Monday, June 18, 2012
I Interview Playwrights Part 468: Susan Mosakowski
Home and Current Town: New York City
Q: Tell me about Escape.
A: Escape just opened in New York at La MaMa. Escape is about freedom—freedom from self-limitations, freedom from the limitations that come from the outside. It's about the chains that hold us back.
Emblematic of a person in chains was the great Harry Houdini. What kind of person was he? As a playwright, the most interesting thing about Houdini was that he was someone who understood the secrets of his jail. My play became about exploring our limits in all of their manifestations, physical and psychological. I created the character of Harry Houdini the III, but unlike his grandfather, Harry does not understand the secrets of his jail and is not a successful escape artist like the great one. We watch him roll around the floor in a straitjacket, trying to release himself as his wife Bess reads a newspaper and has tea—a normal day in the Houdini household—while next door, Gus, an unemployed elevator repairman, lies in wait with a shotgun. He keeps his neighbors and wife in the cross hairs, protecting his piece of the pie. At the same time, in an adjacent room, lives an agoraphobic actress held captive by Daddy, a terrorist on the run.
Three couples occupy three rooms. Imagining the play is to imagine a triptych. Three stages are going on simultaneously. The verbal text of the play takes place in one of three rooms and rotates from room to room throughout the play. The actors in the two adjacent rooms assume still tableaux or silent actions while the main action takes place. The two silent rooms create an expanded visual field for the play and are intended to contribute to the subtext for the play. The challenge in doing this was that the designers and the director had to create three stages and three spaces that are always present, always active because the characters never exit. The stage is transparent, where people live in rooms without visible walls or doors and windows, and yet they still are trapped. What does the key look like? That's my question.
Q: If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?
A: If I could change one thing about the theater it would be to change the current system of producing theater in this country and in this city. There is a serious lack of small and mid-level producers. In the 80’s and 90’s there was a theater landscape that included a number of small producers doing off off Broadway shows, as well as independent theater companies doing their own work. Next on the ladder was the tier of producers for off Broadway, and then Broadway. There was an economic tier for many different kinds of work. It was possible to do daring and experimental work in smaller theatres and if the work could reach a wider audience there would be a step up to an off Broadway house. With the downturn in the economy what we have now is poor theater—and even that takes a small fortune to produce—and large theaters that need to have real ticket sales and subscription audiences to survive. Like the middle class that has vanished in this country so have the mid-range theaters. For many off Broadway theaters it’s imperative that they move a play to Broadway so that they have a cash cow to support their operations, their mid-sized ambitions need big money. While some large theatres offer a second stage and workshop productions, the vast majority of playwrights do not see their work produced on a main stage because the larger theaters cannot take risks, and the smaller theaters, in general, are producing less—NYSCA and the NEA has been gutted, foundation and corporate funding is down. Where’s the middle? How are we to sustain a vibrant theatre community when everybody is looking at the bottom line, when theater has been turned into a commodity? There needs to be greater support for those groups and individuals who desire to produce theater. Within reason, the dreams of a playwright or a director should not be tied to economics of a theatre.
Q: Who are or were your theatrical heroes?
A: I have many theatrical heroes. Early ones were Robert Wilson, Peter Brook, Pina Bausch, Jerzy Grotowski, Suji Terayama, Richard Foreman, and Meredith Monk. More recent heroes are Ariane Mnouchkine, and Robert LaPage.
Q: What kind of theater excites you?
A: I’m excited by theatre that is total. Total in the sense that the conception of the work is a collaborative effort of text, music, choreography and direction, and design, all in process together from the beginning so that the whole stage is unified and that the theatrical experience is created from a wide artistic palette.
Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
A: My advice to young playwrights starting out is that to keep the work front and center. It’s all about the work.
Q: Plugs pleas:
A: ESCAPE plays for one more week at La MaMa. Wednesday June 20 – Sunday June 24th.
Go to http://creationproduction.org/next/index.htm for info or to www.lamama.org