Tuesday, May 26, 2009
Big thank yous to Jennifer Hannan for taking the time and interest in interviewing me, and for the lovely write-up.
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
I taught at NTI last summer and loved every minute of it. The students were talented, brave, smart, dedicated, and showed a lot of guts by testing themselves in the 7-day a week (no kidding), 6 week program. For 42 days straight, the NTI students push it to the max, and I will be there doing my best to stoke their creative fires, to continue to learn from them, and to help all of us explode the thing wide open.
I also look forward to rejoining several talented teaching artists, including Yuriy Kordonsky (Wesleyan University) and Broadway performer (Passing Strange) Colman Domingo, among others. My work at NTI last summer undoubtedly made me a better teacher, more aware of ways to embody the teaching/learning process, and more dynamic and bold in my own use of space. Because of and motivated by the talent that will surround me, I see this teaching opportunity as a way to challenge own skills as an educator, and to push against my own teaching expectations.
As an added benefit, the summer training will be in session during the National Music Theater Conference, as well as the National Playwrights Conference, and there are lots of fun overlaps betweens these programs as well as a lot of high-quality work to witness.
It is a TRULY exciting place to be during the summer, and I can't wait to get started. We are still sorting through some of the details, but it is likely I will be in residence for the entire six-week program, beginning June 14th through July 27th.
Big thank yous to Jeff Janisheski for re-hiring me this year, and to Nick Roesler for being so radical and mystical. And thank yous again to all of the 2008 crew-- the students and staff-- for such a memorable summer last year.
FORT GRISWOLD OR BUST!!
Friday, May 15, 2009
Thank you again to The Kelly Writers House, to the wonderful artists who worked on the project, and to Jennifer Hannan for taking the time to come to the event and share her experience with others.
To read the article, go HERE.
Monday, May 11, 2009
The live theatrical performances will be coupled with live music from a different Austin band each night (how Austin!).
Two of my plays, Doctor Helix and Keggy the Keg and Zombie Heart Salad Sandwich, will be part of the line-up.
Doctor Helix was written as a Christmas gift for a brother in law (the title character is based on him-- the doctor, not the anthromorphic beer keg). Zombie was written as part of a city-wide "Bake-Off" project I organized in Philadelphia in February. Both are dark and funny and strange (both plays involve people/things being tied up and abused), and are being fully produced for the first time (Zombie was read out loud during Philadelphia's New Play Initiative Conference).
I unfortunately will not be in attendance for this production, as I am always looking for an excuse to go down to Austin and see good friends and take in the wonderful Austin air. It is my hope that friends still in A-Town will go out and check out the show in my stead.
Big thank yous to Frank Rodriguez for asking me to send him some plays to consider for this project, and to him and Amanda Garfield for selecting these plays and putting so much work into them.
The show funs May 14-16 in the Rollins Theater in The Long Center for the Performing Arts (701 W Riverside).
Here is the info from the producers....
DOUBLE STEREO and DEBUTANTES & VAGABONDS have co-produced three (3) nights of theater and live music at the Long Center for the Performing Arts on May 14th – 16th with White Ghost Shivers, The Georgian Company, and Scott H. Biram.
Directed by Amanda Garfield and Paula Russell, "Are You Alive" presents an evening of twisted theatre (macabre vignettes written by Hunter Davis, Aimee Gonzalez, Fred Jones IV, Francisco Rodriguez, Greg Romero, and Sarah Saltwick) that will leave the audience wondering what it really means to be alive. Each performance will feature live music from a different Austin band.
* Thursday, May 14th - White Ghost Shivers *
* Friday, May 15th - The Georgian Company *
* Saturday, May 16th - Scott H. Biram *
After each show, the Tiniest Bar in Texas will host a party with complimentary beer and alcohol.
**Performances begin at 8PM and tickets are $15. For tickets or more information, please visit www.dnvtheatre.com.**
If you are on Facebook, go to event page, HERE.
Friday, May 08, 2009
Their final projects were to take at least three of the (nine) plays we've read over the course of the semester, to smash them together in some way, and create a performance out of their collision. The rest of the details were up to them.
The biggest expectations I impressed upon them was to make use of what they'd learned over the course of the semester about the plays they've read, their understanding of the uniquely theatrical elements ("what is theater?"), their observations made from witnessing live events, and their in-class experiences with performance, somehow creatively expressing all of this semester-long learning in a 15-20 minute original work of live performance.
But most importantly, I just wanted them to have fun engaging their own creativity.
I deeply believed in all of them, yet the class still exceeded my expectations.
And because I am so thrilled with the projects they came up with and presented to each other on Thursday, I wanted to share them publicly.
Project One was an episode of "Celebrity Jeopardy", hosted by Alex Trebek, with contestants Romeo, Georges Seurat, and Willy Loman. They answered questions from categories like "Plays by Stephen Sondheim", "Shakespearian Tragedies", humorously expressing the tragic flaws of all three of these leading men. Loman wins the final, decisive round, as Romeo and Seurat (bursting into song) both answer incorrectly the question, "what is theatre?". Loman is thrilled that he can now support his family and tell his boss to stick it.
Project Two was a parallel telling of three plays-- Crimes of the Heart, Romeo and Juliet, and Oedipus Rex, as Mafia/crime family adaptations. Re-imagining the McGrath sisters as "three incompetent New Jersey brothers who eagerly await the return of their father from prison", Crimes of the Cannoli was a five-minute play exploring the "main themes of family, loyalty and misfortune". Group Two's second play re-visioned the opening moment of Romeo and Juliet with servants Sampson and Gregory and Montague kinsman Benvolio instead as two warring mafia families (the Lucianos and Costellos), with "Vinnie"/Benvolio as an associate from the Luciano family. A fight breaks out (instigated by "Frankie"/Tybalt), prompting the head of the Gambino family (Prince Escalus as "Nicky Gambino") to threaten the warring families into peace with each other. Their third adaptation was the moment in which Tiresius (as wise "Dr. Milano") reveals the prophecy to Oedipus/"Vinnie Bruno" about his doomed fate as his wife/mother Jocasta/"Concetta Bruno" attempts to console him.
Project Three presented two short plays-- a smashing together of two plays each. The first, Romeo & Juliet: The Seven Year Itch, transformed the final moment of A Doll's House, expressing the Ibsen's Torvald and Nora through Shakespeare's young lovers, thirteen years after their re-imagined union in the Elizabethan tragedy. Juliet tells Romeo she's leaving, that she knows of his affair with Rosalind, and that the young lovers have grown older and distant. She exits amidst Torvald/Romeo's protests, slamming the door in his face. The group's second piece places Crimes of the Heart's Babe (McGrath) Botrelle in a therapy session with Equus's Martin Dysart, in which they both continue to question and come to an understanding about healing and passion and "normal" behavior.
Project Four, titled: Attrition, imagines Babe Botrelle again, this time during her fifth year of institutionalization in Whitfield Asylum. She's visited by Dora Strang, five years after the final curtain of Equus (and now separated from her husband) on a soul-saving mission to the mental hospital. The students took a lot of inspiration from Shaffer's use of space, creating in the classroom an encircled playing area in which the two live actors were divided by a single partition (a piano bench). The third performer (a member of the SJU Softball team and out of town at a tournament) was summoned via an Ipod and narrated the emotional action through the character of Tartuffe's Elmire Pernelle (and in ryhming couplets!). As Babe and Dora gained emotional closeness, the actors invisibly crept forward in their rolling chairs, expressing their emotional distance physically (they also changed time and space during sections of the play by adjusting themselves differently in their chairs and directly addressing the audience with their inner thoughts).
Project Five was a couples group therapy session led by Equus's Martin Dysart. The play opens with Dysart questioning his ability to counsel while the four couples all sit on stage, much like the chorus/horses in Shaffer's drama. Dysart attempts to counsel the Helmers (Nora and Torvald), the Lomans (Willy and Linda), the Maxsons (Troy and Rose from August Wilson's Fences), and Georges Seurat and his pregnant mistress, Dot. The couples find places of intersection and disconnect (even within themselves-- Willy continues searching for his brother Ben, Georges at one point places a cardboard cut-out of himself while he leaves to "finish the hat"), eventually resisting Dysart's counsel and exit, leaving the psychiatrist to contine questioning himself alone on stage.
In short, the students did wonderful work digging into their creative reservoirs and birthing new ways to inhabit and present these plays. They tapped into their creativity in ways that surprised them, and expressed themselves in ways they thought impossible. And more thrilling, it was evident that were really ENJOYING it, evidenced by their hard work, attention to detail, and the sparkle in which they presented themselves.
As an additional assignment, I asked the students to reflect upon their experience working on these creative projects, and I was thrilled with their personal discoveries. Of these, I wanted to share a couple:
"After about 20 minutes into writing, we began to have a great time with the script. We were coming up with new, fresh ideas and the project did not seem to be a burden at all. The problem of not being able to write enough quickly turned into a problem of writing too much and having to edit many parts out to be conscious of time. We became so engulfed in our work that if we were permitted to, would have continued to write an entire script because we were having so much fun with it. Never did I imagine I would have this much fun with the project and so much curiosity would be sparked in me. I learned many things from this project. The main thing I learned was to approach all things with an open mind. Secondly, I learned that I had a creative side of me that I never really thought I had."
"Overall, throughout the length of the semester, I learned how theater in and of itself is a continued experience of the creative journey; and I have a much deeper appreciation for theatrical works. While I learned a great deal, I am well aware that the learning process will only continue long into the future."
These reflections from my students are the highest reward they can offer their instructor, because it demonstrates that they have been transformed by their experiences, and feel more alive because of them. Witnessing their revelations teaches me to continue to search for my own, and to continue finding the joy inside my own creative expression and teaching.
For them, it is my hope that they continue and deepen their dance with this awareness and with their creative selves, as it is clear to me that they all became brave, curious, and joyful learners, open and engaged and full of light.
Thank you again, HAWKS, for a lovely semester.
Thursday, May 07, 2009
The bigger concerns are with the students and University community as they deal with a strange and traumatic event. I send you all my love and hugs, and hope that you are safe and surrounded by good people.
Thank you again Ben Smolen and Emily Vallillo for all that you have given me, I wish I could offer you more right now than just my play.
Wednesday, May 06, 2009
The piece is one that is dear to me, originally written for a friend in February 2007. Since that first production (produced by RedHouse Arts in Austin, Texas), the play has gone up once more at the Philly Fringe (September 2008, by The Burn Ward Theater Company) and I am thrilled that it continues its life.
The play is about Opal (who is one of my favorite characters I've ever written) who decides every Valentine's Day if she's going to kill herself. She makes lists, she makes pizzas, she rollerskates, and she's afraid of hula-hoops.
The project is being directed by a former student of mine from The National Theater Institute, Ben Smolen, and I trust with his talent and passion that he and actress (and fellow Wesleyan student) Emily Vallillo are doing excellent work. With the generous support of the University, I plan to Amtrack up on Saturday to Middletown to see the work they are doing, and to offer my thanks and encouragement and to continue to learn the play through them.
Thank you Ben and Emily.
Saturday, May 02, 2009
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.