What is a Re-Education?

You might be surprised to see that my tagline has changed. That was because I felt it was necessary to change the tagline to reflect my personality more. The other tagline was something a fellow dramaturg had said, and he is someone I deeply admire, a maverick in the field if you will. The “Re-education” tagline comes from my dissatisfaction with my education in Prince George’s County Public school systems. In particular, my U.S History teacher. I want to use this dramaturgy blog to encourage others to have a “re-education.”

What this would entail is evaluating your past education and classes that you think you were cheated out of? For me, I was cheated out of a decent U.S History education. It is absolutely appalling how many public school these days do not value history education. We live in a culture that is so focused on English and math test scores, that teachers just end up teaching what’s on standardized tests: nothing more, nothing less. Therefore. we have an unprecedented amount of students not learning anything that can help them later in life. Because, let’s face it: the information on standardized tests won’t help a student learn how to write a research paper, it won’t help them learn how to finance a mortgage, and it certainly won’t help them become informed U.S citizens who are aware of the historical and cultural consequences of the events of their lifetime.

In the Fall of 2004 I started at Bowie High School and had a U.S Teacher who was not certified. He was assigned a U.S History class because there were far too many students and not enough teachers. My teacher, nicknamed Mr. X here, was certified as a track coach. Everything was open book. All we did was read the textbook and take the course evaluations at the end of the chapters and units. We would then go over the answers. It is important to note that even with open book assignments and tests, I was in the “lazy class” and so fellow students would see me working, and harass me to give them answers. “Yo, bitch what’s the answer to number 7?” On rare occasions I was even called the C word. All because I refused to share test answers.

I realized my class was hopeless, and that I was learning nothing, so I tried to transfer to an honors class. My guidance counselor refused, and it had nothing to do with whether I was qualified. It was simply “too much paperwork” for her to transfer me. It’s her job. Paperwork is part of her job, and she refused. Shortly after this incident, I walked up to my teacher and asked if I could write an extra credit paper about McCarthy (Senator Joseph McCarthy). My teacher, oblivious, goes “Who’s that?” We had JUST finished an open book assignment on the Red Scare and McCarthyism, and I know for a fact that this guy was old enough to have survived the Red Scare. How could he not know? And why was someone with my grades put in a class with a teacher who was not certified? The school tried to justify putting me in this class by stating that well, he is certified. He’s a certified Physical Education teacher and track coach. He NEVER should have set foot in a classroom to teach a subject he knew little to nothing about. This never would’ve happened in a math or science or English class. But history is not part of the standardized tests, and so this is what happens.

And we wonder why so many Americans cannot point to Iraq on a map.

The Re-Education series is me teaching myself what I should have learned ten years ago. Stay tuned, and enjoy the ride!

In Defense of Dramaturgy: An Interview with Martyna Majok

Dramaturgy Interview

 

1.) What’s keeping you busy these days? Both professionally and generally.

Woo! Quite a lot. And in quite a wonderful way. I’m very grateful. I just returned from the NNPN Conference in Dallas, which marked the end of my playwriting residency at NJRep. I’ll still continue teaching there this summer and possibly next year, as well. I have taught six courses there this past year and I fell in love with my students. I was also just awarded the 2013 Smith Prize Commission for a play about the effects of capitalism upon the way we treat different kinds of people in America. It’s an as-yet-untitled play that spans thirty years and three major relationships in the life of an immigrant woman. All the scenes take place at a bus stop at night in Elizabeth, NJ, a quarter mile from a factory. I just completed my first draft of the play – and had a reading that same day at NJRep — and I hope to be developing it with a theatre soon. This July, I’ll be workshopping my play, “Petty Harbour,” with Leigh Silverman at New York Stage and Film’s Powerhouse Theatre Festival. That same play is getting a reading in Michigan at The Performance Network a week before the NYSAF workshop. And I will be returning to Seattle in August for One Coast Collaboration where I will be working with actor Marya Sea Kaminski on a one-woman show and staging a reading of “Petty Harbour” with The Satori Group. Other projects I’m looking forward to working on more include a film, “Remy,” and a musical about modern-day settlers to the area of Chernobyl. But probably the thing that’s had me most excited – and busy — these days is my upcoming wedding. One month to go! And then there’s our subsequent move to New York City in August. I’m looking on these days with much hope and happiness.

 

2.) We met at the Kennedy Center New Play Dramaturgy Intensive in 2011. How did that help you as a writer?

The Kennedy Center Intensive was probably the most incredible and rigorous workshop experience in which I’ve had the pleasure to be a part. Immensely fruitful and enlightening in the ways of the development process. And I was so proud to be involved with a program as prestigious as that of the Kennedy Center. I met amazing artists and intellectuals with which I’m still in contact today. And it introduced me to the NNPN, which inspired me to apply for their residency program after I graduated Yale. And then to apply for the Smith Commission. And to get to know certain theatres. So I’m terribly grateful for the connections it gave me. And then there was the workshop process itself. I worked every night and morning on rewrites….after I came back from the bar (again, GREAT people at the MFA Playwrights’ Workshop). The actors asked challenging questions and I had the time and encouragement to investigate and discover this play. There’s no place I’d rather be than the rehearsal room and the week I spent in DC was riveting for me. So I yielded a lot of writing.

 

3.) What have you done with your play ‘The Friendship of Her Thighs.’? Has it gone through many changes since?

Before I came to the Kennedy Center, “the friendship of her thighs” had received a workshop production at Yale, and was then workshopped further with the claque in NYC and The Playwright and Director Center in Moscow (though, granted, that was in Russian…which, let me tell you, can be quite illuminating.) I highly recommend workshopping your play in a language you don’t fluently speak. The play also won the Jane Chambers Student Playwriting Award in 2011 and was a semi-finalist for the O’Neill. I hadn’t changed it much since the Kennedy Center.

 

4.) What has your general experience with dramaturgs been?

Pretty positive, I’d say. When I can, I choose dramaturgs with which I mesh. People with similar aesthetics. People I respect. People who have had varied experiences in the theatre – not just dramaturging. Artists. Preferably, artists who still make their own work. These (and the director, of course) are the people with whom you share your true thoughts and concerns at the end of the day and you want them to be brave and smart and lacking in bullsh*t. I think you need to get to know your dramaturg and her work – and she her playwright – before walking into a collaboration on a new play. Ideally, you’ll be a little in love with their brilliance and moxie. The dramaturgs I’ve worked with, especially at Yale, were bold and daring, with darkness and heart, and they inspired me all along the way – in rehearsal rooms and out.

 

5. Your writing has a soulful quality to it, and your play ‘Friendship of her Thighs’ seemed to be shaped by a series of vignettes rather than a more linear storyline. Is this how many of your plays are?

Thank you! That’s a kind compliment! A few of my plays to date function in this way where we visit different times that aren’t necessarily presented linearly. Or, chronologically, rather. But that just means there’s something else you’re watching develop, something else that’s linear. I have plays with continuous, chronological, forward moving action – “Petty Harbour,” for example – where all the action takes place over one night. Then there are plays that dip into different realities – “friendship” travels between the nightmares of a woman (which are abstractions of her past) and then to her waking day-to-day life, where she is beginning a new relationship with a man. My hope with that was to understand post-trauma. And I have plays that jump around in time – this newest work is an example of that – where there is some issue gnawing at a character’s present days that is being looked at throughout her whole life. But I’ve found you have to be careful and crafty with those.  An audience needs to follow something. So if I present a play out of normally-functioning time, I have something develop with a traditional arc, something the audience is watching. In this new play, we watch five scenes – three in the present and two in the past – to see whether a woman continues a destructive cycle that’s been helping her survive. And I try to set up that promise – that that question will be answered – early in the play so an audience knows that the story will go somewhere, albeit not traditionally.

 

6.) Describe for me your writing process.

Muse a lot, then procrastinate, panic, and write real fast? I’m kidding but that’s not entirely untrue. I’ll be attracted to some idea, some character, some place and I’ll build upon it for as long as I can. I’ll muse and write notes to myself along the way – usually in transit somewhere. Then I’ll set some deadline – usually an informal reading so there are other people holding me accountable. Depending on the scale of the play, I’ll set aside a week or so for continuous writing. Read it with actors, get feedback. And then keep going. I like presenting half-plays to people and then writing on from there. And I really enjoy the rewriting process. I print out pages and sit somewhere beautiful, just me and my play, away from things, for as many hours at a time as I can make work. The pages look like football plays by the time I’m done with them. It’s a treasured kind of time for me.

 

I never used to plan or outline my plays at all but now I find myself preparing for the first half of the story. In the actual writing of it, the story usually develops into something for which I could not have planned but it’s good for me to have markers, places to get to, so that I can discover things about these characters, and surprise myself, along the way.

 

As for the ideas themselves, I try not to analyze too much from whence they come. But I’ve noticed they usually have to do with something going on in my life at the moment, unaware though I may be about it at the time. Some obsession, some hurt or love, some mystery. Something I’d like to understand.

 

7.) What qualities do you look for in a dramaturg?

I talked about that a little bit above but I’ll add that life experience can be a very attractive thing for me in a dramaturg. This is not to say age but endurance, survival, living. There are things you cannot find in books. Things you need to understand in your bones through living. Humans do all kinds of things. And it certainly helps in conversations at the table and beyond when a dramaturg can understand seemingly strange character behaviors and assist a writer to better illuminate them instead of insisting on drastically rewriting or chopping them out.

 

8.) Have you ever had any negative experiences with dramaturgs?

Not really. You always learn something. I’ve disagreed with dramaturgs but that’s part of the process. You’ve got to be grateful for someone’s opinion – they are choosing to give you a part of their lives, being in the room with you, investing in your play. And you may not agree with them but you’ve got to consider what they say.

 

9.) When workshopping a play, how involved do you like to be? Are you more of an observer?

 

I love being in the room so I’m happy being as involved as is appropriate to the particular project. Still, I like directors to do what directors do best. I’m not the best at “actor speak” sometimes. I do rewrite a lot in the room. Cutting things as we go, adding notes to myself to write in some section at home later. I get excited when directors have actors do work off the page, outside of the play. Improvs and such. Mostly, I’m just happy to be there, learning about this thing, making something with people.

In Defense of Dramaturgy: An Interview with Peter Floyd

I worked with Peter Floyd this past summer at the Kennedy Center’s New Play Dramaturgy Intensive. It was a great experience, especially since the play–The Centipede King–was full of creepy, crawly goodness and things weren’t always what they seemed. I liked that about the play, especially since there was much for us to discuss regarding the play. Ultimately, there were not that many changes made to the play. I think, if I recall correctly, one monologue was added, and the rest of the changes were minor–a cut line here and there, etc. Mostly we spent our time discussing what was going on in the play, is it in the character’s head, is she crazy, and what, exactly is the so-called Centipede King? It was great fun, especially meeting Peter, who is a sweetheart.

This interview was conducted prior to the Boston bombings, but I would like to express my deepest sympathies to the city, and to say how grateful I am that Peter remained safe.

1.) What’s keeping you busy at the moment? Work and non-work related.

Right now, I’m working on a new play (tentatively called Protocol) for the New Voices program at the New Repertory Theatre in Watertown, MA. (Info here, if you’re curious.) Each of us four playwrights in the program has been working on a full length play since last fall, bringing in pieces of the works in progress to be read and critiqued. At the end of May, there will be public readings of all four plays. So, most of my playwriting hours of late have been writing and rewriting my play, which still needs a lot of work before it’s ready for presentation.
Back in February, there was a reading of my play Absence (a first-person portrait of a woman with Alzheimer’s) at the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta. It will get another reading here in Boston later this month, and in June it goes back to Atlanta for a reading before an audience of people who work with or are related to seniors afflicted with dementia.
Aside from that, there’s my day job of writing code for an Electronic Medical Record application, and also trying to see as many plays as I can…

2.) We worked together on The Centipede King as part of the Kennedy Center’s New Play Dramaturgy Intensive. Tell me a little bit more about how that play came to be.

I got the idea of writing a play that was a real horror story, as that was something I hadn’t seen much of on stage. I wanted to specifically write a horror tale that could only be told on stage, using distinctively theatrical techniques. I was specifically interested in psychological horror, and a strong influence was the Korean horror flick The Tale of Two Sisters. I had only written a couple of scenes when I was given the opportunity to submit a proposal for the Kennedy Center’s MFA Playwrights’ Workshop (that was what the event was called on my end!) and I rather rashly submitted my play, which I titled The Centipede King, by sending in a sketchy outline of what I thought the plot would be, plus the scenes I’d written and a couple of others I hastily threw together. I honestly didn’t think I had a chance in hell of getting in, so I was flabbergasted when Gregg Henry called me and said my proposal was accepted. I was both elated and terrified, as I now had to write the damn thing in time to bring to the workshop.
So, I put the old nose to the grindstone and plugged away at it. In the course of writing, the play took some turns I was not expecting. As you know, the play ends with a surprise twist (which I won’t describe here, because spoilers), but that was not how I originally intended to end. My plan was that the Centipede King, the mysterious presence that haunts Lily, the younger sister, would turn out to represent her fractured memories of her brother, who abused her in some fashion, and that Rachel, the older sister, never actually existed, but was an entity created in Lily’s imagination to protect her from the trauma inflicted by her brother. However, as I was writing, I discovered that Rachel was far too interesting a character to not be real. Further, Lily’s reaction to the Centipede King was not at all the reaction of a victim to her tormenter; in fact, she seemed to view the King as someone who could protect her from her sister. This was a much more interesting path than my original plan, so I went in that direction, and the result was the draft I brought to the workshop.

3.) What did you take away from the process at the Kennedy Center’s New Play Dramaturgy Intensive?

A souvenir mug and an Addams Family beer mat. (Rim shot.) No, I got a lot out the week. Related to the subject of your interview, this was the first time I worked with a dramaturg (three of them!) and I found you all useful and supportive; I’ll give further details under question 6 below. All in all, I learned a great deal about the play, not least that people would actually respond to it, by working with a savvy director and actors who were enthusiastic about the play but willing to pose questions that I did not always have immediate answers for. Having that level of support for a script that was still in a very raw state was both helpful and affirming. Simply being in an environment that was so supportive of new talent (I was going to say “young talent” but then I remembered some of us aren’t so young anymore) was great; it was inspiring to see the work of other playwrights from around the country.
4.) Not many changes were made to the play. Have you made more changes since the Intensive?
Some, but nothing major, which is actually pretty surprising. Absence, the Alzheimer’s play, has gone through many different drafts and now bears little resemblance to what it was like at its first reading. Protocol, my current play, is getting similarly heavy rewrites. But The Centipede King somehow came out — well, I won’t say perfectly, but in very good shape, so that while I’ve done a lot of tinkering (much of it to Rachel’s extended monologues) its essential structure is very much unchanged. I wish they were all that easy!

5.) What’s your writing process like?

Not very organized! I usually start with an idea and some sense of what my characters are, and begin writing to see where they will take me. Depending on how inspired I am, I can usually write twenty or thirty pages before getting stuck, at which point I have to brainstorm. For me, this involves opening a blank Word document, and writing down anything I can think of — plot ideas, bits of dialog, whatever — in a burst of free association. Some of these ideas are deliberately ridiculous. Eventually I’ll get something which sparks an idea, and will get me through another twenty or thirty pages. Usually, I’ll have some notion of how the play will end though, as with The Centipede King, that itself can change as I write the play.

6.) When you work with a dramaturg, what do you look for? What qualities would your ideal dramaturg have?

As noted above, my only real experience with dramaturgs was working with you and Gavin and Georgia at the Kennedy Center workshop. I didn’t have any real preconceptions of what that would be like, but I would say that Gavin (whom I worked with the most) would seem to represent the ideal dramaturg, in that he (a) really liked the play (I wouldn’t want to work with a dramaturg who didn’t like my stuff!), (b) was able to look at the play in a very analytical way, something that I’m not very good at doing; that is, he could pick up themes and images that were repeated through the play and suggest meanings that had not occurred to me, (c) in a similar way, could find problems with the play that I had not noticed (internal inconsistencies, out-of-character moments) and suggest alternative approaches in a non-pushy way; his suggestions were always thoughtful and considered — I didn’t always accept them, but I always respected them, (d) he had a breadth of knowledge both of the theater world and of many areas outside that field, and he drew on all of that in our work on the play.

7.) Do you have any negative experiences with dramaturgs? Explain, if you can.

No, none at all!

8.) How do you like to workshop a play? Do you go in with a specific idea of what you want to happen? Or do you like to observe the process? How involved do you like to be?

When a play of mine is being workshopped, I generally don’t have a specific notion of what should happen, unless there is a particular scene or sequence that I’m finding problematic. I prefer to watch and listen, so I let the director (with whom I would obviously talk to beforehand) be completely in charge of running the workshop and all the necessary logistics, so I can concentrate on the words. It’s always surprising (and sometimes appalling) to hear the lines spoken aloud for the first time — they’re often completely different from how they sounded in my head — and a lot of the notes I scribble to myself are about word choices and phrasings that sound totally unnatural. But I try to keep the big picture in view and make sure the play works as a whole, that the arc is clear and the characters real. Feedback from the director, the cast and — of course! — the dramaturg (if there is one) is vital, because what seems clear to me may not be so to someone living outside my head. Sometimes, if there is a scene that bothers me, I might ask to have it read again, possibly with direction given by either me or the director. However, since the workshop is about the the scripts, not the actors, I try to keep that to a minimum.

 

BCWJ Profile of Maria Alexandria Beech

altitudechallengedwriter:

This is a fantastic interview by Anne Hamilton.

Originally posted on Anne Hamilton/Hamilton Dramaturgy:

Profile of Maria Alexandria Beech

By Anne M. Hamilton, MFA

Maria Alexandria Beech is a playwright and librettist living in New York. She has written over fifteen full-length plays, several as a member of the Dorothy Strelsin New American Writers Group at Primary Stages Theatre, which co-produced her play LITTLE MONSTERS at Brandeis Theatre Company. Her full-length musical titled CLASS, with Karl Michael Johnson, was presented in a reading in May, 2012 at NYU.

AH: Alex, I know that you hold an MFA from Columbia University. Now you have a second, this time from NYU.

MB: It’s in musical theatre writing. It is a true honor. One would think that writing a musical and writing a play are similar processes, but in fact they’re not. They each require their own craft and their own knowledge base.

AH: What is CLASS about?

MB:  It’s based on a play that I wrote in…

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In Defense of Dramaturgy: An Interview: Walt McGough

I met Walt McGough in July 0f 2011, when we both descended on Washington D.C for the Kennedy Center’s first New Play Dramaturgy Intensive. I was a dramaturg, and he was a playwright who’s work was being workshopped. I was not working on his play, but I did see a reading of the play at the end of the week, and was impressed. McGough’s writing is thoroughly immersed in wit, humor, and emotion. He has the ability to elicit laughs and tears simultaneously.

As a person, Walt is funny, kind, and has a self-deprecating sense of humor (when he got busy, for instance, and could not get to my email for a few days, he responded “I am the wooooorrrssttt.”) Hardly, Walt. Hardly. Anyway, before I backtrack too much, I want to discuss briefly why I am interviewing Walt, and other playwrights in the first place (besides the fact that they are awesome). As you may have noticed from a previous post, I came across an article that referred to dramaturgs as “less-informed wikilinks.” I was very disappointed that people who work in the theater view dramaturgs in this way, and wanted to do something about it.

This, so to speak, is my “In defense of Dramaturgy” series.

1.) What’s keeping you busy at the moment? Work and non-work related.
  • I’m currently juggling a couple of projects: I recently started a two-man monologue show about the drone war in Pakistan, which has me balancing the writing side of things with the research end (turns out there’s a lot to learn about tribal life in Northwest Pakistan; who knew?). I’m also working through some rewrites on my play Paper City Phoenix, in advance of a production with Boston Actors Theatre this summer, and putting the final pieces in place for a couple other potential things for next season that I can’t talk specifically about yet but are going to be awesome. Life-wise, I’m trying to see as much theatre around town in Boston and praying desperately for winter to be over because seriously, this winter has been ridiculous.
 2.) Describe for me how you get ideas. I’m in the process of editing and working on some young adult fiction, so I’m reading what some of my friends call good young adult fiction. Do you also get inspired by reading other writers? 

  • I definitely try to read a lot that syncs up with what I’m writing, but what that reading ends up being specifically depends on the project. For more historical- or issues-grounded pieces, I do a fair amount of researching (but I also try to find the most compact research available, so as not to end up drowning in pages. My ideal research text is a comprehensive review of the subject, somewhere between Wikipedia and primary sources on the credibility and detail scales.) For the more purely fictional plays, I look a lot to genre fiction or drama that fits the feeling I’m going for. I read a lot of comic books for Paper City Phoenix, a lot of Dashiell Hammett and John Le Carre for The Farm (which is about spies), and a lot of swashbuckling romance stuff for my play The Haberdasher. Fiction often inspires me as much or more than plays on a subject level, but reading great plays is the best way to get new ideas structurally.
 3.) What’s your writing process like?

  • Messy, all-over-the-place and alternatingly joyful and depressing. I try as hard as I can to write regularly, but with a few different day jobs and a few passing attempts at a social life, that can get tricky. Deadlines are my best friend, since they make it easier to lock down and focus when there’s a goal in mind. (They also induce a fair amount of panic, but that’s just part of the fun.) I almost always write sequentially, although I don’t generally outline unless it’s absolutely necessary. I do a lot of mental planning and arranging, instead, since it allows me to stay flexible but also feel like I’m going somewhere. Rewrites tend to focus on one character or storyline at a time, as I gradually get everything moving in the same direction. And whatever phase of the process I’m on, I pace pretty much constantly. Which is why I prefer to write in my office, as opposed to a coffee shop or library, where walking laps around the room is generally frowned upon.

4.) When you work with a dramaturg, what do you look for? What qualities do you want a dramaturg to have?

  • I look for someone who is both supportive and ruthless; my ideal dramaturg is as passionate as I am about the subject, and willing to geek out at length about it, but also willing to get down to brass tacks and make me do the same when it’s time to work. I need someone who will both identify the shortcuts I take, but also help talk me through ways around them. I love cooperating when I work, so I look to a dramaturg to not just identify soft spots in the play but to also bounce ideas around for ways out of them. And while I want someone who will call me on my shit, I also want to feel like my dramaturg is always on my side. This is all a pretty loopy and vague way of saying that a dramaturg, to me, is someone who is as excited about my play as I am, but even more excited about making it realize its potential.
5.) What did you get out of the Kennedy Center’s New Play Dramaturgy Intensive? Would you recommend it to other playwrights?
  • The Kennedy Center intensive was fantastic because it was a chance to take part in a process with amazing, seasoned and passionate professionals, and have them treat me like I belonged in the room. Which, on a lot of levels, I didn’t yet, but having all of these amazing artists act like I was one of the gang helped me to up my game, and earn my spot in the room. I came in with a half-formed draft of a loopy idea, and all of a sudden Lisa Adler and Mame Hunt and Mark Bly and Sandy Shinner were taking it seriously and asking me questions and really investing themselves into it (Mark even laughed at a pun in the script about the Mercator Projection, which, c’mon), and having them not just take the time to work with me but actually seem to want to do so was more invigorating and amazing than I can express. I made a lot of progress on the script itself, but I feel like I also made progress as a writer, because I was being treated like one and expected to act the part. So, yeah. It was pretty okay.

6.) Do you have any negative experiences with dramaturgs? Explain if you can.

  • Honestly? No. All of the dramaturgs that I have had the joy to work with have been uniformly brilliant and amazing and exciting. IN FACT, I’m going to hijack this question and use it to tell a story that I think epitomizes what a dramaturg does: I was in tech week for a production of a play of mine, and the director and I were going around and around discussing the final moments at the end of the show. She wanted it one way, and I wanted it another, and we had pretty much drawn the battle lines and, despite having a great relationship otherwise, we just could not find a way to convince each other. Ultimately the dramaturg, who’d been sitting and listening to us talk in circles for five minutes, spoke up with an idea that was, literally, the exact mid-point of the two extremes the director and I had been arguing about. It was a perfect compromise, and exactly what the scene needed, but without that outside eye seeing the problem from both ends, we never would’ve gotten there. It was magical.
 7.) How do you like to workshop a play? Do you go in with a specific idea of what you want to happen? Or do you like to observe the process? How involved do you like to be?

  • I generally come into the workshop with a few specific goals in mind, but I usually end up making them subservient to the questions that the actors, directors and dramaturgs ask about the play. I’m a big fan of table work in the early stages, with everybody working through the play as a whole and discussing the parts that aren’t jiving, with me trying to talk as little as possible (and usually failing; I’m a bit chatty, I don’t know if you can tell). I then try to work on the chunks that folks have the most questions about, and usually by the end I’ve managed to tick off the items on my worklist by doing so, and in ways that are much more solid and well-done than I would have ever arrived at on my own.

New Opportunities

I have an interview next Thursday, for an organization that I truly am inspired, enlightened and awe struck by. I will not post too much about them yet, just because I don’t have permission yet, and I want to respect the work being done. What I will say, is that I am beyond excited about this interview. It’s a phone interview, for a volunteer position. They can only afford to pay about three dramaturgs, and as it stands right now, I don’t think I have enough experience to have a paid position with this group, and I wasn’t expecting to get a paid position. In fact, I almost didn’t expect to hear back at all. So, when I did hear back, about being interviewed for a potential volunteer position, I was thrilled, a little shocked, and well….no way in hell was I going to turn it down!

If I get it, I will be helping out with research and administrative help. It may not be as exciting as what made me fall in love with dramaturgy in the first place, but I love research, and I definitely want to build my resume. I have no idea what’s in store, or what type of research I will be doing, but I am excited about the road ahead. I’ve never done administrative tasks before, so it will be interesting. Hopefully, I will be good at it, and won’t be terrible at using certain databases or whatever. I’m sure it will be fine, and that this will be the start to a hopefully long, illustrious relationship with this group.

I will post more about the interview later.

 

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“Less-informed Wikilinks”

That, my friends, is an almost verbatim quote from an article I discovered via twitter today. There are people out there, people in the theater industry no less, who think that dramaturgs have no place in the theater world. I, obviously, beg to differ. I can’t change the industry overnight, nor do I intend to. Changing the industry just seems to be an infantile waste of time. If I look at my career in dramturgy with a goal of changing the industry, I will most likely go nowhere, or plateau much sooner than I’d like to. Instead, I should approach my career on a case-by-case basis. For those who have worked in the industry for so long, and do not consider dramaturgs to be a worthwhile part of the process, forcing my way into that conversation for little or no pay would simply not do. Also, putting all of my eggs in one basket, and aiming to change a person’s mind through one well-researched  actor’s packet, one killer lobby display, a series of well thought out and insightful questions…the list goes on; to do so would have the opposite effect that I intend. Instead of changing the industry, it may change their mind about me, but not my colleagues.

In dramaturgy, perhaps the greatest fear is the mindset that an individual dramaturg is sometimes an exception and not a rule. While I aim to always exceed my expectations, I want to prove that dramaturgy is a worthy profession, and that nurturing future dramaturgs is worthwhile for both the play and the audience. I spoke to someone recently who told me that he normally did not like working with dramaturgs, but loved working with me. I’ve wondered since, what did I do that the others didn’t? Were the others, like me, just starting out, and still getting their feet wet? I don’t know, and can’t know because I wasn’t in that rehearsal room. What I do know, however, is that dramaturgs are more than a “less-informed version of wikilinks”.

I will post more about this topic later.

Analysis: How I Learned to Drive

Note to readers: This analysis has several plot spoilers.

When I first read an excerpt from Paula Vogel’s haunting play How I Learned to Drive, I thought the play would start with the first instance of abuse, and then document its progression. Instead, when we meet Lil Bit, the abuse has been going on for years, and yet, she still seems to have a sense of control. What we learn later, is that her uncle has been telling her for years that he’d never do anything she didn’t want him to do. So the control her character exerts is perhaps a form of role-playing–the abuser letting his victim think they have control, when really they are just a pawn. The play is haunting, dark, and the substance of the play is not something that everyone can relate to. However, that aside, I felt something for the characters, even the abuser.

There is a lot of depth to the play, especially in the way the family discusses sex, and more importantly, the attention Lil Bit’s uncle pays her. When we first meet her family, they joke about Lil Bit, and her grandfather goes so far as to say that her “Breasts turn the corner before she does.” One of the things I was most struck by was how crass her family was.

Yet the main thing that struck me about Lil Bit, and the play, was that the car was both the place where she was safest and also the most afraid. The abuse starts when she is 11, and he tells her he’ll teach her to drive. She sits on his lap, and he shows her how to hold the steering wheel correctly. However, as she does this, he feels her breasts. It is the first instance of sexual abuse. However, the car is also the safest place for her, as long as she’s driving. Since he won’t touch her when she’s driving, that’s the only time she is free from his abuse. Yet, at times, the abuse doesn’t feel as if it’s unwanted. And this is perhaps the most dark, most haunting aspect of the piece. The play doesn’t hide from the gritty, dark aspects of Lil Bit’s mind. Vogel shows how Lil Bit enters puberty already knowing a thing or two about sex, and we watch her grow up not completely aware that what is going on is wrong.
While reading the play, I often wondered why she didn’t tell anyone about the abuse, but then I read the scene in which her mother finds the Uncle’s behavior too forthcoming. She does not want Lil Bit to spend too much time with her, and thinks that he pays too much time with him. Of course, in this scene, Lil Bit is naive, young, and full of something she hasn’t had for the entire play: innocence. Her innocence is robbed by two people: her Uncle, and indirectly and perhaps unintentionally, by her mother. When she tells Li Bit that she can go to the beach with her uncle, which will indeed be the trip where the first instance of abuse happens in the car, she blames her. She says “If anything happens, remember I hold you responsible.” Not only is Lil Bit thrust into a world of experiences which she is far too young for, she is held responsible for them happening.

All of the texts I’ve read about dealing with sexual abuse have made one thing clear, and that is that it is never te victim’s fault. The victim often feels guilt, as if the abuse was their fault, as if they asked for it. Vogel’s play ultimately turns this truth on its head and gives us a world in which characters are left to fend for themselves at a young age. While Lil Bit spends most of her young life, surrounded by family and people, she is isolated. She cannot tell anyone about the abuse, since she–at least in her mother’s eyes–will be held responsible.

This is definitely a play worth reading. I would definitely love to see a full production of this.

Dramaturg (Disguised as an Uno’s Waitress)

So, I have graduated from college and there are slim pickings for dramaturgy jobs. Which means, that there is now a dramaturg working at Uno’s Pizzeria in Bowie. I am looking for theater work, writing, and doing my research on the Blacklist. Yet there is something about standing up for six hours a day serving that tires me, and so my research has been a very slow process these past few weeks, so much so that I’d rather watch netflix and unwind than research anything.
I love dramaturgy, and will do whatever it takes to be a dramaturg. It is rare to find something you love so much, especially at my age. So I am sticking with this new-found love, and carving my own path. I hope that my blacklist project will take off sooner or later, and that I can use that to make a name for myself in the dramaturgy world.

Just this past week, I attended the New Play Dramaturgy Intensive at the Kennedy Center for the second year in a row. While I know I am good at what I do, I love constantly being reminded that there is more to learn. Sitting in on rehearsals and seeing the action, I am reminded that is not always about me. While you could say my job is to provide wisdom, nurturing and to supposedly be the “consciousness of the play,” I do not exactly see it that way. While, yes, that could be a part of it. But it is really about collaboration and questioning what has been done before and going against the grain. To me, “dramaturgy” is breathing. The dramaturg lives inside the play, as if the dramaturg is hybrid entity that has to learn how the play works, how it survives, know it’s weaknesses, and how to help it thrive.

The play already has a conscious: the playwright. I write this after a very sleepless night, but I am not as tired as I imagined I would be. In fact, I am invigorated with a new-found sense of passion. For a while, after graduation, I felt a little bit lost. I was very fortunate to have a fantastic commencement speaker, who told me (and the rest of my graduating class) that if we felt lost, bewildered, or just plain overwhelmed we were doing it right. Expecially in this economy, jobs and a sense of security are hard to come by. I am positive that things are indeed looking up for the economy, and something that trashed in eight years, will probably take much, much longer to recover. To me, dramaturgy is like the struggling economy. There are people and experts and everyday citizens who want it to succeed, and put their heart and soul into this recover. In the rehearsal room, the experts and everyday citizens are not economic superheroes, rather, they are the actors, directors, sound designers, writers, and dramaturgs who build a play from the inside, by listening to the rhythm of its breathing and hearing the little palpitations and murmurs of its heart.
When Mark Bly, who led the intensive this year and last year, started out in the late eighties he wasn’t just fighting to get a job, he was fighting to start a profession. At that time, dramaturgy in the American theater was virtually unknown. But now, like the economy–the field is blossoming, but often fluctuates–and sometimes drastically. I have known for a while that I have wanted to be a part of the fight, to keep dramaturgy alive and well in this country, and in my heart. So, the future for me, is a series of script reading, internships, and researching of the Hollywood Blacklist, my main “dramaturg driven” project. That piece, is a play about the Blacklist, consisting of interviews with relatives of the Blacklisted, tidbits of the full testimonies, and a mock interrogation of the audience.

The future is never set in stone, but I am exactly where I want to be. If I view life (and dramaturgy) with this attitude, then I can do anything.

Why I Research the Blacklist

Anyone who gets to know me knows three things: I love Tolstoy, Alan Rickman, and learning about the Hollywood Blacklist. The last interest is not something many people expect a girl my age to have (or the first one). Ever since I was a freshman in high school, I have wanted to learn about the blacklist and pursue a story about it.

It is, in my opinion, one of the most fearful times in American history in the sense that Senator McCarthy had everyday Americans living in fear that their were communists in our midst. In our government, even.

Many people probably think that this is silly, what I am doing. What’s the point. some one might say, when you weren’t even born then? What’s in this for you?

“The Blacklist is dead.” I’ve heard this one before, and I cringe every time. The blacklist is never dead. Not ever. There are still people alive who had their lives pulled out from under them because mistakes they’d made in their youth. And we dare to say that the Blacklist era is dead?

I research the blacklist because I want more than facts. I want more than statistics. I want stories, conversations. So I’ve been trying to track down the children and grandchildren of the blacklist.

 

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