Wednesday, July 22, 2009

I Interview Playwrights Part 26: Andrea Ciannavei


Andrea Ciannavei

Hometown: Walpole, Massachusetts

Current Town: New York City (Harlem), NY

Q: I loved the play of yours I just saw read at the Labyrinth Summer Intensive. Can you talk a little about it for those who weren't there to see it? The first part (or act) seemed very Chekhovian to me in the entrances and exits and the subtle way relationships were introduced and the second act seemed very modern American in a fierce everything comes out kind of way. I love that.

A: Sure - The Hard Sell is a play about 7 women on the day of a wedding that goes horribly wrong. It focuses on the bride and her relationship to her family and closest friends. The play explores competition between women and the need to hide themselves in order to control how they are perceived by both themselves and others. The first act takes place hours before the wedding is scheduled to happen and then the second picks up that night.

Q: What are you working on next?

A: A few things - I started writing a small play called HOW JACKIE WILSON SAVED MY LIFE and I need to do a rewrite on my last play 7 CAPTIVA ROAD. I also am working on two pitches for TV scripts which is at once exciting and terrifying. After that I don't know. I'd like to write something about Enron and two screenplays one about Maria Callas and the other about the making of Elizabeth Taylor's Cleopatra.

Q: How was Juilliard?

A: Juilliard was bananas. Great and difficult. It just occurred to me that I went through some growing pains over the course of the year. It was great to take time off from survival work and focus on my writing - that was the plan in any case but what ended up happening was that I started to grapple with some internal issues I have in relation to writing. i.e., not feeling good enough, afraid to write what I had to write, competition, self-negation, fear, procrastination, wanting to reap the benefits without having to work, wanting to compare myself to others - that kind of stuff. I want to say that I wasted a lot of time - but I don't think that's true - I brought work in throughout the year and I left the first year feeling less like a fraud - that I actually do have something worthwhile to contribute to theater. it also was a great opportunity - I didn't get caught in my bullshit for too long whenever it came up which was frequently - I did my best to work through it - and for me that translated into going into the room every week, being present for the other writers there and being of service to them as much as possible by supporting them, listening to their work - engaging them in it and like that. I'm going into my second year - so I'm interested to see how this year will be different.

Q: How long have you been affiliated with LAByrinth? How did you get hooked up with them? What was it like to be their Lit Mgr?

A: I've been with LAB since 2001. I started off as an intern. basically the way I stumbled upon them was that I was playing April White in Savage in Limbo at HERE and I was dropping postcards off at various theaters and I walked into CenterStage NY dropped off some cards on the table and say a postcard for Jesus Hopped the A Train for $12 during it's original run. I saw it was being directed by Phil and I knew his work as actor and felt like a $12 show directed by this guy was insane pricewise. I went and felt distinctly that I had finally found my theater company because no matter what anyone says there is an absence of cynicism in the actors there and I wanted to be around that. So - I offered my services, I can be a pretty organized gal, and I'm good with computers - so that's how it started and then my relationship with them blossomed from there. Being a lit manager was actually a great education for me in seeing what works and doesn't work for me in a play. It also showed me some do's and don'ts in how to interact with theater companies as well as writers. I also had to start looking for playwrights and developing relationships with them on behalf of the company. The task I had when they asked me to be the lit manager was to set up a system that involved the company members as much as possible in reading submitted plays and giving them room in the process to choose which plays were considered to develop at the annual Summer Intensive. That was a fair process to me because the sensibilities of LAB are as varied as its membership - which is why it's so hard to pin LAB down on any one aesthetic which to me is refreshing and great - so the plays we chose to look at in a development setting really ran the gamut. I learned a lot about what my tastes are and how to put them aside when reading something that doesn't necessarily appeal to me and be able to speak about it intelligently and see it for its worth. I started learning how not to judge, if that makes sense. I also learned how to meet new people (writers) and be less of a freak about it.

Q: What kind of theater excites you?

A: Oh boy. Well. I have a hard time answering this question for myself so the best way I can describe it is that the kind of theater that creates its own weather pattern on stage is the kind that most excites me - I couldn't care less what kind of packaging it comes in - structure or style. I like the kind of theater that feels and is communal, celebratory and painful. I'm trying to think of which plays I've seen that really lit a fire in my belly. August Osage & Jesus Hopped the A Train did that for me. I damn near had a heart attack when I saw Fiona Shaw play Medea on Broadway. Top Dog Underdog. I also have to saw I thought De La Guarda that was a revelation. Vanessa Redgrave in Long Days' was amazing too.....I would have to say that I'm kind of game for anything.

Q: Who are some of your favorite writers?

A: Fassbinder, Genet, Ionesco, Tennessee Williams, Chekhov, Brecht (he pisses me off though).

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

A: These are things I have learned and am learning that are helpful to me -
1. Find a director/dramaturg who knows/understands you INTIMATELY and has the ability to pull things out of you to take your play where it wants to go.
2. Find actors who inspire you and let them bring their ideas to the table. Steal what they do and use it in your play if it opens your eyes to something you've never thought of.
3. Hold on to the core of where your play is coming from but don't be too precious about your lines and words and that kind of thing.
4. Submit plays to stuff and then forget about it - keep going.
5. Don't get hung up on one play for too long, keep writing, especially when you feel like you suck and you're going to give up because that's just your fear trying to keep you from getting to something really good.
6. The miracle is 5 minutes away.
7. Anyone who rips you a new one without giving any kind of useful feedback is to be ignored unilaterally.
7b. Do not place your self-worth and validity as a writer on any person, place, thing or institution. The world and its people are often wrong.
8. The word re-write means "write the play again".
9 And finally - be honest, be real, write how the world and its people are - not how you think they should be, put something of yours on the line.

Q: Any plugs you'd like to plug?

A: Go see Scott Hudson's Sweet Storm co-produced by LAB and Alchemy Theater at Theater Row Studios running through August - and see Lucy Thurber's play at rattlestick in August too.

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