Aug 10, 2012
I Interview Playwrights Part 488: Anne Phelan
Hometown: Cleveland, Ohio
Current Town: Brooklyn, New York City
Q: What are you working on now?
A: A few years ago, I reconnected with my fellow Albee Fellow Jacob Ouillette, who’s a painter. (Believe me, you get to know people really well when you live in the same space with them for a month.) Jacob was getting ready for a solo show at Open Source Gallery, which happens to be in my neighborhood. We decided we should seize the opportunity to work together, and Open Source’s Monika Wuhrer thought that was a great idea. So I wrote a short play, “Brooklyn Lighthouse,” based on Jacob’s paintings: he paints a lot of seascapes- two of which I own- and lighthouses. It was performed twice at the show’s opening. The play went over so well, the gallery added additional performances. Monika was enthusiastic about it, so the next year I worked with another painter, and wrote a play about her work.
Last year, I wrote a one-act play about a series of paintings by Naoe Suzuki (“Mi Tigre, My Lover”) about tiger tamer Mabel Stark. The actors (Cotton Wright and Jacob Grigolia-Rosenbaum) and director (Tamara Fisch) and I fell in love with the story of this woman who grew up on a Kentucky tobacco farm and went on to headline at Ringling Bros. in the 1920s, and her favorite tiger, Rajah. So I’ve been working on a full-length version (The Tiger Play), and I’m starting another draft before our Open Source reading in mid-September. Answering these questions is totally helping me procrastinate!
I should also be working on a new musical with composer John Prestianni, which I am neglecting. But will return to.
Q: Do you think the William Inge House is haunted?
A: Uh, yeah. I’m not big on ghosts, but there are places where I get that vibe. Several apartments I’ve lived in, Glastonbury in England, and the Inge house.
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 we were little, my brothers and I (our sister is ten years younger) spent a lot of time with our maternal grandmother. She’d make up these games for us that were half-improv/half-creative visualization, not that she would have called them that. One of the games was pretending that the couch we sat on was a train, and that we were all in sleeper cars. It was exciting- being on the train, and heading toward some unknown destination. Much more exciting, I found out years later, than actually riding in an upper berth over the Alps.
In hindsight, I suspect the point of Grandma’s game was to get us to shut up, but at the time, it was magic.
Q: If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?
A: That everybody got paid a living wage, instead of juggling multiple jobs.
Q: Who are or were your theatrical heroes?
A: Edward Albee; Stephen Sondheim; Richard Foreman; Samuel Beckett; Ellen Stewart; Uta Hagen (I’ll never forget seeing her in Mrs. Klein); Rosemary Harris (ditto in All Over- she was so mesmerizing I forgot to breathe); Chris Durang; Naomi Wallace (how great is One Flea Spare?).
Q: What kind of theater excites you?
A: Theatre that’s truly theatrical- not trying to imitate film or television.
Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
A: Don’t take everyone’s criticism with equal weight. Some people will give you terrific insight into your work, but many are flapping their gums because they like the sound of their own voices. Learn to tell the difference.
Q: Plugs, please:
A: My monologue “Jeanine Waits for the Train” is part of Mildred’s Umbrella Theatre’s Museum of Dysfunction V. It runs August 16-18 at 8:00PM at Studio 101 in Houston, Texas.
My ten-minute play “They All Know Me” is part Thespian Productions’ Slam-a-thon III showcase at Joria Productions, 260 West 36th Street, 3rd floor in Manhattan. It runs August 23 & 24 at 8:00, and August 25th at 3:00 and 8:00. Tickets are available at the door, or at Brown Paper Tickets.
The Tiger Play will have its first reading at Open Source Gallery, 307 17th Street in Park Slope, Brooklyn on Friday, September 21 and Saturday, September 22. It’s part of 30 Plays for 30 Years, the 30th anniversary celebration of the League of Professional Theatre Women.
Another full-length play, The Benders, will be workshopped at the William Inge Center for the Arts in Independence, Kansas, the last week in October. It’s about our nation’s first serial killers (ca. 1873), who operated just down the road from Independence. I can’t wait to see it. I’ll be a playwright-in-residence there for 2 weeks.
Check out my website at www.annephelan.com
and my blog http://dramahound.blogspot.com/