Friday, January 20, 2017

I Interview Playwrights Part 908: Dennis Staroselsky



Dennis Staroselsky

Hometown: Brookline, MA

Current Town: Norwood, MA

Q:  What are you working on now?

A:  Like everyone, just throwing a lot of stuff against the wall and hoping something sticks. Just finished 5 Minutes Alone, a two hander set in an alternative reality, where the loved ones of murder victims get to sentence the convicted—it's hilarious! Waiting to hear if I get a grant to fund a production of my play The Cuts, in Boston, at the same time I'm turning it into a pilot, also just finished potty training! My daughter ...I still have some work to get to her level.

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

A:  Tough question! The only one that sticks out, and it's only in retrospect that it seems applicable, is when I was a sophomore in high school. I was so obsessed with being liked by everyone, that I betrayed a lot of real friends by having a big mouth and easily gossiping about things that were told to me in confidence, and I just couldn't stop. Once I made new friends I'd do the same. By the end of the year a lot of people hated me—for good reason. I was in a production of Doctor Faustus, and there were posters all over the school with a drawing of me in it, one day I showed and noticed that I had been torn out of one, and then another, and another. I had been ripped out of every poster in school. It was a feeling of humiliation and loneliness that I had never experienced before. I think the influence of that day was the realization that all the energy I put into getting people to like me, just repulsed them... and hurt me. As an artist, I battle with creating work that is honest, and still hoping that everyone likes it, but I never create something with the impetus of impressing...maybe only my real friends.

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

A:  The audience. A lot of people talk about cultivating great artists, but what about audiences? If people in this country went to the theater a third of the amount they went to the movies...that would be something. We need to cultivate audiences.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  Bill Camp, Mark Rylance, Rory Kinnear, David Rabe and Adam Bock

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  The kind that isn't "Paint by numbers." Something that surprises me. Why Rabe and Bock resonate with me is they're ability to beautifully examine the mundane and uneventful, because those are the that moments make up the vast majority of our lives.Visiting Edna and A Life are amazing examples of that.

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

A:  Same advice I give myself. Your work isn't precious, you have permission to suck!

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  Laura Neil's Don't Give up the Ship at Fresh Ink. Boston. She's really good. Feb 10 -25 BCA Plaza Black Box

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Tuesday, January 17, 2017

I Interview Playwrights Part 907: Mark Jackson



Mark Jackson

Hometown: Placerville, California.

Current Town: San Francisco.

Q:  Tell me about Messenger 1.

A:  It’s a play close to my heart. Art Street Theatre had a great success with it when we produced it in 2000, which was such a weighty historical year given the turn of the millennium and the play spoke to anxieties people were having then about the internet and media. The Catamounts, in Denver, had a good time with it in 2012 and my old EXIT Theatre buddy, Meridith Crosley Grundei, played M#3, which delights me. A professor at William & Mary University used it in her curriculum for a Feminist Theater history class, and I really enjoyed reading the papers students wrote on it. I’m very taken by the inner struggles of the messenger characters, their conflicted feelings about class and what defines their personal sense of integrity. And I think Electra is a very interesting character. She has the potential to open her heart but is afraid and protects herself with violence. I think the play gives actors a lot to do, something passionate to say and an opportunity to work in a really physical way that marries humor and emotion. When actors enjoy material it's infectious for an audience. I really look forward to what Hunger & Thirst do with it, and am tickled that Emily Kitchens, whom I worked with at A.C.T., is now taking up the M#3 role. She’s perfect for it, really tough and passionate and open and honest.

Q:  What are you working on now?

A:  I’m in pre-production for THE BLACK RIDER, the musical by Waits and Burroughs, at Shotgun Players. Also I’m writing a book about the 2016 Shotgun Players HAMLET production, in which the actors learned all the roles and found out who they were to play on a given night in a drawing held before the audience five minutes before curtain.

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 don’t have such a story… I think I was making theatre in the womb and birth was my first opening night. Or, morning rather. I was born at 9:04 in the morning.

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

A:  About the American theater I presume? That it be better understood and also better supported financially in this country. That might require magic powers at this point... In the meantime I try to change theater slowly, one show at a time, by changing how I work myself in order to up the odds of my helping the group involved to make something together that is fresh and alive and provocative in some useful way. “Useful” to me means an audience goes away thinking anew about what they experienced and what they felt. If I could change one thing about the American theater it would be that it was more consistently useful.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  Ariane Mnouchkine. Vsevelod Meyerhold. Beth Wilmurt.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  Many kinds! I’m most excited by theater and performances that embrace the metaphorical nature of theater and performance, and that exploit all its aspects and artists to impact audiences. I’m excited by theater that offers something to see, something to hear, something to feel, a LOT to think about, and that changes my body temperature. I’m excited by theater that compels me to keep thinking about it for weeks, months or years. Whether I “like” it or “don’t like it” matters less to me than what I take from it that stays with me and continues to feed my imagination and thinking.

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

A:  Write a LOT. See a LOT. Do other jobs in the theater too. Do things that have nothing to do with theater. Seek out real news and information and read it.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  I’m excited by the entire 2017 season at The Shotgun Players. Other than that I’d like to plug the idea that we all be extremely conscious as citizens of this country in the coming four years and thereafter, and that we endeavor to eradicate the narcissism we’ve embraced and replace it wholesale with as much empathy as possible.


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Sunday, January 15, 2017

I Interview Playwrights Part 906: Jonathan Dorf




Jonathan Dorf

Hometown:  Broomall, Pennsylvania (I wasn't born there, but I moved there before third grade and did most of my important growing up there).

Current Town:  Los Angeles, CA

Q:  What are you working on now?

A:  Unfortunately, I'm working on too many things, so it feels a bit like inching an entire row of pawns forward one at a time. Most of my stage work is for teens, which is what I'm best known for. On that note, I'm nearly finished a draft of Me, My Selfie and I, a one-act play that contemplates the selfie. But I'm also working on a mash-up parody of Lord of the Flies and Lord of the Rings for a potential YouthPLAYS anthology and was asked by another publisher (hint: it's one that publishes some of my most produced works) to contribute a ten-minute play to a new anthology they're putting together. In the meantime, I'm working on a long overdue update to Young Playwrights 101, my how-to book for young writers—fingers crossed for spring sometime. I'm also hoping to work on some web series (or TV) and short film projects, and I'm polishing some scripts that I could potentially shoot later this year.

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

A:  When I was ten, we did our epic family vacation, spending nine weeks driving all over the US. It was actually supposed to be ten weeks, but we hit the wall in New Mexico and decided to drive home from there. We started in Pennsylvania and, with an emphasis on national parks (Yellowstone, Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, Bryce, Zion, etc), toured all over the country. I had a lot of back seat time, and I'd lie there—at that point being small enough to fit sideways—and read. A lot. I was reading the Great Brain series, possibly some Agatha Christie, maybe Encyclopedia Brown and probably a few others. I tore through books so quickly we actually had to stop partway through the trip to buy more. Luckily, those were the days when bookstores were still plentiful. While the obvious takeaway is that I read a lot—I still do, but I feel that too much of my reading now consists of scripts that have been submitted for consideration by YouthPLAYS, my little publishing company—the subtext, as it were, is that I'm a plugger. My dear friend and mentor, the late Thom Williams, used to say that it was a Capricorn thing, that we just put our heads down and plunged forward. The challenge for me these days is to make more of that plunging actual writing, rather than administrative work, whether for YouthPLAYS, for the Alliance of Los Angeles Playwrights (which I co-chair) or even for my own self-promotion. Sometimes I wonder "what if" I didn't do all of these other things—how much could I accomplish? Who knows—maybe one day I'll find out. Life was certainly simpler when I could fit sideways in the back seat of my parents' car.

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

A:  I'd want to change how severely underfunded theater is, both at schools and nationally. There should be opportunities for all young people to have drama classes from elementary on up, and it should be a requirement that is just as important as math or English—and it should include trips to and visits from quality theater groups. For the cost of a few high-tech fighter jets, you could fund a huge amount of theater, and it would help us turn out better, more thoughtful human beings.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  I've always been a fan of those twin towers of menace, Edward Albee and Harold Pinter. I've always thought of them as late absurdist brothers from another mother, and both of them influenced how I think about dialogue, and particularly the silence between it. And of course, both of them wrote plays that could be disturbing and unsettling, and disturbing and unsettling us is one of the theater's most important jobs. I also love the work of Suzan Zeder, who creates pure magic for young people and for many years has helped mentor playwrights and pass along her knowledge.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  I love theater that has some kind of magical, expressionist or heightened elements about it—I like to see something that shows me I'm in a theater. That could be an Angels in America or Marisol or Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? or Doubt or Mother Hicks. Or it could be a show with awesome poetry in its language (which some of those do too), or a play like Ruined, which is beautiful and shows us something we need to see that isn't part of our everyday.

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

A:  1. Plays are written to be produced. So read and see as much theater as you can, so that you can understand the relationship between what you put on the page and where it needs to go after that. And the more you see, the more ideas you get for what may be possible, and the more styles you're exposed to.

2. Remember that they're not doing you a favor by producing your play. Yes, we all want our work produced, but chances are they're not paying you enough to compromise your integrity. Get acquainted with the Dramatists Guild Bill of Rights, and don't give those up.

3. You learn by hearing your work read, and even more by seeing it on its feet in front of an audience. Whenever possible, sit behind the audience so that you can watch both the show and them watching the show.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  I'm lucky that I typically have a goodly number of productions upcoming at schools and youth theaters. While 4 A.M. is my most produced play at this point—check out its new companion, The Magic Hour, of which I'm quite proud—I've been particularly pleased that the one-act version of Rumors of Polar Bears seems to have hit people's radar of late, with a half-dozen productions scheduled from December 2016-March 2017. I hope that those looking for longer plays will look at its full-length version, as I think it's some of my strongest writing. You can visit my website at http://jonathandorf.com to learn more, as I wide range of plays, from wild comedies to more thoughtful, serious pieces.


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Friday, January 13, 2017

I Interview Playwrights Part 905: Seamus Sullivan



Seamus Sullivan

Hometown: Glenside, PA.

Current Town: Jersey City, NJ, by way of DC and LA.

Q:  What are you working on now?

A:  This month, I'm getting together with my friend Jason Schlafstein to start collaborating on a mythological wrestling epic he's had brewing in his head for years. I'm a wrestling outsider, so I'm looking forward to an educational process. I've also been writing a lot of short fiction lately, stuff about suburban superheroes and Greek mythology and even some realistic fiction, which I don't normally do. It's been a fun opportunity to build new muscles.

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 elementary school I wrote and drew my own comics, and they were wildly derivative, but I kept them up for a year or two, doing one comic every month. And I wasn't a great artist or a great writer or anything by the time I finished doing all those comics, but I proved that I could stick to a schedule, and I probably knew on some level that if you can do that for long enough then you'll probably write something good eventually.

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

A:  Over the summer I interviewed some occasional theatergoers for a Theatre Development Fund project. The aim of the interviews was to get an understanding of why people did or didn't go to see plays. And one of the younger people we talked to, who didn't go to the theater often, said that she did go to sporting events all the time because she'd grown up going to sporting events, and it was a regular pastime in her hometown. And I thought about this, and my Dad did take me to plays at the Arden in Philadelphia when I was growing up, and I did theater in school, and that's probably why going to see plays is such a given for me now. So if I could change one thing, it would be for theater culture to be more widespread, more of a regular, community thing that you do with your family all the time, wherever you live. Easier said than done, I know. I think more arts education and lower ticket prices and shows that tap into the energy and fun of pop culture (quick shout-out to Jason's and my DC-area theater company Flying V here!) are all part of the solution. We'll probably never catch up to sports, but it should at least be easy for kids and adults who want to get into theater to get into theater.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  Theater that plays with genre, like Conor McPherson writing ghost stories for the stage or The Honeycomb Trilogy doing a giant sci-fi family saga grounded in old school dramatic structure.

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

A:  Write plays that make you happy, and work with people who make you happy. Not every play is going to work out exactly the way you want it to, creatively or professionally. So you should at least make sure you're having a good time and building relationships as you work.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  My next show with Flying V, Brother Mario, starts previews on February 23 in Bethesda, MD. It is a mashup of Chekhov and Super Mario Brothers. It will make you laugh and feel things, and may cause you to spend more time thinking about King Boo than is your wont.

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Thursday, January 12, 2017

I Interview Playwrights Part 904: Vicki Vodrey




Vicki Vodrey

Hometown:  Kansas City, MO but I travel to NYC often.

Q: Tell me about Thank You Notes: Headed To Heaven W/ Flat Jimmy Fallon.

A: Thank You Notes: Headed To Heaven W/ Flat Jimmy Fallon is a dark comedy with a twist. We’re there for Angela’s funeral, who put a bullet in her head. She has requested in her will three things – that she is buried with her dog’s ashes, that her life-size cut out of Jimmy Fallon be put in the casket with her, and that her twin, Ethan, give her eulogy in the fashion of the Thank You Notes segment on The Tonight Show. After all, she was his biggest fan. Shortly after the service starts, Angela gets out of her casket, along with Flat Jimmy, to help tell her story. And towards the end, it takes an unexpected turn.

Q: What else are you working on now?

A: I just recently completed my dark comedy, The Exit Strategy Club, which is having a staged reading in February. I’m now leaving quirky comedy for a bit to write a drama, Sixteen Seconds.

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 remember, on the playground when I first started kindergarten, going around the bases in a game of kickball. Some kids were yelling, “Look! She runs funny! She doesn’t know how!” It didn’t strike me until much later that they were right – I wasn’t running, I was galloping. I was obsessed with animals (still am), especially horses, and I’d pretended so often to be one, that I only knew how to gallop. I used to gallop around my back yard, jumping over bushes. As an only child, I had a lively imagination. I think that helped form me, both as a person and as a writer. If I was ever treated as an outsider, or was every lonely, I had my trusty imagination.

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

A: I wish it was more accessible to people financially. I understand why it is so expensive, but people will opt for a more affordable movie ticket over a play or musical. Kudos to the theatres that have “pay what you can” nights. What a wonderful concept!

Q: Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  Oh gee, there are so many. Joseph Papp is a big one for me. I’d love to meet Tracy Letts, Theresa Rebeck and Neil Simon because I think they’ve influenced my writing.

Q: What kind of theater excites you?

A: I’m excited by any theatre that gives good actors a chance to dig their teeth into a role. I started out as an actor, and so I love and appreciate great actors. Luckily, I’ve been fortunate to work with some very talented ones. When they perform something of mine, they make me forget that I’ve written it.

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

A: My advice to writers starting out would be first, to write something that excites them, that they’re passionate about. That makes the writing so much easier, at least for me. Then have a few trusted friends over to read it out loud, and get some solid feedback. If only one person has a problem with a certain scene or element, that doesn’t always mean the writer needs to change it. If they’re getting the same comment numerous times, it needs to be addressed. After rewrites and now having a script that they feel really good about, find a way to cheaply produce their own work a time or two. You learn so much from it! Some festivals are economically affordable. If you can get a reviewer or two to come, and give you a few quotes to use, it gives you something you can use, to market yourself with. And have patience – lot and lots of patience.

Q: Plugs, please:

A: My play The Exit Strategy Club will have a staged reading by Script2Stage2Screen in Palm Desert in February, and The Frowning Ladies of Shady Pines will be getting a series of readings by Actors' Choice in the Kansas City metropolitan area starting in April.

http://vickivodrey.com/

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Wednesday, January 11, 2017

I Interview Playwrights Part 903: Natalie Margolin



Natalie Margolin

Hometown: Los Angeles, CA

Current Town: New York, NY

Q: Tell me about Tutus:

A: Tutus is a play about a girl who poops in her tutu during her first ballet recital. It explores how we process experiences; reminding us how important it is to laugh when things feel tragic, and questioning what happens when there's no room for laughter anymore.

Q: What else are you working on now?:

A: I just finished a production of my first play, The Power of Punctuation, this summer at the Davenport theatre and now my focus is on Tutus and learning how to cook chicken.

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 second grade I was given an assignment to write a picture book. I was eight years old. My classmates wrote stories about their moms and dads, soccer, princesses, and pets. I, however wrote a picture book titled "The Real Fake Story of Bill Clinton." At the second grade presentation of these picture books another parent looked at my father and said, "well, she is different."

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

A: I would change the price of tickets! I want theatre to be accessible! I want to get young people in the seats!

Q: Who are or were your theatrical heroes?:

A: Bernadette Peters, Martin McDonagh, Steven Sondheim, Robert Askins, August Wilson, Wendy Wasserstein, my college professor and mentor Wendy Macleod and my high school teachers Ted Walch and Michelle Spears.

Q: What kind of theater excites you?:

A: A wide range of theatre excites me! I think overall what I react most to is honesty. I love theatre that feels rooted in truth. I love theatre that is funny and heartbreaking. Because life is funny and heartbreaking! I'm a strong believer that comedy and drama should not be mutually exclusive. I love walking out of the theatre still carrying the story I just saw with me, it can feel like such a precious gift.

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

A: What a kind question! My biggest piece of advice is to trust your instincts and the stories you want to tell. It's important to both be in tune with the world around you and to take the time to be alone, developing and finding your voice. Write 20 minutes every day! (I honestly don't do that but I really want to start doing that.)

Q: Plugs, please

A: I'm so thrilled to be working with the insightful director, Alyssa White, and an incredible cast on this reading! The cast includes Matt Walker, Sarah Sanders, Julia Greer, Sarah White, Peter Falls, Taylor Harlow, and Raffaello Perfetto. Please come to Theatrelab on Wednesday the 18th at 7pm or Sunday the 22nd at 2pm! http://www.blackcoffeeproductions.org/

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