Monday, February 27, 2017

I Interview Playwrights Part 916: Hollis James




Hollis James

Hometown:  Queens, New York

Current Town:  Manhattan, New York

Q:  Tell me about KYLE:

A:  KYLE is a comedy about addiction, destructive urges and the little voice in our head that can be either our best friend or our worst enemy. We follow a writer named Jack’s downward spiral during an ill-fated love affair with cocaine.

Q:  What else are you working on now?

A:  My screenwriting partner and I are working on a holiday movie that I’m very excited about, but unfortunately it’s in the “hush-hush” stage right now.

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 ten I got in trouble for cursing. I believe I said, "Oh, shit." My mother hit me with the old, "Wait till your father gets home." I was shaking in my garanimals. My father was a big, scary guy to me. He had a booming voice that always seemed to be angry. I spent the next few hours in fear waiting for him to come home from work. From my room I heard the front door downstairs, the muffled quick conversation between my parents, and the heavy footsteps on the staircase getting louder as he got closer. When he opened the door to my room, I was nearly catatonic. He asked me to explain what Mom had told him, and I just began babbling. I weaved the tale as I remembered it, recounting the odd, overwhelming confluence of events that resulted in ten-year-old me not being able to come to any other result but to utter, "Oh, shit." In doing so I must have re-iterated the offending word about fifty times--explaining how you might after you dropped an ice-cream cone or missed the bus or forgot your homework. I kept on cursing and couldn't stop as I told my tale. My father didn't yell or spank me, but rather gave me a quick, "Well, don't let it happen again," and sped out of my room. I couldn't believe my luck. My adrenaline left me and I immediately fell asleep. I forgot that story completely until my father told it to me about six months ago, and I immediately remembered it all. My father surprised me when he told me that while I was spinning my web of explanation, he was suppressing laughter the entire time. That's why he had to run out of my room without punishing me. Looking back, I wonder if that moment didn't subconsciously show me the power of storytelling.

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

A:  Lately it seems to me that there’s a separation between entertainment plays and message plays. Ideally I love to see theatre that combines the two.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  My theatrical heroes are most of the same artists that spoke to me in high school and college: John Patrick Shanley, John Guare, Howard Korder, Sam Shepherd and David Mamet. I learned a lot about stakes, economy and pragmatism from them. But I also learned a lot about dialogue and structure from the films and shows I grew up loving, and I write very cinematically to this day thanks to the influence of Terry Southern, William Goldman, Michael O’Donoghue, Woody Allen, Orson Welles, Neil Simon, and Norman Lear.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  I'm excited anytime that a show can surprise me. At a very jaded time, where it can sometimes feel as if everything's been done before, I'm bowled over by inventiveness. If the show is not only surprising, but has realistic characters and snappy dialogue, it just doesn't get better than that for me. I love to leave a theater feeling as if I just read a great book, and muttering, "I wish I wrote that!"

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

A:  Being a first-time playwright, I wouldn't presume to be any authority on playwriting. But I would offer some basic advice to any writer, and that is to put as much of yourself as you can into everything you write. Our unique set of experiences and our own twisted view on the world is the only thing that sets all writers apart. There's always someone who writes better dialogue or is better at structure or who is more prolific--but if you can weave your personal experiences and idiosyncrasies into your work, you've instantly set yourself apart from the pack and have a unique voice to offer. Being specific is the real trick to making your writing universal.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  KYLE runs March 9 - 25 at UNDER St. Marks (94 St. Marks Place between 1st Avenue and Avenue A), Thursday through Saturday at 7:30pm. Tickets ($25) are available at www.HotTrampProductions.com


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Thursday, February 23, 2017

I Interview Playwrights Part 915: Lissa Moira



Lissa Moira

Hometown: Brooklyn

Current Town: except for about 4 years in California, I'm a Brooklyn girl.

At 14 ½, I found my way across the country and ended up in an arts commune in Berkeley, California. I then returned to Brooklyn and completed college (which I started at just over 14 - too young).

Q:  Tell me about Grand Theft Musical.

A:  Several years ago when Robert Sickinger (the founder of the Manhattan Theatre Club and several Chicago companies) passed away, I met his widow Jo-Ann Sickinger who was introduced to me by our composer John Taylor Thomas. She came to see a musical version of Tom Jones that I directed (written by John Taylor Thomas and on which I contributed lyrics and rewrites), and she asked me to direct some excerpts of Mr. Sickinger’s musical adaptation of Dickens’ Nicholas Nickleby at his memorial. I was honored. Through Jo-Ann and the memorial, I became hooked on the man, his ideas, his vision and his work. Literally, his last wish was that his Nicholas Nickleby be mounted. My home base as a writer, director and actor is Theater for the New City. Crystal Field, the executive director of TNC agreed, and Robert Sickinger’s Nicholas Nickleby with music and lyrics by Alaric Jans breathed on stage. So I was tasked with living in Dickens’ and Robert's head for several months. Jo-Ann, Robert’s children and the many of his theater colleagues were so pleased with the production, a team was born. Jo-Ann was determined to keep Robert Sickinger’s legacy alive, so we dove into his oeuvre; and Platinum Taps, a 1994 musical he created with John Taylor Thomas’ music, sparked my imagination. It had glorious moments and was essentially a paean to the musical theatre and the denizens of the theater world. It was clearly influenced by several different shows and had a very liberal political bent as well, which jibed perfectly with my own political feelings.

I watched several different videos of the show several times, took in its gestalt, and it was off to the races, rewriting it but maintaining his essence; repurposing the best numbers and lyrics and adding many new ones; adding, transforming and deepening characters; and coming up with what I'm told is the hilarious result, which is still loaded with Roberts love and respect for the musical theater form.

Q: Tell me about a story from childhood that explains who you are as a writer or person.

A:  Growing up in Brownsville, I lived in a building owned by second and third cousins. I was an only child, and my parents worked very hard to take wonderful care of me, so this was not an up from poverty story. However when it came to “things” material things, my cousins who lived upstairs clearly outstripped me. Wall to wall toys, color TV (which at the time and in my neighborhood wasn't unbelievable luxury). But what they had in stuff, I made up for imagination. I created an elaborate and never-ending fairytale which my cousins and I and acted, with whatever props were at hand. There was nothing particularly naughty about the stories, but no adults were privy to them at all. It was our private world, and I had created it. Thus, I fit in. I became an important part of my better heeled cousins’ world. Our alternate reality wasn't virtual, it was flesh and blood. We could physically inhabit it. We weren't avatars, we were us; but better, smarter, better looking, more heroic. I didn't call it theater, and computer games were in the distant future (I'm glad). It was a living story - but come to think of it that's not a bad definition of theater. Draw your own inferences as to how the shape me as a person and playwright.

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

A:  Easy one. Access. Access to seed money for nascent productions. I've seen so much wasted talent. Talent nipped in the bud, dead on the vine for lack of money. On the other end, access for audiences. People need roses to go with the bread. Theater on every level should be available to people of every income level. That's why I love Theater for the New City’s Herculean effort to keep its prices low.

Q:   Who are, or were your theatrical Heroes?

A:  Joseph Papp. Imagine bringing Shakespeare into the Park, making it as relevant as tomorrow, and making it Free for All.

Arthur, Tennessee and Eugene. I use first names because even though they never knew it, they were my oldest, dearest friends going back to my early teens. Luckily, at least I got to tell Arthur Miller how I felt, since he was on the board of Theater for the New City.

And of course Crystal Field. Keeping a non-profit theater going for over 40 years is no mean feat. Making it community conscious and caring is heroic indeed. She's a tough cookie and a formidable force in the theater, and she gives writers their head - and that's a heady way for any artist to live and work.

And finally my heroes are the brilliant casts, artistic teams and crews it has been my joy to collaborate with over the years.

Q:   What kind of theater excites you?

A:  Nearly all theater excites me. I judged at the NYC Fringe for years and would see from 40 to 90 shows within a two-week period, depending on whether I had a production of my own at the festival. What a charge it gave me. A blast for the artistic batteries. Some productions were great, others good and loaded with potential, others dismal but still filled with fodder for the mind; analyzing what went wrong, and if there was a hidden diamond worth diving into the muck to get.

I dabbled in film, had a screenplay that I co-wrote and produced (“Dead Canaries” starring Charles Durning, Dan Lauria, Dee Wallace Stone and Joel Higgins), but I ran back to the warm embrace of the theater. That's my home. That's what pumps me up. From Greek theatre, which starts at such an emotional frenzy, you can't believe the feelings can get any stronger - but they always do; to the extraordinary inevitable, human, poetical arc of Shakespeare, be it a comedy or tragedy; to today's Avant Garde (of course there's a lot of what I call Avant Garbage you have to wait through to get to the real deal). I love Ibsen, Strindberg, Brecht, some of Ionesco, Genet - I could go on and on and on.

Q:  What advice would you give a playwright just starting out?

A:  I'm not a good person to ask because I don't follow the classic pattern. I don't write all the time because I directed and act as well (both of which I believe feed beautifully into my writing).

I'm very busy, so I don't just write on spec. If I feel I don't have a chance in hell of getting a project up, I just don't go there. My mind is rife with ideas, and I think about writing and what I love to write about all the time. But I don't do it, because there's no room left in my drawer for unrealized projects. A merely published play is not a play. To me, if it's never seen a stage it's not a play. I know I'm not supposed to say just write; write what you know and what you're willing to become intimate with, what lights your inner fire. But I have to add don't be a playwright unless you have the means or at least a plan to get your work up on stage, or a park, or a street, or a storefront, or a subway car – anywhere. If not, be a novelist. Let someone else turn your book and do a play.

Q:   Plugs?

A:  Following Grand Theft Musical, which I am also directing, I will be directing Giovanni The Fearless, a delicious family-friendly opera about a troupe of traveling actors in Italy. It's a commedia dell'arte with great music in English with devil may care characters, a love story, and a ghost story thrown in for fun thrills and laughs. Not to mention puppets and mechanicals. The music is by Myra J. Spekter for whom I just erected a more serious opera entitled Lady of the Castle, the video of which will soon be seen on Washington DC TV and is going into the Lincoln Center Performing Arts Library. Lady of the Castle will have an Off-Broadway run this coming Fall.

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Tuesday, February 14, 2017

I Interview Playwrights Part 914: Jean Ann Douglass



Jean Ann Douglass

Hometown:  North Providence, Rhode Island

Current Town:  Brooklyn, NY

Q:  Tell me about your upcoming show.

A:  The Providence of Neighboring Bodies is actually set in my hometown, or perhaps a slightly more magical version of my hometown with an alternate history from the one we know. It's two women living in an apartment complex, with adjoining balconies, sparking friendship with each other despite being far more comfortable inside their heads than they are in the world. We see them both in their confident inner space and in their awkward external reality. And then a stranger comes to town, and to say more would be spoiling some fun twists.

Q:  What else are you working on now?

A:  I just finished a play called Ladycation, set on a 'girl's weekend' for seven old college friends, also starring various objects they brought with them (a car, a jar of coconut oil, a hula hoop) - which are all played by men. I'm starting work on a sex comedy about the Seneca Falls Convention that reflects the racism of that wave of the women's rights movement. My partner, Eric John Meyer, and I are also co-writing a play with the working title Thought Leadership Pleasure Cruise for our company, Human Head Performance Group. We'll also be reviving an older piece of ours, Obfuscation, which is about language and secret meetings and training yourself to manipulate people and takes place in the back of an actual box truck.

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

A:  When I was a child, I was obsessed with Disney World. Before we'd go on vacation there, I would study several different official and not-official guide books. I knew how to plan your day to hit rides in a certain order to minimize your wait. I knew about the lagniappe on almost every ride - a hidden Mickey Mouse icon made out of found materials. But maybe more than the rides themselves, I was obsessed with the waiting areas. I loved the effort they put into the installations that you walked through while you waited in line. I loved that the unavoidable reality of the long wait in line was repurposed from something utilitarian to something slowly and effectively getting you even more excited to ride the ride. And that after you finished a ride on a spaceship, you could buy astronaut ice cream.

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

A:  I wish that the New York theater people could all afford to live in an area and also make work in that area. We've all moved to the ends of the subway lines in the search for affordability, and I think it would be nice if we could be neighbors, instead. And walk home after our shows.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  I like theater that's inventive in the service of rawness. I like writers that leave their hearts on the page. I like finding poetry in unexpected places. I like productions that prioritize the totality of the audience experience.

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

A:  Make a lot of things and sometimes they will be plays and sometimes they will be things other than plays. Making not-plays will teach you what your plays could be. See lots of art that isn't theater. Find paying work where you work with people who are not theater-people. These things will help you continue to be obsessed with theater.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  The Providence of Neighboring Bodies is being produced by Dutch Kills as an Ars Nova Fling and opens on February 13th.

Check out Human Head Performance Group (http://www.humanheadperformancegroup.com/) and The Truck Project (http://www.thetruckproject.com/) for the work I do with Eric John Meyer.

We even have a book of our plays you can buy: Truck Plays (https://www.amazon.com/Truck-Plays-Backroad-Winehouse-Obfuscation/dp/0692359176/ref=sr_1_fkmr0_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1486098063&sr=8-1-fkmr0&keywords=truck+plays+jean+ann+douglas).

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Thursday, February 09, 2017

Thank You, Flux Theatre Ensemble!



Over the years I've been fortunate enough to have development support and productions from various organizations.  Some of my biggest supporters have included Ars Nova, The Juilliard School, MCC Theater, The Chance Theater, The Dramatists Guild Fund, Primary Stages and Theater of Note.  There are many more individuals and companies who have helped me work on my plays or have produced my work.  But one of my biggest consistent supporters has been Flux Theater Ensemble.

I first started hanging around with Flux in '07 or so, bringing in 10 pages a week to their Sunday staged reading workshops.  Since then, they've done public readings of mine, private readings, summer retreats and even commissioned a play from me.  They've also produced 3 (THREE!) of my plays, Pretty Theft in '09, Hearts Like Fists in '12 and running until the end of this week, Marian or The True Tale of Robin Hood.  (The last three performances are sold out but there's a snowstorm.  I bet if you showed up, you'd get in)

Flux has been a big part of my artistic life and they're my friends.  I'm really thrilled to work with Kelly and Gus and Will and Heather and everybody yet again.  They're super talented and committed wholly good people who have done great plays for 10 seasons now.

In any case, I just wanted to say, Thank you Flux Theater Ensemble for all the support.  It takes a lot of work from a lot of people to put on a show like my Robin Hood.  Here are some of them.  (And special thanks to Jodi Witherell , the amazing Stage Manager)



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Tuesday, February 07, 2017

I Interview Playwrights Part 913: Dan Fingerman





Dan Fingerman

Hometown: Huntington, NY

Current Town: Astoria, NY

Q:  Tell me about Boys of a Certain Age.

A: “Boys of a Certain Age” is about four gay Jews spending the weekend together. Their weekend is met with unexpected division and ideological differences as they navigate their own interpersonal relationships past and present.

Q:  What else are you working on now? 

A:  I’d really like to also do something with less linear structure. I’m not really sure what that is yet.

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 we didn’t have cable and I used to bike to the village library and take out VHS cassette tapes. After a while I had worked through most of their kid-friendly selection so I decided to start watching films that won Oscars. I was maybe 11 or 12 watching films that either were inappropriate for me or went totally over my head. I remember everyone talking about Terminator and I just couldn’t believe nobody had seen Kramer vs. Kramer or Ordinary People.

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

A:  Accessibility. I know a lot has been done to improve this, but for a lot of people it’s still too expensive to see shows often, and for artists there are not enough spaces to do their work in.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes? 

A:  I love Richard Nelson’s work. The Apple Plays and the idea of setting a play on the day that it opens has greatly influenced Boys of a Certain Age. It’s not as easy as it looks, and I have such respect for the way he’s repeatedly done it with such excellence and insight.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you? 

A:  Theater in general excites me. I like theater that makes people think, makes people smile. I try to do both.

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

A:  Go have experiences, seek out unfamiliar situations, make questionable choices, talk to strangers and most of all listen. Being able to get inside another person’s head and think the way they do will allow you to write vivid characters in a way you’re never going to learn from a book or a professor.

Q:  Plugs, please: 

A:  Come see “Boys of a Certain Age” February 8-25 at Theaterlab! www.boysofacertainage.com Go see other people’s work. Support live theater. 
 
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Sunday, February 05, 2017

Coming Up Next


PRODUCTIONS

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


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

Production #21 of Clown Bar
Charleston Alley Theater
Charleston, IL
Opens March 17, 2017.

Production #22 of Clown Bar
The Duluth Playhouse
Duluth, MN
Opens March 30, 2017.

Production #23 of Clown Bar
University of Kentucky
Lexington, KY
Opens March 31, 2017.

Production #24 of Clown Bar
Corn Productions
Chicago, IL
Opens May 12, 2017.

Hearts Like Fists

Production #32 of Hearts Like Fists
Naugatuck Valley Community College
Waterbury, CT
Opens April 6, 2107

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

Production #34 of Hearts Like Fists
Norwood High School
Norwood, MA
Opens May 4, 2017.

Production #35 of Hearts Like Fists
John Glenn High School
Norwalk, CA
Opens May 5, 2017.

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

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.

Production #11 of 7 Ways To Say I Love You
Centralia College
Centralia, WA
Opens March 17, 2017.

Production #12 of 7 Ways To Say I Love You
North Mecklenburg High School
Huntersville, NC
Opens April 1, 2017. 

The Adventures of Super Margaret

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

Pretty Theft

Production #12 of Pretty Theft
Norwood High School
Norwood, MA
Opens March 2, 2017.

Production #13 of Pretty Theft
American Academy of Dramatic Arts
New York City
Opens April 1, 2017.

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