Tuesday, November 29, 2016

I Interview Playwrights Part 895: Greg DePaul

Greg DePaul

Hometown:  Hyattsville, MD

Current Town:  Springfield, NJ.

Q:  What are you working on now?

A:  My full-length play, Death by Bunga Bunga, which was recently given a reading at The Collective. It's a dark comedy about screenwriters in L.A. who will do anything to get ahead. I lived in L.A. for years and wrote movies (Bride Wars, Saving Silverman), so I've been 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 18 I worked out in a sweaty, run-down boxing gym operated by a former middleweight contender named Adrian Davis. It's sort of a tradition in boxing that your first sparring partner is your coach. So one day Adrian got in the ring with me. I wasn't so bad, I cut his eye with the jab he taught me. He was amazing and peppered me with punches that all seemed to come outta nowhere. I felt like a mouse in cat's paws. When we were done my nose was a little crooked, the septum had been moved to one side. So he fixed it without even taking his gloves off. He just sorta held my head with one glove and performed sudden, minor surgery with the other, jerking my nose back into position. 

To me, that's emblematic of everything -- the people close to us, the ones who try to walk us through our trials and traumas, always do the most damage.

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

A:  Subject matter. There'd be fewer metaphors, more real people mightily struggling with problems. Also, we need more specificity of thought, more insight into how we really think and act. OK, that's more than one thing.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  Rabe, Baitz, Ludlam, Gionfriddo. Oh, and my characters. Considering what I put them through, they're heroes to tolerate me. If they leave me I'm lost.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  Non-visual. It's about words. If I close my eyes during the show and there's still a play in my head, I'm excited. If I can still hear the play in my head after I leave the theater, I call my friends and rave about it.

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

A:  Write a lot and for years. That's what I'm doing. Honor the time-tested rules of drama, even if you're writing a sex farce set on Jupiter. The rules will beat you down and the rules will fix you up again, kinda like my old boxing coach.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  I just published a book on Focal Press called Bring the Funny: The Essential Guide for the Comedy Screenwriter. You can learn about me and my book at gregdepaul.com and bringthefunny.com. I co-manage a writers group in NYC called Stillwater (stillwaterwriters.com) and these are the best playwrights and screenwriters on the planet.

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Monday, November 28, 2016

I Interview Playwrights Part 894: Bryan Renaud

Bryan Renaud

Hometown: I''m from Sugar Grove, IL which is outside of Aurora.

Current Town: I've been based in Chicago since 2013.

Q: Tell me about Barney the Elf.

A: Barney the Elf is a big, gay Christmas show! It's a musical parody of the film Elf with a queer twist - instead of being kicked out of the North Pole for being a human, Barney is kicked out for falling in love with the sexy delivery elf. We kind of pitch it as a 'Weird Al' musical - lots of Broadway and pop songs you'll know, with new lyrics to fit our story. It's a fast, fun, over-the-top comedy with a social justice twist. We hope to show that fun theatre can still make you think. I co-wrote the musical with Emily Schmidt. Barney premiered last December and sold out almost completely, and is being remounted by The Other Theatre Co. now through the new year.

Q: What else are you working on now?

A: Emily and I are also currently hard at work on our next project, Strangest Things! The Musical. Lovingly ripped-off from the hit Netflix series, we're only using 80's hits you'll know and love. Strangest Things! opens on March 3rd, 2017 at the Greenhouse Theater Center in Chicago for an open run. We are also working on a small sketch comedy show for Random Acts Chicago which will run on 12/12 & 12/13 as a fundraiser for the company, called Awkward Family Gatherings.

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 did a lot of childrens' theatre at a place called First Street Playhouse in the suburbs of Chicago. The owner, Julane Sullivan, presented incredibly imaginative productions for and by kids, and this was where I really blossomed as a performer and learned to check my painful shyness at the door. The theatre also presented fully-produced seasons of productions, and hosted a sketch group called Gag Reflex, and I fell in love with the idea of presenting live sketch comedy, like Saturday Night Live. I was blown away, and Julane gave myself and a few others the resources to start our own troupe. This lasted for seven years and was really where I began writing, and my writing for that company led to my first play commission, Twelfth Night of the Living Dead.

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

A: If I could change one thing about theatre, it would be the under representation of marginalized voices. Even progressive theatre companies produce seasons almost exclusively written by white men - and yes, I'm aware that I am one of those. More companies need to produce work by women, people of color, trans writers, and the like. Shortly after my first play, I had a second commission. I ended up departing the project when I realized I had been hired to tell the stories of women of color. That is not my story to tell. Female writers of color exist. Why aren't they being hired more often to tell their own stories?

Q: Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A: Where do I begin? Tracy Letts showed me that theatre can make you extremely uncomfortable in the best way possible. I have also consumed the writings of Edward Albee and Sam Shepard over and over...I never stop learning from them. The entire Steppenwolf Theater Co. would also have to be on the list.

Q: What kind of theater excites you?

A: The kind of theatre that excites me is anything that keeps me guessing. I'm totally willing to overlook flaws in a production if they are doing something wholly original. I tend to love site-specific theatre, and new adaptations that turn the classics on their heads. I love comedies that sneak up on you and suddenly pack a punch. I love plays that successfully tackle current events, and plays that force you to question things inside yourself.

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

A: My advice to playwrights: just write. Write. Write. Write. You'll never find your own distinct voice if you don't do so, and you'll be shocked by what you end up spitting out. I never saw myself writing a single full-length play...and now I've written six in three years. Also, don't be afraid to self-produce! There can be such a stigma about this - as if you're funding your own production it's somehow less legitimate. If no one else will take a chance on you - take a chance on yourself. Put on a reading in any space that you can afford. Make good friends in all aspects of theatre, and be a good person to work with. You never know who you're going to need to turn to for a favor. Just get your work out there, and eventually, the right person will see it.

Q: Plugs, please:

A: Barney the Elf is presented through The Other Theatre Co., where I am also the Associate Artistic Director! www.TheOtherTheatreCompany.com

Many of my works are published and licensed through Chicago Dramaworks! www.ChicagoDramaworks.com.

Strangest Things! will premiere in 2017 from Random Acts. www.RandomActsChicago.com

Personal site: www.BryanRenaud.com

Twitter/Instagram: @therealrenaud
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Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Next Up



Workshop Production
National Conservatory of Dramatic Arts
Washington, DC
Opens Dec 2, 2016.

Production #1 of Rare Birds
Red Fern Theater
14th Street Theater, NYC
March 23-April 9, 2017

Marian or The True Tale of Robin Hood

Production #1 of Marian
Flux Theater Ensemble
The New Ohio, NYC
(This play was commissioned by Flux as part of Flux Forward)
January 28-February 11, 2017.


Production #19 of Nerve
Mpip Theatre. 
Athens, Greece.
November 7 to December 13, 2016.

Clown Bar

Production #20 of Clown Bar
Oklahoma City University
Oklahoma City, OK
Opens March 2, 2017.

Production #21 of Clown Bar
The Duluth Playhouse
Duluth, MN
Opens March 30, 2017.

Production #22 of Clown Bar
Corn Productions
Chicago, IL
Opens May 12, 2017.

Hearts Like Fists

Production #31 of Hearts Like Fists
Texas A&M University
Corpus Christi, TX
Opens December 6, 2016.

Production #32 of Hearts Like Fists
Naugatuck Valley Community College
Waterbury, CT
Opens April 6, 2017

Production #33 of Hearts Like Fists
Keizer Homegrown Theater
Keizer, OR
Opens May 4, 2017

7 Ways to Say I Love You 
(a night of short plays)

Production #7 of 7 Ways To Say I Love You
East Mecklenburg High School
Charlotte, NC
Opens December 1, 2016

Production #8 of 7 Ways To Say I Love You
Shoreham- Wading River High School
Shoreham, NY 
Opens January 1, 2017

Production #9 of 7 Ways To Say I Love You
Ohio State University
Columbus, OH
Opens Feb 8, 2017

Production #10 of 7 Ways To Say I Love You
The Art Club
Sierra Vista, AZ
Opens Feb 10, 2017.

The Adventures of Super Margaret

Production #5 of Super Margaret
United Activities Unlimited
Staten Island, NY
Opens March 1, 2017

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Tuesday, November 22, 2016

I Interview Playwrights Part 893: Beth Hyland

Beth Hyland

Hometown:  Rochester, NY

Current Town:  Chicago, IL

Q:  Tell me about For Annie.

A:  For Annie is about female friendship, survivor's guilt, small colleges, and how we try to craft the stories we tell about the people we love. But it's really fun, too, and there's a ton of pop music! It came out of a feeling that even the most mundane aspects of a life can be profound, particularly in hindsight, and that the mundane parts of women's lives are just as worthy of examination as men's.

Q:  What else are you working on now?

A:  I'm working on a play based loosely around the Lululemon Murder, and an adaptation of Three Sisters set in a Chicago theater company. What I'm working hardest on right now is how to write plays that will be both necessary and useful in the next four years and beyond.

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

A:  In fifth grade I got really into figuring out how to play songs I liked on the bassoon, which I was learning to play essentially because I was tall. I was an obsessive Beatles fan, so I taught my best friend and fellow bassoonist how to play Twist and Shout. We proudly played it for our music teacher, who made us play it for everyone in the main office. I really didn't understand why everyone was doubled over with laughter, but I did love the attention. My best friend from childhood is now a professional bassoonist, though!

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

A:  Ticket prices. And I'd put a 10-year moratorium on any play that could accurately be titled "Screaming In The Living Room." And I would change the past several hundred years of history so that theatre could be a popular form of entertainment again instead of a marker of class status.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  Annie Baker, Anne Washburn, Jeanine Tesori, Anton Chekov, Stephen Sondheim, Kneehigh, and my professors at Kenyon College and at the National Theatre Institute.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  In Chicago, I'm so excited and inspired by my friends and peers who are making cool, weird, exciting, deeply felt work all over the city. I also particularly love The Hypocrites, The Neo-Futurists, Theatre Oobleck, Jackalope, and Steep.

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

A:  Make someone schedule a reading and invite people to read your play before you've finished it (so that you actually finish it). Be gentle with yourself. Everyone works and writes differently and at a different pace. Channel feelings of jealousy or inadequacy into productivity.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  For Annie is going to be produced by The Hearth; it runs December 9th-January 15th; get tickets here: https://www.artful.ly/store/events/10629
My website is bethhyland.com.

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Saturday, November 19, 2016

I Interview Playwrights Part 892: Stephen Gregg

Stephen Gregg

Hometown:  Albuquerque, New Mexico

Current Town:  Venice, California

Q:  What are you working on now?

A:  It's a play called Trap. Like most of the plays I write, it's designed to be performed by high school students. Trap is fake documentary theatre, and it's horror. I'm trying to write the theatre equivalent of The Blair Witch Project.

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 had essentially perfect parents who encouraged my writing from the earliest age I can remember. When I was twelve, I wrote something that they found amusing, and they actually took me to the main branch of the Albuquerque library so that we could research the best places to submit it.

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

A:  It's so earnest. So much of theatre is lacking any sense of fun or, as it were, play.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  A month after his death it's hard not to think about Edward Albee. He took the forms that other people were working with and stretched them and he did so in the face of vicious criticism that was often explicitly aimed at his being gay.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  I love immersive theatre. As long as we're going to use live actors, why not let the audience actually walk into the story?

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

A:  I'd say write two-character plays. They're good starters because they teach you basic dramatic structure. A character wants something, increasingly big obstacles get in their way.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  Hmm. I've got three.

My new play, Crush, was on the cover of Dramatics magazine in May and on the main stage of the International Thespian Festival in June. It's just now available from Dramatic Publishing.

I tweet—exclusively about playwriting— @playwrigntnow. I try to use twitter to teach myself to write plays. Feel free to listen in or join in.
And, I'm part of LabTwenty6, a writing group that I love. It's playwrights, screenwriters, TV and fiction writers. It's surprising how often a perspective from another discipline is helpful to your own. If you're in Los Angeles, come check us out!

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Friday, November 18, 2016

I Interview Playwrights Part 891: Kev Berry

Kev Berry

Hometown:  Rockville Centre, New York

Current Town: I sleep in Rockville Centre, but do everything else in New York, New York.

Q:  Tell me about Nora Goes 2 Space, Motherfuck*r!:

A:  Nora Goes 2 Space, Motherfuck*r! is a 1950s-set solo drag adaptation of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House that uses text from The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir and The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan to provide a contemporary queer critique of the housewife and her role in the home yesterday and tomorrow. We’re also using a lot of late 20th Century lady rock music, and these creepy housewife etiquette videos from the ‘50s to enhance the world of the play.

It’s a badass little play that I’ve been working on for almost a year. I’m on staff at 3-Legged Dog Media + Theater Group//3LD Art + Technology Center, and had the chance to workshop the play there with my director Patrice Miller, in June and July as we prepared for a two-night presentation of the piece at The Tank, as a part of their PrideFest this past July. Then, I was offered the opportunity to present the play in a bare-bones production for 2 weeks at 3LD. We’re going to do 13 performances for a VERY intimate house, including a midnight extravaganza performance.

I’ve never had the opportunity to present my work on this scale, so I’m teetering back and forth between crippling fear and overwhelming elation. I’ve also only recently come back in to performing my own work, so this rehearsal process has really been a crash course in learning how to be onstage again. It’s been really great, and I’m learning so much about the way I relate to an audience and about how the work itself relates to an audience.

Q:  What else are you working on now?

A:  Too much.

I just finished the first act of my next solo drag play, called Babytalk, the first act of which is a verbatim transcription of this notebook my mother kept when my sister and I were children. It tracks the funny and profound things we said as we discovered language and the world around us. The notebook also traces her breast cancer diagnosis, chemotherapy, and ultimately, decline towards death, and the funny and profound things my sister and I had to say about that. The second act of the play is going to “fill in” the rest of the notebook through an original song cycle I’m creating. The songs will deal with memory, grief, death, and the profound and funny things I’ve noticed about the world as I’ve grown up and become my own person. I’ll be performing the show in an elaborate gown made of VHS cassettes and a wig made of the tape from the insides of those cassettes.

Also working on Fabulous Creatures, a comprehensive theatricalized history of the gay rights movements that will eventually be 10.5 hours long; continuing to tweak my play (i heard) ANNA KARENINA (wanks w/ a toothbrush); writing a very fucked-up adaptation of the world of the Peanuts called You’re an Existentialist, Charlie Brecht! {thank you thank you robert wilson thank you thank you}; and developing my next cabaret called Kev Berry Presents Frances McDormand at the 2011 Tony Awards, which should be going up next spring.

I am always tired, and I don’t sleep enough, so I am working on ways to find more time to sleep.
I also walk everywhere in this goddamn city, so I am working on ways to stretch out my legs at night before bed.

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 raised pretty Catholic. Church every Sunday, Confirmation in seventh grade, altar boy, all of that. Then I went off to college and became liberal scum, and stopped going to church. Anyway, for my First Holy Communion in second grade, I asked a family member to buy me this little toy theatre from the Lillian Vernon catalog. It came with a wooden stage, a double-sided backdrop printed on glossy oaktag, and 20 figurines: three knights, a king, a queen, a jester, a prince and princess, a wizard, a witch, and all of the other denizens of the fairy tale world. Maybe a milkmaid? None of them had eyes. I started creating these little shows for them, written in soft-cover composition notebooks. I had full scripts, with light and sound cues, and little songs, and usually a big finale number. I’d stage them on this weird toy stage, and sometimes film them on this little handheld camera I had. The first one that comes to mind was called Rutabaga LIVE! and I’m not sure why LIVE was a part of the title because it’s not like there was something else it was based on. I think it was essentially the story of Phantom of the Opera if it were set on a cruise ship and also written by a child. These little plays I’d make in my bedroom, along with theater classes I was taking at our local rec center, are the foundation of my love for theatre, even if I’ve grown way bigger than the two.

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

A:  Money. I wish artists making theatre were paid more, I wish artists making theatre had to pay less, I wish the bigger theaters in the city were willing to take risks on playwrights and directors they’ve never heard of but who make damn good work, I wish playwrights weren’t required to have an MFA to get the right people’s attention, I wish tickets were cheaper, I wish tickets were free for playwrights if they show up right before curtain and there’s an open seat. I wish it were viable to make a living as an artist in New York. I think that’s kind of how a lot of people my age are feeling.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  Taylor Mac.
Everyone at The Tank.
Sean Graney and The Hypocrites. Felix Barrett, Maxine Doyle, and everyone at Punchdrunk. Lucas Hnath. Ann Liv Young.
Stephen Sondheim.
Tony Kushner. Michael Bennett. Stephen Karam.
Dave Malloy. Bob Fosse. Pasek and Paul.
Everyone at The Bushwick Starr. John Cameron Mitchell.
Everyone at Ars Nova. The Frantic Assembly.
Justin Vivian Bond. Nico Muhly. The Brooklyn Gypsies.
The cast of Shuffle Along. The entire cast of Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812.
Bart Sher. Sam Hunter. Rachel Chavkin. Ivo van Hove.

And my teachers at Skidmore College: Eunice Ferreira, Will Bond, Carolyn Anderson, Ari Osterweis.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  Theatre that’s unbelievably big.
Taylor Mac’s a 24-Decade History of Popular Music, the marathon, changed my life and completely altered the way I see theatre.
Sean Graney and the Hypocrites’ All Our Tragic, a 12-hour adaptation of all 32 Greek tragedies into a single narrative, is my favorite play ever. So beautiful, hilarious, heartbreaking.
Punchdrunk’s The Drowned Man, back in 2013-2014. I saw it in 10 times while I was on my semester abroad in London, and still wasn’t done with it. I saw it on my first night abroad, and my last. Their Sleep No More also excites me, but something about The Drowned Man and its 1960s Hollywood sex appeal really grabbed me.

Theatre that’s verbally gymnastic.
Lucas Hnath’s A Public Reading of an Unproduced Screenplay About the Death of Walt Disney.
Anything by Sondheim.
So much of Target Margin’s work.

Theatre that grabs you and doesn’t let go.
Theatre that pushes you away with its relentless grotesqueness, but your eyes are glued.
Theatre that makes you stop breathing.
Theatre that makes you second-guess everything you thought you knew.

Theatre that’s effervescently and relentlessly fabulous.

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

A:  What advice do they have for me?! I feel like I’m just starting out. Probably because I am!

I guess three things have kept me going:

1. Fight like hell for your work. You’re your work’s greatest advocate.

2. Keep writing. I quit for a LONG time after one of my mentors gave me the single note “This is a bad play.” Fuck that. Keep writing until someone sees what you’re doing and fucking gets it, man.


Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  Come see Nora/Motherfuck*r! Tickets available here: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2666889

Donate to Nora, motherfucker. We need your help! IndieGogo here: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/nora-goes-2-space-motherfuck-r-christmas-feminism/x/15142082#/

Support everything The Tank does: http://thetanknyc.org. They’re my artistic home and have welcomed me into their family. Send them love, see their shows.

And, if you’re reading this on, or before November 17 at 8pm, I’m doing a monologue as a part of a Rapid Response evening at The Tank. Do it up. Join us. Make change.

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