I have been working all year to write The Vault, commissioned by Flat Earth Theatre in collaboration with the Museum of Science Boston, exploring the intersection of climate change justice and theatre: The Greenhouse Playlab: a Climate Change Theatre Incubator.
I’m writing a play inspired by Climate Change commissioned by Flat Earth Theatre and the Boston Museum of Science – they have collaborated to create the Greenhouse Playlab, which is developing four new plays that focus on issues of climate change by MJ Halberstadt, Kevin Mullins, Francisca Da Silveira, and myself. The plays these guys are writing are so fresh, funny, devastating, and smart – and each tackle the vast issue of climate change in different ways. And we get to work with the best dramaturgs and directors as well, it’s been such a treat. Shout out to my director Josh Glenn-Kayden and dramaturg Phaedra Scott!
The play I’m developing is called The Vault, which is inspired by the science of seed diversity, the Global Seed Bank, the Vavilov seed bank scientists who died of starvation to protect the seeds during the Nazi occupation of Leningrad, and predictions that climate change will eventually cause widespread food insecurity and war. In the near future, in the northernmost town in the world, a lost tourist and a local baker find themselves inside a cave in a mountain of ice in the middle of the night. The world outside is at war, ravaged by climate change, and they are each bent on saving it in their own way. Nothing and no one is what they seem in this icy fever-dream….I’m still writing it so we’ll see where it goes! If you want to find out, check out the free readings at the Museum of Science on May 4, 2018.
The big news right now is that I have been commissioned by SpeakEasy Stage Company to write a new play called Born Naked for the inaugural Boston Project, with a workshop and staged reading in February 2016. I am so honored and excited to be working with them, and to be developing this play with their support. So far the play is proving to be a scary, funny, ambitious new endeavor that is feeling really great to sink my teeth into – researching and scribbling, planning and questioning… and as the world outside is slowly getting colder and darker I am inside writing writing writing. Happy fall!
After you close a show, you can feel bereft. No more late nights hanging lights, no more communal snacks, no more emergency-dragon-puppet-making. But you can take little bits of wisdom with you for the next project. Here is a line from SHIVER that sticks with me. It boils down the message of the play, and was poignantly delivered by the brilliant Scot Colford as Wilhelm Grimm to the delightful Louise Hamill (also “one of most tireless forces in the Boston theatre scene” –Edge Boston) playing the heroine Charlotte , a character who was so caught up in her own fears she was pushing the people in her life away. This is a mantra I will carry with me far beyond this one production. Project: Project, this one is for you.
Sometimes, when making devised theatre on a shoestring budget, you work for two long years to see your production premiere for just two short weekends. You make postcards and posters, you promote your show through a press release and social media. You even hire an amazing designer willing to work on a tiny piece of that shoestring to help market the show. You hope people will come, that word of mouth will be positive, and that the various ways you promote the show, mostly online, will result in a live audience of humans sitting in seats.
Image courtesy of LidecPhoto.com
Ultimately though, you expect to see your friends, colleagues, people you’ve seen around town at other small theatre companies, a few folks from the press, and that’s about it. It’s about the work, after all, making something you can believe in with your whole soul, and hopefully creating meaningful work for your collaborators and the actors and designers you love.
But sometimes when you are posing with your mom in front of the theatre so you can remember this day and how she got up at 5am to drive to Boston to see your show, a stranger comes up to you. And he has an accent and he says he’s new to Boston, and you say welcome! And he wants to know – how do you buy tickets? Is the show any good? And of course you say it’s great and that you in fact made it and that the theatre will be open soon and he should come!
And then an hour later just as you begin to wonder if he will actually find his way back to the theatre – he walks in and buys a ticket! And as you walk him down the hall to the theatre you find out, yes, he’s a student. But you kick yourself later for not asking him more – a name, what he’s studying? Who is this guy who just wandered in with so much interest and curiosity?
And after the show, the audience is flushed from laughing and also from the heat, and you are thanking people for coming as they file out. And he comes up to you, his hair seems to have become – wild – and you think, did the show do that? It is a wild show. And he is BEAMING. He’s SO happy!! And he says the show was great!
And you think: Did we do that? Did we really make this stranger flushed with laughter and heat and happiness? And you think: Yes! Yes we did!
And that, my friends, feels like success.
Five more chances to see Shiver: A Fairytale of Anxious Proportions
Thursday, June 25, 8:00pm
Friday, June 26, 8:00pm
Saturday, June 27, 2:00pm (use SHIVER10 at checkout for $10 tickets)
Saturday, June 27, 8:00pm (POST-SHOW TALKBACK)
Sunday, June 28, 2:00pm
Two fabulous bits of news for this fall:
I am a Huntington Playwriting Fellow at the Huntington Theatre Company! Check out the Boston Globe article HERE.
I am a core member of Project: Project and we are hard at work making our third theatrical experience, and it’s going to be a big magical ride at the Somerville Armory in February. We are currently raising funds for The Shiver Project over at IndieGoGo – check out our VIDEO to catch a glimpse of what we are creating!
When I first began to think I wanted to be a playwright/actor/director/theatre maker, I was told to be patient, to stick with it, to learn to define my own success, to work together – and that it would probably take me 10 years to get where I wanted to go. Here I am, ten years later, and there are so many exciting projects to look forward to in the New Year, my first New Year’s resolution is to stay healthy so I can do it all!
The 3rd Annual Boston One Minute Play Festival will feature a couple of tiny plays of mine, among many many other tiny theatrical moments by many other local playwrights. I love how this festival captures our local zeitgeist and asks playwrights to write plays that speak to each other, and speak volumes, collectively. If you can’t make it in person, you can watch it on Sun Night at 11PM Eastern on Livestream.com/newplay where it will also be archived for later viewing.
Speaking of collective voices, I am working on a couple of devised theatre projects. These collaboratively crafted pieces are unfolding bit by bit, and I’m very excited to see where they lead… but there’s no telling when they might be ready for public consumption… I’ll keep you posted!
The 6 Weeks 6 Plays challenge – I am looking forward to leading this as well as trying to write a new play each week myself!
Master Scriptwriting – professional actors, visiting artists, team teaching, cross-genre discussions, and a public reading are all pretty thrilling stuff, not to mention the plays and screenplays that these students are going to be working on. I’m beyond excited to see these things grow.
The Spring Play at Mount Ida – I’ll be directing again at Mount Ida College this spring. Following last year’s successful One Act Play Festival, we are putting on a full-length play! I have been thinking about plays with flexible cast sizes, strong female roles and a minimal design aesthetic for the entrepreneurial band of talented young thespians that is the Mount Ida Drama Club… more on this soon!
Here’s to challenges, full plates, and the pay-offs of long-term resolutions – happy & healthy holidays to you all!
Unlike Edward Albee, who famously doesn’t write a word of a play until he’s perfected it all in his head, I often write things that don’t end up in a play. A monologue to get to know one of my characters better. A scene from before the play begins. A scene that the audience won’t ever see but hears about in another scene. The “bad” version of a scene. Raw materials – all the things I need to work through, explore, practice, build before the polished version emerges. Most of this stuff is happy to live “in the drawer” forever, never intended for an audience. When I am just starting to write a new play, I sometimes don’t know which stuff will end up in the official first draft, and which stuff will end up getting cut. This month, some of this unpolished, in-process material will be getting public readings. So if you want a window into my process, or if you just like to hear new pages hot off the old inkjet, and you live in the Boston area, check out some of these exciting events:
Bostonia Bohemia’s Fly On The Wall Festival will feature a couple of my site specific monologues
Interim Writers’ Have You Read? on November 16th at 7:30pm at the Democracy Center in Harvard Square – Reading of raw materials from play-in-progress Forever Home
And for a reading of a full-length play a little closer to polished, but still in process check out: Wax Wings Productions’ Reading of Mad Props on November 17th at 7pm (also at the Democracy Center)
One of the many amazing things to come out of the Freedom Art Retreat back in 2011 was that one day, somewhere in between swimming in Pea Porridge Pond, eating grilled corn, drinking cocktails, singing along to ukeleles, hiking mountains and making group projects, I asked the group a question that had been on my mind for a while. Actually, no, I tried to ask the question, but it was a barely formed, half articulated, bizarre mumbling thing in the general tenor of a question.
It was something like: “So guys, I’m working on this 8-character play, Mad Props, and it’s a lot of characters! But I was wondering, if I have 8 characters in a play, how many, um, if I wanted to know, like, how many different scenes are possible, with you know, different characters in different configurations, um, how would I figure that out?”
Now I used to be a math person, back when being a math person meant basic multiplication and division. So, essentially, elementary school was when I peaked. But I’m still a person who likes to figure things out, even if it’s not something I know how to figure out. That’s where the amazing powers of friendship and collaboration come in handy. Thanks to the help of my fellow retreatants, particularly Jason Weber, we figured out what my question was, and then he even came up with the answer in the form of an amazing excel spreadsheet that figures it out for you using formulas. Formulas! On a theatre-in-the-woods retreat!
The key was remembering a math concept called “combinations (without repetition)” – just coming up with the right concept took a little while. Did I mention I was having problems articulating the question?
It turns out what I was asking for was the total number of possible scenes, depending on total number of characters in the play, using different combinations of characters. So, for example, if there are 8 characters in a play, then the total number of 1-character scenes possible in that play is 8. The total number of 8-character scenes possible is of course, 1. The trick is figuring out all the combinations of 5-character scenes and 3-character scenes, etc. In an 8 character play, there are a total of 255 unique combinations of different characters on stage. The only thing is, the formulas only give you the number of combinations. You would have to figure out yourself what each of the unique combinations are.
For example, here are the 28 unique combinations for 2-character scenes in an 8-character play: ab, ac, ad, ae, af, ag, ah, bc, bd, be, bf, bg, bh, cd, ce, cf, cg, ch, de, df, dg, dh, ef, eg, eh, fg ,fh, gh
Here is what the basic formula looks like in my fancy spreadsheet (thank you Jason Weber!!):
with B7 containing the total number of characters and A10 containing the # of characters in a scene
Ah, math. Sometimes you are so helpful.
When should you let your audience “in” on what’s happening? When should you keep it a big, heavy, elephant-in-the-room secret? All plays have some elements of both – one of the jobs of the playwright is to measure the balance between what the audience knows and doesn’t know, and how and when to withhold or impart information. Sometimes when you want the audience to know something, the quick and dirty way to accomplish that is to just tell them. Why bother with fancy tricks to get your most important exposition across? Want your audience to know that one character thinks the other one is crazy? Just tell them!
[Aside] Though this be madness, yet there is method in ‘t.
This is a nice little essay about the use of direct address in a few contemporary plays.
A couple of my favorite examples of plays that use monologues spoken straight to the audience (aka an aside or in a slightly different sense, a soliloquy) are Thornton Wilder’s Our Town and John Guare’s Six Degrees of Separation. These plays are a story being told and acted out for the audience. The play is aware of itself being a play, and the characters consistently break the fourth wall. Like a Greek chorus, they narrate story as it goes along. So, yes it is an old contrivance, and a very effective, if blunt, instrument. And yes, sometimes blunt is an excellent thing.