Summertime Rolls Vol. 3

Somehow it’s already August 16th.  How did that happen?

It has been slow and fast, rolling and still all at the same time.  Trying to get things in order before it all gets rugged again.

Playing in Traffic just went down and it was exciting to be a part of madcap theater on the writing end for a week.  I’m really psyched about the wonderful volume called Out of Time & Place that Christine Evans and Alexis Clements have edited that includes all 11 of us from the 2008-2010 Women’s Project Playwrights Lab.

out of time & placeout of time 2

It’s Lynn Rosen, Laura Eason, Charity Henson-Ballard, Crystal Skillman and Christine Evans in Vol. 1 and Bekah Brunstetter, Alexis Clements, Nadia Davids, Andrea Thome, Kara Manning and yours truly in Vol. 2.  I’m excited because it’s a truly diverse set of dynamic women playwrights but also because in this short two years, I’ve come to love and respect their work.  Like a crazy person, I re-wrote TBA, so what lives in that book is different than the version that 2g produced a couple of years ago.  Different beginning and end.  I think it was the right thing to do.  Hope that it was.  It was actually a lot of fun to work on the interview that introduces the play with Lloyd Suh and Denyse Owens because the process itself was so fast and furious, we never got a chance to reflect.  I think we might have all collapsed afterwards.  So, we pulled out old notes, old drafts, and wracked our brains to remember.  How did Lloyd get off book in three days to step into the role?  How did Denyse transition the cast to a whole new guy?  It was good to think through the how, through the process of it all.  And all that thinking made me miss Silas quite a lot.  You live with a character for a really long time, it’s always sort of sad to see them go away.  It’s like they move to a different town.  A faraway friend.

The Fringe is fast upon us and I’m excited about a number of things.  Lots of friends doing really interesting things out there this year.

And then Andrea is going to Ignition, Victory Garden’s new play festival  with her play Undone along with Rey Pamatmat who’s doing the beautiful Edith Can Shoot Things and Hit Them.  If you’re in the windy city, you should go.

And then I know things are smoldering with Mike Lew’s Microcrisis, to be produced by Ma-Yi this fall.  Matt Olmos said his new play  the death of the slow’dying scuba diver will be going up as part of EST’s Octoberfest.  Maureen Sebastian is in the new Circa Now and Then by Carly Mensch at Ars Nova in Sept.  And it sounds like The Foundry is on the cusp of something extraordinary.

In times like these, when faith is waning, and it’s either raining or too hot, or people in this city are too angry, I look towards the things to come, to the moments of surprise and wonder, the truths that I will be told in dark rooms on hot nights, in a room full of people, with a lit stage, among the believers.  Where in that moment, we imagine the world as something more than what is or some beautiful truth is illuminated that allows us to get up another day, get up and keep pressing on.

If you know of something that will keep my faith restored, post it here.  I want to know of exciting things coming.  And I need that faith restoration now more than ever.

Rescue Me, A Cool Dip on the Barren Saharan Crick and 13

Why haven’t you been blogging, Carla? I have been learning how to make a theater company run.  Grants?  Rehearsal schedules?  Booking space?  Talking to artists?  Finding designers?  Holy.  Cow.  I already had five jobs.  Now I have a sixth that is actually a 6th,7th, 8th, 9th and 10th.  But it is exciting.  So exciting. I’m working on my first program for 2g–it’s called 13: Instant Vaudeville. You should really come see it.  There will be clowns and puppets and a dude with a guitar.  And an improv and a couple of new songs and a couple of new plays and a lot of surprises like spontaneous interpretations of Ed Lin’s “Snakes Can’t Run” and special guest Kelly Tsai.  Full lineup will be out soon.  But 35 artists in total have donated their time and talent to collaborate on feats of wonder and magic. Please come.  And tickets are selling out fast. But, you should also really see Rescue Me which will surprise and delight. David Greenspan, as our trickster goddess storyteller marvels as Artemis and Julian Barnett breaks the heart as Orestes and Jennifer Ikeda is one tough chick.  And there’s Paco Tolson.  And if Paco’s in it, it’s gonna be good.

And of course, there’s  a Cool Dip on the Barren Saharan Crick.

Kia has woven some wondrous things, I think.  And Will Harper mesmerizes as the man with water running through his fingers.

In other news, I was a guest in Michael Wiggins’ Dramatic Activities in the HS Classroom class at NYU on Monday.  It was kind of a brilliant exercise in that he got his class into groups and had guest TAs join them and then together we tried to plan a residency.  I wish someone had done this with me 10 years ago!  It did confirm for me the beauty of the Lincoln Center Institute planning methodology which has been so useful to me and which I peppered in along the way in our group planning.  It really does work, get everyone on the same page, and it’s wildly efficient. But, it was a case again, where I got to learn from colleagues and future colleagues, while at play.  I felt lucky to be learning.

Getting to the Good Stuff: The Myopia, Lear & Goodbye Cruel World

There seems to be an embarrassment of riches out there right now.  I got a chance to see Plays and The Myopia from the wonderful folks at the Foundry.  I would describe it, except that you have to see David Greenspan work his magic.  Plays is an essay on reading plays by Gertrude Stein, which Greenspan goes to riff on in The Myopia.  When David Cote called him a “one man cabinet of wonders, ” he wasn’t kidding.  This slight man, with nothing but a chair and bottle of water takes you on an epic, sweeping journey.

The, you should really run to see Goodbye, Cruel World before it closes this weekend.  Robert Ross Parker adaptation of Erdman’s The Suicide dazzles and delights as he orchestrates a cyclone of serious fun with Cindy Cheung, Will Harper and Paco Tolson as  Semyon Semyonovich, the man who tries to kill himself.  See Zinoman’s thoughts on it here.

And then there is Young Jean Lee’s Lear.

And here is an interview with her that illuminates her process/inspiration for the play:

I haven’t been as moved by a piece of theater in some time and I admire the ambitious nature of her storytelling.   About 2/3 of the way through, the ceiling became the floor.  Run to see it.  It’s sold out, but there are wait list tickets, I believe.

In a week, I got to witness three pretty inspiring shows, all radically different.

Now, you might be asking yourself, “Carla’s a teaching artist.  She’s a playwright.  How does she have money for theater tickets.”  In these hard economic times, I appreciate that so many theatermakers are going to great lengths to get people like us in the doors.  I got Lear through the Soho Rep 99cent Sundays deal.   Goodbye, Cruel World had a half-price matinee ticket.  And Melanie Joseph at the Foundry put out the work to people in theater that she was going to offer the Plays/The Myopia double bill for $20 to folks who bought tickets for the first week in advance.  Now, the question is, how can Off-Broadway and Broadway houses take a cue from their downtown counterparts and get young folks, artists, and people who most desperately need to see theater, in the doors.

Knock knock.  Who’s listening?

Hanging On and Letting Go

It is my opinion that often a playwright doesn’t get to hang on to the complete vision of their play enough.  They get butchered, bastardized and taken away from their original intention because so many people are pulling at it.  And you end up with a hodge podge mess of a thing.

Here’s a letter from JD Salinger describing why he will never let Catcher in the Rye be made into a film.  What I admire perhaps, is his strength of conviction but it seems like at the end of the day, he doesn’t trust actors.

The most interesting pieces I’ve seen lately seem to have a complete  vision are Once and For All We’re Gonna Tell You Who We Are, So Shut Up and Listen at the New Victory Theater and Pig Iron’s Chekhov Lizardbrain at Clemente Soto Velez.  In the case of the first, the director got 13 14-18 year olds in a room and devised the piece with them.  In the case of Pig Iron, from what I have read, the piece was group conceived by three of the actors and the director.

So, what I am trying to figure out is where I can belong in a collaborative process like that which yields striking results, where everyone buys in and creates something that is more than the sum of the parts.

I am going to see if I can make the April/May workshop of The Sugar House at the Edge of the Wilderness that kind of experience for all involved.  We’ll see.  We’ll experiment.  We’ll play.  I’m going to try to hang on by letting go, but doing so in a collaborative environment.

I would like to hear about successful collaborative or devised experiences that anyone has heard about.  Anybody?  Colossal failures too.  It is helpful to know what doesn’t work.

But, for now, have a look.

Classroom Theater

Imagine for a second that you were rehearsing whatever show it is that you are currently working on, with a group of 4-5 collaborators. So, you are in your rehearsal room, hammering it out, working on the script, figuring out the blocking, etc.

And then, in walk 4 other groups, to share your room. They are also rehearsing with their props, costumes, text, choreographed fight sequences, etc. This is the situation in the typical NYC public school classroom that I walk into. There will be 30 students, rehearsing simultaneously in a space the size of your living room. If you have a big living room. I could probably only fit 4 students in my living room. But, you get the picture.  This was the situation yesterday at an International High School in Queens where I was doing some residency culminating performances.

“What?” you say.

“How do you hear yourself above the din?”

“Aren’t you tripping over each other?”

The answer is that in working in schools, doing drama, this is the way it is. We make it work, somehow. But, unlike the fine arts, or perhaps even dance, this means a lot of chaos, more chaos than people are used to seeing in classrooms.

I taught with two guest teachers as my primary colleague was out. Part way through the first class, the two guest teachers shot some looks over, like, “are you mad?” The noise.  The questions.  The fact that students were using broomsticks as faux swords.  This is not what English class normally looks like.  But today, it is okay and I must also make them comfortable in the room.  I ask one teacher to model an activity with me to draw her in.  Show the students that she too will take the risk to get up and work in front of them.

I was to teach around the question, “What is point of view? And how does a story change depending on who’s telling it?”  And I ended up needing to teach each class very differently depending on the student group dynamics and language comfort.  While I came in with a plan, I ended up changing things on the fly, in order to better have them understand POV and be able to tell a story from a different character’s point of view.

When it came time to show the pieces the students magically whizzed together in a few minutes, the teachers seemed to enjoy them and were impressed with how much the students showed that they knew about the play, how inventive they were, how they moved through their shyness and varying levels of language acquisition challenges to create a moment of theater.

And perhaps I re-learned, we are always in process as teachers and artists and teaching artists. And we have to change things on the fly sometimes, because what we’re doing is not working. Or could work better. Our instincts are usually right. And momentary chaos is often okay. As long as we are seeking the answer to the driving question. Instincts are right. Chaos is good. This will be my mantra.