Thursday, July 30, 2009

My Second Year in Philadelphia

Mark Cairns as The W. K. Webb Sportsplex in The Travel Plays at The Kelly Writers House, Philadelphia PA (January 2009).

After a rewarding and busy first year in Philadelphia, I spent my second year (from the beginning of July 2008 through the end of June 2009) trying to top myself.

I am not sure if I succeeded, but I definitely feel fulfilled by a full year's worth of work. It was another year of learning, of exciting opportunity, of deep questioning, of getting deeper inside the City of Brotherly Love.

As a highlight reel (and to compare it to Year One):

JULY 2008
Worked as a dramaturg on Jennifer Haley's play, Breadcrumbs, as part of the 2008 PlayPenn New Play Conference. It was my first experience in some time working as a dramaturg, and I was generally just happy to be working on the conference (of which I am a fan). I liked Jen's play a lot, and got to work with a lot of new people (both in Philly and nationally) that I didn't know, but was thrilled to meet and experience.


My ten-minute play, Two Bubbles, is published by Playscripts, Inc as part of the anthology Great Short Comedies, Volume 3. The play, originally written in 24 hours, shares a volume with Steven Dietz, Rolin Jones, and others.

Brendan Ahearn, Tiffany Feng, Brad McEntire, Laurie Farris, Jeff Hernandez, and Shannon Marie in Two Bubbles, Audacity Productions / Rover Dramawerks, Plano, Texas (2002). Photo: Carol Rice.

If you are wondering, YES, copies of the play are still on sale.

Began my second year of teaching at The University of the Arts.

Began a new teaching job at Saint Joseph's University, teaching "Introduction to Theater" and "American Theater", mostly to non-theater majors.

My one-act play, Valentine's Day, goes into production as part of the Philly Fringe Festival. The play is produced by The Burn Ward Theater Company as part of the project, Mittens Descending and Other Tales. The play was directed by Andrew J. Merkel and performed by Molly Casey on September 5th and 6th.

Cherie A. Roberts as "Elida" in Shovel.

My Butoh-inspired piece, Shovel, is re-imagined as a site-specific project, 4 x 4, which featured four short, theatrical pieces staged in environmental spaces inside of Plays and Players Theater (Shovel was performed in the theater's catacombs). The play, also part of the Philly Fringe Festival, was directed by Andrew J. Merkel, performed by Cherie A. Roberts, with costume design by Jamie Grace-Duff.

Elected to the Board of Directors of Philadelphia Dramatists Center (PDC) and appointed as the Board's Secretary.

Moved to West Philadelphia, beginning the first-ever ArtsEdge Residency, created by the University of Pennsylvania and The Kelly Writers House. I begin an eleven-month term as "Resident Writer", offered subsidized living and studio space in the West Philly community. The Residency introduces me to a number of wonderful people, writers, and events, as well as to a part of the city that was unknown to me. Big, continued thank-yous to Jessica Lowenthal, Erin Gautsche, Al Filreis, Greg Djanikian, and Gina Renzi for making it all happen.

Complete the short piece, Goodb(eye), written for Audacity Theatre Lab's Eye in the Sky project.

The Philadelphia Phillies win the World Series and I get pepper-sprayed in the ensuing Broad Street riots. I also am almost crushed by a dumpster that was on fire.

A pretty historic (and awesome) event takes place, sending the city into its third riot within six days. I do not almost die, but feel reborn.

My Butoh-inspired play, Shovel, goes into performance as part of the inaugural New Orleans Fringe Festival. The piece is produced by Austin-based Cisne Negro Productions and performed in the dive bar, Hi-Ho Lounge, on St. Claude Avenue.

Briana McKeague and Odile Nicole Del Giudice of Cisne Negro Productions.


Attended a free lecture given by Robert Wilson at Drexel University, which opened with him standing in silence for ten minutes at a podium. He later declared that we should burn down the universities. I became an even bigger Bob Wilson fan.

Completed Doctor Helix and Keggy the Keg, a ten-minute play written as a gift for my microbiologist, home-brewing brother-in-law, Adam Guss. The play is a fictional re-telling of the kidnapping of the unofficial mascot of Dartmouth University.

Keggy the Keg, before he was kidnapped.

Began my second semester teaching at Saint Joseph's University.

Began teaching Creative Writing at The University of Pennsylvania, my first Ivy League teaching gig. The course I taught was: "Space, Place, and Character in Playwriting and Fiction". We read plays and fiction, wrote every class period, explored lot of weird spaces on campus, participated in a Flash Mob, field tripped to the Annenberg Center, to the Mutter Museum, created characters and expressed them through MySpace profiles, watched a play together, had class in the dark, had class in the park, and the students wrote A LOT of great work.

An in-progress version of the epic project, The Travel Plays, is presented at The Kelly Writers House as part of my ArtsEdge Residency. The project is directed by Wally Zialcita and performed by a really talented, fun ensemble: Mark Cairns, Michael Dura, Tomas Dura, Lyndsay Hart, Dawn Harvey, Brittany Holdahl, Aaron Oster, Jerry Rudasill, and Andrew J. Tardif.

The Travel Play, "Jackson", written for Tim Fawkes. From left to right: Michael Dura (blurred) as Ulysses S. Grant, Andrew J. Tardif as Johnny Cash, Lyndsay Hart as Andrew Jackson, Jerry Rudasill and Mark Cairns as The Bar That Burns Down.

Organized and curated "The Zombie Bake-Off" (along with help from Philly-based director and actor, Daniel Student), a writing event connected to the inaugural Philadelphia New Play Initiative Conference, whose keynote speaker is Paula Vogel. The event, hosted by Plays and Players and Philadelphia Dramatists Center (PDC), inspires almost 20 new plays about zombies, abuse, and chicken salad sandwiches (truncated versions of the three "ingredients" given to the writers), including my offering, Zombie Heart Salad Sandwich.

MARCH 2009
Completed the first draft/journey of The Travel Plays (An American Potlatch Road-trip), a collection of 37 short plays that journey from the Walt Whitman Bridge to Ozona, Texas, and back. All 37 plays are mailed to each of the 37 friends who inspired their individual play.

Belize's Place, a full-length play co-written by me and Austin-based playwright/musician Jason Tremblay (under the collaborative pseudonym "Tav Keyinde"), is given a first-read.

Joined InterAct Playwright's Forum, a collective/support-group of invited Philadelphia playwrights that meet monthly at InterAct Theatre's home in the Adrienne Theater.

Nominated for the F. Otto Haas Award for an Emerging Theater Artist, a $10,000 award given annually to a Philadelphia theater artist of exceptional promise. This is a huge honor for me, especially considering the brief time I've spent creating art in Philadelphia. I do not win the award, but am thrilled to be considered.

APRIL 2009
A workshop production of my full-length play, Dandelion Momma, is presented at The Kelly Writer's House, as part of my ArtsEdge Residency. The project is directed by Wally Zialcita, dramaturged by Terri Epp, and performed by Kevin Bergen, Wendie Hetherington, Brenna Schiman, and Miriam White.

Brenna Schiman as "Delores" in Dandelion Momma.

MAY 2009
My one-act play (one of my first plays ever!), The Ride, is presented at Saint Joseph's University, as a senior project directed by Fine and Performing Arts major (and Varsity basketball player) Edwin Lashley.

My one-act play, Valentine's Day, is performed at the University of San Diego, also as a senior project, by one of my former National Theater Institute students, Stacey Hardke.

Another production of Valentine's Day (another university project, another former NTI student, Ben Smolen, directs it) is scheduled for production at Wesleyan University, but canceled due to an unfortunate campus tragedy.

My one-act plays, Zombie Heart Salad Sandwich and Doctor Helix and Keggy the Keg, go into production in Austin, Texas, by Debutantes and Vagabonds at the Rollins Theater at the Long Center for the Performing Arts as part of the project, Are You Alive? The plays are directed by Amanda Garfield, and the production runs for three performances, May 14, 15, and 16.

Began creation of a new collaborative work, The Babel Project, with on-going creative partner and electronic music composer Mike Vernusky.

JUNE 2009
Celebrated my 33rd birthday with fireworks at a Camden Riversharks game in New Jersey.

Contributed (along with seven other unknown/anonymous writers) to the collaboratively-written (in the style of Tennessee Williams) play, We Share the Same Air for a Moment, as part of Anonymous Theater, produced by Philadelphia Dramatists Center.

Returned to The National Theater Institute (at The Eugene O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT) to work as the Playwriting Faculty for the Summer Intensive Training Program: TheaterMakers.

Ate really amazing blueberry pancakes at The Broken Yolk Cafe in New London, CT.

In all, it has been an outstanding, rewarding year. In addition to the work, I have continued to learn the city, feeling more and more like Philadelphia is my home. I have found more friends, more beauty, more of the city's little secrets, and more truths (and questions) about myself.

I am looking forward to the journey of Year Three, and hope that I can continue to contribute to the city, as well as find new ways to grow as an artist and human.

Thank you to everyone for a really good year.

rock on,


Friday, July 17, 2009

ZOMBIE HEART SALAD SANDWICH to be Served in the Barn

My one-act play, ZOMBIE HEART SALAD SANDWICH, will go up before an audience in the Margo and Rufus Rose Barn Theater at The Eugene O'Neill Theater Center (in Waterford, CT) on Tuesday evening, July 21st (2009).

The performance will be part of the National Theater Institute's Summer Intensive program, where I am currently teaching Playwriting. Each Tuesday during the summer, the students create and prepare an entirely new production of new works, which express an on-going laboratory for the advanced "TheaterMakers" to explore and apply their intensive training in a collaborative and project-based process.

I am thrilled to be invited to contribute my own writing to this ongoing project/process, and am excited to be working with guest director Gregg Wiggans, and NTI student performers Aaron Profumo (Oberlin College) and Kristen Johnson (Carleton College).

The play was originally written in two and a half days during February 2009 as part of a "Bake Off" created to celebrate Philadelphia's New Play Initiative Conference and its keynote guest, Paula Vogel. The play has since seen production earlier this summer in Austin, Texas, with Debutantes and Vagabonds as part of Are You Alive?, produced in The Rollins Theater at the Long Center for the Performing Arts (directed by Amanda Garfield).

The experience at the O'Neill, however, will be my first time in rehearsal with the play and I am looking forward to the discoveries and exploration ahead with my talented collaborators.

And I am LIVING A DREAM to have my writing up and being performed in the historic Barn Theater, adding my own contribution to the unique and rich legacy of The O'Neill Theater Center.

Thank you to Jeff Janisheski, Artistic Director of the National Theater Institute, for inviting me to contribute my work, as well as Nick Roesler, Associate Director of TheaterMakers, for making it all happen in the awesomest way possible.

rock on,


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Anonymous Theater in Philadelphia

Having kept the secret long enough, I can now reveal that I contributed (along with a number of Philadelphia playwrights--- none of whom knew who the other contributors were!) to a really fun theater event, Anonymous Theater, produced by the Philadelphia Dramatists Center (PDC) at the Wilma Theater on Monday, July 13th.

I was unfortunately unable to attend (I am still at The O'Neill), but the early responses I've received have all been very enthusiastic. From what I understand, it was a hugely fun evening and I was happy to contribute to the good times.

It was a sincere blast to find my inner Tennessee Williams, allowing me to return to my southern roots and my love for Williams' writing. I only wish I could have seen and heard the performance out loud.

But I am encouraged by the responses, and I am hopeful that this event will continue to contribute to forward momentum being created by PDC (and others) in the effort to more deeply transform Philadelphia into a more dynamic, creative, highly fun new-play city.

Big thank yous to Richard Kutolski for producing the event, Wally Zialcita for his organizing and dramaturgy (and for inviting me to participate), Daniel Student for directing what must have been an impossible (and impossibly fun) process, and to the other writers and the performers for taking such a bold and risky creative leap into the void.

Below is a description of the event:


Anonymous Theatre:
The World Premiere of a Play by
(a group of writers writing in the style of)
Tennessee Williams.

A play is written in secret by a group of playwrights whose identities are kept secret--even to each other.

The play is cast with actors whose identities are kept secret--especially from each other.

The actors rehearse one-on-one with their director, but never with each other, and never in the theatre.

On the night of the performance, the actors arrive in street clothes, indistinguishable from the audience members. As you wait in the lobby, then take your seat in the house, you wonder ... who among us is in the play? Is it that nervous fellow sitting on the aisle? Is it this quiet woman sitting right in front of me? Is it someone in my party?

The actors in the play are thinking the very same thing. As each of them comes to their entrance cue, they will stand and start speaking their opening lines as they make their way to the stage. And only on the stage, in front of a live audience, will they discover for the first time their collaborators in drama, romance, conflict, redemption .... or the actor's nightmare.

For the first time ever, PDC is presenting an original play, raising the stakes even higher for a concept that was already full of risk. All of the playwrights involved are PDC members save one -- the adopted muse for this play.

For one night only, come see the spirit of Tennessee Williams brought back to life in this world premiere event.