Tuesday, July 25, 2017

I Interview Playwrights Part 966: Holly Hepp-Galván




Holly Hepp-Galván

Hometown: Glen Cove, NY

Current Town: New York, NY

Q:  What are you working on now?

A:  I’m thrilled to have several projects going on at once! I’ve just finished co-writing a play called Guarded which is an adaptation of a novel by Angela Correll. It’s premiering at Pioneer Playhouse in Danville, Kentucky. And if you’ve never heard of this theatre, then you should put it on your radar! They are Kentucky’s oldest outdoor theatre and have been continuously producing plays for 68 years.

In August, I’m premiering Sex with Robots at New Perspectives Theatre Company. I’m very proud to be a member of their 2017 Women’s Work LAB. Six of us have developed new 30- minute plays around the theme “Unhinged” and will have a week of performances from August 7– 12th .

Finally, I’m working on another draft of Lakshmi Counts Her Arms and Legs. It’s based on the true story of Lakshmi Tatma, a girl born in rural India with eight limbs. Many villagers came to worship her because they thought she was a reincarnation of a goddess, but doctors argued that she needed to have the extra limbs surgically removed.

This play explores questions that have always haunted me. Whether it’s extreme cultural differences, or faith versus science - I’m fascinated by how human beings can see the world from such different points of view. What does it mean to think you are right? And is there ever a side that is right?

I also keep coming back again and again to the relationship of our bodies to our selves. What we look like and how we are viewed, as opposed to how we feel inside. I’ve explored this in my play Oddities, about a bearded lady, and in Departure, where a teenager suddenly grows a pair of exquisite wings. Is being different a gift? Or a curse?

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 fascinated by animals and insects. If I could catch it and bring it home, I did. I had jars and jars full of strange bugs that I loved to keep. And since I didn’t have books to look up the names of things, I took very careful, detailed notes to describe what each creature looked like, how it acted, what it ate, and sadly, when it died. I had to write descriptively, but I also waxed poetic about the beauty of living things in the way only a 9-year- old can. I started writing from a deep sense of wonder and that’s something I try to keep to this day.

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

A:  I would love to change people’s perception of Theatre for Young Audiences! It’s so often perceived as an inferior or less sophisticated version of adult theatre. However in my experience, the TYA community is doing some of the most dynamic, creative, and original work on stage today. I’ve had such positive experiences working with 52nd Street Project here in NYC, as well as the Long Island Children’s Museum. In Austin, Texas, I’ve had the good fortune to work with the incredible Pollyanna Theatre Company. Pollyanna not only commissions playwrights to create 5-7 new plays per season, but they do big, beautiful and imaginative productions. I just returned from seeing the opening of my Playing Possum at The Long Center.

I’d love to see more companies take the bold step of commissioning new works for children.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  When I saw War Horse at Lincoln Center, my world turned upside down. I somehow never realized the unlimited and creative potential of puppetry. Since that time, I’ve dived head first into this brilliant art form, both as a writer and as a performing puppeteer. I’ve been amassing books on the history of puppetry, taking workshops, and sitting front row at as many shows as possible. Working with puppets has expanded my idea of what’s possible in theatrical storytelling, both for children and adults. It is a uniquely inspiring and magical art form.

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

A:  Keep yourself in a state of wonder. Seek out those experiences that astonish and amaze you.

Look through a microscope. Look through a telescope. Hold a large, multi-colored, scary-looking beetle in your hand. Go to an art museum. Go to a junkyard. Wherever you can, look for the things and the people that fill you with awe. That’s when you will create your best work.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  Sex with Robots – New Perspectives Theatre Company – August 7 – 12 th , 2017 – Program A
http://www.newperspectivestheatre.org/productions/UNHINGED.htm

The Hairy Ape – Hunter Puppet Project – August 30, 2017 – Hunter College
http://www.hunter.cuny.edu/theatre/productions

Lakshmi Counts Her Arms and Legs – September 5, 2017 at 7pm
Staged reading with Wide-Eyed Productions at Downtown Art – 70 East 4 th Street, NYC
http://www.wideeyedproductions.com/

Mysterious Lake – October 29, 2017
Bunraku puppet performance with Izumi Ashizawa in midtown Manhattan
www.izumiashizawa.com/

If Wishes Were Fishes – June 22 – July 1 st , 2018 – Pollyanna Theatre Company – Austin, TX
http://www.pollytheatre.org/production/if-wishes-werefishes/


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Tuesday, July 18, 2017

I Interview Playwrights Part 965: Kevin Broccoli


Kevin Broccoli

Hometown: Johnston, Rhode Island.

Current Town: Johnston, Rhode Island (Although I've moved a few blocks west since birth.)

Q:  What are you working on now?

A:   I'm working on a play made up of letters to tragic heroines on their wedding day(s).

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

A:  This sounds like an exaggeration, but it's absolutely true--The first and only time I can ever remember receiving real praise as a child was when I played Mr. Owl in my third grade production of "Bambi." I remember thinking "Oh okay, so I should just do this forever" and that's what I did.

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

A:  I'd love to make it less academic. I think theater is so focused right now on what degree you have and from what school and how that plays into networking and getting work produced, and I just find the entire thing very scary. I'm worried that our next great playwright may be some kid working at a gas station, who can't get an MFA, but who still has something important to express. I'm worried that we're scaring away a lot of important voices by making higher education a mandatory part of participating in the community.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  Anyone who works constantly is my hero. I know it's trendy to talk about "taking a break" and "focusing on yourself" but as soon as I hear that, I lose a little respect for somebody. I can't help it. I'm a workhorse, and I'm inspired by other workhorses. There's this myth that if you put out a lot of work, it can't be very good, and I think there are playwrights out there whose work shows what a falsehood that is. Right now, I'm totally on a Samuel Hunter kick. To see somebody put out that much amazing work in such a short amount of time is amazing to me.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  Right now I'm driven to create and see theater that really feels like an event. I know everybody uses that term now, but I'm really thinking about plays that make people want to drop everything and show up at the theater. I'm very interested in immersive theater and plays that find unique ways of including the audience in the story. We live in a culture where more and more people want to be involved in what they're seeing instead of just sitting back and watching. That frustrates me sometimes, because it would certainly be much easier to make plays for people who just want to take in a good show, but the reality is we're living in a Youtube culture, and it's only going to get harder to find people who'd rather be in the audience than onstage. I enjoy watching theater that tackles that problem head on by changing the definition of audience and creator. I think that's going to be the major problem all theaters have to grapple with if we want to survive.

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

A:  Forget about outlining. I was always told to outline, and yes, maybe it helps some people, but I hated it. It honestly put me off writing for a long time, because I didn't want to sit down and do an outline. When I finally just wrote something without outlining and realized that I didn't need to do it in order to wind up with a play, it was liberating. Ultimately, there are no hard and fast rules. There are things that work for you, and things that don't. Tips and tricks are always nice, but always seek out a process that works for you as an individual.

Q:  When not writing on a computer, what's your go-to paper and writing utensil? When on computer, what's your font?

A:  I like a really fine point black pen and a five-subject notebook. I need lots of space when I'm free writing. On a computer, I love Arial Narrow. I usually overwrite so I need a really thin font so I'm not overwhelmed by how much insanity pours out of my brain.

Q:  Plugs, please.

A:  http://www.epictheatreri.org/ Check it out--and Buckle Up.

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Thursday, July 13, 2017

I Interview Playwrights Part 964: Buffalo Bailey Williams




Buffalo Bailey Williams

Hometown: Houston, Texas

Current Town: Willfully unincorporated county recently seceded from the US of A, 45 minutes outside of Manhattan by horseback

Q:  What are you working on now?

A:  I am preparing to tour my 90 minute time share presentation along the Eastern seaboard. I have a small ranch that I own legally, it’s staffed by predominantly gay horses and doubles as a rehabilitation clinic for troubled teen girls. It’s called Buffalo Bailey’s Ranch for Gay Horses, Troubled Teen Girls and Other: A 90 Minute Time Share Presentation because I am straightforward, what you see is what you get, Buffalo shoots straight, I am 99% business and 1% fluid. I have a singular goal and it is to sell time share properties to American human adults hungry for escape and excellent deals. By the end of those 90 minutes, not only will each and every adult receive a gift basket, they will also be filled with an overwhelming and insatiable desire to net some crawdads, dive into a swimming hole, muck out a pig pit, and boogie at the Discobarn til the wee-est hours of the ranchy morn. That’s the Buffalo Bailey Guarantee. Just bring your human body, a credit card, and a state ID or similar form of identification. No minimum or maximum on those credit scores, cowboys and cowbutts. We trust you.

Otherwise, I have a few low key ladderwork type projects afoot, including shingle replacement, jacuzzi installation, I’m building a bath for my dog, and the margarita machine is busted again from enthusiastic and extended hyperusage. Manual labor, managing the daily trauma on my boot calluses, an honest day’s labor. Etc.

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 7, my dad took me to Indian Princess Camp, which is both racist and sexist but that’s the YMCA for you. I had extremely thick bangs and only two teeth that were set at alternative angles. I was forced to participate in activities and the horse I was riding took a massive dump whilst I was onboard his stinky back. Later, a group of infants tossed a giant inflatable ball around a soccer field and when I tried to join, the inflatable ball landed on my terrible bespectacled child face and maimed me permanently. That day my appendix began slowly ballooning with rage and bile. It exploded 12 years later at St. Vincent’s Hospital in New York City. Near death, reflecting upon my life and my choices, it occurred to me that there were only two important things in this life: owning property and making as much non-taxable cash as humanly possible. Everything else just came naturally after that.

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

A:  Excellent question. Most theater is extremely unprofitable and this is unacceptable. It needs to be completely reinvented. Structurally speaking, theaters should fit more seats in the space. Pay off fire inspectors and get rid of aisles. Really pack them in. Then raise the prices, add some hidden fees. Oh, you bought a seat? But did you buy the seat cushion? The seat cushion is an extra $30 US American Dollars. Add some BS security measures, like “no water bottles.” Confiscate everyone’s water bottles and sell branded water bottles for at least $5 US American Dollars. Turn off the air conditioning in the summer and sell fans, or better yet, sell access to premium air conditioned seats for double the price of regular. Did you bring a bag to the theater? Did you wear a coat? Sorry, no bags or coats in the theater. But coat/bag check is over there, for the low, low price of $10/bagcoat. Go the extra mile and carpet the house for “artistic reasons,” then open up a mandatory shoe check for $5/shoe. Make masks mandatory for “artistic reasons” and charge for the masks. Charge for the bathroom. $1 for number one, $2 for number two. Open the house thirty minutes late every evening and lock your audience in the lobby bar. Crank up the heat and charge for tap water. Rent out lobby displays to corporations who love advertising. Make it physically impossible for your audience to leave the theater without spending an extra $100 out of pocket. And overbook everything. Not everyone shows up for the theater, especially if it’s a play. People don’t even like plays! Double book every seat, make it General Admission, then arrest everyone who complains about it. You’re in with the fire inspectors, remember?

And don’t pay your staff or your artists, but I think theater already does that.

Q:  Who are or were your heroes?

A:  In no particular order: this incredible performer and his lip sync of “I Will Always Love You” somewhere in the Philippines, my ex-gastroenterologist Dr. Meira Abramowitz, the fine folks over at Potato Parcel, Timber Tina and her lumberjacks and jills, that remix of Cooking by Book with Lil Jon that everyone loves, Jenessa from Bridalplasty, Kirstie Alley in It Takes Two, the entire film of Center Stage, the entire film of Purple Rain, the song “Gloria” by Laura Branigan, the iPhone application “Clue” that tracks your menstrual cycle, all seltzer-based beverages, and a supplement called L-Glutamine that has changed my entire life. I also like Sibyl Kempson and my friend Derek’s impression of his mom.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  Any kind performed on rollerblades.

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

A:  I wouldn’t, but if you must I would also advise developing other skills. For instance, carpentry, sailing, paid protesting, graphic design or white collar crime. Sure, you might one day make enough cash from playwriting to exist almost comfortably on planet Earth, but most of it will be seawater by then and you’re going to need some health insurance to effectively fight off the scurvy.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  Buffalo Bailey’s Ranch for Gay Horses, Troubled Teen Girls and Other: A 90 Minute Time Share Presentation will make its first stop at Barn Arts Collective in Maine on August 4 and 5. We’ll be in New York, location TBA, this January.

Come to our Fundraiser.


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UPCOMING PRODUCTIONS OF MY PLAYS

PRODUCTIONS

KODACHROME


Production #1 of Kodachrome
Portland Center Stage
Portland, OR
February 3-March 18, 2018


Marian or The True Tale of Robin Hood



Production #2 of Marian
Know Theatre of Cincinnati
Cincinnati, OH
July 28 -August 18, 2017


Production #3 of Marian
Wild Card Productions
Actors Bridge's Sideshow Fringe Festival
Nashville, TN
Opens August 4, 2017

Clown Bar




Production #24 of Clown Bar
Spirit Gum Theatre Company
Gatsby's Pub
Winston Salem, NC
Opens June 22, 2017.



Production #25 of Clown Bar
Majestic Repertory Theatre
Las Vegas, Nevada
Opens July 13, 2017.



Production #20 of Nerve
Shining Star Theatrical Company
Aurora, Ontario, Canada
Opens August 24, 2107


7 Ways To Say I Love You
a night of short plays

Production #16 of 7 Ways
Principia College
Elsah, IL
Opens October 11, 2017.

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Saturday, July 08, 2017

Some Of My Playwriting Numbers Now


I did a post like this in 2015.  Here is an update.

Year I started writing plays:  1997
Number of long one acts and full lengths written: 44  (Well, I almost have the 44th written)
Number of long one acts or full lengths produced at least once: 21
Number of total productions of these plays (including upcoming): 143
Number of long one acts and full lengths published:  11 (including upcoming)
Collection of short plays published: 1
Number of half hour plays published under another name: 5
Number of long one acts and full lengths that I wrote that I no longer show to anyone: 18
Number of long one acts and full lengths I'm actively trying to get a first production of:  9
Number of long one acts and full lengths I'm trying to get a second production of which aren't published: 2
Plays that need some work/development before I show anyone: 2 or 3

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I Interview Playwrights Part 963: Stephanie Swirsky





Stephanie Swirsky

Hometown: Lincroft, NJ

Current Town: NYC

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I just got back from LA, where I was shooting my first short film, "Alcoholocaust", directed by Jessica Kantor. It’s a dark comedy about a group of teens, led by a Jewish girl, who play a game of Holocaust-themed beer pong.

I’m also in the midst of writing a lot of new material, all in different stages of development. The first play is “Polaka,” inspired by my mom’s experience coming to the US from Cuba in 1960 during the Cold War. She only spoke Spanish, but has pale skin and blue eyes, so all her classmates thought she was a Russian spy and bullied her. I’ve been thinking a lot about how being a part of two immigrant stories, in this case, Jewish and Cuban, can separate you from both communities.

“Work/Life” is a play that I’ve been working on for about a year, about Hayley, an overworked pharmaceutical copywriter who writes copy for an erectile dysfunction drug. The play looks at how dehumanizing and strange the workplace can be.

“Don’t Do This To Us!” is a very new play, a comedy about Jared Kushner and the modern Orthodox Jewish community. The plot is about a 36-year-old woman named Rachel, the same age as Jared, who goes back in time to 1999 so that she can hook up with 17-year-old Jared Kushner and break his penis (in her mind, stopping him from marrying Ivanka and destroying the world). But it really looks at her relationship with three Orthodox girls she meets in 1999, the diversity even in a homogenous environment, and how a conservative voice can somehow take center stage in a community of mostly liberal Jews.

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 seven years old, my first grade teacher bullied me in front of our entire class, every day, all the time. She called me fat. She said if I didn’t exercise, I shouldn’t come to school. Every day, in front of the class, she asked me what exercises I did. I said things like, “I ran up my driveway.” Which wasn’t enough for her, so eventually, I stopped showing up for school.

My mom experienced terrible bullying in school too, so my experience wasn’t that different from hers. She wanted to report my teacher to the principal, but I was terrified of my teacher and begged her not to. When my mom finally met with the principal, he said that this teacher always chose one student to pick on each year, and this year it was me. He said I should see this as an opportunity to grow a thicker skin.

Years later, writing about this experience, I dug up pictures of myself from the first grade, and discovered that I wasn’t fat at all. I felt so angry. For years I remembered myself as an overweight child. My classmates would come up to me and ask me, a seven-year-old, if I was pregnant. It showed me how powerful perspective is, and how we can literally start to believe in things because someone with authority tells us it’s true. That experience also set me up to be the target of bullies, and those experiences have helped me become a more empathetic person, both in life and as a writer.

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

A: Director Rachel Dart founded Let Us Work, a project designed to combat and end sexual harassment in theater.

It may be surprising to some that sexual harassment is commonplace in the theater community. Theater is seen as advocating for humanity, a place where raising our voices is encouraged. But theater is a workplace like any other, sexual harassment happens frequently, and we need to work as a community to respond to it.

Learn more about Let Us Work: facebook.com/LetUsWorkProject

Q: Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A: Paula Vogel, Christopher Durang, Velina Hasu-Houson, Paula Cizmar, Oliver Mayer, and Luis Alfaro.

Paula Vogel and Christopher Durang were the playwrights I read in high school, who showed me that you can write plays that experiment, break rules, and combine lots of humor and deeply feeling characters.

Velina, Paula, Oliver, and Luis were my professors at the University of Southern California, where I got my MFA. They welcomed me into their community, and encouraged me to write big, strange plays about grief, religion, and death. They showed me how to channel our experiences into my work, not only by supporting me, but by leading with example with their work.

Q: What kind of theater excites you?

A: I love emotional theater with complicated characters. I’m drawn into a story when the characters feel specific, when I feel like I know this person while I’m watching them, and can feel what they’re going through, even if I have never met someone like them in my everyday life. Especially when I have never met someone like them.

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

A: Keep writing, and be kind to others.

Q: Plugs, please:

A: I wrote a modern-day adaptation of “Taming of The Shrew,” called “Alpha." Readings, directed by Rachel Dart, are at The Tank on August 3rd and 4th: thetanknyc.org/series/lady_fest_2017

I’m also very excited to be going to Cuba this month with the CubaOne Foundation on their literary TuCuba trip – there’s a group of ten of us, led by U.S. inaugural poet Richard Blanco and MacArthur 'Genius Grant' winner Ruth Behar. CubaOne is an amazing organization that brings Cuban Americans to Cuba to experience the land, meet Cuban people, and explore our heritage. I encourage all Cuban Americans to apply: cubaone.org

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Wednesday, July 05, 2017

I Interview Playwrights Part 962: Irene Kapustina





Irene Kapustina

Hometown: Minsk, Belarus

Current Town: New York City

Q: Tell me about your upcoming show.

A:  Lost and Guided is a play that I wrote based on life stories and interviews with Syrian refugees in the United States. The play talks about how the lives of four young Syrians are changed forever after anti-government protests transpire in the city of Daraa. Throughout the next six years, each of them is forced to undergo a unique and heroic journey, while the turmoil in their country erupts into a full-fledged civil war.

And the unique fact about Lost and Guided is that 90% of the play are the actual words of the people I spoke with in person. When I began my research, I traveled to Michigan, Tennessee, Maine, Illinois, and around New York City to collect stories. I spoke with refugees and asylum seekers from Somalia, Sudan, Myanmar, Syria, Iraq, Bhutan, Burundi, and Russia.

And although Lost and Guided is a Syrian story, it is also a universal story. Dozens of interviews later it became clear to me that a book would not be enough to describe the life of one displaced individual. I also saw, however, that processes of displacement and resettlement in different geographical locations had a lot in common. Thus, I was able to combine various life episodes into one cohesive narrative without having to alter much of the original text in the transcripts.

Q: What else are you working on?

A:  Lost and Guided story continues. We are planning to make the play into a film. The Angle Project (TAP), my theatre company, will also continue to seek opportunities to showcase the play and organize public forums centered around refugee issues.

In addition, TAP's focus is now on developing applied theatre projects and educational programming that cultivate cultural understanding and are specifically tailored for young people. My big hope is to contribute to the upbringing of an open-minded, responsible, and informed new generation of Americans.

Of course, there are ideas circulating for a new play, they always are! Like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and Instagram (@nyc_tap) and we will keep you updated!


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

A:  March 8th, the International Women’s Day, has always been a big holiday in Belarus. The tradition to celebrate women carried over from the soviet times. It was a custom in our school for boys to prepare something special for girls and female teachers on that day and give them gifts. It was 5th or 6th grade, I believe… I re-wrote the classic Russian fairytale “Теремок”/“The Tower Room” into a contemporary story and organized the boys in my class to act it out for the school during the March 8th celebration. Basically, the story was about how various animals stumble upon a tower room in their forest and start inhabiting it, solving co-existence problems along the way. The fun part was that we preserved a variety of genders and the boys played female animal characters, like Mousy-the housekeeper, etc. To this day I remember having an extensive conversation with the boy who played Mousy about what kind of sarafan he should wear. The production was a great success.

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

A:  Honestly? Nothing. Because if I were able to change something about theatre than I wouldn’t be interested in practicing it. Let me explain… I look at theatre how I look at life. Just like life, theatre can be anything you want it to be, on one hand. On the other, as soon as you attempt to execute some sort of control over it, it backfires and just doesn’t work. So how do you find a balance? That is the challenge that keeps me going. Theatre, like any other art, is all around us and it is our job as artists to keep discovering ways to help the world recognize that.

But if we are talking about the industry, the biggest thing for me is working towards democratization of theatre and getting rid of the notion that it is an exclusive club. Why do we expect people to want to come and share our work if we make them feel like they don’t belong?

Q: Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  Konstantin Stanislavski and Anton Chekhov laid down the foundation for my understanding of theatre. But here are (some of) the people who really expanded my idea of what theatre is and can be: Jerzy Grotowski, Samuel Beckett, Augusto Boal, Peter Brook, Sarah Kane, Ivo Van Hove, Robert Wilson, Kirill Serebrennikov, and Vassily Sigarev.

Joseph Papp is my role model and has a special place in my heart. He is my source of motivation because he's proved that it is possible to do exactly what you want in theatre without being a part of the establishment.

Q: What kind of theater excites you?

A:  Theatre that does not seek to please and numb. Any production that makes me reflect and question and that guides me towards a deeper, more compassionate understanding of the world around me is a good production, in my opinion.

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

A:  I think it is crucial to create work about something that you really really really care about and to ask yourself a question about how that work is going to make our world a better place.

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