Kathleen Turco-Lyon in August: Osage County, Pittsburgh Playhouse

How did you prepare for this part?
Well, text analysis, of course, and lots of online research. We had just thirty days rehearsal from start to opening, so I did a considerable amount of memorization before leaving NYC. Also, I had a good amount of time after learning I was cast, so I took myself to Pawhuska, Oklahoma, in Osage County, where the play takes place.

How was Oklahoma similar or different from your expectations?
What I completely expected was the heat; On the plains, the temp was between 102 and 104 the four days I was there. Heat factors heavily in the play, so this was very useful. The people there were incredibly gracious. Complete strangers talked at length about their lives, their town, and shared the remarkable history of Osage County itself. I was surprised to learn that the entirety of Osage County (called, ‘The Osage Nation’) was actually purchased from the U.S. Govt by the Osage Tribe after they were moved off their Kansas territory homelands in the 1800’s. The Fed thought it to be useless land, then oil (gobs, and gobs of it) was discovered. Osage Tribal members became, for a time, the wealthiest group of people in the entire WORLD! Tribal peoples in OK have been intermarried with German, Irish, and Dutch descendants for many generations. This is true for the majority of Osage County residents, it seems; a remarkable number of intermarriages, actually. In reference to the play, I asked if there weren’t pockets of white folks in the county that simply kept to themselves; that just didn’t mix. Who knows if they are there, but no one I spoke with knew of any. So this makes the character Violet, in the play, even more of an anomaly, to my mind. She covers all the windows in the house, which seems to be about much more than just blocking out sunlight!

What have you learned about August, Osage County now that you’re performing it?
I’ve become more aware of how Lett’s portions out quite intimate exposures of each central character as the play unfolds; moments of real fragility. They are introduced to the audience (most of them), as fairly muscular characters.

Why do you think this play has resonated so much with audiences?
In spite of their poor choices and bad behavior, the characters come to be understood emotionally. ‘Every family has one’ (or more), as the saying goes. Then, on an ‘uber’ scale, the play lays a case for questioning our choices as a nation, and how dysfunctional we’ve become. Johnna’s words at the end, which she sings to Violet: “THIS is the way the world ends.” also carries a bit of hope too, I think. ‘The world WILL end this way, if we allow ourselves to be consumed by our current story, but we can also choose to make something of the life we still have left.” The audience has 3 hours to sit with these characters. It’s INCREDIBLY generous writing.

How has also being a playwright informed your acting process?
I’ve more respect than ever for the playwright’s exact words, their stage directions, their punctuation, and knowing that someone sat their ass in a chair for years, probably, to create that. A great many actors, I think, just do not realize is required from playwrights in time, and treasure, to make a good play!

How is the theater community in Pittsburgh?
It’s exciting. Lots of talent here. Companies doing everything from contemporary and classical plays, to wonderful site specific work. I had the pleasure of seeing a vibrant Chekhov Festival produced by PICT (Pittsburgh Irish & Classical Theatre). The Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company is here too.

What is your dream part?
Classical/Modern Classics:
Ranevskaya (Cherry Orchard), Mrs. Alving; (Ghosts), Mrs. Malaprop (The Rivals), and Paulina (The Winter’s Tale), are just a few.

Contemporary: I’d love to play Violet (August: Osage County) some day. I’d love to do Beckett, Pinter, Mamet, and roles in new plays, especially by women. There’s nothing like lifting a character off the page for the first time!

What’s next?
I plan to begin work on adapting a novel.

Check out the show and reviews:

http://www.pittsburghplayhouse.com/OnStage/CurrentShows

http://old.post-gazette.com/pg/12255/1260789-500.stm

http://www.theatermania.com/pittsburgh-theater/reviews/09-2012/august-osage-county_61293.html

http://www.pghcitypaper.com/pittsburgh/august-osage-county/Content?oid=1564875

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Ready to Write? Tessa LaNeve on ESPA, Fordham and Everything in Between

How did you get involved with ESPA/Primary Stages?  

While in grad school at Columbia, I was still working at Second Stage. My boss called me as I was walking into a seminar to say that Andrew Leynse from Primary Stages was going to contact me about a literary management job. I had no idea who this Andrew Leynse was. Or what Primary Stages was, for that matter. Within two weeks, I was working there.

In 2007, Primary Stages Executive Producer Casey Childs suggested we create a school. I volunteered to take a stab at it. Little did I know it would grow to having over 1700 students and 90 faculty members in just five years.

ESPA is now also affiliated with Fordham?  How did that come about?

We began working with Fordham several years ago when Cusi Cram’s play The Wild Inside was produced there. We collaborated on the production and became fast friends. Primary Stages Managing Director Elliot Fox and Director of the Theatre Program at Fordham, Matthew Maguire, began cooking up this partnership during that production. Once the curriculum was nailed down and the State accreditation was set, I was asked to suggest who should teach – and was, in return, given a class. Crazy. The launch of this MFA partnership marks an important turning point for both institutions – the degree is Fordham’s first MFA Playwriting program and our first venture into the world academia. What’s more, a small handful of our strongest ESPA artists may be joining us in the classrooms through special recommendation and invitation. ‘tis a beautiful symbiotic relationship for everyone.

What have you learned in the process of producing ESPA Drills?

Writers are our country’s heroes. The theater community really ponies up when asked. Copy machines are magic… and I really love being in the room. On more hands than I can count, I’ve thought to myself, “Damn, I love my job. This is such a privilege. And far too much fun to be considered work. Make sure my boss doesn’t find out.”

How has the process/experience varied for different playwrights?

Every play has different needs. Some are farther along in the process and just need cosmetic surgery. Others undergo full liposuction and body lifts. Either way, all of the energy in the world is given to these writers to make their plays gorgeous by their fateful days at 59E59.

What do you think the main benefit has been for playwrights?

Beyond being able to focus on one play all summer, receive as many table reads as need be, have the Primary Stages artistic staff on hand for feedback as well as gorgeous actors and talented directors… Beyond all that, what MORE could a writer want? Ah yes, ADVOCACY. That’s my favorite part. We contact every agent, every theater, every everyone to introduce these writers to the world. We invite them to the readings, we send them scripts, we push the writers to submit to festivals… Major relationships have been made with our advocacy program with a bunch of the plays having second and third lives.

What else new is happening at ESPA this year?

We’ve got several new faculty members joining the ranks as well as new curriculum. We’ve got Fordham, of course… and we’re hard at work coming up with a theme for our Fall kick-off party. Ideas are welcomed.

What are the intensives?  How are they different from Workshops?

The writing intensives are 4-5 days of non-stop writing. We’re talking like 20 hours of exercises and scribbling. Hands have been broken in the process. Dozens of pens have run out of ink. Computers have been fried… But most importantly, huge chunks of new plays have been developed.

If you were reincarnated as a playwright/theater artist, which one would it be and why?  :-)

As a playwright – I’d want to be Oscar Wilde. Controversial and terribly witty. And I’d totally go to jail for someone I love.

As a theater artist – oh gee.. You know, I’m pretty happy being me. I’ve got a lot of autonomy over here, which gives freedom to play and explore on a daily basis with my family of artist-friends. Can’t imagine wanting much else. I’m a very lucky girl.

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Playwright Yeauxlanda Kay Discusses Awesome Tiny Plays

How long have you been doing “Too Much Light”?
I became a Neo Futurist in 2005 and our weekly show ,”Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind” has a rotating cast so I’ve been in and out of the show for seven years.

How does “Too Much Light” work?

The show is our attempt to perform 30 plays in 60 minutes. All of the plays are original and we’re entirely self contained, everything you see and hear is written, created and performed by us.  A clothesline hangs across the stage with numbers 1 through 30 pinned to it. Each number corresponds to the title of a play. Our program is the menu of plays offered that evening with the titles and numbers printed on it.  No two shows are ever alike since the run of the show changes each night and each weekend plays are cut from the menu and new ones will replace them the following weekend.

How is the audience involved?
  The audience’s theater experience with us starts as soon as they reach the theater, (The Kraine 85 E.4th Street btwn Bowery & 2nd) by standing on line, having to roll dice to determine the price of their admission and being name tagged.
The audience also plays a major part in our show. They decide the run of the show by calling out the number of the play that they wish to see. Some plays require audience participation. At the end of the show an audience member is randomly selected to roll a die onstage each night to determine how many plays will be cut from the menu and how many new plays will be added.
Of course the more audience members we have the merrier because when we sell out we order pizza for the audience.

How did you get involved?
Back in 1999 my then roommate, Morris Stegosaurus, gave me the book, “100 Neo Futurist Plays from Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind” published by the Chicago company. I read it in one sitting and when I closed the book I said out loud that I wanted to be a Neo Futurist. I fell in love with the aesthetic immediately; not playing characters, displaying verisimilitude  in it’s highest form, everything that is seen is real or honest and the show is made up political commentary, living newspaper, personal confession and vulnerability.And theatre, music, dance, visual art and performance art can be used to create a play.
But I digress, I can’t help myself I love it. In 2004 I was a part of a two week audition workshop and I was trained by Greg Allen, the founder of Neo Futurism and I had my first performance in 2005.

How many Neo Futurist plays have you written?
My guess would be probably 100 and maybe about half  of those have been performed. Right now I have 6 plays in the current menu.

What is the writing process like?
There is no simple answer for this, you have to take a series of workshops to learn our process. But I can say that we work collaboratively to decide how the menu should look; do we have enough comedy, drama, activity, silence, movement, anti-plays, political, personal music, deconstruction do we change the space enough? etc, etc
What ever is missing we all write separately then we propose our plays together and we select what plays will be used.

How does it differ from your other writing?
In Neo futurism I have to work with what ever I have at my disposal at the time. If I write a play for myself it has to deal with whatever I’m going through at the time. And if I write for my fellow Neos I must write in their voices. I can’t give them lines that they would never say in real life and I can direct their emotions onstage, that has to be organic. Writing this way really sharpens your observation skills because you really have to know your cast mates but, if you don’t know how they would react to a certain stimulus you are free to ask them.
What is the most ridiculous thing that’s happened on stage?
In 2005 I broke my leg onstage during a show while doing a play that I wrote. I didn’t realize that I had broken it so I finished the show with a limp that grew progressively worse as the night went on. I even danced on it.

What have you learned through writing for Too Much Light?
I was already I fast writer but now being a Neo I’m even faster with my turnaround. Saturday we cut plays the following Tuesday we must come with completed plays. The more plays that were cut, the more plays that have to be brought. Also, my eye is becoming more astute at “finding” plays. For instance, I was on the subway reading The Economist magazine and some dancers came on and their music underscored my reading. Before I knew it I had a play about astronomical property values around the world set to the music of Kid The Whiz, it’s titled ELITIST TURF WARS.
Do you always perform in your own pieces?
Not always because if the play is completely tailored to you it will be cut when you leave the show, BUT if you write some plays where anyone can go in they have a better chance of staying in the menu after you leave. Right now the current record time for a play staying in is ten weeks. I think one of mine has stayed in for six.
Does your choice of subject material differ?
Yes because EVERYTHING can be used; current events, politics, social issues, art, theatre, film, tv, music, something utterly unbelievable and surreal happening to you at work that makes for a great story that can be told in 60 to 90 seconds.

What’s next?
Next week I work on a film. That’s all I’m allowed to say at this time. It’s secretive like Mi6.

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Director Stephen Brackett on American River, Lesser America and Party Planning

What is your approach to directing?  Is it different from how you were trained?

I’m a big believer in collaboration and respecting the artistry that every member of the team brings to the table. That really guides my process with actors, designers, playwrights and everyone else. I try and lead an open and comfortable room, a room where people feel free to try something new and take major risks. I come from a training that is based on plunging into the work and getting your hands dirty with it, whether that means getting up into the grid and hanging a light or getting crafty in finding a solution within limited resources. It really has guided my approach to making theater in a major way.

What drew you to American River?  What themes resonated with you?

I was really struck by the love story at the center of this play, and really found myself rooting for these two completely challenging and rough around the edges characters. I appreciate plays with complicated and problematic protagonists. And I think Micheline had an amazingly deep understanding of the life blood of the people that inhabit her play, so I was drawn to the people and I was drawn to Micheline’s sensibilities, which are kind of twisted, utilize a lot of heart, and have killer naturalistic flourishes.

How did you start working with Lesser America?

I met Lesser America in the Fall of 2011, when I directed 3 short plays for Too Much Too Soon, their evening of short plays. Their “can do” vibe really struck a chord with me. I’m a big fan of theirs.

If you weren’t doing this, what would you do?

Maybe a caterer or some sort of party planner. Sometimes I think I could be an excellent professional organizer. I’m a tad compulsive and OCD like that.

What’s next?

I’m workshopping a new musical called The Trouble With Doug at TheatreWorks in California and in the winter I’m directing The Correspondent by Ken Urban at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater.

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Deprivation and the Creation of Interest by guest blogger Krista Komondor

I never would have thought that two and a half hours in a darkened, dressed up warehouse could change the way I experienced the world-but it did. Punchdrunk Theater’s “Sleep No More”, a production taking place at the McKittrick Hotel on 27th and 10th, was a gift to my senses.

Wanting to go into the experience with a clean slate, I avoided reading any reviews or engaging in any discussions, only noting the general consensus to be “it was awesome.” Taking to heart the management’s promise, “The more you explore, the greater your reward,” I spent the first thirty to forty-five minutes wandering from floor to floor. There was an eerie stillness about it all, as if time had stopped and here I was scraping around, excavating leftover memories.

As the relics around me presented themselves like open-ended questions, I started playing detective, using them as a means to formulate a hypothetical story about the hotel and the people who had previously inhabited these rooms.

The stillness was broken when I turned a corner and discovered a space containing two rows of bathtubs–all empty except for one. A group of spectators were gathered round a bathtub watching a nurse dip a blood-tinged striped pajama top in and out of the cold water. I wondered if we’d soon meet the owner of the pajama top or if their life had recently passed. Had they died of pneumonia, rheumatic fever or the results of their own misadventure? Were they on the mend?

Down the hall, I found a small study with a manual typewriter and a flurry of letters. Sitting down at the desk, examining the words on the piece of paper rolled around the typewriter’s platen, reading these antiqued messages by candlelight, filled me with curiosity and excitement. In an adjacent room, on a bedside table beside an unmade bed, a book lay open to a passage outlining the process of delivering last rites to the dying. Reading these pages aloud, I stood there imagining the scene and envisioning the final moments in that life.

At the end of the night, as audience members spilled out onto 10th avenue, I decided to take a circuitous route back to the C train. As I ambled around, a marvelous thing began to happen, and I found myself suddenly interested in the little tidbits, details and nuggets of life I’d once overlooked.

Passing the windows of BBQs on 23rd street, I noted a man and a woman sitting at table sipping blue and red margaritas from over-sized glasses and laughing with one another. I found myself transfixed by their simplicity, the way they held their knives and forks, and the methods they used to pull apart their crispy chicken wings.

What were they talking about, and how were they affecting one another? What did all of that say about them, and what did that mean about the kind of man he was, or about the woman sitting across from him? Was it his coworker, wife, sister or lover? How long had they known one another and why did they choose a restaurant specializing in Texan-sized drinks and delectables?

I stood there for a minute to contemplate these new questions when suddenly their eyes were upon me. Hurrying off, I ran down the stairs of the subway station and found an older woman sitting on the tile beating a tambourine, her small dog licking her exposed toes. All of this left me invigorated and elated with the sensation of having stepped into the city for the first time.Sometimes you have to go it alone to really see what’s right in front of you.

Krista Komondor’s play MERCY MACHINE  explores the implications of aggressive  treatments at the end of life. She is currently bobbing around the Hudson River on a sailboat.

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Artist to Artist; An Interview with Playwright Erika Sheffer by Danial Talbott

“I’m inspired by the people and places in this city that seldom find meaningful representation in the arts.”

DANIEL TALBOTT: You just recently had your extraordinary play ‘Russian Transport’ produced at the New Group. I think that’s pretty much every emerging playwright’s, and just pretty much any playwright’s wet dream, to get to work at a company like that.

If you remember, what was going through your head on the train ride from Brooklyn to the rehearsal space on the first day? Where were you at starting out on that massive project and adventure as a playwright and theater artist in this city, heading there that day?

The train ride in.  Well, I was kind of dazed.  It was my first production and I think I was still in a bit of shock. That didn’t wear off, by the way, until about a week after we closed.  I couldn’t believe this play I’d started, years earlier, was getting an off-Broadway production.

I wasn’t sure whether I was good enough/talented enough/smart enough/blah, blah, blah.  I was grateful for the biggest break I’ve ever been given, because really, no one deserves opportunity.  When someone puts themselves out there for you, as Scott and everyone at The New Group did in producing an unknown playwright (Just ’cause they freakin’ liked my play?), it is shocking, and incredible, and yes, a shiny bit of incredible luck.

DT: If you could sit in any city in the world and have dinner with any playwright ever, living or dead, who would it be, what would want to ask them and share, and what do you think or hope their advice would be to you as a playwright writing in 2012?

ES: I would share a plate of goulash in Budapest with Lilliian Hellman.  Budapest, because I’ve never been to Hungary, and Hungarian is the only language, other than English, in which I can have a conversation (slow and halting, but a conversation nonetheless).

Lillian Hellman, because she was not only a brave writer, but a brave woman.  She was unafraid of telling stories from her darkest corners.  Also, I heard that the night before her death at age 79, she propositioned a male guest at a party, so sounds like she knew how to have a good time.

I’m guessing she probably had it hard.  A woman in a man’s world who was using her brains to achieve success?  I can imagine…  When playwrights complain about how difficult it is to get their work out there, how few opportunities there are for minority writers, female writers, etc., they are right.  But I think Lillian’s advice to 2012 playwrights would be something along the lines of, “Yeah it’s fuckin’ hard.  Do it anyway.”

DT: What neighborhood or place in the five boroughs inspires
you the most as an artist, and why?

ES: I come from an immigrant family, so those are the communities I draw from.  We first lived in Boro Park among a sea of Hungarian Hassidim, then moved to Sheepshead Bay, which at the time was a working class Italian, Irish Catholic neighborhood.  My family arrived at the start of the Soviet wave to hit that area.  Nowadays, I live in a West Indian section Flatbush.

I’m inspired by cheap little 99 cents stores with off brand cleaning products, the old guys who sit in front of the building and slowly get drunk as the weather warms up, the musicians at Russian restaurants, the dishwasher at the hotel where I work, who comes here from his job at a bakery on the Lower East Side.   I’m inspired by the people and places in this city that seldom find meaningful representation in the arts.

DT: Do you have any interest in directing or producing your own work? Working in TV and film, stepping into other areas of the theater, etc.?

ES: I can’t say I have a burning desire to produce my own work, though that may change, were I to write a play that I believed in, but could not get produced.  I’m definitely interested in working in film and television, but there are two plays halfway between my laptop and head, that are screaming to get out.  Sometimes I miss performing.  Other times I’m grateful not to have to do the same thing every night for four weeks, or longer.  Thus far, I’ve only worked on what I most wanted to do in the moment, and right now, I want to write plays.  Directing my work?  Not sure.  It’s kind of nice to spread the stress around a little bit.

DT: Your work to me is always so wonderfully unexpected, honest, streetwise, and with messy edges—like life. How do you fight to keep that beautiful integrity when so often work is directed down a path that all its wonderful sharp and fucked up edges are forced to be cut off and well-rounded?

ES: Thanks, D.  I’ve tried to do things like “foreshadow” and “explain what I mean,” but it always ends up sounding terrible.  When in life do we ever say exactly what we mean?  I think 90% of the time we are saying what we think we mean in relation to how much we love/hate/want to fuck the person we are talking to.  Rounding out the edges of your work is a great pit stop to make along the way, though.  Explain everything.  To yourself.  (That’s the shitty draft). Then trust that the audience understands human frailty in a profound way that does not need to be articulated.

Look, it’s theater, so we’re not in it for the money.  You and I have talked about this before, but at the end of the day, all you have is your integrity.  I think the most important thing I learned in production and development was to listen, try everything, and believe that ultimately, it’s my play, my name.  I need to stand behind every word.

DT: Who are some of your heroes, and why? What about them helps you keep going and striving?

ES: I have theatrical heroes, Odets, Miller, Carol Churchill, absolutely.  The heroes that keep me striving, though, are the people who struggle to live good lives and support their families despite the deck being stacked against them, because they’re poor, illegal, of color, single parents…  I don’t see many of those stories onstage, so for now, that’s keeping me going.

DT: Here are some of those Inside the Actors Studio/ Pivot/Proust questions:

a). What is your favorite virtue?

Kindness

b). What is your favorite color and flower?

Colors are like moods, you can’t survive on just one.  Flowers, ditto.  (But sunflowers are nice).

c). What is your favorite quality in a woman?

Courage

d). In a man?

Humility

e). Where would you like to live?

Anywhere my husband is.

f). If not yourself, who would you be?

Yo Yo Ma while he plays Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1

g). What is your ideas of happiness and misery?

Happiness: Appreciation of a single moment.
Misery: The desire to please.

h). What is your favorite curse word?

Fuck (in all it’s glorious incarnations)

I). What natural talent would you like to be gifted with?

Patience.

J). If god exists, what would you like to hear him or her say
to you when you reach the gates? (Or something like that.)

Everyone you’ve loved and lost is here.

8. If your plays were the work of a painter, who would they
be by, and why? And what great American writer would they
want to have a torrid affair with?

My plays would probably be the work of Banksy.  They’re current, and there is a lot of profanity.  Whether successful or not, I am trying my best to say something lasting and true, in a completely ephemeral way.

Oooh.  My plays would want to have an affair with Joyce Carol Oats.  Her work is funny and flashy and sad and violent and full of humanity.

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A Few Questions with Joshua Allen

How did you first get involved in theater?

I didn’t do or even see a lot of theater growing up, but I’ve been writing since childhood (including an awful novella I wrote when I was 12). When I got to college, I planned to take a couple of classes here and there, but I still thought I wanted to go to med school. Then I discovered my boundless ineptitude for chemistry. So. Plans had to change pretty quickly. I started acting in some student shows, and then some professional shows. Then, senior year, I started turning my attention to writing and I haven’t looked back.

What three writers/inspired you the most?  Current?  Dead?

If we’re just talking all writers period, two words: James. Baldwin. Utterly transcendent. I was just telling someone the other day that I could just sit and chew on one of his sentences for an hour and never get full.

If we’re talking playwrights, the two that have been most inspirational for me are Eugene O’Neill and William Inge, for completely different reasons. O’Neill’s ambition was just extraordinary and I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that there is real American theater because of him. I also have a soft spot for “Desire Under the Elms” because I saw a great production of it when I was in high school. Inge’s plays are far from ambitious, but they taught me the value of having compassion for your characters.

How did The October Storm come about?

A couple of years ago, I wrote a play inspired by the Great Migration – a play about a couple who moves from rural Mississippi to Chicago under desperate circumstances and who then, eighteen years later, face the reality of their lives and their relationship. I’ve always wanted to write a trilogy just because it sounds cool. So I started a play set in the couple’s apartment building over 20 years later, following different characters. That play is now “The October Storm.”

Do you have a writing schedule?  What’s it like?

I wish I could stick to a schedule! I’m sorely in need of discipline. The closest thing I have to a schedule amounts to random all-nighters. I tried doing the whole “wake up and write every morning” thing, but the play that came out of that was…well…not good.

What are three things about writing that you wish you knew five years ago?

1.     It’s hard.

2.     It’s really hard.

3.     When it goes well, all you can really be is grateful. (That last one is courtesy of Tom Stoppard. NAME DROP.)

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