Friday, March 30, 2012

Plays

I added an Amazon store of plays by playwrights I've interviewed, along with a few I haven't interviewed and a stray novel or two by playwrights I like.  You can get there by scrolling all the way down the page or going here.

http://astore.amazon.com/adamszymk-20

Let me stress it took a lot of time but it is in no way all-inclusive.  If you see a play I should add please let me know and if I missed your play, I'm sorry.  Let me know and I'll add it.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

I Interview Playwrights Part 437: Alex Lubischer



Alex Lubischer

Hometown: Humphrey, Nebraska

Current Town: Chicago, IL

Q:  Tell me about THE Xylophone West.

A:  Often, the desire to explore a certain relationship will inspire me to begin a new play. With The Xylophone West, I wanted explore the unbreakable bond between two boys growing up in rural Nebraska- a relationship that, for most of their community, is too close for comfort.

I wasn’t interested in creating a clear-cut relationship; one defined as distinctly ‘a friendship’ or ‘a gay relationship’. They’re 14-year-old-boys. I don’t think they know what to call it themselves; they only know it’s good. And I think there’s a lot of truth in relationships and ideas when we’re younger. There’s more honesty in the world’s lack of definition at that age. It’s only when we get older that we start forcing ourselves into boxes: “I’m this, she’s that. We fit neatly into these categories.” I think life is more nuanced than that and it’s something I explore in my writing.

Halfway into the first draft I discovered a Mark Twain quote– “It is curious that physical courage should be so common in the world and moral courage so rare.” That fascinated me and informed the rest of my process. I think it rings especially true in today’s world.
Q:  What else are you working on now?

A:  A comedy! I’m fascinated by the Elysian quality of golf courses, their Zen characteristics, but also the bizarre Midsummer-esque feel they take on at night. This new play, which hopefully will come to fruition soon, is essentially a love story between a young man and young woman- both of who are closer to the edge of sanity than most. It’s set in the world of golf.

Q:  Tell me about Route 66. Have you read anything there lately that you're excited about?

A:  As Literary Manager for Route 66 I have the opportunity to develop the work of other exciting young artists; it’s a job that’s very dear to me. In April, we’ll be launching our outreach program for early career artists through a special collaboration with the National Theater Institute’s Advanced Playwrights program. The emerging playwrights in the program – Haygen Brice Walker and Mike Poe- will each workshop a play over the course of a weekend, culminating in a public reading for Route 66’s patrons. Working with The Eugene O’Neill Theater Center’s Literary Manager Martin Kettling on this project, as well as Erica Weiss, Route 66’s Associate Artistic Director, has been so rewarding.

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

A:  In second grade, I wrote a one-page paper about my greatest hero: Grandpa Ron. Grandpa had been a radio operator and load master/flight attendant in the Air Force in the 50s, 60s, and 70s and continues to lead a truly remarkable life. As a 7-year-old, however, I was not especially cognizant of the facts of Grandpa’s past. Instead, I imagined a story about his years as a fighter pilot, flying deadly missions against the Nazis in World War II.

I think where I’m at now, as a 23-year-old playwright, is akin to that moment in my life. People fascinate me, I admire heroism, and for me, what I’m working toward is finding the authenticity that occurs in everyday life along with the sensationalism. There is a level of romanticism that will always have a place in my storytelling. I’m constantly trying to strike that balance: to find truth through fiction, to tell stories that hurdle the boundaries between romanticism and true life.

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

A:  The money, quite frankly. We live in a society where a vast majority of artists cannot earn a living wage making art. As an early career playwright, you have to accept a life of relative poverty in which you’re working two or three jobs to get by, while writing your plays for little to no money. I think we’ve lost a lot of potentially brilliant playwrights to other professions. I want to make art, I love the theater, but at the end of the day I also want to eat, have health care, and be able to afford to have a family someday. So if I could change anything about theater in this nation, it would be to live in an America that supports its artists.

Q:  Who are your theatrical heroes?

A:  Tennessee Williams and Tom Waits.

Tennessee gave everything for his art. He threw all of his hopes and dreams and demons into it, often with profound results. I admire his devotion to his craft. His plays are at once brutal and sympathetic.

In Tom Waits, I see an artist who utilizes theatricality better than any other storyteller alive today. His songs- his stories, essentially- all submerge you in a unique atmosphere that’s simultaneously otherworldly and American. And in his live performances he makes flesh the theatricality he’s written into every song. He can transport his audience to another world with hat, a megaphone, and a fistful of glitter.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  I just saw Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind for the second time in Chicago. That kind of raw authenticity and connection with the audience -that bare-bones kind of theater- thrills me. It’s funny, because that kind of theater also diminishes the role of the playwright as master storyteller.

In terms of more traditional theater, I will always gravitate toward a story that strives for universality. Rarely is it actually achieved, but the effort must be present. It was crucial for me that Xylophone raised the damning consequences of intolerance and hate to where they exist in real life. In a peripheral sort of way, the play ended up tackling anti-gay bullying in America. Now, I’m proud of that and I think that’s an issue we need to have more effective dialogue about.

Cormac McCarthy (who’s probably my favorite novelist and also has a terrific play, The Sunset Limited) once said that the only real literature is that which explores issues of life and death. I apply that same principle to theater. A play may be comedic, it may be about love or any number of themes, but it must transcend a very specific situation to attain universality. The risk of the play’s situation must be every bit as palpable for an audience in rural Nebraska or south-central Los Angeles as it is to an affluent, liberal theatergoer.

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

A:  I just read Sweet Bird of Youth by Tennessee Williams for the first time, and in the forward of my book he tells this anecdote.

My esteemed colleague said to me, “Tennessee, don’t you feel that you are blocked as a writer?”

I didn’t stop to think of an answer; it came immediately off my tongue without any pause for planning. I said, “Oh, yes, I’ve always been blocked as a writer but my desire to write has been so strong that it has always broken down the block and gone past it.”

I think there’s a lot of truth in that. I think you have to have that, and you have to cultivate that drive and work at it, too. I also find- and this is frustrating- that the best things I write, time and time again, are the things that terrify me, that reveal emotional truths in my soul I would rather have kept hidden. I think you have to write stories that you are afraid to write, and to always push yourself, and never settle for good enough. I say these things not because I’ve mastered them, but because I’ve been struggling with them from the very beginning and continue to do so daily. But it’s good work to do.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  The Xylophone West runs March 16 – April 4 at Red Tape Theatre, 621 W. Belmont Ave, Chicago IL

Tickets are available at thefineprinttheatre.org and brownpapertickets.com

For more on Alex Lubischer’s plays, prose, and freelance, visit www.alexlubischer.com

Sunday, March 25, 2012

I Interview Playwrights Part 436: Robert Quillen Camp


Robert Quillen Camp

Hometown:  NYC

Current Town:  Santa Barbara, CA

Q:  Tell me about All Hands.

A:  All Hands, my collaboration with Alec Duffy’s Hoi Polloi company, is a performance of the strange rituals of an unnamed secret society. One way I like to think about it is as an exercise in mise-en-abyme, in which everything you see, including very everyday language, is constantly recontextualized as something else, as potentially part of a ritual. The piece never makes it clear: this part is a ritual, this part is an enacted drama, this part is really happening. This constant opening up of the ground creates the abyme, the abyss. One of the questions this piece throws up is whether the desire to collectivize is a desire to retreat from the the individual self, in other words, to desire the absence of the self. When the self recedes, and the group takes over, the possibility for narrative recedes as well, and we are left with the strange pleasures of rituals in themselves (on which composer Dave Malloy and choreographer Dan Safer have done amazing work). All Hands is intended to be a strange, beautiful and messy trip, in the way that I think reality is messy, strange, and beautiful.

Q:  What else are you working on now?

A:  I have a project in a very early stage, about extremely long duration and the way that concepts of the distant future are only comprehensible through our vocabulary of the distant past, i.e. myth. I’m spending most of my time working on a Ph.D. in theater and performance studies at UC Santa Barbara.

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 in kindergarten, I had to keep a journal. Each page of the journal was split into two parts, with a square drawing area on the top half of the page and lines for writing on the bottom half of the page. The idea was that we would represent, in drawing and in words, something that happened that day at school. I always sketched the scene in the form of a floor plan (viewed from above), until one day my teacher told me that I had to draw the scene from the side, like the other kids did. I cried and cried. Eventually I acquiesced, but I retained a strong sense of the injustice about the whole thing. The first play I ever published, in the literary journal Conjunctions, featured exactly the same kind of diagrams that my teacher had prohibited. I could say something about the value of looking at things differently, etc., but I would also point out the perhaps less laudatory side of my character that this anecdote presents: namely my deep and simmering desire for vindication and revenge.

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

A:  I wouldn’t change anything. The theater keeps fucking up, but that’s the only way it’s ever going to learn.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  Mac Wellman, Wolfgang Bauer, Elizabeth LeCompte, Heinrich von Kleist, August Strindberg, Gertrude Stein, Richard Maxwell, Richard Foreman, John Cage, Samuel Beckett, Eugene Ionesco, many many more.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  It sounds trite, but I like theater that is truly surprising. I think that’s one of the things the form has going for it, the capacity to surprise, to defy expectation. I’m thinking about this especially in terms of form, genre, space, and discipline. I like the way in composer/director Heiner Goebbels’s work, for example, a classical music performance suddenly becomes a theatrical performance.

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

A:  Also do something else. Like Chekhov. Then bring that other body of knowledge, that other competency, that other perceptual lens back to the theater. The theater will thank you for it.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  Go see All Hands! It’s at the Incubator Arts Project (formerly the Ontological) in NYC until March 31! http://incubatorarts.org/ 

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

I Interview Playwrights Part 435: Lauren Feldman


 
Lauren Feldman
 
Hometown: Miami, FL
 
Current Town:  Brooklyn, NY

Q:  What are you working on now?
 
A:  - Revising my play THE EGG-LAYERS, on the heels of its development (summer 2011-winter 2012) and recent production (March 2012) through Barnard College and New Georges, directed by Alice Reagan.

- Writing/devising/rehearsing THE ORPHEUS VARIATIONS with director Adam J. Thompson and the Deconstructive Theatre Project

- Writing/devising THE FOOD PLAY with director Pirronne Yousefzadeh and an ensemble of actors and playwrights.

- Starting work on a new play about John Milton and his daughters and the writing/dictating of Paradise Lost.

- Figuring out how to be a better and better teacher of playwriting. (This spring I’m teaching Playwriting & Dramatic Structure at Fairleigh Dickinson University; next fall, at Bryn Mawr.)

- Learning how to be an acrobat.
 
Q:  Tell me, if you will, a story from your childhood that explains who you are as a writer or as a person.

A:  Hmm. Jeez. Surely I must have a handful of good, rich childhood stories… But for some reason this is the one that keeps coming to mind today. Why is that?

When I was in elementary school, they gave us pre-tests and post-tests surrounding each grammar lesson. Well I remember getting a pre-test once on active and passive voice, and though the concept was new to me, the correct answers seemed intuitive, and I ended up getting 100%. My teacher, kinda surprised, came over and told me I could use the lesson as free time, since I clearly didn’t need to be taught this information. So I sat at the free-time station and tried to read a book or something, but really I spent the entire time feeling guilty and trying to surreptitiously eavesdrop on the lesson that I’d never formally learned.

I think this story pretty much encapsulates my susceptibility to Imposter Syndrome. Thankfully, though, I’ve mellowed out a tad since then.

Q:  If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?
 
A:  For new plays to be produced more than read & developed – both of which seem like they’re increasingly becoming a stand-in for productions.

Also: for ticket prices to be affordable for a wider audience demographic.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?
 
A:  Off the top of my head…
David Greenspan
Paula Vogel
Suzan-Lori Parks
Sarah Ruhl
Taylor Mac
Lisa Kron
Deb Margolin
Charles Mee
Mary Zimmerman
Tina Landau
Theatre de Complicite
Shakespeare

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?
 
A:  Theater that’s characterized by theatricality, by magic, by transcendence and transformation

Theater that involves the body; that’s muscular; that really utilizes physical expression

Theater that feels virtuosic (in any way)

Theater that’s created by and shared by a true ensemble

Theater that (genuinely) acknowledges the audience as a formative, vital presence

Theater that tugs at the imagination

Theater that’s playful

Theater that’s verbally (and visually too, why not) poetic; theater whose text soars

Theater that tells stories in unconventional ways

Theater that deftly and stubbornly breaks convention

Theater that tells the stories of folks in non-mainstream demographics

Theater that feels like an event, like an experience

Theater that takes risks

Minimalist theater

Theater that tells the truth

Theater whose truth-telling looks different from (but equally true to) how life actually looks

Q:  What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
 
A:  Well, two of the things I always come back to each time I start a new play are:

Write from a place of hunger, honesty, & courage.

And

In your play, anything is possible, anything goes.

Q:  Plugs, please:
 
A:  For a play of mine:

Grace, or the Art of Climbing will be produced at the Denver Center Theatre next season (Jan-Feb 2013), directed by Mike Donahue.

For a play not of mine:

Dan LeFranc’s new play THE BIG MEAL just opened at Playwrights Horizons, and it’s stunning.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

I Interview Playwrights Part 434: Dorothy Fortenberry



Dorothy Fortenberry

Hometown: Washington, DC

Current Town: Los Angeles

Q:  Tell me about Status Update.

A:  It's a play with songs about moving to a city you don't want to live in because your partner needs to be there, and becoming deeply addicted to the Internet. I wrote it a few months after moving to LA when I noticed that my most intense relationships were taking place over Facebook. It's also an Alice in Wonderland play, featuring Keyboard Cat, some pan-European houseguests, and several references to The Great Gatsby and the oeuvre of Kathy Acker.

Q:   What else are you working on now?

A:  I'm developing a play with Chalk Rep called Mommune about a minimum security facility for wayward mothers, set in the near future. Working with Chalk is fun because they produce site-specifically, so you get to write knowing that your actors can do things that would normally be off-limits. I also was just at the MacDowell Colony writing a play called Partners that I'll be workshopping with Page 73 this summer in New Haven about what the point of marriage is.


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 as an only child in a 2-person family, so I spent a lot of time by myself and a lot of time with grownups. My favorite thing to do was just to listen. When my mom went to visit friends of hers in other cities, she'd bring me along, and I'd just stay at the dinner table, trying to be as inconspicuous as possible, trusting that as the adults had more wine, the evening would get more interesting. And it usually did. Eventually, she would realize I was there, and she'd send me up to bed, but I would just listen from the top of the stairs. Or, I would search through all the books in her friends' guest room for passages about sex, which is how I speed-read Portnoy's Complaint at 13. Anyway, that hunger to find out how people tick and the notion that the answers can best be found in listening and literary sex scenes: still with me.

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

A:  I think, at the end of the day, all theater is community theater. It's local, it's hand-made, and the magic that is taking place is the same transformation that happens when your town mailman is Harold Hill. But I think currently, it really only feels like a community if you're a working theater artist -- I know that if I go see a play in New York or LA, I'm going to run into someone I know in the lobby, but if I were a lawyer or a gym teacher, I probably wouldn't. Which is all to say that I wish community were a bigger part of all levels of theater -- one of the main reasons I don't live in DC is that the wonderful theaters in town rarely produce local playwrights. Which seems nuts. Instead they bring in a cast and a director from New York to put on a play that was a hit in New York, and, well, it seems like that pretty effectively undermines half of what's interesting about theater to begin with.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  Oh man, so many. When I was in high school, the school library was being renovated and they were going to throw out any book that hadn't been checked out in the last 5 years, and, to save the plays, I checked out and read their entire drama section, so 15-year-old me got super-into Charles Ludlam and Christopher Durang and Terrance McNally. Also, when I was in high school, a production of Baltimore Waltz at Studio Theatre blew my mind (I know I just undermined the point I made above, but it featured local actors, thank you). Escape from Happiness by George F. Walker will always be a touchstone to me of how "hilariously funny" and "deeply sad" are essentially the same thing. Lynne Nottage's Ruined is a play I study over and over again for its structure and bravery. The Rude Mechs' Method Gun was one of the best things I saw last year. Pig Iron, or course, Pig Iron. Chekov. And, while I'm not making a hierarchy, at the top has to go Caryl Churchill. Every play I've ever written is essentially my attempt to write Top Girls, as is every play I intend to write from here on out.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  Scary theater. Theater that pokes at assumptions and comfort zones. Funny theater. Theater of big ideas. Theater that creates tension. Theater that makes me feel like I'm in good hands and then pulls the rug out from under me. Beautiful theater. Watching Pig Iron's Chekhov Lizard Brain thrilled me to the point of tears because it placed me inside the brain of someone in my family who no one in Pig Iron had ever met. And it had to be theater. It was completely and totally theater, it was precise and rehearsed and technically smart, and yet unlike anything I'd ever seen before. It scares me to think that I could have not taken the train in to New York that night and not seen that show. I would be less of a person for it.

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

A:  All right, so, keeping in mind that I, too, am just starting out, I pass along this advice from David Foster Wallace's commencement address at Kenyon, which is, to my mind, the most effective DIY guide to being a decent human being: "In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship." By all means worship theater, but try not to worship your own success or perceived lack thereof. That shit will eat you alive.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  My play Species Native to California has a reading this Sunday, March 18 at IAMA Theater Company in LA at 7pm (1017 N. Orange Dr) Status Update goes up at Center Rep in Walnut Creek, CA in October. Anything by fellow Titled Field members Jacob Padrón, Teresa Avia Lim, Michael Locher, Roberta Pereira, or Becca Wolff. Also, I am a giant fan of and so grateful to Jen Haley for starting the Playwrights' Union in LA. I wouldn't have written Status Update without their annual Writing Challenge, and I am about to share my first draft of Partners with the same folks at this year's Challenge weekend.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

I Interview Playwrights Part 433: Ethan Lipton



Ethan Lipton

Hometown: Van Nuys, California.

Current Town: Red Hook, Brooklyn

Q:  What are you working on now?

A:  I’m rehearsing NO PLACE TO GO, a musical I wrote for my band, which the Public is producing in Joe’s Pub, and I’m prepping for a production of my play LUTHER, which Clubbed Thumb is doing this June. Feeling exceedingly grateful for both opportunities.

Q:  Tell me about Ethan Lipton and His Orchestra.

A;  That’s my band. We play all over NYC and sometimes beyond, and we’ve been together almost seven years. The guys I play with (Eben Levy, Ian Riggs, Vito Dieterle) are all great musicians, which I can’t really relate to, but they are also silly, immature old men at heart, and in that sense we are kindred spirits. For a long time the music was my respite from playwriting. Songs are short (plays long), I write them while looking the other way (plays I write hunched over, trying to bore a hole through the keyboard), and performing is immediate (whereas play gestation is more like whale gestation). Recently, though, I’ve been trying to integrate the two in a few projects, which is both exciting and scary; kinda like introducing your two best friends and waiting to see if they’ll get along.

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

A:  In first grade I started a mime troupe with Emily Strickstein and Kristin Olson. We explored a number of narratives and themes, most of which culminated in me getting hit in the groin with an imaginary ball. From there I learned how to cross both eyes, then one eye at a time, then how to indulge my sadness, and before I knew it my path as an artist was set.

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

A:  Today? Let’s see. Actually, if I’ve learned one thing during my relationship with theater, it’s that I can’t change it. Theater has to want to change itself. Then it has to talk it over with the board of directors and figure out a way to integrate an education component, and then, maybe, it can have a fundraiser. After which a talk-back is probably in order, and if we could do all that before pilot season, so much the better. See, the only real problem with theater, I think, is human beings. It requires their participation. Lots and lots of them. And that’s what makes it awful, but it’s also what makes it awesome, all of these grown-ups working together to create “make believe” for other grown-ups. So, you know, we should probably be totally overhauling the art form every couple of years – from our creative processes to our aesthetic expectations to the way we run our organizations – but since that seems to be more work than most of us are willing to do, my short-term solution would be just to involve more animals. Oh, and I’d say we should put as much money into paying artists as we put into paying arts administrators, but I think everyone knows that already.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  I love art that takes inspiration from other art forms and I have tons of heroes who make other kinds of art, but as far as theater-makers, I definitely owe a debt to people like Ionesco, Albee, Bulgolkov, Churchill, Guare, Shawn, Howe, the Wooster Group, Fornes, Foreman, O’Neill, and Checkov.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A;  A dumb idea deeply committed to.

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

A:  Wonder. And consider risking everything.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  NO PLACE TO GO, Joe’s Pub, March 14-April 8.
LUTHER, Clubbed Thumb’s Summerworks, this June.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

I Interview Playwrights Part 432: Riti Sachdeva



Riti Sachdeva

Hometown:  Complicated question for an immigrant – born in Bhilai (Chateesgarh) India, grew up in North Cambridge, MA

Current Town: Complicated question for a Gypsy -recently relocated from Albuquerque to Brooklyn.

Q:  Tell me about Parts of Parts & Stitches.

A:  It’s a play set in 1947 during the partition of Pakistan and India, towards the end of British colonial rule in the region. Members of my family were among 1 million murdered and 40 million displaced. Many of the situations and even characters are stories that my aunts, uncles, and papa shared with me. It’s about lovers, friends, neighbors, communities, and nations that are sacrificed for land, water, and political power; it’s about the physical and psychic shock of loss and displacement; and it’s about the courage that makes me wonder “could I possibly make a decision like that – to sacrifice my safety, my body -for someone else’s?”

Q:  What else are you working on now?

A:  When Parts closes, I’ll be in rehearsal for a solo piece Scene/Unseen, directed by Antonio Miniño, being featured in the Planet Connections Festival at Bleecker St. Theatre in June. With the Emerging Writers Group at The Public, I’m 10 pages deep into a revenge fantasy play about a widow of a suicided Indian farmer who comes to work as a maid in the home of the CEO of a multinational bio-tech corporation; in June, I go to the Playwrights Center in Minneapolis to further develop The Rug Dealer, which takes place in a Persian carpet shop in Boston; and I’m looking for an ensemble and funding to keep evolving my flamenco play La Fea: A FlamenChoreoMyth.

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 think it was our first Xmas in the U.S., I was six, and my parents wanted me to experience an American Xmas. They didn’t have much money so my mom bought a big dollar bag of accessories for my generic barbie and individually wrapped each tiny accessory – the high heels, coffee mug, necklace, etc.- so I’d have lots of presents to openJ Can you imagine how she came up with that idea, then spent the time wrapping these items that were a fraction of the size of her pinky (after working a twelve hour day?) How this story explains me as a person and artist: I believe in being resourceful - it’s a kind of alchemy - making magic out of the mundane.

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

A:  Capitalism.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  Guillermo Gomez-Peña and Coco Fusco; Carmen Amaya, the late great flamenco dancer; flash mobs; Luis Valdez; Rekha the Bollywood star; Kathakali dance theatre; Miss Piggy; Suzan Lori Parks; Nilo Cruz; GWAR.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  Gritty, raw, emotionally and morally complex but not sentimental; fantastical; historical; structurally playful and innovative; movement and music driven.

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

A:  Write, dance, sing, rewrite, cook, garden, rewrite, build community, see shows, rewrite, self-produce.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A;  My solo show, Scene/Unseen at the Bleecker St. Theatre, Planet Connections Festival in June; everything MTWorks puts up; the world premiere of Draw the Circle by Mashuq Deen at InterAct Theatre in Philly April 4-8; Arooj Aftab and Arif Lohar at Asia Society April 28; http://www.facebook.com/midniteschild

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

I Interview Playwrights Part 431: Melissa Gawlowski



Melissa Gawlowski

Hometown: Hell, Michigan (yes, really).

Current Town: Brooklyn.

Q:  Tell me about Spring Tides.

A:  I started Spring Tides in my last year of the MFA playwriting program at Ohio University. It started as a satire about a guy named Joe who wakes up one morning to find himself in Hell with a greaser named Frankie and a nun named Bernardina. They then team up to kill God. Obviously, this has nothing whatsoever to do with the current play. Happily I had opportunities for lots of development, including (besides Boomerang) a production in Philly with Cardboard Box Collaborative (I believe they procured a literal ton of sand for the show), and a developmental reading in Alaska with the Last Frontier Theatre Conference. It all helped me find what I really wanted to say. Time helps, too. I think I’ve grown up a lot since my mid-twenties. And happily my plays have come with me.

Q:  What else are you working on now?

A:  I'm working on a new full-length play that's a loose riff on the Orpheus/Euridice myth, when I’m not slammed with the reading/writing required for my schoolwork. I’m in my first year of the PhD program in Educational Theatre for Colleges and Communities at NYU. Arts education is another deep passion of mine—I work in the management of teaching artists and school partners at Lincoln Center Institute (with many wonderful colleagues). And I'm also working on planning a wedding and moving to a new apartment with my amazing fiancé. Life is full! But it’s all happy stuff.

Q:  Tell me about Analogous.

A:  Analogous is an organization founded by Marie Evelyn focused on interaction art, which is a term for artworks in various genres that resonate with the concepts of complexity theory. This ranges from the exhibition of visual artworks created with recycled materials to improvised experimental music to rule-based performance. My focus with the company is performance work involving language, as Co-director of Dialogue-as-Performance. One major project we worked on was Metis, which had a couple of different incarnations. The goal was to bring together playwrights and improvisational musicians and explore how a playwright might “improvise” with written words to share sonic/visual space with the musicians. We performed it at The Tank back in 2007 with six playwrights and six musicians. Our second version (last year) focused on the language, using an algorithm Marie and I came up with (she’s a master of algorithms) to determine the direction of the dialogue. It’s fun sometimes to work on things that are quite different from my other playwriting 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:  Well, this is a disturbing story that I may regret sharing, but when I was a little girl I had a stuffed bunny that served as my imaginary friend. Going to school I’d imagine he was roller-skating alongside the school bus. Also he had wings and could fly. Also he had magic-dust in his tail. One day, to mess with me, my dad told me about how people kill rabbits by holding them upside-down and breaking their necks (I warned you). I obviously found that highly upsetting. That night, I think because I was tempted by the horribleness of it, and I was hitting the age where I was starting to realize, “It’s just a toy. You can’t really hurt it,” I held my bunny upside-down and “broke his neck”. And then cried and cried. But then I consoled myself with the idea that he was a magic bunny, after all. So I took the magic-dust from his tail and resurrected him. Creepy as it is, I think maybe that story came to mind because it’s sort of like my writing—it has magic, and it’s dark, but also hopeful. I won’t say that this explains me as a person, though—I have a pet bunny at present, in fact, and I assure you that he is very well cared-for. No breaking real bunnies. That was a totally terrible story to share.

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

A:  Ummm… more funding would be nice. But besides that, wouldn’t it be great if there was cross-pollination between independent theatre companies across the country? A way for the amazing work being done in NYC to make its way over to Chicago, say, and vice-versa. So that companies could communicate with and inspire each other directly. Places like Portland, too, where they’re doing interesting stuff. And other cities we might not think about. Tulsa—I bet somebody’s doing something totally awesome in Tulsa. I’m a Midwesterner, so I like the idea of sharing more with the region between the coasts.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  There are so many exciting and wonderful writers out there. But heroes? Jacquelyn Reingold writes plays that are beautiful, touching, and incredibly funny. She's the writer I hope to be someday. Other heroes, shoot—well, Shakespeare, man. Beckett. Ionesco. Pinter. Churchill. Those guys are for serious.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  I really like playwrights who use a magical quality, who ask big questions, and also make me laugh. Like Fornes, Rivera, Lucas, Ruhl, Durang too, and others. So many others! I recently read Griselda Gambaro’s Information for Foreigners, and that play shook me up. I also have to say that I am very excited by compelling theatrical design. I am so blown away by the work of scenic and lighting and costume designers—their insights and vision can be stunning. I was reminded of this upon seeing the work of Boomerang’s team for my show—I’m so very humbled by the talent I’ve been lucky enough to work with.

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

A:  Write, write, write, and see, see, see. It’s so important to see stuff (theater and dance and music, too), though the expense can be a challenge. It’s very easy to get stuck only seeing the work of your friends, but it’s really valuable to see what else is out there, both small-scale and large. Plus you’ll start to get the opportunity to meet more people, which I’ve found to be critical. Probably 90% of the work I’ve done has been with somebody I’ve met already, or through some personal connection. I think it can be tough being noticed when the group knows nothing about you already. There are a lot of playwrights out there.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  Spring Tides opens Friday, March 9th and runs through the 25th at The Secret Theatre. Tickets are available through www.boomerangtheatre.org.  I also have a short play opening the same weekend as Spring Tides, as part of a short play festival by Full Circle Theater Company called “Unlikely Allies”. It runs for four consecutive Sundays starting March 11th at 4 p.m. in the basement of Triple Crown bar in Chelsea. I’ll also plug the work of my fiancé Dan Pratt, because I think keeping aware of work in other disciplines is really valuable. He’s a jazz saxophonist and has several albums out, most recently with his Dan Pratt Organ Quartet. He is phenomenally talented, as are the players in the band, and I’m not just saying that because I’m marrying the guy.