Monday, October 27, 2014

I Interview Playwrights Part 704: Herman Daniel Farrell III



Herman Daniel Farrell III

Hometown: Washington-Heights, New York

Current Town: Midway, Kentucky

Q:  What are you working on now?

A:  I just finished a new play Cousins Table that's set in a post-war suburban home in Sleepy Hollow, New York. Members of a multicultural family (black, white, latino) who have not gotten together since falling out over 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq, re-convene over Thanksgiving weekend in order to visit with a dying relative and determine the distribution of the family estate. The disputes between family members mirror the current divisions in the U.S. The issues of disintegration and secession -- are on the table.

I'm now turning to research and outline work on a piece about Thomas Dixon and W.E.B. DuBois and their confrontation in the first half of the last century. Dixon was the author of the novel The Klansman that was adapted for the screen as Birth of a Nation. The noted scholar and civil rights activist DuBois was also the author of a huge pageant play (cast of 100s) The Star of Ethiopia that was meant to be a counterpoint and response to Dixon's inflammatory work. Johns Hopkins and Columbia University will also factor into the narrative, as centers of intellectual thought (the Dunning School) that reinforced racist interpretations of sociology and history. And Margaret Mitchell will be in there, too, since she modeled Gone With the Wind on Birth of a Nation, sans Klan outfits, but as a child, actually donned (and sewed!) the dreaded hoods when she staged her own adaptation of one of Dixon's Klan-loving novels, in her living room. All true.

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 in the Boy Scouts in the late 1970s and I was exposed to two racist incidents. My dad is black and my mom is white and I look white -- so the racists who were mouthing off (no violence) had no idea that they were talking to anyone other than white people. I came away from those moments with a better understanding of the insidious and hidden nature of racism in contemporary America. As a writer, I am fascinated with moments that transpire behind the scenes, that are not meant for public consumption, but reveal the truth about a particular issue or character. In my play Bedfellows, I took the audience behind the scenes at a local political convention and in the HBO Film Boycott, we revealed the internecine battles that Dr. King had to deal with during the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

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

A:  The business model. The not for profit corporation does not work as a sustainable economic model for the vast majority of theater artists, notably, actors, directors, designers and playwrights. That's a plain old undisputed fact. Now, there are two elements at work here: 1) not for profit; 2) corporation. The not for profit element was meant to discourage commercialism but that objective has been jettisoned by most NPC theatre organizations over the past two decades. So why not lose the idea completely and return to a for-profit model that includes profit sharing amongst the artists? It worked for Shakespeare's and Moliere's companies and many theatre producing organizations across the globe well into the 19th century. And the corporate structure should also be rejected in favor of partnerships (it works for doctors and lawyers!) or cooperatives. Again, returning governance and decision-making to artists, working together collectively.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  Eugene O'Neill, Hallie Flanagan, Paul Robeson, Lorraine Hansberry, Joe Papp, August Wilson, Lloyd Richards, Max Wilk, Tommy Hollis, Sarah Kane, Howard Stein, Ed Vassallo.

Among the living: Reed Birney, James McDaniel, Kevin Geer, Phyllis Somerville, Lori Tan Chinn, Joe Urla, Amy Saltz, Tom Aberger, Alice Haining, Lisa Gay Hamilton, Doug Wright, Joe DiPietro, Doug Post, Peter Jay Fernandez, Lucy Thurber, Paula Vogel, Chris Durang, Chuck Mee, Catherine Filloux, Arthur French, David Margulies, Kia Corthron, Lynn Cohen, Akili Prince, Willie Reale, Todd London, John Steber, Emily Morse, Joel Ruark, Ron Riley, Casey Childs, Woody King, Jr., Chris Fields, Douglas Turner Ward, Jim Nicola, Jim Simpson, I'm probably missing a dozen more.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  Anything I haven't seen already. But also anything old made new again. Most of all, I love moments that can only happen in the theater -- humans on stage connecting to humans in the audience, that moment of grace.

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

A:  Read plays and go to plays. When you like a play you saw, go get a copy of the play and read it to figure it out, on your own, how the playwright constructed the work. You can and should be your best teacher. That in mind: never, no matter how far you come along, think: "I got this." Be ever curious and humble. Every good playwright I've ever met says: "I'm still figuring this out."

Send plays out, but don't wait around for the response, write the next one, self-produce or form a playwrights collective.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  Alum Reading of Cousins Table at New Dramatists http://newdramatists.org/

on Thursday, December 18 @ 7pm.

Website: www.hermandanielfarrell3.com/

The Lesson by Ionesco, directed by Nancy Jones @ Slant Culture Festival in Louisville, Kentucky, November 14, 16 & 21 http://www.nancycjones.com/#!theatre-farouche/ci0x

Derby City Playwrights: https://www.facebook.com/derbycityplaywrights


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Friday, October 17, 2014

I Interview Playwrights Part 703: Forrest Attaway



Forrest Attaway

Hometown: Gun Barrel City, Texas

Current Town:  Kansas City, Missouri

Q:  Tell me about Columbus Day.

A:  Columbus Day was originally written as a one act play back in 2006. In that version it was more of an experiment in tone and rhythm, a sort of language piece that explored two separate plot lines with a very strong lyric prose element. The first story; a History/English teacher at the end of his rope decides to hold his classroom hostage with a shotgun. The second story; a young woman with a history of physical, sexual and drug abuse fights for her unborn child. The stories were meant to move independently of each other in opposite directions but also maintain oddly familiar courses of action.

I had always felt that there was more to the play than just a pretty piece of prose so I recently built in a second act connecting the stories. The play now follows the young woman’s journey as she fights for custody of her unborn child against the father as well as Child Protective Services in the state of Texas. In the second act it is revealed that the teacher from the first act was her lover and that she is the reason he walked into the classroom with a shotgun.

The theme of the piece is very much “The inevitability of the human condition and that people never really change”

Q:  What else are you working on now?

A:  I am currently writing the book for a new musical called “LEATHERFACE, the Texas Chainsaw Musical” due to open late spring if legal can get their act together. I also have a piece on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder entitled “Little Atlas”

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 grew up in a small town in East Texas. My family consisted of blue collar workers and white collar government contractors. So my youth was inundated with hauling hay in the summer or afternoon classes with my grandmother drilling the benefits of social etiquette into my rambunctious brain. During my years at school I never really sat at the same lunch table, I didn’t have a set group of friends. So even though I stood out among my peers, I was very much an observer. I feel this is where my need to tell other peoples stories came from.

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

A:  I feel the establishment of the regional theatre in this country hurts us more than helps us. I feel we need to find a way to franchise the smaller venues so that live art is more accessible to the masses. It would employ more artist and drive ticket prices down to a more affordable cost.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  DEAD AND GONE I have to go with Cliff Odets, August Wilson, Romulus Linney
ALIVE AND KICKING I would say Will Eno, Albee, McNally

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  I have become a fan of the “found” theatre spaces. Don’t get me wrong, I still like comfortable chairs and cocktails, but there is something very exciting and voyeuristic about watching a story unfold behind a gas station or in the basement of an old warehouse.

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

A:  Playwriting is an exercise in patience, from the time an idea is born to the time it hits the stage may seem like an eternity. But I have learned things in this profession are exactly as long as they need to be. That goes for your work too; if you can describe your play in a paragraph, then it only needs to be a paragraph long.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  “Columbus Day” is premiering at The Living Room Theatre though the month of October in Kansas City MO Check out the website Thelivingroomkc.com
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Thursday, October 16, 2014

I Interview Playwrights Part 702: Vicki Lynn Mooney


Vicki Lynn Mooney

Hometown: Born in Tulsa, Oklahoma but raised in Oklahoma and Kansas at-large. My father was an oil field worker, so I was always the new kid in school, sometimes more than once a year.

Current Town: My husband, Gerry Mooney and I, have lived in Dobbs Ferry since 1986. It a lovely village on the Hudson River with great access to NYC.

Q:  Tell me about Broken Heart Land.

A:  Broken Heart Land (in Cherokee: Uyotsohi Adanvdo Gadohi) is set in Tulsa, Indian Territory, 1903. It is the story of Alma Wimsey, the 13-year-old daughter of a Cherokee father and white mother who rebels against an arranged marriage and reclaims her Cherokee heritage.

Although I wrote Broken Heart Land first, it is the second play chronologically in the Broken Heart Land Trilogy. The first play of the Trilogy is Hoop Jumper (1900), the second is Broken Heart Land (1903), and the third will be Thicker Than Oil (1920). The Trilogy explores the period beginning in the late 1880’s with the enactment of The Dawes Act* the largest land grab of Native territory in US history.

In early Tulsa the Creek, Cherokee, and Osage nations intersected at the Arkansas River. Both full bloods and mixed bloods of all the tribes lived and worked together, worshipped in the same churches, and were buried side-by-side in unsegregated graveyards. All that began to change when the railroad came to town. After the railroad came the promise of statehood and with that came the first and only census based on blood quantum, namely the Dawes Rolls. All the stories reflect the truth and struggles of the native people living in that time. Although he family in the “Broken Heart Land” Trilogy is based, in part, on family history it is fictional because I wanted to explore the larger social and political issues in play in the years leading up to statehood and beyond.

Q:  What else are you working on now?

A:  I have two projects in progress now, both of which I am writing with Eagle Project members in mind. “Tartan Thread” is the story of a young Scot who is transported to America in 1747 for the political crime of wearing his clan tartan after the Proscription Act. He marries a Cherokee woman and introduces her clan to literacy, which in turn, spreads like wildfire and is avidly adopted by the tribe.

The second project will be Thicker Than Oil (in Cherokee: Sidonelahi: My Whole Family) which is the third play in the “Broken Heart Land” Trilogy. It will be set in Tulsa, 1920, after the oil boom but before the infamous “Greenwood Massacre,” recorded by history until just recently as the “Tulsa Race Riots” in which the Black Wall Street was bombed and burned to the ground.

Thicker Than Oil is still a work-in-progress, but it will look at the expectations that people, both white and native, had of the Dawes Rolls at the time. There was a big difference between the benefits being promoted and what they actually received.

I will also be going to Oklahoma in May, 2015 for Hoop Jumper which was selected for full production in the 2014 Native American New Play Festival at the Oklahoma City Theatre Company in Oklahoma City, OK, this year. Hoop Jumper, the first play in the Broken Heart Land Trilogy, is set in 1900. It is the story of Alma’s Cherokee father (Weli) who, by going against the full-blood culture in which he was raised and signing up for the Dawes Roll at the insistence of his white wife, loses respect in the native community.

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

A:  Every person in my family is a storyteller. Some are just flat-out liars, but we all can tell a good story. We would sit around in the evening, often on the porch to catch the breeze, and everyone would share a story. My great-uncle Austin played guitar and harmonica at the same time and everyone joined in singing. How that affected me as a writer is that I have a good feel for structure in telling a story.

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

A:  More accessibility and more opportunity, please, for everyone everywhere!

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  Early influences were Tennessee Williams, Lillian Hellman, William Inge, Eugene O’Neill, Frank D. Gilroy – I could go on….

My theatrical heroes today are the men and women who are working hard to bring voices to American Theatre that are almost never heard. Through Eagle Project readings, it is evident that there is a hunger to know more about Native Americans. I’ve been a supporter of the Eagle Project since the day I met Ryan Victor Pierce (Founder and Artistic Director). The reason is in their mission:

“It is the goal of Eagle Project to use the performing arts to engage America in dialogue about what it consists of and what it stands for.
 Having been largely based on the democratic ideals of its indigenous people, the US has inspired people from all over the globe to call its shores home. It is this unique mixture of culture, and how that defines the intersection of class and race, that Eagle Project seeks to investigate. All the while, however, making sure to pay homage and respect to Native Americans of all tribes, our fellow citizens, who started it all.”

The Eagle Project’s first production, Wood Bones by William S. YellowRobe, Jr., was a beautiful first realization of the Eagle Project mission. My hope is that Broken Heart Land will help them take another step forward.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  Recently, everything Native American, especially plays by my sister playwrights, Mary Kathryn Nagle, Vicki Ramirez, Larissa FastHorse but I am inspired every time I hear native voices in the theatre. I always learn something new.

The shows that stand out for me are everything I’ve ever seen by Girl Be Heard (Jessica Greer Morris and Ashley Marinaccio, co-founders). GBH is an amazing troupe of young women who write their personal stories and then perform all over the world. Dominique Fishback (GBH alumna) and her one-woman show, Subverted, will next appear in 2014 ABC New Talent Showcase on October 7, 2014. Manahatta by Mary Kathryn Nagle at The Public. The work of Rajendra Ramoon Maharaj (Little Rock, Salome: Da Voodoo Princess of Nawlins, and The Removal Project) with his highly polished Rebel Theatre Group and outstanding choreography by David Norwood. King of the Hobos by multi-talented Jara Michael Jones just recently closed but reopen in 2015. And of course, the Amerinda premiere of PowWow Highway adapted by William S. YellowRobe, Jr., from David Seals novel of the same name, currently playing at HERE!

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

A:  Write what fascinates you, write what means the most to you, and don’t give up no matter what. Keep writing! The only thing that will defeat you for sure is if you quit.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:
www.eagleprojectart.org
http://www.publictheater.org
http://www.amerinda.org
https://www.facebook.com/RebelTheater
http://www.dominique-fishback.com/subverted-original-one-woman-show.html
http://nytheaternow.com/Content/Article/king-of-the-hobos


* The Dawes Act Started the Last and Largest U.S. Land-Grab of Native Territory Senator Henry Dawes of Massachusetts (1816–1903) was a firm believer in the civilizing power of private property. He once said that to be civilized one must “wear civilized clothes, cultivate the ground, live in houses, ride in Studebaker wagons, send children to school, drink whiskey [and] own property.”

His faith in that premise was so strong that he sponsored federal legislation in the 1880s to “civilize” Indians by giving them individual allotments of land. The consequences were disastrous. His legislation broke up communally owned tribal land that had guaranteed every tribal member a home and almost destroyed Indian communities, traditions and culture. It dispossessed Indian nations of almost a million acres of the land that had sustained them since time immemorial. It also opened up Indian land for white European settlers eager to fulfill the mandates of Manifest Destiny—a 19th century belief rooted in the Christian Doctrine of Discovery that American citizens had a God-given right (and obligation) to possess all the land between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

I Interview Playwrights Part 701: Teddy Nicholas


photo by Jody Christopherson

Teddy Nicholas

Hometown: Elmhurst, Queens, NYC

Current Town: Harlem, NYC

Q:  What are you working on now?

A:  Currently I'm writing a new play called Reservations that follows the story of Tom, a young gay man in New York, who goes on a series of first dates in attempt to connect with others and himself. It covers a lot of topics including pop culture, family, identity, suicide, drug abuse and mental illness. I am writing a scene a week and debuting each scene at Crazytown Blog.

I'm also working on a horror play called Found Footage. It's about undergraduate theater students who disappear doing site-specific research at an abandoned mental institution in upstate New York and seven years later, their research materials are found and staged by an emerging theater company in New York.

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 eight years old, I was throwing garbage out in the incinerator room in our apartment building in Queens. The door to the incinerator room had a sharp jagged edge at the bottom of it and when I turned to leave the room, the sharp edge tore straight through my left achilles heel. When I looked down and saw the red of blood, the yellow of fat and the crisp white of bone, I blacked out immediately. When I woke up, I watched in horror as a doctor was stitching me up. My mom and a nurse had to hold me down because I began to scream and freak out. Now there's this scar where you can see the imprint of stitches. A few days later, when I came back to school, my teacher told me the Greek story about Achilles and how he was the great warrior but he had this one tiny weakness which was the same spot that my wound was. And I felt like I had this strange connection to the past but I was able to survive my wounds. And whenever I think about how I am a vulnerable human being with flaws and weaknesses like everyone else, I think about that scar and how I carry this survival instinct with me always.

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

A:  The lack of diversity on stage and in stories, particularly the lack of female playwrights on Broadway.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  Young Jean Lee is hands down my hero. I had the honor of stage managing The Shipment for a year-and-a-half, and I learned more from this experience than I did in my entire college career. Also, my sister Leah Nanako Winkler who continues to nurture, inspire and challenge me since we met eight years ago.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  Theater that is adventurous, experimental, challenging. For instance, I will see anything 600 Highwaymen does. They are my favorite theater company right now; their color-blind/cross-gender casting should be the standard of every theater. I also love everything I've seen by Toshiki Okada, Morgan Gould & Friends, Dave Malloy, Hoi Polloi,

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

A:  I'm just starting out myself really. I've only self-produced my own work; no one has (yet) produced my work. So my advice would be to not wait for anyone to come knocking on your door to do your plays. Do them yourself. Who cares if they're not perfect or if you think they suck or if they're not ready? Just do it. You'll learn so much from failing than you will from doing absolutely nothing. And see as much theater as you can--and all kinds of theater. Go downtown. Go uptown. Go to Brooklyn, Queens. Get out of New York. Take writing workshops if you can afford it like the Flea's Pataphysics workshops, or if anyone ever offers free ones. I've taken two free workshops at Soho Rep that were really great; and Prelude just had one that was maybe the best workshop I ever had. And, of course, just write and write and keep writing even if you don't have time or you don't think it's any good or you don't have any inspiration because as long as you keep writing, it'll stay in your muscles and you'll work them out until they're strong as hell.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  I have nothing upcoming (*but I totally could make a show like tomorrow at any theater hint hint wink wink) so I'll just plug shows I'm excited to see or ones I've seen and loved: 600 Highwaymen's Employee of the Year at FIAF; Young Jean Lee's Straight White Men at the Public; Dave Malloy's Ghost Quartet at Bushwick Starr (so good, seriously); Ivo van Hove's Scenes from a Marriage at New York Theatre Workshop and anything at Under the Radar Festival, COIL. Also, omg, I just realized there won't be an Other Forces festival this year because Incubator Arts Project closed (RIP) and now I am filled with sadness.
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Sunday, October 12, 2014

700 Playwright Interviews


Sean Abley
Rob Ackerman
Liz Duffy Adams
Johnna Adams
Tony Adams
David Adjmi
Keith Josef Adkins
Nastaran Ahmadi
Derek Ahonen
Kathleen Akerley
Ayad Akhtar
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

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