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1000 PLAYWRIGHT INTERVIEWS

1000 Playwright Interviews The first interview I posted was on June 3, 2009.  It was Jimmy Comtois.  I decided I would start interview...

Jul 9, 2020

I Interview Playwrights Part 1087: Yvette Heyliger




YVETTE HEYLIGER

Hometown: Washington, DC

Current Town: Harlem, USA

Q:  What are you working on now?

A:  I am currently taking part in a playwriting challenge called Say Their Names. Inspired by the #SayHerName Movement, any BIWoC identifying member of Honor Roll!—an advocacy group of women playwrights over 40 years old—may submit an eight minute, forty-six second play about a Black Women+, Indigenous Women+ and Women+ of Color who died at the hands of law enforcement. The submission window is July 1st through – August 31st by 11:59pm EST.

Q:  Tell me a story from your childhood that explains who you are as a writer or as a person.

A:  Following is a story from my one woman show, Bridge to Baraka which recounts an incident from my childhood that speaks to who I am as a writer and a person. I last performed the play in the United Solo Theatre Festival in 2018.

YVETTE X

“I remember we had a red-haired, freckled-faced, playmate that lived on the street behind our cul-de-sac. One day my sisters and I knocked and asked, “Can Pam come outside to play?” Opening the door to see three little colored kids on his doorstep, Pam’s father flew into a rage, “You little niggers better not never come knocking on this door again!” His red-faced fury, skillful cursing and double-negatives surprised me so much that it took him calling us “niggers” a few more times before the message to run home could get to my nine year old feet. I wasn’t exactly sure what a “nigger” was, but I knew it meant playtime was over.

“Our uncle who was visiting explained, “Where y’all been? Don’t y’all know niggahs are all fired up, taking to the streets ‘cause Martin Luther King, Jr. got shot?!” Somehow the word “nigger” sounded different in his mouth, almost like a game of hopscotch—he just tossed that rock of an epithet into a chalk square and skipped right over it on to the next thought. “Niggahs done already started riotin’ and y’all’s house is surrounded by a buncha ‘ol red neck Virginia crackers. You need to come on and evacuate, now—be with your own kind where you’ll be safe.” But our mother said, “We are staying put. I will not be run out of my house.” What would be the point, anyway? Our family was between a rock and a hard place. Not black enough to be black or white enough to be white, we weren’t accepted by the “crackers” or the “niggers.”

“With the rioting not far away, I took matters into my own hands—well I couldn’t leave it up to God, now could I? Everybody knows God is a white man, just look at the pictures of His son, Jesus Christ—not one drop of African blood! So, I’m thinking, maybe God is the God of only white folks ‘cause He didn’t want little colored girls playing with little white girls, and was probably mad that the niggers were rioting. I felt like it was up to me to protect our father-less family using the only weapon I had—my words.

“On a poster board, with my brown crayon, I drew stick figures of my sisters, me, our mother and our French poodle, Pierre. In a crayon the color of lamb’s blood I wrote, SOUL SISTERS LIVE HERE, and posted the sign on the front door of the one-story home on a hill that was situated on the cul-de-sac our family had integrated. I was hoping the rioters would see it, know there was a black family living there, and pass over our house.

After my sisters and I went to bed, my mother took that sign down. I knew she was proud of me though—for believing I could make a difference with my words.”

© 2011, 2020 by Yvette Heyliger

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

A:  At the rate things are going women theatre artists will not see parity in the American Theatre for another hundred years. I would change this by mandating that gender parity be achieved through legislation—essentially that any arts organization or institution that is receiving city, state, or federal funding should be required to allocate an equitable portion of that funding to womxn artists, or risk losing government funding. (Hopefully the commercial theatre would do the politically correct thing and follow suit.) Additionally, I would institute this mandate across the visual and performing arts disciplines, so that all womxn artists might benefit.

Q:  Who are your theatrical heroes?

A:
(1.) Director, Glenda Dickerson. The head of the Theatre Department at Duke Ellington School of the Arts in the late 1970’s (in the midst of the Black Arts Movement), Glenda introduced us budding high school student actors to an Afrocentric, non-linear, ritualistic Black theatre experience that was grounded in the cultural and artistic aesthetic of an awakened Black America. Glenda infused students with the knowledge of who we were as Black people—she gave us our very own Black selves. In retrospect, I see this act as revolutionary.

(2.) Playwright, Athol Fugard (see the next question).

(3.) Master Acting Teacher, William Esper. From studying the Sanford Meisner technique with this acclaimed teacher, I gained an appreciation for the sacred craft of acting and the actor’s process. I learned to live in the moment, to trust my instincts, to work off of the other actor, and to respond truthfully. When I auditioned for the Cosby Show Esper said, “Don’t worry about getting the job; just do a good audition so they will remember you and ask you back.” His advice really took the pressure off, enabling me to be my authentic self, fully present and in the moment. Additionally, I discovered an unexpected bonus to the Meisner technique—the ability to create truthful dialogue!

(4.) Playwright/Organizer/Avocate, Rachel Crothers. The most successful woman writing for the stage in her day, Rachel Crothers  broke ground on Broadway with over 30 plays to her credit—many of which she casted, directed and staged herself (and, as I understand, even did some costuming!). Simultaneously, Crothers broke ground serving the theatrical community by working to improve their welfare. She also distinguished herself by organizing the theatre community to support the war effort in the US and abroad, during both World War I & II, at a time when women could not even vote. Putting up a Broadway play while supporting the troops and their families? What’s not to admire about this theatre woman?

The League of Professional Theatre Women has a Leadership award named in her honor which is given bi-annually. If you have suggestions for a theatre woman exemplifies the spirit of selfless service to her fellow Americans while simultaneously making significant contributions the American Theatre, please send them to me at yvette@theatrewomen.org.

(5.) The 1st Year Acting Students of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts (Winter Section). Since January, I have had the privilege of observing these acting students in the instruction of the Sanford Meisner Technique taught both by Maggie Low and David Dean Bottrell. When social distancing due to Coronavirus drove us all into the virtual classroom, none of us knew if, or how, it would work. These first-year students proved that, while not ideal, craft can be taught in the virtual classroom. Their work in class would bare this out.

In his introduction to the book, On Acting, director Sydney Pollock said, “Sandy Meisner’s work was, and is, to impart to students an organized approach to the creation of real and truthful behavior within the imaginary circumstances of the theatre”. Until acting students are able to return to the brick-and-mortar classroom, I would assert that the work of imparting the Meisner technique today is “to approach the creation of real and truthful behavior within the imaginary circumstances” of Zoom.

And finally…

(6.) Producer and blogger, Ken Davenport. In 2017 Ken asked us to write our Tony Award acceptance speech as an inspirational exercise. That year there were two women directors, two women playwrights and two women lead producers with shows on Broadway. Ken said, “By writing it, you'll be putting yourself in that moment, and by making it feel a little more real, you'll be that much closer to making that @#$% happen.” Here’s my speech:

Yvette Heyliger – Winner, Tony Award for Best Play

This year, on the occasion of the anniversary of the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, we have fifty/fifty representation of women, including women of color, working on Broadway and in theatres across the country, writing, directing, designing, and producing. I feel so blessed to be one of them and I thank American Theatre Wing and the Broadway League for this great honor. I also want to thank my producers—including my lead producer and twin sister Yvonne Farrow—my director, creative team, cast and crew for your exemplary work. I want to thank the VITA office at Actor’s Equity for doing my taxes all those lean years, and I want to thank my family; especially my husband for giving me the gift of being able to stay home, raise our family, and write plays when it would have been more helpful for me to have had a nine-to-five. Finally, I want to thank Ken Davenport. You were right! This @#$% is happening!

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A: I am drawn to theatre that is used as an agent for social change while still entertaining. I saw Master Harold… and the Boys on Broadway starring Danny Glover and the late Zakes Mokae. It was written by one of my aforementioned theatrical heroes, Athol Fugard. When the curtain came down onstage and the lights came up in the house, I was weeping uncontrollably. An usher hovering nearby allowed me to sit until I was able to compose myself, rise from my seat, and exit the empty theatre. I want to say that I was “changed” by this play about apartheid in South Africa, but actually I was awakened. I left saying to myself, “I want to make theatre like that.”

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

A:  Gwydion Suilebhan, Project Director of the New Play Exchange, wrote a blog piece called Playwrights and the New Play Exchange. In it he says that 90% of all new plays NEVER get produced. This is even more sobering when you begin to add in statistical information—especially around the lack of parity for women in the American Theatre. The Lilly Award’s reports in The Count 2.0 , that white women get 20.5% of production opportunities nationwide and women of color get 6.1%. White men continue to get the lion’s share at 62.7%.

So what am I saying?

Until artists can make a living with their art, I recommend getting a day job that you enjoy—one that pays the bills so you can take care of yourself and your family, but which doesn’t suck up all of your creativity. Also, embrace having to wear many hats in the theatre—including self-producing. Don’t sit around waiting for someone to discover you or for a theatre to take you under their wing. If you want to grow as a playwright you have to see your work living and breathing on the stage.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  What a Piece of Work Is Man! Full-Length Plays for Leading Women by yours truly, Yvette Heyliger, and edited by Alexis Greene delivers a power-packed collection of plays for leading women (and the leading men who love them!). Great for professional actors, directors, designers and producers seeking new projects, as well as students of the theatre and lovers of politics, drama and activism! Artistic essays, critical reviews, production cast lists, as well as lead sheet music and photographs by Larry Farrow, illuminate the work of this producing artist and educator.

If you would like to reserve your seat on October 22 & 23, 2020 at 7pm for Say Their Names, Readings and Reflections of 00:08:46 plays by Honor Roll! members about a Black Women+, Indigenous Women+ and Women+ of Color who died at the hands of law enforcement, write to us at saytheirnameshonorroll@gmail.com.

Click here to read my post in The Dramatist Blog called, Honor Roll! We Got This . It chronicles activism for parity for women+ playwrights and highlights a new group, Honor Roll!, an advocacy group of women+ playwrights over forty whose aim is to increase inclusion and representation on stage and in the theatrical canon.

And finally, here is a link to a webinar I organized and hosted earlier this year in my role as Dramatists Guild NYC Ambassador called Getting the Most Out of NPX: Tips from a Fellow Playwright . In it I welcome playwright Emma Goldman-Sherman who shares tips to help make your scripts on the New Play Exchange more discoverable by the “right” people and more identifiable to opportunities for which your play is the right fit.


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May 19, 2020

I Interview Playwrights Part 1086: Jeesun Choi





Jeesun Choi

Hometown: Seoul, South Korea & Bangkok, Thailand

Current Town: New York City

Q:  What are you working on now?

A:  I'm writing this from the Great Pandemic of 2020 so writing has been an off-and-on endeavor, but here are the two on my desk. First off, I'm working on Lost Coast, a seven-protagonist play about isolation, community, and wildfires. I've often experienced that plays that deal with "community" tend to romanticize the very concept. But communities can be difficult, fractured, are not always the comforting place of rest we envision. I'm trying to capture both the beauty and ugliness of the individuals that form imperfect communities. I've been developing at Nashville Rep's Ingram New Works and they've been wonderfully supportive.

The second project is called BUST (working title) that I am co-creating with director Bryn Herdrich with support from Soho Rep's Writer/Director Lab. It's about the concept of money, the myths that keep money alive, and our relationship with wealth. Our hope is that we will get to present something from it in a theatre in early 2021 so stay tuned. Oh, and one fun fact (related to the play) - did you know that approximately 6,000 tons of gold currently sits in the Manhattan bedrock storage of New York Federal Reserve?

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

A:  Well, the pandemic will probably change MANY things about theatre, though we don't know what its lasting impacts will be yet.

As it stands, I would personally would like to change many things about theatre (accessibility, structure, cultural and ethnic representations, etc), but if I HAD to pick ONE - 

I would change the industry's idea of artistic development for early-career artists. It's very much, "get us a script, we'll do the cheapest/least committal reading and see what it is." Nothing wrong with that model, but it's sad that it's the most prevalent model. And because it is the most prevalent model, it encourages a very specific kind of plays to be written, ones that thrive in that environment. I would love to see more diversity in the kinds of plays we see on off-Broadway. That means that the theatres may need to rethink the kinds of resources they make available to the artists. And allow artists to dictate their needs without worrying about how this will affect their relationship with the organizations. Soho Rep and EST/Youngblood come to mind as places that are doing a good job of providing meaningful support, despite the limitations.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  Physical theatre came before playwriting for me and the physical body and world is still the main consideration in my writing process. The founders of Theatre de la Jeune Lune are one of my perennial sources of inspiration. They did the co-Artistic Director thing before it was a thing. The way they worked, and the kinds of work they created forever changed the landscape of theatre in the city.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  Theatre that truly takes a comprehensive consideration of all of its elements. I've been watching Met Opera's live stream the past few weeks, and I was able to catch Benjamin Britten's Peter Grimes, a libretto adapted by Montagu Slate from the narrative poem, "Peter Grimes", in George Crabbe's book The Borough. It was maybe the first time where I saw an opera use both its sound, musicality AND text to create a complete theatrical rendering of a fisherman pushed to the edge by his community. Just because it's an opera, it can't rely on beautiful sounds all the time. 

It's the same for the theatre. It can't just rely on spoken text. When I see a work that shows the people so organically embodied with the text, I become enthralled. My quarantine brain is forgetting some, but some recent shows I loved are Passage, A Strange Loop, Fefu and Her Friends.

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

A:  I think giving advice is tricky because everyone "starts out" in such different situations. But what I found to be most helpful for me is to really focus on my point of view, my perspective as a theatre artist. Especially in New York, going to shows and interacting with all sorts of artists, it can be disorienting. But as much as possible, focus on where you are coming from and where you want to go as a writer. What do you want to know more about? What is that weird, untold, mundane thing that captures your attention? If you find it fascinating, there is a good chance that others will too (I'm stealing that sentiment from Haruki Murakami). Then obsess over it and write about it.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  It's still quarantine season so things are so up in the air but hopefully, people can turn into a virtual Zoom reading of Lost Coast, arranged by EST/Youngblood. BUST will also have a workshop showing in early 2021 at Soho Rep! Come join the fun that is dismantling our financial systems.

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May 14, 2020

I Interview Playwrights Part 1085: Jason Schafer









Jason Schafer

Hometown: Sacramento, California

Current Town: Brooklyn!

Q:  Tell me about Bleeding Love?

A:  Bleeding Love is a post-apocalyptic musical. It started as an assignment that I gave myself. I realized the books and movies and plays that stuck with me the most, the stories I returned to again and again and loved above all the rest, were the ones that gave me a big emotional experience. I wanted to write something that did that, so I started making a list of anything that elicited a big response in me. I thought back as far back as I could remember and worked my way up to the present, filling up several pages of a notebook--the more personal, the more idiosyncratic, the more ridiculous, the better. My favorite musical instrument: the cello… New York City brownstones… my childhood piano teacher, Mrs. Grabner… punk goddess Nina Hagen… guys in trapper trooper hats (or maybe just one guy I saw once on the subway in a trapper trooper hat)… greenhouses… Klaus von Brucker in Bruce LaBruce’s film No Skin Off My Ass... Oscar Wilde’s fairytale “The Nightingale and the Rose”. These are some of the items I came up with.

I started shaping all these ideas into a story. As an exercise, I tried to use everything. The Word doc on my computer grew and grew and grew. Then, about ten years ago, songwriting team Harris Doran and Arthur Lafrentz Bacon suggested the three of us write a musical. They asked if I had any ideas, and I pitched them the story that would become Bleeding Love. At the time, it was overstuffed and even more odd. They said they’d prefer to do something commercial, which sort of shocked me because I hadn’t thought about the project in terms of its commerciality, but I also loved that they were honest! The story clearly struck a chord with them, however, because, about a year after that, Harris reached out, asking, “What was that story about a rose again?”

We stripped it down to its essence, smoothing out some of the lumpier elements, and began writing. From the first piece of music Art composed, it was clear that they “got” it. Then, during our heaviest writing phase, they were writing a song a week. And the songs were able to tap into the operatic emotionality of the characters and the situation, amplifying what was there and taking it beyond my expectations. It was thrilling. And, I think, without losing any of the story’s peculiarities, we started seeing it as a show that could have broad, commercial appeal.

The show was presented at the National Alliance of Musical Theatre Festival of New Musicals, which led to a couple of workshops and a couple productions, including our official premiere at the Fredericia Teater in Denmark. When the current pandemic started, many of the show’s themes were suddenly, eerily relevant, and, very quickly, Broadway Podcast Network, along with our producers Kent Nicholson, Katie Rosin and Steve Saporito, were able to pull together a three-part audio drama of the show with a dream cast of Broadway talent.

Q:  What else are you working on now?

A:  I’m adapting another stage play as an audio drama. It’s called I google myself, and it’s about three guys with the same name. I’m also working on a novel, and I’m a professor in the Film & Television Program at LaGuardia Community College.

Q:  Tell me, if you will, a story from your childhood that explains who you are as a writer or as a person.

A:  My family used to take a camping trip every summer. I remember several vacations to Yosemite National Park in which I took along pens and notebooks. I was eleven, but I had to write! I didn’t think that was strange at all, but I recall it baffled one of my cousins!

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

A:  Less commercial! Kidding! …and sort of not. There are so many stories that deserve to be seen by audiences, stories that—I feel—audiences actually want, but in order to get to that point, someone has to put up the money. And the amount it costs to mount a play keeps going up, which means the commercial considerations keep going up as well.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  I don’t think in terms of heroes, but when I find something I love, I like to experience it over and over and deconstruct it. Annie Baker’s plays are incredible. I will see anything she writes, and Circle Mirror Transformation is one of my favorite plays ever. I love Lorraine Hansbury’s A Raisin in the Sun and Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes. That’s all women, which I didn’t plan! Clifford Odets' dialog is the best.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you? 

A:  When I was at NYU, an agent described playwriting as creating an event. That’s what good shows do! It doesn’t matter if it’s a one-person show in a 99-seat theater or a twenty-million dollar Broadway musical; it doesn’t matter if it’s a well-made play or something experimental. I’m excited by anything that gives me an emotional experience.

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

A:  Be weird. Be you. Find your voice, but without watering it down, make it connect with an audience. Also, a small production can feed your soul just as much as a big one.

Q:  Plugs, please: 

A:  Listen to Bleeding Love: a post-apocalyptic new musical at Broadway Podcast Network or on Apple Podcast/iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts.



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May 9, 2020

The Amazing Keith Claverie


Keith Claverie who played Dusty in NOLA Project's Clown Bar and originated the role of Brian in Stockholm Syndrome perfoms a monologue from East Haddam.



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The Charming Genius Sharonlee Mclean

Sharonlee, who was in the premiere of Kodachrome posted these two monologues of mine:




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Apr 24, 2020

Video Interview

with Sasha Bratt for Playhouse on Park

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tzsabRxK4hY&feature=youtu.be&fbclid=IwAR1vo_yANCxkyNpgSwMxruLiPgmHvocRfx6ipaMqI193EBU0YfbZaUxmRA8



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