Tuesday, March 28, 2017

I Interview Playwrights Part 921: James Bartelle


James Bartelle

Hometown:  Both of my parents were in the military and they were divorced so my brother and I moved around a lot. We mostly took up residence in San Antonio, TX. We also lived for a while in the following places:

Augusta, GA; Albuquerque, NM; Denver, CO; El Paso, TX; Honolulu, HI; New York, NY; Olympia, WA; Sierra Vista, AZ; Darmstadt, Germany

Current Town: New Orleans, LA!

Q:  Tell me about your upcoming show.

A:  The Spider Queen is a play I co-wrote with NOLA Project Company Member Alex Martinez Wallace (who played Happy in our production of Clown Bar last season!) The play will be staged in the Sculpture Garden at the New Orleans Museum of Art. Stylistically, the play has been described as somewhere between Lord of the Rings and The Neverending Story. It has also been described "as though Shakespeare wrote a Dungeons & Dragons campaign". The play follows a teenage girl named Esme who recently lost her park ranger father in a forest fire. Esme suspects the fire was no accident and sneaks into the Park to investigate. While there, she is suddenly transported to a war-torn kingdom which is ruled by a massive spider! The ensemble of 7 men and 7 women play a slew of 25 fantastical characters from Ogres to Elves to Trolls to Minotaurs to Goblins. The production will include a lot of original mask work as well as beautiful large-scale puppetry. Last night, the ensemble began a training regimen so they can be physically, vocally and creatively ready for the demanding rehearsal process which starts next week. It is definitely the most ambitious production The NOLA Project has done in our 50-show history.

Q:  What else are you working on now?

A:  -I'm in a new play development program with Southern Rep Theatre. I am writing a piece called The Witches' Tower which is set in Idstein, Germany during the 1676 witch hunts when over 30 women were executed. The play centers around four imprisoned women who are awaiting their fate in a tower and the bonds they form. Also there's a talking Crow! Hopefully it will be equal parts fun and devastating and magical.

-I'm also in the early stages of creating a futuristic solo-show called The Alien and the Two-Way Mirror in which the audience is a jury who must decide the fate of an Extraterrestrial on trial. Depending on the jury's verdict, the show has three possible endings. A Choose-Your-Own-Adventure of sorts.

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 we were 9 and 10 years old, my brother and I spent a summer filming stop-motion videos of our X-Men action figures on our kitchen floor. We were making Wolverine dance long before Hugh Jackman came along. It would normally take 8 hours for about 20 seconds of animation. I feel like that instilled a lot of patience and persistence in me as a writer and person.

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

A:  More [GOOD] roles for women. This is definitely a changing trend, but I think it's preposterous when 75% of the performers are auditioning for 25% of the available roles.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  Playwrights: Shakespeare, August Wilson, Gabi Reisman, Samuel Beckett, Amy Herzog, Anne Washburn. Tarrell McCraney's work completely changed my understanding of how dialogue can be laid out on a page.
Teachers: Yoshi Oida, everyone at the Stella Adler Studio

Designers: Jeff Becker, Joan Long, Cecile Covert

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  I love theatre that is vocally and physically demanding that pushes performers to their limits and makes them grow beyond what they thought was possible. I love moments that are magic and moments that are absolutely real and if they can exist in the same scene, I love them even more. I love ensemble-driven work and stories that transport audiences completely. I also love stage directions that make designers and directors go "What!?"

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

A:  I'm still near the beginning of my writing career, but my two pieces of advice would probably be the same for any theatre professional:

1) See everything you can. I have the great fortune of seeing 2-3 shows every weekend. Watch it all. The good, the bad, the ridiculous, and the infuriating. Figure out what works and what doesn't. Figure out why.

2) If you are able, dedicate some time to working outside of your discipline. I have learned very little about writing from books or classrooms. I have learned so much about writing from acting, directing, dialect-coaching, and set-construction.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  Everyone, come to New Orleans in May and see The Spider Queen.
http://www.nolaproject.com


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