Friday, May 16, 2014

FOR LOVE OF THE GAME: An Interview with Ruben Grijalva

Playwright Ruben Grijalva was recently interviewed about his new full-length play, VALUE OVER REPLACEMENT. VOR is one of four full-length plays in PlayGround’s 2014 Festival of New Works. Grijalva’s play—funny, philosophical and poignant in turns—presents Edward “Chip” Fuller, a radio sports personality and one-time major league shortstop. When baseball fans begin to realize that their heroes have been stoked with steroids, Chip is expected to denounce the drugs. Instead, he unleashes a scandal by telling a darker and more difficult truth.
Grijalva earned PlayGround’s Emerging Playwright Award in 2013 for an early, ten-minute version of Value Over Replacement (Ruben is also represented in this year’s Best of PlayGround with another short play, Mr. Wong’s Goes to Washington). He’s not only a playwright and director, but also a filmmaker, with a BA in Cinema from San Francisco State and the award-winning baseball-themed short film Shadow Ball (2007) to his credit.

PlayGround: Tell us about the first incarnation of this play in PlayGround's 2012/13 season. It started out as a ten-minute play inspired by the prompt “PLAY BALL.” How did you happen upon the idea of an unrepentant steroids-user?

Ruben Grijalva: I grew up watching McGwire and Canseco dominate the late 1980s at the Oakland Coliseum and then spent my early twenties watching Barry Bonds from the right field knothole at AT&T Park. As it became clear what was going on with those guys, I, like many fans, went through periods of denial, disgust, and disillusionment. And then I considered: if put in the same position, would I do steroids too? I had to consider the underlying ethical and philosophical questions. What does it mean to cheat? What is fairness? What defines an achievement? Where do my efforts end and the drugs begin?

Here's the lucky part: I already had the basic premise of Value Over Replacement scribbled on a notebook somewhere, but I hadn't started actually writing the play. PlayGround gave me a reason to start.

PG: How was the ten-minute version received? Did you already know that this play had potential to grow into something bigger?

RG: I had always intended to write a full-length play, so the question wasn't whether it could be bigger, but whether I could shrink the themes into a ten minute play. The act of squeezing a fairly big concept into ten pages helped me figure out what the play was really about. The reaction to the Monday night performance convinced me I had found an emotional core. You don't have to care about baseball or steroids to relate to Chip's situation.

PG: How did the PlayGround commission process work for you? What support did you get?

RG: I joined PlayGround for the deadlines. I really need that adrenaline shot of an impending deadline to do good work. There was a moment as the deadline approached when I didn't feel ready to share. Sometimes you need to have a person you don't want to disappoint, and [Artistic Director] Jim [Kleinmann] and [Associate Director] Annie [Stuart] are just the kind of people you want to show up for. And of course, once I was finished with the first act, Jim, Annie, [Director] Graham [Smith], and the cast from the table read provided some great insights that helped shape the second draft.

PG: What challenges did you encounter in developing a ten-minute play into a full-length?

RG: There's a temptation to try to say too much. I spun my wheels on some subplots and stylistic departures that didn't add anything. I got tangled up in all the possibilities for a while, so I put off writing and focused on research. Meanwhile, more stories about contemporary stars like Alex Rodriguez, Ryan Braun, and Melky Cabrera kept popping up, and every one of them engaged in some kind of parsing. They either claimed to be very sorry, denied the efficacy of steroids, or denied that they'd used them at all, despite extensive evidence. What I was waiting for was a guy brave enough to say, “I did it, and I'm not sorry.” If the first act is about how a generally well-intentioned person can be compelled to cheat, the second act is how they can be compelled to lie. Once I figured this out, the play found the symmetry it needed.

PG: The full-length play introduces several notable new characters, including Alex, Chip's ten-year-old son, described as a "high-functioning autistic." What does Alex’s autism add to your play?

RG: Alex began as a kind of device. I wanted Chip and Emily to have a son with a challenge that they are especially well positioned to deal with. But as the play developed, Alex became a real catalyst. His literal interpretation of certain ideas and his intolerance for dishonesty become driving influences. By expressing a black and white viewpoint in a very grey situation, Alex helps throws the complexity into relief.

PG: Though your play is about moral choices and failings, there doesn't seem to be a villain. Did you make a conscious decision to eschew a bad guy in this story?

RG: Two reasons I try not to write villains. First, I really don't think there are many true villains in the world. The vast majority of people are just doing what makes sense from their perspective.

Second, I try to make each character's argument as fully and honestly as I can because the whole project of narrative is about expanding sympathy. If I can get a sense of where you're coming from, it's a lot harder to judge you. I think this is the chief virtue of fiction, drama, and cinema, at least the good stuff. It widens our circle of empathy and helps us appreciate the depth and complexity in others’ experiences.

PG: What's next for "Value Over Replacement"?

RG: I definitely want to work toward a full production. I'm also currently attempting to adapt the short play into a short screenplay.

PG: What’s your next big writing project?

RG: I feel compelled to move quickly on a feature screenplay called Great. It's an intimate portrayal of early adopters of radical life extension—the first people to reach 130, 140, 150 years of age. I am fascinated by the possibility, and how/if radically longer lives might change the way we think about life, the universe, and everything.


VALUE OVER REPLACEMENT will be performed as a script-in-hand staged reading at the PlayGround Festival of New Works at Thick House (1695 18th Street, San Francisco) on Sunday, May 18 at 2pm and again on Sunday, May 25 at 12 noon. Admission is free ($15 suggested donation) and reservations are not required though encouraged. For more information on this or any of the other full-length staged readings in this year’s Festival or to reserve your tickets, visit

Ruben Grijalva earned his BA in Cinema from SFSU and helped start the fitness-entertainment company Virtual Active. Works include the award-winning short film Shadow Ball (2007), the full-length play Foresight (2010), and the short play Value Over Replacement, which featured in the Best of Playground 2013.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

THE DEVIL YOU KNOW: An Interview with Daniel Heath

Playwright Daniel Heath and Director/Actor George Maguire had a one-hour sit-down interview over coffee and afternoon treats outside of Crixa Cakes on Adeline downstairs from Daniel's Berkeley offices at Giant Rabbit. Two public staged readings of Daniel’s new script, DUST TO DUST, will be offered as part of the PlayGround Festival of New Works at the Thick House on May 18 at 11:00am and May 24 at 4:00pm

George Maguire: Let’s talk about you for a few minutes if we could. Playwright?? How many plays have you written?

Daniel Heath: This [DUST TO DUST] is my fifth full-length. Just Theater has done their New Play Lab for a number of years where they get five writers and five directors together and pair them up, doing a few meetings over a six-month period where everybody writes a new play, the “in-progress” scripts are passed out and are read beginning to end.

G: Didn’t DUST TO DUST start out as a one-act?

D: Thanks for reminding me. It did start as a PlayGround one-act, and then I got invited to be a part of this play lab, and after I had written the short for PlayGround, it felt like a full-length play crammed into a ten-minute format, so I just got started and it began to unfold pretty easily.

G: What’s the difference then between this ten-minute PlayGround play and the new full-length?

D: The ten-minute play basically was the granddaughter showing up, the state of the apartment and a very quick look at the social worker showing up and him turning out to be bad. In the full-length, I’m trying to have more balance and letting the play read both ways. Is he bad?

G: Well, his name is Nick? The devil? At the end of it, I was asking myself Hmmmm…is he the devil?

D: Good and I think that is really important. In the ten-minute version I couldn’t go with ambiguity.

G: Where did the idea come from for DUST TO DUST? 

D: The PlayGround topic was “ICON” so the icon in the play is the religious icon, and this play is unusual in that I don’t write about personal things I’m thinking about or my own experience, BUT I have had personal interactions with “hoarders”, who were really far along in the spectrum, leaving a strong impression on me, and this was tricky. I feel the essential thing needed in order to write effectively about something is “compassion”. You can’t make a very interesting judgment that’s uninteresting theater, and pointing out how gross and sad something is, is also damn uninteresting theater. So, how do you write about something that is incredibly sad when you see it?

G: So writing it, did you look at your life with your wife Anna and go “Honey? We HOARD!” Because that is exactly what happened to me when I read your play!

D: (laughing)…Oh, wow... We’ve been wedged into a fairly small apartment for a long time, but at the moment we’re doing…OK! But the diapers alone of the coming baby boy will change things I’m sure.

G: So…is the play going to get presented then?

D: There’s nothing signed, and I feel that every new play needs (certainly for me) a rehearsal and performance process. You learn so much about a play in the rehearsal process with good actors and a director. I could never write a play that didn’t change during that process, and the PlayGround readings in May will definitely give me valuable rehearsal and re-writing, so that the script is really tight and as good as I can possibly get it. There’s no substitute for the rehearsal process – you can’t simulate that artistic collaboration.

G: Do you ever get a little crazy in the rehearsal process when people are opining like crazy over your work. What’s you bottom line? What’s your “I draw the line in the sand”?

D: Wow! Cool question. For me though the rehearsal process watching and listening as people opine is fascinating and FUN!!!

I have things I am “up to”, things I am trying to accomplish in this play, and if I had a director or cast who didn’t get it…well (laughing)…that would be a problem, but as of yet….I have never had that problem. And the caliber of actors and directors who work for PlayGround – they have tremendous respect for the intention of the writer. It’s humbling how much respect… the stunning good faith actors have as they try to figure out something, when it’s actually sometimes… just a bad scene. So I just want to say, “Thank you so much for giving me the benefit of the doubt.” (Laughing.)

G: Have you ever started a rehearsal and gone “Ok, THIS is not working.” And then tossed out what you had?

D: Oh yeah! In fact I’m going to be teaching a playwriting course for PlayGround this summer, and the topic is “How to come up with, evaluate, work with and then sometimes discard your ideas.” I think it’s something you learn with experience and you have to write through your ideas to find out if they’re any good. Experience gives you the knowledge that you can spend thirty hours on a scene and it’s never going to be any good, because there’s a flaw in its conception. AND not all ideas are good. So not wasting time on a blind alley is one of the great results of experience.

G: How many plays do you work on at the same time? Are you a multi-tasker?

D: Having my own business, and soon being a father, it’s a challenge to carve out time to do the art, so I tend to write late at night. Most of DUST TO DUST was written between 11pm and 2 in the morning. PlayGround’s deadlines are really helpful to me – giving me that extra push.

G: (laughing). I am asleep kid! Even when I was younger! Now at my age, 2am is the first time I wake up and pee. How did you start being a writer?

D: Ever since I was a kid, I wrote. I grew up in a tiny north central Indiana town of two stop lights. My father was a Protestant pastor. I read a lot as a kid – you know that terrible science fiction, and then I went on to Grad school for English Lit here at Cal which kinda broke my ability to read for fun. I can go to plays for fun, thank God, but trashy novels…not anymore. I guess I’m too smart for that. There’s something wrong with me now. I tried fiction writing for a number of years, diligently but unsuccessfully. I finished writing several books but never got one published – but I learned a lot, and that was sorta my boot camp. And then I found PLAYGROUND. I saw an advertisement for “The Best Of” maybe ten years ago. I applied, wrote my first play ever and got into the PlayGround Pool, and took to the play format pretty quickly.

G: So PlayGround is really an incubator for your plays.

D: Absolutely. It’s how I started writing plays, and it’s how I met my wife.

G: Which playwrights do you admire?

D: There are certain playwrights who have a grasp of the full-length form that I aspire to, and my favorites are Edward Albee and Caryl Churchill. Think of all the awful plays written by people emulating them. Now a lot of writers think it’s cool to not put “speaker attributions” in their work because Churchill made it look good, by creating an hour or two stage experience for people as she works through their emotions and human sympathies that is subtle, beautiful and compelling.

G: You got anything now you’re working on?

D: Yeah, preparing for the child! (laughing). I probably will start something new in 2015, and I’ll probably write only about diapers.

Who knows? Among my favorite quotes is from George Elliot and it’s “Among all the forms of error, prophesy is the most gratuitous.”

G: Daniel. Thanks so much for the time, the coffee, the cake and above all the insight into you and your work. Congratulations on everything – and THAT is a lot!!


DUST TO DUST will be performed as a script-in-hand staged reading at the PlayGround Festival of New Works at Thick House (1695 18th Street, San Francisco) on Sunday, May 18 at 11am and again on Saturday, May 24 at 4pm. Admission is free ($15 suggested donation) and reservations are not required though encouraged. For more information on this or any of the other full-length staged readings in this year’s Festival or to reserve your tickets, visit

Daniel Heath's productions of full-length plays include Seven Days (SF Playhouse, San Francisco, 2010), Man of Rock (New York Musical Theatre Festival 2011, and the Climate Theatre, San Francisco, 2010) and A Merry Forking Christmas (PianoFight, San Francisco, 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012). He is a PlayGround Resident Playwright and two-time recipient of PlayGround commissions, and his short plays have been performed across the U.S. and Canada. He wrote Dust to Dust as part of Just Theater's New Play Lab in 2012. By day he is a founding partner in Giant Rabbit, LLC, a company that builds web sites and data systems for non-profit organizations. 

George Maguire celebrates 50 years as a member of Actors Equity Association. He is the Artistic Director Emeritus of the award winning Solano College Theater, and co-founder of the renown Actor Training Program, whose graduates include company member Jon Tracy. He has acted both on and Off-Broadway and regionally with Actors Theater of Louisville,the Hartman Theater, the Clarence Brown Theater, the Barter Theater, the Riverside, Northshore and Great Lakes Shakespeare Festivals, in over 35 film and TV roles, and locally with A.C.T., Berkeley Rep, CenterRep, Marin Theater Company, the Magic Theater, Shotgun Players, and 5 seasons as a resident actor with Marin Shakespeare Festival. Along with the 50+ productions he has directed for tje O'Neill Foundation, New Conservatory Theater Center, Solano College/Harbor Theater, he has directed for Broadway By The Bay, CenterRep, the Willows Theater, PCPA Theaterfest and projects for A.C.T., The Oregon and Great Lakes Shakespeare Festivals. He is the recipient of the 1984 Samuel French One-Act Playwriting Award for THE ENCHANTED MESA.

DIVING INTO THE DEEP END: An Interview with Jonathan Spector

PlayGround Company Member/playwright/actor Steven Westdahl and playwright/director Jonathan Spector discussed ADULT SWIM, Mr. Spector's new full-length play about a pair of teenage lifeguards struggling to unwrap the mysteries of life during a hot, slow summer amongst bratty kids, killer ping pong and lots of whistle-twirling. Two public staged readings of this script will be offered as part of the PlayGround Festival of New Works at the Thick House on May 17 at 3:00pm and May 24 at 1:00pm. 

Steven Westdahl: Some say "write what you know." Did you do any lifeguarding as a teenager?

Jonathan Spector: … No, I never did [lifeguarding] as a teenager. I did have a couple summers in late elementary school/early junior high where my friends and I spent nearly every day at the local swimming pool, so I think I have a feel for the atmosphere I'm drawing on.

At that time, the lifeguards all seemed impossibly older and cooler than we were, but we were also very much on the cusp of social social self-awareness and in this place where you could unselfconsciously be a kid one day and then live in the anxiety-strewn minefield of adolescence the next. 

SW: Coming of age has certainly changed over the years but some of it has stayed the same. We touch upon some major milestones in the story of these kids. Drugs, death, war, sex, authority, surveillance... loving and losing. Is this a play for teens or a play for adults about teens? Is there a difference? 

JS; It's certainly not intended as a play for teens in the theater for young audiences sense, though I would hope that teenagers could enjoy it and that it wouldn't ring false for them.

SW: The formatting of your script is something the audience will likely never see; the poetic line breaks, the lack of punctuation, the capitalization of words for intensification and intent. As an actor myself, I can see and hear the voice of a director in these beats and cues. How was your scriptwriting style developed? Any major influences that you can point to?

JS: The text layout, I think, comes out of the challenge of: when you want to write something that in some way approximates real speech patterns, and then need to find a way to communicate that to your actors on the page, it's pretty clear pretty quickly that a traditionally constructed written sentence is not a very useful tool to do that.

I had directed a play by Melissa James Gibson not long before I wrote my first play. She also has a totally idiosyncratic line-break-and-punctuation-heavy way of writing that I found incredibly helpful and fun to work with as a director, and so I'm sure that informed what I was doing. Though her language tends to a more stylized place. But lots of people write in this way these days, though I think everyone does it differently.

As a reader of plays, I find it a helpful way to clearly hear the writer's voice. And really, don't we all just wish we could be Caryl Churchill, who seems to basically invent a new technique for writing dialogue for each play, depending on its needs?

Probably the way of writing also has to do something with my background as a director. I guess I can't help but wanting to do a little directing of actors in the writing. 

SW: Having a swimming pool onstage as a central set piece is a big ask for a theatre company. What does the magical realism and practical artifice of theatre offer and/or limit for you when you start with a blank page? Do you ever stop to think "this will prevent production" or "this will scare off a producer"? Is the sky the limit? Can theatre do anything/everything you imagine?

JS: In terms of the production challenges of this piece, yes, the swimming pool could be a considerable one. I started writing this as part of the Bake-Off that Peter Nachtrieb organized and part of my thinking was, well this is just a silly play I'm writing in four days, so I may as well have fun and make it totally impossible to produce. But now that I've lived with it more, I'm trying to move it to a place where it could also be done in a super-minimal low-budget way.

There's a spectrum of representing these magical things in a super literal way that would feel more like, say, a magic show. You'd be pushing on the "wow, how did they do that?" But there's also an iteration where the magic is theatrical magic, and we see what's happening in front of us, and the magic is that we're transforming this one object into another one because we're all pretending together.

But yes, I think if this thing gets out into the world, I need to make it absolutely clear that you don't need to actually have a swimming pool onstage to make it work. Though that would be awesome.


ADULT SWIM will be performed as a script-in-hand staged reading at the PlayGround Festival of New Works at Thick House (1695 18th Street, San Francisco) on Saturday, May 17 at 3pm and again on Saturday, May 24 at 1pm. Admission is free ($15 suggested donation) and reservations are not required though encouraged. For more information on this or any of the other full-length staged readings in this year’s Festival or to reserve your tickets, visit

Jonathan Spector is the Co-Artistic Director of Just Theater, where he has directed The Internationalist, 1001, Current Nobody, and I Have Loved Strangers. He has also directed and developed work with Muwgumpin, Aurora Theater, and Playwrights Foundation. Also a playwright, he has been a winner of Aurora Theater's Global Age Prize, PlayGround's Emerging Playwright Award, and Theatre Bay Area's TITAN award. His plays have been produced and/or developed with Aurora Theater, PlayGround, Just Theater, Playwrights Foundation, Stanford University, and the Source Theater Festival. He is a Resident Playwright at Playwrights Foundation and his play In From The Cold will premiere this fall at Just Theater.

Steven Westdahl graduated from Emory University with degrees in English and Theatre & Film. While in Atlanta, he co-founded the multi-media production company Collective Works and co-created shows like The Wide Open Beaver Festival and The Invisible College. Since returning home to the Bay Area, he hosts and performs monthly at WRITE CLUB SF at the Make-Out Room and Shipwreck at the Booksmith bookstore. At the beginning of this year, Steven became a founding member of the San Francisco Neo-Futurists (2014 Winner: Best Theater, SF Weekly Readers' Poll). This was Steven's first year in the PlayGround writer's pool and his short play If All the World's a Stage, Where's the Audition? was a Best of PlayGround finalist.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

HIPSTERS ATE MY NEIGHBORHOOD: An Interview with Robin Lynn Rodriguez

Director Michael French interviewed playwright Robin Lynn Rodriguez about HEDGE, one of four bold new full-length plays selected for this year’s PlayGround Festival of New Works. Each play will receive two public staged readings at Thick House the weekends of May 17-18 and May 24-25.  For more information on the PlayGround Festival and readings, click here.

Question: There’s little money and fewer and fewer new plays, so why would anyone want to become a playwright?

Answer: Because one day you might write a brilliant, provocative, and daring new play like “Hedge” by Robin Lynn Rodriguez.

The dynamic of “Hedge” revolves around four hipster friends newly resident in a “transitional” neighborhood in East Oakland. Lily is African-American; Jason, David, and Jen are not. One summer afternoon, a long-time resident from the other side of the street commits an act of domestic violence so ferocious and bloody that the friends, unlike the rest of the neighborhood, are thrown into shock. Jen doesn’t know what to do with her conflicted feelings about the act of violence or the neighborhood silence, and so she does the next best thing and invites the brother of the wife-beater to dinner. The result of the dinner is nothing short of nuclear war….

Robin Lynn Rodriguez is of Mexican and Caucasian descent, she’s the mother of two adopted African-American girls and a biological son, and her husband is Australian. I met Robin Lynn over English breakfast tea and zucchini bread at the Blue Dot CafĂ© in Alameda.

Michael French: You’ve got a great play on your hands….

Robin Lynn Rodriguez: Thanks.

MF: …and a pretty incendiary one too. Autobiographical?

RLR: Yes and no. If you remember back in 2005 to 2007 people were climbing over themselves to buy houses in East Oakland at exorbitant prices with the assumption that the neighborhoods were all gentrifying. Everybody thought these neighborhoods were up and coming, and some of them like Fruitvale popped, and some of them didn’t pop. Then when the crash happened they stopped being transitional, they were just…. Houses were being foreclosed on and some people were just getting out because their houses were worth less than half of what they paid, and as a result the neighborhoods started to get really shaky…. And these were old growth neighborhoods that had traditionally had some black families that had lived there for fifty years in the same house, generations, and then hipsters had moved in. It was just such an interesting dynamic. That was our street.  

MF: And the “Hedge” of the title?

RLR: There’s this hedge in the play that’s wild and overgrown because the neighbor’s house is going to pot and the friends, which are made up of two couples, are obsessively fixated on this hedge and the fact that it’s creating this shadow that is increasingly impending on the yard of one of the couples.

MF: The character description mentions that Lily has a “natural hairstyle”. Why did you feel the need to mention that?

RLR: Because, and I want to be really clear…To be perfectly frank there’s a lot of black sophistication in the theatre world in terms of understanding how different black identities come across, and Lily is socio-economically upper middle class, but she’s Berkeley upper middle class –

MF: She certainly has a hipster feel to her....

RLR: Exactly, so she’s got that hipster Mills graduate kind of a feel and I wanted that to communicate, and to me, her having pressed or relaxed hair would not communicate that… She’s black proud. She’s very much black proud… She’s the kind of person where that would be a political statement for her. I wanted to articulate that really clearly because I know that there’s a lot of white directors out there that are not going to understand that difference and put an actress with pressed hair in the role. I also wanted black actresses going into the role clearly understanding that this is a woman who is proud of her hair.

MF: Lily is a really complicated character to me because she has the veneer of white privilege.

RLR: I wouldn’t say she has the veneer of white privilege. I think she has what is called, at least in the Bay area… She has that upper middle class black experience. 

MF: I suppose what I meant by white privilege is that she’s attended good schools, her world view is not the neighborhood –

RLR: Absolutely.

MF: …it’s much larger than that --   

RLR: She’s privileged. Sure. It’s a common aphorism that I’ve heard said that when you’re poor, and we’ll use poor for brown and poor, you’re an Oakland resident, and when you’re white it doesn’t matter where you live you’re a Bay Area resident.

MF: The role of men in the play. There’s Craig, the brother of the wife beater, there’s the wife beater himself, who’s nameless, and there’s the hipsters David and Jason. Talk to me a little bit about them.

RLR: Well, it’s a woman’s play, there’s no question about that. The most interesting relationships to me were about the women. Jason, Jen’s husband, is a total asshole hipster, grandiose, save-the-planet type of person, and Lily’s husband is very protective, very insular, and cares about the family and stuff like that. Lily, as a personality, has more of a princessy vibe. In my mind she’s the youngest in a large family. Both the men are kind of jerks, not that Lily or Jen are any nicer people or better people than them, but we’re inside of them more and so we see things from their point of view and so they seem more reasonable because we’re actually relating to them, but they’re not any nicer or better.

MF: I suppose another reason why I asked about the role of men is that you could have picked any number of incidents to articulate the difference between the neighborhood and the hipsters, but domestic violence--

RLR: Which really happened, that’s why…

MF: But in terms of how black men are seen, it plays into a particular stereotype, and the violence in that scene is pretty extreme-- I mean, not extreme, it’s real, it’s raw, and I’m curious if you had any hesitation in portraying, at least in my view, another black man as beating up—

RLR: Yes, yes, yes! Absolutely! Right. I mean, the thing is…. One of the hardest things when you talk about white privilege is when you have to draw a comparison, and part of that comparison is identification of how the other….of how black people, brown people in general come across societally…. And then you get into a neighborhood and it’s like, really, I have to have black neighbors with pit bulls? Really? I mean, could you be more of a stereotype!? And what do you do with that, right?

MF: As a writer?

RLR: No, I guess, as a person…. As a writer what I’m interested in is the understanding that that stuff is going to be what some people experience, stuff that you see as writers… And so how can we examine what the core issues are without shying away from those things that you’re actually seeing. So I have Lily as juxtaposition, so it’s not like there are only black characters that fit a stereotype, but how do I deal with the fact that this is what some people experience and yet say unflinchingly that this is exactly what happened—

MF: It’s a very brave scene…

RLR: Yeah, no, it’s brave, and I didn’t want to fall into the trap of pretending this stuff doesn’t happen, or get scared and run away from it… I could never work in domestic violence, no way, never: Slam their hands in car doors, problem solved. And then you meet someone and realize,… You find out later that this person has a history of domestic violence and that they’ve dealt with their substance abuse issues or whatever, and cleaned themselves up. In the end you have to say everyone deserves grace.

MF: The domestic violence episode sets the scene for the dinner between the hipsters and Craig, the brother of the wife beater. There are many memorable scenes in the play, but I think it’s safe to say that the one that’s going to get most people talking the loudest is the dinner scene. It’s brutal.

RLR: And for all that I have to say about the hipsters, they’re the ones who break the silence around the domestic violence, the neighborhood insularity, by trying to do something about it with the dinner. It explodes in their faces, but--  

MF: It’s Lily’s behavior at the dinner, which really left me speechless, that led me to say that she has the veneer of white privilege. Everything she says to Craig is laced with “you people” and she and Craig are black.  

RLR: Well, at some point in time I’m standing outside my experience and observing, and it’s dangerous territory. I’ve been working on this play for years and doing a lot of fact checking, and there’s a huge responsibility to get it right when I’m talking about someone’s experience that’s not my own. I still wouldn’t call what she has as white privilege.

MF: It’s the hipsters that in many ways lose the most because of the dinner.

RLR: It alters them, their friendships, their expectations, what they are able to handle and what they’re not able to handle… What they want the neighborhood to be and what it’s not, necessarily. Everything changes for them.

MF: It’s a beautiful scene, beautifully put together. Do you have a writer’s process? I mean, do you sketch out the idea first or do you just start writing?  

RLR: In this instance I very much sketched out the idea first I guess, because it’s based on an actual event and I wanted to get it right, but in general I just start writing, and this took years to finish, years to finish. 

MF: You said you’ve been writing it on and off for how long?  

RLR: Three years. It was completed in about two years and then I took a break, took a pause, and had a staged reading at my husband’s church and brought the community in.  This led to good, hard, tough conversations where there was a lot of fact checking and making sure... It’s scary. It’s a very scary play for me and very personal, and I’m really hoping that I haven’t made a mistake.

MF: Oh, man, I get that, I really get that… So what do you hope to get from the PlayGround staged readings?  

RLR: I brought my community in and that was good, but I hope this reading starts an even larger conversation. That’s why I love theatre. It’s the perfect place to have this conversation because you have the complexity of characters instead of an academic discussion.  

MF: And you’re a writer of color?

RLR: Yes, absolutely! And here’s why, because there’s an expectation that I am.

MF: Ha!ha!ha!

RLR: No, right? When you’re standing in that middle ground— I believe in racial and socio-economic reconciliation and the joke is that I write one play, and I’m just going to keep writing the same play over and over again until people change. And that’s ok with me because I think there’s a lot of ground to dig up on that.

MF: Yeah, so do I. Thanks so much.

RLR: Make me sound smarter. Whatever you do with this, make me sound smarter.

MF: Ok.    


HEDGE will be performed as a script-in-hand staged reading at the PlayGround Festival of New Works at Thick House (1695 18th Street, San Francisco) on Saturday, May 17 at 12 noon and again on Sunday, May 25 at 3pm. Admission is free ($15 suggested donation) and reservations are not required though encouraged. For more information on this or any of the other full-length staged readings in this year’s Festival or to reserve your tickets, visit

Robin Lynn Rodriguez has been writing with PlayGround for three years, joining the Resident Playwrights group this year. She is excited to present her full-length play Hedge in a staged reading at this year's Festival. Her full-length Hella Love Oakland was workshopped at the 2013 PlayGround Festival. The short version was featured at the 2012 Festival when she won the Emerging Playwright Award and the June Anne Baker Prize. Her work has also appeared at the One-Minute Play Festival and the Playwright's Theater at the Tao House.

Michael French is a company director with PlayGround. Originally from London, England, he relocated to the Bay Area in 2011 where he is now Artistic Director of The Aluminous Collective who will soon be moving into their new home in the brand new performance space "The Flight Deck" in Oakland. He recently directed FIRST by Evelyn Jean Pine in its world premiere at Stage Werx Theatre.

Friday, May 09, 2014

PlayGround Company in the News May-14

Read on to learn more about PlayGround Company Member and Alumni recent news, current happenings, and upcoming events.

Director/Writer Gabriel Grilli and Consulting Director Anthony Williams open never fall so heavily again, featuring performances by PlayGround regular Douglas Giorgis, on May 16th for a two-week run at Dance Mission. 

Erin Bregman's PlayGround commissioned A Bid to Save the World (2011 PlayGround Festival) is being performed in June at Washington DC's Source Festival. More information and tickets at 

Mary Baird can be seen in DAYLIGHTING at Shotgun Players, beginning previews May 21 and running thru June 22. 

Steven Westdahl and the rest of the San Francisco Neo-Futurists just won Best Theater in the SF Weekly Readers' Poll. Barely 6 months in existence and already the best. You can see why at Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind every Friday and Saturday at 9pm. 

Michael J. Asberry performed in Fences with the Marin Theatre Company in the role of 'Gabriel' for four shows during the first week of May. 

Patrick Alparone is rehearsing 36 stories by Sam Shepard at Word for Word/Z Space.  The show opens May 24.

LA web fest awarded SanFranLand 4 awards including Outstanding Ensemble (which includes Liz Anderson and PlayGround regular Patrick Russell)  and Outstanding New Comedy Series (plus awards for directing and editing). 

Aaron Wilton is in San Jose Rep's The Big Meal, which started previews last night and runs until June 1. 

Colin Johnson designed video projections for RAT GIRL, now playing as a part of DIVAFest at the Exit Theatre, and just launched the kickstarter campaign for TERROR RAMA, a live horror/comedy anthology he's directing in October.

Alumna Tania Katan is producing the award-winning story-performing series "Most of Lit Lounge" at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts featuring ALL of these literary rock stars (one from the Bay Area): 

Two members of the PlayGround Writer's Pool will have short plays staged by Wily West Productions in June. Madeleine Butler's play THE BOX and Madeline Puccioni's play THE INTERVIEW  will run as part of an evening of eight short plays in the Sheherezade 14 Festival at the Exit Theater in San Francisco. The Festival has just been extended to run for all four weekends in June. Tickets are available at, with discounts for preview night and purchases made before May 31. For more information, visit

Robert Sicular can be seen in What the Butler Saw, running at the Jewel Theatre in Santa Cruz through May 25th. For more info go to 

Eric Fraisher Hayes had the first public performance of his original play Tassajara 1964 this week.

Rebecca Pingree will be playing Prossy in Shaw's Candida (directed by Molly Aaronsen-Gelb), May 24 - June 14 at Town Hall Theatre of Lafayette. 

Ignacio Zulueta's world-premiere comedy THE FELLOWSHIP debuts June 18th at AlterTheater in San Rafael.  The opening scene was written expressly for PlayGround’s October 2010 “It Gets Better” topic. 

Fighting for Survival and Fourteen, two short plays written by Inbal Kashtan and directed by Jon Tracy, will be part of The Fringe of Marin, May 23 - June 1, in Program 1. For lower cost tickets that are part of a fundraiser, please contact Inbal at 

Rachel Bublitz's one-act play Much Ado About Mathletes will be at SFSU's Fringe Festival May 13, 15, and 17, for location and more details please visit the facebook event page: Rachel is also competing this month in WRITE CLUB SF; she will be reading a new work on May 20th at 8pm at the Make Out Room in San Francisco. Additionally, Rachel's ten-minute play Baby Shower Games is being produced by Love Creek Productions at the Producer's Club in New York City on May 30, 31, and June 1.

Michael Dougan’s first full-length play, Figments, has been named a semi-finalist in the 2014 Ashland New Play Festival competition. Final selections will be announced in June.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

PlayGround Young Playwrights Contest Finalists!

PlayGround is thrilled to announce the finalists for the 2014 Young Playwrights Contest. PlayGround invited aspiring writers and theatre artists at the high school level to write and submit their own 10-minute plays inspired by the topic:  ‘All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts…’ (from Shakespeare’s As You Like It). The four selected plays will each receive a professional staged reading, presented as a “curtain raiser” before select performances of the 18th Best of PlayGround Festival at Thick House in May. PlayGround invites audiences to join in welcoming these bold new voices to the stage.

The selected plays/ finalists are: WHO WANTS THE MOON by Eliza Mantz (Tamalpais High ’14); OCCUPI by Jake Rosenberg (JCHS of the Bay ’14); WALK A NIGHT IN MY MOCCASINS by Christine Lim (SOTA ’15); SOMNAMBULISM by Tessa King (Tamalpais High ’15). Zoe Kamil (JCHS of the Bay) was named a semi-finalist for her play, KIRU. Join us May 15-18 as we celebrate the work of these emerging young writers as a part of this year’s Best of PlayGround. For more info, visit

WHAT:           Young Playwrights Contest Staged Readings
            Thursday, May 15  @ 8pm / WHO WANTS THE MOON by Eliza Mantz
            Friday, May 16 @ 8pm / OCCUPI by Jake Rosenberg
            Saturday, May 17 @ 8pm / WALK A NIGHT IN MY MOCCASINS by Christine Lim
            Sunday, May 18 @ 7pm / SOMNAMBULISM by Tessa King

WHERE:         Thick House, 1695 18th Street, San Francisco, CA

About the Playwrights:

Tessa King attends Tamalpais High School. She loves reading and writing in any creative manor, especially playwriting. She hopes to write professionally in the future and travel the world while doing so. She thanks her friends and family for supporting her, as well as the CTE family.

Christine Lim was born in Rangoon, Burma (Yangon, Myanmar) and arrived to San Francisco with her family when she was a year old. She is currently a junior in the Theatre program at Ruth Asawa School of the Arts.

Eliza Mantz is a senior at Tamalpais High School.  She is a member of the Conservatory Theatre Ensemble, where she works as an actor, designer, and director.  She recently appeared as Alice in Alice: Tales of a Curious Girl.  Next year, Eliza will study theatre at Harvard.

Jake Rosenberg began playwriting at 16, and has already met with phenomenal success.  From The 2013 Young Playwrights Contest/Best of PlayGround Festival in San Francisco to winning the Producers Club Short Play Contest in New York City, to attending New York University next fall, Jake is excited to start his career!

About the Young Playwrights Project:
High school students from the Bay Area nine counties were invited to submit original short scripts inspired by the assigned topic, ‘All the world’s a stage…’. The same topic was also assigned to PlayGround’s professional writers pool members for the March 17 round of Monday Night PlayGround in residence at Berkeley Rep.

“Through the Young Playwrights Project, PlayGround and Bay Area high schools partner to enable young writers to find their own expressive voice through the creation, development, and production of short plays,” stated PlayGround Artistic Director Jim Kleinmann. This year marks the sixth year of the Bay Area-wide Young Playwrights Contest.  “This is a tremendous opportunity for creatively-inclined high school students to  experiment with writing for theatre in the ten minute theatre form. The finalists gain immeasurable confidence and accomplishment from seeing their works staged by Bay Area theatre professionals, alongside the adult professional playwrights at Best of PlayGround,” added PlayGround Education Coordinator Dylan Russell.

About PlayGround:
PlayGround, the Bay Area’s leading playwright incubator, provides unique development opportunities for the Bay Area’s best new playwrights, including the monthly Monday Night PlayGround staged reading series, annual Best of PlayGround Festival, full-length play commissions and support for the production of new plays by local playwrights through the New Play Production Fund and, PlayGround’s newest initiative, the PlayGround Film Festival. To date, PlayGround has supported nearly 200 local playwrights in the development and staging of over 680 original short plays and 50 new full-length plays, including more than a dozen that have since premiered in the Bay Area. For more information, visit

For more information, visit  For more information on the Young Playwrights Project, visit