Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Einhorn School of Performing Arts is sending five emerging writers to Detention, and they like it.

"We're talking the Sex Pistols, the Stooges, the Ramones, the Clash. It's going to be AMAZING. And there will be blood."

Then Sarah Palin took over. The rest was more of a mood-setter."

Each month, The Einhorn School of Performing Arts produces a performance series in an East Village bar where selected ESPA students are "challenged to write a short piece based on a theme and a list of unusual constraints". This month's theme is Punk Rockstar and the constraints are indeed "unusual".

The selected writers were given a mysterious packet by their guest artistic advisors, Daniel Talbott (Artistic Director, Rising Phoenix Rep) and Denis Butkus (RP Artistic Associate). The packet included a song, an image, a description of an act of violence or nudity, and supposedly,“a vial of Angeline Jolie’s blood (while supplies last)”.

"The assignment is going to be extreme," said Tessa LaNeve, ESPA director and Literary Manager (pictured with Daniel Talbott), "and I don't mean the hair band from the 1990's. We're talking the Sex Pistols, the Stooges, the Ramones, the Clash. It's going to be AMAZING. And there will be blood." Ms. LaNeve advised the playwrights to write material that wouldn't be for "the faint of heart”.

The plays are then quickly produced/curated within the month by Ms. LaNeve, who selects the writers, actors and directors, to work with a varying group of guest advisors that have included the Lark’s Director of Offsite Programs and Partnerships Lisa Rothe, Primary Stages Associate Artistic Director Michelle Bossy and the Artistic Director of Keen Company, Carl Forsman.

“It was a unique experience,” says ESPA student, 15th Floor member and two-time Detention writer, Judith Leora, “because you are actually being produced and your only role is to focus on the writing and enjoy the rehearsal process. It’s more like the real world. So many times (as an emerging writer) you’re producing yourself and working with your friends. This was a great way to build new relationships and gain experience collaborating.”

The selected Punk Rockstar writers, Mariah MacCarthy (pictured left), Gavin Davis, Louise Schwarz, Kathryn Hathaway and Matthew Heftler were given two weeks to write; two weeks to rehearse; and one afternoon to tech.

The final result can be seen one night only for two shows, this Friday, May 6that Jimmy's 43 - an East Village bar that is also home to Rising Phoenix Rep's Cino Nights (Nov.'10 Theaterspeak) who uses a similar down-n-dirty, in-the-trenches producing model.

Theaterspeak interviewed this month's writers about being in Detention.

Why did you decide to submit your name for this particular Detention?

Gavin Davis: I used to be in a punk rock band, and the last play I wrote for an ESPA class was about said Punk Rock band, and so the idea of doing a short play exercise called "punk rockstar" seemed an appropriate fit.

Mariah MacCarthy: Because I want to be Daniel Talbott when I grow up.

Louise Schwarz: I am a big fan of sickly violent horror movies, and my "youth culture" was definitely punk rock, so I confess the idea of violence and punk really appealed to me. Also, the fact that I'd have to commit to writing it before I even knew what my images and act of violence were was a fun challenge.

Kathryn Hathaway: I was finally available; Daniel and Denis are my favorites; and I’ve been looking for any excuse to rock a fauxhawk.

What was in the mysterious punk rock packet that Denis and Daniel gave you?

Gavin Davis: (pictured) I had a few music videos, The Clash and Sonic Youth who are two of my all time favorite bands, and then a third video by Joy Division, which was a fine enough song, but I think if you look at my play you'll see what I thought of that video...I also had a few paintings and photographs of naked people which is always fun, and my act of violence was "ripping off your own fingernails". I took some creative license with that piece.

LS: "Making love with a stranger or enemy" was the act I was assigned, and there were four songs -- a Sex Pistols song, a Cyndi Lauper song, a Nirvana song, and a Courtney Love song. I also got a couple of photos of some very naked sexual situations that appeared to be in a public bathhouse of some sort.

KH: Naked rainbow stripes, naked kissing with cake batter, Iggy Pop, The Smiths, stretching foreskin, Dropkick Murphys. I was not chosen to receive this alleged vial of Brangelina blood, and am pretty hurt.

MM: Two pictures of youngish beautiful men: one with a gun in his mouth, one dead in a bathtub. Music. An instruction to include "anal intercourse with Sarah Palin's fist."

How did the packet influence your writing?

MM: Sarah Palin took over. The rest was more of a mood-setter.

GD: I think the nude paintings, and my opinions on them informed my writing a lot, (it's pretty much the entire plot of the play), and then the music helped shape my characters. I sort of shied away from the act of violence, although it is included, and a big part of the main character, but the violence of it didn't serve the play I was writing, so that, as I said before, I took some creative license with.

KH: We were told to use the content of the packet as “suggestive, impressionistic muses” so I wrote most of the play as I listened to the tracks that Denis and Daniel sent, and before brainstorming scenarios, I wrote some teensy stories inspired by the images. I think I may have aped one of the Stooges’ lyrics and plopped it into the end of the play somewhere. Thanks, Iggy!

Louise Schwarz (pictured): I listened to the songs a few times and tried to call back to my much more debaucherous days. Doing so made me feel embarrassed and ancient, of course, so I ended up playing with those ideas of "you're too old for this!" that essentially plague every day of my life.

You had about two weeks to write your ten minute play. What was the process like? (Did you procrastinate? Drink too much and start writing profanity on your flesh, develop a Sid Vicious sneer?)

MM: I wrote it in about an hour at the very last possible minute.

KH: I had this brilliant idea in Port Authority at 3 AM one morning to write a play about these two vaguely scary, vaguely Eastern European gentlemen who stroll into this luxury eyewear boutique, argue about what rims will impress their vaguely terrifying offstage boss, and kill the salesman because he is very earnest and reminds them of a rent-a-cop from their checkered past. I actually wrote a lot of this play down. Before I realized. That it was obviously all wrong. Then I finished Season 4 of Dexter. Then I wrote a different play.

GD: Absolute procrastination. Actually, I had worked very diligently on a play and was really enjoying it and took lots of time and care and finished it well before the deadline, and then, the morning it was due, I wrote the play that is being performed. It is much better than what I had been writing. Everything works out...

How have you used your punk rock guest advisors Daniel Talbott and Denis Butkus (if at all)? Did you call them in the middle of the night with burning questions? Did you curse their names at your computer? Did you ask for a hug?

MM: I hugged them when they came to my play that was up in April, THE ALL-AMERICAN GENDERF*CK CABARET. Mostly I just smile with delight when Daniel sends us emails because they are epic in their enthusiasm and lack of periods.

GD: I greatly, greatly, greatly admire Daniel Talbott and Denis Butkus, and think that the work they are doing is amazing stuff. Sadly, I didn't have any last minute writer emergencies or problems with which to call them, because my director, Philip Gates is a total rock star and put the play up beautifully.

KH: I am embarrassed to admit that I have yet to ask Daniel and Denis for hugs. Gah. I DID squeeze Denis’s arm this afternoon though, and that was pretty magical.

How has the casting and rehearsal process been? Is it any different (better/worse/whatever) than other experiences in the past?

MM: I was at GENDERF*CK for a month, so when this runs I'll have attended precisely one rehearsal. But I hear they are going amazingly. I kind of like being surprised--people come up with awesome shiznit when I'm not there.

LS: I got assigned a director and a cast and everyone showed up ready to work with tons of questions and ideas, so I have no complaints! (Also, I've worked with Thomas Poarch -- one of the actors -- before and was thrilled that he ended up in my play, what with his being completely awesome and all.)

GD: It has been great. We did have a last minute casting change but got a replacement in and had an amazing rehearsal last night, and have the rest of the week to put this thing on its feet. It could not have gone better. I got very lucky. I am a very hands-off writer. I put a lot of faith and trust in the director, and tend to stay away from rehearsal as much as I can. I tend to try to direct when I am there and that is an instinct I fight all the time. It helps to have a director as great as Philip, who totally gets the play and gets the sense of humor there.

Kathryn Hathaway: Completely different! I’ve never had a show cast sans me having to do anything. The cast was just conjured. It was too easy. It made me nervous. I’ve worked on a few projects recently where rehearsal time was even more limited than in this process, so that part felt relatively leisurely. For me. I’m sure for the actors it was the least leisurely.

How do you normally work/write/develop a play and has this process been any different?

KH: For me, this opportunity was an exercise in violence. I don’t usually use particularly violent language in my work, so I set out to explore ways in which I could amp up the language, while keeping the tone of the piece (hopefully) funny and sweet. I’d also never written a 10-minute play before and man, those guys are tricksy! My absurdly wonderful playwright friend Sarah Hammond told me that a short play has to be a centrifuge from the very beginning down to the moment that matters the most. I’m sure I didn’t reach centrifuge levels at all in this one, but one day. One day.

MM: I tend to procrastinate and then write in bursts, so, this was typical.

GD: I normally do a lot of readings and re-writes before trying to stage any of my work. I tend not to trust my plays, which is probably a habit I should get over, but I take a lot of care to make sure every word is exactly how I want it and in the right place before going into rehearsal, because once you start adding all of the rehearsal elements, things start snowballing quickly, and you have to be sure your script is the script you want, because it's usually the last thing you have time to worry about in rehearsal.

You all have taken classes or workshops at Espa. How has Espa influenced your work/artistic life/eating-sleep-sexual-dating habits? Please be specific.

MM: I met my boyfriend at ESPA. His name's Larry Kunofsky. We started a theater company, Purple Rep, and just finished our first mini-season. May 2nd was our two-year anniversary. ESPA actors and writers are also some of my best friends/favorite people, and I have a tendency to cast ESPA peeps in my plays. So, ESPA=essential.

GD: Specific, eh? Hm...I work a day job at a talent agency, and do a lot of work on the business side of theater, and this semester at ESPA I took a class in marketing/production for playwrights, which was all about networking and agents and all that good stuff. It was funny because I started taking stuff I was learning in class back to my job and applying it to both my job and to my writing. I think Jack Donaghy would call that "synergy".

LS: I've taken classes each semester at ESPA since the spring of 2009, and they have kept me happily busy and productive. Some of the teachers have become my very trusted mentors and others have just been a lovely semester of helpful feedback. ESPA has been my artistic community in ways that I had desperately needed for some time. It does, however, always make my Sundays extra stressful because for some reason I foolishly keep signing up for Monday classes -- why do I do that? Monday deadlines are cruel.

KH: I have absolutely adored the two writers I’ve studied with at ESPA – Keith Bunin and Kara Lee Corthron. Their feedback, guidance, and perhaps (perhaps) most importantly, physical presence each week in my life, with ‘DEADline’ scribbled across their foreheads, has been invaluable. Totally fed me snacks, totally helped me get into grad school. I am also really into Tessa’s emails. Her emails really get me.

What's your play called and what's it about?

MM: YOU'LL THANK ME LATER. It's about a young woman who's in love with Sarah Palin and gets her to speak at her college. Things do not go as planned or hoped.

GD: My play is called PAINT ME. It's about an artist, his model, a painting, and an underwear fetish.

LS: The Nostalgia Cure. In many ways it's about shame.

KH: My play is called Paddy Wacker and it unfolds in the powder room of a funeral parlor as a cop, her sister, and her sister’s girlfriend deal with the death of Grandpa Joe (who was kind of a D-Bag.)

Who inspires you?

GD: Bruce Norris, who just won the pulitzer prize for his play CLYBOURNE PARK. Read it. See it. Absorb it. It is deliciously snarky and shines a really big fucking mirror on its audience in the funniest, most brilliant way.

KH: In this moment - Jonsi, the human being who invented allergy pills, Amy Poehler, Jeanine Tesori, Johnny Weir, and Mark Rylance.

MM: Generous people.

What inspires you right now?

MM: The sunshine. The high, and exhaustion, of just having produced Purple Rep's first mini-season--the feeling that I can do anything. Larry Kunofsky.

GD: I follow a lot of politics, and it helps me really really hate the world and all of these people we are stuck with on it. There is a lot of absurdist comedy in the real world. Yikes.

LS: My plays rarely employ any beautiful language and are instead about the tempo of language, so I am always inspired by the rhythm of people around me and how they fill the moments that they are choosing their words.

KH: Hmm, the new Fleet Foxes album, the jangling noise my allergy pills make in their special pocket in my bag, Jean Stafford stories, butter, and Little Dorrit.

Anything you'd like to add?

KH: I noticed that my friend Mark Sanderlin was just interviewed on this blog, so this seems as good a time as any to reveal the existence of our Karen and Richard Carpenter (drag) cabaret Rainy Gays and Mondays, coming soon to killin' it at the MAC Awards near you.

GD: This is the first time I have ever been interviewed as a writer. I feel very special.

Punk Rock Detention takes place Friday, May 6th at 7 and 10pm at Jimmy's 43 (43 East 7th Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenue). Reservations can be made at

The next Detention will be June 3rd, with guest adviser Jackson Gay (Directory of Scarcity and The Intelligent Design of Jenny Chow). The plays must all incorporate a song written in the 1980's and will be presented as a play/film.

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