Friday, June 28, 2013

Power Up Your Playwriting with Playwright/Teacher Kara Lee Corthron

"The wisest teachers in any discipline are the ones that possess the humility to know that they don’t have all the answers." 
- Kara Lee Corthron

What is your approach to teaching playwriting?

I approach all of my teaching jobs with enthusiasm. It’s my hope that my lively energy will be contagious and through working and sharing with one another, we always remember that the word playwriting begins with the word “play.” I want to guide a room wherein students feel comfortable experimenting and playing.

I’m not a big fan of dogma (I’ll get into this a little more later). My classes function like seminars: when we talk, we talk as a group, but most of the time, write. I have TONS of writing exercises I love to give and I’m always finding and creating more. My job is to encourage writing routines and get students writing to their strengths—while developing new ones. I provide guidance and techniques from my own experiences, but ultimately they will decide what works best for them. Along the way, their craft will get a workout.

What do you see are the biggest obstacles to writers in your classes and how do you encourage them to overcome them?

Time is a big one. A lot of my students have full-time jobs in addition to playwriting and finding ample time to write in such situations can be incredibly tough.  I know because I’ve been there. For this particular obstacle, there really is no easy fix. I encourage them to “steal” time whenever they can. This might mean writing on your lunch break, jotting down notes and ideas during your commute, or—and I confess, I’ve never been good at this, but I know plenty of people who are—setting your alarm an hour or two earlier than you normally would and writing then. What sucks about all of this is the obvious: it’s exhausting and you may constantly feel like your flow is being interrupted. But what’s great is that it will help you build iron discipline and you will get to know your writing habits and needs so well that when you have a more extended time to write (and I highly recommend taking retreat “vacations” when you can), you’ll be unstoppable.

Rewriting is also something that I’ve noticed a lot of students struggling to execute effectively. Understandably because it’s freakin’ hard. I often suggest considering your reasons for the rewrite process. Are you preparing for production? In the midst of a workshop? Doing your assigned homework (i.e., rewriting because a teacher told you to)? The less invested you are personally in the immediate next steps of your play’s progress, the less you’ll rewrite effectively and I bet you’ll hate doing it all the more. Try to keep the big picture in mind. Though it’s becoming more and more of a long shot these days, try to imagine your script is heading for production soon.

To add more stakes (if you need to), imagine your next draft is due in one week. Make a list of your rewriting priorities if your draft is due to be read 1) in front of your class, 2) in your writers group, 3) by Pam MacKinnon, or 4) perhaps someone has recommended your script be adapted into a film so what if your next reader is Robert DeNiro? Look at these lists. Do they differ? If they do, why? There’s no reason in the world you shouldn’t aim to write at the top of your game. Giving yourself such stakes just might keep you from half-assing the work and it might also rekindle your excitement for the script. Rekindling your love for your play, your subject, your characters—whatever it is that drew you to write this thing in the first place—is crucial to rewriting to the best of your ability and will make it feel more like fun and less like a chore.

Kara Lee Corthron teaching at the Seven Devils Playwriting Conference
What teachers have influenced/helped you and how?

All of my teachers have in different ways. (In fact, I think I’ve only had one playwriting teacher who wasn’t great for me, but I won’t mention her name here because she might be wonderful for others.) From Maria Irene Fornes I learned to trust my imagination and that’s it OK to show off sometimes. From Donna DiNovelli I realized how much fun exploring the musicality of language can be. From Lenora Champagne I learned it was time to call myself a “playwright.” And from Chris Durang and Marsha Norman I learned how to write plays—plural.

At Juilliard I began to understand the foundational elements of playmaking and I also gained tools that have helped me cultivate a career. I could go on and on and on. Outside of my literal teachers, I have a nice little list of “secret” teachers—artists that I look up to though I’ve never worked with them. John Guare, Naomi Wallace, and Adrienne Kennedy to name a few. There are MANY more! And I learn from my brilliant dramatist compatriots that are generous enough to offer me insights into my work. Our field is full of ready-and-willing mentors. If you’re open to giving as well as receiving, you’ll find them. They might even find you.

What do you love about teaching?

Not to get all ooey-gooey, but what I love most are the students. I learn so much from them. The best situations are the classes where I know I’m giving my best and the students are giving theirs right back to me. When we’re in the zone like that, it doesn’t feel like work. It’s a joy. And the best students bring out the best in me. I could easily add some of their names to my gargantuan list of teachers in the previous question because they teach me a helluva a lot.

I also love the creative aspects of teaching. I often think of structuring a class the way I’d structure a story: what is a good beginning? What drives the class? What is the best way to end it? And each class is different. I enjoy challenging myself to get better all the time as a teacher. It’s sort of like I’m constantly rewriting and revising my teaching methods the more I do it. It is all a process.

You are teaching a class coming up. What is its focus? What will writers get out of it?

Power Playwriting is devoted to getting plays in shape and igniting ideas that may have become stagnate. There’s a point in the summer, after the July 4th festivities, when most of us get a bit sluggish. During these dog days, it’s so easy to put off writing, blast the AC, and watch some Netflix. I get it. I’ve done it. The goal of this class is to create a nurturing and rigorous “get your play off its ass” working environment. If writers attend all of the classes and faithfully do the work, I will do everything in my power (Ah! I used the word “power” again!) to give them the feedback, the exercises, the techniques, and the confidence to take their plays to the next level. Will students leave with a full rewrite? A fully-completed new draft? It is wildly possible, but I don’t like to quantify development in those terms. What I offer is essentially a six-week playwriting workout. If everyone brings their passion to the work, the results will be evident.

What are some ways that you are different from other teachers out there?

I was recently a guest at a theatre festival. While there, I taught a workshop, mentored a few lovely playwrights, but mainly I served as a new play panelist: I watched a large number of readings of brand new plays then offered some feedback, along with a few colleagues, during a panel discussion in front of the audience after each reading. Most of these colleagues, including the wonderful coordinator of the conference, were super. But a few, who are notable playwriting teachers, repeatedly did something that I do not like. They began several sentences with the phrase: “All playwrights should.” I am not a fan of “All playwrights should.” This kind of thinking is a little bit pedantic, a little bit condescending, and a little bit – well? – stupid. Is there advice out there that could potentially benefit ALL dramatists? Probably. But beyond the simplest of guidance (i.e., behave professionally, know your audience, watch out for carpal tunnel), the “shoulds” begin to dissolve quickly. Our art form is just too diverse to sustain them. It’s sort of like saying “All pastry chefs should practice broiling lamb chops.” Not really.


 There are as many ways to teach playwriting as there are approaches of creating within it. To suggest that there is one way of doing anything is problematic to me. I have many strong opinions, for sure, but I know that they’re mine and not everyone will share them. The wisest teachers in any discipline are the ones that possess the humility to know that they don’t have all the answers. I’ll never forget attending a master class once with Hal Prince. (If you don’t know who Hal Prince is, please stop reading and Google him right this minute.) In this class, a few composer/librettist teams shared work—scenes and songs—from new musicals they were in the process of creating and Mr. Prince came in to offer his thoughts on the work. I won’t get into how cool and avuncular he was (that’s for another interview), but he gave one of the teams a note that he felt strongly about. He could see that they didn’t quite agree with him and he said: “I could be wrong.” It was kind, without a hint of defensiveness. He meant what he said. If Hal Prince could be wrong, couldn’t we all?

Anything else?

I think I’ve said plenty! Thank you so much, Micheline for these fantastic questions! Oh and if you want to know any more about me or my work, stop by my site.

Discount-aliciousness for theaterspeakers?

The full cost of the course is $385, but theaterspeakers can have my past student discount of $350!

Power Playwriting will be Tuesday evenings from 6:30-9:30 on July 23rd, 30th, August 6th, 13th, 20th, and 27th at the Theaterlab. For questions or to reserve a spot contact Kara Lee Corthron at karalee77@gmail.com and mention Theaterspeak!

Monday, June 24, 2013

Director Benjamin Kamine on "a cautionary tail" at The Flea

"There are enormous pressures to let go of where you’re from and fit in."
    - Benjamin Kamine
Director

How did you meet Christopher Oscar Pena, the playwright of "a cautionary tail?

Steve Stout introduced me to Chris one night after he saw Job (the play by Thomas Bradshaw I directed at The Flea last fall).  I kind of immediately fell in love with Chris’ energy.  The man exudes warmth.  I had to take quick trip to Chicago (where Chris was living at the time), and emailed him asking for some of his work and seeing if he wanted to meet up.  I read "a cautionary tail" in the afternoon between morning and evening services on Yom Kippur and fell in love with it.  By the time Chris and I got lunch in Chicago a week later, I had an initial production idea and tons of enthusiasm.  We did a reading at The Flea in early February and the rest is history.

What drew you to the play?

For me, the play is about two siblings who do terrible things to each other while struggling to negotiate with the identity of their parents.  This is the legacy of the melting pot in America.  There are enormous pressures to let go of where you’re from and fit in.  While I’m not the child of immigrants, I do come from a strongly traditional Jewish home, and grew up in a very tight knit community of religious Jews, so the pressure to shed that identity is one I am familiar with.  And I’ve certainly hurt people I love while trying to figure that out.

Additionally, I am really just a sucker for broken sibling relationships.  I love both of my brothers very much and we get along really well now, but the path here was not simple.

What was your process directing it?

I started with the text.  Chris writes these lush stage directions and poetic line structures.  He doesn’t really use punctuation and instead relies on the actors to navigate his text based on line endings.  There was a lot of information to unpack in just those places.  And I was fortunate to have this team of crazy-genius designers who could take my ramblings and turn them into the astonishing visuals and audio we have.  And there was also the regular and welcome input of Jim Simpson, Carol Ostrow, and Beth Dembrow who saw early runs, and our acting coach, Jen McKenna, and our movement director, Laura Brandel, whose regular presence in rehearsal helped us navigate this thing.

Mostly, this was about time.  We rehearsed the piece for 8 weeks before we got in front of audience.  There was no nook or cranny left unexplored and many scenes went through three or four completely different versions before arriving at the staging you saw.  I also welcome actor input on everything, so there are a lot of different moments that may have been generated by ideas from actors who weren’t even in those particular scenes.

And of course, Chris’ presence in the room was always a quick shortcut to figuring out what a scene was about.

There are great movement sequences in the play - are those indicated in the script? How were they arrived at?

They are.  Chris’ stage directions called for these extended movement sequences, all choreographed by Laura Brandel, but they don’t really say what the movement should look like, just what it should evoke.  Laura did a bunch of devising work with the cast to generate a vocabulary to choreograph from based on those evocative phrases.  She also brought in a Chinese movement consultant, Lu Yu, who did a three day workshop with the cast at the beginning of the process.  So there was a lot of material to draw from that was then honed.

The play is also visually compelling, what were your inspirations/influences?

Well, for Act 1, it’s really the city of New York.  The places are largely real, and so we just hunted down the actual locations..  The ensemble costumes in that act are all about the city, as well (Andrea Lauer’s brilliant inspiration).  It’s just about where we live.

Set designer David Meyer said at the very beginning that he wanted to make the jungle out of fabric, and so he just started bringing in as many fabric research images as he could find.  I don’t know where they came from.  I just knew they were compelling.

And the final act just needed to be as spare as possible.  Jon Cottle’s bare lighting was the name of the game.  After all of the visual language being thrown at the audience, I really wanted to be able to just focus on Chris’ words at the end of the day.

How did you become involved in theater?

Originally, originally? I joined a high school play because I had a crush on the girl playing Tiresias in Antigone.  She’s married with kids now, but I’m still doing it.  I took a hiatus in my early twenties in an effort to find another life path, but I think on some level I always knew, from the moment I saw "Where the Wild Things Are" at age 5 that this was the work I’d end up doing.

Salty or sweet?

Sweet.  Oh my god, I have the worst sweet tooth.  I gain like ten pounds every winter because of all the peppermint bark lying around.

What's next?

I’m going to be one of the directors on Brooklyn College’s Bring a Weasel and a Pint of Blood Festival.  Mac Wellman gives the writers a prompt and they each write a one act based on it.  I don’t want to give it away, but this year’s prompt is very provocative.  We did a first read of the pieces two weeks ago and they are extraordinary.

Anything you'd like to add?

Just how grateful I am for The Flea.  It takes a place of extraordinary vision to roll the dice on a twenty person play like this one.  I don’t know many other places in New York that would.  It’s been my artistic home for most of the time I have been in New York and I don’t know where I’d be if Jim and Carol hadn’t taken me in.

The world premiere of "A cautionary tale" is playing at The Flea May 29-June 30. Click here to buy tickets.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Martin Denton: the Man and the Passion Behind The New York Theater Experience


"We need to find ways to make indie theater an economically viable pursuit."
-Martin Denton

How did you get involved with the theater? What was your early exposure to it?

My parents were both big theater buffs and introduced it to my sister and myself when were both very young. My father would occasionally read plays to us when we were little – I remember most vividly his renditions of OUR TOWN and THE SOLID GOLD CADILLAC. My sister and I picked up the habit from him and read plays together all the time we were growing up. We also went to the theatre a lot when I was very young.

We had a summer tent theater not too far from where we lived in suburban Maryland (outside Washington DC) and from the time I was about 4, we would see musicals there every summer – I saw Robert Morse and Rudy Vallee in HOW TO SUCCEED, Chita Rivera in SWEET CHARITY, Van Johnson in BYE BYE BIRDIE, Leslie Uggams in CABARET, Eartha Kitt in a musical based on PEG O’ MY HEART, Martha Raye in a musical about Texas Guinan, and other shows. We also saw Ethel Merman in the revival of ANNIE GET YOUR GUN when I was 6 at the National Theater in DC. I can still remember a lot about all of these shows. So the love and appreciation of theater was instilled in a very early age.

As for actually getting involved with it – I never really did in a serous way until I started nytheatre.com in 1996. Before that, I did the occasional school play, I took some courses in college; but mostly I stayed involved only as an audience member. After I graduated college I started to increase the amount of theater I saw, and also became a voracious reader of plays, theater history, and theater criticism.

When you were 5 (or 10 or whatever) what did you want to be? What were your imaginings of the future for yourself?

I remember when I was very little that I wanted to be a fireman, though I had no idea what a fireman actually did. Then I wanted to be President for a while. By the time I started college I wanted to be a statistician, then a lawyer, and then eventually what I became, which was an accountant. The idea of writing about theater was in the back of my mind at that point. I never imagined I would work in the theater professionally.

Did you ever come to forks in the road? What were they and what did you do?

The most important turning point in my life happened after my father died. He died very quickly and suddenly at a fairly young age (61). He had left a good steady job with the federal government when he was in his 30s to open his own business and pursue interests that really suited his talents and interests. His life was well lived, and made a big impact on me. When he died, I realized that I needed to be sure that I was doing the thing that I really was passionate about, and it only took a few years for me to transition from my job at that time—working in accounting and computer technology at Marriott International—to the job I have now, which is one I love.

How did you begin reviewing theater and why did you?

This follows right from the last question. A few months after my father died, I had an opportunity to take a beginning Internet class for work. At that time, I was Senior Director of Corporate Accounting Services at Marriott and in 1996 the Internet was still kind of a new-fangled thing that we were trying to understand the implications of in our company.

After I took the class, I decided I should make a website for practice, just so I could apply what I learned. Because I love theater, I made theater the subject of the website. It was born in November 1996 and was called Martin’s Guide to New York Theater. I basically built the site I wanted to read, as a Washington DC resident who made trips several times a year to see theater in New York City. I included show listings, info about venues and how to get to them, info about buying tickets, and reviews of the shows I’d seen. I think the idea to write reviews just felt organic, as something that needed to be there to make the site complete.

By February 1997, the site was rechristened “nytheatre.com” and had started to build up a bit of a following. It was pretty much the first of its kind in those days—a site that included listings and reviews and articles/essays about how to navigate the theater scene—there just wasn’t anything like that on the web at that time. So it began to get read by a lot of people, and those people seemed to enjoy my reviews, so I kept on writing them.

What I discovered pretty soon was that I really loved writing reviews to share my enthusiasm for the work – especially work that either wasn’t getting much attention or was not well-liked by the main corps of critics.  I actually really dislike writing negative reviews—no joy in that at all. The joy is from letting people know about something great you’ve discovered and want to share.

Photo by Scott Stiffler
Now that I’ve been reviewing for more than a decade and a half—I’ve probably written about 3,000 reviews or so, and edited 4 or 5 thousand more – my attitude toward reviewing has changed. And here’s another fork in my road, I guess: at FringeNYC 2011, after seeing a show called SMOKE THE NEW CIGARETTE by the amazingly talented but underappreciated Kirk Wood Bromley.

In my review of that show I wrote: “What Bromley and his collaborators are showing us in SMOKE THE NEW CIGARETTE is how easy it is to categorize, to assign, to decide about art—and how wrong-headed any of that ultimately is. (Awareness of this is making it hard to write this review, by the way; I am trying hard not to prove the value of SMOKE THE NEW CIGARETTE but simply to share my enthusiasm for it and encourage you to see it, if you think you might like it.)” Kirk, years before, had dubbed me “an engine of enthusiasm for the art,” a phrase I have always quite liked; what his play taught me, after all those years of reviewing, is that ALL that a reviewer can do is share the passion. There should be no judgment, no gatekeeping. That’s what I try to make sure happens in reviews I write nowadays.

That led to... which led to... which led to...

Short version: By 1999 nytheatre.com had become successful enough that it was taking every bit of my spare time, as well as much of my mother Rochelle’s, who began working on the website in various capacities quickly after it launched. (She is basically the behind-the-scenes admin. person while I am the one who designs, builds, and programs our websites and creates/edits most of the content; there is no way any of what happened could have happened without her contributions.) So we had to make a choice: either go into this as a full-time endeavor, or shut it down. We decided to take the plunge, and the risk, and do what we loved. We incorporated as a nonprofit called The New York Theatre Experience, Inc. (NYTE) on July 20, 1999, and I left Marriott at the end of that year to become Executive Director.

We expanded our programs over the years. In 2000, we published PLAYS AND PLAYWRIGHTS FOR THE NEW MILLENNIUM, an anthology of plays from the indie theater sector. Eleven more editions followed annually, plus a few other play collections. In 2002, we assembled a squad of several dozen theater professionals to help us review—for the first time ever—every show in the New York International Fringe Festival. We’ve done this every year since, with the aid of our amazing reviewers, and our gavel-to-gavel coverage of the festival is one of our signature features.

In 2005, we launched nytheatrecast, the first regularly scheduled podcast series devoted to the NYC indie theater scene, and we’ve made more than 400 episodes over the years. In 2011, we launched Indie Theater Now, our newest project, which Daniel Talbott says is the CYBER Caffe Cino and others have called iTunes for plays – it’s a website where people can discover contemporary plays in depth and read them online. We’ve published 600 plays on Indie Theater Now in about 20 months including works by an amazing spectrum of writers, from Crystal Skillman and Caridad Svich to Saviana Stanescu and Mariah MacCarthy; from Jeff McMahon (one of the original founders of PS 122) and Todd Alcott (of ANTZ fame) to John Clancy and James Presson. Most of my creative energy right now is going into expanding the capabilities of Indie Theater Now. A lot of cool new stuff is coming this summer and fall.

We also, in 2006, hosted the First Ever Indie Theater Convocation, which led directly to the adoption of “indie theater” as a name for our “brand” and to the founding of the League of Independent Theater and The LIT Fund. Our idea with the convocation was to bring the people we knew who made theater at the indie level together to meet and share ideas and discuss common problems. It was the right concept at the right time and has really helped strengthen and grow the field.

All kinds of things have happened to me as a result of starting nytheatre.com and NYTE that I would never have dreamed of in my Marriott days. I now know personally hundreds of remarkable talented theater artists, and interview them on podcasts and get to see their work on a regular basis.

Photo by Daniel Talbott
I was honored by Our Town newspapers for contributions to the community via nytheatre.com, and NYTE received the fourth Stewardship Award from the New York Innovative Theater Foundation (after Ellen Stewart, ART/NY, and The Field – pretty amazing company to be in). NYTE entered and won a national competition sponsored by Microsoft and TechSoup called “Show Your Impact” for excellent use of technology in the nonprofit world. I made a video for La MaMa’s 50th anniversary celebration (the other videos were by Julie Taymor, Marc Shaiman, and Mia Yoo; again, amazing company). I get to do what I love every day.
 
You support indie theater and indie theater artists in a multitude of ways, how do you organize your day/week? How do you handle so many different projects at once?


Thank you for saying that, I appreciate it. The training from the Marriott days kicks in here: we create a plan every fiscal year, and monitor it closely all the time, making sure we modify it as things change in our world. And we make a monthly detailed workplan to guide activities week to week, which we update every few days. I actually prefer to do one kind of thing each day, so one day per week I may focus on updating nytheatre.com, another day may be dedicated to writing, another to editing and publishing plays on Indie Theater Now, and so on.

If you had to choose one thing to be passionate about, what would it be? (out of all the things that you do...)

Right now I’d have to say it would be to focus on Indie Theater Now to make it better and better. Developing new features that will make it more interactive and fun for users to work with, provide more information and context about the plays we publish, and greater opportunities for the playwrights. I guess maybe that’s more than one thing, but it’s still many fewer things than I do now…

Finish these sentences:
When in doubt, I... try out as many different ideas as I can until I find the one that makes sense to me.

In a perfect world... people would be eager to try out and embrace all kinds of diverse art and science; they wouldn’t be fearful about things that are unfamiliar to them; creative people would get rewards commensurate with their contributions to the body of knowledge; people would understand that hoarding money is unnecessary and probably evil.

My guilty pleasure is... the closest thing is probably really excellent chocolate cake, like the kind they used to have at Hamburger Hamlet in DC years ago. Almost all of my pleasures outside theater are not guilty ones at all: I love to ready mystery novels, love to play with computers, and love to play certain board games. But I don’t feel the least guilty doing any of those things!

Advice for emerging indie theater artists?

Read this. Do the work you care about. Do your work: don’t write Facebook posts when you’re disturbed about something happening in the world; make a play instead.

How would you describe the indie theater scene now as compared to the off off scene of the 60, 70's or 80's?

Well, because I wasn’t here to experience the off-off scene in those days, I can only speak about this based on what I’ve read and (in very limited fashion) heard from people who were there. My sense is that the scene was more unified when it started in the ‘60s; remember: it was the ‘60s, and there was a very significant cultural divide in that era—Establishment versus Counter-Culture, if you will. Off-off-Broadway in the early days was very much the reaction to mainstream/commercial theater on Broadway. The mainstream artists and producers on Broadway were entirely aware of off-off in those days, and there may have been a genuine antagonism born out of a lack of understanding, but there was, I think, a grudging and growing respect for the alternative art that came out of the off-off movement.

Today we’re very fragmented, everywhere in our culture; and mainstream theater in NYC is largely unaware, I’m afraid, of the details of what’s happening in the indie theater movement that’s unfolding only a few blocks away from where they work and play—and it doesn’t appear that they have a vested interest in finding out about it.

I wish that artists today were as politically engaged as they seemed to be in the ‘60s and ‘70s.  But the sense of adventure and newness and immediacy is still huge in the indie sector, and even though in some ways nothing is ever “new” the rediscovery of forms and ideas, often in the context these days of a new technology, is explosive.

What are your hopes for the future personally/professionally and for the indie theater scene?

Personally and professionally I hope that I can keep doing what I’ve been doing, which is to learn about new technology and find ways to apply it to support the indie theater community. As for that community itself—I want to see it continue to blossom and yield astonishing new work. I hope that groups like LIT can help the indie theater community organize to become powerful and perhaps more importantly to FEEL powerful: indie theater is the most exciting theater art I see, and yet it’s still too often viewed as a transitional place for artists to work rather than a destination in and of itself. We need to find ways to make indie theater an economically viable pursuit.

What's next?

NYTE is cooking up is a new paradigm for covering theater. We’ve pioneered new paradigms throughout our history, and we’re getting ready to launch the next wave. It’s too soon for me to say more about this, but an announcement of the details is coming later this summer.

With Andrea Alton at FringeNYC 2011

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Part II - Director Leta Trembly on the Immersive Party Play Experience

"I've learned that playfulness and an open mind are essential to community created work."
                                                                -Director Leta Tremblay
                  







Playwright Mariah MacCarthy: How do you go about directing a four-dimensional script like this one?

LETA: Very carefully. :) It's an experiment! As you'll remember, on the first day that you brought the script in, it took about half an hour to explain to everyone how to read it. To explain further to readers, because there are often multiple concurrent conversations happening at once (just like at a party), there is a master script and color coded insert pages. Literally every actor's script looks different because every individual has a different trajectory. During our first read, actors moved about the space so as to be close to whoever they happened to be talking to at the time while I sat on the floor in front of a coffee table, with two piles of scripts in front of me, following along with all of the action points at once and noting where they intersected. It's kind of like a giant puzzle and a team of 12 people are working together to make the pieces fit.

All of our rehearsals have been purposefully in apartments so that we could always have a sense of a real 3 dimensional space. We've never seen the fourth wall during this entire process. Sometimes in rehearsals I just say "go" and then my AD, Trent, and I scuttle around the space to watch what happens and take notes. Other times, we've met with smaller groups to do individual scene work. This whole process has been hugely collaborative with the cast as they have developed these characters before, during, and after Mariah's script writing. For example, there may be times when a character is not accounted for in the script and the actor must fill that time in-character while still at the party and interacting with guests. It's been a huge learning curve for all of us and every day is a new adventure. 


M: What in particular resonates for you about the story(ies) we are telling?

L: When you, Mariah, first approached me with this idea, you talked about the loss of innocence that we experience as children. Those moments bond us forever to the people who were around us at the time. Who experienced those losses with us. We all carry baggage from our childhood, especially at this moment around 10 years old, in fifth-grade, right on the cusp of puberty. We become more self-aware, more aware that we are different than the people around us. Some children deal with this by becoming more sociable and finding their clique, others retreat into seclusion, still others become bullies out of fear that they will themselves be looked down on if they don't stay on top.

In MRS. MAYFIELD'S... the characters are 20 years removed from all that but many of them have not seen each other since that highly impressionable and developmentally important time. So as the alcohol flows, memories and emotions long since buried come bubbling up from the depths. They are forced to confront each other with everything that wasn't said 20 years ago and everything that has shaped who they are now. That is compelling to me.

M: What have you learned about working this way (whatever "this way" means to you)?

L: I've learned that the old theatrical rules do not necessarily apply to an immersive play experience like this. I've learned that there is no way to really predict how an audience will respond. I've learned that sometimes you just need to take big giant risks and trust that your collaborators will not only be there to catch you, but that they are holding your hand tightly and jumping off the cliff right alongside you. I've learned that spending a whole rehearsal talking about traumatic childhood memories is sometimes the most productive use of time. I've learned that playfulness and an open mind are essential to community created work. I've learned how to make a mean pot of chili. And I've learned that a group choreographed 5th grade dance number is one of the most magical gifts in the world.

M: What do you like about directing projects that start with no script? What are the challenges?

L: I like that there is so much room for collaboration and that anything is possible. In these situations where you literally start with almost nothing, so much of the personality and genius of ALL of the people involved becomes apparent in a very real way out of necessity. It's exhilarating and it's absolutely terrifying. And so much freaking fun. I laughed so much in rehearsals. You never know what's going to happen.

Of course, with a process like this, it would wonderful to have more time. I could spend months, a year, more with these characters. It was also challenging to direct concurrent scenes that overlap with each other. I constantly wondered if I was doing enough text work with the actors. Blocking in an apartment around invisible audience members is a challenge too. There has been a lot of experimentation in this process and despite the challenges, I think that we've hit a good balance.

M: How awesome are these actors?

L: These actors are the AWESOMEST group of people. They are so fearless and brave. I am so so proud of them for putting it all on the line and diving in without many answers. We were making up the rules has we went along. And these incredible actors not only rose to the occasion but they have surpassed my expectations. They are incredible. You should see them work it.


"Mrs. Mayfield´s Fifth-Grade Class of ´93 20-Year Reunion" presented by Caps Lock Theatre, will play at an undisclosed location in Astoria, near the Ditmars Blvd. N/Q subway stop. Audience members will receive the location upon purchasing their ticket. Performances are Friday May 31-Sunday June 2, Thursday June 6-Sunday June 9, and Wednesday June 12-Sunday June 16. All performances are at 8pm. Tickets ($18) may be purchased online at here or by calling 1-800-838-3006.