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

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.