I was invited recently by the Theater Alliance of Greater Philadelphia to apply for its F. Otto Haas Award for an Emerging Philadelphia Theater Artist.
This is a huge honor, and one that I am not taking lightly. In general, I am not a huge fan of awards, but the Haas Award is one I believe in because its aims seem well-visioned, and because its history of winners, finalists, and semi-finalists are some of the more talented theater workers in the city of Philadelphia. It is my hope to become part of this group of honorees.
As part of the application, they asked the artists to write a 1-2 page letter to the committee, an artist's statement that tells the committee a little about ourselves and our work (which I have copied below).
Big thanks to the Theater Alliance for inviting me to apply, and for all the folks that continue to make my creative journeys so full of fun and rewards.
Dear F. Otto Haas Award Committee:
I participated recently in a riot.
On October 28th, the Philadelphia Phillies won the World Series. We celebrated by running through the streets, turning over cars, setting dumpsters on fire, ripping out our souls and throwing them into the flames, screaming and beating our chests, and breaking bottles over our heads, turning the fresh blood into war paint. It was a bestial, untamed expression of human exuberance— a triumphant, barbaric yawp shattering the body through our collective vibrating voice screaming as loudly as possible. That night we were a feral animal expressing itself through a sentient mind. This is the beauty of being human—the glory of being both wild and introspective.
That night changed me. And it keeps me thinking about my own art and its ability to move and transform people, leading me to this missive:
If it creates anything less than a riot (internally or externally), the play is a failure.
The riot becomes the goal— for the process, the performance, and the aftermath; a transformative, dangerous event, uncontainable, uniquely alive, exhilarating, and life-changing: a razor-edged rite of passage for the soul.
With this introduction, it is with great pleasure that I write to you about myself, my body of work, and my goals for the future. I thank you for nominating me for the F. Otto Haas Award and am humbled by my inclusion to an impressive roster of Philadelphia artists whose work I greatly respect.
As for myself, I have worked in many different ways in the professional theater, but I apply to you foremost as a playwright.
I have been fully dedicated to writing for the theater since 2003, completing seven full-length plays: The Shelter (2002), The Mishumaa (2003), The Most Beautiful Lullaby You’ve Ever Heard (2005), Dandelion Momma (2006), The Milky Way Cabaret (2007), Belize’s Place (2008) and The Travel Plays: An American Potlatch Road-trip (2009).
These plays, along with a number of one-act and shorter works, have been produced off-off Broadway by City Attic Theatre and Working Man’s Clothes Productions, as well as across the country by Salvage Vanguard Theater, Rude Mechanicals Theatre Collective, and Theater In My Basement, among others.
My work explores memory, imagination, pain, dreams, rites of passage, the overlapping of time, and the flawed and fascinating guts and souls of human beings. My characters are troubled, resilient, scarred, searching, trapped, tied to chairs, historical icons, lovers, killers, magicians, ghosts, beauty queens, animals, musicians, children, time travelers, dreamers—all bravely taking on impossible, necessary journeys. They speak to each other through time, dimension, ocean waves, black holes, gesture, lines in their bodies, holes in their chests, silences, holograms, and their deepest regrets. Inspired and haunted by space, I have created work performed in theaters, elevators, porches, warehouses, loft apartments, punk stages, museums, sidewalks, hotels, basement crawl spaces, and public bathrooms.
I believe in cross-disciplinary collaboration, and have worked several times with electronic music composer/sound artist Mike Vernusky on live performance projects including The Book of Remembrance and Forgetting (with choreographer Ray Eliot Schwarz, 2004), The Eulogy Project (with opera-trained performer Jorge Sermini, 2005), and currently, Radio Ghosts, in a form we are calling “electro-theater”, a performance limbus between written text, recorded electronic sound, and live performance.
Since 2003, my work has been recognized with commissions from The Cardboard Box Collaborative, Austin Script Works, and Audacity Theatre Lab, and has been honored as a finalist for the Heideman Award, and a semi-finalist for the Princess Grace Award.
After living for several years in Austin, I moved to Philadelphia in the summer of 2007 to take on the professional challenge of creating work in a bigger, tougher, more explosive environment, while taking on the personal challenge of living in a new city in a new part of the country (I was born and raised in the Southern United States).
In short— I moved to a city that riots over baseball championships, but also to a city that I feel is ready and willing to riot over transcendent theater. With the help of other talented Philadelphia artists, it is my goal to tap into that same vein that bulges from the flushed forehead of Edwin Forrest, creating an Astor Place riot of the soul, quaking the city’s creative culture into an even louder roaring animal.
I have been working to stoke my own creative fires during my two years in Philadelphia, enjoying local productions with The Cardboard Box Collaborative, Philadelphia Dramatists Center, and The Burn Ward Theater Company, as well as developmental projects with Plays & Players, and The Kelly Writers House. Most recently, I was selected as the first-ever Resident Writer of the ArtsEdge Residency, created by The Kelly Writers House and The University of Pennsylvania—a one-year residency awarded to an emerging Philadelphia writer to support the creation and sharing of new work and to build bridges between the artistic communities of the University of Pennsylvania and the city of Philadelphia at-large.
During the past two years, I have also continued to stay active on the national level, guiding my plays into productions with Actor’s Theater of Louisville, Specific Gravity Ensemble (Louisville), Audacity Theatre Lab (Dallas), Cisne Negro Productions (Austin) and City Theater Company (Wilmington, Delaware) and through development with The Dramatists Guild of America and City Attic Theatre in New York City.
My creative work also extends into the classroom, where I have taught at The Wilma Theater, The University of Pennsylvania, The University of the Arts, and Saint Joseph’s University, as well as the National Theater Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Memorial Theater. My goals in the classroom are the same as in my creative projects—to provoke, to challenge, to learn, to listen, to enjoy being in a shared space as completely as possible with other engaged and interested humans as we dig as deeply and as actively as we can into our own guts.
And while I am active as a teacher, the artistic body of work I am creating has been possible due to my long-standing commitment to seeking no more than part-time employment. I scrap out a living (and sometimes I don’t), giving myself the continual challenge of hustling for work, living simply, eschewing routine, and staying creatively hungry. This commitment has borne itself out in a number of rewarding ways—with the creation of many new projects, with the development of numerous new professional relationships, with the time to dedicate to the advancement of my art and myself as a human, with the continual surprises that come with a creative lifestyle—all of which help me keep pushing against the edge of expectation until it topples over and something new and incredible busts out of the broken pieces.
The generous support provided by the F. Otto Haas Award would afford me to continue this commitment for at least a full calendar year, while offering the invaluable resource of time. These resources would allow my full attention to the completion of multiple projects already in progress (Radio Ghosts, and The Journey), the further development of recently completed works (The Travel Plays, Belize’s Place, and Dandelion Momma) and the presentation of live productions (an electro-theater version of The Most Beautiful Lullaby You’ve Ever Heard, a Philadelphia production of Zombie Heart Salad Sandwich, and a second production for The Milky Way Cabaret in Dallas). A continued year of full-time creative work will also, undoubtedly, lead me to find even more creative opportunities for the following, successive years.
Lastly, in addition to the financial, temporal and motivational resources the Haas Award provides, it will offer me the immeasurable opportunity, as an emerging artist, to introduce myself more fully to the artists, theater workers, and audience in this city whom I don’t know, and who don’t know my work yet. The Haas Award will challenge me to a higher standard of working, and put me in conversation with Philadelphia’s most talented, most dedicated artists, helping me find fellow conspirators willing to inspire one another to find the place in us where the riots live, the ways in which to unleash these riots into performance, and the means to incite them in our audience, who will carry the transformation with them, euphoric and changed, into the Philadelphia streets.
I thank you in advance for considering me for this award, and I look forward to hearing from you. I wish you all the best of luck with this project, and I thank you again for the opportunity to share my work with you.