Saturday, October 01, 2016

I Interview Playwrights Part 878: Pia Scala-Zankel



Pia Scala-Zankel

Hometown: Brooklyn, NY

Current Town: BROOKLYN

Q:  Tell me please about Street Children.

A:  I have been working on Street Children for 5 years.

The play takes place in NYC circa 1988 and focuses on the LGBTQ youth and, more specifically, transgender women that congregated on the Lower Hudson Piers. I came into my adolescence in New York in the mid-to-late 80s; it was a viscerally exciting time n NYC history. It was also one of the most dangerous times, especially for these kids. The AIDS epidemic, ostracism, violence towards trans and LGB individuals, and oppression were rife in the community. Despite all this, they found and created incredible beauty out of the chaos and darkness by forming street families or ‘Houses’. These constructs gave them a sense of belonging, love and acceptance that their blood families and the rest of the world would not give them. They showed incredible resilience and humanity in the midst of inhumanity. The kids of these Houses forged deep bonds and their ‘House Mothers’ or ‘House Fathers’ took care of them as if they were their own. Everyone searches for and needs a family, but for them the stakes could not have been higher because it was about all about survival. They also had – and still have - the courage that most of us will never know; to live as themselves, no matter what, even if they know they might die for it. Street Children was born out of these deeply moving and profound truths. My play focuses on the journey of one particular street family immediately following the violent murder of their House Mother.

To cast this show, we committed ourselves to working with LGBTQ artists. I reached out to The Center and found an incredible acting class called ACT OUT, which is taught by Brad Calcaterra. Brad graciously invited me into the class and I will be forever grateful. Many of the actors in this show are from that class while the rest of the cast is from Actor’s Access and through word of mouth within the community. Also, my amazing director, Jenna Worsham, is a member of the queer community as well as an activist. Jenna was instrumental in developing the idea of having a chorus of trans and queer youth to not only complete the play’s ensemble but also fulfill the mission of this project: to give the community a platform through theater. In addition to the core cast, we have now assembled a group of 10 dynamic individuals to weave this show together. We could not be more thrilled with this cast! I’ve never experienced this kind of positive energy before in my career.

I also wanted to share that Vertigo Theater Company has partnered with both the youth program at The LGBT Community Center and The Ali Forney Center to offer work readiness internships. Youth who have gone through the LEAP program (Leadership, Education, Advancement, and Placement) will shadow and be mentored by our production team as they gain the professional experience necessary to build their resumes.

Q:  What else are you working on now?

A:  On October 3, Vertigo Theater Company – in association with BRIC Arts Media – is producing “Queering Theater,” which is the next installment of our ongoing salon-style series, Shoptalk. Our guests include playwright Adam Bock, playwright/actor Donnetta Lavinia Grays, director/artistic director Will Davis, and legendary performance artist Carmelita Tropicana, plus moderator, Ginia Bellafante from the New York Times. Right now, since I am wearing multiple hats for this Vertigo Theater Company production (Producer, Artistic Director and Playwright) I am singularly focused on my baby, Street Children.

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, I was extremely close to my Uncle Bob. He was my Nanny’s (my grandmother on my mom’s side) brother. When my mother grew up, her father was a violent alcoholic and my Nanny divorced him, which was a bold move back in 1940’s-era Brooklyn. Afterwards, she asked my Uncle Bob to move in with them and they became a family unit and raised my mother. He was one of the kindest human souls I have ever known. I never understood why, but I always knew innately that he needed both protection and my undying loyal devotion. I knew he was different; that he was an underdog. He never had a 9-5 job and he lived with my Nanny for his entire adult life. He was the neighborhood handyman; he built dollhouses; and he could create or fix anything with his hands. I remember accompanying him on his rounds to different homes the neighborhood and you could not help but adore him. He had very soft youthful features. He never had a girlfriend and I remember asking my mom about it. She explained that when Uncle Bob was born, the doctors did not know if he was a boy or a girl. His parents made him live his life as a boy. They cut his hair like a boy and dressed him like a boy. He endured operation after operation and suffered terribly. When he got older and started going through puberty, he began developing breasts. He had to bind his chest with an ace bandage and wear loose t-shirts to hide his physical attributes. By that point, he had been living his whole life as a boy and felt he had no choice but to continue living as a boy. He was ostracized and treated poorly by people and other members of his own family. My Nanny took him away from that and gave him a family with my mom. He was burdened with something so terrible, but his extraordinary strength, and incredibly giving soul allowed him to find the beauty in life. He got the most joy from his little family, but we will never know how much he suffered for not being able to have a voice in deciding who he wanted to be. My experiences with him absolutely shaped who I am as a person and a writer. I seem to always write about raw and painful heartache combined with fierce resilience and child-like innocence.

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

A:  Diversity all around - both on and off stage. Making theater accessible to all walks of life.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  Right now- here is who comes to mind

Joseph Papp, Nina Simone, Ellen Burstyn, Gena Rowlands, Tony Kushner, Dominique Morisseau, Lucy Thurber, Taylor Mac, Patti Smith, and, Lin Manuel Miranda.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  Theater that breaks down the barriers between audience and performance. Theater that makes you feel as if you are inside of the experience from the moment you enter the room. Theater that immerses and transports you into the world of the play and introduces you to experiences that are different from your own.

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

A:  I am certainly not a wise old playwright - I don’t have the pedigree! But I will say this: I NEVER GIVE UP. Don’t stop moving toward your dream of telling the stories you want and need to tell…NO MATTER WHAT. Work at it every day. Get inspired. If you can’t find someone to produce your work then DO IT YOURSELF. Say YES.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  Here is the link to New Ohio Website for Street Children

http://newohiotheatre.org/ourcurrentseason.htm

Here is the direct ticket link for Street Children
 
https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/pr/962229

We also have the $18 early bird discount set up - with code "EARLYBIRD"

Also here is our website:

http://www.vertigotheater.org/

SHOPTALK: Queering Theater- October 3rd

http://www.bricartsmedia.org/events-performances/vertigo-theater-company-shoptalk-queering-theater
 
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