Friday, March 23, 2012

16th Best of PlayGround Festival Announced!

PlayGround, San Francisco’s incubator for the next generation of playwrights, caps off its 2011-12 season with the Best of PlayGround 16: A Festival of New Writers & New Plays. The festival will present five 10-minute plays and two 10-minute musicals selected from the 36 works developed as part of the season’s Monday Night PlayGround staged reading series at Berkeley Repertory Theatre. Monday Night PlayGround has engaged and inspired a growing and enthusiastic audience with new plays and now musicals inspired by a single topic each month, including “Bay Area Stories”, “Heroes/Heroines”, and, as part of a unique annual collaboration with Berkeley’s Mathematical Sciences Research Institute, “Patterns of Chaos” on the mathematics of randomness. Tickets are available through the Box Office at 415-992-6677 or online at

The five plays and two musicals to be presented at this year’s festival are:
You Eat What You Kill by Cleavon Smith, directed by M. Graham Smith
Ships in the Day by Genevieve Jessee, directed by Joy Carlin
Room for Rent by Mercedes Segesvary, directed by Jessica Heidt
Hella Love Oakland by Robin Lynn Rodriguez, directed by Jon Tracy
Childless by Garret Jon Groenveld, music by Christopher Winslow, directed by Raelle Myrick-Hodges
Meet the Breeders by Ignacio Zulueta, music by Don Seaver, directed by Tracy Ward
Miss Finknagle Succumbs to Chaos by Kirk Shimano, directed by Jim Kleinmann

Honorable mentions this year are awarded to Tom Swift for Pregnancy Test, Ken Slattery for When Emoticons Run High and Leah Halper for Home Front.
The 2012 Festival also features staged readings of seven new full-length plays commissioned by PlayGround from writers Trevor Allen, Daniel Heath, Jonathan Luskin, Katie May, Evelyn Jean Pine, Mandy Hodge Rizvi, and Ken Slattery.
Event:              Best of PlayGround 16: A Festival of New Writers & New Plays
Date:                Thursdays - Sundays, May 3 - 27 (Friday, May 4th, press night)
Time:               Thurs. - Sat., 8pm; Sun., 7pm
Location:          Thick House, 1695 18th Street, San Francisco
Tickets:            Best of PlayGround: $25-$40 (general), discounts available for students, PlayGround subscribers and members, and groups of 10 or more. Thursdays, May 3, 10, 17, and 24 are Pay-What-You-Can performances; Pay-What-You-Can tickets go on sale one hour before the performance, first-come first-served, subject to availability.
Staged Readings: $10 suggested donation at the door
For tickets call (415) 992-6677 or on-line at
Information:     Jim Kleinmann, Artistic Director; 415.992.6677;

Performance Schedule
·         Best of PlayGround 16 - All seven short plays are presented at each performance, Thursdays through Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 7pm (Sunday evenings, May 13, 20, and 27, are followed by post-show discussion with festival playwrights)

·         Staged Readings:
Sunday, 5/6/2012, 2pm:  Valley of Sand by Trevor Allen, directed by Rick Lombardo
Monday, 5/7/2012, 7pm:  Altair by Evelyn Jean Pine, directed by M. Graham Smith
Sunday, 5/13/2012, 2pm:  Ecce Homo by Jonathan Luskin, directed by Meredith McDonough
Monday, 5/14/2012, 7pm:  Manic Pixie Dream Girl by Katie May, directed by Jon Tracy
Sunday, 5/20/2012, 2pm:  Siren by Daniel Heath, directed by Raelle Myrick-Hodges
Monday, 5/21/2012, 7pm:  The Shakespeare Bug by Ken Slattery, directed by Jessica Heidt
Sunday, 5/27/2012, 2pm:  Drive Thru-Open till Midnite or Later by Mandy Hodge Rizvi, directed by Molly Noble

PlayGround Benefit & Awards Night
PlayGround will celebrate this year’s Festival playwrights at the annual PlayGround Benefit & Awards Night on Monday, April 2 at the Claremont Hotel, with special guests 2011 Pulitzer Prize winner Bruce Norris and Master of Ceremonies Jonathan Moscone. The event features a talk with Norris and Moscone, a silent auction, reception, three-course dinner and live entertainment. For more information on the PlayGround Benefit, visit

Young Playwrights Project: Spotlight on Next Generation
PlayGround spotlights the next generation of talent with the Young Playwrights Project. In March, PlayGround launched the project, and announced a contest to write a new 10-minute play inspired by the topic “Bay Area Stories.” The competition is open to Bay Area high school students, who have until April 16 to submit a script. The best four plays will be read as special “curtain raisers” May 17-20 of the Best of PlayGround Festival. Guidelines:

About PlayGround:
PlayGround is the Bay Area's leading playwright incubator. The mission of PlayGround is to support the development of significant new local voices for the theatre. More than just another play development program, PlayGround focuses on the creation of a true theatre community by nurturing the collaborative process between first-time or early development playwrights, and established, professional actors and directors. Over the past seventeen years, PlayGround has developed a unique model for identifying and nurturing the Bay Area’s best new writers, while helping them to build a significant body of original work. PlayGround alumni have gone on to win not only local but also national honors for short and full-length work, including recognition at the Humana Festival, Sundance Festival, Bay Area Playwrights Festival, Aurora Theatre's Global Age Project, New York International Fringe Festival, the Samuel French Off-Off Broadway Short Play Festival, Guthrie Theatre, and The Drama League’s New Directors-New Works series, among others. More information at

About the Playwrights:
Garret Jon Groenveld is among the founding writers of PlayGround and a seven-time winner of the Emerging Playwrights Award. Among his full-length plays include: The Empty Nesters, The Grand Divorce, The Hummingbirds (2012 Global Age Project), Missives and The Serving Class. His play Missives, originally commissioned by PlayGround, appeared in the Bay Area Playwrights Festival in 2004, premiered in San Francisco in 2005 at Theatre Rhino and in New York in 2008 at 59E59 Theatres. His play The Serving Class, also commissioned by PlayGround, won the Global Age Project from the Aurora Theatre in 2010. He was an inaugural Resident Playwright of the Playwrights Foundation and a proud member of the Dramatists Guild.

Genevieve Jessee is an actor and playwright based in the San Francisco Bay Area. She received a BA degree in Theatre Arts from Dillard University, and an MFA in Playwriting from Boston University. Her work has been presented at the Source Festival, Boston Playwright's Theater, and The Bay Area Playwright's Festival. Most recently, her one-woman show Girl in, but not of, the ‘Hood garnered Best of 2011 San Francisco Fringe Festival, and “Sold Out” awards.

Robin Lynn Rodriguez is the recipient of the 2012 June Anne Baker Prize, awarded annually to a female playwright representing a gifted new comedic or political voice for the stage. This is her first year in the PlayGround Writers Pool. She has recently started writing for stage, but has been involved in new play development as an actor and director for many years. She has taken classes at the Playwright’s Foundation, during which time she completed her play Hedge. She is also a high school English and Drama teacher and the mother of two amazing six-year-old girls.

Mercedes Segesvary is a playwright, director, fine art illustrator and comedienne. Her accomplishments include the 2011 Musicals month People's Choice Award for her play, Save A Little Time and Book Online. She also holds a 2009 Marin Fringe Director’s award, a 2008 Best of the SF Fringe award and has a traveling fine art exhibition titled “Colors of Emotions.” Mercedes is also a teaching artist with “Art For City Youth” serving children in need.

Kirk Shimano studied fiction writing and computer science at Stanford University. His short plays have been produced by multiple San Francisco theater companies including Inner Dialogue (PianoFight), Billy’s Got Issues (Wily West Productions), Proposition Ate (Playwrights’ Center of San Francisco), and Leda and the Pr0n (No Nude Men). He is a Technical Director at Industrial Light & Magic where he occasionally works with robots, sometimes rides in spaceships, but never gets to hang out with Johnny Depp.

Cleavon Smith teaches English Composition and Creative Writing at Berkeley City College. He graduated from the US Naval Academy and Mills College's Creative Writing MFA program. He's published fiction and poetry and is participating in the PlayGround pool of playwrights for the second year.

Ignacio Zulueta was born in Manila, studied in Providence, and writes in Oakland. His plays have been seen and heard throughout the Bay Area, as well as in Ashland, New York, Minneapolis, and on KUSF 90.3FM and KPFA 94.1FM. He’s an AlterLAB writer at Altertheatre and part of the NewWorks Incubator at Asian-American Theatre Company.  Ignacio writes sketch comedy for Battlestache Studios and does radioplays and live foley for 915 Cayuga – a live radio style variety show. Follow him on Facebook at

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

March People's Choice Award

The people have spoken... This month's People's Choice Award goes to Mercedes Segesvary for her original short play, Room for Rent, presented as a staged reading at the Monday Night PlayGround season finale at Berkeley Rep this past Monday.  Congratulations, Mercedes!

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

by Mercedes Segesvary
Jenny: Female. Age, 20’s/30’s. No specific race.

Christine, Friend, Sign Person Three, Margaret: All four characters played by same actress.  Female, Caucasian, age 20 to 30. 

Richard, Shawn, Sign Person Two: All four characters played by same actor.  Male, Caucasian or mixed race, age 20 to 30.

Serge, Jack, Sign Person One: All three characters played by same actor.  Male, Caucasian, 20’s to 40’s.  As Serge, he has a thick Russian accent.

Multiple apartments in San Francisco

(Lights up.  Jenny standing center.)

JENNY (To audience)
Look I’m not gonna lie.  San Francisco is fucking awesome!  The weather is mild, the trees are always green and the ocean breeze pushes all our smog to Livermore.  The Marin Headlands 5 minutes north, Berkeley right next door and Santa Cruz is just a short drive away.  There’s always something fabulous to see and adventurous to do.  This city rocks!  But it’s expensive as shit.  I mean seriously, the places I’ve lived just to save some cash have been… well… colorful.  And by colorful I mean ridiculous.  And by ridiculous I mean character building.  And by character building I mean, ok, ok see for yourself.

(Light change. Sign Person One walks through with a sign that reads “Christine and Richard” then flips the sign and it reads “The Drug Addicts.”)

CHRISTINE, RICHARD and JENNY (to audience, as sign is shown)
Christine and Richard.  The Drug Addicts.

(Light Change.  Christine, Richard and Jenny stand center.)

So that’s the space.  The best part is, we’re just a five-minute walk to SFSU.  Our last roommate also goes to State. 

Do you have any questions?

Well, just one really.  If you don’t mind, why did the last roommate leave?

I’m totally glad you asked.  Erin, our last roommate, she’s a good friend and all, but she got heavy into drugs.  And Richard and I don’t care much for drug addicts so we had to kick her out.  So that’s super important to us that you don’t do drugs.

Oh that’s terrible.  Well I can assure you I don’t do drugs. 
That’s good. I mean we don’t care if you smoke pot now and then, just don’t bring it into the apartment. 

Absolutely.  I’m not that big on pot.

A little coke is alright too.  Seriously, it’s not like we all haven’t done a line or two to get us through finals but as long as you don’t bring that stuff in the apartment we’re good.

Oh, for sure.  Yeah, no coke.  Never even tried it.

Really?  Never?

And, like, I love a good trip on E, but for real though, not in the apartment.

But if you’re at a party and you need some E just call this number.  It’s my cell.  (Makes air quote gestures.)  My work cell.  A little side biz.  Academy of Art ain’t cheap.

But not in the apartment.

Yeah, not in the apartment.

Ok, yeah, no Ecstasy. 

In the apartment.

Yeah, umm, right.  Not in the apartment.  I’ll probably just be spending a lot of time at school and work so I‘m pretty sure I won’t be doing any—

Oh and totally no crack.
Crack is whack.  It’s so Tenderloin.  We’re pretty classy here.

But if that’s you’re thing—

Just not in the apartment.

Got it.  No Crack… Just one other question.


What kind of drugs was your last roommate doing that you actually kicked her out?


Oh my god!  That’s awful.

Yeah.  It was pretty sad.  She was way cool before.

I’m sorry to hear it.

Yeah.  (Pause)  But if you’re into heroin that’s cool.


Stay tuned for the Best of PlayGround Festival selections and this year's Emerging Playwright Award winners! Want to celebrate with the winners? Join us for the 16th annual PlayGround Benefit & Awards Night on April 2 at the Claremont. Click here for more info.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

PlayGround Company in the News Mar-12

Read on to learn about PlayGround Company Members' recent news, current happenings, and upcoming events. 
Jonathan Luskin and Flying Moose Pictures have launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for their short film, Ecce Homo, based on the 2011 Best of PlayGround Festival short. The film, to be shot at the Paramount Theatre, will be screened at the inaugural PlayGround Film Festival this May. Jonathan is also working on a full-length play commission based on Ecce Homo, to be given a staged reading at this year’s Best of PlayGround Festival in May.

Julia McNeal will be reprising her role as Deb in the short film, Reunion, by Kenn Rabin and filmmakers Greg Runnels and Mark Paul Runnels, based on the 2004 Best of PlayGround Festival short. The film will be screened at the inaugural PlayGround Film Festival in May. Also scheduled to reprise their roles on the big screen are Brian Herndon and Cindy Goldfield, in two of the Festival’s films: Daniel Heath’s Wednesday and Jonathan Luskin’s Ecce Homo. Other finalists for this year’s PlayGround Film Festival include Crish Barth’s O Happy Dagger (2008 Festival), Katie May’s Rapunzel’s Etymology of Zero (2011 Festival) and Tom Swift’s The Beginning (2005 Festival), to feature Liam Vincent and Jason Frazier.

And speaking of films based on PlayGround plays, PlayGround alumnus Sean Owens has launched an IndieGoGo campaign to help raise funds for his upcoming short film, Climax, featuring Nick Sholley and Stacy Ross, and based on the 1999 Best of PlayGround Festival short. They’re three weeks out and nearing the $3k mark!

Evelyn Jean Pine’s full-length play, Astonishment, commissioned and developed by PlayGround in 2009, will receive staged readings as part of Dragon Productions Theatre’s New Play Development Factory, April 22, 28 and May 4.

Leah Halper’s full-length play about Rachel Carson, Time Not Our Time, will get a workshop and staged reading at The Blank Theatre's Living Room Series in Hollywood on April 16. Her PlayGround-developed short play Pine and Oak will be part of 2012 Pear Slices at the Pear Avenue Theatre in May (thanks to some great feedback at Recess). Her PlayGround-developed short play, No More, Too Late, Adieu, has been chosen for workshopping, presentation and publication at the August Association of Theatre in Higher Education conference in Washington DC.

Ken Slattery’s Death to the Audience, a 10-minute play selected during the 2003-04 season and the first play of his ever selected for a Monday Night PlayGround, is being produced by Precarious Theatre as part of the BOA Festival this year ( M.Graham Smith is directing. BOA features two full programs of intrepid new theater running in repertory, and takes place Wednesdays – Sundays, April 22-May 12, 2012, at the Boxcar Theatre in San Francisco. Ken is working on his fifth draft of Truffaldino Says No in preparation for its world premiere this summer in a PlayGround co-production with Shotgun Players.

PlayGround alumnus Trevor Allen has been nominated for a Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle award for his solo performance in his play, Working for the Mouse. He is currently working on a new PlayGround commission, Valley of Sand, a co-commission with San Jose Repertory Theatre.

Katja Rivera is appearing in two plays as part of Boxcar Theatre's Sam Shepard in Repertory Festival: True West and A Lie of the Mind, through April 14. Also performing in A Lie of the Mind is Carolyn Doyle.

Molly Noble is acting in the local independent film, Hero Mars. Her SQ Prison project goes up May 19. She is directing a staged reading of Mandy Hodge Rizvi's PlayGround commission, Drive Thru-Open till Midnite or Later, at Thick House on May 27 and will be directing two operas, Frida (COM) and Mikado (Dance Palace), in June and July.

Brian Yates Sharber has been nominated for a Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle Award for best featured actor in a musical for 42nd St. Moon's production of Gershwin's Oh Kay!

Tom Swift’s My Name Is Yin, originally developed and premiered at the 2004 Best of PlayGround Festival, will be published by Samuel French in Off Off Broadway Festival Plays, 36th Series, following its win at the Samuel French Off-Off Broadway Short Play Festival last summer.

Katie May's full length play, Black Sheep Gospel, was chosen for a week long developmental workshop as part of the Play Labs series at this year's Great Plains Theater Conference in Omaha, Nebraska. Ignacio Zulueta and Katie May have joined comedic forces to write for two separate sketch comedy shows.  The live Radio Show, 915 Cayuga, can be seen monthly at the Brava Theater and will be featured in the upcoming San Francisco Fringe Festival in September.  Mad Stache, an evening of live sketch and video comedy produced by Battle Stache Studios, is coming up in April.

Robert Sicular is at the Denver Center Theatre Company and in rehearsals for Shaw's Heartbreak House,. running March 30-April 29. Directed by Bruce Sevy, the production features a number of former Bay Area actors: Lise Bruneau, Sam Gregory and Sarah Nealis. Robert will perform at San Jose Rep this summer in Bill W. and Dr. Bob, about the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous, playing Dr. Bob Smith.

Alex Moggridge is performing at the Humana Festival in Louisville, in Courtney Baron's Eat Your Heart Out.  He recently performed at the Long Wharf in It’s A Wonderful Life and wrote an interactive film that was made by Less Rain Productions in London.

Tim Kniffin begins rehearsal at Aurora Theatre for Anatol, directed by Barbara Oliver.

Louis Parnell is currently appearing in Alisa Baker’s The Right Thing for 3GirlsTheater at Thick House through April 1. He is directing and about to cast Kenn Rabin’s full-length Reunion, which will receive its world premiere in a PlayGround/SF Playhouse co-production at the Playhouse’s Stage 2 in June.

PlayGround alumna Lauren Yee's existentialist slasher comedy Hookman will have a workshop production at Company One/Boston Center for the Arts, opening March 23, as part of the inaugural XX PlayLab. Moxie Theatre will present the San Diego premiere of A Man, His Wife, and His Hat, opening March 30. Her PlayGround-commissioned Crevice will receive its world premiere in a PlayGround co-production at Impact Theatre, May 3-June 9.

Daniel Heath's new full-length play, Dust to Dust, based on his short play from the October 2011 Monday Night PlayGround, will have a one-night-only staged reading at the Ashby Stage on Tuesday, April 17 at 7pm as part of Just Theater's New Play Lab staged reading series. The cast will include PlayGround company members Anna Bullard, Julia Brothers, and David Cramer. The reading is free and open to the public. Company members Daniel Heath and Anna Bullard will be visiting lecturers at the University of Lisbon in Portugal on March 30. They will be speaking on the collaborative nature of writing and acting in Professor Tom Hines' class on theater practice.

Genevieve Jessee will be performing an excerpt of new material she’s developing for her solo show (which received Best of the Fringe honors in 2011) at Solo Sundays at StageWerx in San Francisco on March 25.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

A Conversation with Gala Guest of Honor Bruce Norris

On April 2, PlayGround will celebrate its 16th annual Benefit & Awards Night, with a gala fundraiser at the Claremont Hotel, featuring special guests Bruce Norris and Jonathan Moscone. We caught up with Bruce as he prepares for rehearsal for the Broadway premiere of Clybourne Park, to ask about his own beginnings as a playwright and his experience with Clybourne Park, the Pulitzer Prize and what's next on his plate.

Actor and playwright Bruce Norris was awarded the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for his play Clybourne Park which heads to Broadway this spring following acclaimed productions across the country, including recent runs at the Mark Taper and its West Coast Premiere last season at American Conservatory Theater in a strong production directed by Moscone. Clybourne Park also won the Olivier Prize for "Best New Play" following its premiere at New York’s Playwrights Horizons.

When did you realize you wanted to become a playwright and how did you get started?

Bruce Norris: I suppose I’d say I’d always wanted to be an impresario of some kind, that is, to occupy the adult chair in the rehearsal room.  But as it worked out, I had some success as an actor early in my twenties and that effectively distracted me from other interests for about fifteen years.  In my mid-thirties, while living in Chicago, I realized that I enjoyed my experience in theatre in proportion to my control of it, and whereas an actor has minimal control a playwright has a considerable amount.  So, being the autocratic, fascistic control-freak that I am, I slowly made the transformation from one job to the other.  I had written or adapted a couple of shows for Lookingglass Theatre in Chicago, and then, shortly after I moved to New York, Martha Lavey, Artistic Director of Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago – who, as it happens, had been an actor in the very first play I had produced – offered me a commission to write a play for them.  Two years and two plays later, Steppenwolf produced a play of mine, called The Infidel, and the rest of it followed.

How would you characterize yourself as a playwright? Where is your favorite place to write? What elements or concepts are important to you in writing plays?

BN: I’m not sure I would know how to characterize myself… Angry? Pessimistic?  I don’t know.  I tend to write in the afternoon, although I used to get more work done in the morning.  It sort of depends on how much caffeine I’ve had.  I can tell you this – I’ve never written a play while drinking alcohol, which might be why I tend to be argumentative rather than lyrical.  Maybe I should think about drinking more.

How did it feel to earn the Pulitzer Prize? Do you remember where you were when you got the news? How has this achievement shaped, changed, or affected you, your goals and your work?

BN: When the Pulitzer was awarded I was on an island off the coast of Maine, and as I had no internet connection I had to drive three miles to the public library to check my email.  I opened my in-box and it overloaded and I thought maybe America was under attack.  As to how it’s affected me… Well, I guess it just means it’s all downhill from here.

What was your inspiration and/or vision for Clybourne Park?  How did Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun play into the conception of your play?

BN: Well, of course Clybourne Park would never have been written without the Hansberry play.  I had first read Raisin when I was about twelve years old, and as a privileged white child in Texas I found very little to identify with in the struggles of the Younger family (the protagonists of Raisin).  I did, however, identify with the white villain of the play, Karl Lindner, who comes to the Youngers’ apartment to ask them not to move into the neighborhood of Clybourne Park.  And many, many years later, as an adult, I began to think about the ironies of having been exposed at an early age to a play that – accurately - depicted me and those like me as the unwitting heirs to a legacy of discrimination, inequality and petty cruelty.  Karl Lindner is my people.  And, thinking forward, I began to wonder how much, if anything, has really changed in fifty years?  Are the changes we’ve made deep or superficial? If you ask me, I’d say the latter.

How did Clybourne Park make its way to Broadway? Are you ready for your (playwright) Broadway debut?

BN: I don’t honestly know how it wound up going to Broadway.  As I write this, the marquee is up, but there have been so many twists and turns in the life of this play that I won’t actually believe it’s happening there until the final curtain on opening night.

What’s next? Do you have any new projects in mind?

BN: Because of the success  (or should I say, roadblock?) of Clybourne Park, I have several plays, written since, that are as yet unproduced.  One of them, called A Parallelogram, was produced two summers ago at Steppenwolf Theatre and may still have a future life.  The next is a play for Lincoln Center in New York, which will be produced in the Fall of 2013.  And there are two more in various stages of completion…

The 16th annual PlayGround Benefit & Awards Night will take place on Monday, April 2 at the Claremont Hotel and features a reception and silent auction, seated dinner, "fireside chat" with Bruce and master of ceremonies Jonathan Moscone and much, much more! Tickets are $250-$1,000 and tables of 10 are $2,500-$10,000. All proceeds benefit PlayGround's playwright and new play incubator programs. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

PlayGround Film Fest Finalists Announced!

“The envelope, please. And the winner is….” On the heels of the 84th Academy Awards ceremony, PlayGround and partner Dances with Light have announced the six local filmmaker-playwright teams named as finalists for this year’s inaugural PlayGround Film Festival. Each will receive $1,500 in seed funding for their film adaptations of the short plays previously developed and produced as part of PlayGround’s annual new plays showcase, the Best of PlayGround Festival. The six finalist films will be screened at the inaugural PlayGround Film Festival, taking place this May in conjunction with the 16th annual Best of PlayGround Festival.

The finalists are:
The Beginning (Brian Tolle, filmmaker; Tom Swift, screenwriter and producer, based on the short play by Tom Swift from the 2005 Best of PlayGround Festival)
Ecce Homo (Jonathan Luskin/Mark Leialoha/Flying Moose Pictures, filmmakers; Jonathan Luskin, screenwriter; based on the short play by Jonathan Luskin from the 2011 Best of PlayGround Festival)
O Happy Dagger (Chad Blevins, filmmaker; Crish Barth, screenwriter; based on the short play by Crish Barth from the 2008 Best of PlayGround Festival)
Rapunzel’s Etymology of Zero (an animated short; Seth Podowitz, filmmaker; Katie May, screenwriter; Katie May and Liz Anderson, co-producers; David Azer, Jan Heiman, Eileen Laitinen, Brendan Oshima, and Rachel Whalon, animators; based on the short play by Katie May from the 2011 Best of PlayGround Festival)
Reunion (Gregory Runnels and Mark Runnels, filmmakers; Kenn Rabin, screenwriter; based on the short play by Kenn Rabin from the 2004 Best of PlayGround Festival)
Wednesday (Jennifer Arzt, filmmaker; Daniel Heath, screenwriter; based on the short play by Daniel Heath from the 2009 Best of PlayGround Festival)
PlayGround Film Festival co-producers Jim Kleinmann and Barry Stone congratulated the winning teams at a private reception before the February 20 Monday Night PlayGround performance. “We’re so excited by the strength of this year’s proposals – the incredible group of local filmmakers, writers and producers who have come together to develop these six short films! The theatre- and film-going communities are in for a real treat this May!”
The Beginning, a Monday Night reading Series and Festival favorite, is a simple story that focuses on one moment of profound passion, fear and hope. On a cold dark night two naked strangers struggle to connect.  What is the question?  And, what is their answer? Brian Tolle (filmmaker) has written and directed short films for the past fifteen years, evolving from two person productions like 2:47am into professional crew and cast for the lamp. In addition to directing The Beginning, he is currently finishing development on a feature-length romantic comedy, All the Others Were Practice. When he’s not producing his own films, Brian works as a Visual Effects Artist for Hollywood movies, specializing in computer generated cameras. Tom Swift and His Amazing Productions, LLC (producer) was founded by business partners and Financial Avengers, Tom Swift and Arthur McCord.  Their most recent production (My Name Is Yin, a 2004 Best of PlayGround Festival selection) was one of six winners of the 2011 Samuel French Off-Off Broadway Festival.  The Beginning is their first film project.
Ecce Homo delighted audiences at the 15th annual Best of PlayGround Festival. Set in 1932, the play is the story of two vaudeville players, Gus and Fanny, as they face the demise of their stage careers brought on by moving pictures. Through the loving conflict of a married couple, Ecce Homo illuminates a very contemporary theme: how we struggle to survive the incessant technological change that threatens our livelihoods and our relationships. Jonathan Luskin (director, writer, producer) is a veteran of seven PlayGround seasons and has received two Emerging Playwright Awards. He has worked at the Playwrights Lab, received a commission from the Magic Theatre to write Early Adopter, and his play, n of 1, was selected for the Bay Area Shorts Festival. Jonathan has directed for many Bay Area theater companies, and was recently awarded a Djerassi Artist's Residency, where he developed Ecce Homo. He has animated for leading visual-effects companies and is a co-founder along with Mark Leialoha of Flying Moose Pictures (producer), a video production company. Mark Leialoha (director of photography/producer) has a passion for photography and film that spans over two decades, Mark has travelled throughout Europe, the US and Far East as a principal contributing photographer, his innovative and creative editorial & commercial photography featured in more than 75 magazines in over 25 countries. With extensive production skills, encompassing still & video camera operation, lighting, audio and editing, Mark offers a unique approach and vision to every project. He has served as Director of Photography for the feature-length independent film ‘Maladaptive.’ Mark’s still photography will next appear in Kirk Hammett’s Too Much Horror Business. Jessica Heidt (producer) is an award-winning director, producer & casting director. She has been involved with PlayGround since 2004 and has worked closely with Flying Moose Pictures on many projects.  Heidt is the former Artistic Director of Climate Theater and Associate Artistic Director of Magic Theatre.  She has worked as a casting director with many Bay Area film and theater companies and currently teaches at Film Acting Bay Area.
O Happy Dagger is a forthcoming short film by Chad Blevins.  Originally a stage play written by Crish Barth and premiered at the 2008 Best of PlayGround Festival, the story is about a desperate actor who, in order to achieve incredible fame, must contemplate paying the ultimate price. Chad Blevins (filmmaker) earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in illustration from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. In 2010, he settled in San Francisco to pursue a Masters of Fine Arts in Motion Pictures and Television from the Academy of Art University. His art has been exhibited in galleries and comic book conventions as well as being published in comics, magazines and websites. Crish Barth (writer) has written over 30 short plays and has had several of those produced in the last few years. He is a company member of PlayGround where he received the 2008 Emerging Playwright Award.  Locally, his work has appeared in the Best of PlayGround Festival, several Bay One Acts Festivals (BOA), the San Francisco Theatre Festival, the One Minute Play Festival, PianoFight's Short-Lived, and the 8 Tens @ 8 Festival in Santa Cruz.  Nationally, his works have been seen in both the Strawberry One Act Festival and the Salute UR Shorts Festival in New York City as well as the Midway Festival of Plays in Kentucky.  He is a graduate of the UCLA Professional Program in Screenwriting.
Rapunzel’s Etymology of Zero was written by Katie May for PlayGround’s annual “Math Night” presented in collaboration with the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute and featured in the 15th annual Best of PlayGround Festival. In this feminist fairytale, Rapunzel locks herself in a tall tower and concocts a story of an evil stepmother to focus on her blossoming love of mathematics and avoid the attentions of a young prince. Katie May (writer, producer, adaptor) is a recipient of the PlayGround Emerging Playwrights Award and Fellowship for 2011. She is a contributing writer to the live radio show, 915 Cayuga, and holds an MFA in Playwriting from Arizona State University. Seth Podowitz (filmmaker) is directing, co-adapting and scoring music for the animated film short of Rapunzel. Animators include David Azer, Jan Heiman, Eileen Laitinen, Brendan Oshima, and Rachel Whalon. Katie Siller is animation production manager. Liz Anderson is co-producing and performing the role of Rapunzel to Patrick Russell’s Prince. Khamara Pettus is voicing the Narrator.
Ripped from today's headlines, Reunion is playwright Kenn Rabin’s story of a convicted sex offender, recently released from prison, who finds a new home with Deb, a woman determined to stand up for his rights and live down her own past. The play received its premiere at the 2004 Best of PlayGround Festival. Kenn Rabin (writer) has written several full-length and numerous short plays, including How to Chop Wood, Hotel Poststrasse, and When the Dead Weep, as well as Celadon Box #8, Hunters and Gatherers, and Reunion, the latter three of which won PlayGround Emerging Playwrights Awards. Mr. Rabin received a PlayGround Fellowship, a Marin Arts Council Individual Grant, and Marin Theatre Company’s first-ever commission for Found Objects. His documentary and feature credits include PBS’ Eyes on the Prize and Vietnam: A Television History, Sean Penn’s The Indian Runner, George Clooney’s Good Night, and Good Luck, Steven Soderbergh’s The Good German, and Gus Van Sant’s Milk. He’s a member of the Dramatists Guild. The Runnels Brothers, Greg and Mark (filmmakers), have been working together creatively since the early-1990's. They have directed several short films, commercials, music videos and plays. Their feature film Youthanasia was acquired by York Entertainment and is available through Netflix. Their animated short film Breakfast with Bukowski has been screened at several festivals and recently won the Slamdance Social Shorties. They are now in development on their next feature film Bukowski: An Animated Life.
In Daniel Heath’s Wednesday, a couple decides to liven up their evening one ordinary Wednesday with a question-and-answer drinking game. A few drinks in, Eve asks Robert a question that puts their marriage to the ultimate test. Jennifer Arzt (filmmaker) holds a MFA in Film, Television, and Recording Arts where she pursued writing, directing, and producing. Her films have appeared in festivals across the country, winning a few awards, including the Directors Guild of America Student Film Award. Formerly the Program Director of Script Frenzy, she is now freelancing as a writer/director on projects big and small. Daniel Heath's (writer) recent productions of full-length plays include Man of Rock (New York Musical Theatre Festival 2011, and the Climate Theatre, San Francisco, 2010), Seven Days (SF Playhouse, San Francisco, 2010) and A Merry Forking Christmas (PianoFight, San Francisco, 2009, 2010, and 2011). He is a three-time recipient of commissions from PlayGround(2009, 2010, and 2012) and a four-time winner of the PlayGround Emerging Playwright Award (2007, 2008, 2009, 2011); he is also currently working on a commission from Just Theater. His award-winning short plays have been performed across the United States and Canada. Featuring in the cast are Brian Herndon and Cindy Goldfield, reprising their roles from the 2009 Best of PlayGround Festival.
Since 1994, PlayGround has been a leading incubator for some of the Bay Area’s most promising new playwrights, premiering 103 original short plays by 51 Bay Area emerging playwrights from several thousand submissions through its Monday Night PlayGround staged reading series and Best of PlayGround Festival. PlayGround has also commissioned 41 new full-length plays and supports the premiere of many of these works in partnership with Bay Area theatres through its innovative New Play Production Fund. PlayGround alumni include a who’s who of the Bay Area’s best up-and-coming writers, including Peter Sinn Nachtrieb, Aaron Loeb, Geetha Reddy, Daniel Heath, Ken Slattery, among others, with many having their first professional production through PlayGround.
PlayGround’s alumni have gone on to win not only local but also national honors for short and full-length work, including recognition at the Humana Festival, Sundance Festival, Bay Area Playwrights Festival, Aurora Theatre Company’s Global Age Project, Guthrie Theatre, Samuel French Off-Off Broadway Short Play Festival, and The Drama League’s New Directors-New Works series.  Works have been premiered at numerous theatres throughout the Bay Area, including: Theatre Rhinoceros, San Jose Stage Company, Just Theater, and SF Playhouse. Of particular note is Aaron Loeb’s Abraham Lincoln’s Big Gay Dance Party which, following its premiere at SF Playhouse in 2008, received a sold-out run at the 2009 New York International Fringe Festival (named “Outstanding Play”), its off-Broadway debut in 2010, and is being produced around the country this season.
Barry Stone, owner of Dances with Light, made his first film in 1979. He has professional credits as an actor, composer and director in the theatre, and as a producer, director, writer, composer, actor, cinematographer and editor in film and television. His directorial credits include four episodes of the British hit series rENFORD rEJECTS, filmed in London for Nickelodeon and Channel Four, "All Ways Welcome", produced and directed for the Ontario Ministry of Tourism and Recreation, and numerous commercials, music videos and corporate films. Barry has been the cinematographer on forty-seven episodes of series television, six MOWs, numerous commercials and twenty-one feature films, notably Lie with me, Mouth to Mouth, Cherish, Triggermen, Pale Saints, Paris France, Rude, Dumbarton Bridge,  The Perfect Son and Dream with the Fishes.  Recently Barry produced and directed SNIFF, a feature length drama / documentary hybrid with Amanda Plummer, Neil Morrissey (and a lot of great dogs).
 For more information, contact PlayGround Artistic Director Jim Kleinmann at or (415) 992-6677.

The inaugural PlayGround Film Festival teams (L-R): Daniel Heath, Barry Stone, Greg Runnels (rear), Barry Stone, Mark Runnels (rear), Chad Blevins, Jennifer Arzt, Brian Tolle (rear), Tom Swift, Jonathan Luskin (rear), Mark Leialoha, Katie May, Jim Kleinmann, and Liz Anderson (not pictured: Seth Podowitz, Kenn Rabin, Crish Barth).

Friday, March 02, 2012

Conversations with Playwrights: Part Two

It is one thing to write a play, but getting a play off the page and up onto its feet is quite a different story. This is when the collaborative nature of theatre takes over; the artistic visions and perspectives of multiple theatre artists come together to create a single, cohesive production. I invited some of the PlayGround writers currently working on full-length commissions or co-productions to describe the process and experience of bringing their work to the stage. 

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.

What is it like to see and experience one of your plays being realized into a staged production?

Trevor Allen: The production’s the thing. With a play, one is able to imagine anything and put it into the world of the theatre. It’s as if we create the blueprint, the director, designers and performers come in and build the house and then the audience comes in and makes that house their home for the evening. The live experience of being in that home with those people is magical. When it works, there’s no better feeling in the world.

Daniel Heath: It's an artistic satisfaction that doesn't really have an equivalent. It's not seeing your vision displayed before a crowd — that would be like looking at your painting on the wall of a gallery. It's an audience not just observing the product of your work but participating, as animals in a room with other animals, in an event whose gears you've set in motion and whose action you have circumscribed, but which in each actual performance is as complex, varied, and particular as the actors on your stage and the audience in the seats. 

Katie May: It’s simultaneously the most exhilarating and terrifying experience I have ever had. The presence of the audience makes watching one’s play an entirely singular experience and one that is unique to writers of performance. 

How does it feel to have your work put into the hands of other theatre artists?

Ken Slattery: Once you write a play, it demands to be performed, or at least read out loud; otherwise, why did you write it? It seems like a play is not a play until it passes out of the playwright’s hands and into the hands of the actors, director and designers.

Jonathan Luskin: Writing a play is only one step in its development. Rehearsing with actors and a director allows a play to be focused.

Daniel: It's actors giving body to people you imagined, and imagining them further (in ways you could not imagine because you are not the character's body on stage). It's a director and designers taking your story and your themes and giving them shape and light and texture. 

Evelyn Jean Pine: Whenever a play of mine is produced, I learn what it can become through the collaboration of playwright, artists, and audience.  Plays are blueprints, and productions, through the imaginative work of actors, directors, and technicians, transform the blueprints into magnificent, transitory edifices anyone can enter.

Lauren Yee: Plays are just as much visual creatures as they are aural ones, and giving the audience a complete experience means closely working with other types of theater people to create a fully immersed sensory experience. I love working with people smarter than me, who are able to understand the kind of universe I want to create, who are equipped to enhance the story in ways that I cannot possibly do.

Kenn Rabin: My favorite thing about that progression from page to stage is the element of surprise. I love watching actors and directors use my art to inspire their own. Often, I have the privilege of being shown something that I hadn’t even considered before.

Is there such a thing as a play that is meant to remain on the page?

Mandy Hodge Rizvi: While there may be a playwright out there who writes plays solely as literature, I certainly don’t know of any, and I think that’s probably a very good thing. When I create a play, I sit alone in the dark with my computer, but it is always with the hope that someday I will sit in the dark with a crowd of strangers to experience that play. Plays NEED performances.

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!