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1000 Playwright Interviews The first interview I posted was on June 3, 2009.  It was Jimmy Comtois.  I decided I would start interview...

Apr 30, 2010

I Interview Playwrights Part 160: Craig Pospisil

Craig Pospisil

Hometown: New York

Current Town: New York. I'm a born-and-bred New Yorker and I love it here, through and through.

Q:  What are you working on now?

A:  I'm working on a commission for a musical comedy called DOT COMET, which is about the Dot Com boom of the late 90s. Mike Ogborn, who wrote BABY CASE and CAFE PUTANESCA, is writing the music and lyrics, and I'm writing the book. Mike's a great composer, and I love his music. It's really varied and smart. He lives here in New York, but he works a lot in Philadelphia, and he just won his second Barrymore award. We just had a reading of the first draft of the show down in DC at the Wooly Mammoth, which good to hear. It really showed us what aspect of the script were going in the right direction, and what areas we need to dive back into and re-work.

I'm also doing some work on a new musical I've had kicking around in my head for a while. This past winter I challenged myself to write a scene a day before going to work, and ended up with a first draft in two weeks. Then I put it aside for a while and now I'm doing some revisions before I show it to one or two composers I have in mind to find someone who wants to come on board. I also recently wrote a short play inspired by a Tennesee Williams poem for Blue Roses Theatre Company. We had a reading of that last month here in New York, and they're looking at a production for all the short plays they comissioned.

Q:  You work for DPS. Has working for a play publisher affected the way you write plays or think about theater?

A:  Yes, absolutely. Working at Dramatists hasn't changed what I write, but understanding the various theater markets is definitely a tool I use when I'm working. It makes me look at the style of the play or the type of story I'm telling, and forces me to ask myself some questions. For instance my play MONTHS ON END has ten characters, making it pretty large by today's standards - especially for professional companies. So I looked long and hard at the play to determine if I really needed all those people. In the end I felt that the story I was telling did need them, but I knew it might limit some options for the play. It premiered at Purple Rose and had a couple of small pro productions, but it's had more than 60 nonprofessional productions in the last six years. There have been other plays where I have deliberately kept things simpler, knowing that it would allow the possibility for a play to be produced with a small budget as well as a larger one.

I see so many plays for work that I'm always analysing them for both artistic merit and how commercial they might be. There are many plays and playwrights, for example, who are well respected and keep getting work here in New York that the rest of the country laregly ignores. Conversely there's a lot of theater going on elsewhere that gets produced by professional and nonprofessional theater groups of all kinds that never finds its way to the city.

Q:  I think I met you through the A Train plays. Is that still happening? Can you explain to my readers what that is?

A:  theAtrainplays is a 24 hour theater project/company that was conceived by Larry Feeney, and further developed by me, David Riedy (a terrific writer), Drew Donavan and Michael Pemberton. What makes it different from other 24 hour groups is that every piece is set in the subway, and all the plays and musicals are written while riding the A train from one end of the line, 207th Street, to the other in Far Rockaway. That's a trip of less than two hours. We'd have six writers, and the production style is bare bones, no lighting or sound cues. Each play starts with the characters entering and ends with them leaving. So for the audience it's like taking a ride on the train and seeing all these different stories.

And on top of that we threw pure chance into the equation. Before getting on the train every playwright pulls a number from a bag, 2 - 4, and that's the number of characters you have in your play. Then you pull that many headshots of actors at random from another bag, and that's your cast. So you can't pre-plan anything. You might have an idea for something, but you're likely to pull a number of characters or actors that make that idea impossible. That happened to me once. I had this idea for a two character piece with a man and woman, and I pulled four actors, three women and one man. And I totally froze for the first several stops of the train, my mind was so fixed on my first idea, despite the fact that I couldn't use it. Until I approached it from completely different angle, and ended up with my play IT'S NOT YOU, which has gone on to be produced almost 70 times now around the US, Canada, Denmark, England, France, Hong Kong, Germany and Samoa, and translated into Mandarin, French and Danish.

theAtrainplays was a real pressure cooker, and the more we did it the harder it got because we were always trying to do something we hadn't done before. There was some really fun and healthy competition between us too, which pushed us all to really shine. And we always tried to change things. The first time was something of a lark, to see if we could do it. The second time we actually produced two separate nights, while the first show was going up, another group was on the train writing something for the following night. The next time we did musicals, writing the book one way on the train, and songs on the trip back. The next time we rode the Staten Island Ferry and did two shows, plays the first night and musicals the second. Then we started to extend the runs, and on like that. After a couple of years, we produced a best of, theAtrain(re)plays, at the Peter Sharp Theatre at Playwrights, and it was really hard to choose between all the plays. As of today, I think we produced close to 150 short plays and musicals. Playscripts Inc. came to one of our early shows and loved it, and they now publish two volumes of theAtrainplays, which have had good sales and productions.

In the first three years we did probably 15 separate volumes of the show, and that was a really fantastic time. We had a really strong company of writers, actors and directors. I met some amazing people, and we all still work together of each others shows all the time. It got really expensive to produce, though, and so we had to scale back and so in the last few years the shows have all been done as benefits. We did three of them at New World Stages for the Off-Broadway Brainstormers. The last show we did was a little over a year ago, and it was in Los Angeles actually! Larry had moved out there, and I picked five other writers and the six of us rode the train and did our writing, and then we emailed the scripts to Los Angeles, where they were done the next night. I'm sure there will be another one eventually - especially since Larry just moved back to New York. So if you see someone hunched over a pad of paper or a laptop on the A train, sweating and furiously writing . . . give them some space.

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

A:  The funny thing is that both of my parents are writers, but I never thought about doing it myself. I grew up wanting to act. Literally from the time I was in kindergarten that's what I wanted to do. And I acted all through high school and college, and didn't really do any creative writing until my senior year at Wesleyan when I wrote and directed a play as my thesis project. And that was a great experience and the play really poured out of me, but I didn't see it as a turning point. I came back to New York after college and started doing showcases, and spent a while finding an actor teacher I really liked, but when he went on vaction for the summer I decided to take a scene writing class at HB Studios. There I had to write something new every week, and I was literally walking home one day when the thought popped into my head "I'm a storyteller." And I turned all my attention to writing, and went to New York University's Dramatic Writing Department for my masters, and I've never looked back. (Although I do still act from time to time, and I think acting was one of the most important learning tools that a playwright can have.)

There's one story, though, from when I was very young. Virginia Hamilton, a pretty well known young adult fiction writer, lived in my building, and her daughter was my age and we played together a lot. She took us to the park one day and I apparently told her about this broken piece of sidewalk along the street, and how you could stand on it and rock back and forth, and I showed it to her when we got there. When my mother collected me later, Hamilton told her that she thought I would grow up to be a writer because of how observant I was of details like that and the way I told her about the broken sidewalk.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  Most of the writers whose work I really admire are completely different from my own work, which is mostly comedic. Eugene O'Neill, for example. I find his attention to detail amazing. And there was a ten year period where I re-read WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? every year because it always took me on such a journey. I think David Ives is brilliant. Richard Greenberg's THREE DAYS OF RAIN is an amazing play. And this last season I really liked Annie Baker's CIRCLE MIRROR TRANSFORMATION. I think Tom Stoppard is one of the smartest playwrights I've ever seen or read. He was one of my best celebrity sightings ever in New York. I was seeing PROOF, and at intermission Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick were at the back of the house, and everyone was staring and pointing, and I did my best New-York-seen-it-all attitude, but when I got back to my seat I turned around and virutally lost it because I saw Stoppard just ten feet away. And no one else knew who he was.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  I'm pretty simple about this: I like a good story that's well told. It's not any one style of theater - I like absurdist plays, naturalism, farce, musicals, whatever - but want a story and characters that I get to see develop, a stuggle for something that gets fleshed out. A play that fully inhabits its own world and rules. I really don't care about theater that's trying to be shocking. I find that to be pretty boring, but I very much want to be surprised. I love a story that seems to be going in one direction, but then turns another way and makes you really sit up and pay attention.

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

A:  Be stubborn. Unless you are tremendously lucky early on, you will have to provide a lot of your own motivation and affirmation. You will get plays back in the mail. You may not get that fellowship, etc. But be stubborn and keep writing, because it's a big world and you will find people who respond to your work, and it can grow from there.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  I would put in a plug for my play SOMEWHERE IN BETWEEN, which is scheduled to open the Last Frontier Theatre Conference in Alaska next month, but I just got an email from the director saying the lead actor has come down with shingles and the lead actress has never had chicken pox, and could be infected by any skin-to-skin contact. It's pretty hard to have a romantic comedy where your leads can't touch, much less kiss. So, I have no idea how we're going to get around that. Ah, the theater!

A new collection of my short plays, CHOOSING SIDES, came out last fall, and the plays in that are getting done. Plus I edited two new collections of monologues books, OUTSTANDING MEN'S and OUTSTANDING WOMEN'S MONOLOGUES, Vol. II, that just got published by DPS this month.

Apr 29, 2010

I Interview Playwrights Part 159: Jessica Provenz

Jessica Provenz

Hometown: Merrick, NY

Current Town: NYC and Princeton, NJ (my husband and I have yet to move in together)

Q: Didn't you recently have a short film screened? Can you tell me about that?

A: I wanted to *make* something. Last year, I wrote a screenplay and a pilot, but I wanted the words to go from my computer screen to the big screen - not in 1 year or 2 or 10 - but now! So I wrote the short NOTHING HAPPENED, a comedy about the one conversation girlfriends should never have... I co-produced it with Jessica Henson and Sarah Louise Lilley, and we wore a ton of hats from fundraising to hiring the team to learning about color correction and editing and sound mixing. After the movie was locked, we applied to festivals (which is like applying to college - equally as lengthy, competitive and expensive). We premiered at Cinequest in San Jose, played in LA, and have a half-dozen festivals coming up this summer.

The big difference between seeing your play performed vs. your movie is that the movie is fixed. There's no question of whether a moment will work or if the pace will be right; you press "play" and go on the same ride every time. I also learned the importance of telling a story with visuals. I initially set the film in a cafe (that's my theatre background at work for you), but director Julia Kots's first request was for a more visually stimulating location like an art gallery, which I turned into an erotic art gallery. Third, I caught the bug. I'm writing/directing a feature for our next indy venture. We hope to apply everything we learned on the short tenfold.

Q: What else are you working on?

A: I'm writing the book for a musical, MATCHBOOK, for The Araca Group. Dan Lipton and David Rossmer are writing lyrics/music. It's based on a book by Samantha Daniels about her life as a divorce lawyer turned matchmaker. It's sexy and romantic and fun, a "Sex and the City" for the stage. A musical is a whole new ballgame for me, so I'm grateful that Marsha Norman spent so many hours at Juilliard talking to us about writing musicals and things like "how to lead into a song."

I'm also writing a feature called ONE NIGHT IN BERGDORFS for Alicia Keys' company, Big Pita Lil Pita, and a pilot, TOWN & COUNTRY - about the fact that I live in Manhattan and my husband lives in Princeton (which seems to fascinate a lot of people). And this week, I wrote my favorite three words ever: "End of Play" on TRUE ART, a new work about the underbelly of the art world.

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 11, my parents shipped me off to Stagedoor Manor for 9 weeks. I remember 2 things: unlimited grape soda and directing. I got to direct a one-act in a competition called "Festival." I selected William Inge's "The Rainy Afternoon," and I loved every second of it - casting, creating the set, the costumes. I'd spend hours in my bunkbed moving my shoes around, pretending I was blocking the actors. At Stagedoor, they gave out replica Oscars on "Award's Night", and I won the award for Best Director; I was so excited, I slept with it for a week. I was this awkward, 4'5" kid with glasses, braces, oversized sweaters, and a perm?! I was average in school, terrible in sports, the worst in my tap class - but when I directed this play, I knew I'd found my home.

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

A: I would love the possibility of a livable wage in playwriting. I don't have to earn it, I just want to know it's out there somewhere.

Q: What kind of theater excites you?

A: I love being blown away emotionally. Often a line or a moment will sucker-punch me, and I'll turn into a sobbing mess. I have some of my most honest moments watching theatre, because it can articulate what is so often left unsaid. I found the Off Broadway production of "Our Town" profound - I bought tickets for everyone I know. I love the emotion of plays by Wendy Wasserstein, Lee Blessing, A.R. Gurney, and musicals like "A Chorus Line" and "The Fantasticks."

Also love playwrights that perfect the twists-and-turns like Neil LaBute and Craig Wright. For a great laugh, I'll take Alan Ayckbourn any day.

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

A: Save money when you have it (I'm still grappling with this).

Be tenacious. Don't give up. A "no" is rarely firm. With grad school. With agents. With theaters. Send your material, and if there's any interest at all, send reinforcements - have someone make a call on your behalf - preferably someone they know and respect, or forward some press on the play, or about the source material, anything to keep you and your play in the reader's vision.

Finally, surround yourself with people who believe in you even more than you do. Whether it's parents, friends, a partner, or a mentor, having people who can remind you that you are on the right path is huge.

Q: Plugs, please:

A: NOTHING HAPPENED will screen in June at Berkshire International, New Jersey International, and New Fest in Manhattan with more festivals following in July and August. For details, go to our Facebook page. My play BETTER THAN CHOCOLATE will be workshopped by the Berkshire Playwrights Lab this summer. Details at www.berkshireplaywrightslab.org

John Logan was my first playwriting professor at Northwestern. His play RED is thrilling

Apr 28, 2010

I Interview Playwrights Part 158: Deron Bos

Deron Bos

Hometown: Stafford, VA

Current Town: Culver City, CA

Q:  What are you working on now?

A:  I just finished a very crude first draft of a new play titled The City She Wants Me. My blurb for it currently reads like this: "Durn wants to become a Lego superstar, Jack has been called by God, Faye is proposing to rebuild 1930's L.A. in an unmarked warehouse, and Claudia Turnkey is going to die ... soon." I have two other ideas kicking around and I want to start them in between revising City.

Q:  You recently moved to LA from New York. How are you finding the change? Should everyone in New York move to LA?

A:  Well, my reasons for moving to LA were mostly family driven -- my wife is a SoCal native, her family is here, and our two boys are surely benefiting from that close proximity to her family. (As are their parents.) And we were all ready to move away from the NY winters. But it was really important for me to stay in a city with a cultural/arts/entertainment scene and the mythology of L.A. has fascinated me for the past ten years. I also have ambitions of writing for TV, but my focus at the moment is mostly on raising my two young sons and I'm finding if I can find the time to write something in the midst of that it's going to be a play for the STAGE.

A few months after moving here I was lucky enough to become one of the founding members of The Playwrights Union, "a network of Los Angeles theater artists writing for stage, theater, and film." Jennifer Hayley, who I knew from my Seattle days, founded it and it's a great roster of talented and experienced playwrights who call L.A. their home. I thought I would have to search and be here for a while to find a supportive artistic community like this one and then it just fell into my lap. It's nice when things happen like that, because you know ... often they don't.

Ha! I can't help but think that last question is to support your own campaign to move to L.A., Adam. Personally, I do miss NYC, Brooklyn, and the theater community there. However, this is now my third city since college and I do love how much overlap happens with the communities you make in each city.

Q:  What was your experience like studying playwriting at Brooklyn College under Mac Wellman?

A:  Overall, I thought it was a great experience because:

1) The tuition is dirt cheap for a graduate program if you're a New York resident.

2) It's in Brooklyn.

3) Mac is incredibly well read, darkly hilarious, and a gifted teacher.

4) I made some great friends.

5) I wrote a play a semester.

There were times when I questioned if I was in the right place because my writing seemed traditional compared to many of my classmates, but then I learned: A) My writing is much weirder than I originally thought. B) I'm much happier being the square in the midst of experimentation that I am being the revolutionary amongst squares. I think it speaks well of the program too that its recent graduates have produced both highly regarded theater both uptown and downtown.

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

A:  It was Revolutionary War day in kindergarten and my mom borrowed a felt George Washington costume from my best friend and neighbor Greg Froio's mom so I could get all dressed up. When I arrived to class I discovered that the only other kids who were dressed up were a few girls in Betsy Ross hats. I loved costumes as a kid, but because I was a shy kid, I loved the kind with a substantial mask. George Washington offered no such shelter. I burst into tears and wouldn't stop crying. I remember my teacher (who was missing one hand) scolding me in the bathroom and saying, "Stop crying! Do you want to be a crybaby?! No one likes a crybaby!" I stopped crying.

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

A:  I think every LORT A house in the country should be required to hire a resident playwright and give them a modest but livable salary for at least three years. I'm sure that there are managing directors across the country preparing an email right now to tell me how naive this proposal is, but until that time it sounds like the right move to me. It would be a shot at creating some true regional theater.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  Fred Franklin (my high school drama teacher), Marshall W. Mason, and the Mighty Twelve Company Members of Printer's Devil Theatre during the 97-2000 era.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  The thrilling, the original, and the heart felt. I find that I want to see something that has LIFE to it and that comes in a lot of different shapes and genres. And it's impossible to do, but so satisfying when it happens.

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

A:  I'm an advice junkie and especially a sucker for writing advice. Reading Anne Lamott's essay "Shitty First Drafts" was a revelation for me and it's something I reread often for courage and comfort. This advice from the author of my favorite cheerleading movie, Bring It On has given me a lot of fuel over the years. Recently, I found this essay from Merlin Mann on the danger of advice speaks to my many of my writing challenges. And of course, the wealth of advice given by the 150+ interviewees of this project has been fantastic, it's its own course on playwriting. So, following Mann's lead I would say indulge in some advice, but then get down to the task at hand: write. (I'm continually telling myself this very instruction.)

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  My new play, The City She Wants Me, will have its first public reading on May 8 at 6:30 pm as part of the Playwrights Union's first public event, The Playwrights Union Reading Festival. There's a weekend of great work from our playwrights and it's free so if you're in LA please come out and check it out!

My director (and good friend) for that reading, Paul Willis directed an exceptional production of my friend Sheila Callaghan's play, Lascivious Something for the excellent theater L.A. theatre company, Circle X. It closes May 1st.

Finally I was very excited to hear that Clubbed Thumb in NYC will produce my friend Kate E. Ryan’s play Dot this June as part of their Summerworks festival. I read Dot right before I left NYC and was knocked out by how hilarious and original it is -- it was my favorite script I read that year.

Apr 27, 2010

I Interview Playwrights Part 157: Sarah Sander

Sarah Sander

Hometown:  Kansas City, Kansas

Current Town:  Sarasota, Florida

Q:  What are you working on now?

A:  A couple different things. I’m doing rewrites on a play called Channel 3 which tells the story of a 16 year old girl who is visiting her estranged uncle in LA after her mother’s suicide. The girl, Adelaide, uses television as a refuge and as a means to filter her own experience. The narration is intercut with commercials, ideally fracturing what is “real” and what is scripted.

I’m also in the beginning stages of a full-length tentatively titled Copier Jam. It’s a play set in a corporate office where corn begins to grow out of the floor tiles, the copier spits out raw meat, and one of the characters turns into a chicken.

Q:  What's it like to be the NNPN Playwright in Residence at Florida Studio Theatre?
A:  It’s an incredible post. The fellowship is 10 months long and I have ample time to work on my own plays while also reading for the lit office, teaching with FST’s Write-A-Play program, and house managing. I came to playwriting relatively late and the opportunity to participate in the “business side” of the arts has proved tremendously enlightening. Witnessing the number of beautiful, original authentic plays our lit department rejects simply because they do not fit into our season makes the numerous “Dear Playwright” letters I receive much easier to swallow.

I’d also like to add that NNPN is a brilliant, BRILLIANT organization. In addition to the Playwright-in-Residence Program they also have the Continued Life of New Plays Fund where three theatres mount the same new play and share “world-premier” status. Essentially it’s a group of theatres who rally together to support and encourage new work. They also throw great parties.

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 used to bite other children.

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

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?
A:  Albee, Churchill and Pinter: brutally elegant all.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  It depends on my mood. For the most part I want theatre that challenges, provokes and inspires me to think above and beyond my own petty concerns. Other times, I’m happy to be coddled.

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

A:  Follow your instincts. Embrace failure. Enjoy the ride.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:   P73 is putting up Sam Hunter's Jack's Precious Moment beginning May 21 at 59E59. If it's anything like Sam's other work, it'll be gorgeous and revelatory and barbed. Also, Andrew Rosendorf's Cane is opening Florida Stage's new space on October 27th. It's gutting. It's worth the journey.

Apr 26, 2010

I Interview Playwrights Part 156: Zakiyyah Alexander

Zakiyyah Alexander

Hometown: Brooklyn, NY

Current Town: NY, NY

Q:  What are you working on now?

A:  All new stuff which is both exciting and nerve wracking. I've got 2 plays that I'm working on. 'The Itch' is a satire that deals with the idea of exploiting your race to be successful in America. 'The day after tomorrow' involves a couple who adopt and bring 2 children from an area that has had a natural disaster. There are probably 2 or 3 other projects on the back burner, including a musical that Matt Schatz and Lucas Papelias will be collaborators on. This is very much a writing year after a few years of production, workshops, etc. This pretty much means writing until my hands hurt on a regular basis.

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 17 I won the Young Playwrights Inc. contest, and my play was to receive a production at the Public Theater. This was a huge turning moment, and the first time I thought of playwriting as a career. I had grown up as an actor, but this was my first time on the other side of the stage. We held equity auditions, and I had my first design model presented to me - it was actually going to rain on the stage! I contemplated taking a semester off from college in order to prepare, but then got word that due to some budgeting issues the production was off. This was devastating at the time, but it really gave me an introduction into what the theater world was like. It taught me to be prepared for any outcome. In some ways my naivete began to dissolve right then and there. That moment was an education in itself.

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

A:  There are many things I would change if I could including the cost of tickets and who actually comes to see theater - one day look around and notice just who's in the room, or rather who's not in the room. But, the most tangible (and simplest) thing I would change is diversity in casting and the way the world is conceived. When a play takes place in an urban setting (and is clearly not about race) but everyone on the stage is white, I don't believe this is an accurate perception of today. There is a sense that a neutral world and story is also a white story. There is definitely a time and place for color specific casting, but at times it would be nice to think outside of that narrow box. It would be nice to see people of color in stories that are not about race, but stories that are simply about people. Produced stories that include people of color are often about race as opposed to plays that are just about people. In my opinion the responsibility of diversifying theater should not rest solely in the hands of playwrights of color, but on the theater community as a whole. What you produce is your vision of the world, and in 2010, I hope the vision can begin to expand.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  Not sure if I have heroes, but there are writers who inspire me based on their structure, themes, and content. Sam Shepard, Susan Lori Parks, Brecht, and Adrienne Kennedy are writers who for constantly excite me in terms of form and style. There is something accessible and dangerous about their work that keeps me going back for more. They also remind me about the kind of writing that is about more than the well-made play or 'kitchen-sink' drama. Writers like Lynn Nottage, Naomi Izuka, and Naomi Wallace also inspire me, and not just for their work, but their stamina - they remind me that a female playwright's career does not always come so quickly. These women have been creating brilliant work for years, but it took a long time for them to get the recognition they deserve. These are writers who I'd love to see get produced on a more frequent basis in NYC.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  Honestly, I'm bored by theater a lot, most of the time, in fact. I feel like the work that gets produced is often small, contained, annoyingly ironic and could just as easily be made into a film or television show. I'm interested in work with a strong sense of theatricality. I'm looking for theater that raises questions and is about something bigger than the audience in the room. I like for theater to be bold and loud and to push buttons and to evoke visceral reactions from the audience. I would rather be angry than bored.

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

A:  Find yourself a community, whether that is a professional one, or a group of friends who are supportive. If you don't have one, create one. Having a home base is crucial, especially since so much of a writers work takes place alone on a computer. Apply to every possible opportunity, and don't worry if you get it or not. The most important thing is to get your work out there and you never know who is reading your submission. See as much theater as possible, the theater world is impossibly small, so know what's going on. Keep writing; I have found that writing is a muscle that atrophies without constant use. You also can't expect for this profession to validate you - so keep your ego in check when you can; and, although that can be scary there is also something very liberating about it. And, remember, if you hate what's being produced, or feel like no one is taking a chance on your work - produce your work yourself.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  This summer you can catch 'The Etymology of Bird' which is being produced as part of Summerstage. It's the first time I will have a production in a park. And most importantly, it's free!

Apr 25, 2010

I Interview Playwrights Part 155: Kate E. Ryan

Kate E. Ryan

Hometown: Bow, NH

Current Town: Brooklyn, NY

Q: Tell me about the play you have coming up at Soho Rep.

A: It's called SCIENCE IS CLOSE, and it continues the story of a woman named Dot Cruthers, who's the main character in my play DOT. SCIENCE IS CLOSE is sort of the sequel to DOT, but I want the two plays to work independently.

Dot is a crankly elderly woman and DOT looks at her life in a Florida retirement community. It's inspired by the Golden Girls a little bit, and has songs composed by Mike Iveson.

In SCIENCE IS CLOSE we see Dot again a few years later -- when she's in her mid-80s, living in a new city. A mysterious man tries to get her to sign up for cryogenics. So, Dot has to evaluate whether she wants more life on this planet, or whether the end should just be the end.

Coincidentally, Clubbed Thumb is producing DOT in June this year, directed by Anne Kauffman. Mia Rovegno -- the director of the SCIENCE IS CLOSE reading -- is working on the DOT production, too, and some of the DOT actors will perform their characters in the reading, so a bunch of people are kind of swimming between these two plays right now, and I feel fortunate to be working with such amazing collaborators on them both.

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 on a dead-end street in a small town. There were lots of kids on our street, and I was one of the youngest. Some of the older kids had a cache of costumes and liked to organize backyard theater/dance performances which we called "gymnastic shows." I think we called them that because our heroine at the time was Nadia Comaneci. We'd make up invitations and put them in all the mailboxes.

One year, in the middle of a gymnastics show for which we had practiced for weeks and weeks, a swarm of bees invaded the backyard and all the kids went beserk, running into the "audience" (parents in lawn chairs), screaming. Just about everyone got stung. It was truly exciting: scary, unexpected, and memorable.

Now, every year, Machiqq (the Brooklyn-based writing group of which I am a member... a.k.a The Ladies Auxiliary Playwriting Team) and Joyce Cho (fellow Brooklyn-based playwriting and performance group) put together a backyard theater event called Cho-chiqq at the house of my Park Slope neighbors, Erin Courtney and Scott Adkins. (See plug below.) So far no bees, but it's still exciting.

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

A:  When I was young and had just arrived in New York, an older artist friend gave me some vague-sounding advice: do something, don't just sit around. It's proven to be useful -- get involved with something, anything, even if it feels only tangentially related to what you ultimately want to do. If you really are one of those people afflicted with the theater disease (unable to stop doing theater), you will never stray far from your artistic work. But waiting for the perfect opportunity is just a waste of time. Making good theater requires all sorts of knowledge and experience, so live your life and pursue all your interests.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  SCIENCE IS CLOSE reading at Soho Rep, Monday May 3rd at 7:00 pm. FREE. http://sohorep.org/lab.html

(Also, check out Matthew Korahais' reading on April 26th and Janine Nabers' reading on May 10th. And, if you're interested in applying to next year's Writer/Director Lab, see the online application on the website. Deadline is May 14th. )

DOT, produced by Clubbed Thumb, opening June 6th at the Ohio Theater. www.clubbedthumb.org

(And check out the other two plays in Clubbed Thumb's Summerworks this year: FIVE GENOCIDES by Sam Hunter and THE SMALL by Anne Washburn.)

Come to the 'Pataphysics Benefit at Dixon Place on Monday, May 10th at 8:00 PM. 'Pataphysics is a series of playwriting workshops with master teachers like Erik Ehn, Paula Vogel, Mac Wellman. They're produced at cost through The Flea Theater: http://www.theflea.org/page.php?page_type=2&page_id=10

AND, finally, come to Cho-Chiqq Backyard BBQ Theater in the daytime on Saturday, June 6th... 

Apr 23, 2010

I Interview Playwrights Part 154: Susan Bernfield

Susan Bernfield

Hometown: Palo Alto, CA

Current Town: New York City

Q:  Tell me please about your play now being performed in Philly.

STRETCH (a fantasia) imagines Rose Mary Woods, President Nixon’s loyal secretary, observing the presidential election of 2004 from a nursing home in Alliance, Ohio. Talking to the people she meets there and having some very strange dreams. I started writing it in 2006, when that election seemed very fresh, and now I have to remind everybody that that election was decided by Ohio! It was, and Woods did die in Ohio two days after George Bush’s second inauguration, and that’s the coincidence – well, that and she struck me as such a great character – that inspired the play. I developed it through New Georges with director Emma Griffin and composer Rachel Peters, and it was in the Ice Factory Festival at the Ohio in 2007, and then New Georges produced it at The Living Theater in 2008. It’s exciting and amazing to me that it’s gotten to have another life in this second and totally new production at People’s Light & Theater, directed by Daniella Topol.

I’ve loved the time I’ve spent at People’s Light and everyone there has been wonderful, especially the terrific cast led by Alda Cortese (who’s also the literary manager, and pulled my play out of the pile!). To go and get to just be the playwright has been… wow, that’s very rare, and I've felt so welcome and lucky. And Daniella is a longtime collaborator and friend, we worked literally for years developing my solo musical TINY FEATS OF COWARDICE (also with music by Rachel Peters!) and she’s directed a lot for New Georges. We had a lot of fun, especially exploring the second production thing together – it was a first for both of us. I learned a lot from being at a bigger and far-away theater, it was interesting and helpful to revisit the play, and it's a beautiful production. The play is in part about political cycles, and we’ve been through several now since I wrote it, so it’s a nice surprise that people think the play's held up. The audience has been really responsive, which is nice. And they come to the theater in cars! Which feels very very weird to me.

Q:  What else are you working on?

A:  I have a new play, BIG HUNGRY WORLD, which I’ve been working on a while and am excited about, and it’s about time for me to get on the stick and develop that further. It’s about Internet billionaires and movie people and global philanthropy. Have some ideas that haven't gotten much past the idea stage.... and am trying to figure out ways and places to perform TINY FEATS again. New Georges has been keeping me pretty busy – more below in “plugs”!

Q:  You are the Artistic Director of New Georges. Tell me please about your  theater.  Has helming a theater affected the way you write?

A:  Well, I wouldn’t be a playwright, I think, if I hadn’t started the theater. I was an actor, and the theater emerged kind of organically from not being able to find any plays to be in, then realizing that to find those plays we’d have to produce new work. After producing for a while and meeting playwrights I realized hey, I’m a lot like these people I’m reading and meeting, and I have stuff to say, and I should be writing too.  It didn’t come out of nowhere, I’d written a lot and obsessively when I was really young, but gave it up by middle school for acting cause that just seemed, uh, cooler I guess, more social, and I always focused on writing in other capacities. So I had a slow start, but it’s hard to get mad at the theater company for stealing all my writing time, cause without it I don’t know if I’d be doing very much at all. My career has really been very serendipitous.

And yeah, being a producer -- and a producer of plays that tend to be very theatrical and design-heavy -- has definitely influenced my writing. I think about design elements a lot while I write, well, not think about them, consciously, now they just appear, as clearly as dialogue elements do, and they’ll shape the play. I surprise myself in how I’ve started to think visually, and about how sound will punctuate a moment, how lighting will give shape to a scene, where things should be on the stage, and it’s definitely shifted how structure finds itself in my mind. All that's mademy writing more active, more stage-worthy, I think. But y'know, most of my plays aren’t New Georges plays. STRETCH was, and I was glad it came out that way, and that’s why we produced it, but I'm not sure BIG HUNGRY WORLD is, for example. Maybe it’s on the cusp! New Georges just has a very specific aesthetic, plus as a producer I’m more interested in things I CAN’T do, things that amaze me and that challenge me as a producer, which is a different kind of challenge. For years people asked me why I didn’t produce my own plays, and really that was why. As an artistic director I’m not interested in my own aesthetic! Ha! Great idea!

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 fear I tell this a lot, but... like most of the moms I knew in the 70s, my mom went back to school. She got a masters in counseling psychology to become a career counselor, and she had this book called Values Clarification. In it there were a bunch of exercises designed to, duh, help you clarify your values. And for some reason she liked to work on this with me and my brothers, it was her homework but she got bored and turned it into a game, I guess. Which we LOVED, maybe just cause it meant she was paying attention to us! We’d beg her, please, please can’t we play Values Clarification, please?? Which is a little weird. But basically she would read us a very short story with some sort of dilemma in it, and there would be a choice of answers about what the characters should do – none of them the WRONG answer, this was about values after all, but oh, we always knew which one SHE thought was right! My parents were very values-driven people even before all this, and I think I am too. They’d made real choices, in direct opposition to their parents, and as a result their values were very different from their parents’, and they were always very very clear about how and why. And I think I tend to see conflict, obstacles, misunderstandings as resulting from a difference in values, both in life and in my work, that's usually the filter. When they’re strong in my characters, when they’re malleable, when they’re overly stated or pretentious... And I think my theater company has survived for, oh my god, 18 years because our values are also well articulated, they’re truly the foundation, we’re always on the lookout for people who share or complement those values, and as a result we tend to have a happy time. Of course it's also pretty hard to be an art-maker if you’re shaky on this subject. I mean, if you see your own value in the context of money…. well, it’s gonna be a problem!

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  Frankly I find heroic any and everybody who still wants to do this goddamn impossible thing. And Joe Papp.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  Good question, I want to be excited! It’s happened more than usual lately, and that’s encouraging. I kinda like BIG excitement, an experience, an event, especially lately. I want magic, whether quiet or loud, I’m looking for combustion. I want to be surprised, to see something I've never seen before, whether it's a production element or a point of view or… something that I don’t know what it is yet, since I’m looking for that surprise! I'm partial to spectacle. I don’t mind messy. I want to go inside, be included in the experience (though confess I stop short at audience participation!). I like to see things that are irreverent, that mix it up, that have serious concern for the wider world but find ways to talk about it that don't take it too seriously. But really all kinds of things have the potential to excite me, and when something I think isn’t gonna be my thing surprises me into loving it, well, that’s always awesome.

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

A:  Find your own route. Take your time. Look for communities with which you have an aesthetic rapport. Find the right places, that is, for you, without worrying whether they’re “the best” based on some outside criteria. Meet directors and other collaborators who you can learn from and who will learn from you, so you can push each other and each others’ work forward into the world. Keep your collaborators, be consistent with them, so you have people who can get inside your work with you, so “the play” isn’t a thing on paper you hold close but is always in the process of becoming a living, three-dimensional thing. Learn to separate the good from the unnecessary when it comes to advice, especially dramaturgical advice; interpret it before you apply it, and listen just to the people you really really trust; more importantly, learn how to learn who those people are.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  STRETCH (a fantasia) runs through Sunday at People’s Light in Malvern, PA.

New Georges is associate producer of THE DIARY OF A TEENAGE GIRL by Marielle Heller, based on the graphic novel by Phoebe Gloeckner, directed by Sarah Cameron Sunde and Rachel Eckerling, which is enjoying an extended run (thru May 1!) at 3LD Art & Technology Center downtown.

And our primary spring show, MILK by Emily DeVoti, directed by Jessica Bauman, starts performances Monday April 26 at HERE! Whew! That enough?

I Interview Playwrights Part 153: Karla Jennings

Karla Jennings

Hometown: Benton Harbor, Michigan, and Park Ridge, Illinois (with stops in between).

Current Town: Atlanta.

Previous life:

Newspaper reporter. Exciting, high-pressure, and great training for any writer. Journalists and theater people tend to have similar personalities: outgoing, lively, confident, egotistical, highly engaged with the world, great partiers. Theater people are much better dancers. Journalists just think they are.

Q:  Tell me about the play you're having read in NYC soon.

A:  MONSTROUS BEAUTY received this year's John Gassner New Play Competition award, which floored me. The honor came at a much-needed time. I hadn't written for about eight months and was pretty down.

The play's a riff on that Teutonic drama queen, saint of Nazi kitsch, and cinematic genius Leni Riefenstahl. Marlene Dietrich co-stars as the good twin. Riefenstahl surged from dancer to Third Reich Überfrauline to prisoner to American cultural icon by visualizing the Nazi mythology that's gone viral in America's white power hate groups. How many other artists could inspire people as disparate as Steven Spielberg, Andy Warhol, and Timothy McVeigh?

Q:  What else are you working on?

A:  I'm finishing up a play about a couple demanding to have children like themselves, but he's a Little Person and she's deaf, so the infertility clinic refuses and the fight begins. It looks at how society defines you versus how you define yourself. Also just finished a comedy about four kids who have a mishap in which one dies. She comes back as an extremely pissed-off ghost. Am also novelizing one of my plays, which I always thought would make a good book.

Q:  If I came to Atlanta tomorrow, what shows would you tell me to see or what theaters should I check out?

A:  Frank Higgins' BLACK PEARL SINGS at Horizon Theater, about a Texas inmate agonizing over whether to trade her ancestor's songs for freedom. David Catlin's LOOKINGGLASS ALICE at The Alliance, a co-production with Lookingglass Theatre (I like Lookkingglass productions, they're intensely physical, dynamic, and imaginative). The upcoming Actors Express production of Alison Moore's SLASHER is a hilariously clever send-up of feminism and slasher films.

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

A:  Until I was six, my family lived along an isolated gravel road outside a rural Michigan town with one traffic light (long since removed). I wandered alone a lot in the forest behind our house. One of my best friends was the magic stream. Its tremendous stink meant it was powerful, and if I told it enough good stories, it would gush to life and grant my wish. I later realized the "magic stream" was septic tank overflow; every time someone flushed, the spring sprang. It's become my personal metaphor for how creation can spring from crap (the transformation doesn't always work, sometimes crap remains crap). It began my storytelling apprenticeship. Wandering in the forest, I also developed a love for biology. There's no science more beautiful than the living science.

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

A:  Insularity. Sometimes it's like theater people only talk to theater people and only live and breathe theater. That and theater's academization threaten to turn it into a cloistered, arcane art, like American poetry. If we only talk to each other in our little black boxes, we'll implode.

Maybe theater's insularity is too entrenched to be changed. If I could change one thing that's possible to change, it would be to make all script submissions anonymous. Of course, if you want to find out an author's identity, that's easy, and lots of theaters would do it, but if it became respectable, desirable, and even classy to read only anonymous submissions, more great scripts would get produced, and more women and minorities would get launched as playwrights. There's a strong parallel in Malcolm Gladwell's brilliant book Blink about how "blind" music auditions opened the doors for women and minorities in classical orchestras. ADs and LDs might like to think they only consider the script when reading it, but everyone thinks in context. An author's gender influences their decisions, fame influences it, whether or not they're a personal friend influences it, whether or not they have desirable connections or access to funds influences it. If you strip all context from the script, you have a better chance of judging the quality of work on itself alone. Having too much context can blinker your apprehension.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  Constance Congdon (CASANOVA is a masterpiece), John Patrick Shanley, Lynn Nottage, Christopher Durang, Tom Stoppard, Charles Mee, Sarah Ruhl, Tony Kushner, and of course that bastard Will, who makes life harder for the rest of us because he writes for free, and because dead playwrights are so much easier to work with. I also like Beckett's ENDGAME. Once tried to write like Beckett. It's impossible.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  The rare production that grabs me by the head, heart, and groin (now that's a disgusting image), and mesmerizes me and keeps blindsiding me with reveals that have me going "Holy shit, I didn't see that coming, but it makes perfect sense!" Theater that embodies the terrible glory ("terrible" in the ancient sense of the word) of humanity in language that overwhelms me without being overtly poetic or precious, because its power radiates from context, relationships, themes, symbolism, action, and plot.

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

A:  The Ugly Truth: Personal relationships matter more than script quality in getting produced. If you spend your writing career in, say, Akron, then all the contacts you make over the years will add up to zero. So, you should move to Chicago, New York, L.A., or San Francisco (London if you can afford it!), where you can cultivate the relationships and contacts that lead to production, and be immersed in a vital theater community where innovation and professionalism thrive.

If you can't live in one of these theatrical lands of Oz, than every time you visit one of them you should arrange to meet as many directors and LDs as possible; don't be shy about it, it's important. Try to become an actor or director as well, because that greatly expands the contacts you'll make (the most-produced local Atlanta playwrights at present are actors). Be sure to read Todd London's book Outrageous Fortune: the Life and Times of the New American Play so you know what you're in for, and keep in mind that most playwrights would love to be in the dilemma the book describes of making less than $20,000 a year and having trouble getting second productions! Get into one of the seven playwriting programs he lists because they dominate the national theater network and will make it easier for you to enter that network. Find a mentor who will help you learn the biz and pull strings to get you into desirable workshops and programs like the O'Neill Conference, which, if you don't have the connections, isn't worth applying to.  [Since this 2010 interview, the O’Neill has made a concentrated effort to be approachable to playwrights of all stripes. I’m impressed by how diligently they’ve been working to make the process as open and responsive as possible, and how thoughtfully they respond to playwright queries. Therefore, I consider my statement no longer applicable, if it ever was. – kj]

Theaters: seek theaters that do the kind of work that excites you and fits your sensibilities. Never treat theater staffers casually. If someone graciously meets you for coffee or reads one of your plays, they're doing you a real favor, because theaters are typically understaffed, starved for time and money, and flooded with playwright requests. Even a small theater, if it has any kind of good reputation, will receive hundreds of submissions a year. Hundreds. So, you've got to research a theater's web site before submitting work because otherwise you might be wasting their time sending stuff that doesn't fit their style and mission, and they're likely to write you off in future.

Theater LDs and dramaturges are looking for reasons not to read your script. If you send in a clunky unpolished draft, if it's poorly formatted or has sloppy punctuation or spelling, you're screaming; "I'm a clueless slob who considers myself a genius so you better love me, you pathetic schmucks!" This approach does not work.

Remember, professional theaters keep files of submissions and readers' critiques, so you're establishing a reputation every time you send something out, even if you never hear anything. Dramaturgs, ADs, and LDs talk to each other and quietly circulate scripts, so if you act like a twit instead of a professional, word will get around.

If you establish an ongoing collaboration with a theater, count your lucky stars. It is your home and tribe. Don't take them for granted. Love them as you would the offspring of your loins -- unless, of course, they turn into jerks or there's a staff change and you're out on your ass, in which case you need to find a new tribe. If you establish an ongoing relationship with two or three theaters, you're more protected from the ill winds of Fate.

Writing: Always try to write something different with every play, and experiment with style and form. Read lots of plays, see lots of plays, take lots of playwriting classes, develop good standards of quality and don't apologize for having them. Pay attention to the stories behind how which plays get produced at which theaters, and grow wise thereby. Listen carefully to criticism, do your best to be open-minded and not defensive about it, but remember that many people don't know what they're talking about and aren't really paying attention to your work when they critique it, so don't take them too seriously unless they're unusually thoughtful. Keep in mind that most writers will criticize your work in terms of their own personal preferences as writers. Don't submit an early draft for critique because you don't want to be influenced during the creative process. Don't bother writing as much about what you know as about what excites you. If an idea bursts through your brain like a supernova and your blood races so much it scares you, hell yeah, go for the ride! Ideas that arouse strong emotions in you, be they positive or negative, will stimulate your best writing. If an idea keeps bugging you, than jot down dialogue and notes and let the idea grow on its own.

There are dozens of writing genres. Playwriting can break your heart, so if you must write, think seriously about what other kinds of writing you can do, because other forms of writing might give you more joy.

Last of all, if you put too much of your psyche and self-worth into writing, it can damage you in the long run and make you a bitter, narrow person, so make an effort to have friends and interests outside of theater and writing.

There are thousands of reasons that writers write. With me, writing isn't a career, but a condition. If I don’t write, I get extremely depressed. Writing's like breathing to me; if I don't do it, I turn blue. That's not the best way to live, in fact, it's a poor way, it means playwriting's frustrations and disappointments affect me more than they should. The happiest people know that there are many things in life more important that writing, and they seek out those precious things and enjoy them. Family, friends, altruism, Nature, clog dancing, playing with toads, service to something outside of yourself; such things counter-balance the essentially selfish and inward-focused world of art. Don't squander your whole life crouched over a goddamned computer making things up. Go outside and run through the sprinklers!

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  The 7th Annual John Gassner New Play Competition at Stony Brook University presents a reading of its 2010 winning play Monstrous Beauty by Karla Jennings this Monday, April 26 at 6:00 p.m. in the SUNY Stony Brook Manhattan campus second-floor conference room at 401 Park Avenue South (between 27th and 28th Streets). The reading will be directed by Julia Gibson and features Gordana Rashovich as Leni Riefenstahl. A post-show discussion follows.

Apr 22, 2010

I Interview Playwrights Part 152: Jami Brandli

Jami Brandli

Hometown: North Bergen, NJ

Current Town: Pasadena, CA

Q: Tell me about the play you have going up at HotCity Theatre in St. Louis.

A: In essence, The Sinker is a single set, three person play that explores how far friends will compromise themselves for love.

In June of 2009, The Sinker won HotCity Theatre’s Jury Prize for their GreenHouse New Plays Festival, with the grand prize being a world premiere production in their 2010 season. They brought me back to St. Louis for a week-long workshop in December where I got to work with my dramaturg, Erica Nagel (Resident Dramaturg at Premiere Stage in NJ), my director, Annamaria Pileggi, and my cast. The setting was intense—which is the way I prefer to revise. We rehearsed for about four hours each night, and then the next morning and afternoon I wrote new pages, which were then explored and rehearsed that night. The workshop ended with a staged reading of the newly revised draft, which was open to the public. That week was simply heaven, and everyone at HotCity Theatre was phenomenal. The world premiere runs May 7th to May 22nd and I’m going back to St. Louis for the last week of rehearsal and opening weekend. I can honestly say I’m in love with this theatre company. In love!

Q: What else are you working on?

A: My latest play, Technicolor Life, is about a young female vet, Billie, who returns home from Iraq without her left hand and how this affects her family, particularly her teenage sister, Maxine. My play also deals with voluntary euthanasia and the Final Exit Network, an all-volunteer organization that serves members in all 50 states who are suffering from intolerable medical circumstances and want to end their lives. Franny, the dying matriarch who loves American musicals, asks her family to throw her a final goodbye party, forcing her daughter and granddaughters to wrestle moral decisions.

So far, Technicolor Life has been getting a great response. It’s been accepted into the 2010 WordBRIDGE Playwrights Lab (starts this June) and is currently a semifinalist for the Ashland New Plays Festival. It was also a semifinalist for the O'Neill and Seven Devils Playwrights Conference. Needless to say, I’m extremely excited to dive into WordBRIDGE this June and get to work on my next draft of Technicolor Life.

I’m also at work on my novel, The Big Mouth of New Jersey, and the beginning of my new play, HOOKS, which is about infidelity, turtles, body suspension and rebirth.

My husband, Brian Polak (who is also a playwright), and I are writing partners for TV and screenwriting. In 2008, we were finalists for the ABC Disney TV Fellowship, which was nice, but we’re still trying to break in. We moved from Boston to Los Angeles in the summer of 2007 to pursue TV and screenwriting as a team, but interestingly enough, it’s the LA theatre scene we’re drawn to more. They’re good people, and we’ve made great friends.

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 have a large family, so without question, they’ve helped shape me into a writer.

And then there’s pizza…

I grew up in the restaurant industry, literally. Soon after I was born, my parents, both barely 21 years old, opened up their first pizzeria in North Bergen, NJ. After a few years, they expanded into a larger pizzeria with a video arcade with forty games (I lived the dream in the 1980s), and then worked their way into opening up Italian restaurants. Most people who work in the restaurant industry are transient by nature, which means they all have interesting stories to tell. And lucky for me, most of my parents’ employees loved to tell stories. I’ve heard stories from drug addicts, ex cons, working moms, college boys, exchange students, pregnant teenage girls, vets, and many more. And then there are the employees who stay. It’s especially interesting to track the stories of the ones who been with my parents for over twenty years, as I get to hear about the deaths of their parents to the births of their grandchildren and all the drama and laughter in between. Every story I’ve been told is a gift, and I know—either consciously or subconsciously—they inform the stories I write.

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

A: I would love for big theaters to take more risks by producing new plays. And I would also love if there were a way for these theaters to charge less for tickets so more people would come to the theater to see new plays. It’s a pretty simple request, right?

Q: Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A: I have three types of heroes:

1. The playwrights who shake up theatre, and at the same time strike a universal cord with their plays. This is hard to do. Just to name a few: Sam Shepard, Naomi Wallace, Caryl Churchill and Paula Vogel.

2. The people, theaters, and organizations that promote and produce new plays.

My friend, colleague and fellow teacher at Lesley University, Kate Snodgrass, is one of those people. As the Artistic Director of the Boston Playwrights' Theatre, all she does is promote and produce new works. She didn’t receive the 2001 “Theatre Hero” Award from StageSource in Boston for nothing. Plus, Kate is an amazing playwright and director. She’s a triple threat. I’m continuously inspired by her drive, talent and enthusiasm.

One of those theaters is The Theatre @ Boston Court in Pasadena, CA. This year they’re producing four World Premieres. Four! http://www.bostoncourt.com/index.htm

And WordBRIDGE Playwrights Lab is one of those organizations. Their sole purpose is to help the playwright develop their play with no pressure of a production. I can only speak for myself, but this type of environment will allow me to explore, make mistakes and have profound discoveries without having a nervous breakdown. http://www.wordbridge.org/

3. My other heroes are the countless playwrights who get up and write everyday with no confirmation their play will ever get produced.

Q: What kind of theater excites you?

A: New works and plays that are inherently theatrical. I go to the theater to see a piece of theatre.

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

A: Take playwriting classes, go to the theatre, read as many plays as you can, surround yourself with honest people, and volunteer at your local theater. And by “volunteer” I mean volunteer to do anything from ushering to painting sets to reading plays. I feel it’s so important for beginning playwrights to understand the entirety of theatre, not just learn how to write a good play.

Q: Plugs, please:

A: If you’re in St. Louis in May, come see The Sinker at HotCity Theatre! http://hotcitytheatre.org/index.html

Support your local theater and please, go see new plays!

Apr 21, 2010

I Interview Playwrights Part 151: Kenneth Lin

Kenneth Lin

Hometown: West Hempstead, NY

Current Town: Kew Gardens, NY

Q:  Tell me please about your play going up soon in Houston.

A:  My play INTELLIGENCE-SLAVE, is about Curt Hertzstark, a concentration camp prisoner who was kept alive by the Nazis, during World War II because he had invented the world's first hand-held four-function calculator. The play takes place in an abandoned salt mines where the Nazis moved an armaments factory to protect it from aerial bombings. Curt is keeping himself and all the rest of the workers in the mine alive by withholding the solution for the calculator. Though he discovered the solution a long time ago, Curt maintains that he can't get the calculator to do subtraction. In response, the Nazi's have sent a Hitler Youth down into the mine to spy on Curt. When the boy comes up with the solution on his own Curt must decide if the glory of discovery is worth the lives everyone who is down in the mine.

The play was commissioned by Manhattan Theatre Club and written in residence at the Nassau Country Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center.

Q:  What else are you working on?

A:  Well, I got married on Sunday, so I'm working on coming down from the cloud. Writing-wise, I'm developing some television shows and figuring out how to write a one-man show with the actor George Takei, who played Sulu on Star Trek. I'm also thinking really hard about a new play about the disturbing spate of violence committed by Asian men in America.

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

A:  My parents worked the night shift at night, so my sister and I would be on our own and we'd watch all kinds of strange television and I remember our experiences being so intense. We'd watch sitcoms and laugh so hard that our bodies hurt. I don't recall laughing like that in a long time. One episode of Highway to Heaven was so intense we sobbed for an entire night. Those were the days.

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

A:  I don't know. That's such a big question. Theater really reminds me of an organic food store that just closed in my neighborhood. When I first moved here, I thought, "Wow, there's an organic food store here. This is a great neighborhood." But I never shopped there because everything was so expensive. They are liquidating now and everything is 50% off and I went to buy some things. I went to a counter with all these boxes that were covered in dust and when all was said and done, I still thought that it was too expensive. I think theater is similar. Who wouldn't want a theater to open up in their neighborhood? But, can a community afford to sustain these theaters under the current models? The answer is clearly -- no. Too often, we are in the business of catering to wealthy people, while leaving everyone else sitting in front of the tvs with their microwave dinners. What are we left with? Over-priced, dusty boxes of well-intentioned food. If I could change one thing to change this system, I'd do it, but I don't know what that one thing is. Maybe the best thing is that playwrights are moving to television. Maybe I would change theater by having performances televised live, like Playhouse 90 was.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  David Henry Hwang, Chay Yew, Stephen Sondheim, John Doyle, Henrik Ibsen, Lynn Nottage, August Wilson, Arthur Miller, Bryony Lavery, Jackson Gay, the LMDA.

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

A:  Don't be too critical of EVERYTHING. I think there was a time where I was so scared to be doing this with my life that it made it feel just a little bit less scary to hate everything I saw and pick it apart. But, you got into this because you love theater, right? Focus on the best of what you see and learn from that. Find a way to learn in every theater you are in, because, you'll be seeing a lot of theater and hating everything is just masochistic.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  Intelligence-Slave, Alley Theatre, Houston, TX May 23 - June 20. www.alleytheatre.org

Ken's website:  www.endofscene.com

Apr 20, 2010

150 Playwright Interviews

Heidi Darchuk

Kathleen Warnock

Beau Willimon

Greg Keller

Les Hunter

Anton Dudley

Aaron Carter

Jerrod Bogard

Emily Schwend

Courtney Baron

Craig "muMs" Grant

Amy Herzog

Stacey Luftig

Vincent Delaney

Kathryn Walat

Paul Mullin

Derek Ahonen

Francine Volpe

Julie Marie Myatt

Lauren Yee

Richard Martin Hirsch

Ed Cardona, Jr.

Terence Anthony

Alena Smith

Gabriel Jason Dean

Sharr White

Michael Lew

Craig Wright

Laura Jacqmin

Stanton Wood

Jamie Pachino

Boo Killebrew

Daniel Reitz

Alan Berks

Erik Ehn

Krista Knight

Steve Yockey

Desi Moreno-Penson

Andrea Stolowitz

Clay McLeod Chapman

Kelly Younger

Lisa Dillman

Ellen Margolis

Claire Willett

Lucy Alibar

Nick Jones

Dylan Dawson

Pia Wilson

Theresa Rebeck


Arlene Hutton

Jorge Ignacio Cortiñas

Lucas Hnath

Enrique Urueta

Tarell Alvin McCraney

Anne Washburn 

Julia Jarcho

Lisa D'Amour

Rajiv Joseph

Carly Mensch

Marielle Heller

Larry Kunofsky

Edith Freni

Tommy Smith

Jeremy Kareken

Rob Handel

Stephen Adly Guirgis

Kara Manning

Libby Emmons

Adam Bock

Lin-Manuel Miranda

Liz Duffy Adams

Winter Miller

Jenny Schwartz

Kristen Palmer

Patrick Gabridge

Mike Batistick

Mariah MacCarthy

Jay Bernzweig

Gina Gionfriddo

Darren Canady

Alejandro Morales

Ann Marie Healy

Christopher Shinn

Sam Forman

Erin Courtney

Gary Winter

J. Holtham

Caridad Svich

Samuel Brett Williams

Trista Baldwin

Mat Smart

Bathsheba Doran

August Schulenburg

Jeff Lewonczyk

Rehana Mirza

Peter Sinn Nachtrieb

David Johnston

Dan Dietz

Mark Schultz

Lucy Thurber

George Brant

Brooke Berman

Julia Jordan

Joshua Conkel

Kyle Jarrow

Christina Ham

Rachel Axler

Laura Lynn MacDonald

Steve Patterson

Erin Browne

Annie Baker

Crystal Skillman

Blair Singer

Daniel Goldfarb

Heidi Schreck

Itamar Moses

EM Lewis

Bekah Brunstetter

Mac Rogers

Cusi Cram

Michael Puzzo

Megan Mostyn-Brown

Andrea Ciannavei

Sarah Gubbins

Kim Rosenstock

Tim Braun

Rachel Shukert

Kristoffer Diaz

Jason Grote

Dan Trujillo

Marisa Wegrzyn

Ken Urban

Callie Kimball

Deborah Stein

Qui Nguyen

Victoria Stewart

Malachy Walsh

Jessica Dickey

Kara Lee Corthron

Zayd Dohrn

Madeleine George

Sheila Callaghan

Daniel Talbott

David Adjmi

Dominic Orlando

Matthew Freeman

Anna Ziegler

James Comtois

I Interview Playwrights Part 150: Heidi Darchuk

Heidi Darchuk

Hometown: Issaquah, WA

Current Town: Los Angeles, CA

Q: Tell me about Hotel Bardot going up soon in LA.

A: It's about the bardo, as a sort of afterlife hotel. The other Bardot looms (Brigitte). Kind of a dark comedy. There are rats.

Q: What else are you working on?

A: I'm working on a short play about the Alamo and a longer play, The Wrights, based on a case study from Laing's Sanity, Madness, and the Family.

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

A; My parents had a theatre and once a year we would do these musical revues for people in nursing homes and community centers in outlying areas. Just bringing that energy to people had a transformative quality that I am just beginning to understand.

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

I wish it was easier to get people to come see shows in Los Angeles. People have been sort of damaged from the theatre of obligation-- like seeing their friend's showcase, and then they're afraid to go to something good. There are some great theatre artists here, but you have to have your ear to the ground to find them.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  Maria Irene Fornes, Caryl Churchill, Harold Pinter, The Suzuki Company of Toga, SITI Company, Wooster Group, my parents.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  I like performance art with strong texts. People taking risks. And lately, sincerity excites me.

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

A:  Organize with your people. Write and read. Make stuff. Hold each other accountable.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  Hotel Bardot ( a workshop production) May 1st and 2nd in Los Angeles.


Also coming in June a group show at the Odyssey in Los Angeles, an evening of plays about the Alamo.

Apr 19, 2010

I Interview Playwrights Part 149: Kathleen Warnock

photo credit: Katrina del Mar

Kathleen Warnock

Hometown: Philadelphia

Current Town: NYC

Q:  What are you working on now?

A:  I’m working on a new full-length, called “Outlook.” It’s been given a reading by TOSOS, and is a semi-finalist for a couple of developmental programs. I also just wrote a short called “Staying Put” last weekend. I think it’s because so many people from high school have started friending me on Facebook. I am also working on about a million other things, because I’m a Gemini, and I am never happy unless I have about six things in various stages of completion.

Q:  Tell me about your series at KGB.

A:  Drunken! Careening! Writers! is held the third Thursday of every month; I’ve been doing it since 2004. I used to work at a literary arts center (the Writer’s Voice at the West Side Y) where I curated a lot of readings, and I developed my own set of criteria for what makes a good reading (five poets is too many!). Later, I asked Denis Woychuk, who owns KGB (and whom I knew from Writer’s Voice) if he’d give me a night. He said he would, and I started calling up writers, and mixing and matching genres and styles, and having fun doing it. The basic criteria is: 1) good writers; who 2) read their work well; and 3) something in it makes people laugh (nervous laughter counts). And 15 minutes tops. I also invite a lot of playwrights to read (as you know!) We’ve been called “Least Boring Reading Series” by Murph’s Bar Guide and “Essential New York” by TimeOut New York.

Q:  Tell me about en avant. How did it come about?

A:  Tina Howe has been a longtime friend and mentor, and she’s a professor at Hunter College, where I studied with her. Tina’s workshop, which is part of the MA curriculum (and as of this fall, part of the MFA Program in Playwriting), attracts a mix of students that often includes working artists (sometimes actors, directors or musicians) who have decided they’d like to learn more about playwriting, or get a masters, or both. At a certain point, several of us decided to form a group dedicated to getting our work produced. I started an online bulletin board, and as we collected the opps, I gave them a basic form (dividing them into categories from very short plays to full-lengths, development opportunities, staged readings, residencies, etc.) In addition, Tina helped us get some funding and space at Hunter to self-produce three nights of one-act plays under the En Avant Playwrights aegis. She even let us produce one of her short plays for the first time in New York City.

We agreed that group members could use the En Avant name for a project, and a couple of us have gone on to produce longer work with it. The group also included Ed Valentine, who’s gone on to NYU, become a Dramatists Guild Fellow, Nickelodeon Fellow, and write for The Fairly Oddparents, as well as producing and having a lot of his theatrical work produced (my last acting credit is in Ed’s “Women Behind the Bush”); and Chance Muehleck, who along with Melanie Armer, founded LIVE Theater and its experimental wing, The Nerve Tank (Bauhaus the Bauhas). The other playwrights are David Marrero, who’s produced some of his work off-off; Tom Dillehay, who’s working and writing in Memphis these days; Dan Shore, who writes operas and is a professor at Xavier University in New Orleans; and Maz Troppe, who came out of the downtown queer theater scene in the ‘80s, left behind a career in banking, and now teaches at a public school for the arts in New York City.

United Stages publishes a collection of the Best of En Avant Playwrights, and I still keep up the bulletin board. I call it my OCD hobby. Since its founding in 2003, it’s had over 230,000 visits and over a million page views. My reasoning toward keeping it up is that if I have to post opps and maintain the board, then I will know what venues are suitable for my work.

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 about 12, my father’s job took us away from Philadelphia, where I’d grown up, and where most of our relatives were. We moved to Montgomery, Alabama then to Columbia, South Carolina, and when my dad announced we had one more move in us, and it would be before or during my senior year in high school, I decided I didn’t want to start all over again, because frankly, I’d had a terrible time with each move, and wasn’t really socialized to be a teenager at all (I’d gone to a small, all-girl Catholic school in Philly, and didn’t really have any survival skills for a large public school). So I told my parents that I’d rather skip a year and finish before we left. This was in South Carolina, where you only needed 18 credits to graduate and they let the students drive the school buses. So it was remarkably easy to skip a year; I’d already been pushed up one after Montessori. My Dad agreed to let me go to summer school, and drove me across town every morning at 7am to the only school that offered the courses I needed. I passed the courses, made it through senior year, and graduated at 15. My parents told me that was too young to go away to college, so I had to pick a school in Baltimore, where Dad’s last move had taken the family. I chose UMBC because they offered Ancient Greek, which I’d always wanted to study. (And I did study it, all four years).

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

A:  Well, the short answer is that I’d have more theaters do my work; the longer answer is that I wouldn’t so much change the theater as change the climate around it. If you saw Mike Daisey’s “How Theater Failed America,” you might remember how he talks about the ivory tower of academic and institutional theater, and how it ceases being about the work, and becomes more about the buildings and the institutions. I was at a panel recently where Sarah Schulman called MFA programs “workfare for writers” and along with being a fabulous line, there’s an accuracy to it; the danger of an advanced degree program in writing is that it can encourage people to write for an audience of other writers. You definitely need writer’s writers, and people who care intensely about teaching, but you also need open-hearted artists from all backgrounds and people who write about things that are not writing, and not completely about upper middle class straight white people. (Though if that is your niche, than who am I to tell you to write about something else?) I came out of community theater, I don’t have an MFA. I used to be a sportswriter (my first full-length play was about women’s college basketball), and I’d like to see theater be more inclusive and specific to the writer’s passions and interests. Then, I think, you wouldn’t see people thinking of theater so much as a “luxury” but as a part of their lives that makes them more meaningful.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  When I first arrived in New York City (to go to acting school), I was lucky enough to get a gig, first as a volunteer, then as staff, at Mirror Rep, where I got to watch Geraldine Page work up close, and also learn from her in real life. She was very kind to young artists coming up, and never stopped going to class, and never stopped teaching class. (And in my adult life, I have always been in a class or workshop of one kind or another) Sabra Jones was (and is) artistic director of the Mirror, and she’s the first person who gave me a job in the theater, and I got too see, experience and do almost everything from the ground up. One of the directors at Mirror Rep, and one of the most important teachers I had is John Strasberg, whose acting class gave me an artistic vocabulary and a worldview that I still rely on. Mirror Rep’s production of Clifford Odets’s “Paradise Lost,” directed by John, remains one of my touchstone theater experiences.

Tina Howe has been my guardian angel from the moment I met her. She’s helped to shape my vision and craft, and has opened many doors; she’s also one of the artists most committed to emerging artists that I’ve ever met. Doric Wilson found me on the internet, and gave me a reading several years ago of the play then called “The Audience,” that launched the non-self-produced part of my playwriting career. He’s also stood behind me, pushed me through open doors, and is a living, breathing text about the history of New York theater, from the Caffe Cino on. The play he gave a reading to, now titled “Rock the Line,” was produced by Emerging Artists Theatre, won the Robert Chesley Award, and is also published by United Stages. Paul Adams, Artistic Director of EAT, produced “Rock the Line,” and has produced several other plays I wrote, and asked me to be Playwrights Company manager of EAT. Mark Finley is the artistic director of TOSOS (where I now curate the Robert Chesley/Jane Chambers Playwrights Project) and he’s directed my play “Some Are People” since it was a 24-hour 10-minute piece at Wings, through its latest incarnation as “End of Land,” a full-length play.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  Big vision, exquisite comedy, fabulous acting, and plays that are confident and fearless. Also, some rock and roll and women making out. Last weekend, I saw “Rescue Me” by Michi Barall, produced by Ma-Yi, and it was thrilling. (And of course I asked a question of the classics professor!) One of my favorite theatrical experiences ever is “Hedwig & the Angry Inch,” which I saw at least a dozen times during its NYC run, and I am overjoyed that it’s set to come back (to Broadway, no less) this year. Though I doubt there will be the super-cheap tickets for late night performances that they offered at Jane Street. I also like theater in really old or interesting spaces. In January, my play, “The Adventures of…” was performed in the basement of an 1835 church in Provincetown; last year, it was performed in the drawing room of a Georgian townhouse in Dublin.

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

A:  Write…and send it out. No one’s going to produce it if it’s still in your computer. And definitely learn how to produce yourself if you’ve got the temperament for it; it’s one of the most freeing things you can do. I’ve learned as much or more about writing from producing my work, watching it take shape in rehearsal, working with designers and techies, and watching the audience very night as I have in a workshop.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  Drunken! Careening! Writers! Third Thursday of every month at the lovely & fragrant KGB Bar in the East Village. See www.kgbbar.com for information on each month’s lineup.

Best! Lesbian! Erotica! (well, there are no exclamation points in the actual title, but there should be). I edit it, starting with the 2010 edition. Please buy it. And if you are a writer, please consider submitting work to it.

En Avant Playwrights: http://enavantplaywrights.yuku.com/directory. Visit often and I hope you get many productions.

International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival: I’m the Ambassador of Love for North America, and have had worked presented there the last two years. Spend the first two weeks of May in Dublin. You won’t regret it. www.gaytheatre.ie.

Please hope that I get another production somewhere soon. I’ve developed a sort of weird superstition that I can only get my hair cut when I’m going to one of my own opening nights, and I could really use one before the summer.