Thursday, May 29, 2014

Kate Benson and Caroline V. McGraw: Jamming on New Georges' Jam on Toast

 "...cultivating new collaborative relationships through 3-D play development and by including playwrights and directors as equal participants. "
- New Georges' Jam on Toast

 What is the name of your play and what is it about?

Kate Benson / Dir. Lee Sunday Evans
KATE BENSON: A Beautiful Day in November on the Banks of the Greatest of the Great Lakes is a Thanksgiving play with Sports Announcers. It is about intergenerational mechanics and also this strange/normal national ritual that occurs every November: football, family, food, gratitude, genocide, gluttony.

CAROLINE V. MCGRAW: My play is called the Vaults. It's about four young American tourists; when one of them disappears on a trip to Edinburgh, the remaining three have to deal with the aftermath and find him, uncovering a lot of unpleasant truths about themselves along the way.

Caroline V. McGraw / Dir. Portia Krieger
What was its inspiration?

KB: I wanted to write a play without stage directions, and I wanted to write a play about a family, and I wanted to turn the standard models of the American Family Play inside out: no couch--no furniture!, no props, no deep dark family secrets, no sitting down. Just: the trouble of doing something together, and doing that thing well, or as well as you can.

CM: About five years ago I took a ghost tour in Edinburgh, and was struck by how very theatrical it was. It was cheesy and silly, but also genuinely terrifying. I wanted to write a play with the structure of the Edinburgh vaults--labyrinthian, with lots of dead ends and secret passages and spooky corners that reveal something unexpected. I don't think there's enough genre-y theater, and I wanted to write characters grounded in reality that have to make sense of a strange place and supernatural mysteries.

KB's Workspace
What is your writing schedule and what is your workspace like?

KB: My writing schedule is: whenever I can. I like early mornings, I really like late nights, and I even more like coffee shops in the middle of the day.

CM's Workspace
CM:  I don't have a writing schedule, to be honest. It depends on the project I'm working on. Sometimes I'm writing for 4-5 hours every day over the course of a few weeks, other times I try to let my brain rest, which is another way of writing. I do a lot of work in coffee shops and on the run, but when I'm in my apartment, I work at my big wooden kitchen table. I have a bad habit of leaving my nail polish there and staring at my screen, mouthing words to myself, doing my nails.

How did you get involved in New Georges Jam on toast?

KB: I joined the Jam in its inaugural year, and Lee and I met and worked together on other Jam projects (maybe just one?), and I was just crazy about her and the way she thinks about theater; I sent her a bunch of plays, and she chose this one, and we proposed it for the festival, and (oh man!) what a great time it's been working with her, working with the cast, working with the designers, working with New Georges.

Kate Benson's Great Lakes: Featuring Mia Katigbak, Evan Thompson, Brooke Ishibashi, Nina Hellman, Heather Alicia Simms, Christian Felix, Jessica Almasy (photo: Jessica Osber)
CM:  I'm a member of the Jam, which is due to the director of the Vaults Portia Krieger, who encouraged me to apply when I was moving back to New York after grad school. We met each other because of The Vaults; a mutual dramaturg friend sent it to her before we had laid eyes on each other.

What's next?

KB: I am performing in Julia Jarcho's new play, Nomads, at the Incubator: we open right as Great Lakes closes; and then in the writing part: a play about debt, based on Melville's novel The Confidence Man, and then a commission from Clubbed Thumb for a play that, well, I don't wanna spoil the surprise.

CM: My live feminist pop extravaganza " no more times," which I've co-written and developed with Jammer Mary Birnbaum and Melissa Lusk, goes up June 24 at Ars Nova ANT Fest, and then I'm off to Space on Ryder Farm for a residency in the late summer with director Laura Savia. Just working with cool ladies is really what's next!

New Georges Jam on Toast is now thru May 31st at Dixon Place. Tickets ($20 each; festival pass $50) will be available for advance purchase online at or by calling 1-800-838-3006.

THE NEW GEORGES JAM is a working lab for early-career theatermakers, founded in 2010 under New Georges’ auspices by playwright Lucy Alibar (Beasts of the Southern Wild) and directors Jess Chayes and Portia Krieger. Makers of highly theatrical work, the Jam’s founders wanted to expand on traditional writers’ groups (which tend to focus on reading pages, not getting work on its feet) to cultivate new collaborative relationships through 3-D play development and by including playwrights and directors as equal participants. 

The festival will also feature works-in-progress and special presentations by Jam members Sofia Alvarez, Eliza Bent, Mary Birnbaum, Katherine Brook, Adrienne Campbell-Holt, Meghan Finn, Morgan Gould, Dipika Guha, Mary Elizabeth Hamilton, Sarah Krohn, Anna Moench, Mia Rovegno and Pirronne Yousefzadeh.

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