Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Sex with Robots Festival Explained

 "You can wait for someone to do your shit for you, or..."
 - Mariah MacCarthy
producer/playwright

The SEX WITH ROBOTS Festival, which opens November 5th, at the Secret Theater in Long Island City, was the brainbot of actor/playwright Danny Bowes and playwright Natalie Zutter.

"They started talking about doing a one-act play festival about sex with robots maybe a year or so ago," says playwright and festival co-producer, Mariah MacCarthy, "and then Danny approached me with it because I do plays that are often about sex. I responded to his first email with one word: "OBVIOUSLY."

Mariah MacCarthy
"Even before I met Mariah or saw any of her work," adds Bowes, "a collaborator on another project (which, go figure, was about sex) was like, 'We should see if Mariah MacCarthy's company wants to do this.' Circumstances were such that I never got around to mentioning that to her, because I didn't know her yet, but after seeing The Foreplay Play, I remembered that and was like, 'Ha, maybe I should have seen if Mariah wanted to do that other thing.' Which is why, when Natalie and I were G-chatting about robot sex, I said, 'Okay, now I should see if Mariah MacCarthy's company wants to do this.'

 Director Leta Tremblay, who just recently joined Caps Lock Theatre as its Producing Artist Director, had worked with MacCarthy before, co-producing her play Ampersand and recently directing MacCarthy's Mrs. Mayfield’s Fifth Grade Class of ’93 20-Year Reunion. 

"I saw Act I of the first ever staged performance of Ampersand in a blizzard," says Tremblay, "and I loved it, so of course I came back to see Act II in a sweltering heat wave many months later and I was hooked. I knew that I had to be a part of it and align myself with this writer/artist. It's one of the very few times that I've approached someone and said, 'this work is awesome, I want to do anything that I can to make it happen.'"

SO WHAT IS THE SEX WITH ROBOTS FESTIVAL ALL ABOUT?

Bowes and MacCarthy commissioned six playwrights (for a total of eight - including Bowes and MacCarthy) to write short plays based on the theme of sex with robots, with the idea that the writers would shed light on the state of humanity by exploring characters that would project their messy desires onto their mechanical lovers.

Mac Rogers
One of the playwrights, Mac Rogers, was in familiar territory.

"A few years ago, I wrote a big epic play on robots with some sex in there called Universal Robots," says Rogers. "I thought I'd said all I had to say about those as intertwining subjects. I just sat in front of the computer and froze for days, until I thought of an entirely new angle having to do with wealth and its ability to force fantasy into reality."

Rogers' play Sasha is about a man who has just come off an acrimonious divorce and is starting his new life by buying a Sasha,  the most advanced companion-robot on the market.
Leah Nanako Winkler

"I've been obsessed with robots in theater ever since I saw two plays at the Japan Society last February by Oriza Hirata, founder of the Seinendan Theater Company, in collaboration with Dr. Hiroshi Ishiguro, who is the Director of the Intelligent Robotics Laboratory at Osaka University," says playwright Leah Nanako Winkler. "My mind was blown when I discovered midway through the show that the 'actor' playing the android was an actual android, which got me wanting to explore the abuse that would entail if a robot was purchased by unhappy people. I think the outcome is dark but also hilarious."

"When we learned about this festival's theme," says playwright Richard Lovejoy who co-wrote Simon Says with playwright Eric John Meyer, "we thought about what it
Richard Lovejoy
would mean to engage in the ultimate act of intimacy and togetherness where only one of the parties involved has a "self" to contribute. The notion seemed both extremely narcissistic and extremely needy. We decided to explore that weird state of being and came up with this weird little play. Having been friends since college, it was also a treat to collaborate with each other on something as both writers and performers."

YEAH, BUT IS THERE SEX?

Yes, there's sex!  But the SEX WITH ROBOTS Festival makes love to your mind, as well as your eyeballs.

Natalie Zutter
A Real Boy, by playwright Natalie Zutter, is about a woman who argues with her sex robot Robert about whether or not he should be counted along with her human sex partners. Says Zutter, "Because this festival is all about redefining who (or what) we do it with, I wanted to explore something that humans already do: justify or compartmentalize who we have sex with, and what 'counts' as sex."

Danny Bowes' play, My Fantasy Sex Robot Came in the Mail Today, plays with a Hollywood stereotype as a seemingly unspectacular shlub blubbers his love to a spectacular woman... and then takes us somewhere we don't expect.

And then of course there's playwright J.Julian Christopher's play, Make Your Bed in Hell, which just sounds sexy! (Joking, but trust me, you don't want to miss it.) And in the interest of full-frontal disclosure, yours truly is one of the playwrights but I won't go on about my play except to say MacCarthy describes it as being the most "Vaginey and Bro-tastic of the evening," which I take as a compliment.

HOW ARE THEY DOING IT?

Well, that seems like a personal question, so I'll assume your talking about the producers doing what producers (and theater artists) do...PRODUCE!

Danny Bowes
"I do what I'm told, basically." says Bowes. "and that's not meant in a bad way at all."

"We send each other to-do lists," says MacCarthy. "It's sort of slapdash, who does what, but it's definitely tailored to what each of us has experience with."

"Mariah and I constantly have friendly disagreements but because we trust each other," adds Tremblay. "We don't take anything personally, and are willing to talk it out, it always turns out all right in the end. We've both learned how to produce by just doing it through trial and error, so we've already learned a lot of the tough knocks hard lessons and use our experience to our advantage."

Bowes, MacCarthy and Tremblay all came from multidisciplinary theater backgrounds, which is to say they've acted, written, danced, etc., so what brought them to producing when they could've just acted, written and danced?

"Impatience" says MacCarthy. "You can wait for someone to do your shit for you, or..." Not, presumably.

MacCarthy's play Just Right is about a not-too-healthy relationship that is over but rather than accept that and move on, technology is used to recreate it exactly as it was, "every last ugly aspect of it."

AND HOW DO THEY DO ALL OF IT AND NOT LOSE THEIR MINDS? (Do they have secret robots that help them and can I get one?)

"Lots of coffee," says Bowes "and a completely unrealistic sense of optimism about how many hours there are in a day."
Leta Tremblay

"I honestly don't know" adds MacCarthy. "I can barely see straight as I write this. I would like to have fewer things to do."

"Mariah and I were talking about this last night," says Tremblay. "We both used to have so much energy to do 500 things at once and live by the 'I'll sleep when I'm dead' mantra. Now a good nap goes a long way. But in all seriousness, I feel very grateful for all of the amazing artists that I've had the good fortune to work with thus far. We do this because we love it and it's collaborative and it's all part of moving forward in this crazy industry. We do the best we can every time."


Love your Robot
 The SEX WITH ROBOTS Festival opens Tuesday, Nov. 5th - Nov 10th at 8pm at The Secret Theatre, 4402 23rd Street, Long Island City. Tickets ($18) may be purchased online or by calling
1-800-838-3006; $15 student/senior tickets are also available.

Early Bird Discount tickets of only $10 available now thru Fri, Nov. 1st @ 11:59pm.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Find the Light of Night with Playwright Cecilia Copeland



"You can’t ever skip life phases.  You can get delayed, but you don’t get to skip any part of growing up"

Playwright

What is Light of Night about?

It’s a modern retelling of the Greek Persephone myth, where Hades takes Persephone into the underworld.  It’s a story about survival.  I know that’s a really general thing to say about all high stakes plays, but that’s what it’s about.  Stephanie seems like she’s a mischievous and dissatisfied housewife who falls in love with her voluptuous Latina next door neighbor, but through the course of the night she comes to realize that her marriage isn’t what she thinks it is and she has to break free of it or she’ll die.  The story is about going crazy to survive in an insane world.  It’s also about the tainting and twisting of love, the power of hope and how our longing for beauty can save us.

What was its inspiration?

I got obsessed with these weird kidnapping cases.  I started watching a bunch of documentaries and couldn’t tear myself away.  They were really disturbing and I just couldn’t wrap my head around why someone would do that to another person.  And then, as I watched one story after another, it dawned on me that I myself had been kidnapped by my own father.  At that time, I hadn’t really ever dealt with it at all or thought about what kind of repercussions it might have had on me as a person.  It was just something from my childhood that everyone in my family and community knew about, but nobody really talked about it.  It does come up sometimes and on those rare occasions I find myself sort of coming out about it.  As soon as I’ve said it, the strangeness of it presents itself and whoever I’m talking to does a weird double take and kind of freaks out.  

I didn’t really have a normal childhood.  Even after I was kidnapped once by my father, I was then sort of kidnapped again by my mother because by the time she found us, I didn’t know her, or speak English, and so my world was totally different.  And then after that, my dad kidnapped us again…  So clearly in my earliest years I had a lot of uncertainty about who I could trust and what was the real world or how I was supposed to be or who I was.  

There are a lot more specifics that I could go into, but the thing is that when I saw what these other young women had been through it resonated with me.  I do want to be clear that I wasn’t sexually assaulted by my father or mother in any way and I don’t think that what I went through as a child is at all as difficult as what those women survived.  I wrote the play to honor their strength and their success at making it through, getting out, and going on to have a life of their own making.

What has been the play's development?

The play was started while I was an intern at New Dramatists and was back and forth to the Writer’s Workshop at Ohio University.  It was a tough play to have in workshop at the time because it was dealing with such personal and highly charged material that being the only woman alone in a room with six men discussing it was really hard.  As an intern Alum at New Dramatists, I was given the opportunity to have a reading there and in preparation, I connected with Emily Prince at Art/West.  She was kind enough to give me a space to have the reading, which I did, and it went really well.  

Cecilia Copeland's workspace
I took that draft to New Dramatists and was introduced to two of the actors who are in this production.  I have to admit, as a former actress there was always a little part of me that felt like I could do the parts in my plays better than anyone else, but when I heard Florencia read Isabel for the first time I dropped that egotistical nonsense right in that moment.  

The next reading I had was at IATI Theater and it was crazy because although I founded New York Madness in my third year of my MFA and lived in New York for 9 out of the 12 months, I was, at the time of the reading, still in Ohio University and having been totally broke from traveling back and forth to New York I didn’t know how I would be able to get back.  Thankfully, the University found some support for me at the 11th hour, and I was able to make it. IATI Theater fell in love with the play and wanted to produce it!  Too bad I had to wait two years for them to close for renovations.  At last, the theater is open and they have made Light of Night part of their inaugural season.  I’m thrilled to be here and yes, it was a long road, but I think that’s just how it is for many emerging writers. 

In the play the character of Isabel occasionally speaks Spanish. Do you utilize languages often in your work?  

It’s funny because I don’t think of her as speaking all that much Spanish.  I think that she only speaks a little here and there, but yes she does use some Spanish for sure and I do have plays that are mixed linguistically.  That’s my own background as I mentioned before.  I have a relationship with Hebrew and Spanish that comes from my history and family so my perspective on language is that it’s related to identity and perspective. 

What is the significance of Isabel's Spanish in this piece? 

For me it’s multi-layered.  I think not only is the play about this specific story, albeit fictional, it’s also about whiteness and how we impress one “conquering” culture onto another via the female body.  And having been through an experience where I was allowed to be one thing and not another via language, I know a lot about what that feels like as a person.  I want to celebrate languages and my hope is that the use of Spanish in this piece does that.

Do you have a writing schedule and if so, what is it?

I write on deadline.  I’m so busy between my day job and NYMadness that it’s hard to find time so I create deadlines.  I set a date for a table reading and then I have to crank out pages.  I don’t have a schedule right now, it’s just when I can and usually that’s late at night. 

As you mentioned, you also produce NYMadness and hold a full-time job and see a lot of theater.  How do you organize your time?

Well…  I have no personal life.  It’s kind of sad, but true.  I pretty much don’t do anything except work.  I’ll have drinks with friends, but only very rarely and it’s usually before or after a show or rehearsal.  If I have lunch with a friend on the weekend, it’s a working lunch where we’re working on a project and to me that’s fun.  I didn’t get much “work” done in my twenties.  Even though I’ve always been really disciplined, I didn’t know how to channel it.  I was unfocused and didn’t have a sense of how the world functioned.  I was still a kid in ways that other people were grown up, and I was grown up in ways other people weren’t so it was confusing.  I was sort of having the childhood I never got to have, but then it put me back by about a decade.  

You can’t ever skip life phases.  You can get delayed, but you don’t get to skip any part of growing up or you just end up stuck in a phase.  So although I have plenty to write about, lots of experiences, traveled a lot, did a lot of living, now I have a hard time relaxing because I feel so far behind in my career.  I would love to have a family and a partner, but that takes certain things being in place, and I don’t have those so I keep pushing myself in the ways I know how.  There are plenty of things I haven’t figured out.  Balance is one of them. 

What's next?

Yowzer!  Thanks for asking!! I have a Round Table coming up at the Lark for my new play Atlantis Unearthed being directed by Shira-Lee Shalit.  That happens in November after Light of Night closes, and I’m grateful to Suzy and John and everybody at the Lark for all they do and for giving me something to look forward to after this show ends.  Thank You Micheline for being awesome and I have YOU in my calendar for write with New York Madness in January so that’s coming up too!


LIGHT OF NIGHT is playing at IATI Theater through October 27th. For tickets click here






Friday, October 4, 2013

Playwright Rosemary Moore and Her New Play Side Street

 "Artists must be patient.  Artists must have faith and continue!  Do it or you will never know!"

- Rosemary Moore
Playwright

What was the inspiration for SIDE STREET?

The inspiration for SIDE STREET was a recurring dream I have had since my mother died when I was 21 years old.  The dream has many variations but its core is always that I see my mother alive…she is kind of sick but amazingly alive. A couple of times in the dream I’d introduce her to my friends. In some, I’d see her at a gathering. Once, I dreamed that she had her own apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. That apartment dream sparked the writing of a scene which sparked another and so on. I wrote many, many, many scenes over a couple of years, and then pulled them together into the beginnings of a play.

What's the play about?

It takes place in a bewitched,  parallel universe where 48 year old Meg encounters her long dead mother, Dora, very much alive and on her way into the Upper East Side apartment building where Dora now lives.  During their afternoon together in her mother’s apartment, apparently frozen in time, Meg witnesses her mother’s love affair with a Navy lieutenant, which occurred many years earlier, when Meg’s father was in the Marines, fighting in World War Two. As Meg nurses her dying mother for the second time, she discovers her own mortality and her capacity for forgiveness, coming of age at last in middle age. 

What has its development been?

The very first reading was in the informal salon of my friend Rita London’s living room in Brooklyn, directed by Hayley Finn.  Then, a couple of years later, I had it read at New Georges, directed by Daisy Walker.  By about 2006, Ian Morgan directed a reading of it at the New Group and from then on Ian read draft after draft and was the only director.

I wrote other plays in between.  A few years later, we did a reading at the Old Stone House in Brooklyn with actor Jan Leslie Harding who GOT!  the daughter's  role (Meg) so completely that I felt fired up and launched to push on!  The last reading before this production was at The Barrow Street Theater, again with Jan Leslie Harding, in the spring of 2011.

After that reading, Ian and I thought the play was ready for production.  I sent it around to a few theaters, who read the play, but got no bites.  A year later, I told Ian I didn’t want to wait for a theater to produce it,  I wanted to do it.  He said he would direct!

How did you meet Director Ian Morgan?

I met Ian after a reading he did at St. Clements. I don’t remember what it was but I introduced myself and he said he had read and liked my play Aunt Pieces which had just been done at the Cherry Lane Alternative in the Mentor Project.  I kept in touch with him and joined a playwriting group he lead.  He directed a reading of my play Continuous Bloom now called A Slight Kidnapping.

Eventually I showed him SIDE STREET which he responded to and read drafts of.

How do you guys work together?

I send him a draft.  He reads it and then I come in to his office at the New Group and we chat.  Looking back, what was amazing to me, in the case of SIDE STREET, was how rough and unformed the play was at the point he read it.  His comments were always directed so succinctly, accurately and intuitively to where the play was in its development.  He’d meet me where I was.  I do another draft and come back.  Sometimes it would be almost a year before I’d come back since I was raising my kids and teaching and writing other plays.  It seems like our collaboration has been one long conversation!

How did you come to playwriting?

I came to playwriting by mistake.  When I first moved to New York, I was a fiction writer, writing short stories and trying to get them published which I did in the early 1980’s.  At some point I challenged myself to write a short novel (a rough, rough draft) in a month. Ha Ha. I did it in a month but …something happened!

I allowed myself to write as “badly” as I wanted. I wrote in long-hand five pages a day, single-spaced, in a spiral notebook, while listening to a Spanish-speaking radio station for distraction.

I had a basic plot, characters, and the number of words and amount pages it had to be.

About half way through the writing of this rough draft, the mother character, Tracy Lusk, took over.  She was supposed to be dead and only a memory to her two teenage children but Tracy literally hijacked the story and the novel went from third person to first person (Tracy!).  After her 20 page monologue ended, the book became all dialogue. I turned the novel into a play called Raindevils which included the monologue.

The monologue from Raindevils, was published in BOMB magazine and soon after that, I started writing other monologues of characters for myself to perform around downtown performing spots like Dixon Place and Franklin Furnace.

After I had my kids and was living in Brooklyn, I stopped performing and applied and got into get the MFA at NYU Dramatic Writing Program.  I used Raindevils (which I had expanded to a full-length play adapted from the rough novel) as my writing sample!

What is your writing schedule if you have one?

I don’t have a writing schedule!  I write if I have a deadline.  I used to be VERY blocked.  That’s why performing helped.  People were going to show up at a certain place at a certain time and I had to give them something.

At NYU, I studied with Maria Irene Fornes who had her students write in class from her prompts.  A few of us from that class kept doing this group writing after we graduated.  Lizzie Olesker, Aurorae Khoo, Gary Winter and others.  There have been many writers in and out of the groups (Jo Andres, Lisa Shea, Rachel Koenig, Ann Rittenberg).

I wrote whole plays (rough drafts)  in those groups.  I am not blocked anymore! Now I can work alone!

Salty or sweet?

Salty and sweet…bitter thrown in for balance.  Also the physical world and randomness must be included.  But for me, the most important thing after “write don’t think” is STRUCTURE which can be anything, but which lets me feel free to write.  For instance, it can be….I am going to write a play that is two friends at breakfast.  Or I get myself to find a silly description from a book that describes plots of every movie ever made.  Use part of a plot and write a ten-page play.  STRUCTURE!!!   That was the hardest thing to learn, and I came to that after many years of not quite getting how STRUCTURE is my friend!

What do you love to do besides writing or theater?

I like going to the movies.  I like reading.  I like drinking coffee and talking to friends.  I love going to extreme places in nature and hiking or sitting and watching a body of water or light change.

What excites you about theater right now?


I like the originality I see in the good shows I’ve seen in the last few years. 

I like going to see Clubbed Thumb’s season!  I liked the bravery and smarts of 13P’s years of productions.  I loved seeing my friends Lizzie Olesker and Lenora Champagne’s brilliant show TINY LIGHTS which they produced themselves at INVISIBLE DOG…which gave me the spark and nerve to produce SIDE STREET.

I like being surprised by a play because of one actor’s performance.  This summer I went to see my friend Marian Fontana’s wonderful short play Falling Short  at the SUMMER SHORTS 2013 at 59 E. 59th St Theatre. There was another play that evening called PINE CONE MOMENT written by Alan Zweibel which was touching and funny.  In that play, there was a performance that was so good and so surprising that I understood, all over again why people go to the theater.  The actor, Camille Saviola, playing Bunny,  lifted me out of my seat. She was so true and funny because she held nothing back and entertained (in the deepest sense of the word). She is a sublimely skilled artist…who wasn’t afraid!

What do you find challenging or frustrating?
Challenging:  Everything takes so long!!!!!  Artists must be patient.  Artists must have faith and continue!  Do it or you will never know!  Write “THE END” to your play and see what you’ve got.  It took me a very long time to understand this. 

I couldn’t have done it without my different writing groups. Right now, I am in a weekly Tuesday night group with writers of many different genres.  Showing up at the group keeps the work coming. 

What's next? 

I don’t quite know what’s next.  I have a play set in the early 1980’s at the artist bars in Tribeca called  Bar Play: Opium Wars.  My friend, Hugh Crawford is determined that I finish it…it might have to be site specific!

Side Street runs October 2 - 12th at Theaterlab (357 West 36th Street, 3rd Floor NYC). For tickets, go here.

ROSEMARY MOORE (Playwright): Her play The Pain of Pink Evenings is included in the Best American Short Plays of 2001 (Applause Books). A Slight Kidnapping, The Bar Play, Aunt Pieces, The Pain of Pink Evenings and Pineapple have been produced or read at the Cherry Lane Alternative, The New Group, New York Theater Workshop, New Georges and HERE. Pulitzer Prize Winning playwright Tony Kushner, Ian Morgan and Michael Sexton have directed her plays. She received an MFA in playwriting from New York University and is an adjunct professor of composition at Rutgers University.

IAN MORGAN (Director) is Associate Artistic Director of The New Group, and in May he directed REALISTS by Serbian playwright Jelena Kajgo, at HERE Arts Center.  He also directed A Spalding Gray Matter by Michael Brandt, Critical Darling by Barry Levey, Rich Boyfriend by Evan Smith and the Drama-Desk-nominated The Accomplices by Bernard Weinraub, all at The New Group. Other productions includeRough Sketch by Shawn Nacol, Ham Lake by Nat Bennett and Sam Rosen, Sparrow by Linda Faigao-Hall, Progress by Matei Visniec, and Eric Larue by Brett Neveu (the last two both at HERE).

LANIE ZIPOY (Producer): credits include Laura Marks' Bethany (Women's Project Theater, Associate Producer), Crystal Skillman's Follow (Fanfare), Mari Brown’s 23 Feet in 12 Minutes (New Orleans and AFO Fest), Mac Rogers’ Universal Robots(ITBA’s 2009 Best Off-Off Broadway Play), and the Brooklyn premiere of Caroline, or Change. Lanie produced 7 Sins in 60 Minutes, a collaboratively created piece at HERE and the Philly Fringe. She is the co-founder and producing director of Voices Inside/Out, a theatrical exchange program that supports the playwriting program and the professional playwriting residency at a medium security prison in Kentucky, and presents the short plays written by inmates in New York City. She is also a Time Warner Foundation Fellow of the 2012-2014 Lab at Women’s Project Theater, NYC.