Saturday, April 26, 2014

I Interview Playwrights Part 655: Barbara Blumenthal-Ehrlich

Barbara Blumenthal-Ehrlich

Hometown: Chicago

Current Town: Boston/NYC

Q:  What are you working on now?


ROMEO CHANG (It’s my eye doctor’s name, and I love it) It’s about a pregnant woman with a terminal illness who needs to stay alive long enough to have her baby. She turns to an ancient Chinese healer, but he’s got problems of his own. So it’s a little dicey how the whole thing’s gonna turn out. Plus her husband is not on board with this Eastern medicine stuff AT ALL.

And FEATHERWEIGHT, I put it in a drawer after a workshop at New Georges a few years ago. I just couldn’t figure out what to do with it .But time is such a gift, and now I’m back at it. It’s about a woman with cancer who assumes a literal notion of “battling” her illness. She enlists a professional fighter to help her stay strong and beat her disease. But then her estranged husband shows up and she’s forced to decide if she’s a lover or a fighter. Her very survival is at stake. (By the way, all my plays aren’t about terminally ill women).

Q:  Tell me about Boston Public Works.

A:  I’m so excited about Boston Public Works. We’re nine Boston-based playwrights who’ve formed a producing collective modeled after the wonderful folks at 13P. I’m P8.Our mission is simple: Produce one play by each member playwright, and then we implode. (The Welders in D.C. are doing the same thing.) We launched in January, and the theatre community’s response has been overwhelming. We kind of short sightedly planned our kickoff party on Super Bowl Sunday. Plus it was bitter cold. But an overflow crowd of artists and patrons came out, and for the first time, I felt like part of a larger creative community. It was awesome and completely energized my writing process and work.

Boston is really blowing the roof off new theatre. Polly Carl and David Dower are here now. And established theatres like the Huntington and New Rep have playwriting fellows programs. It seems like just about all the big and small established Boston theatres include one local writer in their seasons. And smaller, fringe theatres are popping up all over the place. I’m part of a playwrights workshop called Interim Writers, which does cutting edge readings in Harvard Square every month. The city’s really en fuego with new work, and Boston Public Works is just an exciting outgrowth of all this activity. It’s pretty cool. 

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 came from a very quiet household. Both my parents grew up in turbulent families. So they kind of reflexively set up this tranquil environment. It wasn’t like living in a library but pretty close. I think I turned my imagination inward, and now all those crazy pent up thoughts are coming out in my plays.

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

A:  Ummm…. There’s lots of stuff I could say. But really, it is what it is. Nobody’s holding a gun to my head and telling me to write. Nobody’s forcing me to play by their rules. So really, I have full artistic freedom. And through Boston Public Works and other artistic collaborations, I’m finding my way. The avenues are out there to self produce: Kick Starter and Indigogo and basements of bars. I’ve seen some of the best theatre downstairs at Jimmy’s in the East Village. Thank you Rising Phoenix Rep.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  The established guys like Chekhov, Beckett, Fugard, Paula Vogel, Caryl Churchill. And the recent guys like Deb Margolin, Naomi Wallace, Adam Bock, Jessica Dickey, Daniel Talbott, on and on.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  I just saw THE SHAPE SHE MAKES at A.R.T. and can’t get it out of my head. Likewise for moments of BILLY ELLIOT (and I don’t really like musicals), and Deb Margolin’s THREE SECONDS IN THE KEY which I saw years and years ago. There’s been lots of stuff in between that just kind of sticks to my ribs -- plays that create parallel worlds that help me make sense of mine; work that couldn’t happen anywhere but the theatre; shows that make me lose track of time, make me forget my own physical body, and transport me emotionally into the story unfolding on stage. I’m getting all sparky just thinking about it.

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

A:  Rewrite. Even when you think you’re done, rewrite. Even when you think you’re done for real, rewrite some more. And rewrite some more after that. Find artists you trust to give you smart feedback that you can listen to without being defensive. Not as easy as it sounds.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  THE FAINT TASTE OF CAT FOOD AND SOUR MILK, playing this month in Colorado Springs’ Six Women Playwrights Festival.

ROMEO CHANG in May in the Boston Theatre Marathon Warm-Up Laps.

SISTER SISTER published in Indie Theatre Now.
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