Friday, April 20, 2012

Conversations with Playwrights: Part Three


We live in a world that is constantly changing.  Where does theatre fit in, and how will current social movements affect the future of live performance? I invited some of the PlayGround writers currently working on full-length commissions or co-productions to share their insights on the matter.

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. 


How is theatre changing and where do you see it going in the next 5-10 years?

Ken Slattery: This is a difficult question to address, as I think theatre reacts to societal change, so attempting to answer this question is like trying to predict how society, the country, or the world will change over the next 5-10 years.

Mandy Hodge Rizvi: Many theatres and theatre artists are looking for ways to incorporate technology, media, global consciousness, and social networking into their art and their business. I also see a renewed sense of responsibility, relevancy, and accountability.

Lauren Yee: I see playwrights dabbling in more genres and mediums more and more easily. TV writing has become an extremely popular, gratifying medium for a lot of playwrights, and I think that as the cost of producing high-quality multimedia work goes down, we'll see more web-based work. Already theaters are investing more heavily in producing multimedia online that complements their onstage work.

How does technology play into the future of theatre?

Jonathan Luskin: Theater will have to embrace distribution through video and the Internet. Theater will be “saved” not by massive non-profit donor campaigns but by becoming relevant to a new generation of audiences who may experience “live:” performance first over the internet.

What about the live performance qualities that have always characterized the theatre experience? How will this shift in technology affect theatre as we know it?

Katie May: I think theater is getting better at justifying itself as theater.  Meaning, I think playwrights are getting better at playing with the relationship between the storytellers and the audience, and are really capitalizing on the amazing qualities of theater that can only be done in this form.  I think this is incredibly important to the future of theater arts, because to me saying that “theater is important because live performance is important” doesn’t quite cut it. I do think as theater artists we need to justify the existence of our form and write pieces that work best as theater and not film.

Evelyn Jean Pine: In our age of snapping pictures from phones, having archives of millions of voice mails, documenting our daily lives on social networks, recording the hi-jinks of congressmen, debutantes, and honey badgers, theatre’s “in the moment” quality becomes extremely charismatic.  That’s not to say theatre-makers won’t use and engage all the technology at our disposal, we do and we will, but always in support of the living moment, the daily myth, the waking dream.

Mandy: The last ten years have scared the bejesus out of the theatre community. The harsh wake-up call from business as usual has asked us all to reevaluate the state of our art and to decide how it will move forward. This means looking at where we are now and planning for the future, while remaining ever open to change. As a writer, I’m always asking myself, “What matters now?” This means being active and informed and listening to a lot of different voices that I may or may not agree with. I think that openness is the key to success, both in and out of the theatre.

Daniel Heath: The audience is shifting, and theater will adapt and serve the tastes of new generations. It will adapt not because it must but because that is what theatre does – it is people putting on a show for other people who want to see it. And there will always be people who want to perform and people who want to be entertained. The new media that is transforming entertainment is not destroying that fundamental dynamic, it's just changing the landscape on which it plays itself out.

Is theatre in danger of being replaced by other mediums like film and television?

Ken: I think theatre thrives on change; it’s essential to its nature. No matter what happens, theatre will always have a place in our society, holding a mirror up to our virtues and our faults. 

Kenn Rabin: Theatre will always exist, whether it’s in a garage or on top of a mountain, in a play done outdoors in a park, or in the gymnasium of a school. Stories acted out, live, in front of an audience – that form – is imprinted now on our DNA, and it won’t be taken away.


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!

Friday, April 13, 2012

PlayGround Film Festival Blog, Episode I

I first went to PlayGround at Berkeley Rep four years ago and my partner Kim and I enjoyed it and the whole concept so much we decided to subscribe. It was the first time in my life I’ve subscribed to any theater company. That’s how much we liked it.

So a couple of happy years of Monday evenings rolled by and I kept thinking that there was so much potential here to make films with all this material. About a year ago, I mustered up my courage and gave Jim Kleinmann a call and he courteously agreed to meet me for breakfast at Au Coquelet in Berkeley. We chatted away about film and theater and who we knew and what we could do and it was all very nice but it looked like nothing much was going to come of it … probably like all the other meetings Jim has had with similar kinds of dreamers.

But I thought on the idea for several months and by then I had gained some experience and knowledge about the difficulty of selling “one-off” projects (notably my own feature film SNIFF which is now finally getting distribution). I called up Jim again and he agreed to a second meeting where I suggested the idea that cable companies are interested in series because they can “build an audience”, and that the vast library of tried and tested PlayGround material would lend itself to such a project.

This seemed to light a fire for Jim who started to see possibilities, so we started meeting more regularly and eventually we came up with the idea of a Film Festival competition, not only as a means to an end, but as a renewable entity in and of itself. 

We had many meetings. I drafted up several versions of competition rules and we argued and agreed about how much and how many and why and why not … but it really was all just a possibility until at the end of one of the meetings Jim said “You know, Barry, I love what we have created, but I can’t just go and ask PlayGround to shell out a whole bunch of money from our regular budget that I still haven’t finished raising. What are you going to contribute to all of this? At least if you came in with a thousand dollars I’d have something to go to the Board with.” 

So that for me was when the rubber met the road. I realized I would have to go out and raise some cash or this scheme just wasn’t going to happen. I had raised significant chunks of money for my own film, so I couldn’t go back to any of my heavy hitters. I needed a new method. Without much forethought I just started telling people about the project and asking them for a hundred dollars! It didn’t take me long to realize that our plan was a pretty good one because people just kept saying yes. That and the magic of the number 100. It’s a significant amount of cash for most people but just manageable. People loved the idea of bringing more work to the Bay Area and supporting Bay Area writers and the idea of enjoining the theater and film community. So they kept saying yes. Even my friends in Canada who have no connection to PlayGround other than me. “Sure I can throw in a hundred" or "well, I can’t do a hundred but I can do fifty or forty.” 

I got a huge amount of pleasure calling up Jim every time I reached the next 500 mark. He played it pretty cool to start with but I knew he was excited. The next phase was a gradual introduction of the idea to the board and I’m glad to say they were all excited by the potential and agreed to get fully behind it.  So all we had to do (!) was fine-tune the rules, get the plays in a readable form online, work out a much-too-hasty timeline, get the word out to the potential filmmakers and hope that we had left them enough time to pick a play and apply.

Stay tuned for PlayGround Film Festival Blog, Episode II: The Competition!

PlayGround Company in the News Apr-12


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

At the 16th annual PlayGround Benefit & Awards Night on April 2, PlayGround feted this year’s Emerging Playwright Award winners (Garret Jon Groenveld, Genevieve Jessee, Robin Lynn Rodriguez, Mercedes Segesvary, Kirk Shimano, Cleavon Smith and Ignacio Zulueta) and also announced the 2012 June Anne Baker Prize winner (Robin Lynn Rodriguez) and 2012 PlayGround Fellowship winners (Ignacio Zulueta and Crish Barth). Congratulations to all!

Crish Barth’s FIRING RANGE, Emily Esner’s SPOTLIGHT and Daniel Heath’s SIREN – all written for the Monday Night PlayGround O’Neill collaboration this season – were selected for the Eugene O'Neill Foundation Playwrights Theatre to be stage-read on Sunday May 6, at Tao House. Josy Miller (former Artistic Director for Hapgood Theatre Company) will be directing the pieces with a stellar cast. The performances begin at 3 pm.

Ignacio Zulueta’s full-length play THE FELLOWSHIP, based on the short play originally developed for the 2010-11 Monday Night PlayGround “It Gets Better” season opener, will be showcased at AlterLAB’s April Salon on April 17 in San Rafael. His sketch comedy and short films can be seen in THE MAD STASH: DISCOVERY running April 19-26 at the Firehouse Collective North in Berkeley. His newest short play, MR. SULAWESI & THE HARVESTERS, can be seen at 60 Million Plus Theatre’s "THE DOLL EXHIBIT”, April 27 at the Sargent Johnson Gallery in the African American Art and Culture Complex of San Francisco. And finally, Ignacio is wrapping up his 2012-13 year as an Asian American Theatre Company Incubator member, where he and his fellow Asian-American PlayGround writers Kirk Shimano and Sang Kim developed new full-length works for the Bay Area and beyond.

Robyn Brooks’ THE HOUSE developed for PlayGround's February Topic, "Patterns of Chaos," has been selected to be staged as part of Tennessee Women's Theater Project (TWTP) Women's Work Festival 2012, in Nashville Tennessee, on May 20, 2012.

In April, City Light San Jose is doing a reading of Spring Shorts that includes Ross Nelson’s 10-minute play CLUB GASTRO which takes the concept of "food porn" to a new level. Next up will be a three week run of Pear Slices, at the Pear in Mountain View, running from May 11-June 3. His contribution to the evening will be MOUNTING OLYMPUS. Diane Sampson’s short play INTIMACY will be produced in June as part of New York City's Looking Glass Theatre's semi-annual Forum series. Nancy Carlin will be performing in SPRING AWAKENING (the musical!) at Center Rep, April 19-May 6. Molly Aaronson-Gelb is directing. http://www.centerrep.org/season1112/spring awakening.php

Lauren Yee's existentialist slasher comedy HOOKMAN will open this month in San Diego as part of UCSD's Baldwin New Play Festival. The show, directed by Larissa Lury, runs from April 19-28. Mark Routhier recently directed CHARLOTTE’S WEB, which opened on March 31 at Orlando Shakes, and had surgery for the torn meniscus in his right knee on April 12. Heal quickly, Mark!

Robert Sicular just opened HEARTBREAK HOUSE at the Denver Center and will finally be returning to California in May to do BILL W. AND DR. BOB at San Jose Rep. Ron Campbell just returned from his tour with Cirque du Soleil in Japan and will be in the Bay Area for the next couple months doing workshops at Berkeley Rep and is available for readings and kid's parties.

Alex Moggridge just finished performing in EAT YOUR HEART OUT in the Humana Festival for New American Plays at Actors' Theatre of Louisville. Cat Thompson is finishing as a teaching artist for the year at St. John's and at Tam High. Next she will be at Marin Shakes for Titania in MIDSUMMER and Clarice in David Ives' THE LIAR.