Thursday, January 12, 2017

Baby Mama: Mariah MacCarthy's Bold Journey Into the Heart

 “You’re gonna cry, you're gonna have a good time, and you’re also gonna feel things and maybe call your mom."
-Mariah MacCarthy
playwright, performer & producer


The Award-winning Baby Mama: One Woman’s Quest to Give Her Child to Gay People tracks Mariah MacCarthy's true-to-life adoption journey, from accidental conception to the placement of her child with the gay couple of her dreams. All the while MacCarthy manages to live her life, date, and even attend the occasional orgy. 

What made you decide to write and perform this show?

Diana Oh. I saw her first solo show, Diana Oh Is Going Rogue, at IRT (where Baby Mama is happening!) in 2013 - about six months after I'd had my son. (She also makes a number of appearances in Baby Mama, as "Didi.") For most of my life, pretty much anytime I'd seen a solo show, I'd always thought, "This would be better as a traditional play with characters played by different actors who talk to each other." The only exceptions were Mike Daisey's work and I Am My Own Wife. But with Diana's show, I saw, "Oh. The medium IS the message, and she is her own medium." I saw how simple a solo show could be: just tell your story and be honest and open.

I also talk a great deal in the show about feeling profoundly alone with this experience, because no one around me knew what I was going through and despite the incredible love and support I was shown, it was still really isolating. I feel like this show is the closest that I can come to making people really know what it was like for me. And a huge part of that is that they're looking at the person who went through it - that it's a true story.

Many people may know you as a playwright primarily. Do you have performance/acting in your background?

Not to brag, but I won "Best Actress" my senior year of high school for playing Frenchy in Grease, so you're looking at a pro here. Actually, that was the last time I performed something longer than ten minutes; I did The Vagina Monologues and some scene study in college, and occasionally I'll get onstage and rap about vegetarian girls or do some burlesque, but I didn't really get back into acting until Baby Mama. And now that I'm here, I've got even more respect for actors than I already did. This shit is exhausting.

What has been the biggest challenge/obstacle in creating this piece?
- also, in performing it?

Talking for that long. Seriously. Try it sometime. Your tongue dries out. Honestly, writing it was the easiest part, because I have very little filter as it is, and I don't mind writing down the words "and then I went to an orgy" or "then I cried for a month" or whatever. Performing it is infinitely harder. I've got to, like, stop eating pizza for a month and not drink alcohol and be very very conscious about every single thing I do to my body. I can't believe that actors have the willpower to live this way all the time.

What has been the unexpected rewards in both?

Hearing a whole audience sniffle in unison. God, it's the beeeessssstttt. Or the stories I get afterwards. "You made me want to find my birth mother." "I would've had a kid by now if I'd had the money; thank you for talking about the financial aspect of this." "I lost custody of my daughter in the divorce and I felt just like that." People respond to heart-opening with heart-opening and it's really really moving.

You recently launched your Patreon profile. Tell us a little about that.

Patreon is amazing! Patreon is the future! For those who don't know what Patreon is, it basically takes the crowdfunding model of Kickstarter or Indiegogo and makes it ongoing and sustainable. So people sign up to support you on a monthly basis (or sometimes per thing that you make, per song or per video or whatever). Right now I've got 55 patrons and I'm getting $167/month from them, or $2000/year. In exchange, they're getting Cool Insider Shit. Behind-the-scenes photos and videos, exclusive pictures of my cat, postcards in the mail, deleted scenes or works-in-progress, and if you pledge $10/month or more you get a video of me singing a song of your choosing. They're supporting me because they believe in me and they want me to keep Making All the Things. It's also a way to circumvent the antiquated, gatekeeper-guarded, not-remotely-artist-centered venues and structures for Making Things. Go straight to the people who want to see you succeed, rather than keep competing with a million people fighting for the same, like, ten opportunities. It's way more efficient and way more connected.



This was something I wanted to start for years before I did, and part of why it took me so long to start was because I couldn't see how the platform could work for playwrights. How do you create an online, virtual support system (and reward patrons appropriately) with an art form that is so stubbornly and relentlessly live? Only once I started really spending a lot of time on forms of writing other than theater - namely, fiction and nonfiction - did I feel like, OK, it makes sense to ask for pledges for this. Here are some forms of writing I can share with my patrons that aren't, like, paling in comparison to the way it's actually supposed to be consumed. I do think that Patreon would be a fantastic platform for theater companies who make work on a more consistent basis than mine does. Like, I think Flux Theatre Ensemble is a prime candidate for Patreon. Talk to me, Flux!

(And if you wanna support me on Patreon and be part of the revolution, you can do so here!)

Who are your inspirations?

Taylor Mac. Amanda Palmer. Monica Byrne. Diana Oh. Leta Tremblay. Jody Christopherson. Leah Nanako Winkler. Kevin R. Free. Naomi Elizabeth. Jen Dziura, Daniella LaPorte. Stoya. My son. His parents. Social workers and nurses. The Obamas.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

I'll be 35, my cat will be nearly 6, and my son will be NINE OH MY GOD. I hope the answer is
"financially stable, traveling a lot, and doing only the things I want to do," but I have no idea. Anything between "famous show runner" and "still temping" is possible. I just did a "Plan Your 2017" worksheet thingie, and it looks like last year I did approximately half the things I wanted to do, so if I keep up that rate of success I'm probably in really great shape!

How do you organize your days since you run a theater company, are writing a YA book, performing and the myriad of other things you're doing?

It's SOOOOO HAAARRRRRD. Champagne problems, for sure. I no longer have a "day job"; I quit a year ago and now I'm freelance full-time, working from home, 100% my own boss. It's AMAZING. It's exactly what I want. But it's SO HARD. It's hard to prioritize, it's hard to keep all the balls in the air, it's hard not to get bogged down with busywork. I have a project management app (Asana) which I just use as a to-do list. And I use the "snooze" function in Google Inbox a lot, so emails come back when I need them instead of just sitting in my inbox staring at me and taking up valuable space. But, I don't really "organize" my days, I just wake up and start flailing around. I have an amazing daily planner and I'm just not using it at all. I really do want to get organized. I did a time-tracker spreadsheet yesterday, tracking how I was spending my time every fifteen minutes. It definitely helped me see where I was wasting time. There was too much Facebook on that spreadsheet.

What's next?

Right after we finish the NYC run, Baby Mama is heading to Cincinnati for a couple performances. Then my YA novel, Squad (about a cheerleader whose relationship with her best friend falls apart), is due to the publishers on March 15th, so I'll be spending February in a mad dash to get that done. I'm also taking Baby Mama to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August. No idea what's happening in between. It depends on a lot of things that are out of my control. Which is actually fine with me because then I don't have to do anything until I know. I'm all about having fewer things to do right now.

Anything you'd like to add?

I love my son. I love my community. I love you.

Baby Mama: One Woman’s Quest to Give Her Child to Gay People is produced by Caps Lock Theatre and Jack Sharkey and directed by Sara Lyons. It runs through January 29th at IRT Theater located at 154 Christopher Street, 3rd Floor Theater. For more information and tickets, go here.



Thursday, December 8, 2016

Does Violence Trump Love? Alligator by Hilary Bettis

"...the only survival tools these people have are instincts and violence..."
-Hilary Bettis
Playwright

What was the inspiration behind Alligator?

Poverty, living with an alcoholic, caring for a close friend who was dying, feeling hopeless and lost and needing to find something in that chaos.

You have said that you start with place when writing a play, how did this place and setting inform the rest of the play?

Place is always the first (and largest) character in anything I write. Environment determines everything. What kinds of resources do or don't exist, what obstacles come with place, etc., and everything else stems organically from that. Alligator is a play about survival, and the Everglades is a harsh environment to live in -humidity and heat, invasive pythons and anacondas, blood-sucking insects, and it's the only place in the world where alligators and crocodiles exist together. People who call the Everglades home inherently understand that it takes real grit and unapologetic instincts just to survive. The Everglades becomes a huge metaphor for what these people are struggling with emotionally, and the tragedy of the play stems from that, too. Because the only survival tools these people have are instincts and violence, they don't know how to communicate the love and vulnerability they're all desperate to express.

Bobby Moreno and Lindsay Rico
I remember from when you participated in Write Out Front you said that you like to write in the wee hours. Is that still the case? How do you juggle new writing projects with being a staff writer on The Americans?

Ha! Nope, not anymore. That was a luxury of getting to write on my terms. Writing for TV means I'm at my desk in the AM m-f, 40 plus hours a week. I don't mind it, though. I actually get a lot more done. I have a fair amount of down time, so whenever I have a free hour or two I work on other projects. I've also had to learn how to be fast. Nothing is precious anymore, and I think that's a good thing. I used to treat playwriting like it's "high art", but really, that was a way of only writing when I felt "inspired". Being a professional writer means you write whether you're inspired or not, and in doing so, I've gotten much much better. I'm more efficient, I'm not married to any one idea, which means there's always room to grow and I have to trust my craft and instincts.

In the window of the Drama Book Shop, part of Theaterspeak's WOF 2012
How did you meet your director Elena Araoz? How do you collaborate together?

Elena and I met in 2012 at the Great Plains Theatre Conference. She directed a reading of Alligator there, and we hit it off. I was really drawn to her as a director because of her background in Opera. She understood the musicality and epic nature of the play.

Collaboration is really like a marriage. You have to constantly be checking in with each other, even on things that feel little or mundane. The moment one person starts making decisions without talking to the other, is when resentments and assumptions creep in that can color everything. We really learned to be vigilant of that, and make sure we were talking daily.

What was the development of Alligator?

Talene Monahon, Lindsay Rico & Bobby Moreno 
This play has had a very long and winding road to get here. It was the third play I ever wrote, and it's taken me a lot of years of writing other plays and learning craft before I knew how to rewrite this play. I wrote an early first draft in 2010, did more readings and workshops than I can even count, and then put the play in a drawer for years. It's one of the first plays I wrote, and there's a rawness to it that I sort of love, even though it doesn't fit into the mold of a "well-made" play. That's something that felt important to hold onto, even though I know it's something theater critics will see as a "weakness".

What do you do to organize yourself while working on multiple projects?

I'm still figuring out how to do this so if you have any tips or advice, please let me know. Deadlines are everything.

How did you come to playwriting?

Survival :-)

Sean Smith, Julian Elijah Martinez & Dakota Granados

What's next?


Just keep writing and throwing it out to the universe. That's all you can do. I have a few TV projects and a feature in development, so those will take up most of 2017. And I'm working on a commissioned adaptation of Miss Julie called Magic City that'll be done in Miami next year.

Dakota Granados & Lindsay Rico

Anything you'd like to add?

Our run is almost sold out, so get your tickets soon!

ALLIGATOR is presented by New Georges in collaboration with The Sol Project at the Jeffrey and Paula Gural Theatre at the A.R.T./New York Theatres (502 West 53rd Street and 10th Avenue) November 27-December 18 with performances until December 16th.Get your tix here.

Photo Credit: Heather Phelps-Lipton

Monday, October 24, 2016

Jody Christopherson on being The Other Mozart

"It's about being heard."
- Jody Christopherson
Actress 






The Other Mozart is the forgotten story of Mozart's genius sister, written and originally performed by Sylvia Milo. As the production is touring, Jody Christopherson is alternating in the New York production of this Drama Desk-nominated and NY Innovative Theater Award-winning play. She spoke about her experience stepping into this stunning role.

What is the Other Mozart about for you? 

It’s about being heard. I think of it very literally as a ghost story and I hope that it haunts people.

When we tell the audience this story, it is a chance for Nannerl to exist in their hearts and minds, in the way that so many stories in women’s history do not. This show, like many of the shows I love, relies heavily on our audience. We leave room for you in the telling of it and in the remembering of it. Also it's about a woman who was a genius. A GENIUS! How often do we hear that term used to describe women?

How did you get involved in this project? 

The Other Mozart is touring in multiple places, sometimes at the same time and there was a need to cast another actress to fill performance dates. I’d just created a solo work, Because You Are Good devised from interviews with Clove Galilee. Sylvia and I were both nominated for IT awards and performing at the same benefit, we saw each others' work and asked me to audition.

I used my great grandmother’s beautiful china teacup for the audition tapes I made (Sylvia was in Europe at the time). There’s a moment in the show where Nannerl plays a solo on a teacup with a spoons, because her father would not let her play the harpsichord. The line that follows is, “and everybody laughs, and I cry. And I never want to play them again”. I BROKE my great grandmother’s 100 year old teacup right before that line. I think somewhere she must have really wanted me to get the part. It’s a supposed funny moment and I did actually cry.

What has it been like to step into the shoes worn by another performer (Sylvia Milo)? 

So interesting. I mean really, we are all stepping into the shoes of Nannerl Mozart. And we kind of know who that was but we also kind of don’t. So while she is this grand genius rock star, She’s also every woman.

There is a lot of historical detail. Early on our director, Issac Byrne, and I talked about the whole thing being a container. Inside there is room for each person who's playing the role (Daniela Galli from Brazil, Samatha Hoefer from Germany, and of course Sylvia Milo - the show's creator).

Sylvia and I have also worked together closely. Every actor performs it uniquely but there are choreographed moments that are part of the shows rhythm (choreographed by Janice Orlandi). It’s been incredible to work with a lot of women (and Isaac) who clearly hold their own, but also are generous in holding space for other women/ artists.


And what has it been like to step into such a stylized piece? What has your research/specific training involved?

There’s a very European sensibility that Nannerl had and the piece has, a regal naturalism that exists inside of this sort of full body mask. I've been learning to use fan language, to move and gesture balletically in each moment. There's some German, French, Italian in the piece so it's been really delightful to work with artists who are European and can speak to pronunciations. There's a bit of music history in the piece as well.

I've been reading about the history of the Mozart family and women of the time period, Women in the Eighteenth Century: Constructions of Femininity by Viven Jones (a manual for behavior), A Vindication of the Rights of Women by Mary Wollstonecraft, The Mozart Family by Ruth Halliwell, The Mozart family letters, which are used in the text and physically in the show. There are hundreds that are strewn on the dress/set--Leopold and Anna Maria Mozart (Wolfi and Nannerl’s father and mother) and Wolfgang’s letters all survived because Nannerl kept them, preserved them. No one saved her letters, so Sylvia has fleshed her out using many historical facts.

Tell me about the hair?!  

It’s about 1.5 feet tall! It takes 90 minutes to put up, then an hour plus a half bottle of conditioner to take down. We use our real hair as Nannerl did when she created the hairstyle. Courtney Bednarowski, designed the version I wear.

There is a passage in the show, Nannerl is attending a Carnival ball in Munich and in lieu of having a fancy costume she creates an impressive, giant hairstyle for herself, which women start to copy. The roofs of carriages had to be raised in Salzburg so many women started wearing their hair that way.

The ladies of the time period used to place a loaf of bread on their head and secure their hair to it. When the bread was moldy it was time to redo it. Our process is somewhat similar but thankfully gluten free.

And the dress?

It’s an 18 foot dress that is also a wearable set, created by Polish Designer Magdalena Dabrowska. It hides many props- fans, powders, a piano. There are these tiny little pockets that hold everything all over it. I have a map as to where they are. For the first ¾ of the play I perform on the dress not inside of it, so it’s critical that I know where to step and where not to step.

Later in the show, I get into these cage-like pannier’s designed by Mio Guberinic, which are made from corset bones. Nathan Davis has created a scary sound cue for that moment, by recording the movement of ship anchors chains down at the South Street Seaport.

Depending on the amount of powder we blow into the air at each show the weight of the dress varies. Standing up in it and moving elegantly is challenging and also really fun.

How has the show/character affected your day to day life or dream life as these things can often do?

I find myself watching the way that people use their hands. As a composer and a woman of the period, hand movement was a major way that Nannerl expressed herself. I find myself talking more with my hands, using them in ways I didn’t before and I catch myself thinking that I’m being silly or
indulgent. And then I think it’s silly that I judge myself. Someone once told me, I maybe it was a magazine article? that people who talk with their hands are self centered. It’s amazing to me how normalized it is to talk about what women should or should not do. There are a lot of quotes from famous Philosophers (even female Philosophers) in the show that are pretty shocking dating back to the 1700’s.

Also, I am a female composer. I've never thought of myself in that way, even though I’ve written, performed and published music for the past 4 years. This role has really made me think about that, the credit we do and do not accept.

How or is it affecting/informing your other creative work?

One of the shows I wrote and perform with Ryan McCurdy, Greencard Wedding (www.greencardwedding.com), is gearing up for touring in 2017. (We have some announcements coming up about that.) Working with The Other Mozart has been informative on how to put a tour together. Artists, especially women, often don’t talk about finances in this business, what we can ask for, what our contemporaries are getting paid at a professional level.

I’m a big fan of #FairWageOnstage, the campaign to raise actors salaries to a living wage Off Broadway. When we’re talking about sending the show out to tour, we’re talking about being away from the city and other work for weeks or a month at a time and I have to think about that financially. We are talking about work we have to show up for and focus on in a very detailed way to be any good at it, the way that Nannerl did (and she never got paid as an adult woman for performing, it would have been considered improper). This idea of it being hard for women to ask for a fair equal wage goes back so far into our history, it as if we should feel shame for valuing our work. It’s almost impossible to split your attention in too many directions and still do the work that is needed on a piece like this. But I still do and know many other artists I admire who have to as well. It’s an ongoing challenge.

Do you have a day job? If yes or no, how do you organize yourself as you wear many hats?  

Yes. I work as freelance photographer (www.pfaphotonyc.com) and I very much enjoy that as well. I temp sometimes. I do marketing studies. I write content for websites.

I keep a budget where I balance all my expenses and spending each month. I keep a schedule (with alarmed reminders) in which I schedule work (acting and photography) gigs (temping and any other random cash money things), yoga, eating, sleeping and time to do things I like. I bike as many places as I can so that I can save money and multi task my work out/ physical activity.

I five years I’d like to have traveled to Ireland, Greece and be able to do a handstand in the middle of the room.

The Other Mozart runs at The Players Theatre in New York City until November 13th. You can see Jody Christopherson on Oct 29*, 30, Nov 5*, 6, 11, 12*​. For the full schedule and information go to: www.theothermozart.com. (*special event or talkback)

Photo Credit: Michael Niederman

Friday, August 5, 2016

Lindsay Joy on Collaboration, Courage and Her NYC Premiere of In The Event of My Death

Lindsay Joy
"Some of the community found out that there were 'gay themes' and took to writing angry letters to the school..."
-Lindsay Joy
Playwright











What is your play, IN THE EVENT OF MY DEATH about?

Eight small-town twenty-somethings who know each other from high school share an impromptu time of mourning and celebration after the suicide of a mutual friend. It's a play about loss, mourning, and trying to move on.

Did you know your theme going in and did it evolve?

I knew I wanted to tackle the way we mourn and share now. I had a string of folks in my life pass away, and found out via Facebook and that sat badly with me. I was also thinking about the college kids specifically and some stats were released about high school/college suicide rates being higher and that caught me. I would say it was an evolution, for sure. I had the basic construct in my head, and my interviews with the students started to shade and color where the play was going.

How did the students affect the writing and development of the play?

I've never written a play using interviews as source material before. So, it was a whole new world. There were pretty major shifts in the script after each production and I can trace those shift back to emails, texts, and discussions with those students. One pretty major change happened with a character I was struggling with, and a young woman from Centre College wrote to me to say- I think she's queer...I think all of her behavior stems from that. It was a huge A-HA moment for me.

Cast for In the Event of My Death
How did the play change from the first draft read in NYC to the different productions?

HUGE. The basic framework is similar. Friends gathering, one set, one night, realistic, etc. However, the different productions led to new discoveries. Ashland had the emotional soul of the play right from the get-go, and it fed my rewrite for Centre. Centre had the rhythm of the play, and the character beats down to a tee...it was also where I realized this "small play" could play in a big house. From Centre, I cut and cut and cut. The draft for Clark was all about being spare, and their production used technology in a way I hadn't foreseen. The play has shifted yet again...the draft Stable Cable read aloud months ago is quite different from our rehearsal script.

How did the different audiences and communities respond to the play?

I'm very proud to say people were upset about the play before we arrived in Ashland. Some of the community found out that there were "gay themes" and took to writing angry letters to the school. In production, however, it was well-received. There was a high school group that attended the Ashland production, and that was the audience that loved it the most. Kentucky was WILD. Again, the students had heard about some community backlash against the "gay themes", and I was NERVOUS.Padraic Lillis let me get big-headed about it, as they were clapping he was giving me notes- ha!). Clark was more subdued to be sure (smaller space), but I know the students received great feedback from their peers. We shall see how it plays to an Indie Theater savvy house.
We were shown the space and it was huge. Held about 475 people, and I thought- this play is going to die in this house and there is no way they will fill these seats. I was SO wrong. Full houses. People on their feet the second the play ended (not that

How has this process with The Farm Theater changed you as a writer (creatively as well as otherwise.)

Lindsay writing in the window for Write Out Front at DBS
This process has opened me up as a writer. So much of our process is solitary- just me and my computer. This process made me realize there are other ways to construct a play that actually work for me. I think I've become much more aware of what is working in a script dramaturgically, more willing to cut a thing I might like for the betterment of the play. Some of my early work is very "clever" and I think getting past that was vital for me as an artist. It was a fantastic discovery for me to let my characters sit in uncomfortable silences and not add a quip or two to break it up. That might sound like a small thing, but it's huge for me.

What was it like working with different directors? How has it been collaborating with your current director Padraic Lillis, who you've worked with before?

Loved the different directors I worked with. Scott was super hands on, and very communicative. He came at it from a very emotional angle and I think he got some really dynamic work from his students. Patrick (from Centre) was an intellect, always striving for the "why" in every scene. I was lucky enough to rehearse with that group of students (over their Winter Break), and being in the room with Patrick felt like we were prepping for battle. Raymond (from Clark) was experimenting...tinkering (mixed media, projections, etc). A very different experience, but again- a terrific and growing one.

Padraic just gets me. Period. Watching him in the rehearsal room is electric. He's specific, and collaborative, none of that I'll sit behind a table shit. He's up- he's asking questions, he's always finding ways to make it more interesting and feel more real. For me as a writer, it helps to have a person that I share a short hand with. He and I will share a look and then he'll gesture a scissor movement, I nod, and I cut. It's hard to capture how nice that is to be able to trust someone like that.

How do you organize your time? Do you have a day job and a writing schedule?

This is the hardest question to answer honestly. I'm still working on it. I write whenever I can. Before work, after work. After rehearsal, weekends. I should have a schedule that I keep to- I think that works well for so many of my peers, but I've failed myself time and again with a set schedule. I'm a writer that needs deadlines...I need a fire lit under my ass to get things done. Don't get me wrong- I get shit DONE, but I perform better knowing that other people are counting on me. Oh, god- that sounds so bad.

I do have a full-time day job, and I have the terrible habit of saying yes to one too many things. It means I'm almost always burning the candle at both ends.

My goal over the next year is to find a bit more of a work/creative life balance. Part of that balance will mean keeping to a schedule. There. Now I've put it in writing.

What's else are you working on and what's next?

I have a short play called The Cleaners up at the Sam French OOB Fest on August 9th- it's a love story set at a crime scene clean-up. I'm also rewriting a ghost story play set in coastal Maine that I'm quite fond of.


Lindsay Joy’s IN THE EVENT OF MY DEATH is produced by Stable Cable Lab Co. and directed by Padraic Lillis and is running August 6-21 at IRT Theater in NYC with performances Wednesday through Friday at 7pm, Saturday at 3pm & 7pm, Sunday at 3pm, and Monday at 7pm. Tickets ($18; $20 at the door) are available online or by calling Brown Paper Tickets 1-800-838-3006. The performance will run approximately 1 hour, and 45 minutes, with an intermission. 


Thursday, July 28, 2016

Vovsi and Kaplan on Making Art, Wearing Multiple Hats and Dream Collaborators



"...the characters fiercely try to regain control when absolutely everything seems out of their hands..."
-Dina Vovsi
Director


"This is a person I know I can trust with a piece of my heart..."
-Joshua Kaplan

Playwright



What was the inspiration for your play VISITING HOURS?

Joshua Kaplan: My mother passed away last summer. I was very close to her, but our relationship was hugely challenging for many reasons that have kept multiple therapists in business for decades. A friend suggested I try writing a play about her passing. I resisted at first, it felt too fresh, but then realized the freshness actually weighed in the other direction, that the memories and poignancy would only fade over time. But this isn't an "autobiographical" play. I tend to find autobiographical plays somewhat forced and one-sided -- everybody wants to be the hero of their own story. Though it was inspired by my mother's passing and some of the dynamics in my family (as I perceive them, at least), as I got further into the script, the story and characters evolved in unexpected directions. They always do, of course, but when the inspiration starts with something so close to home, it's even more fascinating where the imagination takes you.

How was it developed?

JK: I am a member of the Actors Studio Playwrights/Directors Unit. We had a reading of the play in
Kaplan
January, and I knew immediately that this was something I didn't want to hear read around a table for time immemorial. Development is a necessary part of the theatrical process of course, but sometimes it feels like plays get bogged down in readings and workshops and never shared with an audience in the manner in which they were intended. I didn't want that for this play.

How did this collaboration come about?

JK: Dina can speak to this too, but it was pretty simple -- a mutual friend at Playwrights Horizons put us in touch, and it took off from there. I was immediately struck by Dina's dedication and the purity of her devotion to the craft. I thought, this is a person I know I can trust with a piece of my heart, which is what this play -- more than anything else I've written -- represents to me.

Dina Vovsi: I was recommended to Josh by a director friend of mine who wasn't available. We had a really fruitful hour-long phone conversation, and the play was originally supposed to be part of a festival where we would have gotten much less tech time and control over what we wanted to do. After the festival dealt us really unfortunate performance times, we decided that an independent production would suit the play and process much more productively.

Dina, what specifically interested or challenged you about the play? Why did you want to direct it? What has been the process been like for you?

DV: I experienced some trying times this year that put loss and grief in focus for me, and also really proved to me that people deal with those massive emotions in very different ways. What interested me most about Josh's play was the way in which the characters fiercely try to regain control when absolutely everything seems out of their hands, and how they do so with a great deal of humor and heart. The greatest challenge about this play is that it can very easily slip into the trap of getting too morose too quickly, and the playfulness and wit and bite really need to propel the story forward, so I began the process with the mission of trying to keep that fast-paced humor at the forefront.
Vovsi
My designers (Frankie Oliva, Jason Fok, and Emma Wilk) have been dream collaborators and are turning TheaterLab, which is a pretty raw and flexible white-box space, into an environment that highlights the sterility and discomfort of a hospital, while also providing functional elements that the characters have a great deal of control over - curtains to open and close, lights to turn on and off, and chairs to create a bed out of. These people are stuck here for almost 48 hours, so it's been really fun to figure out how each of them "lives" in the space. And the cast has been wonderfully collaborative - some of these characters are wrestling with deep-seated resentment toward each other and are covering up many layers of pain, so a certain level of trust and openness has to be there to be able to dig those out in a believable and compelling way.

Josh, what has the process been like for you? How has it been to produce and as well as be the playwright? 

JK: It's been very challenging to do both, to be honest. Writing is in my DNA. Whenever Dina sends me script notes, my heart jumps with a little excitement. I love the process of revision and editing. I'm an odd duck that way -- prior to my last reading, my director told me, maybe an hour before the reading, "this scene isn't working, it's way too long." So I took the hour before the reading to make massive cuts to the scene, and of course, the director was right. The scene read far better. It might be the former lawyer in me -- I was a lawyer in a past life -- but I love hacking my own work to pieces and rebuilding it into something better.

On the other hand, producing is not something that comes naturally to me. Maybe it doesn't come naturally to anyone, maybe it's a learned skill like so many others. But as a first-time producer, it's been a challenge to navigate all the twists and turns of mounting a production. Little things like, how do I list Equity actors, or where do I get posters made, things that seasoned producers know how to do I've had to learn for the first time. I've been fortunate to have an amazing creative team, assembled by Dina, and that's made my producing job much easier. But I'm constantly worried about whether I'm doing a good job as a producer, especially since my day job has kept me away from NYC for the rehearsal period. I don't worry the same way about being a playwright. I feel like I am a playwright, playing the role of a producer, and it's opening night and I still don't know my lines. I feel like that every day.

How do you organize your time? Do you have a day job and a writing schedule?  

JK: I do have a day job, multiple ones actually. Mostly I tutor, and I also teach yoga on the side. I consider myself extremely lucky in that, unlike many people in this field, I really enjoy my day jobs. It's not like I go to my day jobs thinking, god, I can't wait to be done with this. I don't know if I could sustain that kind of life. I need to feel like I'm filling some version of my place in the universe no matter what I'm doing. That's why I got out of law, because it didn't feel like me. Tutoring and teaching yoga both feel like they come from a sincere part of myself. Writing taps into a different part, and in some ways a deeper part, but that doesn't make the other parts any less valuable.

I write mostly at night, after I've gotten everything else I needed to do in my day done. That's probably not the best way to organize a writing schedule, but as hard as I've tried I can't seem to change it. God help the person who tries to get me out of bed before 9am. It's like that scene in the Exorcist, less pea soup, more growling.

DV: Oh man, well, still trying to figure out that one! Scheduling is a beast and in order to really commit to building a career as a director, you learn to juggle various projects with your "money" job and work in time for fellowship applications, seeing shows, and hopefully every now and then, time for yourself. With this show, after rehearsals I often have to sift through my notes and questions for designers and also script questions and ideas for Josh. Half the time, I'm running to work right after and have to just table the chaos in my brain for the rest of the day and trust that I've written down enough to be able to articulate it later.

I've worked a myriad of "money" jobs, from serving in bars and restaurants to being a freelance producer for a while to marketing or development work at nonprofit theaters and arts organizations. I've settled at a boutique hotel part-time that has been magically flexible with my schedule and worked around me being unavailable for long periods of time. For a long time I struggled with whether I needed my "money" job to be in the theater or not, but I eventually found that when I wasn't as creatively fulfilled, I tended to accept those types of arts admin jobs much more freely, and when I was actively directing, I was quite content being able to have a job I didn't have to take home with me at the end of the day.

I try very hard to work in days off where I put an automatic vacation response on my e-mail, but half the time I don't follow my own rules and still end up spending hours making sure everything is perfect. It's not healthy, I often go 30+ days without a day off, and I'm certainly trying to change that, but there are certain opportunities I can't turn down and also, I have to pay my rent.

Josh, tips for writers just starting out?

JK: Since on some levels I myself am just starting out -- I'm entering my first year as an MFA Screenwriting student at USC this August -- any advice I give should be taken with a pound of salt (I find most advice should be taken with a pound of salt, actually). Maybe the best advice I can give is, find yourself a champion of your work. I've had the amazing fortune of connecting and working with the legendary Estelle Parsons, who has been my greatest supporter and friend in this equal-parts fantastic, equal-parts grueling, business. Her belief in me has kept me going through some very dark times. Your champion can be anyone. Partners, parents, friends, professors. Just find someone who has so much confidence in you, you can't help but have a little in yourself.

Dina, tips for new directors?

DV: I really think of all the theatrical careers one could have, directing has the least clear path of all of them. I think there's a lot of following your instincts and choosing what's right for you - grad school, or assisting, or self-producing, or all three or none - mostly it comes down to practice and relationships. You can't call yourself a director if you're not directing. And you also can't call yourself a director if you're only assistant directing. I assistant direct because it gives me the opportunity to work on much bigger-budget shows so that hopefully when those kind of resources are offered to me, I know what to do with them, but you have to constantly work your directing muscles, and assisting doesn't count.

You need to find collaborators to create work with, and a lot of that is trial and error. A lot of it is saying yes to a lot of unpaid work for a while, is directing a lot of 10-minute plays where you end up in many rehearsal rooms with strangers who you may or may not click with (Michael Grew, who plays Jonah, was one of those strangers many years ago, and now I've worked with him more times than I can count), is making friends with assistant designers when you're ADing (like Jason Fok) and is about showing up and sticking around at various institutions and supporting other artists' work and having intelligent conversations about it with them and applying for every possible fellowship or opportunity and using whatever space that's accessible to you to create in.

It's learning from the other theater you see and love and hate. It's about building a certain reputation for yourself by being kind to people, having a strong voice and a great deal of curiosity and willingness to take risks. Down the road, it also becomes about knowing when to cut strings and say goodbye to projects or relationships when it's the right time.

VISITING HOURS runs from Thursday July 28th thru Sunday July 31st at TheaterLab located at 357 W 36th Street in NYC.  You can get more info and purchase tickets here.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Power of Art and Starting a Conversation: Interview with Padraic Lillis


"105 people die from suicide each day in the United States and that rate is rising. One reason is because we don't talk about it. "
- Padraic Lillis
Playwright

What was the inspiration for Hope You Get To Eleven...?

I was a guest artist at a university last fall and directing The Christmas Carol and a student there, who was great, easy and seemingly comfortable with herself committed suicide over the Thanksgiving break. I also have a relationship to the issue, having battled with depression at various times in my life, like every ten years or so, and I don't talk about it, and I don't think people in my life knew I battle with that. I probably seemed like that kid, like things are going o.k., but if you look at the social media world you'd see I'm running a theater company, I have an award winning film, and especially at the time that it was happening, I had just gone to Milan and won the award, and I had spent spring break in New Orleans with a friend, and I just thought, we need to talk about it because no one talks about this. The inspiration was to just start a conversation and when you share these things and release them it has less power.

Where were you in the midst of the depression when you were writing this?
Padraic Lillis

The worst of it had passed. But I wasn't far. I had struggled during the last year and a half and I was
taking care of myself and restarting with therapy and things were on the plus side, but things that were causing me stress and causing me to think that way hadn't fully changed, and so there were still challenges lingering. But one of the things that actually helped was starting to write something. Then wanting to make a piece of art about it has really helped lift me out of the thoughts and that period.

 Did you know going in that this was going to be a solo show that you would be performing?

I sat down to write it thinking I need to say something; I need to do something, and then it took the form of a solo show and a monologue. It took the form of me talking about my experience and this incredible kid who died and some statistics that I knew. I wasn't sure what I was going to do with it. You know, I've only acted twice; this will be the second time in 25 years since I graduated college so I wasn't really thinking, 'I'm going to do this', but then I thought, 'I have to do something with this but I don't really want to perform this because it's about my releationship to suicide and I want to keep it private and protected and I don't think I want people to know all that about me,' and then I was on social media and I saw that a friend of mine's kid had committed suicide and I was inspired to write the play. 'Screw it, I'm gonna do this. Somebody has to talk about it.'

What was it like working with the director Scott Illingworth on this?

Padraic in Write Out Front (Drama Book Store)
It's been great. I've known Scott for a while and he's smart and I trust him. What's been really good is just working on it and getting it closer and closer to me just telling a story. The more I work on it, it gets to be less sentimental and more about me just talking about it. The more confident I get about telling the story the more I'm able to make the points of why I'm telling the story: letting poeple understand how the mind works, letting people understand there are other possible causes, and it has become less heavy, mainly because I'm not sharing it for the first time. He teaches at NYU Grad and one of my favorite things that he said was when I was saying, "what I'd like to do with the section if I was a better actor..." and his response was, "Padraic there is no one better tahn you for this part." Its a good reminder.

What are your hopes for the play?

I hope it's impactful. I hope that it makes people want to talk about the subject. I hope it makes people want you to share their relationship to the issue or have compassion for people that have a relationship to suicide.

Hope You Get To Eleven or What Are We Going to Do About Sally? is part of the Planet Connections Theatre Festivity. All artists involved are donating their time and talents. All proceeds from the show will be donated to National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

You can buy tickets here.  

If you can't attend and would like to donate to the cause - we are having people donate tickets through The Farm Theater's website. Every $20 donated we will make a ticket available for 'pay what you can'.

 If you are in need of 'Pay What You Can Ticket,' feel free to email Padraic at: padraic@thefarmtheater.org
Padraic Lillis

Shows:
The Paradise Factory
64 E. 4th St.
June 23rd 7:30PM
June 25th 5:00PM
June 29th 7:30PM
July 3rd    4:30PM

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