Current Playwrights, Female Playwrights, Unknown playwrights

Lydia Valentine

Howdy everyone and welcome back to Unknown Playwrights!

Exciting, emerging playwright Lydia Valentine comes to us via Aliquippa, Pennsylvania and currently resides in Tacoma, Washington. In fact I stole her biography from her New Play Exchange page:

Lydia Valentine is a poet, playwright, and educator who believes in the power of good, the healing capacity of writing and reading, and the necessity of the Oxford comma. A passionate advocate for equity and social justice, proud mom, and card-carrying Blerd, Lydia grew up in Aliquippa, Pa, a small, steel mill town north of Pittsburgh, where she spent many hours of her youth at B.F. Jones Library.”

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The library where she spent her youth looks pretty badass, even in 1937.

“She now lives, reads, and writes in another gritty city, Tacoma, WA, where she has been runner-up for Tacoma Poet Laureate twice. Lydia has recently completed her first play, Aliquippa, which has had readings at empathos company, and has been Assistant Director and Dramaturg for play productions with Toy Boat Theatre Company, empathos company, UW-Tacoma, and Tacoma Little Theatre.

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Our playwriting hero!!!

She has crafted an incredibly deep, heartfelt play set entirely in her hometown.

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Really digging the stylized title page…

The play focuses on the Lockwood family:

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There’s only one character who isn’t a blood relation.

The play starts with Naomi, a woman stuck in a type of twilight zone due to past misdeeds and happenstance. Her own mother (Mama Shirl) barely acknowledges her. Same with her own daughter, Rachel. One could say she’s a loser in a hero sandwich. Mama Shirl is the ultimate survivor. Rachel is hopeful to return to school to finish her college degree. Both women have their lives in relative order. Naomi does not. The following is what happens when she calls her daughter.

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Calls her own daughter a heifer. And again…

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I don’t blame Rachel for not wanting to talk to her mother. Sometimes Naomi takes care of Rachel’s son Tamir. She does the best she can. Naomi also dreams of opening a commuity center in town.

The play really swings into motion when Tamir gets bullied and attacked on account of his race. Naomi and Rachel’s reactions reveal the generation gaps that exist in the play and provide much of the conflict:

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So…racism in American elementary schools is totally real.

Not-so-coincidentally in Pennsylvania.

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Bring back slavery, huh?

Beyond the racist teachers, there’s that whole other oil drum of Nazi worms: racist students. Recently, an entire school district in Minnesota was sued for allowing racist bullying. In New Hampshire, an elementary school student was bullied and then the school board attacked the mom, because they suck. Back in Harrisburg, in our favorite state of Pennsylvania, the same dang thing. Meanwhile, in America’s bleach stain, aka Utah, some white kids tried to wash a girl’s skin color off with a solution. What the Hell, America?

Naomi tries to give Rachel advice on how to handle the situation. Rachel reminds Naomi of the reason her kids got taken away.

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Naomi is still in the denial phase about a lot of things.

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A reading of the play.

On a side note, one thing I love about the play is the description:

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We know exactly what world Mama Shirl inhabits just from reading that description.

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Oscar and Isaac almost get into trouble and relate the situation to Rachel.

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Oh look! Short Fatty is getting his prayers answered. 😏

When Rachel mentions they could’ve modified their behavior to avoid a situation, Oscar and Isaac talk to Rachel about the realities of being a young black man in modern America.

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For anyone not familiar with the cases the play references, Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson, Missouri basically for not walking on the sidewalk being African-American.

Philando Castille was killed in Minnesota (that place, again) for supposedly having the “same wide-set nose” of a robbery suspect.

Eric Garner was choked to death for selling cigarettes one by one being African-American. It only took the NYPD five years to fire his killer.

Freddie Gray was killed in a Baltimore police van for having a legal knife being African-American.

Isaac and Oscar’s dialogue/reality lesson continues:

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Mostly.

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Naomi goes off on her mother, Mama Shirl, when Mama Shirl mentions Rachel’s early plan to be a doctor and things didn’t quite turn out like that.

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Naomi does a good job of upending religious hypocrisy, where people can pick and choose what God’s plan is and what’s someone just screwing up.

Rachel relates when Mama Shirl caught her trying a beer.

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There’s some good-natured sibling rivalry between Rachel and Isaac. Isaac is the family member everyone seems to have their hopes pinned on. He’s a college football star and has plans for the NFL. In reality, only 1.5 percent of college players ever make an NFL roster.

Aliquippa is kinda famous for producing NFL players like Hall of Famers Mike Ditka, Tony Dorsett, and Ty Law, as well as Darrell Revis.

There is some engaging banter between Rachel and Oscar.

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Another Isaac zinger:

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The main thing audiences and readers should know is that Aliquippa was once a small, yet economically robust steel mill town. This lasted for most of the 20th Century until the mill finally closed in 1984. A quick look at the town’s historical population can give some clues:

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From here.

When your town has 1/3 of the population it had 90 years ago, your town might be in trouble.

To get a more visual picture of what ails Aliquippa, check out this photo essay from 2015.

In more positive news, Aliquippa’s government recently released a blight-to-bright plan.

But it’s still a place where a school board member is accused of threatening to stab a couple seventh graders.

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One cool theatrical device the play uses is the freezing of time. Naomi is asking to borrow money from her daughter. The play uses this instance to freeze action and time.

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Rachel is then free to comment on the situation.

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Later, Mama Shirl’s sancto self gets served by Naomi.

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Maybe this limbo that Naomi lives in isn’t entirely her own doing. Naomi isn’t done unloading on Mama Shirl.

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As much as the play explores the dynamics that made Naomi the woman she is today, the present-day takes over. Oscar has something horrible to report.

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Isaac caught a stray bullet.

From tragedy, comes some type of positivity. Several family members are able to move forward with the community center they were planning. Rachel also makes peace with Naomi and is almost set to go to the West Coast for school. Naomi is kinda, sorta closer to making peace with Mama Shirl.

Some really cool things about this play:

  1. Theatricality. Already mentioned above, the play plays (hehe) with time and memory to create a theatrical experience.
  2. Local flavor aka local color. This is a tradition that hearkens back to writers like Bret Harte, Frances E.W. Harper and Charles W. Chesnutt, where a work of literature is rooted in a specific time, place and culture. In Valentine’s work, we inhabit the world of a family in Aliquippa, Pennsylvania. The play even uses local terminology such as “Quip” “jitney” and  “PennDot.” We can feel life in the dying steel town. This is reminiscent also of the work of Stacey Bryan, Yolanda Mendiveles and Benjamin Gonzales, all of whom have been featured on this blog.
  3. Issues of the day. Not only does the play address racism, the Rust Belt, and police violence, but there is a gender role subplot regarding Tamir, who likes his hair long and dresses up like a cowgirl.

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This causes some conflict among the different women in Tamir’s life. He also plays with Pony Princesses.

4. Uniqueness. Slice-of-life dramas depicting African American families are sorely lacking on the American stage. This would be welcome relief from the bazillionth community college production of The Mousetrap.

Ms. Valentine was kind enough to answer some questions for us.

1. How did you start playwriting?  

I have always been a fan of theater and have taught many plays to my students, but it was not until I applied to Goddard College’s MFA in Creative Writing program that I considered delving into dramatic writing.  I am primarily (and have always thought of myself as) a poet. However, I decided that if I was going to get direct instruction in craft, I wanted to take a shot with a new genre.

2. What are your influences? 

My biggest influences are my experience as a Black woman and mother and the fact that for too long the narrative of those who are usually marginalized, silenced, or ignored (BIPOC, the LGBTQIA community, women, etc.) has been crafted and told by others.  There is a short allegory that I find striking in relation to this.

The young boy went to his grandfather and said, “Grandfather, is it true that the lion is the king of the jungle?”

“Yes,” said the old man, “but why do you ask?”

“Well,” said the boy, “in all the stories that I read and even in the ones I hear, man will always defeat the lion. So, how can this be true?”

The old man looked his grandson in the eyes and said, “It will always be that way, my son, until the lion tells the story.”

Moving beyond what Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie calls “The Danger of the Single Story” is crucial.

In terms of writing, I am definitely influenced by August Wilson, whose plays celebrated the everyday experiences of Black people and were all set in Pittsburgh, where he grew up. I am from Aliquippa, a small city just north of Pittsburgh, so Wilson has long been on my radar.  Other playwrights I consider to be influential are Lynn Nottage, Dominique Morrisseau, Kirsten Greenidge, Henrik Ibsen, and Shakespeare.

3. What is your most memorable production and why? 

(In terms of my play, Aliquippa, I have had several readings, and all of them are memorable, but two stand out in particular. When I first finished the script, we had a closed reading for which my sister, daughter, son, nephew, and I provided the cast. It was incredibly poignant for me to hear my words brought to life by these people who are so important to me. The other one was a larger reading with actors we’d cast.  Watching the audience respond to this story and these characters convinced me that this play was one to which anyone could connect.)

I worked on a production of Clybourne Park as the Dramaturg and Assistant Director for Toy Boat Theatre in conjunction with the University of Washington Tacoma. This was a memorable experience because the cast and production team gelled as a family. Rehearsals were full of levity and intensity in equal measure. I love to laugh.  There were no egos or prima donna moments. The most important thing was bringing the story to the stage. There are very dark comedic elements that resonated with many in the audience, in particular those of us who have long had to keep our sense of humor to get through trying times. Also, because the play deals with themes of dislocation and gentrification, there were parallels for what is happening in Tacoma right now.

4. What is your least memorable production and why?  

The one that hasn’t happened yet! I have been submitting Aliquippa to festivals and calls for plays, but I have not yet had any success. So many venues require a script to be submitted by an agent, so that leaves me out of the running.

5. What’s your funniest theatre story?   

I co-adapted the script of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House with Marilyn Bennett and served as Assistant Director for the production, which was staged as a part of Tacoma Little Theatre’s 100th season.  After the show on opening night, a member of the Board of Directors said a few words to the audience, then invited Marilyn to speak, and after that called me forward. I am fairly shy and also autistic, so not only was I mortified but also the first words out of my mouth were, “Well, this is mortifying.” In retrospect, I think it’s pretty funny, but at the time I felt a little bad when I saw the look on the board member’s face at my pronouncement.

6. What are your writing habits like?    

I wish that I could say that I write in the morning during my almost two-hour commute to work and again on the trip home. I take the train or bus for that specific purpose (and also to avoid the stress of navigating the traffic on I-5). I’m not a morning person, though, so I am barely able to form coherent thoughts that early, and in the evening, after teaching all day, I usually just pull up a game on my phone and listen to an audiobook until I get home.  My best writing time is late at night. I curl up in my giant, cushy armchair and type away. Unfortunately, I have to go to bed pretty early, so I have been scheduling writing dates with friends and my sister because being around other creatives always gives me the boost I need to write.

7. What advice do you have for new playwrights?  

The best advice that I have been given was from one of my advisors at Goddard, Darrah Cloud, who also happens to be a poet and playwright. After reading my very first attempt at starting Aliquippa, Darrah told me, “Stop writing this as if it’s fiction.  It’s not. Write it like poetry.” What I took away from that was to listen to the voices of the characters and let them tell the story that they were trying to tell.

8. Who are some other writers you feel should get more attention? 

Playwrights Christina Anderson (How to Catch Creation), Kirsten Greenidge (Luck of the Irish), and Donte Felder, who has produced several plays in the Seattle area. His next production, Blerds Comics and Cafe, which leans into speculative fiction and explores the nuances of the comic book world, gun control, and race, will premiere in the fall of 2021.

9. What are common themes in your work?  

Family and familial love are big themes for me, whether related to actual family units or the found families that we create for ourselves. I am somewhat fixated on the collective loss and grief that impacts the physical, emotional, and mental health of Black people, as well as the intersectionality of various identities (race, gender, queerness, neurodiversity, class).

10. What is one thing you wished you knew now, that you didn’t know starting out? 

I wish I knew more about the ways to get a play from page to stage and which options for getting plays out into the world were the best ways.

11. How autobiographical is Aliquippa?

While it takes place in my hometown, Aliquippa is not autobiographical at all.  At the same time, I can recognize aspects of myself – often amplified – in each character: Naomi’s fierce love for her family, Rachel’s tendency toward seeing things in black and white, Mama Shirl’s faith, Isaac’s optimism, Oscar’s loyalty, and Tamir’s naive pragmatism.

12. What have the audience reactions to Aliquippa been like?

The response has been positive! While on paper, Tacoma is similar to Pittsburgh demographically, the ethos of the Pacific Northwest is vastly different from that Western Pennsylvania, so I was wary of what the response would be as I’ve workshopped it here, because I did and do not want it to be misunderstood. However, the feedback of audience members from a variety of backgrounds has been that they can relate to these characters despite what are – at times – quite different circumstances, and that is gratifying.

13.  What have been the biggest obstacles in getting Aliquippa a full production?

Three things come to mind: time, money, and connections, with time being the biggest of the three obstacles. I am a full time teacher in Seattle, and I live in Tacoma. I’ve already talked about my gnarly commute. I’d love to have the time to focus on making the connections and obtaining the funds to find the right space, fill out the roster of actors and production team, compensate those involved, market, etc. Chevi Chung of empathos company is doing a phenomenal job shepherding me through various stages of the process, but my ability to make progress is hampered by only having fits and starts of time.

14. Aliquippa has some themes and a character name in common with Angelina Weld Grimké’s play Rachel. Are there any connections between the two? 

It’s interesting that you mention this play because I did not have any familiarity with it until one of my students did a presentation on Angelina Weld Grimké and Rachel just a few months ago. While I have not read the play myself, I do not feel as if they are that similar based on what I know of Rachel. Both of my thesis advisors made comparisons to Lorraine Hansberry’s Raisin in the Sun, and I am incredibly humbled to have Aliquippa even mentioned in the same sentence as Raisin.  “Lydia Valentine has written a tour-de-force family play that rivals Raisin in the complexity of its characters, the pain of its situation, and the beauty of the writing. I do not make that comparison lightly. Hansberry is a hero of American letters, and I see the same potential in Lydia to write people onto the stage from whom we have not heard before, and to make the most seemingly mundane conflicts central and epic.”- Darrah Cloud

15.    What are you currently working on?

I have two new plays I am working on concurrently. One explores the experience of being a black autistic woman, and the other is a one-act centering on a found family of three socially awkward, female or gender queer superheroes.

Thanks so much for chatting with us, Lydia! I think we’d all love a play about socially awkward, gender queer superheroes.

To connect with Lydia, you can follow her on Twitter. If you have access to the New Play Exchange, her play is available to read there.

Thanks for ready and we’ll catch you in a couple of days forMonologue Monday!

Female Playwrights, Playwrights of the Past, Unknown playwrights

St. Valentine’s House by Frances Gillespy Wickes

Howdy all and Happy Valentine’s Day!

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We here at Unknown Playwrights have found a wee Valentine’s Day play from 1916 from a writer who seemed to have led a much more interesting life outside writing children’s plays. More on that later. But now, the play’s the thing.

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I can see this story has been influenced by the folklore of another commercial holiday.

This play comes from a book of children’s plays.

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YASSSS! 

The play finds elves hard at work making Valentine’s Day cards.

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BTW, a Valentine’s Day card from 1916 looked like this:

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Man, them elves put in a lot of work.
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You can buy this one on Etsy.
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If only managers at Cracker Barrel were this easy to please. 

What’s really cool is that the elves have a drinking working song.

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Then a lost child shows up and everyone gets into a tizzy.

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Old Man Valentine explains where “valentines” come from. Hint: not storks.

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Ahhh. Child labor! A labor of love. And when the child doesn’t understand?

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Unknown Playwrights: Second Elf, you’re a dick. I’m gonna fry you in my wok and serve you on toast.

Prblem solved.

The play was illustrated by that illustrious illustrator Marie Abrams Lawson who married the Caldecott and Newberry Award-winning Robert Lawson.

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“I bring women with giant butterfly wings on their backs and some sort of weird plant on their heads.”

Then the bad guys show up.

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The blown comb sounds scary. 
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They’re edgy. 
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I hate Sally, too. 

It turns out there’s a Sir Valentine who lives nearby and is responsible for cruel tricks on Valentine’s Day. Like that time in junior high when I got a rose from someone who didn’t put their name on the card and all the kids made fun of me and said I ordered it myself. And my name was misspelled. That’s Sir Valentine’s fault.

I don’t like this Sir Valentine chap at all.

The elves ask the child to make a Valentine’s Day card for her mom which is sweet and touching and reminds me how confused I was as a kid when I learned kids got Valentine’s Day gifts for their moms. It kinda makes sense, considering where I grew up.

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That’s kinda sweet.

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Mom’s gonna love that massive valentine!

The author, Frances Gillespy Wickes, had an interesting career that went beyond children’s plays. Here are some basics:

That almost wraps up this week’s post.

Don’t forget to check out other Unknown Playwrights, Monologue Mondays, Theatre Horror Stories or last year’s Valentine’s Day play.

If you are member of the Dramatists Guild and want to see the writer of this blog elected to the Guild Council, you can totally vote for him here.

In honor of Valentine’s Day and all the trauma it inflicts, let’s listen to a sad country song.

 

Current Playwrights, Female Playwrights, Unknown playwrights

Megan Ann Jacobs

Editor’s note: This post was written by our guest blogger, playwright Steven G. Martin

In this post, we profile Indianapolis-based playwright Megan Ann Jacobs!

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Our playwriting hero, Megan Ann Jacobs!

According to her website, Megan is “a quirky, nerdy, optimistic story-teller, always on the hunt for a new creative outlet.” She works is the property manager of the upcoming project in Indianapolis, which she calls “a truly legendary undertaking taking place in the former Coke-a-Cola bottling factory.”

We’ll be looking at one of Megan’s plays, “aMUSEd,” which was produced at the Indy Fringe Festival.

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A pretty cool poster.

Scene: A quaint New York City apartment

Time: Present

An older woman named Anita is asleep at her typewriter. Sebastian, a man in his 20s, wakes her. She is upset at her lack of progress in writing a book, while he is more upset that she is in poor health. They both know she will die soon, and the book will go unfinished. Anita encourages Sebastian to move on.

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Nate Press and Madeline Bunke in aMUSEd.

ANITA

You are now and will forever be my muse. But I can’t always be your instrument. I need you to promise me you will not let our story die. It’s the best one yet.

SEBASTIAN

Exactly, it’s the best one. I thought it for you, not someone else.

ANITA

Then keep thinking it for me. And when you are done, look for me on the pages. I promise you I will be there. Please, find this girl and finish our tale. Promise me.

SEBASTIAN

(It takes great strength, but he concedes.) I promise.

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Thomas Sebald and Anastasia Wild in aMUSEd.

And just like that, Megan catapults the audience into a world where Greek mythology is very much alive and literal, and modern-day authors reap the benefit.

A young lawyer named Nikki rents Anita’s former apartment, which several people believe to be haunted. She meets Sebastian, who insists she leave – guess who’s been doing the haunting to scare away the previous tenants? Nikki calls the police, but no good comes of it. Sebastian tells Nikki that he is a muse. He plans to get her to leave the apartment, just like he forced out the others who came after Anita.

Nikki’s problems don’t stop with Sebastian, either. She recently called off her wedding with Ryan and has moved out of the apartment they had lived in. The relationship is on hold, although Ryan supports Nikki … but then Sebastian interferes. Through a series of text messages and phone calls, Tyler – the apartment building’s landlord – is caught by Ryan in Nikki’s apartment while Nikki herself is in a bathrobe.

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Madeline Bunke.

RYAN

Who was that?

NIKKI

My landlord.

RYAN

Why was he here?

NIKKI

I honestly don’t know how it happened.

RYAN

Why was he holding you…in your robe?

NIKKI

He was crying, and he just sort of grabbed me. The robe was just an unfortunate circumstance.

RYAN

You made your landlord cry?

NIKKI

No, no! I was helping him get over his ex.

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Josh Scheibe and Madeline Bunke.

RYAN

Helping him how?

SEBASTIAN

Yes, helping him how?

NIKKI

I know it looks bad, but come on. You can’t really think-

RYAN

Well…

Ryan is almost assuaged, and he and Nikki begin to make out, which insults Sebastian. Sebastian threatens to hurt Ryan, which causes Nikki to call out Sebastian’s name and … well, more complications ensue. Ryan leaves Nikki in her apartment, not quite as supportive.

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Jane Preston & Thomas Sebald

Nikki breaks down and accuses Sebastian of making life even more difficult after the recent death of her twin sister.

NIKKI

Some people believe twins have a special bond, and, at least for us, that was true. Year after year my sister and I would make these crazy plans to move out together, go to college, and find our respective prince charmings. We understood each other in a way that didn’t require words. She knew all my secrets and I knew all her dreams. Then we grew up. Ryan proposed to me. I was going to be moving out right after the wedding. Susan was my maid of honor. But two days before the wedding, I was getting ready for bed when she called out to me: “Nikki.” It was the one word she could say perfectly. “Nikki,” she called. I got out of bed and walked over to her. She pushed herself up and kissed my forehead. It must have taken everything she had to do that. I told her I loved her too. Then I went to sleep…just like that…It was as if she knew this was goodbye. When I woke up she was gone.

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Thomas Sebald.

SEBASTIAN

Nikki, I’m sorry. It’s never easy-

NIKKI

And do you know what the worst part was? I slept through the night. I didn’t wake up in a hot sweat. I didn’t have a nightmare. There was no cold chill. I kept sleeping. It wasn’t until I went to wake her the next morning that I knew. I was so close. Maybe if I would have woken up, I could have done something.

But Sebastian understands loss, too, after being a muse for dozens of artists throughout the world.

SEBASTIAN

Losing someone is awful enough, trust me, you don’t want a pestilent timer ticking in your ear,

reminding you of what little time you have left with the ones you love.

NIKKI

Nobody knows how much time you have left.

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Thomas Sebald.

SEBASTIAN

I do! Do you want to know the real reason the muses left this world? It was because they could not stand the pain of losing companion after companion. For years and years they harbored this pain, but eventually they could not bear it anymore. I was the only one stupid enough to take one of their roles. They warned me not to go, but I didn’t listen. I wanted to share my stories. So, I came up with a plan. I begged the gods for a tool, something that would spare me the pain of the other muses. Chronos was the only one to step forward, and he presented me with this watch. It would attach to the life of my instrument, and it would tell me how long they had. I would stay with my companion until my watch told me that they had ten years left. Then I would leave. No exceptions. But it still hurt. It put a timer on everything and everyone. But at least I didn’t have to watch anyone die.

 

Nikki and Sebastian fight about who has had it worse, but Anita’s ghost appears during the aftermath. She points out to Sebastian that Nikki has the drive and intelligence to be a writer. Sebastian agrees that he probably is meant to be Nikki’s muse, and he attempts a reconciliation by threatening to tell her how long she has left to live.

Nikki writes a draft to the ending of the book, which she finds therapeutic as it allows her to let go of the past. She questions whether Sebastian’s watch robs him of the future and the time he spends with the artists he inspires. 

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Melissa Wild and Allen Pujankauski.

SEBASTIAN

I need it though. Otherwise, I won’t know when to leave.

NIKKI

Exactly, you won’t know.

SEBASTIAN

But I have a rule-

NIKKI

Since when do you care about rules? And don’t forget, you made an exception.

SEBASTIAN

And I paid the price!

NIKKI

But you have some great memories from those years, don’t you?

SEBASTIAN

Of course.

NIKKI

Would you trade those for anything?

SEBASTIAN

Not a thing.

NIKKI

Then what are you waiting for, Sebastian? Break the watch and embrace the fact, that for once, you won’t define the life of those you love in minutes and hours. You can start defining them in memories. And we can start right now, together.

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Anastasia Wild, Allen Pujanauski and Thomas Sebald

SEBASTIAN

Together?

NIKKI

If you do it, I will help you. We can finish this book together. Our first memory in the now. Come on, Sebastian, break the watch.

Sebastian stares at his watch. He slowly takes it off his wrist. With one last encouraging look from Nikki he grabs the frying pan and smashes the watch. He stands almost shell-shocked.

NIKKI

Well, how do you feel?

SEBASTIAN

I’m still here…so Chronos cannot be too livid with me. I feel…good…great, possibly even-

NIKKI

Grand?

SEBASTIAN

Let’s not get sappy.

There’s no time to get sappy. Sebastian dislikes the draft because Nikki has killed Mr. Sparkles, the family pet, thinking “it was a good symbol for change.” Although they disagree on that point, they realize how the draft of the novel will end, and both are happy.

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Lori Morse and Josh Scheibe

There are further complications as Sebastian tries to fix the rift between Nikki and Ryan. But through some well-placed phone calls – including 9-1-1 – all the love stories end well, including the one between Tyler and Officer Kasey.

RYAN

Does this mean we can finally set a new date for our wedding?

NIKKI

How about today?

RYAN

What?

NIKKI

Yeah! We can go to the court house right now! We already have everything we need, what are we waiting for?

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Olivia Gonzales and Nate Press.

RYAN

Are you serious?

NIKKI

Definitely.

 

RYAN

I’ll have to check my calendar, but I think I can squeeze that in.

SEBASTIAN

A wedding! Tonight!? But that gives me almost no time to think up a toast!

Sebastian runs to the desk and starts writing desperately on a piece of paper.

RYAN

Does that mean you are going to move in with me?

NIKKI

I’ll move in tonight!

SEBASTIAN

And we’re moving?!

Sebastian runs into the room and grabs a suitcase and starts packing his books.

RYAN

We are finally moving forward again. Are you sure you are okay? I don’t want to rush you. Your sister-

NIKKI

Couldn’t be more proud. You were right, Ryan. Moving on doesn’t mean moving away from her. She moves with me.

Which nicely sums up “aMUSEd” and its main theme: Things change. Nothing is forever, but nothing is entirely lost.

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Thomas Sebald, Allen Pujanauski and Melissa Wild.

1) How did you start playwriting?

Writing and theatre have always been two cornerstones in my life. However, it wasn’t until college that I moved to combine the two and create a play. I didn’t go out to write a play, rather, an idea struck me as I looked a picture…the story that came to mind was begging to be told on the stage. I don’t think I had much choice in the mater.

2) What are your influences?

This is quite the question, as I believe influence is found everywhere. It’s in the people I know. I’m consistently inspired by moments, memories, loves, work, struggle, fear- everything can be an influencer if you are prepared to listen. I do make a conscious effort to surround myself with art of many types, as this has helped me expand my horizons and perspective.

3) What is your most memorable production and why?

In one of the last performances of the world premiere of “aMUSEd,” after the first act, there was a power outage. Two of the actors were bound for Chicago after the final weekend, so rescheduling was not an option. So for the second half, they performed in candlelight in the intimate venue. Lucky for me, there happens to be a huge storm in the show at that point. (What are the odds!) The landlord even comes up to check on the outlets, so, the actors ad-libbed a bit as needed and the show continued! Truly was the most interesting combination of incredibly horrid luck and divine intervention.

4) What is your least memorable production and why?

Perhaps, it’s simply because I’ve only had a handful of productions of my work, but they are all memorable to me in some shape and form. It does get a bit monotonous after you’ve seen it 6+ times in a matter of two weeks, but I think one of the beauties of live theatre is that every show is nuanced with differences.  As an actor, director, and playwright, this is one of the most incredible things to witness.

5) What are your writing habits like?

I try to write at least a little bit a week, even if that means editing pieces. The more theatre I see, the more inspired I am to write. I’m hesitant to call any of the ways I write ‘habits,’ because I feel consistency is something I lack. Some days I stare at the screen for hours and fail to produce a page, other days I knock out a first draft in one sitting, and there is, of course, the times my laptop never even opens despite my good intentions, because I can’t get my eyes off of my current Netflix guilty pleasure. I have found that I work better when I have a deadline, so classes, readings, and submission opportunities act as a huge motivator for me.

6) What advice do you have for new playwrights?

Get your butt in the chair. The chair is at it’s most intimidating when you are first starting your piece. It stares at you, mocking you. The only way to silence it is to take it’s *insert accurate adjective for our own chair here* form and sit upon it. Even writing poorly for an hour is better than not writing at all. I think we are so conditioned to be afraid of failure and we worry that we will ruin the peaceful whiteness of the blank page with our words. Ultimately, any words, even ones that you lament about later and revise, make that paper more interesting than it was before. There are no perfect plays. There are no perfect playwrights. In fact, the only thing successful playwrights have in common is the mountain of ‘failure’ that now is the foundation of the mountain where they sit.

7) Who are some other writers you feel should get more attention?

I’ve recently had the pleasure of coordinating a table reading for Marcia Eppich-Harris. While she is still developing her first piece for the stage, that’s a name you will want to look out for, as she has talent.

8) What are the common themes in your work?

I am consistently drawn to the dramatic-comedy, where I can explore a heavy-theme (such as loss in “aMUSEd”), while still bringing the audience laugher. Other than that though, I’d say mental struggles such as anxiety, trauma, and depression always seem to find a way into my writing. Human behavior is complicated and each person is motivated by a brain full of individual experiences and complex chemical reactions and not enough people are willing to tackle those intimate issues and vulnerabilities.

9) What is one thing you wished you knew now, that you didn’t know starting out?

That once a play has a production, the options for submitting it into competitions is all but eliminated. That was one thing I regretted about the immediate success of “aMUSEd” and its ability to see the stage. I am still honored and would not take those productions back for anything, but I do wish that I would have submitted to contests before accepting production contracts. Now it is stuck in the limbo of being too accredited for contest entries and not accredited enough to get through to gain agents/publication/or most opportunities at a regional theatre.

10) Can you please tell us about Indy Fringe?

Indy Fringe is a 15-year-old organization that focuses on providing opportunities for artists of all kinds to perform or see their work performed. It has several festivals throughout the year, the most popular being the Indy Fringe Festival, which is a reasonable pay-to-play uncensored opportunity to get your work performed. It’s a fun-filled 10-day festival that draws attention from across the country. During the rest of the year, Indy Fringe provides a location at a reasonable price to work on your pieces and host performances. It also makes it its mission to bring in traveling acts to further raise the artistic credibility of Indianapolis.

11) What’s a question you’d like to be asked? Go ahead and answer that question. 

How could you get in touch with me? You can find out more about me and my shows at www.meganjacobstheatre.com. There is even a place where you can contact me directly!

Link Dump

aMUSEd

Wisconsin audition notice

Milwaukee production

Milwaukee review

Review of another Milwaukee production

Another Milwaukee review

Indy production

Indy

DivaFest in Indy

Review of the play

Dinner show near Sheboygan

A really interesting review

Coping with Autumn

Staged reading

Staged reading 2

 

The Playwright

Her IMDB page

Her personal/professional website

Her demo reel

Her New Play Exchange profile

Thanks again to Steven G. Martin for this guest post. 

Female Playwrights, Playwrights of the Past, Unknown playwrights

A Hallowe’en Adventure by Effie Louise Koogle

Howdy all! Happy Halloween! Welcome back to Unknown Playwrights. This Halloween (just like last Halloween) we’re bringing you a Halloween play from the era of when tricks were given more than treats.

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From 1905. Honestly, thisis probably more interesting than our play. Apparently “hold-up” is a game. And two of the boys were dressed as girls. And one kid shot the other. All here.
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Also 1905. In Salt Lake City.

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1906. Dude literally scared someone to death.

They also had cooler postcards, too.

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OMG.

Let’s see what we’re up against today.

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Fair enough. I’ve done a lot of looking online and I can’t find a whole lot about the author. She was born in 1869 and died in 1947. She seems to have spent her whole life in Ohio. She had six brothers and sisters. The most interesting thing to me is that amongst 5 girls in the family only one seems to have married. And among all the sibllings, it seems only one or two married. I wish I knew what that was about. Even the Brontë sisters got married. More on Koogle later. Let’s meet our cast.

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Tarrytown…yes, that Tarrytown. Let’s check out the scenes:

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Poor Nell has been stuck in her room for a week. She’s been grounded – apparently seminaries  could ground their female students back in 1906. She was grounded for a “prank” and she’s got three days left on her sentence. Her friends Verda, Bess, Gloria, Gail, Freida & Gwendolin show up. Nell has been “ill” with a headache. She tells them not to worry…

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Don’t worry or them wrinkles will get you! Also, it’s wrong to be hypocritical and hypercritical.

The girls decide they should do something spooky for Halloween, but Bess sees a problem.

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She has a point. I love that the boys they’re after are seminary boys.

Nell suggests they go to…Sleepy Hollow.

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Bess reminds us of who lives in Sleepy Hollow.

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This dude lives there.

And boys…

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These guys seem cool.

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Take note: Fictional male characters in 1906 Halloween plays want a woman as handsome as she is venturesome.

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Miss Noesome’s seminary gals are the finest! And Glo Gould is a whole sugarplum!

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Pictured: Glo among her cohorts.

In what appears to be the prelude to a hazing ritual, the “ghosts” show up to obey their ghost master.

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Moans, groans and hisses…

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More hazing. Nell is then asked her name.

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I like how the description of the ghost sounds devolve to “Moans, etc. (Emphatic)”

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Time to tie up the girls (and Tom)! The boys/ghosts take them to the cave.

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Did she say beautiful cave? I know the most beautiful cave in the world.

And hot damn! Napoleon shows up and so does Rip Van Winkle.

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This dork…
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…meets this dork. Sadly, they don’t have a baby.

And amongst the ghosts of fictional and real-life people, a goddamned German doctor shows up. Because. Because? Oh, he wants their blood!

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“Vat iss dies sch*t? Vat die aktuelle fock?”

And Major André shows up.

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Sometimes dying for your country looks like this.

 

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“Young folks laugh” = play was written by an old person. And that other inhabitant of Sleepy Hollow pops up.

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Pictured: Sleepy Hollow’s most ballinist player: Ichabod Crane.

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Hells yeah!!!!

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Among the ghosts, the Headless Horseman is a loser. Hehe.

And for some reason a Native American female shows up. Maybe she’s a ghost because of all the Native Americans white Americans killed.

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And I know “squaw” is an offensive term that isn’t even found in any Native American language. But it’s found in this sad little play.

Eventually, the girls get scared and go back to their seminary.

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I was right about the hazing, which has killed a ton of people over the years.

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“IT WAS WORTH WHILE TO CLASH WITS WITH GIRLS OF THEIR CALIBER!”

This has several tropes in common with last year’s Halloween play.

  1. Boys dressing up like ghosts to scare girls. No gun in this one and no cross-dressing.
  2. Girls going to a “haunted” place wanting to be scared.
  3. No actual supernatural stuff.

Apparently, this was really performed at one time. The Koreshan Unity utopian community in Estero, Florida had a copy of this play in its papers.

I want to thank the folks at the state archives of Florida for scanning this play for me. So very, very kind of them.

Ms. Koogle was rather prolific in the early 1900s. Her output includes plays and sheet music.

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Pray Observe, We Must Conserve. 

1902: Ethics for Young People

1904: Twas Thee! Twas Thou! And This I Avow!

1906: The heir of Mt. Vernon

1906: Cupid’s Joke

1906: A Colonial Minuet

1906: Just After Christmas

1907: Up-to-date America: Or the Sweet Girl Graduate’s Dream

1908: Kris Kringle Jingles

1909: The Christmas Collation

1909: The Thanksgiving Songster

1912: The Buzzville News

1918: A bunch of rah-rah America stuff for WWI. And here.

1940: Ready for Kisses

Not sure the year on this, but Effie Louise Koogle just became very interesting:

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Uhhh.

If anyone has any information about Ms. Koogle, please let me know.

Thanks for reading and please check out last years’s Halloween play

And here’s a song about The Headless Horseman, by the Monotones (famous for their Book of Love)

 

 

 

 

Current Playwrights, Dude Playwrights, Female Playwrights, Unknown playwrights

Gun Violence Plays (Diana Burbano, Mark Harvey Levine, Eric Jones, John Minigan)

Howdy and welcome back to Unknown Playwrights. We took a break from profiling playwrights for a couple months, but we’re back in full swing now.

This is a very special post profiling plays about gun violence, an American epidemic. If you need a tally, there is always the Gun Violence Archive.

Gun violence in America seems pervasive when compared with the rest of the so-called civilized world. Here are the lowest death-by-firearm rates.

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Stats from the ol’ Wiki.

I spent a significant portion of my adult life in one of the countries on that list. The only time I felt unsafe or was threatened by violence was when I ran into other Americans there.

Here are the highest death-by-firearms rates:

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Stats here.

The US is smack dab between Panama and Uruguay. It is also ahead of the scariest place I lived in my life. Also notice that the US has way, way more guns than anybody else.

Recent attacks have specifically targeted minorities. The El Paso shooter “targeted Mexicans” but also ended up killing a German. Some shooters target synagogues. Muslims are also a target, though some shooters have killed Christians and Sikhs by mistake.

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.

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Seriously, dude. Just shut up.
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Seriously.

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.

Salat al-Janazah

The first play from Diana is Salat al-Janazaha 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:

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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.

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News coverage of her funeral is below.

 

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Here it is with the US flag, via here.

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.

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Warning: not a made-up graph.

Gun violence is an important issue for Burbano. She has written several other plays and we will explore those.

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Death’s Release

 

Her next play is Death’s Release, in remembrance of Kimberly Vaughn Hart, another victim of the Santa Fe massacre. 

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Here, the play brings in magical realism.

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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.

Gabriel García Márquez tends to be considered to be the most prominent writer using magical realism.

Anyways, these kids are using magic.

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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.

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Hint: it wasn’t a wand.

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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.

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Quite literally the 2nd stupidest thing I saw today. The stupidest was the queen suspending the UK parliament, which proves America doesn’t have a lock on stupid.

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.

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That’s a painful realization.

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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.

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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.

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“I wasn’t really looking at you.” The Washington Post wrote a whole article about this.

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The white woman screwing up a name, just like John Travolta.

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Nice comeback there, Prof…

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Still, the white professor describes her own murderer as “brilliant.”

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Hehe. ALL North Americans.

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Thank God for honest characters! The housekeeper lets the professor know the truth. The professor’s entitlement is still showing.

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Death. The great equalizer.

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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.

She played punk Praetorian guard Viv in the cult movie musical, The Isle of Lesbos
Diana is a member of The Dramatists Guild and The Alliance of Los Angeles Playwrights

God Forbid

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.

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The fantasy begins…

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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:

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And that’s what the playwright does best: deliver a knockout punch in as little time as possible.

Mark Harvey Levine - Playwright Photo

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).

Open Carry

Our next playwright, Eric Christopher Jones tackles the intersection between racism and gun rights in America with Open Carry. Let’s take a look.

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Oh, the Alamo!

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“Don’t shoot! Hands up!” has been a part of the most recent civil rights movement.

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.

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Must be.

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You can even get audio here.

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Tamir Rice was a 12 year old boy killed by Cleveland police while playing with an Airsoft gun.

Alton Sterling was a 37 year old man shot by Baton Rouge police.

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.

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Putin’s original bitch. Pretty nifty. It’s even a woodcut.

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Aha, the mighty Raymond has arrived – but still the other characters don’t know his race.

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Officer Ray. Sigh.

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This play eviscerates the notion that 2nd Amendment advocates aren’t racist a-holes. This is from the Wikipedia page about the Oath Keepers:

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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).

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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.”

Product Reveal

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:

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Oh.

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.

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Meet Holly, Christian mother of three. At least it’s not a Confederate flag. (?)

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:

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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:

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Oh, hoodies based on school massacres with their very own bullet holes. People will love this! (Photo by Michael Kusumadjaja)
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Wait, so people DON’T like school massacre hoodies? Who’d a thunk it? (Photo: Michael Kusumadjaja)

Every bit as stupid as the play’s product reveal, we are living in our own surrealistically violent post-modern satire. Sigh.

Minigan Headshot 2 2019

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.
  1. 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.

  1. What are your influences?

Burbano: Women’s stories, especially unknown history. Caryl Churchill, Tom Stoppard, Sarah RuhlOctavio Solis, José Cruz Gonzáles

Levine: For short plays, David Ives most definitely.  He’s the master of the short play.  For playwriting in general, I’d have to say Neil Simon, Tom Stoppard and Alan Ayckbourn.

Jones: I’m a musical theatre fan. I love the songwriting of Pasek/Paul, Stephen Sondheim, Jason Robert Brown & the writing team of Lynn Ahrens & Stephen Flaherty. I really love Lynn Ahrens as a lyricist & Librettist. It’s very clever & moving.

Minigan: I’ve been really shaped by my experiences working with students in 31 years running a high school theater program. Theater kids are passionate, clear, committed, and usually awesome. And working with lots of great teachers, writers, directors, and dramaturgs has influenced me (Kevin Coleman, Bridget O’Leary, Miranda Jonte, Dan Burson, and more). In terms of the craft of writing, my influences are pretty eclectic: Paula Vogel, August Wilson, Wendy Wasserstein, Brecht, Pirandello, Beckett, George S. Kaufman.

  1. What is your most memorable production and why?

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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. Who are some other writers you should get more attention?

Burbano: José Cruz Gonzélez, Monica Sanchez, Matthew Paul Olmos, Elizabeth Szekeresh

Levine: Babs Lindsay, Rich Orloff, Alex Dremann and Patrick Gabridge.

Jones: Local Houston writers like Michael Weems, Denise O’Neal, Crystal Rae, Nicholas Garelick, Fernando Dovalina & Donna Latham. Why go to NYC when there is great talent in The Lone Star State?

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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. What do you have coming up soon? 

Burbano: Ghosts of Bogota at Alter Theatre, and Actors Theatre of Charlotte. Hoping to turn that into a rolling world premiere with NNPN.

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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

While you’re with us, please check out our Unknown Playwrights (living & dead), Monologue Mondays and Theatre Horror Stories.

Until next time…

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