Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Conversations with Playwrights: Festival Edition!

This year’s Best of PlayGround Festival contains a truly diverse mix of writers. This diversity is accurately reflected in the dynamic mix of short plays and musicals that make the 16th Best of PlayGround a must-see. As we approach the third weekend of the run I would like to invite you to get to know some of the playwrights who have been a part of this experience.

Celine Delcayre
Literary Associate


Do you remember where you were when you found out you had been selected for the festival?

Ignacio Zulueta:
I heard the best way possible - which is via congratulations, sent by text, in private, where I could react as appropriately or inappropriately as needed without fear of embarrassment. I’m pretty sure I whooped.

Mercedes Segesvary: I was actually working on an illustration project when I received an e-mail from Jim saying I should give him a call. Jim’s never asked me to call him before so I figured it had to be good news. After I got off the phone with Jim I did a happy dance in my apartment. Thank God my roommate wasn’t home.

Kirk Shimano: I was at work when I got the call about the selection. Well, more precisely, I was on a park bench a few feet away from work because AT&T doesn't deem anywhere else worthy of cell reception. I didn't have the phone number in my caller ID so I thought I was just getting a call about renewing a web address. This was much better.

Robin Lynn Rodriguez:
I was in the midst of preparing for my twin daughters' seventh birthday celebration, with glitter glue under my fingernails, when I got an email from Jim. He asked me to call him. He told me my play had been selected for the Festival and that I'd won the June Anne Baker Award. It was a bit surreal. Unexpected, to say the least.

Is this your first time being selected for a Best of PlayGround Festival?

Mercedes: This is my second year writing with PlayGround, first year in the festival!

Garret Groenveld:
I am one of the original writers of PlayGround and was in five of the first six festivals. I have had over 40 Monday night pieces.

Are any of you new to the writers pool this year?


Kirk: This is my first year in the PlayGround pool! I actually first applied two years ago, but my piece didn't hold muster with the selection committee (I still stand by it, though!). This season I had the great honor to be suggested for the pool and submitted a piece that had already been tested before an audience, with much better results. Since it's my first year, it was my first chance to be in the Best of PlayGround, so I'd say it worked out well!

Any other interesting writers’ pool stories?

Cleavon Smith: I was nudged by Robyn Brooks to apply. I had never written a play before, and I think that actually helped. After going through an MFA for fiction program, I think my process for writing prose was almost one of mechanics rather than gut and inspiration, so my inexperience prevented me from getting in the way of my own story.

Tell me a bit about your festival piece. How did you approach the prompt/topic and where did you find your inspiration?


Robin: "Hella Love Oakland" came from the creative id. The topic that month was Bay Area Stories. As usual I went through my regular cache of saved up half-baked ideas. But something kept gnawing at me. I have very strong feelings about living in the Bay Area, and my particular neighborhood of the Bay Area, which is Oakland. I'm not going to give those feelings away, because I want people to see and hear them for themselves. But I knew almost immediately that these were what I wanted to write on.

Mercedes: My play, “Room for Rent,” was written around the March topic “Bay Area Stories.” I had actually begun writing it the night before it was due, sometime around 1am. I was working on an elaborate musical about MUNI but I wasn’t really happy with where it was going and I was getting a little frustrated. But earlier that day I’d had a conversation with my roommate about needing to move and it brought me to a place of reflection about some of the more colorful roommates I’ve lived with. So I just started free writing and these characters sort of created themselves. The next day, after I submitted it I called my grandmother to say hello. I told her about the play I just wrote and she was cracking up on the line. She asked me, “Is the Naked-Boy in the play.” I said, “Yes, yes he is.” And more laughter ensued.

Kirk: I wrote my play in response to "Patterns of Chaos", the topic for our "math night" in collaboration with the Berkeley MSRI (Mathematical Sciences Research Institute). The night before the topic was revealed, mathematicians from MSRI presented a series of short, focused lectures. I was intrigued by their research into the process by which random patterns, when repeated thousands upon millions of times, start to form characteristics of order. My first impulse was to write something wild and sprawling, with a cast of characters from different universes who slowly came together into something more orderly. But as I started to try to figure out who these chaotic people could be, I found myself drawn to the idea of someone unassuming – the type of character who might get a throwaway line in someone else's movie.

Ignacio: “Meet The Breeders” is a musical that reflects my fear of musicals. The topic was Heroes/Heroines, which I thought was appropriately self-reflexive. Who doesn’t write a play with a hero (or antithesis) at the core, after all? So, having ditched my ambitions for an 8 person ensemble driven apocalyptic musical (I’m only partly joking), I narrowed my scope to a heroic young woman, Beatrice, defined by the insurmountable and insidious odds arrayed against her. With 4 days to write, the creative process is often a blur of sleeplessness and panic disguised as inspiration, or vice versa. But I remember writing the lyrics to the chorus first. It all grew from there. If audience members can hum the melody and recite that memorable three word chorus from which the play itself sprang, I think I’ll have done my job at giving the gift of hysteria.

What do all these different pieces and voices bring to this year’s PlayGround festival experience?

Robin: There is some fantastic work on the stage at this year's Festival. The variety of voices and so many new voices - first timers to the Festival like myself - bring an amazing energy to the evening. It's funny, and fierce, and full of the dynamism that comes with new work. I'm truly grateful to be a part of it.

Garret: The best thing about every PlayGround festival is that it shows a broad variety of interesting work, and introduces diverse forms, content and voices to a new audience.

Kirk: This year's festival has a great variety of work. There are so many divergent themes and settings that it really illustrates what a diverse set of ideas you can draw from a small pool of writers working within the same parameters. I know I find something new every time I see these plays - hopefully the rest of the community shares the same experience!


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


The 16th annual Best of PlayGround Festival runs Thu-Sat at 8pm and Sun at 7pm at Thick House through May 27. In addition to the fully-produced evening-length program of seven short plays and musicals, the festival also includes staged readings of new full-length plays commissioned and developed by PlayGround, including Daniel Heath's Sirens this Sunday, May 20 at 2pm and Ken Slattery's The Shakespeare Bug on Monday, May 21 at 7pm, all at Thick House. Concurrent with the Best of PlayGround, the inaugural PlayGround Film Festival runs through May 26 in various locations, including Thick House, the Rialto Cinemas Elmwood, 32TEN Studios (formerly George Lucas Theater). For more information or to purchase tickets for the 16th annual Best of PlayGround Festival, visit http://playground-sf.org/bestof.shtml. For more information or to purchase tickets for the PlayGround Film Festival, visit http://playground-sf.org/filmfest.





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