Sunday, July 25, 2010
I Interview Playwrights Part 220: Fielding Edlow
Hometown: New York City
Current Town: Los Angeles
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I'm remounting my newest one woman play, "Sugar Daddy" this Fall which debuted as a workshop production in the inaugural Hollywood Fringe Festival. I'm working with the very seasoned and formidable director, Paul Stein, who runs the Comedy Central Space in Hollywood and it's been a very fruitful collaboration. It's my second one person play and I'm having a great time performing my own words. Having been involved in improv groups for over ten years, I've finally cast aside the noxious idea of pre-planning moments, and wanting to get it "right", and am simply just telling the story. There was a sign on the Atlantic Theatre that said something like "There is no such thing as good or bad acting but how strong a reason I have to stand on the stage". I'm also trying to find a team/theatre company for my newest play Admissions which has been workshopped with Naked Angels and NY Stage & Film and have an off-Broadway production in NYC.
Q: How would you characterize the LA theater scene?
A: The LA scene is a very accessible, if uneven, colorful nexus of theatre communities. It runs the gamut of the formalized and cozy Geffen to the Fake Gallery which showcases avant garde, messier works. It is full of pockets of reverent, disciplined artists who love the theatre and conversely actors who are desperate to put up showcases in order to ascend the ranks of Hollywood. The best part is its inherent accessibility in that it's devoid of the fairly classist infrastructure in NYC. It's financially easier to mount a production with limited resources in LA than in NYC. I produced and acted in an updated version of Miss Julie (dramaturg Craig Carlisle) in the middle of Hollywood with a live string quartet and simultaneously fell in love with my husband, actor-director Larry Clarke.
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'm going to tell a story from my late twenties since essentially I was still a child. I signed up to do the Montana AIDS ride in 2001. I had lost my Uncle Blair to AIDS and wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone and ride 80 miles a day for a week in the beautiful sweeping plains of Montana. I basically did the minimal training rides and just hoped somebody or something would get me through the Continental Divide. One blazingly hot afternoon, I simply couldn't push another pedal, I got off my bike and started walking my bike up the seemingly sisyphean hill. Suddenly I heard a friendly yell from behind me. A sinewy, gorgeous antelope of a man rode up beside me and gave the warmest grin. I confessed, "I can't do it, I just can't do it, I mean, what the fuck, I'm still doing it, I'm just WALKING, not pedaling like a maniac!" Jeff introduced himself and it was then that I saw the little orange flag waving from the back spoke of his bike. My new friend was HIV positive and he wanted to walk too. Not only did we walk the rest of the way together and picked up some other exhausted riders, we stopped at a Houlihans and charged some burgers - thankfully avoiding Rest Stop #5 where we would only be served Cliff Bar # 8. I had one of the greatest afternoons of my life, laughing with Jeff in the midst of the sea of orange flags. And we gossiped and shared water bottles till our hearts desire. We were obviously the last riders to cross the finish where the banner shone up above us, CONGRATULATIONS RIDERS EVERY MILE MADE A DIFFERENCE. And I would usually cry every time I crossed that day's "finish line", but this time, I was laughing cause I was with Jeff. We said goodbye and I went off to shower and eat dinner. I realized later that night that I still had Jeff's windbreaker which he had lent me so I followed the green maze of tents until I found Jeff's. He wasn't there. HIs tentmate told me that he had gotten sick and was in the infirmary. I rushed to the infirmary and found Jeff shivering in a bathtub of ice surrounded by volunteers and medics. He had a fever of 105 and I was terrified for my friend who hours earlier looked like he could push a Toyota Tundra up a hill. I heard a medic yell out, "Somebody needs to take him to the hospital!!" And I yelled back "I'm taking him!" I rushed back to his tent and packed an overnight bag for my new friend and got his white tennis sneakers. And we rode in a minivan to the Livingston hospital and met doctors who had never treated an AIDS patient before. It was quiet, the hospital felt like the NYC public library and we checked Jeff in and got him into a private room. We talked till 2 in the morning interspersed with kind bearded doctors who looked like farmers, telling Jeff what he may or may not have. I took Jeff out for a cigarette, walking his IV with him and we smoked outside in the cool air. Then, he told me about the funeral he was planning for himself - he made a video to show at his funeral and he was going to publicly chastise some "friends", saying, "Why are you here, bitch? You never cared about me?" He finally dozed off and I slept in the chair facing him. I felt a purpose and a connection I had never experienced before. The motto of the AIDS ride was Humankind. 'Be both. Human and kind.' I didn't train, I gossiped, I had barrels of fear swimming in my veins. But I found something in Montana. I found my soul which had been buried under the rubble of New York City.
Q: If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?
A: I would make artistic directors as well paid as the CEO of Goldman Sachs or at least a quarter of their salary. I would assign brilliant dramaturgs like Jim Leonard to up and coming playwrights and tell new playwrights to stop writing by committee and find their trusted coterie of advisors. I would implore the NEA to siphon funding to all underprivileged schools and allow for theatre trips to NYC. And lastly I would make a rule that women playwrights be represented equally to their male counterparts and have the President include that mandate in his next Rose Garden address.
Q: Who are or were your theatrical heroes?
A: Larry Kramer and Karen Finley. To me, both are completely unapologetic, fearless, transcendent artists. They are political because they are so personal and they create seismic reverberations because of their passion, specificity and intent. They are all heart beneath the pulverizing rants. I also studied with my guru Jeffrey Tambor who changed the way I comport myself in the world. He helped me to see that my entire life is a work of art and if I get mired down in some low grade self-centered fear, I should get in my car and go drive to a new neighborhood and help a stranger in need.
Q: What kind of theater excites you?
A: I saw Toni Press-Coffman's "Touch" at the Women's Project some years back and I think about her play quite often. It excited me that a playwright could create such beautifully raw, stripped, laid bare characters and see them wrestle out their grief in such an uncliched poignant way.
More recently, I loved the gut wrenching August: Osage County and was astounded by the amazing triumvirate of acting, writing and directing. What also excites me is when I feel a writer has gone on a personally excavating, uncensored ride and isn't trying to place a "message" or moral lesson at the end of the play. I want to feel as if the playwright risked her life to create her piece. This past Spring I saw a benefit anniversary reading of Larry Kramer's The Normal Heart and it still remains one of the most exciting, significant pieces of theatre I have ever seen.
Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
A: Go out and see plays and find out who your heroes are and support the community. Get yourself in writer's groups and hear your pages read by actors. And remember, you become a writer, the minute your parents stop looking over your shoulder.
Q: Plugs, please:
A: Theatre Planners and Lemonade productions present "Sugar Daddy"- Fielding Edlow's newest one-woman play about what happens when you take booze, cupcakes and drugs from a small angry Jewish woman leaving behind rude drummers, Freudian therapists and New York City in her wake. Opens October 21st - November 13th at the Lounge Theatre in Hollywood. Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm. Info on plays411.com coming soon . .