Monday, July 29, 2013

I Interview Playwrights Part 600: Joy Tomasko

Joy Tomasko

Hometown: Bethel, Connecticut after a short stint in Maryland

Current Town: Queens, NY

Q: What are you working on now?

A: This past year I had a playwright residency with fellow writer Eric Holmes and curator (writer) Les Hunter at LaGuardia Performing Arts Center in Long Island City.

I wrote a new full length play entitled Surrender.

Usually you get one reading of a play, but we had three staged readings, one after the other, which gave me time to really hear and experience the play and do a few rewrites in between, especially in regards to the ending.

In November I’ll have a workshop production again at LPAC and so I’m working on more expansive revisions.

Surrender is a dystopic play that I imagine in a future/parallel world after there’s been an information sharing burst/crash and a society that evolves/devolves out of it. The characters and audience exist in a world maintained by The Administration’s Protection Policy. We follow the main character D Thomson who works as a Reporter of Loss and Recovery. She helps to track and share what we hold most dear. But she’s been doing her job too long…

Q: What else are you working on?

A: I’m connecting the dots.

I’ve been exploring intimate theater/immersive interactive experiences/moments of return. My frequent collaborator, Sarah Murphy and I are playing with a Words, Words, Words project that has had many iterations – from an interactive performance in a sculpture park in the Hamptons, to online Literary Valentines – recommending books and arranging bibliophile penpals to sending and receiving postcards to//from friends and strangers on Governors Island. GI is a fascination of mine, even more so when I learned that my great grandparents met there in 1900. I’m going to write something that plays with their story. I have his military and court martial record (he was in jail on the island). She was a servant/cook newly emigrated from Ireland.

I’m also writing 3 short narratives for videos for the new Civil Rights Museum in Atlanta.

I’m posing for a painting inspired by John Alexander White’s The Repose (on view at the MET) for my friend the painter Elizabeth Beard. We talk art, process, life while working – it’s fun to be a muse.

Soon, I’ll be helping re-imagine the Jackson Heights Trilogy with Theatre 167 and director Ari Laura Kreith for a site-specific experience for the Queens Museum of Art’s Queens International.

And there are other things cooking, some with artist Phoebe Joel…some of my own projects that I’ve kept in the crockpot simmering simmering simmering and now need to be served.

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

A: Growing up, my family would drive down to Ft. Lauderdale to visit my grandparents. One time, after we arrived at the beach, as I was running into the water, I felt a sharp pain in my foot and leg. I had stepped on a Portuguese man o’war. I hadn’t noticed that the beach, crowded with people was also crowded with all these beautiful, blue and yet dangerous, venomous creatures. A tentacle wrapped itself up and around my leg. I was paralyzed for the rest of the day. And then I ran back out there to look at them again, a bit more cautiously and curiously and then later I researched them. They are not jellyfish even though they are similarly gelatinous. The allure and magic of bioluminescence. You think you can see through them but you can’t see everything. There’s still a mystery to figure out and/or imagine. A metaphor, at times, for the process of creating and experiencing theater.

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

A: So much about theater is business. And business in the USA…Oh, capitalism. And lots of –isms. Money. Politics. I, like many others, more than long for equality and get angry at the consequences of greed and insecurities and...

In my little utopian mind, I think every artist should have an artistic home that is passionate about committing to artistic growth overtime. Producing at least three works at each venue, understanding some may fail. Some may fail big. And some may totally surprise and surprise in ways that redefine the word success. And the homes should rotate and there should be a transition period where the previous artist(s) and new artist(s) overlap. And for every performance there are paid and free tickets perhaps given out in lotteries. And every artist gets paid a living wage. And artists must also curate – mentor and encourage other artists. I like that Joe Papp at some point gave each space at the Public to a few different artists/directors and said curate. I think curating should be not only of people you know but also go far, outside your known and find someone(s) you are curious about.

I want to curate a space/event(s) someday. And more immediately, I’m going to stop sitting on my plays.

Q: Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A: I admire the process and the masterpiece. I have a lot of heroes in theater, dance, music, art, literature, science, life…This question makes me think of Adrienne Kennedy’s People Who Led to My Plays. (Perhaps that’s been referenced in other interviews already.) I’m happy that my parents introduced me to theater as a kid, that I started experimenting with it, sometimes using a pool table as a stage at a friend’s house. Oh, the classics from the Greeks to Shakespeare to O’Neill (and more) that were introduced in middle and high school, and finally spending countless hours with everyone in the theater at Drew in undergrad. The people I encountered while working at The Public Theater under George C. Wolfe, Bonnie Metzgar and John Dias to the collaborators, peers and mentors at CalArts, to the people I’ve shared with through travels in the US and abroad and through the Women’s Project, The Playwrights Center, Theatre 167 and LPAC. So many of whom have been interviewed by you, Adam. And I can’t leave this answer without saying Kafka and Beckett.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A: I seek out a wide range. I’ve long been engaged by promenade style theater thanks to the Macnas theater company’s production I saw in 1996 in Galway of Rhymes from the Ancient Mariner, and many immersive productions since (I’ve directed a couple too). Theater that surprises me, that makes me react (positively) “Oh, theater can do that” either in the moment or after. It keeps me engaged, makes me gasp, puts me in a fit of laughter or wiping tears. Exposes /exchanges vulnerabilities. And later, later, it’s stuck with me, perhaps haunting and/or giving me hope…

So, I have a list. It grows. To choose two that I’ll never forget: Sarah Kane’s Blasted and Baryshnikov and Merce Cunningham dancing a duet at Lincoln Center.

I love that there’s so many ways to be/create/define theatrical – to transform a space and create an event with or without actual spoken words that’s either very real or imaginative/ parallel/perpendicular/potential to what we know in our every day lives.

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

A: Advice that I need, too. Here’s ten things, lists can go on forever…and I’m going to send this in, finally.

Ask questions such as “what am I curious about?” I like to write down my initial impulse for a play, story, project on an index card and post it, keep it handy. Another good question is “What is the play/story you are not writing?” And then go and write it. Make it immediate.

Trust your gut. Get underneath/inside it but don’t overthink it.

José Rivera once told me that early on he established a writing schedule that reflects a full-time job. The times I have done this, I have experienced the difference it makes. I haven’t been able to sustain it financially yet consistently. And hence, I have/had varied dayjobs, that at least have been inspirational. But…

Read, write, seek theater anywhere and everywhere.

Feed also on the other art forms. Visuals and music help me find the atmosphere and sensuous layers of a world and help lock me in as I write/create.

Travel. Capture what you experience. Use it. Live in the midst of it.

Find your people. Find a muse(s). Collaborate. Join/start/get into writing/theater groups where people know how to give you notes and deadlines and vice versa that take you to the next level and help bring your ideas onto and off the page in space, with audience.

Find mentors and be a mentor. Maintain your own voice. So you also need to isolate, have alone time and face yourself.

Collide what you think you know with what you think you don’t know. Think chemistry experiments. Discoveries are made by doing the work, opening up, making connections and through these “accidents”.

Stop getting in your own way. Focus. Persist. Make/Do. Fail/Succeed. Share again and again. Survive.

Q: Plugs?

A: Come to my workshop in November at LPAC

I have a very work-in-progress website (where I need to upload info on my plays)

Visit my tumblr.

And since you are online reading this now-take a moment to pop on over and sign up for Meredith Lynsey Schade’s StageReads

Participate in Kristoffer Diaz’s Free Scenes

Read more of Adam’s interviews

And check out some articles in HowlRound.

And Culturebot:

Visit Cloud City in Brooklyn

Now, go see something. And make something. And release it into the world.

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