Tuesday, August 30, 2016

I Interview Playwrights Part 869: Marina Tempelsman



Marina Tempelsman

Hometown: New York City

Current Town: New York City

Q:  Tell me about Room 4.

A:  Room 4 is a comedy about four black actors caught in a time loop as they audition for the same Drug Dealer #2 role over and over again. My writing partner Niccolo Aeed and I co-wrote it, and he's also directing it. We're describing it as Waiting for Godot meets A Chorus Line meets Groundhog’s Day meets the real-life-experience-of-virtually-every-black-actor-in- America.

The play stemmed from an initial scene, in which a roomful of black actors awaiting an audition try to remember how many of their peers are in The Lion King -- which, until recently, seemed to be the only show in New York that reliably showcased people of color. As Nicco and I continued to write scenes around this -- some grounded, some not -- we realized what we were really working towards was the surreal repetitiveness of life as a not-white-male in theater.

There's been a lot of attention paid recently to the way in which actors of color are pigeonholed. How, in spite of having tremendous talent and potential, these actors are forced into stereotypical, token roles -- if they're "lucky" enough to be cast at all. In Room 4, the actors realize that the metaphor they've been trapped in throughout their creative careers has suddenly become a nightmarish reality -- and they'll do whatever they can to escape.

But it's also funny! The eight-person cast features some of the absolute best comedic actors we've worked with. They're an incredible ensemble.

Of the six plays we wrote and produced during our six-month playwriting residency at The PIT, this was the one that we were most excited to revisit, revise, and expand. And I'm so happy we got the extended run.

Q:  Tell me about your 6 month residency at the PIT.

A:  The residency involved writing and producing a full one-hour play each month for six months. Nicco describes it as our own self-imposed playwriting grad school, and I think that sums it up.

Nicco and I have a comedy-writing background, and in the comedy world putting on monthly shows is fairly standard practice. So in this residency, we tried to take the quick turnaround of sketch comedy and merge it with the depth and rigor you see from live theater.

Our smallest cast was two people, and our largest was 14 people. At any given point we were in three different phases of production for three different plays. It was a total whirlwind, but we just loved it and had so much fun.

Despite its being a bit of a high-wire act, we learned so much from taking that many plays from concept to production in such a short time span. There's no better theater education that just putting up shows and learning from that process, and we learned so much about writing, narrative, and production. And we worked with such incredibly talented people.

Q:  What else are you working on now?

A:  We're also working on a treatment for a web series and a handful of pilots. And we're reworking a few of the other plays from our residency as well.

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 was taking the school bus to a friend's house for a playdate and we got caught in traffic. The busdriver kind of rolled his eyes and said "Ugh, we'll NEVER get home." And I started BAWLING. I 100% believed it to be true, and I was immediately living in the world where my life was just me in a traffic jam forever and ever and ever. Quick and total immersion in a (sometimes terrifying) alternate universe is a trend that tends to pop up in my writing. What if this twist, a seemingly innocuous moment, became the basis of reality?

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  David Lindsay-Abaire. I love the worlds he creates. They are so deeply grounded, even when they go to the most absurd and fantastical places. They have so much love and heart and care in them, and I'm so much more drawn to that than cynicism. I also love that he writes such fantastic female characters.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  I love plays that really use the space they're staged in interesting ways, without just being a gimmick. Plays where you leave and think, you REALLY had to see it live.

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

A;  Find people whose work you admire and collaborate. Be scrappy. Embrace the scrappiness, love the scrappiness, and know that being scrappy is your key to being your most creative and free. Remember that every single moment is a learning process, especially when it comes to collaboration, and focusing on what you're learning in a given moment is far more productive than trying to figure out who to blame when the lack of control makes you panic. If you want control, write prose instead. If you want to broaden your horizons and learn an extraordinary amount from brilliant and wise people, then really embrace the collaboration.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A;  Room 4 begins its theatrical run at The PIT on September 6th at 8pm, and it runs through October 7th. Get your tickets here -- it's only $10 and runs 55 minutes!
www.thepit-nyc.com/room4

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