Thursday, July 31, 2008
For those of you who came to the Festival last weekend, thank you so much. For those of you who didn't, I know you're planning to come this weekend, when we'll be showing all of the shows...again. Or, hey, if you saw them last time, why not see them again? Most of you have probably seen The Dark Knight twice, anyway. It's just like that, but imagine seeing it again the second time where the characters are suddenly more developed, the language is more clear and concise, and the thematic elements are fuller! (I don't know how that would look for The Dark Knight - maybe The Joker reveals his favorite ice cream flavor.)
A couple of specific shout-outs go to:
Richard Ciccarone - one-man show (with the help of our wonderful tech team) production manager extraordinaire, who had the brilliant idea of holding a Mini-Festival with the interns' and PAs' work, tomorrow at 2pm at the Magic (I'm not plugging anything...) Sonia, Cris, Jonathan and Amy at the Playwrights Foundation, for staying insane hours to make sure everything gets off the ground...Molly, another intern, whose company made those last-minute supply runs bearable...Jen, Graham, and the Crane Story gang for being incredibly nice to their PA (yours truly), and.......EVERYONE ELSE (so much for being specific. I knew it was as failed endeavor as soon as I started - there are so many people to thank) Rest assured, I love you all. I'm out for now.
Tuesday, July 29, 2008
Hello everyone. I’m Sonia Fernandez, Playwrights Foundation’s Literary & Administrative Coordinator. I’m sitting here in the PF Office, feeling completely recovered from the first days of Festival festivities and raring to go for next weekend. Cris and I were at the box office for the weekend and got to talk to a lots of audience members who were soaking up the new play energy. There were a few couples with us the entire weekend. They saw every single show! I tip my beret to them. You may not notice because my beret was already at a slight tilt but I tip it even further.
I also want to send a shout out to all of our beautiful volunteers, many of whom are coming back for more next weekend. Merci! Life is shit but you are all tres tres magnifique. The same goes for the artists involved in the festival.
It is really inspiring to see so many people committed to and enjoying the process of creating and witnessing new plays being developed. A play is only fully a play when it’s seen by an audience. The fact that we’ve had such receptive and numerous attendees really validates what we do. Or maybe it was the cupcakes that made everyone so happy. No, I think it was the work.
Friday, July 25, 2008
Thursday, July 24, 2008
Marcus Gardley’s new play every tongue must confess opens the 2008 Bay Area Playwrights Festival tomorrow, Friday July 25th. A native of West Oakland, Marcus is best known to Bay Area audiences for his acclaimed play Love Is A Dream House In Lorin, a love song to the neighborhood of South Berkeley. In all of his work he explores the African American experience through the lens of myth and spirit, and many of his plays have premiered in theaters from Yale Rep to the Empty Space. Similar to the Lorin Project, every tongue must confess focuses on a community in need of healing, only instead of an East Bay neighborhood, we’re transported to the small town of Boligee, Alabama, where someone is burning churches.
Alabama has twice been struck by arsonists in the past decade, and in a PF interview, we asked Marcus to comment on what why he chose to write about it:
PF: You’ve had a long history with PF – starting back when you were in grad school. How does this year’s festival compare to other work you’ve done with us?
MG: This year, this work or ‘work in progress’ is entirely different because I think I have a clearer insight as to what kind of writer I am and what kind of art I am passionate about making. Before, it was as much about learning as it was about writing something that moved people. At this point in my career, I am much more interested in creating work that raises questions and in this case the question is: why would someone burn a church? And what impact does a burned church have on a community in transition. I’m not sure that my play expertly raises these questions yet…but I definitely want it to.
PF: What was your inspiration for every tongue must confess, what was the spark that got you writing this particular play?
MG: I grew up in the church (my father is a preacher) so I suppose I became fascinated and obsessed with the recent rash of church burnings that swept Alabama in 2006. I have always thought of the church as a sanctuary, meaning it is both a sacred and safe place. So to burn a church, especially one in the Black Bible Belt: a poor, rural, predominately Black community seemed to boggle my mind. What do the arsonists have to gain? I had a thousands hypotheses and I thought the only way to rest my mind is to put them and the church community in a play – and play with them. Again, I wasn’t looking for answers as much as I was looking to raise a few questions. The answers should come from the audience.
PF: You originally conceived of every tongue must confess as a kind of detective mystery. How has the play changed over the past few weeks?
MG: The first draft is a detective mystery because that is the world of my research. There are twice as many articles and books on what kind of person burns churches than there are on the communities that are devastated by the arsons, and even less research on how these two groups are linked. Ironically, I don’t think the play is as powerful if the story details what happens after the fire, than if it explores what leads up to it.
One cares more about a community when one sees it thriving than seeing it burned. I also discovered that one of the teenagers in Alabama who was convicted of burning several churches had also been a member of an arson relief organization. In fact, he had assisted in the rebuilding of one of the churches he burned. With this knowledge and the desire to show the daily life of the church community, I decided to rewrite the play and put the arsonists in the same town.
PF: Many of your plays have myth and sacred stories as the underlying structure. How does that play out in every tongue?
MG: I think this play is its own sacred story. It is the history of a town drenched in as much fact as it is fiction. The world of the play has its own rules, its own folklore, and the residents seem to readily accept, celebrate and feed off of it. To this end, it invites the audience to be a resident for two hours, to wonder about the magic, to relish in the realism, to invest in the dreams and fears of the characters and to hopefully leave with a deeper understanding of how we all are inextricably linked. The powerful, unexplainable beauty about the sacred story is that it doesn’t overwhelm you with facts but rather it highlights human truths so vital to our existence that it beckons the presence of God.
PF: What’s coming up next for you after the Festival?
MG: Next, I will be starting my first series of workshops for the Richmond Project. Earlier this year, I interviewed a group of “Rosies” who built ships at the Richmond shipyards during World War II. And now, in this second phase, I will workshop the first act. The piece will be directed by Aaron Davidman who is directing every tongue must confess for the festival and it will showcase vocal soundscapes composed Molly Holm who worked with myself and Aaron on the Lorin Project.
Friday, July 18, 2008
Geetha Reddy is a four-time recipient of PlayGround’s Emerging Playwright Award and was recently selected by Theater Bay Area as a local “Up and Coming Playwright.” Last year, she participated in PF’s In the Rough Reading Series, where she developed her play Me Given You.
Safe House, selected for the festival from among 500 entries, tells the story of an isolated stay-at-home mother who employs very unusual measures to protect her twins. Crossing the lines between experimental therapeutic treatment and survivalist mentality, a mother does her best to create a ‘safe house’ for her children. PF asked Geetha about any possible political intentions behind writing what seems to be a post-post-9/11 play:
PF: You’ve been active for a number of years with several Bay Area playwriting groups. What do you think the atmosphere in the Bay Area is like right now for local writers? Do you feel like there are many opportunities to have your work produced?
GR: The Bay Area playwrighting community is amazingly creative and driven, and there are many groups and classes that have arisen to support our work. I have participated for many years in PlayGround, which gave me my first chance to work with professional actors and directors and also commissioned my first full-length play.
Getting a play produced is the tricky part. I think the opportunities are out there, but having the right play at the right theatre is a needle I am still working on threading.
PF: When did you begin writing Safe House? Where did the idea for the play come from?
GR: Safe House was originally commissioned by Jim Kleinmann at PlayGround in 2006. It is based on a 10-minute play I wrote for their Monday Night reading series called Honey, I’m Home. My work tends to evolve from intimate moments into a larger piece. In this case, my unease with Silicon Valley life, the 24-hour disaster/news cycle, and my own growing family were just some of the seeds for the play.
PF: Your play Safe House strikes me as a kind of post-post-9/11 play, in that it’s not the event of 9/11 that’s the engine driving the play, but rather the overzealous reaction of the characters to that event. Do you intend this play to have a political point of view?
GR: I am not interested in writing agit prop, but I do think of Safe House as a sort of parable conflating the child-centered culture of the elite with the various reactions to 9/11. Is it ever really possible to be safe? The dramatic answer is, of course, no. But as responsible parents or citizens, safety is the fundamental guiding principle. Rather than pushing a point of view I hope to illustrate how we can be torn apart by this paradox.
PF: What’s up next for you?
GR: I have a new play I am working on called Blue God Countdown, and Aaron Loeb and I are planning to collaborate on a project with Central Works.
Friday, July 11, 2008
In April of this year, Katori Hall entered the PF In The Rough Reading Series, where she worked on her latest play The Mountaintop, which explores the arrival of a mysterious young maid to the room of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. the evening before his death. Now, this stirring and timely play is in development at the upcoming Bay Area Playwrights Festival.
The staff of PF was surprised to discover that Katori has a personal connection to the subject, which she reveals in an exclusive PF Interview:
PF: What was the genesis of The Mountaintop?
KH: My mother grew up one block away from the Lorraine Motel. A 15-year-old mother of two, she had steered clear of Mason Temple on April 3, 1968. Her mother, Big Mama, had warned, “They gone bomb dat chuuch. You know dem folks out to kill him.” It would be the greatest regret of my mother’s life. The ominous presence of death was hard to ignore. Palpable, it was. Everyone knew it was coming. They just didn’t know when. The question of when presented itself on April 4th at 6:01 p.m. King was killed by an assassin’s bullet on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel.
My mother’s regret along with the reasoning as to why she did not go that night has always stuck with me. A native Memphian, I grew up with this history only a stone’s throw away. It is my bloody heritage. The Mountaintop follows Dr. Martin Luther King on the night after he gives this great, prophetic speech.
PF: What are the challenges of re-imagining a moment in the life a real person who is so revered?
KH: I tried very much to imagine him as a human, not a God. This is the uber-American hero. A Christ-like figure to some. But I was always searching for the King, warts and all. As Michael Eric Dyson said in his recent book "April 4, 1968", "The wish to worship him into perfection is misled; the desire to deify him tragically misplaced. The scars of his humanity are what makes his achievements all the more remarkable." It's let's us off the hook to deify him. There is greatness in all of us. We all can carry on his dream.
But as a playwright I just had to imagine, "what would a human being do in those given circumstances?" This was a man whose life was constantly under fire, quite literally. His house had been bombed...he had already been stabbed. He knew he was a marked man. He always talked about his pending death, even joked about it sometimes with his advisers. A lot of people are not privy to this, but King was quite depressed those last few months of his life. He had taken up smoking to deal with the mounting stress and responsibilities of leading a movement. He was heavily criticized for leading a garbage strikers march in Memphis that had unfortunately turned violent, a young 16 year old boy named Larry Payne was killed. He was deeply troubled in a way his colleagues had never seen him after that. He came back to Memphis to do it again. He was in the midst of planning another march on Washington, his Poor People's Campaign and he was there in Memphis for the garbage strike workers because their quest for a living wage paralleled his quest for a living wage for all Americans.
The given circumstances of his life at the time, provided me with rich material to create an entire man...not the I HAVE A DREAM man, but a man dealing with depression, dissension in his organization, and pending death.
PF: You have a background as both an actor and a playwright. Which came first? How did you make the transition?
KH: That's the old question, "what came first, the chicken of the egg?" I got my degree in acting first, but I probably started playwriting first, in fact, I've always written. I've been publishing articles in newspapers since I was 14 years old, so I always knew I was a writer. My first foray into journalism cultivated my storytelling and listening skills. Journalists are forever interviewing people, listening to the cadences and rhythms of authentic speech. I always had a good ear for the best quotes and I'm sure that's helped me create characters who have a way with words.
Five years ago when I took my first acting class at Columbia, I went up to my teacher and asked, “Do you know of any good scenes from plays that occur between two young black women?” She stood there perplexed. 10 seconds went by…then 20….then 30….a whole minute flew by and she couldn’t come up with one answer. “Gee, Katori, I’m so sorry, but I can’t think of one…I mean, there is a scene in Raisin but the two characters are not young…maybe August Wilson? No…most of his characters are male…I’m sorry, Katori. I just can’t think of one.” She walked away. At that moment I said to myself, “Well, I guess I’ll just have to write some then.” I wrote from an intense need to see myself and my experience reflected honestly onstage. It was quite easy to make the transition.
PF: Do you ever act in your own work, or write plays with the intention that you would perform them?
KH: I haven't acted in my work yet...only in the performance poetry bits I've written. I've just started thinking about which of my characters I would love to play. I could play the hell out of some my female roles! They are all little slivers of me mixed up with other folks I know. I've toyed around with the idea of writing a one woman show, but I like people, too much. I would hate to be up onstage by myself. Plays remind me of the time I would play make-believe with my sister and my friends reimagining the world as children often do. I like that feeling of creating life--new life--with other people.
PF: What's up next for you?
KH: I will be back in the Bay (Yah!) doing the Bay Area Playwrights Festival this summer. I'm quite excited about that. My first play, Hoodoo Love is being published by DPS. Please check it out. www.dramatists.com. I was recently commissioned by the Women's Project with the support of the New York Council of the Arts. I am finishing up an adaptation of Antigone set in post-Katrina New Orleans for Fluid Motion Theater. And I am at Juilliard right now in their playwriting program continuing to grow as a writer, so as you can see I'm busy as all get out! www.katorihall.com
Thursday, July 3, 2008
One of the great and unique aspects of the Bay Area Playwrights Festival is that we have a track record of discovering exceptional new and unknown writers and nurturing their early careers. Many of these, such as Nilo Cruz, Prince Gomolvilas, Brighde MullinsBrian Thorstenson and most recently Sam Hunter among many others have gone on to grace the American stage with their work. Jen Silverman is the 2008 festival emerging playwright. Her play, Crane Story is a genre breaking play, experimental in style and form, yet grounded in the tradition of myth and story.
We asked her a number of provocative questions about her work and her struggle to be a playwright:
PF: You graduated two years ago from Brown, and will be going on to begin your MFA at the Iowa Writers Workshop in the fall. What opportunities or challenges did you find after graduating from school, and what made you decide to go to graduate school?
JS: Right after graduating from Brown I did the NYC International Fringe with my play Lizardskin and then left to return to Japan, where I'd lived as a child. I was told when I left that if I want to seriously pursue a career as a playwright, a geographically unstable, international life is going to make it very difficult for me, and I really had to struggle with that in the summer of 2006. I'd sit in rehearsals for Lizardskin playing the "what if" game with myself. ˜What if I don't go, what if by going I'm throwing away my chance at being a produced playwright, etc etc.” But what it came down to was the crystal clear certainty that no matter what I was potentially sacrificing, I felt like I absolutely had to go back. So I did.
Living in Japan as a young adult, deep in the rural central-south and far away from the Tokyo area where I'd lived before, that's a whole epic of opportunities and challenges in itself. I'd remembered so much of my childhood as this vague sort of dream, (did it happen or not?), and then there I was back in the middle of Japan seeing where many of my early memories came from. I would recognize stories, songs, toys that I'd always thought of as specific to my childhood, and stop and go, "Ohhh THAT's where that came from!" As a playwright and as a person, that experience was incredibly rich, incredibly exhilarating, and sometimes quite difficult.
But the real struggle came when I decided, 13 months later, to return to the US and try my hardest as a playwright. I'd been writing on my own the whole time, but I craved an artistic community, and it was the urge to work with theatre artists again, see my plays developed, and grow and be challenged as an artist that made me decide to return to the US and go to grad school. I've spent most of the past nine or so months writing new plays and sending them out, and it amazes me all the time how hard it is for an emerging playwright to get heard, get developed, let alone produced. But I know that this is what I want; I've had a long time to think about it. I just came from seeing two of my short plays produced by the Fusion Theatre Company in Albuquerque NM, and that experience alone, talking with theatre people and audience members who had been moved by these stories that I also care deeply about, that was like a drink of cold water after a long time in the desert. That was one of those moments where you take a deep breath and you think, "Oh yes, absolutely this."
PF: I recently had the opportunity to sit in on a Master class with Paula Vogel. She was so insightful and inspiring that it was immediately clear to me why she has been able to usher through a generation of remarkable playwrights. Was studying with her a big influence on your work? In what ways?
JS: I was really fortunate to be able to study with Paula as a senior at Brown, and I wish I'd had more time with her. She created a rich, encouraging, supportive atmosphere in her classes; my last semester of Brown, I was in a class in which she brought together actors, playwrights (mostly grad, a few undergrad), and directors, and encouraged us to try a multiplicity of different approaches to the script and the stage. She was famous for her "bake-off" assignments in which you'd get assigned a few different elements (a scream, a splash, fire, etc) and have 24 hours in which to write a full play using those elements. I've always felt that if I'm not working quickly
I'm stagnating, so most of my first drafts tend to get written in a matter of days, and those kinds of assignments were just delightful to me. Working with Paula made me push myself as a writer, if you can write a play in 24 hours, collaborate with art school students and designers to write a play inspired by their work, and write a play that is "impossible to stage," you can pretty much write anything. And she's very generous, she never tells you to do something her way, she'll discuss your script on your terms. I was also really fortunate to study with Brighde Mullins, and she too has an openness, an eloquence, and a genuine interest in her students, that made a huge impression on me. If I ever end up teaching, I would hope to treat students the same way, with the same generosity.
PF: Your play Crane Story, explores the idea of being stuck between two worlds on a number of different levels - one is the idea of being stuck between two races and two nationalities. The idea of who has the "right" to write about race is very interesting to me. Not being bi-racial yourself, did you have any trepidation about creating a work where this such a dominant theme?
JS: This question has always been an interesting and rather complicated one for me, and one that gets thrown my way often, since many of my plays involve characters from different cultures or different countries and to the eye I'm a white American girl. The truth of it is, I was born in a small New England town and by fifteen months old, I was living in Tokyo. I grew up moving around Asia, Western Europe, and Scandinavia, returning to the US periodically, before returning for good to attend American high school. I'm not bi-racial, but I think I do have a keen understanding of what it is like to find yourself torn (or at least drawn taut) between different worlds, different cultures, different languages, and to have a complicated, patchwork sense of identity.
In Crane Story, the character Junpei puts his finger on it, I think, when he challenges his sister and Ishida, saying: "You'll never get it out of you. Everywhere you go will be colored by where you've been. Where's your home?" That's a question I wonder if I'll ever be able to answer, and maybe I keep playing with those questions (and potential answers, or the potential inherent in the lack of answers) through the medium of theatre. Jose Rivera wrote an essay in which he urges playwrights to "React against your work. Do in the next work what you aimed for but failed to do in the last one" and I never want to write the same play twice. But I do find myself repeatedly drawn to characters in whom these kinds of conflicted questions of identity are churning around, whether it's race, nationality, gender, or sexual preference.
PF: Who are the contemporary playwrights whose work most excites you at the moment?
JS: Absolutely Sarah Ruhl. I think she's brilliant and incredibly creative and her work has a lot of integrity. I also really respect Naomi Iizuka. I think her writing is so rich and layered and intelligent, all these global mythic influences. And, while she isn't quite a contemporary, I'll always love Sarah Kane. She was fearless and wild and she wrote with a lot of humanity, I think her writing is a deeply humane, outraged response to the violence she saw playing out on a global and domestic stage. And then, (although he isn't a playwright) I've been excited by Haruki Murakami's writing for years and years. His prose is inherently theatrical, and he combines the joyful and the menacing in a way that leaves me breathless.
Wednesday, July 2, 2008
Check in here weekly for Playwrights Foundation's Festival Blog! Get the inside scoop on this year's Festival Playwrights and get a behind the scenes peak at the development process. Stay tuned, this page will be updated weekly!