Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Artist Statement - From Playwrights to Artistic Directors, This is What They Said...

I was passionately and meticulously crafting a couple of artists statements (translation: staring at a blank page with self loathing and fantasies of binging on the last season of Nurse Jackie, Transparent or fill in the blank) when it occurred to me that I was probably not alone (hello Theaterspeakers) so I asked a handful of theater professionals these two questions: 

1. What makes a good artist statement and/or 
2. How do you approach writing one?

The following is what they said. I hope you find it helpful and may it deliver you from paralysis and into passionate, self-loving/accepting artistic revelry (really, it's ok). And if you're still feeling tortured, I'll just pass on what my friend likes to say, which is: "Get off the cross, we need the wood."  Enjoy.

THE ARTIST STATEMENT

Jose Rivera
JOSE RIVERA:  I haven't written that many over the years but I've done longer manifestos and essays and the same idea applies. Everyone has very personal reasons for being in the arts that has to do with anything from being mentored by someone, or childhood experiences, to falling in love with theater - that kind of thing. It's the unique experience that brought me to the art; that allowed me to commit to it - like a love affair to commit to, because it can break your heart everyday. It's like a marriage vow - why you're committed, what you plan to give to it. It's your core beliefs as an artist. That's the formula I've used in the past.

So many people write them. You want yours to stand out. I use quotes to at least give it some class, like Rumi or Pablo Naruda. It shows the reader where you're coming from, who inspires you, what your commitments are. Once I had a conversation with the theater director Peter Sellers who said, "I'd ask every writer, does the world need your play? Why does the world need your play? Or need you to be the artist to create it?" And then be specific in answering that.

In a play you can wear a variety of masks, but in an artist statement you have to take the mask off, at least for ten minutes, at least when you're applying for money. They're looking for clarifty and truth in what you're saying so the more you can reveal about your fundamental motivations and core beliefs, the better. If you believe art is decoration, or that art is for political change - the point is let it be your truth. You shouldn't ever write a statement crafted to what you think the people want to hear. People can sniff that and it comes across as inauthentic. The most authentic emotional, intellectual statement you can put forward is best.

JOSE RIVERA is a two-time Obie award-winning writer living in New York.

LIZ FRANKEL: A good artist statement allows the reader to get to know you better as a person and an artist. We read hundreds of them as we consider applications for our Emerging Writers Group (at the Public Theatre) and the ones that stand out reveal something about the writer that we couldn’t glean from their resume and also couldn’t guess. As we ask each applicant to submit a play and a resume, we want the statement to help us to get to know them; we can get to know their writing through the play and their
accomplishments through their resume. This said, though, the key thing is the play. If we were on the fence about interviewing a candidate but their statement was really compelling and made us want to meet them, we might call them in. But if we loved a play and wanted to interview the candidate, we would still do so even if their artist statement was bland or generic. We know that a great artist statement is hard to write!

LIZ FRANKEL was the Literary Manager of The Public Theater where she ran the Emerging Writers Group.  She is currently the Director of New Work at the Alley Theater

Susan Bernfield
SUSAN BERNFIED: The same thing that's hard when I write in my own artist statements is the thing I like to read when someone sends one to me: direct and unpretentious.  Jargon, no!  Highfalutin crap, no!  As in
any good writing: active, yes!  Verb density, yes!  It's just so easy for big ideas to be not quite gotten, misconstrued, or frankly just skipped over cause they look long and complicated cause the writer felt an obligation to look smart  (like you're not smart...) and add those extra syllables (rarely found in the verb of the same word) and stuff that seems like artsy fartsy terminology.

I just keep trying to whittle it down: in everyday words, what do I actually MEAN?  Am I sure the predicate of my sentence isn't actually the subject, will that feel more direct and less explain-y?  How can I move from speaking abstractly or conceptually about my work (a great step toward articulating what I want to say, but can feel unspecific to a reader) into shorter, clearer, dare I say funner, more personal or idiosyncratic details the reader can latch onto? 

At the very end of the process of writing these things, I usually have a moment where I go, Oh.  Right!  There's my personality as an artist!  Why the hell did it take so long, and why do I never remember that's the goal before I start?

SUSAN BERNFIELD is the founder and producing artistic director of New Georges, an award-winning nonprofit theater company in NYC. She is also a playwright and solo performer whose plays have been presented or developed at, among others, O'Neill Playwrights Conference, Playwrights Horizons, HB Playwrights, New York Theatre Workshop, Magic Theatre, Adirondack Theatre Festival and, of course, New Georges.


NATHEN YUNGERBERG: Writing the artist statement makes me want to scream, yell and break things! I find it very difficult to explain why I do what I do because sometimes I get bit by intense creative inspiration and the story possesses me and I just…have to… get it out.  My biggest snag is obsessing about what “they” want to hear rather than focusing on my personal truth. I have tried several different approaches, I even hired
Nathan Yungerberg
another writer to interview me once and create the statement out of my free flowing speech, which I thought would be more “truthful”, but it ended up sounding like a sappy dating profile. I have finally resolved to just throwing a bunch of ideas (without judgment) onto paper and rewriting like I would a play. I then reach out to a trusted friend who KNOWS me and is good with editing. The last time, we sat on the phone and combed through my artist statement line by line as she questioned me for clarity and I was able to incorporate several of my gut reactions in the place of my contrived answers that sounded phony and canned.

NATHAN YUNGERBERG is a Brooklyn-based playwright. Nathan Yungerberg’ s work has been developed or featured  by The Playwright’s Center, The Brooklyn Museum, The Lorraine Hansberry Theater, Brava Theater, The Lark, The Fire This Time Festival, 48 Hours in Harlem, The National Black Theatre, The Hansberry Project, The National Black Theatre Festival, The Classical Theatre of Harlem, Blackboard Reading Series, The Dramatist Guild,  Flashpoint Theater and BBC Radio Afternoon Drama. 

ROLAND TEC:  I’m sure I’m not alone in this but, gosh do I HATE writing artist statements. Oy! I never know what to say and almost always end up striking a tone that is so at odds with who I really am, it’s kind of alarming. In person, I am serious but also warmhearted with a pretty dark sense of humor. On paper in
Roland Tec
the form of an artistic statement, I turn into this pompous and somewhat stiff and confused idiot who takes himself way to seriously. Why is that? I wish I knew. It’s funny because I often think we should rent ourselves out to each other for just this sort of thing because I’m sure most of us would be pretty eloquent if asked to write about the work of a close friend or colleague. Somehow when it’s about myself, I just freeze up and lose all sense of flow. And that’s one of the reasons I so rarely apply to things that require them and when I do actually get accepted someplace, I’m a tiny bit shocked. Like I want to look over my shoulder to find who they really meant to wave in.

ROLAND TEC is a writer, director and producer of both theater and feature films, He currently serves as Membership Director for the Dramatists Guild of America and is hard at work on his next feature film, THUNDER EVERY DAY. More info at www.pinkplot.com.

HILARY BETTIS:  Having been selected for and been a reader for several major fellowships and residencies, I’ve had the opportunity to evaluate the artist’s statement from both sides of the fence. Here is what I think makes a strong and memorable artist’s statement:

1.) It should be well-structured, grammatically correct, and show that you have a command of the written language. It’s an opportunity to demonstrate your level of craft and versatility. This seems like common sense, but I’ve read quite a few applications with such poorly written statements it becomes difficult to take that person seriously as a writer. And, for writers like me who write messy plays that strive to break as many rules as possible, a well-crafted artist’s statement is a way to demonstrate a knowledge of the rules before bashing them openly in my plays.

2.)  It  It should demonstrate your ability to constructively and honestly evaluate your work. You want to show the reader you know how to be effective in the room, you know how to talk about the work. If you’re applying for development opportunities with raw plays, you want to show the reader you know what is working, what isn’t, and what you are ultimately striving for with the piece.

3.)  Most importantly, a good artist’s statement should be genuine. It should be a conversation. People are looking for good plays, but they are also equally looking for people they WANT to work with. People they WANT to cultivate life-long relationships with. And, in most cases, readers are your fellow theatermakers. They are actors, writers, directors, literary mangers, ADs, dramaturgs, and producers. They are people who are just as passionate about theater as you are. They WANT to fall in love with you and your work.

HILARY BETTIS is a playwright and screenwriter. She is a graduate of the Juilliard Lila Acheson Wallace Fellow, and New York Theatre Workshop Fellow. Projects in development include THE LOST COYOTE (feature film) and DAKOTA ATOLL (full-length play).

MATT HOVERMAN:  Ah, the Artist Statement.  I have written many, some of which have been successful.  And, since I've taught over 65 solo show classes since 2001, I've helped dozens of my actor/writer students successfully apply to festivals, schools, grants, etc.

In starting a new one, I always reread my previous efforts -  a practice I find both educational and humbling.  Over time, I've noticed certain tendencies in my (and my students' ) approach that I now try to avoid.  So here they are:  My top 3 Artist Statements to resist.  (Disclaimer: My opinion only.) 

    The Origin Story:  Don't start with, "I wrote my first play in 3rd grade…" or "I saw my first play and fell in love with the magic of theatre…"  Why?  Because we all have that story to tell, and I imagine we've all told it in our Artists Statements, boring to tears those who have to read them.  Talk about who you are today, as a mature, professional playwright with experience and goals.  And do it with originality.

    The Apology:  Don't explain why I'm not Tony Kushner, as in "…this has put me at odds with the theatre establishment…" or "… after a college production of one of my plays, my family said they wanted to beat me up, so I stopped writing and became an actor for 7 years…" (True story, sigh.)  The biz is hard for everyone.  You don't have to justify anything.  This is your opportunity to sell yourself.  Be proud of what you've done.  Celebrate it. I don't think I'm alone when I say applying to programs brings up my issues with authority.  But I've learned that none of these judges has the time, information, history or inclination to critique my past with the merciless eye I do at 2am.

    The Pretentious Pander:  This has also been a way I've "justified" myself.  In trying to give the powers-that-be what I imagine they want (which, I fear, is something greater, smarter or more socially relevant than my actual work), I've hidden behind important-sounding and completely heady concepts to impress, rather than to communicate or connect.  I've since learned to come from the heart.  To me, the most important thing is to be authentic - simple, direct and smart without going overboard.  If my friends who aren't in the theatre can't understand it, I believe I'm off base.  The times I've been most successful are the times I've had a true connection with the program or residency, and I've honestly and clearly expressed that in my Statement.  For example, in applying to the Edward Albee Foundation (a one-month residency in Montauk), I wrote with feeling  about how I've always found walking by great bodies of water to be incredibly inspirational.  It's true and I got in.  We'd all love to get into all the most prestigious programs, but I've learned it's much more likely (and ultimately satisfying) that I'll wind up in the programs with whom I truly resonate.

My last bit of advice is gleaned from the SECRETS IN MARKETING YOUR SHOW IN ANY FESTIVAL, an online class I co-created with marketing pro Robin Gelfenbien.  In discussing the 40-word blurb that goes on the back of show postcards, Robin advises to avoid using descriptors like "hilarious" or "touching".  Those assessments are for reviewers to assign to your work.  Rather, let the tone of the blurb convey the tone of your show.  If the show is funny, the blurb should make a potential audience member laugh out loud.  If it's a thriller, it should make a chill go down their spine.  In the same way, I believe the tone of your Artist Statement should match the tone of your work.  I write irreverent comedies with heart.  I now make sure my Artist Statements include a few jokes, instead of reading like an academic essay on the themes of patriarchal oppression in A DOLL'S HOUSE.

So, in summation: be confident, be enthusiastic, be direct, be idiosyncratic - and sure, connect your work with larger social/political themes and the mission of whatever organization to which you're applying, but do so in a simple, heartfelt way.  In short, be you.  Then let go.  And trust that the opportunities you're meant to get are coming to you.

MATT HOVERMAN is a playwright, screen and TV writer and teacher of solo performance. He curently writes for Disney.  Websites: Playwriting:  MattHoverman.com, Teaching:  CreateYourOwnSoloShow.com

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Waking up to the Mourning Sun - Playwright Antu Yacub and Theatre 167

"I wanted to do something to educate those of us here about it so the conversation would begin."
- Playwright/Actress Antu Yacob

How do you describe the Mourning Sun? 

Mourning Sun is a love story that follows childhood sweethearts across two continents, navigating young love faced with an irreversible fistula. (An obstetric fistula occurs during an obstructed labour when emergency care is unavailable. See more below.)

What was its specific inspiration? 

My sister who's currently a physician, volunteered at the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital several years ago as a student. After she shared stories of the women she encountered at the hospital, I watched a documentary called A Walk to Beautiful. Having never heard of fistula before this, I was heartbroken and angry that 1) I didn't know about it and 2) it's a condition that doesn't need to exist. I wanted to do something to educate those of us here about it so the conversation would begin.

According to the Freedom From Fistula Foundation, "an estimated two million women in Africa are suffering from obstetric fistula caused by obstructed childbirth. Women suffering from obstructed labor often struggle until the baby dies.  During this agonizing process, loss of circulation causes tissue to die, leaving large gaps between the birth canal and bladder or rectum, causing incontinence.


Most women and girls suffering with obstetric fistula are ostracized by their families and communities as they smell and are constantly wet, leaving them to live as outcasts.

Fistula is all but eradicated in the developed world. In contrast, it occurs to thousands of women and girls in Africa every day and they have no-one to help.

"
Arlene Chico-Lugo and Fadoua Hanine
Photo © Elana Goodridge
What are your hopes with the play? 

My hopes are that it continue to educate people who see it about this condition and move them to contribute however they can to organizations like Freedom From Fistula that work to heal and educate fistula survivors and their communities on a global scale.

How did you come to playwriting?

I'd always written short stories as a child. When I was in high school and undergrad, I wrote a lot of poetry. As a grad student in an actors training program, I was immersed in plays. After my first touring gig as an understudy for Danai Gurira and Nikkole Salter, who were actors touring a show they'd written, In the Continuum, the playwriting seed was planted in me.
John P. Keller and Arlene Chico-Lugo Photo © Elana Goodridge

What is your writing schedule?

Being an actor, teacher and mother to a 7 year old, my writing schedule might seem unconventional. I just get it in when I can. I get the most writing done when I join a writers group of any kind and it's mandatory because the procrastinating gene is strong in me.

How did you meet Theatre 167?

John Keller who plays the characters True and Dr. Wells in Mourning Sun, is Co-Producer of a community arts organization based in New Jersey called CoLab Arts. John had done a few readings of Mourning Sun and he was very committed to finding a way to get the story heard from the beginning.
Kevis Hillocks and Arlene Chico-Lugo
Photos © Joel Weber
Earlier this year, CoLab Arts was doing a 48 hour Musical Festival to raise funds for Elijah's Promise, a soup kitchen in New Brunswick. John and CoLab Arts Co-Founder and festival director Dan Swern, teamed Ari Laura Kreith, Theatre 167's Artistic Director and I up to create a piece about gentrification. I was the writer, Ari directed and we collaborated with a great band called Red Giant to present the piece in 48 hours. John had told Ari about Mourning Sun, and after our performance, Ari asked to read the play. The rest is history.

What was the process like working with director Ari Laura Kreith?

Antu Yacob, Kevis Hillocks, and Charles Everett
Photo © Joel Weber
Every collaboration has its own vibe. No two artists work the same. Ari had a strong desire to tell this story and I love how brave she was in her pursuit to tell it.

There were many challenges that presented themselves throughout the rehearsal process, and she really was a maverick about things. Anytime a "no" or block popped up, she planted her feet in "yes" and "I don't know how, but we're going to get it done". I admire that type of faith, conviction and resolution in a director and a theater company. It's absolutely necessary when you're working as an indietheater company.

What's next?


Antu Yacob
Photos © Joel Weber
I'm filming a serio-comic web series I wrote and am acting in called Some Funk Actually Does Smell Good about an Ethiopian-born, American-raised woman balancing both cultures, attempting to take the "high road" of personal development throughout the chaos that is life. We'll be running an indiegogo campaign for that starting December 15th, so folks should look out for that! Also, I invite people to visit my website www.antuyacob.com for more and updated info.



A note from Theatre 167:
Fadoua Hanine, Arlene Chico-Lugo,
& Kevis Hillocks
 Photo © Joel Weber

We’ve explored different ways of partnering with charitable organizations, for example trying to find someone to match number of tickets sold. At our opening night, one patron agreed to give a dollar to the Freedom From Fistula Foundation for every seat we filled. At the box office, we thought she’d ask how many were in attendance. But instead she handed us a check made out to FFFF for $75, a dollar for every seat, filled or not. Then after watching the play she said, “I haven’t done enough. I want to pay for a whole surgery.” And at our opening night reception she pledged enough money to pay for a full operation. (An operation costs on average between $450 and $600 depending on which country it occurs in.)

Antu Yacob
Photos © Joel Weber
The following week, Louisa Boyle, the development director from FFFF, came to speak after the play. It's a great organization because their overhead has already been subsidized so every dollar you give goes directly to medical support to solve the problem. One audience member was so moved by the play that night he wanted to finance an operation too, and agreed to send an amount to that group commensurate with ticket sales our final weekend. He returned to see the play a second time and asked us to announce his donation anonymously last night while he was in attendance, so audience members would know that just by going to the play they were helping the cause.

So far we have raised enough for over three operations.

Ways you can help:

1. Come see the play! If you buy tickets the final weekend, it will help the cause.

2. Seeing how well the play raises awareness and energizes people about the issue, Louisa Boyle, the development director of FFFF, wants to get Mourning Sun seen by United Nations groups. We are currently raising money to tape the final performance and make Mourning Sun have an international impact. To give a tax-deductible donation to help that project go forward, click here.

3. To give directly to FFFF, click here.  Just tell them Theatre 167 sent you!

4. Donate to Theatre 167 so we can continue to do plays that change lives.

Antu Yacob was born in Dire Dawa, Ethiopia and raised in California and Minnesota. Her plays include Mourning Sun, Love in Submission and The Firsts. Her work has been featured in Project Y Theatre’s New York New Playwrights Festival, Crossroads Theater Company, NowAfrica Playwrights Fest and Alchemy Theatre Lab. As an actor, her theater credits include Stepping Out of the River at Dawn, A Jew on Ethiopia Street and Pilgrims Musa and Sheri in the New World (Mixed Blood Theatre), In the Continuum (Primary Stages original national tour), Holiday Jubilee (Crossroads Theatre), The House That Crack Built (Pillsbury House Theatre). Film & television: Law & Order: SVU, Walking in Circles, Fine Art and Inspiration. MFA-Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University. www.antuyacob.com.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Playwright Charlotte Miller on Thieves, L.A. and Collaboration

Photo Credit: Jody Christopherson
Charlotte Miller and I spoke about her new play "Thieves" which premiered in Los Angeles last spring at the El Portal's Monroe Forum Theatre, produced by Rising Phoenix Rep, Weathervane Productions and Rattlestick Playwrights Theater.

"I'm going to scoot into a room with less people that I love," laughs Miller, "less distraction."

She had been living in L.A. with some of the creative team behind the production which included actors Sarah Shaefer, Samantha Soule, Addie Johnson, Chris Bellant, and director Daniel Talbott.

The other cast members, John Wojda and Macleod Andrews were living close-by.

"I kinda loved it."

ONE WHEN DOOR CLOSES...

Thieves started out being a play about a wedding and ended up...about a funeral.

"Ten days before we were scheduled to rehearse, I was working on a draft of the play that was driving me crazy. I was hitting my head against the wall and it was really, really hard, and then I got a call that one of our lead actresses had to drop out."
Photo Credit: Ryan Miller

For a variety of personal and logistical reasons, Miller and Talbott decided to kill off the character.

"Wendy Vanden Heuvel, who was playing the part, is one of my favorite actresses, so it was out of this place of not being able to replace her.  We were sad to lose her because it was written for her. It became a play about a funeral, and inherently much darker."

SITTING SHIVA
or
HOW TO DO AN 8 DAY REWRITE

"I went over to Daniel's house and drank a lot of tea and was like, 'help me storyboard this', so we knocked around the trajectory of the first five scenes - sort of writers' room style - and then I went home, and wrote, and brought back what I had. We kind of figured out the structure of the thing together. I finished the last scene the day before we went into rehearsal, and then we had to totally break it apart and, in another eight days, totally rewrite it."

Photo Credit: Ryan Miller
The play is described as a gritty portrait of a family in struggle and upheaval. Miller's inspiration for the play came from wanting to explore the underbelly of something that is inherently light.

"I had been to my cousin's wedding, and it was a nice wedding, but no matter what, weddings can bring up old tensions. People just kinda misbehave and I found that really interesting."

The rehearsal process began in San Francisco where Miller and the creative team lived, cooked and collaborated together before moving to Los Angeles.

Photo Credit: Ryan Miller
"The L.A. theater community has been so generous and so responsive. We were nervous because you can really strike out and people won't come, but someone from the Actors Studio came the first week, because Daniel and I are part of the playwright/director's unit here in New York, and this sweet thing happened where all these people from the Studio showed up and really liked it. I found that community so supportive."

Miller, like most artists, does a variety of things to make ends meet.

"It's great not having to babysit and work at the Farmers Market and constantly worry about money. It's great being in warm weather during the winter. I just wish my New York friends could see it."

Photo Credit: Ryan Miller
Her wish may come true. "Thieves" is continuing to be developed in New York while Miller juggles several other projects which include a screenplay and TV pilot.

When asked how she deals with the end of a production - a funeral of its own sort - Miller answers, "Usually I try to get into something new right away, but there's no out-running that grief when a play ends. With this one, I didn't plan anything. I'm just going to go to Hawaii to visit my dad and cry." (She laughs)

Charlotte Miller is a Brooklyn-based playwright and performer. Other plays include Raising Jo (PLAYPENN 2010), Favorites (Rising Phoenix Rep), Rocks (the tank), Barn (Rising Phoenix Rep), among others. She has had reading/workshops with Rattlestick, Rising Phoenix Rep, Labyrinth, the Flea, IAMA, Hudson Stages, and the People's Light Theater.

Photo Credits: 
Charlotte Miller: Jody Christopherson
Productions Photos: Ryan Miller

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Emily Lerer on Directing Cecilia Copeland's R Culture

Emily Lerer
"This material ...was something I felt deep in my bones needed to be expressed and discussed."
-Emily Lerer
-Director
 
What is R Culture about?
Most simply put: R Culture is about the intersection of ouR culture and Rape Culture.
 
How did you get involved with the project and Cecilia Copeland?
A little over a year ago I was looking for my next project. I really wanted to get involved from the ground up with something meaningful dealing with Rape Culture. I want to say that it was around the time of (insert blank messed up thing the political parties were saying about women and rape at the time), but there are too many. I felt an overwhelming need to do and say something about it on a large scale. I spoke with several friends in the theater community about the play I was hoping to direct. Several pointed me in the direction of Cecilia and the rest is history.
 

What has the development process been like?
Jennifer Harder
For a while at the beginning, Cecilia and I would email back and forth about scenes and ideas. She’d send me them in chunks and I would sit down to read them. Eventually full scripts were sent. We held readings of the material at ART NY and The Lark Play Development Center.
 
Every step along the way was very much a part of the journey to spark the discussion of this topic. I’ve heard so many personal stories. I’m so grateful to these women for sharing their hearts and histories with me along the way. At auditions we had one actress come in nearly in tears expressing how much of a lovely and sadly necessary environment we had created with this play.  Ladies in the hallway of auditions were sharing with each other their personal connection to the material. The readings and rehearsal process followed suit. I'm really lucky to have such a supportive team in my playwright, actors, design team and stage manager. Now that we’re up and running the play has done the same. 
 
Why did you commission this play?
I needed to do something that both frightened me, excited me and was topical. This material I commissioned of a play dealing with Rape Culture was something I felt deep in my bones needed to be expressed and discussed. Its all around us and its something worth noting if we ever want it to change.
 
You have partnered with Safe Horizons, Crime Victims Treatment Center, Beth Israel Medical Center: Rape Crisis and Domestic Violence Intervention Center, and We End Violence for this production. How did this partnership come about and how have they helped or are helping the production?
Jennifer Harder
I reached out to various advocacy organizations pretty early on. Some I found while looking to connect with the organizations specifically and others I found while doing research on the topic. We’ve also recently added Party With Consent to this list of advocacy groups. The reason for the partnership in the first place was to have the expertise and support with talkbacks. I really wanted to create a safe space for discussion and questions post show with this material.
 
How did you come to directing?
I have more of a formal acting background than a formal directing background. I spent 3 years in a BFA Acting program at the end of it decided I really didn’t want to be an actress. I’d spent more of my time in the acting program working on original work as an Assistant Director or Director. I’d have my classmates coming to me to look at their monologues even when their acting talent and instincts far surpassed my own. I’d see the picture at large fairly easily. I love telling stories and the point of view of the director more aligned with my view of the plays. I’m still very early on in my career but really feel like directing is my calling.
Rachel Collins, Jennifer Harder and Romy Nordlinger
 
Do you always commission the projects you want to work on?
This is the first play I’ve ever commissioned. I’ve self-produced and directed on a small scale but with established work. This is my first time working with a new play on what is a fairly large scale for me. We’re at an Off-Off Broadway theater doing a full length piece.
 
What's next?
I’m not sure. Is that fair to say?  I think that’s half the excitement of this whole crazy industry. I’m between 6 or 7 different ideas. I’d like to find a really badass female director who needs an AD on a project. I’d also love to continue working on very evocative theater as a director myself. I feel like I’m always drawn to works of a topical and political edgy nature but after this intensity I’d love to do something exploring friendship, or romance.
 
 
R Culture is in residence at IRT Theater, located at 154 Christopher Street, through November 24th 2014 at 8pm. Tickets can be purchased here.

Photo Credit: Jody Christopherson
Cast: Jennifer Harder, Romy Nordlinger, Rachel Collins. 

Friday, October 17, 2014

Solo Performer Gardiner Comfort on the Elephant in Every Room...

Gardiner Comfort
"It's my story, but I also want to pay it forward for some young kid who is just starting his or her life with this confusing disorder."
- Gardiner Comfort
Writer / Actor

What is THE ELEPHANT IN EVERY ROOM I ENTER about?

The show is about a trip I took to Washington DC to attend the Tourette Syndrome Association National Conference, in April of 2014.  Being down there was completely mind blowing because I had never been around that many people with Tourette's, a disorder I was born with which has defined my entire life.  So we use the week down there as a literary anchor to tell the story, which includes all of these break out stories about my own life.  I tell stories about growing up feeling different, having a terribly hellish time, and also just random stuff that I remember. 

How has it been developed?


Kel Haney and I developed the story in the Mabou Mines Residency this Spring by simply talking for hours and hours.  She recorded me as I just went on and on, both about the week in DC and also about all the random nonsense that goes through my mind on a daily basis.  Then Nora Ives, our assistant director, transcribed every goddamned word!  We went back and I read that, which was pretty meta!  Then we recorded my reading the transcriptions, and Kel made all these edits based on what seemed to work and what didn't.  It has continued to be very malleable.  

How did you meet your director?

I met Kel through my wife, Colleen Werthmann, who happened to run into her.  They got to talking, and Colleen learned that Kel was directing solo artists and I happened to be looking for a director for my other solo show, YOU'RE NOT TOUGH, which Kel directed at Dixon Place last fall, and then again at HERE this summer.

How have you and Kel worked together to develop the piece?

I kind of touched on this above but to add, we've mostly gotten to know each other really well.  Frankly, she's gotten to know the bizarre way my mind works and has learned how to harness all of the wild (some might say genius!!!) ways in which unfiltered, manic thoughts come to me and just need to be expressed.  She's been sort of the conduit for the electricity going through my brain.

What have been some of the challenges on developing this piece?

Challenges have been many.  It's pretty damn hard to produce your own work, even with so much help from a whole slew of people working hard.  Also, it's not a typical play or solo show, where, as an actor, I have a character to hide behind.  I'm just playing myself, standing there telling a story that's true.  I'm interacting with the audience a little and just baring all.  So it's pretty demanding emotionally.  Not to mention physically.  I do quite a lot of dancing and running around screaming and yelling.  It's very hard.

What have been some of the unexpected surprises and rewards?

The other night I found myself so connected and in the moment during a point in the story when I talk about a young boy with TS whom I met at the conference, that I really teared up when I told about not knowing what would happen to him.  It was beautiful and I don't usually have that experience, especially in something like this when it's my story.  It was a gift.  Also, I've been really blown away by how many people have come and liked it.  We've had all types of press and the Tourette Syndrome Association has come out in full force and spread the word, so that's awesome.  That's the whole point.  It's my story, but I also want to pay it forward for some young kid who is just starting his or her life with this confusing disorder. 

How did you come to theater/performing and doing solo shows?

I started acting when I was in high school and got into it pretty quickly.  I studied Theater pretty aggressively in college and then in grad school and have a pretty eclectic resume.  Solo performing is something I've dabbled in since 10th grade, when I performed this monologue I wrote where I just listed things I hate.  From baby backpacks to Republicans.  It was a trip.  I was very influenced by solo artists I had the chance to see at places like PS 122:  Danny Hoch, Eric Bogosian, Sarah Jones, Nilaja Sun, and a lot of people in the Hip Hop Theater Festival.  It was a goal of mine to do my own.




Salty or sweet?

Sweet.  Always.  What the hell does that mean?

What's next?

Next is rest.  Hopefully in the interim before doing this show somewhere else.  We want to take it Off-Broadway, or on the road, or across the ocean, or into space.  Wherever there's boring theater, we'll be there.  Wherever a creative child practices accents in front of her mirror, we'll be there.  Wherever there's a slew of hilarious and brilliant characters waiting to be immortalized on stage, we'll be there.  I don't know.  We just want to keep moving, like sharks!

The Elephant in Every Room I Enter is created by Gardiner Comfort and Kel Haney and is presented at The Club at La MaMa in NYC thru October 19th on Fri-Sat at 10pm, Sunday at 6pm. To purchase your tickets, go here.


Friday, June 13, 2014

Playwright Steve DiUbaldo's Boomer's Millennial Hero Story

 "Everything grows from the people."
- Steve DiUbaldo
Playwright

What is your play about?

Boomer’s Millennial Hero Story is about a down-home, piano-playing American Storyteller of the Boomer Generation who guides us through the "heroic" first twenty-five years of “Millennial” Montgomery Walter’s life.  From a childhood full of trophies and medical over-diagnosis and self-esteem building, to 9/11 to the market crash to Occupy Wall Street, this raucous vaudevillian journey takes a dark absurdist look at class, generational cause-and-affect, and American folklore in a world where ideas never truly die.   

What was its inspiration?

I moved to New York City in the throes of Occupy Wall Street.  I spent a lot of time going down there and reading about the movement from different perspectives.  It became a thirty page one-act, set in 2011, culminating in the movement.  Once I got this opportunity with TerraNOVA, I expanded the play to begin in 1986 and move through 2011.  I had begun reading a lot of literature about the generational divide between Boomers and Millennials, and found most of it to be rather funny.  I always felt there were blind spots in the assignment of blame and the blanketing of a group of people born around the same time.  From both sides, I found the points were often valid and short-sighted.  I also became fascinated by how we tell and digest stories, specifically American stories.  There’s a lot of satire about that, and a lot about money and race, along with lots of other zeitgeisty things that came up on New York City subways.    

What has its development been up to this point?

I wrote the first draft during my first year of the MFA program at NYU.  The play had golden toilets on stage and shit fell from the sky onto the poor people.  The metaphors were pretty on-the-nose and the play
Director Jenna Worsham
was pretty bad.  My friend in LA was looking to direct a one-act, read the play, and we agreed to really dig into the heart of what it was about.  So I developed that new draft with one of my favorite people in the world, Abby Pierce, who directed the play out there after rewrites, and we made big progress and got a lot of laughs.  A few months later, I submitted the one-act to TerraNOVA with a pitch to turn it into a full-length.  And they took me in and have helped me through the last 18 weeks of exploring and rewriting.  The reading is coming up on June 16th and Jenna Worsham, another favorite of mine, is directing.  And here we are!

How do you like to develop your work?

It truly depends on the play.  I love the daydream phase before you've started.  I love the solitary time of working through the first draft.  I’m not a “rush to share this with everyone” type of person.  Still, the great reward remains sharing it with actors and a director and working through it with a team.  If they are excited, I get really excited.  Actors are my favorite people and I want them to have a good time and tell me their thoughts.  Recently I’ve formed an annoying habit of putting extensive music into my plays, and am beginning the journey of collaborating with composers.  I find music to be the most rewarding and universal of forms for myself as a consumer, but that’s probably because it’s not the one I work in every day.  In terms of the writing, it always starts with character.  I've never written anything I liked that started with an idea and not with a character, or characters.  Everything grows from the people.

How do you like to work with your directors?

I feel like the best writer/director collaborations have an intimacy about them that allow both people to openly talk about the play stuff as easily as they talk about the life stuff. I like consistent face-to-face chats, and when those chats grow from being about art into being about life… that’s my favorite, and it always ends up enriching the play and the process.  Trust is crucial.  In the room, I try to be available as the writer but allow the director to execute the vision we’ve already been talking through.  I love directors with a dramaturgical eye who ask a lot of questions rather than offering a lot of answers.  And I’m always learning how to get better at communicating about the work, and I look for that in the directors I work with as well.  

Salty or sweet?

Salty.  I could eat Pistachios for days.

What is your writing schedule (if any) and where do you write?

DiUbaldo's Workspace
I usually write in the afternoons or at night, but dream of being one of those people who wake up really early to work.  I am nomadic writer.  I do the occasional coffee shop or bar, but I LOVE to write outside whenever I can - rooftops or patios or stoops or benches.  I’ve written outside all over Manhattan and Brooklyn.  The rest of the time, I write at the desk in my room.  Since that’s the only true consistent, that’s the picture you get!

What's next?

I am currently beginning the process of collaborating with a composer on a folk-blues album/score that will accompany my play, “Under The Water Tower.”  Next month, I’ll be going to North Carolina to hang out with my old AAU basketball team as research for a new play I’ve been working on about kids from varying socio-economic backgrounds who share a hotel room at a tournament while vying for division-1 college basketball scholarships, with the slimy backdrop of the NCAA recruiting world.  I am developing those with The Middle Voice – Rattlestick’s apprentice company – who RULE.   

Steve DiUbaldo's Boomer's Millennial Hero Story is directed by Jenna Worsham and is presented on Monday, June 16th, at 3pm at The Cherry Lane Studio Theatre, 38 Commerce Street (west of 7th Avenue). Subways: 1 to Christopher Street, A/B/C/D/E/F to West 4th.  $10 suggested donation at the door.

Boomer's Millennial Hero Story is part of  terraNOVA Collective's Groundworks New Play Series which runs through June 23rd.  For more information, visit www.terraNOVAcollective.org

The 2014 Groundworks New Play Series features the 6 new plays developed through the 2014 Groundbreakers Playwrights Group, and 2 new soloNOVA ARTS Workshops. This year’s playwrights work has been produced or developed with numerous prestigious theatres including The Public, Joe’s Pub, New York Theatre Workshop, The Old Vic, Roundabout Theatre Company, Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre, Edward F. Albee Foundation, Sundance Theatre Lab and Lincoln Center.

ABOUT GROUNDWORKS: Every year, terraNOVA Collective presents the Groundworks New Play Series - a week of staged readings of work developed through our Groundbreakers Playwrights Group, and new work being developed by solo performance artists associated with our collective. The purpose of the New Play Series is to give playwrights an opportunity to have their work seen and heard by a larger audience. Each playwright works with a director and professional actors over a 12-hour rehearsal period to give further life to their work.