Saturday, December 10, 2011

"I was ruined by hippie chicks and bohemian girls. At this point, it became clear that I could either be a creative artist or a Modern Orthodox Jew..."
-Larry Kunofsky

You have a religious background, can you tell me about that?

It's weird to think of a playwright as someone who was religious, isn't it? I'm not entirely sure on a conscious level why that is, but as I was processing your question, it hit me in a wave, objectively. Theater uses ritual and provides a place for community, which is very similar to religion, and yet so many plays - and so many of MY plays - have naked people in them, and the 7 words you can't say on television, and all kind of violations of the Ten Commandments. So there is a tension there.

I was raised in the Modern Orthodox Jewish tradition. Often, when I when I tell people this, all they hear is "Orthodox," and they picture me as a youth running around in a black suit, black hat, and peyes (those curly side-curls of hair that Chasidic men have). But although Modern Orthodoxy involves a deep commitment to Judaism (keeping strictly Kosher; not working on the Sabbath or other Holy Days; praying three times a day, all of which were a huge part of my earlier life), it also allows for a life within a larger community, rather than a life overtly apart from mainstream society, the way that the ultra-Orthodox Chasidim who clearly live an insular, hermetic life.

My dad was a dentist and my mom was his receptionist (who also ran his business) and although they were deeply proud of their religion, they appeared like a typical middle aged couple, and through their work, they developed close friendships with people from outside their community. My dad wore a yarmulke in our neighborhood, but not at work. My mom covered her hair, but only in synagogue. I always wore a yarmulke until I stopped being religious. But I was a fairly typical suburban kid. I listened to cool music. I went to the movies a lot. And I watched A LOT of TV. And it was on TV that I saw the American Playhouse televised broadcast of The House Of Blue Leaves when I was 15, which inspired me to become a playwright.

I went to a yeshiva all through grade school, where there was equal focus on the secular subjects like Math and English as there was on the religious subjects like Bible study and Talmud. I was a total true believer until I was around 19 and I loved all the stories of The Bible.

My project, THE GENESIS TAPESTRIES, which is a cycle of plays inspired by The Book of Genesis (of which the play I currently have up, The Myths We Need - or - How To Begin, is the first part) probably began as a seed of an idea when I was still in yeshiva. In third grade, I played Hagar, banished into the desert, (I wore my mom's wig and acted my heart out!) and even then I made up stories that were based on the Old Testament, just as I created stories based on my favorite superheroes.

I thought these biblical texts were so imaginative and dark and weird. Even when I was deeply immersed in religion, I was always a little shocked that we were supposed to look at the main characters of the Old Testament as bastions of Jewish ethics, since all the characters were so deeply flawed (which made them so interesting to me). When I read The Old Testament now, it seems like a very political text, dealing mainly in tribalism. I'm not trying to disparage these texts, but I never cease to be amazed by how Jacob tricks his brother and the Israelites smite all the other tribes, and how the apparent message is, this is what the Jews had to do to survive. (And maybe that's true, but I don't know if I feel so great about that, personally.) The other thing that always amazes me when I reread The Old Testament is how paternal, cranky, needy, bi-polar, and mean God is in these texts. This definitely comes up in my play.

When did you start to move into another direction (or however you want to call it) "branch out" so to speak?

I was 19. I was encouraged to find a Nice Jewish Girl to marry. But all the Nice Jewish Girls I knew were looking to marry a lawyer. I know how hateful this sounds! (I'm sure it was only true within the lens of an extremely limited worldview of a 19-year-old.) But it became immediately clear to me in college that a lot of arty, literary, film-geeky, and theater-immersed girls - most of whom were not Nice Jewish Girls - seemed to be interested in what I had to say and what I wanted to do. And that was it. I was ruined by hippie chicks and bohemian girls. At this point, it became clear that I could either be a creative artist or a Modern Orthodox Jew. Here in the present, as a full-scale adult, I don't believe that this need be true. But it felt true to me at the time. So I made the choice I made. So it was sex first. And then art. And then food. I remember eating my first non-Kosher hot dog and how it felt like dropping acid. But that might have something to do with the mysterious ingredients of non-Kosher hot dogs.

You have said (or I read) that you are more Dionysian (or was it hedonistic - I can't remember) How do you balance or integrate the two - particularly in the beginning? And not to get Barbara Walters on your ass (but if you cry it's cool, no one can see), did you have to reconcile feelings of shame of guilt in negotiating the two?

Micheline, you can go Barbara Walters on my ass any time. I'll tell you what kind of tree I would be. I'll cry about my not winning an Oscar, whatever you need.

I referred to myself as hedonistic in another interview to illustrate how secular I am. But I don't want to suggest to people that I have showgirls pouring chocolate over my naked body at orgies on a regular basis. That only happened a couple times.

But I must admit that even though I gave up being religious a long time ago, I still get a visceral thrill at being purely secular in so many ways. It's liberating, as if I've finally come into my own when I gave up my religious practice. That doesn't mean I have negative views of religious people - I actually have a deep respect for those who use religion to guide them towards an ethical life and towards a sustainable and nurturing community. I'm just not one of those people, and I'm at peace with not being one of those people and still get greater and greater joy at discovering who I am apart from all that.

I felt tremendous guilt and shame about disappointing my parents when I gave up religion, but in retrospect, I view my disappointing them as an important stage of growing up. Both my parents are gone now and even though it always made them sad that I didn't feel the same joy in religion as they did, I think they lived long enough to realize that this was about me coming into my own as well.

My play deals a lot with the shame that Adam & Eve felt at their own bodies once they "knew" each other, and the shame that God makes them feel, and this is the part of the ancient story that makes me angry. We should never feel shame or guilt about our own bodies or our own nature, but we do need to develop ethics and morality in order to guide us once we discover who we are and what we're capable of. Organized religion has always tried to govern people through shame and guilt, and I think this is terrible. But at the same time, when I see what world leaders and CEOs have done (and often in the so-called name of God, perversely), I question where their guilt and shame is.

Everything in life is about balance. If we feel too much guilt and shame, we end up hating ourselves and we then treat others through that shame, guilt, hatred as if it were the very engine of life. But we need to develop a conscience, and maybe some degree of guilt and shame is necessary for that. (ie, if I treated someone like that, I could never look at myself in the mirror again.) Balance. It's not an easy thing.

You had mentioned in your wonderful interview with Jody Christopherson for the New York Theatre Review that the myths of the bible are there to help us grapple with issues of gender. Can you expand on that?

Gender is a fluid construct and Purple Rep, my theatre company, was designed, in part, to present plays that explore this fluidity. Within mainstream society, we still view gender through a very rigid framework, and this makes the story of Adam & Eve that much more relevant today. One can look at The Old Testament in much the same way that we look at Shakespeare's plays, when it comes to gender. Women are subjugated in these texts, and given a raw deal. But I think it's important to look at these texts not just as a history of gender inequality, but as a key to how difference itself is always viewed as dubious or threatening by we humans, a species predisposed to suspicipon.

For anyone reading this interview who suspects that my play must be very egg-heady, now would be a good time to point out that The Myths We Need is all about sex, and there's sex in all kinds of variety. There's an underlying homo-eroticism between God and man in my play. And Lilith and Eve totally get it on.

What I love about the story of Genesis is how, when Adam and Eve make love, they "know" each other. The idea that love is knowledge and that knowledge is love is a deeply beautiful concept to me. But they get punished for their knowledge, and Eve much more so than Adam. And so I wrote a play that addresses this gender inequality through a contemporary lens. The main character is The Kid (who is basically Adam, the first man) , and his journey is to discover what kind of man he is. Ultimately, he discovers that the best part of himself as a man is his love of a woman. And so Adam & Eve find paradise once they're expelled from paradise, as they build an equality between them.

Do you pray?

I must confess that I do. I don't consider myself religious, and I don't even really consider myself spiritual, but I have been unable to escape the need for prayer. Sometimes I pray for very specific things for myself. This kind of prayer always makes me feel a little guilty, since the idea of asking God for a good review seems deeply unseemly to me. I do pray for justice for the oppressed and peace for the whole world. I pray for people I know who are sick or suffering. I pray out of joy when I'm happy. This might detract further from the notion that I'm just a secular hedonist, but I have thrown off all trappings of organized religion, so some might even consider me a heretic. Which I like. That sounds so badass!

I think of prayer as a kind of art form, just like playwriting. And when I'm inspired along these lines, I go at it. It's always by myself, usually in my apartment. I don't go to any places of worship. I write in cafes, in libraries, etc., and along those lines, I pray wherever the mood hits me. It's very internal. It's like when I'm coming up with an idea for a play. I walk around in a daze. I've definitely run into people I know on the street when I was coming up with play ideas or praying, and it's clear from the look on the other person's face that I'd been talking to myself in the middle of the street, and that they suspect that I must be off my meds. So all of this might just be symptoms of my mental illness. But, as with writing plays, prayers provide me solace. So crazy with solace is better than sane unconsoled, I say.

What is your concept of God?

I do believe in God. Not as an old dude with a beard, but as the source for beauty and joy and life itself. Whenever I feel joy or see the beauty in the world, it heals me from my revert-to-default existential dread that the universe is governed by randomness.

As a creative artist, I think of the part in Genesis that claims that God created man in His image, and I transfer that to Man creating Art in God's image. Somebody else might claim that this is making graven images. But those people are too uptight. Whenever I hear The Beatles' Abbey Road or watch a great Looney Tunes cartoon, or read a short story like John Cheever's The Swimmer or Delmore Schwartz's In Dreams Begin Responsibility, I think that there must be a God. Because humans suck so much, so much of the time, with their wars and their greeds, and their bigotries, and their abuses of power, etc., and so through art, I feel that humanity has been given a glimmer of a reflection of God that might redeem our species.

Purple Rep, in addition to producing Myths, has commissioned a group of fantastic playwrights for the Dark Night Serials Series. Can you talk a little about that? Is there a theme involved? How did you chose your playwrights?Are you deeply entrenched in the burlesque scene? Have you ever done burlesque?

I was hell bent on having Purple Rep present The Myths We Need this month, because it was the only time this year that I'd have the opportunity to work with director Jose Zayas, who really wanted to direct this play, but who is much too sought-after to pin down for too long. So I made this production happen at the spur-of-the-moment. But how could Purple Rep just do one show at a time? We're supposed to be a playwrights' collective that produces plays in rep. And so I devised PURPLE REP PRESENTS: THE DARK NIGHT SERIALS SERIES, which is a weekly, Monday night variety show, in which 8 full-length plays by 8 playwrights will be produced in serialized form. So if you come to the Series on any given Monday night, you'll see four scenes from the 8 plays and you tune in next week to see another line-up. And so it's fun to come to just one evening of the Series, but if you keep up with the series, you will see all these plays in their entirety. And that's my way of putting the Rep back into Purple Rep.

The 8 playwrights in question are Johnna Adams; Charlotte Miller; August Schulenburg; James Comtois; Brendan Burke; Kristen Palmer; Adam Szymkowicz; and... who's the other one...? Oh yeah: me. I chose these playwrights because I knew and loved their work. As curator of the event, I curated the playwrights, not the plays. I gave the playwrights absolute autonomy of which of their plays they'd select, who their directors would be, and who they'd cast. My only instructions have been that the plays need to be broken down into 15 minute installments and that the actors have to be off-book.

We had our first installment last Monday, and it was gorgeous! The level of commitment among all the artists was just remarkable.Everybody should come see the next installment this Monday. Oh, did I mention that this event is FREE to the public? I don't know about your readers, Micheline, but I, for one, tend to get the blues on Mondays. Nothing beats the blues better than this venue. I guarantee it. If you show up on Monday and are not ecstatically happy after the show, I'll give you your money back. Which is very difficult to do, since the event is free, but still...!

Along with the plays, this event features musicians, performances artists and the like. So far, we've been a little light on burlesque, which is a shame, because I love burlesque. I think it's the next chapter in independent theatre. But I remain, sadly, an outsider in this world. I hope that as Purple Rep grows, we will involve more and more burlesque artists (women burlesquers; men burlesquers; transgendered burlesquers; burlesquers of every stripe and every body type!). I have a dream of commissioning four playwrights and four burlesque artists to collaborate on four plays. But that's for somewhere down the road. I've never done burlesque myself. I tend to suspect that large audiences would prefer that I keep my clothes on, but I do secretly wish I could be a burlesque artist. Maybe in another life. Or maybe in this one, but later. I'd probably need to gain a sense of rhythm. And lose about fifteen pounds.

Are you a good bartender?

I tend bar at every performance of my play and at the Dark Night Serials in order to drum up some extra cash for the company. I'm like Isaac from the Love Boat. I pour and smile and people seem to like me. So yeah.

If Eve offered you the apple, would you take a bite?

Oh, sweetie, she offered me a bite a long time ago. And I bit. I bit and bit and bit. I ate it all.

The Myths We Need - or - How to Begin was written by Larry Kunofsky, directed by Jose Zayas, and features Luke Forbes, Anna Lamadrid, Annie Henk, and Hugh Sinclair. You can catch it at The Monkey @ 37 West 26th Street. Tickets are $18. Shows are Thurs-Sun 8, 9, 10, 11 and 15, 16, 17, and 18, all at 8pm.

To purchase tickets, bite into this.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Surviving Feedback: Playwright Cecilia Copeland Shares Her Thoughts

"When I hear, 'What you should do is… if you changed that… what you could try is… what would make that better is if you… the easy way to fix that is just…' when I hear that it takes all of my strength not to say, 'Shut the F**K up and write your own play!'"
-Cecilia Copeland
Playwright, Teacher

Last week, I had been talking to some playwrights about giving and receiving feedback. Playwright A said that it was more helpful for them to hear what's not working and hear it straight from the hip ("too much pussy-footing") whereas Playwright B felt that certain types of critical and prescriptive feedback derailed them and wanted to learn how to create a more structured response. Cecilia Copeland was giving a lecture on the subject so I asked her to share her notes with Theaterspeak.
-Micheline Auger

How to take a how to take feedback and make it useful or steps on surviving workshop and feedback sessions.

Let me preface this by saying there are all different types of workshops and feedback sessions. Some are designed to hold a play up to a particular rubric and see if it meets the criteria. For instance, identifying the Protagonist and pointing out if we understand the dénouement at the end, but those can ignore why such things have become part of the natural way we tell stories. Simply locating the identifying pillars of classic Aristotelian structure does not address whether or not they are functioning with artful impact.

Other roundtables are little more than pitch sessions, and that’s what they are meant to be! Some writers want to sit there and have other people, possibly other writers, directors or producers tell them what they should do. They hash it out together as a team. I’m not poo pooing that, it's just different. However, when it comes to Sole Authorship the best kind of feedback has nothing to do with hearing a pitch or a suggestion. In fact my immediate response when I hear, “What you should do is… if you changed that… what you could try is… what would make that better is if you… the easy way to fix that is just…” when I hear that it takes all of my strength not to say, “Shut the F**K up and write your own play!”

So for me, Step One: Do Not Attack the people giving you their opinions.

Aside from refraining from violence, this means don’t answer them unless you must. If you are talking, you aren’t listening to what other people have to say and this is a feedback session for your PLAY, not your soapbox session. The play speaks for itself and if it didn’t, you won’t learn that by talking for it. Try to remember it’s just an opinion, even if it’s Edward Albee’s opinion, he’s still just one dude. This doesn’t mean go ahead and let a feedback session deteriorate into a nonsense conversation on minutia because that’s also a waste of time.

If things veer too far away from your play, then step in and say something. The best thing is to have a couple of questions which are focused on where you want feedback. This will help steer things, and I suggest giving them to your director or dramaturg beforehand so they can help bring the conversation back to the play if it gets out of control.

Step Two: Take notes. This will help you not speak.

Organize your notes if you can. I’m a little OCD and that doesn’t mean my floor is clean, but it does mean that I try to have a method for everything that is usually based in a combination of avoiding screwing up and saving time. I don’t always follow it, like Alice in Wonderland giving herself advice, but I try. For Instance, I will get the list of the names of all the actors, the sm, the director, the artistic director, the artistic associates, potential guests and others giving feedback, and write down their first names or initials on the first page before the feedback even starts. Then I’ll jot down who is speaking when they start. If you follow that method, you will know who said what, and if somebody said something really helpful you will be able to find them later to squeeze their brain for more brilliant info. It will also help you to Consider the Source.

Step Three: Consider the Source.

The best notes I’ve received are those that come from people whose work I really admire and like. This doesn’t mean the note was easy to take, it just means it was a good note for the play. Usually, if there is someone in the room whose work I don’t connect with, they are the first person to give me a note that I don’t connect with. This is not a coincidence. Art is personal. Notes I got on one play included a searing comment card that said, “You have tainted the world ‘love’ for me forever. Your play is the most offensive thing I have ever seen. I was disgusted!!!!” Other feedback on the same play included, “It’s vampire lesbian pulp.” and “Let me start off my comments by saying, I’m not a misogynist…”, (Which clearly if you have to say that, you probably are.) An agent I adore said, “It’s just not for me.”

And then, I heard some things from some people whose work I deeply respect, “The word love SHOULD be tainted! Don’t give up! I see why they have such a hard time with it, but don’t listen to them.” And another pulled me aside and said, “You have a very beautiful, complex, deep work there. It’s frightening and poetic. It’s an important play.” A colleague who is a director said, “As soon as I can get the funding I want to produce it in Dallas. I have an actress who would be perfect in the lead. I LOVE this play!” A theater in New York, “We really want to produce this. It fits our mission perfectly! Let’s grab a coffee and talk about what to do next.”

Find opinions you trust and salt and pepper them with the dissonant voices. Consensus is not the goal, but concert is.

Step Four: Hear the note through the note. All notes have to be translated.

Note: "There was no clear strong protagonist in this piece."...(and that was bad.)

The problem with that kind of note is that there are good plays, excellent plays, that don't have one clear protagonist (in the conventional sense). The Colored Museum, Romeo and Juliette, Waiting for Godot, and many others.

Okay, here's a possible translation of the note: "It was hard for me to get into the play because I didn't have a strong way in with a character I liked or rooted for so I didn't identify with it or invest in it... If you want to get this play produced you might think about giving it a more classic structure to help people get it..."

Another Note: “You should have Jennie more integrated in the action in the second act.”... (Jennie should x,y,or z)

That’s a pitch. The translation, “Jennie disappeared in the second act and I wasn’t expecting that and didn’t know what to make of it... I spent time wondering why she had gone and felt confused as to what that had to do with the play, because it seemed to be just convenient or forgetful rather than meaningful and so it took me out of the action. So then I was looking at Jennie and wondering why she isn’t valuable as a person, and is that like me, and what societal factors play into that, and how does a person have value? I don’t know if that’s your play or not but I connected with Jennie so when she went away, that’s where I went.”

Just saying “Bring Jennie back” is a like putting a Band-Aid blindly on cut before doing a diagnostic. No one can do a diagnostic on the extent of the cut except the playwright who, has to figure out how deep it goes, if it’s infected, or what the correct treatment is for the injury. Maybe it had already been fixed, but not well enough, it might need amputation or stitches and not just a Band-Aid. Maybe Jennie was supposed to disappear, and it means something that she does, but the audience Didn’t Get It.

The goal is to be able to hear someone say, “Bring Jennie back more at the end.” And to write down, “A.E.: Jennie? Second Act? Disappears?” (And whatever expletives you want.)

Step Five: Isolated vs Popcorn and The Power Dynamic in feedback.

We neither write in a vacuum nor do we get feedback in a vacuum. The real truth lives in an audience where it’s dark. Nobody knows who is laughing or crying at what and when, while the show is happening. It just happens. Popcorn responses are ostensibly organic and that’s part of what makes Theatre such a beautiful thing. This is not withstanding the politics of ticket prices and other social factors, but the group hierarchy is lessened by the lighting and seating. What we are left with in the theater is just anonymous persons responding to something as individuals and as a collective.

No room is free of hierarchy. Not everyone will agree with a note and the dynamic of a room is always weighted so that when certain people speak everyone will nod and go, “Hm… yes… ooo… that’s right… that was a smart thing to say…” We are all human beings and when an important person in the room says anything that sounds even a little smart everyone else in the room jumps up and down in their chars like lemmings off a cliff to get that VIP to notice their ass kissing. It’s instinctual. I’m not judging it. Everybody does it, but as a playwright just be aware of it.

There will also be times when a popcorn style agreement like the one above happens spontaneously and it comes from an unexpected source, PAY ATTENTION! When the least powerful person timidly says something and the whole room suddenly opens up, That Is Gold! That’s a great note. It meant that a person, who was shyly struggling with their own inadequacy in the room, felt so deeply moved by something they had to share it, and then it landed like James and the Giant Peach! Conversely, when someone who is of great import says a note that gets no popcorn as they usually do or someone is brave enough to contradict it, Pay Attention to that as well! It could be just someone wanting to get noticed as tough or controversial, or it could be followed by another popcorn response of minds opening. This doesn’t mean discount what powerful smart people say just because other people jump on it to be liked, because they will often say things that are helpful, but maybe not always.

This must make it tough for really powerful playwrights to get honest feedback, especially when it comes from people who are nervously hoping to get a job or prove something. Fortunately, I’m not so powerful at this moment and so nobody ever feels the need to kiss my ass in a feedback session, ever. It also means that for me and other emerging writers, people feel more comfortable being harsh. We don’t have the gravitas to keep their egos in check. It’s just human nature and it’s often not a conscious thing. Know that, and try to chill about it. I’m saying we’re all people with egos, feelings, hopes, and dreams. We all want to write a great play, do a great role, direct an amazing show, and build great Theatre! If you can listen to feedback with that in mind, then it will help you hear what the note is instead of the words said or the tone used.

Step Six: My Play vs Your Play.

When most people give notes they want to help you make your play better, but they can’t read your mind. In that moment in the room, each person heard one particular play and are giving notes on the play they heard, and what they think it was and should be, but it's not theirs yet. The play becomes theirs when they see it in performance, just like a role becomes an actress's role when she plays it. On the page. it belongs to the author, and in the mind, it belongs to the audience or the reader, once it’s finished.

The best gift they can give you to help you write your play is to show you what they saw and heard, and what it made them think. Afterward, you can decide if it sounds like your play. Armed with good feedback, you can head into a strong rewrite and decide if you want to bring Jennie back, cut her from the play, have her walk around in the second act with a gag on her face and only utter nonsense, or if you want her to grow a set of winged stilettos and watch her climb then ice pick, skip, jump, and float her way to Finland.

Hopefully those survival tips were helpful. I've heard stories of lost plays and watched in horror as playwrights wrote themselves out of good unique plays to land in BORING mediocrity. I've had to take myself back an entire draft and start there because of all the advice I felt compelled to take after a feedback session.

I'm endlessly grateful to anyone who has ever given me feedback. Whether I used it or not, ‘I heard you and am grateful you listened and cared enough the share your opinion. Thank you.’

Theaterspeak is interested in a variety of opinions and voices, so if you have something you'd like to add to the conversation, give a hollah...

Friday, December 2, 2011

One Hot Kitchen Opens at the Metropolis Opera Project - and it's HOT!

"I first met Paris as a temporarily homeless waif of six years old, an evacuee from the LA earthquake...It’s funny that now Paris is a hot up and coming singer/songwriter and generally awesome bride-to-be, and she’s in my opera playing—what else—a homeless waif..."
- David Caudle
What is One Hot Kitchen?

One Hot Kitchen is a ninety-minute slice of life comedy-drama, with five vignettes in a stack of apartments in a 5-floor Hell's Kitchen walk-up. The form is Opera Electronica.

What is Opera Electronica?

Opera Electronica is a crazy amazing new form that’s being pioneered right now and in this piece by composer Kristin Hevner Wyatt (pictured right). Kristin explains it like this: “My background is classical music but my itunes is packed with hip-hop, dance, electronica, dj remixes as well. This piece in particular, uses the colors and technology of current electronica dance music as its base, while featuring operatic/musical theater vocal lines. Both genres aim to do the same thing: tell a story. To me, combining electronica and opera allows for a unique expansion of expression in both respective genres.”

Kristin’s as talented as she is smart, and for my part, the sound she’s creating has a vibrancy, an immediacy and a relevance that can draw a whole new audience into the world of opera and all its forms.

How did it come about?

OHK was originally a play called Hell’s Cuisinart, that I wrote in the mid-90s when I moved into a Hell’s Kitchen walk-up. It was produced at the Samuel Beckett, and in Miami and L.A., and got a great response. The opera came about when my friend Zachary James, Metropolis Opera Project’s Founding Artistic Director, brought Kristin to my play South Beach Rapture in last year’s FringeNYC. Afterward, they asked me to write something for the company, and when we discussed possibilities, Hell’s Cuisinart just seemed like a great fit. In adapting the libretto, I also rewrote the play substantially, bringing it up to the current date and exploring new themes or rather the same themes after twelve extra years of living.

Who is involved?

As mentioned, the amazing Zach James and M.O.P., and composers Kristin Hevner Wyatt and Daniel Wyatt. The director is Norm Johnson (pictured right), who took a sabbatical from teaching at Ithaca College to work on this. Several of his former students are in the show and they are a talented bunch! (Zach is also from I. C., and has crazy pipes but unfortunately he’s too busy playing Lurch in the Addams Family to perform in the show.) Soprano Caroline Selia and I worked on a project last year with Kristin, a sort of trial run for our collaboration, and Caroline and I share a birthday the day after we close, so that’s special. And we have a great texture to the piece in the form of soulful rock/guitar & vocals with Paris Carney.

I first met Paris as a temporarily homeless waif of six years old, an evacuee from the LA earthquake. I gave her and her family a place to freshen up, and got to know her lovely mom, Marti, who’s become a great friend. It’s funny that now Paris is a hot up and coming singer/songwriter and generally awesome bride-to-be, and she’s in my opera playing—what else—a homeless waif.

How was it developed?

I developed the libretto of OHK working closely with Kristin. As I began to distill and stylize the language, she would give structural notes based purely on her musical ear. In every case, her notes led me to great discoveries about content, character, and pacing. I brought the work into the Dorothy Strelsin New American Writers Group at Primary Stages as it came up, and got some great feedback there. Norm Johnson also had some valuable insights as we discussed casting. It’s been an amazing process.

Tell me about the Metropolis Opera Project.

M.O.P. is a dedicated, fierce group of folks with major pipes, doing important new, relevant work. I really think their work can help the genre not only persevere but thrive and grow in the next generation. Their mission statement talks about “creating the opportunity to redefine opera and break down the stereotypes about the genre. With the philosophy that opera is simply telling a story with words and music, Metropolis Opera Project strives to break down the wall between theatre and opera. Metropolis Opera Project commissions composers to collaborate on new works, encouraging styles of music rarely used in an operatic setting, including electronica, rap, hip-hop, folk and rock.”

What's yer background?

My background is actually really eclectic. I’m a fine art painter with an MFA in Set and Costume Design (UConn) It took awhile for me to really focus and discover that my main medium is words. Still to pay the bills, I paint paintings, scenery and costumes for bway, tv and film. I also sang tenor in a few choirs, and love music, so this entree into opera has been fabulous.

Plus, I'm writing a musical called Show People about the teenaged NYU student who founded the Actors Fund in 1882. I just received a grant for that one from the Anna Sosenko Assist trust. Anyway, I’m grateful that I can fuel my major passion with other passions/interests like painting, and grateful too for the background I have because I know the nuts and bolts of theatre from so many different directions. This helps me see the worlds I’m creating with clarity, subtlety and confidence. My settings, for example, are always a character in my plays. The Sunken Living Room, (Samuel French) is even the title character. And in OHK, again, it’s the Kitchen, it’s Hell’s Kitchen, and if it’s too hot, you know what you gotta do, right?

In the James Liptonian tradition, what's your favorite curse word?

My favorite curse word is actually two words: “shoot fuzzy” My grandmother used to say that as a polite substitute for a couple of other choice words.

What's coming up next for ya?

Next up I believe is my play Visiting Hours premiering in New Orleans in the spring, by a new and great company called the Rising Shiners, directed by Ann Mahoney Kadar. It’s a play about a middle-aged Lesbian couple whose adult son is in trouble with the law. It’s set in my home town of Miami and is about that moment when you have to just face facts that things will never get any better than they are. I think the play speaks volumes about gay family values by depicting gay parents in a nightmare all parents dread, but sticking in there together and trying to tough it out. I think there will be a reading in NYC soon as well, but I don’t have details.

What else is inspiring you theaterwise or otherwise in the world today?

Occupation is the word these days. It’s thrilling to see the apathy of the comfortable 80s-90s and the terrified/tentative 2000s giving way to a new era of action. I was actually in Rome during their Occupy event, which became a bit dangerous as a splinter group firebombed cars and broke store windows. Most of the people were peaceful but as we’re starting to see, peace can only last so long. The movement actually speaks to the message of OHK, which is basically that where you live and what you have is not nearly as important as who you’re with and how you treat them.

Anything you want to add?

Come see OHK, and if anyone feels like supporting a great company in a major undertaking, go to and search for One Hot Kitchen. Depending on the size of the donation, you could get a song written just for you!

One Hot Kitchen plays through Thursdays thru Sunday now to December 11, 2011 at Medicine Show Theater, 549 West 52nd Street, 3rd Floor, NYC, (10th & 11th Avenues) You can get your tickets here!