Sunday, April 1, 2012

Caroline Rothstein's New Play "faith" Directed by Alex Mallory at Women's Center Stage

" 'faith' is about my experience with and recovery from a decade-long eating disorder..."
-Caroline Rothstein
Playwright, Poet, Activist

What is "faith" about?

CR: The play begins at the onset of my eating disorder when I was 11 years old, and ends now - when I am 28-years-old and seven years recovered.

What was the inspiration/motivation for writing the piece?

I've always incorporated my experiences with eating disorders and recovery into my writing and performance work, and I have been publicly speaking about and sharing my experience since I was in high school. Over coffee this past August, my director asked me if I had ever considered writing a one-woman play, and I had in fact been toying with the idea of turning my eating disorder and recovery experience into a piece for the theater - thus began the creation and development of "faith."

My motivation with "faith" is the same as with all of my artistic and advocacy work regarding eating disorders, body image, and recovery - to spread awareness, offer prevention, and encourage and inspire recovery.

Tell us about your video blog...

My video blog on YouTube is called "Body Empowerment." I have been posting episodes for the past four years, and I now post new episodes every first and third Monday of the month. I offer stories about my own recovery and body empowerment experiences, as well as videos responding to viewers' requests and questions. It's been an incredible journey and I am so grateful to all of my loyal viewers from the past several years. I've connected with people all over the world, and I feel committed to continuing to spread awareness and body empowerment through this medium.

What has the development process for "faith" been like?

CR: The development process has been very fast, but tremendously rewarding and encouraging. I couldn't have done it without my director Alex Mallory, who has been there every step of the way from the piece's inception, to of course it's presentation on stage. My performance background and training is in theater, but I have spent the last decade specializing in and performing spoken word poetry. "faith" is my return to theater, and also the first full-length play I've ever written. Alex was a brilliant guide in helping me shape my writing for the stage, versus spoken word, poetry, nonfiction, and journalism - the media in which I have been writing until now.

ALEX MALLORY: Caroline had never written a play before, so this was an exciting and collaborative process. The first draft of the play was written in two weeks in September, and it is nothing like the version you will see onstage next week. We pulled poems & journal entries from various parts of her life and threw them into the mix, some of which are performed verbatim in the play and others of which provided a backdrop to draw from in the play's creation.

Having seen Caroline perform dozens of spoken word poems over the last year I knew the depths of performance she was capable of reaching, and at one point we went through a version of the script and assigned poems from her repertoire to each section, giving her an emotional basis to draw on for each scene. At this point, Caroline is the performer, and the text is set, although occasionally we still change things that help the flow of the performance in a significant way.

Alex, how do you approach feedback and development?

AM: I am very opinionated about what I think makes good theater, and writers who have worked with me know that I am going to tell them exactly why I think a moment doesn't work. I always approach feedback from the perspective of the audience - if you're writing for the stage, the play's success depends upon the journey of the audience. I see myself as the ideal audience member - I am easily bored, easily distracted and hard to make laugh. So I constantly push and pull with a writer to develop a performance that I can't stop paying attention to. I've been very lucky to work with incredible writers who trust me and are willing to take a few leaps of faith.

Caroline, what's your writing schedule like?

CR: What routine and schedule! Just kidding! I've been touring for most of the past seven months performing spoken word poetry at colleges and poetry venues, so I would find huge hour and day chunks of time to focus on writing "faith," and other projects. Because I'm my own agent, manager, and creative talent, it's hard to have a set routine. Some days are spent sending out press kits, others responding to emails, others editing video content for "Body Empowerment," others on the road performing. The only constant is keeping track of deadlines and priorities for each day and week!

Alex, how do you collaborate with writers?

AM: It is a new process every time, and depends on the state the play is in when I first read it. I only work on plays with writers and writing that move me, so my job is never to "fix" the writing, only to make it more exciting and transcending on the stage. The writing process almost always continues into the rehearsal process, when we can discover how something actually feels and sounds in space. When the writer is not performing, I prefer to have them out of the room for these discoveries, so that they won't try to over-edit when something doesn't work but learn to trust the small tweaks that I suggest. With "faith", because Caroline is performing, it is possible for her to step out of her writer shoes and trust me as the director. That has been a wonderful part of our collaborative relationship.

How did you meet Alex and Poetic Theater Productions?

CR: I met Alex through Jeremy Karafin, with whom she is Co-Artistic Directors at Poetic Theater Productions. We first worked together when she offered to run some poems with me last year in preparation for two separate events and shows. I really loved working with her and her directing approach. I'm thrilled that we've been able to work together in this capacity for "faith."

Alex, what kinds of work do you gravitate towards?

AM: I gravitate towards work that is simultaneously personal and political, that uses language to layer meaning on top of the basic story. I didn't think to call this kind of work "poetic" until I met Jeremy and discovered Poetic Theater Productions. I gravitate towards work with a conscience, and work that starts a conversation.

How did you come to writing/performing and theater?

CR: I have been writing poetry and nonfiction stories since I was in elementary school. I have been performing since I was three, when I began dancing as a ballerina. Throughout elementary school I was a dancer, singer, figure skater, and writer. In middle school, I began acting and embraced theater in full. I'd always loved musical theater - and singing - so actually diving into acting was a natural transition. I've been performing and writing in multiple media ever since.

Alex, how did you come to theater and directing?

AM: Birth. My parents took me to a Unitarian Church when I was very little, where I was part of the choir and in a little kids ensemble of The Music Man singing "Please Support Your Local Pool Hall" in a pinstripe vest and a visor. I only found out last year that the musical was the reason they started going to church at all (I come from a family of entirely secular German Jews).
I think directing came out of being around a lot of theater and having strong opinions about what I did and didn't like. I developed strong ideas about what I wanted to see onstage and how I wanted to be affected by what I saw onstage. And I have never really seen a reason to be held back by waiting for people to offer me opportunities - my philosophy of theater is to make things happen. I was really lucky to be offered that opportunity in high school - I wanted to direct a show and I was given rehearsal space & the theater and just did it, and that's pretty much what I've been doing ever since.

Alex, You have a lot of balls in the air being the director of "faith", Co-Artistic director of Poetic Theater Performance and Associate Producer of Women Center Stage. How do you manage it?

AM: This is probably the most I've ever tried to do at one time. It can be crazy - 8am rehearsals before work means I have to be vigilant about getting enough sleep the night before. I started taking a karate class in February, which has been a huge blessing because whenever I go, I don't have to think about anything else for an hour - so I try to slip in a couple of those every week. I think at the end of the day I manage it by being passionate about everything I'm working on and having an incredible Co-Artistic Director who keeps me sane.

What or who is inspiring you right now?

CR: Right now, I am very inspired by Marina Abramovic, Adrian Piper, and Karen Finley. I have been a huge Abramovic fan since my senior year in college, and regularly think about her work when I consider what it means to be a female performance artist. I recently had the pleasure of seeing Karen Finley perform at my alma mater. The way she blends, merges, and intertwines multiple media in her performance work is incredibly inspiring. I also think about Adrian Piper on a regular basis, especially her older works like Catalysis I, and how she pushed boundaries, not only in performance art, but in our dialogue about race relations in the United States.
Too often our feminist conversations neglect to consider race, and we alienate multitudes of women/womyn and miss opportunities to explore and understand the necessities of and reasons for womynism. I feel we need to have more cross-cultural dialogues amongst women/womyn - across race, nationality, gender-identity, sexual orientation, religion, and more. I think about these three artists so frequently because they help me keep these things in mind - how nationality, race, and gender directly affect our conversations and work as artists.

AM: The incredibly talented women who are a part of Women Center Stage. I get to see a performance (sometimes two) every night in March - over a dozen different shows over thirty days. I love having the diversity of styles and constant influx of new minds - it is going to be a large void to fill when it's over! I suppose I will have to start seeing other people's projects again. :-)

What's next?

CR: More spoken word poetry shows, more writing, hopefully more "faith," and exciting new projects in other media I have yet to work with! Much on the table!

AM: Goliath returns for two weeks May 23-June 3! I am also working on developing a play written by four incredible women spoken word poets (including Caroline) about LGBT violence & oppression across race & class lines, and have been talking to a couple of those poets about working on new projects with them.

Anything you'd like to add?

AM: "faith" is a play people should see. It is very essentially about self-doubt, the way a person can warp her view of the world, and empowerment. Caroline is a stunning performer with incredible command of body and language and I am very honored to be working on this piece - join us!

"FAITH" is part of Culture Project's Women Center Stage Festival. You can catch ir Tuesday and Wednesday, April 3rd and 4th at The Living Theater, 21 Clinton Street between E. Houston and Stanton Street. Tickets are $18. You can purchase tickets online or call 866-811-4111.

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