Wednesday, April 30, 2014

I Interview Playwrights Part 657: Cori Thomas


photo by Christine Jean Chambers
 
Cori Thomas

Hometown:  Born in New York City but grew up all over the world as Dad was a diplomat

Current Town:  Brooklyn, NY

Q:  Tell me about When January Feels Like Summer.

A:  I have had a few regional productions, but this is my first New York City one. I am so excited for my friends and family to see this. It was at the 2008 Sundance Theatre Lab and had it's World Premiere in March 2010 at City Theatre Co. in Pittsburgh, directed by Chuck Patterson who sadly suddenly passed away in December. He was very instrumental in my evolution as a playwright, and I miss him very much. He did know this production was happening and in a funny way pointed me towards my current director who I am so thrilled to be working with, Daniella Topol. The cast is phenomenal: Debargo Sanyal who originated his role in the Pittsburgh production and Mahira Kakkar, Maurice Williams, J. Mallory McCree and Dion Graham. These actors in these roles are like a theater wet dream. Also, it thrills me that my two artistic homes, EST and Page 73 are co-producing. As a final irony, the first performance is the day before my birthday. I'm getting a really really special birthday gift this year! You probably want me to tell you about the play. I'm not going to. I think it's a play best enjoyed if you don't know what to expect. For those who are prudish, there is some strong language in there.

Q:  What else are you working on now?

A:  The 2nd play in my Liberia play trilogy PA'S HAT which had it's World Premiere in May 2010 at Pillsbury House Theatre in Minneapolis. The last 2 plays in this trilogy are co-commissioned by Pillsbury House and EST. I also have a NYSCA play commission through Page 73 that is also set in Liberia. As someone of Liberian Heritage, it is important to me that Liberia as a subject and theme get some attention.

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 wanted to be a singer when I was younger. The fact I cannot really sing is irrelevant. When I was 12 I saw a high school production of The Glass Menagerie and I fell in love with the theater which was good for people's ears out there. The fact this production was in Switzerland, most probably performed by people who did not speak English fluently, and despite the fact it was a school production I was still moved beyond belief by the story of Laura Wingfield. I wanted to someday be able to move people the way I had been that day. I think I have a tendency to take a sort of "normal" subject and then infuse it with some odd twist usually multi culturally inspired. I felt odd as a kid. I was biracial. My parents were from different cultures and did not even speak the same language. I identified with Laura and seeing someone who was as odd as I felt on that stage made me not feel so odd. I think I try to do that with my plays. I put unusual people in regular circumstances and hope the audience identies with them.

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

A:  Ticket prices.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  Tennessee Williams, Athol Fugard, August Wilson, Lorraine Hansberry, Bobby Lewis, Uta Hagen, Chuck Patterson.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  The kind of theater that makes me lean forward holding my breath as I wait to see what's going to happen praying someone's cell phone doesn't go off and ruin the magic.

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

A:  Write. Write. Write. Get live people to read your play out loud, preferably actors, then rewrite. Then repeat that process. Send your work out. See as much theater as you can. Read as many plays as you can. Don't give up.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  WHEN JANUARY FEELS LIKE SUMMER Produced by EST and Page 73, directed by Daniella Topol. Discounted tickets if you buy before the first preview on May 28 . www.ensemblestudiotheatre.org



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