Fortunately, there are strong, funny monologues written by funny folks like Jenny Yang.
The monologue is about how she was offered “Asian goggles” at a ski resort by someone named Skyler.
Judging from the racism, ski resortiness and name, my money’s on Park City, Utah as the location of said monologue. Park City is as racist a town as any I’ve seen.
Speaking of Wobblies, Jenny Yang’s career has gone from badass labor organizer to badass comedian. Highlights include: making videos for Cracked and performing at Upright Citizens Brigade Theater. Her commentary has been covered by the BBC, New York Times and a bunch of other places. She also wrote for Last Man Standing, but since that was a vehicle for human turd-goblin Tim Allen, I wouldn’t call it a highlight.
[A reader sent this in. A former member of the Dramatists Guild]
i submitted to a script call for plays for young performers. i ended up being one of the ten finalists & when the plays were staged, my piece was voted “audience favorite.” i reached out to several other finalist playwrights & began an email friendship with the playwright whose piece had been awarded “best play.”
the following year, we both submitted again & quite by chance, we both submitted scripts that were sequels/companions to the previous year’s entries. there was nothing in the rules forbidding this. both my friend & i made it through the first round of judging.
then, things fell apart.
apparently, due to problems within the theater company pertaining to my friend’s script (& having nothing to do with my script), it was decided – in the middle of the judging process – that ALL sequels to the previous year’s entries would not be allowed. thanks for changing the rules without any notice while the contest was underway, folks! not only that but i only found out the real reason my play was disqualified when my friend told me – she had been given a heartfelt apology & explanation from the director/playwright running the program. i got bupkis.
[It’s nice when when theatre companies just make it up as they go merrily along]
naturally, i never submitted to them again but…a few years later, i saw their script call on a playwright site. i posted a warning that entrants should be wary of this group & was promptly flamed by several other playwrights who obviously didn’t want to offend a producer/director. glad they had my back.
[Playwright-on-playwright nutsackery must end. I’ve seen too many examples of this to count. Could be a topic for another blog post]
Thank you for reading. Don’t forget the blog offers other goodies like Unknown Playwrights (living & dead) as well as Monologue Mondays.
If you have a theatre horror story, please send it to the blog. Everyone can remain anonymous.
For us, stage intimacy isn’t just sex or nudity, it’s personal vulnerability. Intimate moments could happen between grieving siblings, close friends or lovers. One good part about Google’s definition is that it uses the closeness between husband and wife as an example.
Maybe you remember in high school how awkward that kissing scene was in A Midsummer Night’s Dream? It would’ve been nice to have someone take that awkwardness down 1,000 notches. The adult theatre needs this.
If stage combat is choreographed, stage intimacy needs to be choreographed as well. When something is choreographed, it means there is a level of accuracy to be achieved and maintained. Think about how lame unchoreographed fights would look.
Just like with fight choreography, personal safety is a mandate. Similar to dance choreography, in intimacy choreography, a person with training has created movement for the moment that heightens the actors’ performance, that furthers the story, that fulfills the director’s creative vision. As a bonus, choreography is repeatable.
This is what happens when you lack an intimacy choreographer:
All of these elements make for story-telling that is safe for the performers, clear, and consistent. Communication with the audience is part of the goal of any performance, and intimacy choreography makes that possible.
Just like a dance choreographer trains in various genres of dance and fight choreographers train with weapons and hand-to-hand, intimacy choreographers should have training in creating these moments for the stage. The two organizations linked above are doing that. I have been lucky enough to train with both.
The importance of this work transcends everything from youth theatre to ballet companies to professional theatre to ballroom dance competition teams. All of these instances require a performance of authenticity and vulnerability, for the communication of a story to an audience. A performer’s personal safety and professional integrity should never be compromised for that. Nor should the story or the audience suffer because intimate moments weren’t crafted with the same deliberation as the rest of the performance. That is what an intimacy director or intimacy choreographer does.
This is the first in a series of posts penned by Nicole Perry, a dancer, choreographer, actor, director and intimacy director. We let Bryan Stubbles have some minor input.
Please check out Nicole’s Twitter feed where she often posts about the topic.
Welcome back to the blog. This week we’re featuring The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the Moon Marigolds – a word salad title if there ever was one.
Here is a plot synopsis: It focuses on three members of the Hunsdorfer family: mother Beatrice and her daughters Tillie and Ruth. The Hunsdorfers live in what used to be Beatrice’s father’s vegetable shop, but the shop has been closed for years. Beatrice married young, a disastrous failed marriage that ended in divorce (later, her husband died by heart attack). Now the Hunsdorfers are scraping by in poverty, with apparently their only source of income being the $50 a week that Beatrice gets for boarding Nanny, a senile old woman. Beatrice is angry and bitter about her fate, hating the whole world, projecting that hate out onto her daughters. Ruth has epilepsy, and at some point in the past had a mental breakdown—a condition that runs in the family, apparently, given her mother’s school nickname of “Betty the Loon”. Younger sister Tillie is a bright high-school student with a talent for science, but her vicious mother, hating everyone who’s better off in life than she is, seeks to crush Tillie’s success.
The play is a very good one, but also very depressing. It has a small cast, all female, with a wide age range. The film version is on Youtube.
The play did quite well. It premiered at Houston’s Alley Theatre in 1964 before premiering Off-Broadway in 1970, where it ran for 819 performances.
It also won all the Obies:
It also won the 1971 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
The most prominent actors in the play were probably Swoosie Kurtz (as Janice and as a replacement Tillie) and Joan Blondell (as a replacement Beatrice). Kurtz would go on to a stellar career on stage, in film and on TV. Blondell had already been super mega famous since the 1930s.
The play has been revived on Off-Broadway since and is commonly produced around the country. These are stills from the original Off-Broadway run.
Tillie: Today I saw it.
Towards the beginning of the play, Tillie is curious after having observed atoms exploding.
Ruth: She was just like you…
This is when Ruth is trying to do Tillie’s hair.
Janice: I got the cat from the A.S.P.C.A…
Tillie’s sorta rival is Janice, who basically has a cameo talking about a dead cat she used for her experiment…
Janice Vickery-same age as Tillie, competes against Tillie in the school science fair.
The Past:I got the cat from the A.S.P.C.A. immediately after it had been killed by a high-altitude pressure system.That explains why some of the rib bones are missing, because that method sucks the air out of the animal’s lungs and ruptures all the cavities.They say it prevents cruelty to animals but I think it’s horrible.(she laughs)Then I boiled the cat in a sodium hydroxide solution until most of the skin pulled right off, but I had to scrape some of the grizzle off the joints with a knife.You have no idea how difficult it is to get right down to the bones. (gong sounds)
I have to go on to The Present, now—but I did want to tell you how long it took me to put the thing together.I mean, as it is now, it’s extremely useful for the students of anatomy, even with the missing rib bones, and it can be used to show basic anatomical aspects of many, many animals that are in the family as felines.I suppose that’s about the only present uses I can think for it, but it is nice to remember as an accomplishment, and it look good on college applications to show you did something else in school besides dating. (she laughs and gong sounds again)
The Future: the only future plans I have for Tabby—my little brother asked the A.S.P.C.A. what its name was when we went to pick it up and they said it was called Tabby, but I think they were kidding him—(she laughs again) I mean as far as future plans, I’m going to donate it to the science department, of course, and next year, if there’s another Science Fair perhaps I’ll do the same thing with a dog.(third gong)Thank you very much for your attention, and I hope I win!
Tillie: He told me to look at my hand…
Tillie really likes her science teacher (pretty much the only person in the world who cares about her). This seems to be the most common monologue.
Tillie: He told me to look at my hand, for
a part of it came from a star that exploded too long ago to imagine. This part of me was formed from a tongue of fire that screamed through the heavens until there was our sun. And this part of me
this tiny part of me
was on the sun when it itself ex
ploded and whirled in a great
storm until the planets came to be.
And this small part of me was then a whisper of the earth. When there was a life,
perhaps this part of me got lost in a fern that was crushed and covered until it was
coal. And then it was a diamond millions of years later
it must have been a
diamond as beautiful as the star from which it had first come.
Or perhaps this part of me became lost in a terrible beast, or became part of a huge
bird that flew above the primeval swamps.
And hesaid this thing was so small
this part of me was so small it couldn’t be seen
but it was there from the beginning of the world.
And he called this bit of me an atom. And when wrote the word, I fell in love with
What a beautiful word.
Tillie: The seeds were exposed..
Tillie explains the experiment. Now, if you’re really into this play, Tillie is also talking about the abuse her and her sister receive from Beatrice. This is a powerful monologue when you know the context.
Beatrice: Will somebody get that…
The very next line launches into Beatrice’s monomania monologue.
Ruth: Can you believe it?
So this is Ruth getting excited about her sister’s success. Maybe.
Beatrice: Oh, I’ll tell you why…
Beatrice, like many abusive parents, has a weird way of “helping” her children. Here, she’s concerned about gamma rays and her daughter – yet calls like this are also an attempt to smother Tillie’s science passion by alienating the teacher.
Tillie: My experiment has shown…
The final monologue is also the final scene in the play. It offers Tillie’s hope, despite all her obstacles.
And thus we reach the end of our play. But we have trailers!!!
A director removed the first ten minutes of one of my plays.
They did it without my permission or my knowledge.
This is what happened, as best I remember it:
I had made travel arrangements to see the one-night-only performance of my play, but because of an emergency, the director had moved the performance up a few days, maybe a week, and I couldn’t make it. But I called in on the phone for the talkback session. The moderator, director, and other people involved talked to me about what worked in the play and what didn’t, and I took notes. It was a good talkback. But through the course of it, I learned that the audience had been generally confused about the play. And then someone (I don’t remember if it was the director, an actor, or someone else) asked if maybe the audience would have understood the story better if the first ten minutes had still been there.
I remember not being angry. I was more disappointed, sad, and surprised. Confused. What had caused this? The draft I had sent the director had still had its first ten minutes. Although I had once experimented with removing those ten minutes (more on that later), I was sure I didn’t have an electronic draft with the first ten minutes removed. Then I learned, though, that it hadn’t been me. In the talkback, the director admitted to cutting the first part of the first scene and to moving other things. The moderator and other people seemed to conclude, and so did I, that these changes had more than likely led to much of the audience’s confusion. Moreover, these changes did not give us a good sense of how the play would have been received in its intended form. Another grim thing someone brought up after the performance was that most of the audience had left the theatre before the talkback, and so for all they knew, the performance they had seen was how the play was “supposed to be.”
Before the talkback, I had been unaware that the play had been altered. I had been absent during rehearsals because of how far away I lived. The director was my friend, however, and our friendship has always been based on mutual respect. We had emailed each other throughout the process, and about two months before the performance we had a meeting in person. In this meeting, I mentioned I wanted to send the director a new draft. I had made a few changes, mostly in the stage directions, and to me these changes were tiny. The director understood that I had the right to make changes, but asked me to please hold back on them because the process was already difficult. The director was a university student at the time, and I remembered college being hectic, with overwhelming work to do on other projects as well as plays. So I decided my changes were minor enough to skip this time, and that I would use them the next time the play was staged (if that ever happened, and so far, it has not). I realize now that if I had stood firm, the director would have had an opportunity to learn how to work with a playwright’s new changes even when it was hard. What does Hamlet say? “I must be cruel only to be kind”? But more than that, I should have been suspicious of the director’s refusal to incorporate my changes. I could have asked the director if they were having other difficulties with the script, because then I might have learned that they planned to move things and cut things. And I would have been able to clarify that they did not have my permission to make changes without me (I have also learned the importance of having a contract, which, because of my inexperience, I didn’t have this time).
Instead, after that meeting, I figured the play they presented would be the previous draft I had given them, without the small changes I had suggested, but still (mostly) the play I intended it to be.
I was never the best student director in the world. I’ve made mistakes, too. One thing I’ve learned from such mistakes is that being a student is no excuse to rearrange a script. You still need permission from the playwright to change things. The playwright makes the changes, and only if the playwright wants to. As a good teacher or professor, you teach your students how to work in communities outside of academia, and in the professional world. So it’s a good idea (I’d go so far as to say essential) to give students experience working with living playwrights. When you work with a living playwright, you learn to communicate with the person who wrote the script, and the play isn’t just your vision, it’s the playwright’s vision. I think my director and I learned from this experience that such communication is vital, and here’s why:
I’m almost certain the audience’s confusion could have been avoided or at least lessened if the director had asked me this question at some point: “What do you think of us cutting the first ten minutes?” Directors want to do all sorts of things, and most of them ask me before they do them, even though I might say no. Sometimes they have a brilliant idea or simply something I would like to try, and I will say yes. I say yes much more than I say no! But if you’re afraid to ask me because you think I’ll say no, and you do the thing I might have said no to, you risk damaging the play, and that can reflect on you as a director. I know people who say that if a play is “bad,” the audience blames the author and not the director, but in reality, I see blame come off on the director, too. Communicate with your playwright, and things will turn out better. If the director who cut the beginning off my play had asked me about cutting it, I could have explained something important: I had already tried a reading of the play with the first ten minutes cut.
That first reading was a year earlier, more or less. Its director (a different director) suggested the play would be much better without the first ten minutes. This director wanted to go “straight to the action.” So I decided to try it. I tore out the first ten minutes (eight pages) of the play half an hour before we did the reading. And it totally bombed. It was a major disappointment.
[So the playwright had already tried out the play minus those ten minutes and it didn’t work]
I could have told the current director about that reading if I had known they were thinking of doing the play without its first ten minutes. But I did not know, because they didn’t tell me. I remember thinking after the talkback and reading over the script again that the play did need to lose most of what was in those first ten minutes, but it needed to keep the things that helped the rest of the play to make sense. If the director had talked to me about it, I could have looked at the script again and seen that it needed cuts, and I would gladly have cut the first ten minutes myself and put the important information somewhere else in the opening scene. I wished I had known!
But we learned. I think the director saw how badly it turned out not to have those first ten minutes, and regretted cutting them. So even though most of the audience probably left thinking the play they had seen was the play I had meant it to be (when it wasn’t) and that’s unfortunate, I think the director (and I!) learned from this experience not to mess around with the script you’re directing. I remember we had a one-on-one talk about it and left the discussion on good terms. There was no reason for me to damage our relationship because of this mistake. I would gladly have this person direct more of my plays.
As for future arrangements with any director, I’ll be sure to have a written contract.
Some horror stories have happy endings.
I’m still working on that play, and it’s still kicking my butt. Do I make it longer? Shorter? What do I move? What about the characters? Should it be a musical?
However it turns out, I hope one day we’ll see it performed as its author intended.
[Hopefully. I’m glad this playwright’s experienced turned out positive eventually. So many don’t]
Thanks for reading. Next week we’ll have another Theatre Horror Story.
Feel free to message the blog if YOU have a story to share.
Something needs to be done, but as long as we have a racist joke personified as president, that might not happen, since he clearly has more important things on his mind.
We will take a look at what American playwrights are doing to take a stand on this topic. We’ll start with Diana Burbano who has written extensively on gun violence.
The first play from Diana is Salat al-Janazah, a monologue based on the horrific murder of Sabika Sheikh and nine others in a Santa Fe, Texas high school last year. The monologue is brief, so I’ll post the whole thing here:
Miss Sheikh was very active on social media. If you want to see the video she made after getting accepted into the exchange student program, it’s here.
News coverage of her funeral is below.
As for the point made by the play, not calling terrorism “terrorism” when it’s done by white people is a thing. Even Rhianna gets it.
Gun violence is an important issue for Burbano. She has written several other plays and we will explore those.
Her next play is Death’s Release, in remembrance of Kimberly Vaughn Hart, another victim of the Santa Fe massacre.
In the Anglosphere, magical realism seems to be a trope connected to Latin America, though of course not every Latin American work has magical realism and not every work of magical realism comes from Latin America.
If you hadn’t noticed, the “magic” is working because the kids are “crossing over” as they’re shot – Ana’s just not aware of it yet.
Hint: it wasn’t a wand.
This last line is a great line. Instead of putting the onus on racist killers, it seems to be the victim’s fault they got shot, Ya know, for existing and stuff.
That also ties into the second-to-last line about leaving one’s backpack in the corner. Bulletproof backpacks have become a thing in America, because we’d rather put the onus on the victim instead of the murderer.
By the way, here’s a cop explaining that the bulletproof backpack won’t stop a rifle round – despite the fact the recent shootings have all been by automatic rifle.
That’s a painful realization.
And in a way, they have trancscended death by sending a message through. This is a heartfelt and charming play, written in commemoration of a horrible murder.
Not one content to hammer at gun violence through a mere monologue and short play, Diana has written even more.
Rounds Per Second
Rounds Per Second focuses not only on gun violence, but also the different realities people in the US exist in.
Still, the white professor describes her own murderer as “brilliant.”
Hehe. ALL North Americans.
Thank God for honest characters! The housekeeper lets the professor know the truth. The professor’s entitlement is still showing.
Death. The great equalizer.
Diana Burbano, a Colombian immigrant, is an Equity actor, a playwright and a teaching artist at South Coast Repertory and Breath of Fire Latina Theatre Ensemble. Written work: Ghosts of Bogota commissioned by Alter Theatre, winner NuVoices, Actors Theatre of Charlotte 2019, Sapience, writer in Center Theatre Group’s writers circle, Policarpa, Oregon Shakespeare Festival Brown Swan lab 2017, Drama League Rough Draft series May 2017, Fabulous Monsters, Steppenwolf’s “The Mix.”,Latinx Play Festival, San Diego Rep 2017, Festival51 2016 winner, about women in Punk Rock, Picture me Rollin’ (featured at the 35th annual William Inge Festival and Inkfest at 2cents.), Silueta, (about the Cuban artist Ana Mendieta), with Tom and Chris Shelton, and the TYA Shakespeare mash-up, Caliban’s Island winner 2017 Headwaters New Play Festival at Creede Repertory.(Published by YouthPLAYS). Libertadoras, Vamping and Linda were written for the 365 Women a Year project and have been performed around the world, with Linda featured in more that 20 festivals over the last year, including Center Theatre Group’s community library series. She is currently writing for Rogue Artists “Señor Plummer’s Final Fiesta. She is also under commission from Alternative Theatre in San Rafael, and is in Center Theatre Group’s L.A. Writers Workshop 2018-2019. She has been a working actor since leaving the Professional Actors Conservatory in 1991. She originated the roles of Ama de Casa in the Spanish version of Menopause the Musical, Thumb in Imagine, and Holo-1 in the Labors of Hercules. She recently played Ana Guerrero in Jose Cruz Gonzales’ Long Road Today/El Largo Camino de Hoy Dialogue/Dialogos project at South Coast Repertory. TV includes The People vs OJ Simpson, Cold Case, Betas.
Our next playwright Mark Harvey Levine has fashioned a three-page play (God Forbid) about those people who dread the day they will ever have to use their guns…while yearning for the chance.
The fantasy begins…
The phrase “orgasmic crescendo” needs to be in some sort of playwriting hall of fame.
The play ends with everyone saying a not-so-reassuring “God forbid” to one another.
Only a Matter of Time
Levine then takes the medium down to its essence, producing a one page play entitled Only a Matter of Time, which you may read in its entirety here:
And that’s what the playwright does best: deliver a knockout punch in as little time as possible.
Mark Harvey Levine has had over 1700 productions of his plays everywhere from Bangalore to Bucharest and from Lima to London. His plays have won over 45 awards and been produced in ten languages. Full evenings of his plays, such as “Didn’t See That Coming” and “A Very Special Holiday Special” have been shown in New York, Amsterdam, Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Sao Paulo, Sydney, Seoul, Mexico City, and across the US. A Spanish-language movie version of his play “The Kiss” (“El Beso”) premiered at Cannes, showed at the Tribeca film festival, and subsequently aired on HBO and DTV (Japan).
Our next playwright, Eric Christopher Jones tackles the intersection between racism and gun rights in America with Open Carry. Let’s take a look.
The play sets up the conflict early by having two people standing up for their rights. The white man wants his right to bear arms. Specifically, he wants to be able to carry his weapon in the open. To read more about how open carry laws intersect with racism, check out this article.
Tamir Rice was a 12 year old boy killed by Cleveland police while playing with an Airsoft gun.
John Crawford III was a 22 year-old man shot by police in an Ohio Wal-Mart for simply holding a BB gun he’d picked up while shopping.
Keith Lamont Scott was a 43 year-old man shot by police in North Carolina for just hanging out in his truck.
Trayvon Martin was a 17 year-old shot and killed by a local night watch/vigilante in Florida.
Any guesses as to what race these victims all were?
The only good news is that at the time of writing this, there have been 100 less police shootings this year than the same time last year.
Aha, the mighty Raymond has arrived – but still the other characters don’t know his race.
Officer Ray. Sigh.
This play eviscerates the notion that 2nd Amendment advocates aren’t racist a-holes. This is from the Wikipedia page about the Oath Keepers:
For a thorough explanation of the 2nd Amendment’s role in perpetuating racism, check out this article (the first time this blog has ever linked to Teen Vogue).
Eric Jones is a Medford, Massachusetts born, Minnesota & Texas raised artist. Mr. Jones is a graduate of Texas Southern University; B.S. Pharmacy. He has been involved with the Christian theater circuit since 1995 as a writer, actor, director and composer. Writing credits includes: Untapped Potential, Wolf Man Wedding, The Baked Potato Incident, Dreamland, American Skin , Freedom Quilt, Liberators and Fired! The Musical. Currently, Eric won 2nd Runner up for the Screenplay Competition at The Beverly Hills Film Festival 2016 for his screenplay Dreamland. His award winning film he could wrote & produced Dreamland Murders film was selected to the Marche Du Cannes Short Film Showcase 2016 hosted by NWC Cinemas.. Two Musicals got their premiere in 2018. Liberators An American Musical at The Chicago Musical Theatre Festival & Three Crosses at Ensemble Theatre’s Stage Reading Series.. “I would like to thank God, my family, WRIC church and the Houston Theater community.”
Next up, John Minigan has a very short play about the confluence of the gun rights activism and Christianity in America. Let’s see what “christians NRA” gets us on Google:
It even got us an Israeli site. Despite the whole “turn the other cheek” thing and the whole “don’t kill people” thing in the Bible, there’s a definite connection between Christian (White) Nationalists and boners for guns.
Texas’ resident dipshit Lt. Governor of Texas Dan Patrick even claimed the recent massacres in El Paso and Dayton were “moral failings” [yeah, comitting a mass-murder would qualify as a moral failing. Thanks, Dan] and called for prayer in school. (Dude really said that)
Mr. Minigan’s play Product Reveal takes down this bizarre relationship:
The play, while satiric, is not far off reality. What’s so weird is just the other day, fashion brand Bstroy had their own product reveal. Let’s see what they revealed:
Every bit as stupid as the play’s product reveal, we are living in our own surrealistically violent post-modern satire. Sigh.
John Minigan is a 2019-2020 Massachusetts Cultural Council Artist Fellow in Dramatic Writing. His plays have been developed with the Orlando Shakespeare Theater, Portland Stage Company, New Repertory Theater, the New American Playwrights Project, and the Great Plains Theatre Conference. Queen of Sad Mischance is a 2019 Gold Prize winner of the Clauder Competition and a 2018 O’Neill Finalist. Noir Hamlet—a Boston Globe Critics’ Pick, EDGEMedia Best of Boston Theater 2018 selection, and 2019 Elliot Norton nominee for Outstanding New Script—was produced at the 2019 Edinburgh Fringe Festival. His work has been included in the Best American Short Plays, Best Ten-Minute Short Plays, and New England New Plays anthologies. He is past winner of the Nantucket Short Play Contest, the Rover Dramawerks Competition, the Longwood 0-60 Contest, Seoul Players Contest, and the KNOCK International Short Play Competition. John is a Dramatists Guild Ambassador for Eastern New England. Please visit johnminigan.com.
Our playwrights have been kind enough to answer some questions about their craft. The same questions were posed to each of them. I’ve organized their answers this way to show the diversity of thought amongst people whose goals are similar.
How did you start playwriting?
Burbano: I started writing because good, challenging roles for Latina women could be counted on one hand and I aimed to change that.
Levine: I was at Carnegie-Mellon University as an Acting Major.During my freshman year they announced they were starting up an Undergraduate Playwriting Program.It seemed less crazy than acting.I applied for and got into it.So I got into the CMU Drama Department twice!
Jones: It was 1995, I was volunteering at a youth arts ministry and I was responsible for looking for material. What I read was least to be desired. So I desired to write the play myself. I’ve been writing ever since.
Minigan: I no longer remember the source of the quote, but I agree with it: “A playwright is a poet who got lonely.” I was a math teacher in a private school, writing poetry and a little fiction, and the drama teacher asked if I wanted to help with his program. Seemed like a good idea, and I quickly became much more interested in theater (writing, directing, acting, designing) than teaching math. The collaborative, fluid, and public nature of the work continues inspire me in ways poetry didn’t quite do.
Burbano:I loved “Ghosts of Bogota” in staged reading at Actors Theatre of Charlotte. It was vicious and funny and UNSENTIMENTAL! My biggest pet peeve is my work is played too seriously.
Levine: In 2005, I got to go to Curitiba, Brazil to see an entire evening of my plays — in Portuguese!It was an incredible experience.
Jones: I wrote my first musical Freedom Quilt back in 1999. I had the opportunity to have the show workshopped for a young performers showcase at the Ensemble Theatre. What touched me was how they treated me like a Rock Star when I arrived. I’ll never forget that.
Minigan: I think maybe the 2014 NY Fringe Festival production of Breaking the Shakespeare Code because it was such a rush to have my first full-length NYC production be sold-out and well-reviewed, and because it was my first time being produced by Hey Jonte!, a production company I LOVE working with and which I’ve now worked with maybe five times. Also up there was this summer’s Edinburgh Festival production of Noir Hamlet, because I was brought in to be more than the playwright—I was production manager, lighting designer, and on-stage/in-character crew member. It was amazing to feel fully a member of a professional performing company. I don’t often feel that way as the writer.
What is your funniest theatre story?
Levine: I once accidentally sent the same group of short plays to a theater twice.The first time they rejected it, the second time they accepted it.The first time they rejected it because they were a theater that did edgy plays — and these plays were not edgy. By the time I sent it the second time, they were sick of doing edgy plays and wanted to do something fun.My second submission of the plays happened to arrive at just the right moment.Timing is everything.
Jones: I substituted for a role from my musical Liberators because the actor was sick. I accidentally sang the old lyrics of a song that me & my composer insisted we cut out. I totally forgot. Nobody noticed but everyone in the cast was laughing.
Minigan: This summer, while “hawking” my Edinburgh Fringe show on a sidewalk, speaking to any and all passers-by and trying to get them to take a flyer advertising the show, one passer-by yelled at me, “Stop talking to the wall!” It’s one of the biggest laugh lines in the play—clearly the guy had seen the show and found the perfect place to use my line.
What are your writing habits like?
Burbano: I clean the house and write in spurts. I usually only get 2 or 3 pages done a day.
Levine: Terrible.I have no time to write, and have to squeeze it in here and there.
Jones: I Must have four things . A. Coffee, B. Encyclopedia Britannica, C. Thesaurus & D. Show tunes. Lots of Show tunes.
Minigan: I’ve gone from two-month-a-year playwright while I was teaching to full-time playwright since I retired last summer. I write pretty much every day, usually in the morning, for at least two hours, and sometimes return later after clearing my head. I think I work best on paper—either writing new stuff with pen and legal pads or revising in the margins of a printed script. I revise a lot. If it’s not at least draft 15, it can’t be ready.
What advice do you have for new playwrights?
Burbano: As my great mentor José Cruz Gonzélez says, “Dare to suck!”
Levine: Read lots of plays.Go see lots of plays.Have your work read by actors while you sit and listen.Learn how to be objective about your work (easier said then done).And edit out anything you possibly can.
Jones: Keep on writing & keep on making mistakes. Once you learn from those mistakes, keep on writing again until you have a draft script you are proud of.
Minigan: Finish the first draft. Don’t overthink it. No one (other than you) cares if it’s any good. It’ll be easier to make it good later when you’re not having to invent the whole thing.
Who are some other writers you should get more attention?
Minigan: Just off the top of my head: Miranda Jonte is a fierce, clear writer with a unique, smart voice. Emma Goldman-Sherman is brave, passionate, and powerful. Patrick Gabridge’s approach to writing historical pieces that illuminate the present is amazing. Greg Lam’s ability to use sci-fi to write so clearly about who and where we are is also inspiring. And this guy, Bryan Stubbles. Maybe you know him? Incredibly imaginative work — always outside the box.
What are common themes in your work?
Burbano: Feminism, and the normalization (i.e. seeing us as just people) of latinx women.
Levine: Someone once said my plays are about ordinary people in extraordinary situations.I like that.
Jones: My themes always comes back to Perseverance , Redemption & Second Chances. Being a follower of Christ, it’s my duty to present positive stories of how you can mess up but still get back up again. I hope my audiences get the message that you should never give up, even when the chips are down.
Minigan: Almost all of my plays, in one way or another, are about characters who choose to (or are forced to) abandon certainty and move into the unfamiliar. I think I’m focused on getting away from the answers we accept and, instead, deepening the questions we ask.
What is one thing you wished you knew now, that you didn’t know starting out?
Burbano: That you have to be your own fiercest advocate and that NO ONE is going to give you anything just because you have talent.
Levine: Have your work read to you!It’s so important to hear your plays out loud.
Jones: Playwriting is hard!
Minigan: Any success you have is going to take a helluva long time. So find people you love to work with and try to work with them as much as you can. And enjoy that work, on whatever ‘scale’ it happens to be. It’s more meaningful than any accolades. And support new work by your fellow writers. The rising new play tide raises all boats.
Levine: I have several works coming up in Asphalt Jungle Shorts, a festival of plays where the audience walks around Kitchener, Ontario, and encounters the plays on the street.And the New Short Play Festival in New York City is doing four of my short plays!
Jones: I have three musicals coming to workshop in 2020 where I wrote lyrics & Book. It’s Three Crosses with Composer Joshua Davis L. I have War Letters with Co-Lyricist & Composer Dan Markosian & Please Come Home for Christmas with Co-Lyricist & Composer Gary Sironen.
Minigan: I’m continuing to try to get a production of Queen of Sad Mischance. It’s had a lot of national and regional recognition – and twelve readings or workshops so far – but nobody’s biting yet. Also pursuing leads on a third and also a fourth production of my comedy Noir Hamlet. Fingers crossed. And I’ve now got four new drafts of full-lengths that need MUCH revision. Lots of writing ahead.
What compelled you to write plays about gun violence?
Burbano: Because it’s the single most important topic in our country. We martyr babies because of the obsession with weapons of death.
Levine: The insane number of mass shootings we have in this country.
Jones: I love watching CNN every morning and I get my daily fill of how the second amendment is being misused and witnessing the constant death toll of our citizens at the hands of Domestic Terrorists.
Minigan: Product Reveal was written in pure anger – sort of giving the middle finger to the folks who conflate religion and gun culture/second amendment and talk about the “God-given” right to carry weapons of war into the grocery store. I’ve written two short pieces about gun violence, this and Velas Votivas, and am in super early stages of researching a piece that looks like it’ll turn into a play about religious cults and gun violence.
What responses have you seen to your gun violence plays?
Burbano: Death’s Defeat has been a powerful reminder to people about how young and innocent the victims are. I’ve not gotten any pushback. Yet.
Levine: I unfortunately have not been able to attend any of the productions of these plays yet.I’d love to see the response.
Jones: I know it makes people think and it gets under your skin a little. But it’s a scratch that needs to be itched because gun violence has been irritating our country since its foundation.
Minigan: I love that one reader on the New Play Exchange called this play “the manifestation of the American contradiction.” That seems completely right. I’ve been moved by the responses folks have had (as readers, actors, and audience members) to Velas Votivas, too – a play that’s part of the #CodeRedPlaywrights project memorializing victims of gun violence.
What advice would you give a playwright who wants to be a catalyst for change?
Burbano: Write with your feelings, anger, righteousness. And don’t be afraid to piss people off.
Levine: Don’t just preach to the choir.We have to reach the people who disagree with us.
Jones: Don’t be afraid to take the responsibility to put others to task when they are not stepping up! Life is too short just to live life trivially. Our words. Our dreams. And our actions must have weight. Just like original thoughts & black lives, they matter too.
Minigan: Be honest and bold in what you write and you will inspire those who agree with you and anger those who don’t. Be sneaky and sly and maybe you’ll get those who don’t agree with you on your side. It’s probably important to do both of those things.
Personally, what role should guns play in America, if any?
Burbano: They should be melted down and turned into sculpture. Owning a gun is something only frightened people do, and I would rather live with joy.
Levine: We should have a few handy in case the British invade again.Other than that…
Jones: I believe that every American should have the right to protect themselves. I come from a family of hunters & fisherman. However, we don’t need assault weapons to do so. The USA needs responsible Gun Reform & background checks for responsible gun ownership. If not, we won’t survive as a Republic.
Minigan: You like the second amendment? Buy a musket.
Hopefully through these writers’ work, you can see how artists can use their voice for advocacy.