Friday, February 24, 2012

February People's Choice Award

The people have spoken... This month's People's Choice Award goes to Diane Sampson for her original short play, What's True, presented as a staged reading at the Monday Night PlayGround "Math Night" at Berkeley Rep this past Monday.  Congratulations, Diane!

Courtesy of Ms. Sampson, we're pleased to share the first two pages from the award-winning script.  Enjoy!

Still from West Side Story
What’s True
by Diane Sampson

Character Descriptions
MARCUS Male – Caucasian – mid-50s – shows sign of a serious illness – dressed casually but wears slippers
AMANDA Female – his wife – Caucasian – early 50s – dressed casually but more “together” than Marcus
LILY Female – their daughter – Caucasian – 18 or 19 – dressed casually and youthfully as she’s a college student

Marcus and Amanda’s living room in the present. A couch and several chairs and a coffee or side table. At rise, Amanda has a notepad and pencil. Marcus sits with a blanket over his legs. When Lily enters, she carries a teacup.

(At rise, MARCUS sits on a couch, his lower body covered with a blanket. AMANDA sits beside him, writing on a notepad.)

So tell Kaminsky that the Lattice Models presentation is almost complete. If I don’t get to finish it, he absolutely has the chops. Tell him he has my blessing. And my parking space. That should put him in a good mood.


And send a bottle of a really good chardonnay to Rick Azoulan. I never really congratulated him appropriately on his article in the JMP.

Why don’t you let go of this stuff, honey? It’s just more stress.

It’s less stress, Amanda. I feel better knowing that I’m taking care of things. (Beat) Which brings me to the song.

Oh, no. I do not want to sing at your memorial service. I believe I’ve made that very clear.

And I believe I’ve made it clear that it would mean a lot to me. And my wishes take precedence here, since I’m the one who’s …

(Interrupts) Okay. All right. I get it.

(Sings) “Maria. I just met a girl named Maria.” C’mon.

(Repeats singing) “Maria. I just met a girl named Maria.”

(Sings) “And suddenly I’ve found how wonderful a sound can be.”

I know the lyrics, Marcus. That’s not the issue.

Well, what is then?

Well, for one thing, my name isn’t Maria.

Of course it isn’t. That’s the point. I want you to tell them how I always loved “West Side Story” and then when we met, I substituted “Amanda” for “Maria” and sang it to you all the time.

My voice isn’t good enough. I’ll be embarrassed.

Of course it’s good enough. You sing in the community choir.

(Angry) Well, you know what? I’m going to be crying, Marcus. And I just don’t think I’ll be able to sing, too.

(He gets it now) Okay. Okay. It’s just that I wanted everybody to know how you swept me off my feet, and I thought that would be a good way, but … (Beat) You know I’ve had a crush on you for twenty-two years.


Not for two months. Which means that…

Must you always be so exact?


Join us for the next Monday Night PlayGround at Berkeley Rep on Monday, March 19, 2012 at 8pm and choose your own favorite!

Monday, February 13, 2012

PlayGround Company in the News Feb-12

Read on to learn about PlayGround Company Members' recent news, current happenings, and upcoming events.

Katie May and Ignacio Zulueta are contributing writers to 915 Cayuga sketch comedy radio show, featuring a live band, and taped monthly in front of a live audience at Brava theater. They both had featured pieces in the show on Feb. 4. Katie May’s Rapunzel's Etymology of Zero will also be produced February 17-18 in Sydney, Australia as part of Short + Sweet, the largest festival of ten minute plays in the world. Brian Herndon will be doing a reading of Tanya Shaffer and Vienna Teng's musical The Fourth Messenger February 21 at the Ashby Stage, along with company member Danielle Levin and PlayGround regular Robert Brewer.  He is also doing Ken Slattery's Truffaldino Says No at Shotgun Players this summer, along with company members M. Graham Smith (director) and Gwen Loeb.

Evelyn Jean Pine's play, See. On. Unseen. The. Lost. featured in the 2011 Best of PlayGround Festival, will be produced by Stone Soup Theatre in Seattle as part of their Double XX Festival of women playwrights in April and May. Opening in early Feb. and running all month in Hollywood, Leah Halper has a short play, Way Home, about Fannie Lou Hamer, at Towne Street Theatre, LA's Premiere African-American Theatre Company. It's part of a ten-minute play festival on Love: The Black Experience.

Arisa White’s debut collection of poetry and prose, Hurrah’s Nest, is now available through Barnes & Noble. More info at

Earlier this year, one of Ross Nelson’s plays (Shrink-in-the-Box) was a finalist for the Heideman award (Actors Theatre of Louisville).  Just last week, SF SOTA performed Sexual Perversity in Año Nuevo under Brady Lea's direction, and he has a piece lined up for performance in May: Mounting Olympus at the Pear in Mtn View.

 Flip the Switch, a short play by PlayGround Writers Pool member Cass Brayton, is one of the pieces opening this month in GuyWriters Eat Our Shorts 4: Love and Other Disasters. "And no, it's not the first installment of my memoir," says Cass. "Not exactly." The show plays at StageWerx, 446 Valencia, San Francisco, on Friday and Saturday Feb. 24 and 25, then Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, March 1 thru 10. More info at

Lee Sankowich started rehearsal this month on James Sherman's Jacob and Jack at the Zephyr Theatre in Los Angeles. The show was recently a major success at Chicago's Victory Gardens Theatre. It opens mid March. Rachel Yong will be reading for Kris Perry in 8, a documentary play based on the Prop 8 trial Perry vs. Schwarzenegger at Stanford University on March 5, and she will also be performing in Divided Together March 8-10. Aldo Billingslea will be performing in Othello in April with the Marin Theatre Company, and in Spunk in July at Cal Shakes. Carolyn Doyle will be appearing in Boxcar Theatre’s upcoming production of A Lie of the Mind.

Molly Noble is currently directing a Stegner Fellow's short story, The Days of Being Mild down at Stanford for Word for Word. As a part of the Playwrights' Lab in Mill Valley, Ken Sonkin is directing two short plays for the 8th Annual Writers With Attitude Festival.Lines by Bernard Weiner and Robbed! by Dyke Garrison. Feb. 18 & 19 at 142 Throckmorton Theatre. 

Garret Groenveld’s new play, The Hummingbirds, directed by Evrin Odcikin and featuring Playground company members Stacy Ross and Jomar Tagatac, was presented as a winning finalist for the Aurora Theatre's Global Age Project. Patrick Alparone is currently up at Portland Center Stage doing John Logan's Red opposite Daniel Benzali. Danielle Levin is doing a Word for Word reading at Stanford on the 17th and then in late May through June she'll be performing in Symmetry Theatre's production of Lauren Gunderson's: Emilie: La Marquise du Chatelet Defends Her Life Tonight.

Graham Smith is nearly finished casting for Barcelona production of Truffaldino Says No! Robert Sicular just opened The Taming of the Shrew at the Denver Center Theatre Company. Then he'll be playing "Boss" Mangan in Shaw's Heartbreak House which opens in April. It's being directed by Bruce Sevy and features two Bay Area greats: Lise Bruneau as Hersione and Sarah Nealis as Ellie Dunn.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Conversations with Playwrights: Part One

I recently had the opportunity to interview several PlayGround writers who are currently working on full-length commissions or upcoming co-productions. They shared with me some of their visions, insights, and personal stories relating to their current and past experiences with playwriting and theater. Over the next few months I would like to share their responses with you in hopes that it will shed light on playwriting as a creative process and enrich your own theatrical experiences, both with PlayGround and elsewhere. The foremost question that was burning in my mind was why these particular artists chose playwriting as a means of expression and, on a larger scale, why in general theater as a medium for their work.
                Celine Delcayre
Literary Associate

Playwrights Jonathan Luskin (Ecce Homo), Katie May (Manic Pixie Dream Girl or The Lily Chronicles Issue #1) and Mandy Hodge Rizvi (Drive Thru-Open till Midnite or Later) are working on their first PlayGround full-length commissions. Daniel Heath and Evelyn Jean Pine are each currently working on their third PlayGround commission, Siren and Altair, respectively. Ken Slattery is preparing for the world premiere co-production of Truffaldino Says No at Shotgun Players this June and is also under commission for his new play, The Shakespeare Bug. Other upcoming co-productions include Lauren Yee’s Crevice at Impact Theatre in May and Kenn Rabin’s Reunion at SF Playhouse Stage 2 in June. Trevor Allen is currently working on his fourth PlayGround commission, Valley of Sand, a co-commission with San Jose Rep.

Why plays? Why theatre?

Trevor Allen: This is a bit like asking a fish… “Why swimming?” I have been involved with theatre my whole life, from school plays when I was young to high school drama and musicals, then I went on to receive a Bachelor’s degree in Theatre from UCLA and later a Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing from SFSU with an emphasis on playwriting. It has been a lifelong evolutionary progression.

Ken Slattery: My experiences in school plays and musicals were also the most memorable--and arguably the most positive--experiences I had during my adolescence. We had a great teacher who directed our school shows, and ran our Drama Club, encouraging us to act, write, explore the world of drama for ourselves. All of this set me in the direction of studying Drama in college, and I wasn’t the only one. Ultimately, theatre has been a very positive force in my life, as an audience member and a practitioner, and I believe this is true for almost everyone who is involved in theatre.

Evelyn Jean Pine: As a kid I read and saw plays compulsively. They felt like secret windows into worlds I didn’t know. I wanted to write plays because they seemed both so direct and so elusive. Plays are live, transformative, person-to-person communication. Plays are collaborative. The artists work together to create living stories and images that engage the audience’s imagination.

What is significant about theatre as a form of art/entertainment?

Katie May: There is a magical quality inherent to theater and to live performance that I have not found in any other medium. I think that film, by its nature, is inherently realistic, and so film is more harnessed to linear structure and naturalistic storytelling, and it’s difficult to get outside of that in ways that really work.  But in theater, there is this agreement between the storytellers and the audience that it’s okay for a character to break the fourth wall, to leave the stage, for scenes to dissolve and form around a character, and for the character to simultaneously inhabit the world of the theater and the world of play.  You can’t really do that with movies, or even with a novel.  There’s fluidity that can only be found in theater with its reliance on the live audience as an active participant in the storytelling. As a writer that’s a fantastic resource to draw from. 

Lauren Yee: Theater puts a premium on the writer's voice and vision, and as a playwright, I cannot think of a form that is more respectful of collaboration and that is as concerned with the experience as much as the product.

Mandy Hodge Rizvi: There’s something seductive and thrilling about the volatility and the immediacy of theatre. In spite of its rehearsed aspects, it’s an art form in which just about anything can happen. It thrives on connections and exchanges, actions and reactions that live and die in a moment and can’t be reproduced. The mortality of a moment, that’s what it’s all about.

Kenn Rabin: Film and television is not only infinitely repeatable, it must be repeated exactly the same, infinitely. If you see it two weeks later, exactly the same things will happen, with exactly the same nuance, in exactly the same light, with no more or less meaning.  It may be a form of immortality, certainly, but it will always lack immediacy and risk. Because in theater, meaning is created fresh each night, and the stakes of mortality exist, same as life. The swords look real – tonight, will Macbeth really be killed by the actor playing MacDuff?

How does the presence of a live audience affect the theatrical experience?

Jonathan Luskin: The most compelling element of live theater is that a performance is a collaboration between the audience and the performers. They need each other to create the whole, and the whole is much bigger than the sum of the parts.

Ken S.: The thrill of seeing shows live onstage had a deep impact on me during my childhood and adolescence. I remember seeing an outdoor performance of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” when I was 14 or 15 years old; it rained during the whole show but the audience stayed, enthralled by the story and the performances. The live communication between performers and the audience is what stuck with me from that day; for me, it’s what distinguishes theatre from other art/entertainment mediums.

Daniel Heath: Before I wrote plays, I spent a significant amount of time writing prose fiction in diligent obscurity. When I made the jump to playwriting, thanks in large part to the PlayGround writers pool, I quickly realized that I had found my medium. Prose fiction writing is inherently solitary, from the writing to the transmission to the appreciation (you can sit behind someone reading your fiction and say "what part did you just laugh at?" but it's really annoying to the reader). Theater is inherently collaborative, from the conversations with the director to the rehearsals with the actor to the performance where the writer can sit in the audience and feel the reaction to his or her work in the room.

Any final thoughts?

Daniel: For me it's not "why plays?" it's "why write anything else?"

Thank you to all our participating playwrights, and please tune in again next month for further discussions with and about these artists and the wonderful work they have been doing!