Friday, January 22, 2010

I Interview Playwrights Part 107: Ellen Margolis






Hometown:  Westbury, New York.  Or San Francisco.

Current Town:  Portland, Oregon.

Q:  What are you working on now?

A:  Current project is seven plays about the afterlife.  Another--further out--is inspired by the history and values and skills of Parkour, the crazy Frenchy free-running, obstacle-vaulting, running-from-the-gendarmes sport.

Q:  Tell me about "The Politics of American Actor Training."

A:  In 2004, I convened a panel for the Association of Theatre in Higher Education (in my other life, I'm a college professor) with that title.  Then, with a partner, I spent four years pursuing and editing articles from people invested in the future of the theatre, and now it's a book.  There are fourteen pieces, far-ranging and diverse.  The Indian director Chandradasan wrote a brilliant piece for us on the colonization of Indian theatre as manifest in training.  Victoria Lewis, a documentarian and activist for actors with disabilities, wrote a manifesto for access.  I'm very proud of the people and ideas we've brought together.  The book is far from comprehensive, of course; it's very much intended to be part of an ongoing, often uncomfortable, conversation. 

Q:  How would you characterize the theater scene in Portland?

A:  Hmm.  Small.  Supportive.  Strapped.  Sometimes sublime. 

There's definitely a community here, which is hugely important.  I'm part of a new new-works company here, Playwrights West, along with seven other writers.  As a company we are just coming out of the gate, but the two big Equity Houses--Artists Rep and Portland Center Stage--have already supported us with donated space.  Amazing.

Also, last week I audited the regional auditions for the company, and I have never seen a general audition handled with such care.  Beyond being well organized, there was respect evident in every detail--love, even.  And a real sense of wanting to educate young performers and raise the bar for all of us.  This all reflects the marvelous volunteers (artists and administrators) who work with the Portland Area Theatre Alliance.  I walked away from two days of auditions feeling uplifted.

There aren't too many nice spaces here.  If I got three wishes, one would be to create a beautiful Theatre Row for Portland.  On the other hand, there's good work happening in funky spaces, and good site-specific work as well.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  So much theatre excites me!  I still get teary-eyed when the house lights come down.  I always want and expect to see something great, and very often I do. 

One of my students, Ted Gold, may have summed things up best the other day when he said, "I like to leave the theatre Not Done."

I do love theatre that's wildly ambitious.  Last May I saw a cycle of 14 plays at Tricycle Theatre that covered 250 years of the political and social life of Afghanistan.  I feel like it was one of the gifts of my life that I got to spend that Sunday in that theatre.

I also find that very recently my taste is shifting back to story more than spectacle.  Don't know why, or if it's permanent or just a phase. 

There are so many playwrights whose work regularly makes me throw my hands up in delight and admiration and astonishment.  Martin McDonagh, Gina Gionfriddo, Jose Rivera.   Richard Greenberg.  Bruce Norris. A student of mine named Case Middleton.  All my Playwrights West colleagues.  I won't name them here, so you will go to our website: www.playwrightswest.org.  Pinter, Kushner, Shakespare, Craig Lucas, Suzan-Lori Parks.  I can't stop thinking of people!  Will Eno--brilliant. 

I guess I'm sort of playwright-oriented.  Then again, don't get me started on actors.  I love them.

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

A:  Don't be like me.  Get a lot of words on paper.

Q:  Any plugs:

A:  Go see David Greenspan do Plays at the Atlantic Theater because I can't. 

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