's hot. It's funny. It's about female desire, it treats sex as both ridiculous and important, and it contains a scene where two ex-lovers engage in trial by combat using a flying stripper pole.

Q:  What else are you working on now?

A:  I just got back from a workshop student production of "Fanatical," the science-fiction convention-set musical I've been developing with composer Matt Board and the Stable, a UK production company. I spent a month in glamorous Woking for rehearsals and constant brainstorming with Matt. We're getting things in shape for a UK production in spring 2017.

Finally, I have a new script in the works. It's a secret, but it's called "The Clone Princess."

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

A:  My grandma sent me a children's bible. Lacking context for the book, I read it cover to cover and concluded that it was very interesting but probably too structurally innovative for a small child. I mean, starting out with short stories, but then suddenly switching gears to a bildungsroman? And what on earth is going on in the final chapter?

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

A:  I'd like discussions of gender parity and diversity to start with writers, directors and other generative creatives, and I'd like these discussions to also include smaller non-equity theaters (which is where most people need to get their experience.) Oh, also, when I say "discussions," what I mean is "immediate drastic improvements."

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  For years now, my theatrical hero has been Bob Fisher of the Mammals in Chicago. He's set things up so he can make what he wants to make without being beholden to anybody. His work is totally unique to him, genuinely weird... but his response to feedback is to ask questions and push his work in new directions. He's my hero because he feeds himself first, and the audience first, and basically no-one else. It's a good thing to remember.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  I'm a sucker for novelty, I'm actually a very cheap date that way. The first time I see something done, I'm always interested. The second time, I start needing to see you do it well.

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

A:  Get together with friends and make something. Don't ask for permission. Don't wait for anything.

Help other people. It's easy and fun. Think- "What can I offer this actor/director/playwright?" How can I be useful to them?" Organizing a reading for another playwright, for example, is a lot less work than organizing your own reading while still trying to be the writer in the room. And then, you get to take that burden off other people, while assisting in the creation of work that you could never personally create.

Finally, make it a goal to collect nos. If you don't have anyone saying no to you, you are probably not asking enough.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  In order....

Monologs for Nobody: I have two pieces in this interesting experiment at the Toronto Fringe:
http://fringetoronto.com/fringe-festival/shows/monologues-for-nobody/

Bonfire series! EVER so much goodness
http://pipelinetheatre.org/second-stage/bonfire-series/

Agent Andromeda: The Orion Crusade
tickets on sale now!
https://www.facebook.com/events/1146286478767732/


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Tuesday, June 28, 2016

I Interview Playwrights Part 857: Allison Gregory


Allison Gregory

Hometown: Born and raised in Anaheim, California, then Orange County. How I turned out so blue is a mystery to my family.

Current Town: Austin and Seattle.

Q:  Tell me about Not Medea.

A:  With NOT MEDEA, I thought I was writing a solo riff on the Medea myth, but as the story took shape it also took on a life of its own and before long two other characters barged onstage and I just said okay, where are we going? That neatly parallels the audience’s experience of the play, and in fact the characters themselves are never certain what direction things are headed in, everybody goes on this ride! If we do our work, the play is visceral and dangerous and compelling — and funny. Courtney Sale, my wonderful director for the CATF production, is, along with some marvelous designers, creating a truly intimate, dynamic world, and our actors (Joey Parsons, Ben Chase, Rachel Balcanoff) are remarkable. I’m so in love.

Q:  What else are you working on now?

A:  I used to work on one play at a time; then a few years back I got stuck on this play I was wrestling with, looked out the window of my office, and just started writing about the commotion going on in the next-door neighbor’s yard. The resulting play — my distraction play I call it, turned out great. And when I went back to the original play I realized it was a one act and it was done! So now I work on several plays simultaneously, for sanity’s sake.

Currently:

MOTHERLAND -- a dark comedy inspired by MOTHER COURAGE, set in a food truck in a diverse section of a large city during the War on Poverty, which I’ve developed at Lower Depth Theatre Ensemble in L.A. and Theatre Lab@FAU in Florida.

WILD HORSES, a one-woman stampede for a kickass actress of a certain age about family, sexuality, independence, and finding your place in a complicated world.

SIX MITFORDS, a play in letters about the infamous British sisters who shook the 20th Century by its ankles, who wittily sparred and clashed over their passionate political ideologies between the world wars. I’m finding troubling similarities between many of their fascist/nazi diatribes and the mouthings of one of our current presidential candidates...

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 growing up in a relatively rural area I would hang out in the corral with the animals (pigs, sheep, goats, horses) on the 4th of July, when everyone else was out setting off cherry bombs and m-8o’s. It wasn’t that I didn’t like a good bang, I just wanted to give the animals some assurance. See, they spoke to me, or anyway I understood something. I think the impulse to identify with the disenfranchised, whether that’s a wolf, a runaway Asian-American boy, a scrappy inner-city family, a stoned thirteen-year old girl, or a delusional Goodwill employee — all of whom have appeared in my plays — that impulse was in me from the start. Once I understood that I could harness it and use my powers for good, well, hello playwriting.

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

A:  The thing theater does better than any other medium is magic. And time. Because it’s always the present onstage and we’re all Right there in the same moment that the thing, the magic, is happening. We’re all present as witness, so more magical moments please. More falling in love and flashes of insight and lavish generosity and sudden poverty and immediate rioting. And music. More music.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  First and foremost, Steven Dietz. The kindest, most generous, inventive, and hardest working playwright in the American theatre.  The fact that he’s my husband is wholly irrelevant.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  All of the above.

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

A:  Be generous. Replace judgement with curiosity. Learn the language of other theatre artists (designers, directors, technicians). Be more generous. Make yourself useful. Be kind. Ask many stupid questions. Invest in real estate. Love what you do and be willing to share it. Make more cuts than you think you need to make. Keep being generous.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  NOT MEDEA: 
NNPN Rolling World Premiere, Contemporary American Theatre
Festival July 8-31 catf.org
Perseverance Theatre, Oct/Nov.
http://www.ptalaska.org/2016-2017-season-announced/

MOTHERLAND: 
Playfest 2016 at Orlando Shakespeare Theater, November
orlandoshakes.org , reading
The Road Theatre Summer Playwrights Fest 7
http://www.roadtheatre.org/summer-playwrights-festival-7/, reading
Theatre Lab@FAU, January 2017 workshop production
http://www.fau.edu/theatre/theatre_lab.php

JUNIE B. IS NOT A CROOK 
(based on the popular children’s series by Barbara Park):
Premieres at Childsplay, Inc. November, followed by productions at
Dallas Children’s Theatre, First Stage Milwaukee,
Children’s Theatre of Charlotte, and Adventure Theatre

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Saturday, June 25, 2016

I Interview Playwrights Part 856: K. Frithjof Peterson



K. Frithjof Peterson

Hometown:  Saginaw, MI

Current Town: Chicago, IL

Q:  What are you working on now?

A:  Rewriting two plays for some upcoming developmental stuff and working on a messy draft of a new play. I like to give myself a constraint when I start something new and see what can come out of that. This one is to write something with a larger cast that happens in real time. The next constraint in the queue is to write a two-hander. I like the play I'm working on to feel very different than whatever I just finished. Sometimes the constraints help with that.

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 six or seven I'd get really excited when my parents had their friends over. Usually, I could beg an extra half hour or so to sit and listen to them talk. But I didn't listen very well. Anytime someone had a slight pause in their sentence I would try and guess the word they were looking for. The first couple times were usually received as "cute." Then I'd get sent to bed. Fortunately, somewhere in there, I learned it's way more interesting to let people keep searching for those words.

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

A:  Accessibility. Diversity. New Audiences. How people are invited into the theater. There's a lot of work and discussion happening right now to wrestling with all those issues. But something I can do better on weekly bases is think about how I invite people to theatre. I see something every week. I usually go alone. Part of that is easy excuse. I've got an erratic work schedule so I usually have to make last minute plans and see what's available on short notice. Not great circumstances to invite people into. But if I hear a great album or listen to a new band, I can be annoyingly evangelical about it. I'm trying to make new converts all week. Why am I less proactive when it comes to theatre? Practically, a ticket costs more and you're probably inviting them to an unknown commodity. The YouTube link was free and you already took the album for a test drive. So the fear has to be that I don't want to give them a bad experience. It's an unnecessary fear. Some of the best nights I've had after a show have been discussing a play that didn't quite connect for me with someone who doesn't see a ton of theatre. It's an opportunity to examine things I'm trying to do and get the perspective of someone who doesn't see the experience the same way I do. Also people who don't see a lot of theatre like readings and talk backs more than I would've ever anticipated.

So I'd like to get rid of my unfounded apprehensions about inviting more non-theatre friends to the theatre. I want to focus on honest ways of showing them the value of their participation and insight. I'd like to be better at plugging shows by filling the seat next to me instead of a social media post. I'd like all of us to find personal ways we can get people in the room that aren't currently sitting there.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  Chicago storefront theaters. They make it financially possible for me to see as many shows as I do. And I get to see them in wonderfully intimate spaces. The energy and up close magic of those spaces makes it hard to lean back.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  Any humble investigation.

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

A:  You don't have to write everyday. But work at being a writer everyday by practicing empathy.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  I just got back from Seven Devils Playwrights Conference. The people and process were unbelievable. You want to send them your plays.

http://www.idtheater.org/submit-a-play.html

I've got a reading coming up outside Chicago this Sept. with William Street Rep's LAB Series. They've been really ambitious about building audiences for new plays with this series. I'm stoked to be a part of it.
http://wsrep.org/index.php/whats-on/lab-series/

And Strange Sun Theater in New York is giving me the opportunity to workshop a new play with them this winter. They're also deeply committed to new plays. http://www.strangesuntheater.com/


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Friday, June 24, 2016

I Interview Playwrights Part 855: Silvia Cassini



Silvia Cassini

Hometown: Nairobi, Kenya

Current Town: Nairobi, Kenya

Q:  Tell me about A Man Like You.

A:  A Man Like You is a conversation between a British hostage, Patrick North, and his Somali captor Abdi, set in a windowless concrete room in Somalia. Over the course of North’s captivity of 189 days, though North and Abdi rarely agree as they discuss piracy, the nature of power, what is God and who is a terrorist, we ultimately come to see that their basic humanity connects them and that they are perhaps finally more alike than they are different. Though A Man Like You is not about real events, it was inspired by the Westgate Mall tragedy of 23rd September, 2013 in which armed men from the terrorist group Al Shabaab opened fire on shoppers, killing at least 67. When I sat down to write A Man Like You in January of 2014, those events were still very alive in our psyche, and we replayed in our minds not only the images of those who would never leave there alive, but also those of the people who did, often thanks to the heroic response of other ordinary civilians. In this context I wondered what heroism really is and what choice each of us would make when faced with giving up our life in order to stop a terror attack. Would we be able to do it? I sat down then to breathe alive a modern hero, a protagonist with a tough choice, a man who would ultimately risk everything for what he believes to be right. Perhaps I created Patrick North because I wanted to think, in light of such tragic events, that that kind of moral integrity is still part of who we are today. But the fascinating thing is that the more that I researched the world of his antagonist, Abdi, the more I could also, surprisingly, identify with his reality, and eventually he also became someone willing to die for his truth, as heroic as Patrick North. This gave me the strong central theme of the play: Who has the moral right to the truth?, an even more powerful question than what is heroism I think. Once I had the struggle and the characters, setting the play in Somalia was almost incidental and just a coherent and colourful context, despite it being a windowless concrete room!

There are many many themes explored in A Man Like You but if there were only one thing I would love people to take away from it, it is that the current frightening state of our world is brought about by our powerful conviction that our world view is ‘right’ and that everyone who does not agree with us is ‘evil’ and should be eliminated. The reality is that whilst we are witnessing the tragic result in many countries of radicalisation, we are not engaging with the causes and the legitimate grievances that motivate people to radicalize: poverty, lack of opportunity, the grabbing of land and other resources by powerful elites, in short a reality that means turning to desperate tactics to be ‘seen’ and ‘heard’ is often the only coherent choice. Someone very wise said ‘the only real way to disarm your enemy is by listening to them’ and the truth is that nobody alive is willing to fight to the Death for a reality they do not believe in. We are all motivated by the same thing; creating a better future for our children, but we differ in our ways of how that future looks. Discounting the reality of others as wrong or evil is a recipe for disaster I think and can only lead to more horror and bloodshed. Seeing the immoral actions of others as ‘terror’ and not our own is very dangerous and again to use a borrowed phrase: “There is no faster way to make a terrorist than to take away his legitimate voice and brand him as such.”

Q:  What else are you working on now?

A:  I am at present mid-way through a novel, also set in Somalia and in many ways spun off by the massive amount of research I did for A Man Like You, titled ‘Where Wise Men Fish’. It is another hostage story, but a love-story this time and very different from A Man Like You. I think one of the big motivators for driving forward with it is that many of people I told the initial idea to thought I was crazy to set a love-story in Somalia!

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 am not sure that I am able to single out a single incident that encompasses so much, but I will say that growing up I was not stereotypically successful. In the British curriculum school I went to being good at sports was the be-all and end-all, and I wasn't. I was always stuck in goal, or on the reserve line, and the few times the ball did come my way during a hockey or netball match I could see the teachers hold their heads as I inevitably dropped it or let it hurtle past me, slamming into the back of the goal with a loud thwack! But on stage things were different. There the crippling lack of confidence evaporated and even the kids who bullied me sat up and watched. I could see them see me and afterwards, their words were more measured, less laden with contempt, as if in recognition that I could do something they couldn’t. That was the beginning of my love-affair with the theatre, a passion whole-heartedly nurtured by my English and Drama teachers, who I still feel now I owe so much to. These inspiring people not only introduced us to Shakespeare, Chaucer, Miller but taught us HOW to read them. They helped us see the hidden meaning behind each word, the barely-concealed political allusions, the metaphors, the irony, and to slowly build up in our own minds the world intended by the author, coupled with our own interpretation. This was a priceless gift and I still return to the classical greats to draw inspiration from the sheer power of the language and the timeless relevance of the themes and characters.

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

A:  Of course the biggest challenge one faces as a playwright starting out in today’s world is funding. Unless you have the means to fund a show yourself, and even if you do, producing theatre can be a very tough and unrewarding experience financially. Arts budgets have shrunk in recent years the world over and as we move away from community-centred to person-centred entertainment, theatre is in danger of going the way of newspapers and shrinking as a cultural form. In Shakespeare’s day a play at the Globe was the only form of available entertainment but these days theatre-going competes with a myriad other things and getting audiences through the door is a constant challenge. Reminding those who do buy tickets what a strong medium performance art is, how irreplaceable it is in its immediacy, and hoping that they tell their friends how powerful it still is to see raw human events unfold on stage, is what all of us who are involved in theatre aspire to do. Of-course it would be wonderful to also be able to make money out of such an endeavour.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  Whilst I have had the privilege of directing several comedies in the past few years and an enormous amount of fun doing so, I will admit that tragedy is really what gets my heart-rate going, not only in my writing but also in the works of those who have inspired me. So it makes sense that the tragic hero or heroine of classical theatre, is where I have looked for inspiration and nowhere more so than in Miller’s John Proctor. A good man, with fatal flaw, trapped in a struggle between saving himself and doing the right thing; this is what I tried, with the beacon of John Proctor before me, to make of Patrick North.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  I think it essential in all writing and particularly play-writing that anyone reading or watching the play must be able to identify with the characters, and ideally to even be surprised that they recognise themselves in them. Thus, characters that are not so convolutedly written that they are not easily understandable, are the ones that excite me the most. The simple choices of ordinary people, of you or me, in modern contexts, who for some reason are pushed out of their safe lives into unknown territory that is painful or difficult, and during which they are forced to change, are still the most interesting to me. I wholeheartedly believe that there is nothing worth saying that has not already been said, but it is the way in which we say the same things, our particular choice of words, our voice, our unique perspective that matters. Conveying our view of the world in a fresh and exciting manner is why writers spend hundreds of hours in self-imposed exile, with no guarantee of any kind of reward, driven simply by the desire to reach a reader or audience member somewhere and make a difference to them.

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

A:  I would tell them to read. Read classic plays, read modern plays and read books about writing. Read about the hero’s journey, about plot, about character arc, about theme. In short, research the techniques of writing that all authors use to bring their stories to life. Like a mechanic studies engines before being able to make one run smoothly I think it is a fallacy to think you will just pick up and write a good story without knowing anything about the basic structures of writing. Doing a little research before you start can save you hundreds of wasted hours. Other than that just turn up at the page (setting aside pre-destined time helps), switch off the ‘judge’ button and immerse yourself in the story. If you can truly BE your character whilst you write you will find their voice will be that much more authentic.

Q:  Plugs, Please.

A:  A Man Like You opens July 13th at IATI Theater, 64 East 4th Street in NYC. For more information and tickets, visit: http://www.red-soil-productions.com/

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Tuesday, June 21, 2016

I Interview Playwrights Part 854: Helen Banner


Helen Banner

Hometown:  Jersey in the British Channel Islands, which are off the coast of France.

Current Town: New York.

Q:  What are you working on now?

A:  I’m writing a new draft of a play called INTELLIGENCE about three American women diplomats role-playing in a Washington DC conference room. The play just had a 29 hour developmental workshop with New Georges as part of their Space JAM festival at South Oxford Space. At the end of the workshop, Jess Chayes directed an intense semi-immersive reading of the play and I’m excited to process everything we learnt in the room. There’s a scream in that play that symbolizes for me the process of making raw work with actors.

And I’m still on a high from the Ingram New Works Festival at Nashville Rep, where I have been in a lab residency for the past year developing my play THRILL DAY. It’s a play about the Victorian craze of wrecking steam trains at State Fairs and I enjoyed the process of hearing the play each month in Nashville with actors and writing off the discussions we had about race, sex, money and class.

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

A:  Growing up on a tiny island, my favorite place was a small secondhand bookshop. I was obsessed with books about journeys and knew I wanted to go see as much of the world as possible. I like the ethics of being a traveler: traveling light, taking risks, being engaged, being curious, recognizing that you’re the outsider and letting yourself be lost in another world. The desire to keep traveling has got embedded into my writing process and I’d love more opportunities to work internationally and do more cross-cultural collaborations.

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

A:  I am not a huge fan of readings done behind music stands and am always interested in other practical, low-key approaches to presenting material still in development.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  Being a member of The Jam, New George’s performance lab for early career writers and directors has been phenomenal. It’s amazing to experience such varied work being brought into the monthly meetings. I really appreciate the work Susan Bernfield and Jaynie Saunders Tiller are doing at New Georges in building databases of women artists and hosting networking events to help diversify creative teams.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  My attention is always grabbed by collaborative work that is trying to craft a distinctive aesthetic and isn’t afraid of being serious, assertive or sentimental. It’s great to follow a conversation set up by a writer or theatre group over more than one show and see creators refining their approach to material that they’re passionate about. At the opposite extreme, I’m also a sucker for big, spectacular theatre and opera. Top of my theatre bucket list is getting the chance to see for myself one of the floating opera stages at the Bregenz Festival on Lake Constance in Austria (link here with some stunning photos! http://twistedsifter.com/2011/08/outdoor-opera- on-the- lake-stages- of-bregenz/)

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  I’m so excited to be working with composer Grace Oberhofer, director Colette Robert and choreographer Erik Thurmond on a choral play that will be opening the New Ohio’s Ice Factory 2016. We’ve got thirteen women singing some incredibly beautiful music and telling the story of how the Byzantine Empress Irene came to power during the ninth century Iconoclastic Wars. It’s a big, exhilarating piece and we’re thrilled to be putting so many women’s voices on the stage at once. You can check the show out at http://newohiotheatre.org/icefactory2016.htm and find out more about the Byzantine Choral Project at  https://www.facebook.com/byzantinechoral/

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Monday, June 20, 2016

I Interview Playwrights Part 853: William Glick



William Glick

Hometown: Lighthouse Point, FL & Chicago, IL

Current Town: Austin, TX

Q:  Tell me about Kin Folk.

A:  I’ve been developing Kin Folk with The New Colony for the past two years. It focuses on Otherkin, who are people that identify as magical, non-human creatures. It’s a coming-out story, but instead of coming out as gay, the main character, Lucy, comes out as a dragon. The play looks at how this announcement affects her husband and sisters and how Lucy relates to the larger Otherkin community. Initially, I thought the play would be a fun fantasy, but over time it became a family drama and a way to explore faith, coming out, and the ways millennials engage with identity politics.

Q:  What else are you working on now?

A:  I get bored easily, so I like working on a lot of stuff at once. Right now, I’m doing a libretto for a children’s opera that blends various Aesop’s fables, which my friend Alex Heppelmann is writing the music for. I’m working on a new draft of my play Faggot Dolls, which is about American Girl-type dolls for gay men. I’m also about to start a new play that is set in the year 2000 and is a heterosexual romance––something that is TOTALLY MYSTERIOUS to me.

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 used take over our living room for an hour every day and have “living room time.” This consisted of me pacing around the room and inventing stories. I made up fake movie stars and fake plots for their fake movies. I also made up the lineage of a futuristic royal family, where all the royals were named after characters I liked on TV. I also used to memorize the opening credits of movies, so I’ve always been interested in the people who make stories and how they’re told.

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

A:  In the past couple years, I think the theater has made a lot of important strides towards telling stories for a less homogeneous audience. Many artists are bringing us towards greater racial and gender diversity, but I also wish the theater would work towards political diversity. I wish there were more plays about three-dimensional conservative characters. What makes theater essential is its ability to create civic dialogue and make people empathize with those who are not like them. You can’t build ideological empathy in an echo chamber. Meaningful, lasting change in a democracy involves consensus, which requires engagement with the opposite side of political spectrum, and I worry we do a little too much choir preaching in the theater.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  There are a lot. I love anything by Arthur Miller, William Inge, and Thornton Wilder. I’m also still reeling from an amazing production The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window at the Goodman Theatre. So, I’d definitely put Lorraine Hansberry on the list.

I’m very much a “musical theater person.” I love Sondheim, particularly his musicals with James Lapine, which have extraordinary books. No one sets playwrights words to music better than Jeanine Tesori. I also admire Howard Ashman, who I think would have written some incredible stage musicals had he lived longer.

In terms of contemporary playwrights, Young Jean Lee and Lucas Hnath are the playwrights I find most formally exciting. Will Eno’s language consistently breaks my heart, and Rebecca Gilman does an amazing job wrestling with complex, moral questions, which is something I aim for in my work.

Other contemporary playwrights I love (in alpha order): Thomas Bradshaw, Philip Dawkins, Zinnie Harris, Andrew Hinderaker, James Ijames, Dan LeFranc, Mickle Maher, Lynn Nottage, Diana Small, Paula Vogel, and Sheri Wilner.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  Theater that asks unanswerable questions.

Theater that shows us the shades of gray in every person and situation.

Theater that changes form and style mid-play.

Theater that is big and ambitious. I consider it a great artistic failing that I haven’t written a play that’s over three hours.

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

A:  Take constructive criticism eagerly and gladly. Don’t cloister your work.

Find one good dramaturg who will always read your work and whose notes you trust. My friend Bradley Cherna has been mine for eleven years and counting.

Find joy in solitude. So much of playwriting is done alone, which can be depressing, but I think it’s how you cultivate a potent voice.

Strategies of Drama by Oscar Brownstein and Shakespeare’s Game by William Gibson are great books on playwriting theory, if that’s your cup of tea.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  Come see Kin Folk, which premiers on July 12th and runs through August 14th. It is being produced by The New Colony at The Den Theatre, in Chicago. Click the link for more info!

http://thenewcolony.org/view/kin_folk#sthash.8edWznmF.dpbs


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Sunday, June 12, 2016

I Interview Playwrights Part 852: Michelle Tyrene Johnson





Michelle Tyrene Johnson

Hometown: Kansas City, Kansas

Current Town: Kansas City, Missouri

Q: Tell me about your upcoming show in San Francisco.

A: My play "Justice in the Embers" will be at Flight Deck Theater in Oakland, California this July after a successful three-week run in Kansas City, Missouri in February. It's a commission I won from StoryWorks, which is out of the Center for Investigative Reporting in San Francisco, where they have a local playwright take a piece of local journalism and turn it into a one-hour play. My piece was about Bryan Sheppard, a man who is 20 years into his federal, life-without-parole sentence for his conviction of causing an explosion in Kansas City that killed six firefighters about 30 years ago. There have always been serious doubts about the guilt of Sheppard and the other four people and a recent Supreme Court ruling allows Sheppard a hearing where he could get a shot at being released due to his age at the time of the crime for which he was convicted.

Q: What else are you working on now?

A: I have been working on a play called "The Green Book Wine Club Train Trip" which is a play with all black women characters, some of whom travel back in time to the 1940s. "The Negro Motorist Green Book" was a published guide used before the Jim Crow era to advise traveling blacks which places were safe and what businesses needed to be avoided throughout the country. Time travel is merely a device to illustrate that while advancements have happened in America, black women still address many of the same issues.

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

A: My dirty little open secret from childhood is that my great-grandmother got me hooked on soap operas when I was four years old. I'm an only child and the world of the "stories" was as real and captivating to me as playing outside with neighborhood kids ever could be. Between that and being a lover of mystery novels from a young age also, well before I was teen, I was obsessed with intrigue, hidden motivations, secrets unveiled in unusual circumstances and human emotional puzzles. In retrospect, it explains why I had careers as a journalist and as a lawyer - I liked digging around other people's stories. It also explains my current careers of diversity and inclusion work and writing - I love exploring human motivations and helping to elevate them.

Q: What kind of theater excites you?

A: I love culture - my own as a black person, as a woman, as a person of my generation, as a Midwesterner, etc. And I love seeing people write engaging theater about another culture - hopefully their own. I think the truth in fictional stories about real experiences offers the only chance people have of learning about our common humanity. We storytellers, in my opinion, have an obligation to write and celebrate individual specificity and not dilute it. Full-strength, unapologetic honesty is what makes our stories universal and transformative. Everything doesn't have to be heavy - my darkest plays always have humor - but I love plays that leave audiences thinking.

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

A: I'm practically staring out myself but the advice I give to myself is : write, submit, rewrite, self-produce, network, thicken the skin, put on shuffle and repeat.

Q: Plugs, please:

A: A small theater company out of NYC called Rhymes Over Beats will be doing a production of my play "Echoes of Octavia" in 2017. I'd also like to shamelessly plug my availability for more commissions and play development opportunities.
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Saturday, June 11, 2016

I Interview Playwrights Part 851: Harrison David Rivers



Harrison David Rivers

Hometown:  Manhattan, Kansas

Current Town:  St. Paul, Minnesota

Q:  What are you working on now?

A:   This Bitter Earth, a commission for New Conservatory Theatre Center in San Francisco about an African-American writer grappling with his own political apathy in the age of #blacklivesmatter;

Heartland, a play with music inspired by Jacqui Banaszynski’s Pulitzer Prize-winning article “AIDS in the Heartland”;

And She Would Stand Like This, a ball culture scene set adaptation of Euripides’ The Trojan Women for The Movement Theatre Company in New York;

An untitled adaptation of Euripides’ Alcestis for the University of Minnesota/Guthrie Theater BFA Actor Training Program;

Only You Can Prevent Wildfires, a commission for Ricochet Collective in New York about the woman who set the largest forest fire in Colorado history;

Five Points, a musical (with Douglas Lyons and Ethan Pakchar) about the birth of modern tap in Lower Manhattan in the 1860s;

The Last Queen of Canaan, a musical (with Jacob Yandura and Rebekah Melocik) about a young black woman fighting for independence in the Jim Crow South;

And sweet, a play about two sisters vying for the affection of the boy next door.

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 really childhood but…
While living in San Francisco after undergrad
I began to hear voices
Believing like Harper Pitt that I’d “really snapped the tether”
I called my mother
Who
After listening to my panicked explanation of my mental state
Said
Very matter-of-factly
“Why don’t you write down what they’re saying?”
(Oddly enough, that thought hadn’t crossed my mind)
The next day
When the voices returned
I followed my mother’s instructions.
I wrote down what they said in a notebook purchased for that express purpose.
Their words became my first full length-play.

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

A: 
I’m not sure how this would be achieved
By magic?
But I’d banish the long-held assumption that characters in plays
(Unless specifically noted otherwise in the dramatis personae)
Are white.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A: 
Euripides
James Baldwin & Essex Hemphill
(Especially Jimmy B and Essex H)
Alice Childress & Lorraine Hansberry
George C. Wolfe, Savion Glover & the cast of Bring in da Noise, Bring in da Funk
Tony Kushner, Jeannine Tesori, Tonya Pinkins & the cast of Caroline, or Change
Stew, Heidi Rodewald & the cast of Passing Strange
Chuck Mee, Maria Mileaf & Anne Bogart
David Adjmi & Zakiyyah Alexander
Liz Frankel
Dael Orlandersmith
Jon Norman Schneider, Jehan O. Young, Christopher Livingston & Jon-Michael Reese
Josh Wilder
David Mendizábal, Deadria Harrington, Eric Lockley, Taylor Reynolds & The Movement Theatre Company

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A: 
I’m excited by theater that makes me slide forward in my seat
Theater that makes me cover my face
Or grab on to the person’s arm next to me (even if it’s a stranger)
Or yell out, “oh shit!”
I’m excited by theater where I’m so engaged that I don’t realize until the curtain call that I’ve been crying.

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

A: 
Write every day.
A scene.
A grocery list.
A love letter…
Something.
Anything.
Every day.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  If you’re in the Berkshires this summer, I highly recommend:

Boo Killebrew’s Romance Novels for Dummies running July 20-July 31st on the Main Stage and Matyna Majok’s Cost of Living running June 29-July 10th on the Nikos Stage at the Williamstown Theatre Festival.

My play Where Storms Are Born, directed by Liesl Tommy, will be read as part of the Festival’s Fridays@3 series on July 15th at 3pm.

Please check my website harrisondavidrivers.com for updates.

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Friday, June 10, 2016

850 PLAYWRIGHT INTERVIEWS





A
Sean Abley
Rob Ackerman
Liz Duffy Adams
Johnna Adams
Tony Adams
David Adjmi
Keith Josef Adkins
Nastaran Ahmadi
Derek Ahonen
Kathleen Akerley
Ayad Akhtar
Rob Askins
Chiara Atik
Forrest Attaway
David Auburn
Hannah Bos
Leslie Bramm
Benjamin Brand
Jami Brandli
Jennifer Fawcett
Joshua Fardon
Caitlin Saylor Stephens
Ariel Stess
Vanessa Claire Stewart
Kate Tarker
Jona Tarlin
Judy Tate
Roland Tec
Cori Thomas
Matthew B. Zrebski 

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