Saturday, July 31, 2010

I Interview Playwrights Part 226: Daniel McCoy


Daniel McCoy

Hometown: Portland, OR.

Current town: Brooklyn, NY.

Q:  Tell me about your upcoming Fringe show.

A:  My play Group will be world-premiering in the Fringe Festival at the Kraine Theater. Nutshell: it’s a comedy about a therapy group in purgatory populated by those who have died suddenly, gruesomely, and unexpectedly, and are having a rough time making the transition into the great beyond. Guilt, fear and anger are just a few things holding them back and these dead people gots to work it out! Super cool, disgustingly talented cast, all working their booties off. Beautiful, sexy and intelligent!

I’ve been working on the play off and on for several years. It had a reading in the summer of 2008 with Crosstown Playwrights and since then I’ve been futzing with it, but that’s about all. I submitted it to Fringe ultra-last-minute just to see what would happen and what happened is we’re doing it. The play has been in rehearsals for the last couple weeks but I’ve been away most of that time so I’ve been doing revisions remotely, emailing them in, then waiting to hear back how it’s going from my director Heidi Handelsman and producer Jody Christopherson. It’s weird. I’m used to being in the room from the start.

This is my second Fringe show in as many years. My play Eli and Cheryl Jump was up last year at the Player’s Loft. This is very different for several reasons: larger cast (6 as opposed to 2); longer running time (80 minutes as opposed to 45); and newness (first time up as opposed to previously produced). Otherwise the challenges are the same: do a good show and get butts in seats with no money for anything and everyone involved working for practically free. But I’m a DIYer so that’s part of the fun.

Q:  What else are you up to?

A:  I’m working on a new full-length show called (un)afraid with my company, the New York Neo-Futurists, which is going up in October. I’m co-writing the show with fellow Neos Jill Beckman and Cara Francis and will be performing in it with them as well. The show is a deconstruction and exploration of the concept, causes and consequences of fear, both in our society and within ourselves. Using elements of video, puppetry, personal narrative, and audience participation (this is a Neo-Futurists show, after all), we plan to create an immersive environment for the audience to give voice to and confront their own fears while we exploit our own to maximum theatrical effect. Just in time for Halloween, y’all! Sounds kinda concepty, right? Not a lot of specifics, right? That’s because we’re still writing it so we don’t know exactly what it’s going to be. Stay tuned...

Q:  What’s it like working with writing partners?

A:  This is my first time writing collaboratively to this degree and it’s an adjustment for sure. It’s a slower process building a full-length show with fellow company members as opposed to just busting out a script, so the learning experience has been, and will continue to be, I hope, a worthwhile challenge. I’ve been a Neo-Futurists for about a year and a half now and my experience writing and performing with the company has been in the ultra-short of Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind (our weekly late-night show that features a rotating menu of the 30 short plays which we attempt to perform in an hour or less). This process, with (un)afraid, is very different because although we are still writing within the Neo-Futurist aesthetic – non-illusory, no fourth wall, real time/task based – the goal is to explore and embrace the long form and steer away from the episodic format we’re so used to performing and writing within.

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

A:  I’ve always been a writer. As a wee child I used to write and draw comic books, mostly rip-offs of the X-Men series, which I was obsessed with as a kid. I had a few short stories and poems published in children’s lit journals when I was in grade school as well. I got into acting in high school, a habit that continued until my early thirties, and didn’t I write much during that time. Playwriting is my most recent artistic venture. I’ve been at it seriously now for about five or six years. It’s like my childhood self is finally catching up with me. That wasn’t really a story, more like an overview.

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

A:  I find I do a lot of theater stuff during the summer, which interferes with my going to the beach. I would advocate for more beach theater, so I can do both. Let’s try to get that started.

Q:  Who are your theatrical heroes?

A:  Gosh, I’m just in love with so much of the stuff I’ve seen from Sheila Callaghan and Young Jean Lee lately. I know those two are probably at or near the top of everybody’s lists nowadaaays, but come on. The dinner scene in That Pretty Pretty... The big set change in The Shipment... And nobody spoke during those scenes. I love watching people DO things on stage, really interesting, unusual things, and those two playwrights create worlds and environments where that shit happens. As icing, their language is bold and beautiful as well. I adore Edward Albee. He made me cry about a dead goat.

Q:  What advice would you give to playwrights starting out?

A:  I feel like I’m still starting out so it would be silly for me to give advice. Give me some advice, please.

Q:  Plugs:

Group at the Fringe fringenyc.org – tickets now on sale...

(un)afraid – New York Neo-Futurists nynf.org

225 playwright interviews alphabetically

Rob Ackerman
Liz Duffy Adams
Johnna Adams
David Adjmi
Derek Ahonen
Zakiyyah Alexander
Luis Alfaro
Lucy Alibar
Joshua Allen
Sofia Alvarez
Terence Anthony
Alice Austen
Rachel Axler
Annie Baker
Trista Baldwin
Courtney Baron
Mike Batistick
Nikole Beckwith
Alan Berks
Brooke Berman
Susan Bernfield
Jay Bernzweig
Barton Bishop
Lee Blessing
Jonathan Blitstein
Adam Bock
Jerrod Bogard
Deron Bos
Hannah Bos
Jami Brandli
George Brant
Tim Braun
Delaney Britt Brewer
Erin Browne
Bekah Brunstetter
Sheila Callaghan
Darren Canady
Ed Cardona, Jr.
Jonathan Caren
Aaron Carter
David Caudle
Clay McLeod Chapman
Christopher Chen
Andrea Ciannavei
James Comtois
Joshua Conkel
Kara Lee Corthron
Jorge Ignacio Cortiñas
Erin Courtney
Cusi Cram
Lisa D'Amour
Heidi Darchuk
Dylan Dawson
Gabriel Jason Dean
Vincent Delaney
Emily DeVoti
Kristoffer Diaz
Jessica Dickey
Dan Dietz
Lisa Dillman
Zayd Dohrn
Bathsheba Doran
Anton Dudley
Laura Eason
Fielding Edlow
Erik Ehn
Libby Emmons
Christine Evans
Joshua Fardon
Kenny Finkle
Sam Forman
Kevin R. Free
Matthew Freeman
Edith Freni
Patrick Gabridge
Madeleine George
Peter Gil-Sheridan
Gina Gionfriddo
Michael Golamco
Daniel Goldfarb
Jacqueline Goldfinger
Craig "muMs" Grant
Katharine Clark Gray
Kirsten Greenidge
Jason Grote
Sarah Gubbins
Stephen Adly Guirgis
Jennifer Haley
Christina Ham
Sarah Hammond
Rob Handel
Ann Marie Healy
Marielle Heller
Amy Herzog
Andrew Hinderaker
Cory Hinkle
Richard Martin Hirsch
Lucas Hnath
J. Holtham
Les Hunter
Sam Hunter
Chisa Hutchinson
Arlene Hutton
Laura Jacqmin
Joshua James
Julia Jarcho
Kyle Jarrow
Karla Jennings
David Johnston
Nick Jones
Julia Jordan
Rajiv Joseph
Jeremy Kareken
Greg Keller
Anna Kerrigan
Boo Killebrew
Callie Kimball
Krista Knight
Larry Kunofsky
J. C. Lee
Dan LeFranc
Andrea Lepcio
Steven Levenson
Michael Lew
EM Lewis
Jeff Lewonczyk
Kenneth Lin
Matthew Lopez
Stacey Luftig
Kirk Lynn
Mariah MacCarthy
Laura Lynn MacDonald
Kara Manning
Ellen Margolis
Ruth Margraff
Tarell Alvin McCraney
Carly Mensch
Molly Smith Metzler
Charlotte Miller
Winter Miller
Lin-Manuel Miranda
Rehana Mirza
Michael Mitnick
Alejandro Morales
Desi Moreno-Penson
Dominique Morisseau
Itamar Moses
Gregory Moss
Megan Mostyn-Brown
Paul Mullin
Julie Marie Myatt
Janine Nabers
Peter Sinn Nachtrieb
Brett Neveu
Qui Nguyen
Don Nigro
Dan O'Brien
Dominic Orlando
Jamie Pachino
Kristen Palmer
Tira Palmquist
Peter Parnell
Steve Patterson
Daria Polatin 
Craig Pospisil
Jessica Provenz
Michael Puzzo
Theresa Rebeck
Amber Reed
Daniel Reitz
Mac Rogers
Andrew Rosendorf
Kim Rosenstock
Kate E. Ryan
Kate Moira Ryan
Sarah Sander
Tanya Saracho
Heidi Schreck
August Schulenburg
Mark Schultz
Jenny Schwartz
Emily Schwend
Jordan Seavey
Christopher Shinn
Rachel Shukert
Blair Singer
Crystal Skillman
Mat Smart
Alena Smith
Tommy Smith
Deborah Stein
Victoria Stewart
Andrea Stolowitz
Gary Sunshine
Caridad Svich
Jeffrey Sweet
Adam Szymkowicz
Daniel Talbott
Lucy Thurber
Dan Trujillo
Alice Tuan
Jon Tuttle
Ken Urban
Enrique Urueta
Francine Volpe
Kathryn Walat
Malachy Walsh
Kathleen Warnock
Anne Washburn
Marisa Wegrzyn
Ken Weitzman
Sharr White
Claire Willett
Samuel Brett Williams
Beau Willimon
Pia Wilson
Gary Winter
Stanton Wood
Craig Wright
Deborah Yarchun
Lauren Yee
Steve Yockey
Kelly Younger
Stefanie Zadravec
Anna Ziegler
(Thanks to Callie Kimball for the alphabetically listed list)

Friday, July 30, 2010

225 playwright interviews


Amber Reed
Joshua Fardon
Dan O'Brien
Jonathan Blitstein
Dominique Morisseau
Fielding Edlow
Joshua Allen
Peter Gil-Sheridan
Tira Palmquist
Sarah Hammond
Charlotte Miller
Deborah Yarchun
Anna Kerrigan
Luis Alfaro
Jonathan Caren
Jennifer Haley
Sofia Alvarez
Kevin R. Free
Ken Weitzman
Michael Golamco
J. C. Lee
Ruth Margraff
Kirk Lynn
Tanya Saracho
Daria Polatin 
Delaney Britt Brewer
Alice Tuan
Alice Austen
Jeffrey Sweet
Dan LeFranc
Andrew Hinderaker
Brett Neveu
Christine Evans
Jon Tuttle
Nikole Beckwith
Andrea Lepcio
Gregory Moss
Hannah Bos
Steven Levenson
Molly Smith Metzler
Matthew Lopez
Lee Blessing
Joshua James
Chisa Hutchinson
Rob Ackerman
Janine Nabers
Cory Hinkle
Stefanie Zadravec
Michael Mitnick
Jordan Seavey
Andrew Rosendorf
Don Nigro
Barton Bishop
Peter Parnell
Gary Sunshine
Emily DeVoti
Kenny Finkle
Kate Moira Ryan
Sam Hunter
Johnna Adams
Katharine Clark Gray
Laura Eason
David Caudle
Jacqueline Goldfinger
Christopher Chen
Craig Pospisil
Jessica Provenz
Deron Bos
Sarah Sander
Zakiyyah Alexander
Kate E. Ryan
Susan Bernfield
Karla Jennings
Jami Brandli
Kenneth Lin
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
Kirsten Greenidge
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
Me
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 225: Amber Reed

 
Amber Reed
 
Hometown: Brooklyn, though I grew up in Michigan.

Current Town: Tokyo.

Q:  Tell me about the Weasel Festival and your contribution to it.
 
A:  Bring a Weasel and a Pint of Your Own Blood (link: http://www.facebook.com/#!/event.php?eid=136324809723487&index=1), now in its fifth summer, is a festival of adaptations by current and former Brooklyn College playwriting MFA students.  Karinne Keithley, Kate Ryan, Erin Courtney, and Mac Wellman founded the festival and each year it's produced entirely by the playwrights whose work will be performed the next year.

This year, Corina Copp, Ben Gassman, and Kobun Kaluza--all wonderful, very different writers--have adapted biblical apocrypha.  I'm in Japan now, sadly, but made a short video concerning the book of Tobit that will be shown as well.

Q:  What else are you up to?
 
A:  I'm writing a new play called "Red Flamingoes, Their Similarities to the Skies" and some fiction, and working on my Japanese language skills.  "For the first time we meet.  Please be kind to me."

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 played a giant Velveeta in our fourth grade musical about dairy foods.  It only occurred to me about three years ago that Velveeta is neither.

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

A:  The idea that theater is something to be understood.  "Is this art?  What does it mean? What sort of person will I appear to be if I like or dislike it?"--when art, at its best, is no more reducible or subject to explanation than life, or the world, or whatever one might call the sum of our awareness and unawareness of everything.  It's not a problem exclusive to theater; art museums address this kind of anxiety by covering walls in long paragraphs and draping audio guides around every neck, but too often I think such explications just carry people even farther away from direct experience of the art, and at worst supplant real experience entirely. 

While there aren't any audio guides in theater yet, often as not, the play itself will ponderously unveil some terrible, obvious message.  And when it doesn't--when it's, say, Gertrude Stein's A Family of Perhaps Three--nine times out of ten, people like my mother (who is very smart, but considers Rent daring) feel shut out, like they just don't get it.  But there's nothing to get.  I don't "get" the moon, or the look of people's faces on my street in the middle of a weekday, but here I am and there it all is (thank God!).  I'd love for my mom and everyone like her to be able to trust the integrity of their own experience again: I was here for this, and possibly thought or felt certain things during it, which may or may not be readily communicable--and that's it.  There's nothing more to it.

Or just more joy, more amateurism, and fewer dead children as plot grenades.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?
 
A:  Mac Wellman, of course, from the moment he remarked that one of the great fallacies of American theater is that talking is a form of communication.  And the other members of a playwriting cabal called Joyce Cho: Scott Adkins, Kelly Copper, Rob Erickson, Karinne Keithley, and Sibyl Kempson.  Karinne rounded us all up after graduating from Brooklyn College because it seemed too sad not to see each other anymore.  We knock around ideas and egg on each other's radicalism.  The Chos are more or less directly responsible for beating insane old dreams of personal dominance and self-expression out of me and replacing them with things much more interesting and difficult.  All five have been on a tear with their own work over the past few years--it's been amazing, a real golden age.

From the near past, Arnold Weinstein, too soon forgotten; Gertrude Stein; Jane Bowles.  Herman Melville and Virginia Woolf always feel very present to me, even when writing plays.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A;  Theater that at least starts by addressing the audience in terms of our perfections rather than our limitations. Also, I love feeling that the people behind it recognize that everything about theater is completely crazy and frivolous even as they're throwing themselves into it with everything they have.  Auden said, "To be able to devote one's life to art without forgetting that art is frivolous is a tremendous achievement of personal character."  Shakespeare never forgot, and neither do groups like National Theater of the United States of America or Nature Theater of Oklahoma.

I also share Auden's admiration for protean artists who try one thing after another, not caring if it fails, over those who devote themselves to the perfection of a single thing or type of thing.

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

A:  If you feel comfortable with more professional models of theater-making, that's great, but if not, there are many, many others.  Interest yourself as much as possible in things that have nothing to do with plays.  Build your own intellectual community if you don't find one ready-made.  

More seriously, the first time I met Young Jean Lee, she said I should "make my name more ching-chongy" to get all the Asian grant money.  That's good advice for anyone.

Plugs, please:
I'm out of touch here in Tokyo, but obviously, the Weasel festival!  (link: http://www.facebook.com/#!/event.php?eid=136324809723487&index=1)  Remaining shows are July 29-30, 2010 at 7:30pm, the East 13th St. Theater, $18/$15 students.   And please see it next year too, and every year after that.

Karinne Keithley is performing Montgomery Park at Mt. Tremper Arts Center in the Catskills on July 31, 2010.  It's more than worth the drive. (link: http://www.mounttremperarts.org/karinne-keithley)

Thursday, July 29, 2010

I Interview Playwrights Part 224: Joshua Fardon





Joshua Fardon

Current Town: Los Angeles, CA.

Q:  Tell me about Shake. Is this your second play with Theater of Note?

A:  It's my third if you include one-acts. The first full-length of mine they did was called This Contract Limits Our Liability – Read It!, and last year they produced a playlet called Tenant. Shake is about a group of people in Manhattan during the year after 9/11. And it happens backwards. It starts in August 2002, the next scene is in July 2002, the next in June and so on, ending on September 10, 2001. It's dramatic and funny and kind of a puzzle. And it has a kick-ass director and cast. And because I'm an even more shameless plugmeister than you might reasonably suspect, we're doing it at Theatre of NOTE through early September. Google it.

Q:  What else are you up to?

A:  I'm writing a new full-length and I'm directing a play called Bail Me Out which goes up in September. So I'm extremely busy.

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 actually failed handwriting in second grade. That's the truth. I got all A's and an F in handwritintg. So I have no idea why I decided to pursue it. And I rarely write anything directly autobiographical, but my mother keeps creeping around the seams of my plays and poking her head in and saying something off-color, infuriating and absurd.

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

A:  I would have a device at the door that melts cellophane and temporarily zaps the receiver and texter component on mobile phones. Also, I find it fascinating that when you have something remotely terrible take place in a play, people often talk about how “dark” it is. To me, darkness is just drama. It's kind of weird that people would complain about a play like The Pillowman being too dark for them, then go see Hostel and not think anything of it. But I guess that speaks to the power of live performance. So, to answer your question, I guess I'd make it darker.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A: I read all the biographies and autobiographies of Laurence Olivier when I was in college. And, I guess, on a literary level, I've always loved the dark Jacobean playwrights who hung out with Shakespeare – but weren't afraid to be grungier, more violent and less polished. Let's see, I also love Harold Pinter, David Mamet, Euripides, Chekhov and Strindberg, who was just so fascinating, demented and sick.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  I love starkness and the simplicity of being in a partially lit space. I'm not a fan of pageants and props and sets. I think the most powerful thing in the world occurs when two people stand in contained light – they want opposite things and now they have to fight for it. Okay, yes, that's boxing – but you get my point. And I never get so jealous as when I go to a small theatre and watch some wild experimental play with a young sexy cast who look like they're having fun.

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

A:  Don't be afraid of pretentiousness – it can even be your friend – but avoid being clever at the cost of story. Believe in yourself, but avoid falling in love with the sound of your own voice. Stand up up for your vision – there's a reason you have it, but realize that the play you've written is larger than yourself – and that once you've handed it over to a director and a cast, it's no longer completely yours. If you can't stand that kind of separation, write novels. Kill your darlings. And plug, plug, plug, plug plug.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A: 
Shake at Theatre of NOTE.
http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=129008343790072&ref=ts

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

I Interview Playwrights Part 223: Dan O'Brien



photo credit Peter Bellamy



Current Town: Los Angeles. Though my wife (actor and writer Jessica St. Clair) and I are in NYC a lot too.

Q:  Tell me about The Angel in the Trees:

A:  It’s a ghost story, or a series of ghost stories, an hour-long monologue spoken by a woman from New York recently transplanted to a small town in the south.

Q:  What else are you up to?

A:  I just got back from teaching playwriting with Beth Henley at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference in Sewanee, TN. And I’m working on my new play, The Body of an American, which was the 2009-2010 McKnight National Residency and Commission through The Playwrights’ Center, where I’m a Core Writer. It’s a play about journalist Paul Watson, who won the Pulitzer Prize in 1994 for his photograph of a fallen American soldier being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu. The play’s had some additional support from Sundance and TCG which helped me spend some time with Paul in the Canadian Arctic this winter, where he was taking a break from war reporting for a time and covering the “Arctic and aboriginal beat.” He’s now back in Afghanistan.

I’m also getting ready to premier my play The Three Christs of Ypsilanti at Black Dahlia Theatre in L.A. this winter, with Michael John Garcés directing. It’s an adaptation of a nonfiction book of the same title, about three schizophrenic men who thought they were Jesus Christ and the doctor who tried to change their minds (by getting them all together in group therapy for two years). I’m adapting this play as an opera too, with composer Jonathan Berger. We just premiered a song cycle inspired by The Three Christs of Ypsilanti, entitled Theotokia (Hymn to the Mother of God), at the Spoleto Festival USA with Dawn Upshaw singing. You can hear a recording of her performance here: https://ccrma.stanford.edu/~brg/theotokia/

And I’m writing poetry, which is what I tend to do when I’m not writing plays.

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 suppose it was reading Waiting for Godot at twelve and thinking, This is just like my family! I had a similar reaction at around the same age while reading Anne Sexton. Writing for me became a way to reach out past solitude, and theatre is perhaps the most extreme gesture of this kind.

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

A:  Better education and exposure to theatre, so that the adult audience could be much, much wider. It’s such a relatively narrow field, which limits terribly the aesthetic and expression of theatre.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  Charles Mee, who I studied with at Brown. Wallace Shawn’s plays have been important to me. Many Irish playwrights, and not necessarily the most well known (I lived for a while in Ireland, in Cork and Galway, and the experience was hugely formative for me). British theatre of the ’70s and ’80s. The short stories of William Trevor, the poetry of Czeslaw Milosz and Robert Hass. So many contemporary playwrights today—anyone who feels compelled to devote their lives to this art form, despite its humiliations, large and small.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  I like challenging work, plays that ring a loud, large bell and ask difficult questions of the audience. I’m drawn to the strange, because I think the truth about life is most often hidden from us, and when we catch glimpses of the truth it will and should strike us as strange and wonderful and awful. (The best comedies, in my opinion, are as disturbing as good drama.) I like mess with a hidden craft to it. And despite all the difficulties of challenging work, I want to tell stories. I still believe in character and story.

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

A:  I don’t know, just to write write write, and send send send. To cast a wide net, as fearlessly as you can—it’s the only way to discover your artistic peers, and of course you need them, because we can’t do any of this alone.

Q:  Plugs:

A:  Jessica Dickey is doing a beautiful job with The Angel in the Trees, as is director Mark Armstrong and his team of designers. Please come see the play at Manhattan Theatre Source this weekend.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Hey, You want to read about 6 of my plays?

6 playwrights are reading 6 of my plays and writing about them. 

http://fluxtheatreensemble.blogspot.com/2010/07/playwrights-on-playwrights-adam.html

It starts today here:

http://fluxtheatreensemble.blogspot.com/2010/07/pop-larry-on-nerve.html

I Interview Playwrights Part 222: Jonathan Blitstein


Jonathan Blitstein

Hometown: Lincolnshire, Illinois

Current Town: Brooklyn!

Q:  Tell me about your play going up at the Dream Up Festival:

A:  It's called Keep Your Baggage With You (at all times). It's about two young men who allow their friendship to fall apart as they transform into different people over time, struggling against some of the familiar difficulties of the digital age. It's told in seven scenes, each one advancing about five months into the future. Daniel Talbott ("Slipping", Rattlestick/Rising Phoenix Rep) is directing. And there are some very talented and dedicated actors/crew members on board. We're showing at Theater For the New City as part of the Dream Up Festival.

Q:  What else are you up to?

A:  I recently bought a bike at the Brooklyn flea and I've been biking around. I freelance for an indie film company in Tribeca. I'm a script reader at Rattlestick. I go see a lot of old movies at Film Forum. I've also been trying to get some different film projects off the ground, too.

Q:  You also write film. Do you have to mentally adjust when writing film vs theater?

A:  Oh, absolutely. I have to mentally adjust to the fact that what I write for the theater won't pay my rent. Haha, but there are always the obvious differences, the formatting of scripts, remembering not to write INT/EXT. at the tops of scenes. Also, in film you can't get away with the silence that we love in theater. That tension-- you are forced to convey that with editing, and (hopefully) camera work, lensing.

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 fourteen I started at a high school with about 5000 students, the size of a small college campus. I was really depressed and I didn't see any of my junior high friends, anymore. There were gangs. The teachers were miserable. Everyone was miserable. My history teacher, a closet-punkrocker beneath a suit and tie, recognized my teen angst and gave me some Salinger and Camus to read. I devoured the books in a few days, and cried on and off after that, for a year. It was an awakening and turned my life in a different direction. I started to take the arts more seriously.

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

A:  I wish I could make the cost of renting a decent theater space 50 bucks a week instead of 5000 bucks.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  I grew up watching musicals at a fantastic regional equity theater in the round, inside a Marriott hotel in the middle of a cornfield. I loved (and still love) Stephen Sondheim. That's how I fell in love with theater in the first place. I don't think I saw a straight play until I was 15. Around then, we moved and I started at a small public high school that had a theater program run by an inspired young Chicago playwright/actor. He introduced me to an eclectic group: Shakespeare, Eric Bogosian, Arthur Miller, Chekhov, Paula Vogel, David Mamet, Marsha Norman, Lanford Wilson and others. New heroes: Bruce Norris, Tracy Letts, Sarah Ruhl...there are too many to list, and I haven't even mentioned the directors, actors, Jimmy Slonina and Larry Yando in Chicago, Steppenwolf, The Hippocrites...right now my heroes are my contemporaries-- there are so many writers under 35 who are working their butts off and doing great work. They inspire me every day.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  I'm excited when a show takes me out of myself, when the world offstage disappears, when the language is poetic, when the plot unfolds and I can't see where it's going, when the magical mixture of all the components of the play come together and create something unforgettable.

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

A:  Read everything, not just plays. Don't be afraid to start writing. Write everyday. Take care of yourself, your mind needs to be in a good place to create. Listen to criticism. Don't show anyone your first or second drafts. Know when to quit for the day. Patience, patience, patience!

Q:  Plugs, please:

A: 
Chicago Theater!!

Bruce Norris' Clybourne Park at Playwright's Horizons!

Sam Gold and Annie Baker - sooo good!

David Mamet's RACE

Rising Phoenix Rep!

Cromer's OUR TOWN

Anne Washburn's The Small!

Anna Kerrigan

Bryan Scary's new album "Daffy's Elixir"

Sarah Ruhl's Passion Play at Irondale Ctr was INCREDIBLE.

Philip Roth's "Indignation" and "The Humbling"

Please come see our show at Theater for the New City.
Tickets are here:
https://www.ovationtix.com/trs/pr/758485

Monday, July 26, 2010

I Interview Playwrights Part 221: Dominique Morisseau


Dominique Morisseau

Hometown:  Detroit

Current Town:  New York City – Brooklyn

Q:  Tell me please about the play you're bringing to the O'Neill.

A:  My play that is being developed at the O’Neill this summer is called “Follow Me To Nellie’s”. It's partially based on my Aunt Nellie Jackson who was a legendary Madame in Natchez, Mississippi and who - during the Civil Rights Movement - used the brothel to assist the activists. I chose to focus on this aspect of my aunt's life, and create a story that centers on her brothel. Set during 1955 in Natchez, it tells the story of an aspiring blues singer who is looking for a way out, a voting rights activist looking for shelter, a brothel of wounded women looking for change, and what happens when their worlds collide during the reign of segregation and under the watchful eye of Miss Nellie Jackson.

Q:  What else are you working on now?

A:  Oh lots! In the Emerging Writers Group at the Public, I am working on a 3-play cycle about Detroit, tentatively called “The Detroit Projects”- that focus on Detroit in three urgent eras. The first of my set (which is newly written) is called Detroit 67, based on the 1967 riots. The second is a play on Detroit’s Blackbottom section where the blues had its heyday in the 1940’s. The third and final will be on Detroit in the present in the aftermath of the auto-industry failures and the foreclosure crisis. I am compelled to examine the root causes of some of my hometown’s major contemporary concerns, and this cycle is one of my ways of doing so.

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

A:  Oooooo…okay….let’s see…. Well… I always wanted to tell stories. When I was 8 years old, in second grade, I would create little short, hand-written novellas to pass around to my friends. The best series was what I called, “The Cabbage Patch Mysteries”. That’s right. These were fashioned after my so beloved Cabbage Patch Kid baby dolls. And these were badass characters. Little girl doll babies that were solving crimes and taking back the neighborhood from kidnappers and drug dealers and whoever else. I was no joke. And neither were the Cabbage Patch Kids. I would force these stories on my classmates. Staple them together like little booklets – the whole nine. I was the story-pusher. And it never left me. By the time I got to college to study acting, I realized I was less-than-satisfied with the lack of diversity in casting, and the lack of work for the Black students. So that second grade story pusher came back and I decided to write plays and cast virtually every Black person on campus who was interested. Suddenly, my 3-person play had 20 cast members, and it was unforgettable. So I guess what this means about me as a writer is that I am and have always been interested in filling in the void, and addressing the issues of the marginalized. Be it through Cabbage Patch Kids or 1955 Natchez Mississippi whores…. if their stories are unknown… I’m looking to illuminate them J

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

A:  The Industry. Theatre is beautiful. The art - inspiring. But the industry of Theatre… the entity that worries about tickets sales and superstars and playing things safe and politics and who-you –know…that is what needs to go. I’d change the entire concept of industry, and make the art the thing that supercedes it all…

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  Pearl Cleage is definitely one. The way she loves women in her work inspires me to love myself… and put that in my writing. Lorraine Hansbury. August Wilson. Ron Milner. Joe Papp. Woodie King Jr. And the pioneers of the Black Theatre Movement. They are most definitely my heroes.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  I’m most excited by plays that tell stories of a pocket of people in a very specific community and can somehow find a way to make it connect to socio-political issues and be completely universal without me even knowing. When I’m connected to the humanity of a story…. And I’m laughing and crying and thinking all at once - I’m thrilled…

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

A:  Be fearless. Develop great understanding about WHO you’re writing about. Don’t just read about them or overhear them talking in public. Find them and learn from them and love them enough to do them justice. Find peers that you trust and share your work with them. Do not wait for permission from others to write. Do not wait until you know you won’t fail. Do not wait until some great theatre calls you and offers you a reading. Do not wait do not wait do not wait….

Sunday, July 25, 2010

I Interview Playwrights Part 220: Fielding Edlow


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 . .