Thursday, June 23, 2016

Writer's Block?

Writer’s block is a common ailment that hounds even the most brilliant artists. No matter how much we try to create new material, sometimes it seems like nothing works.
As Jack London once said, “You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.”

Stuck in an artistic rut? Here’s where some of our playwrights of BAPF 2016 found inspiration during their writing processes:

Philana Omorotionmwan: Before Evening Comes
The major thing that influenced the play as I wrote were YouTube clips of The Nicholas Brothers, like this one.
Another thing that was in my mind as I wrote were pictures of slaves who'd had their hands and feet cut off as punishment , both here in America and the Congo.

As a poet at heart, my primary interest lies in writing "stage poems". For that reason, story and plot do not typically occupy a place of primacy in my writing. I most often begin by focusing on an image and identifying the characters who inhabit the world of that image. Sometimes they speak through words. Sometimes they speak through actions. But no matter their chosen manner of communication, they are always attempting to create home in their bodies and experience liberation. It is my hope that the questions these characters raise about society can contribute in some way to starting a revolution with only one demand: the freedom simply to be.

Sarah Sander: Sycamore

My theatrical heroes are Albee, Churchill and Pinter: brutally elegant all.

Andrew Saito: Whisper Fish
One thing that strongly drew me to Peru was the legendary theater company Yuyachkani.

I attended the syncretic indigenous-Catholic ceremonies of la Virgen Del Carmen in the village of Paucartambo, near Cusco, and la Virgen de la Candelaria, in the town of Puno, on Lake Titicaca.
Both of these festivals feature many different comparsas, or troupes of masked dancers, performing in procession in honor of a statue of the Virgin Mary.  

In both festivals, one of the comparsas consists of Devils worshipping the virgin.  The Devils are central to the ritual.  The Afroperuvian culture also has a dance, el son Del Diablo, that features Devils.  

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Meet The 2016 Festival Directors

Jade King Carroll (Director, Before Evening Comes) The daughter of the trumpeter and composer Baikida Carroll, as a child accompanied her father to the Public Theater in Manhattan, where he scored Lois Elaine Griffith’s White Sirens at the request of Joseph Papp, and to the McCarter Theater in Princeton, N.J., where he wrote, with Emily Mann and Ntozake Shange, and scored the musical Betsey Brown. After graduating from SUNY-New Paltz, where she majored in theater directing, she moved to New York City and quickly won an internship with the Women’s Project. Since then, she has compiled credits with the McCarter, New Dramatists, Primary Stages, Playwrights Realm, 24 Hour Plays, and New Jersey Rep.  In 2010, she served as artistic associate at Second Stage Theater.  Jade recently directed Emily Mann's Having Our Say at the Long Wharf Theatre, and will be directing the development of Running on Fire by Aurin Squire at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Conference prior to her work with BAPF.

Logan Ellis (Director, Non-Player Character) currently serves as the Producing Artistic Director of Theatre Battery and Literary Manager of Playwrights Foundation. Directing: The Little Mermaid (Marin Theatre Company), Water by the Spoonful (Dirty Hands), The Firefly Project (Magic Theatre), Year of the Rooster (Impact Theatre), dark play or stories for boys (Do It Live), Inay's Wedding Dress, Nanay's Lullaby (Bindlestiff Studio), Origins of Love (USF Mainstage), Chatroom, Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom, Dog Sees God, Milk Like Sugar, A Maze (Theatre Battery). Former Artistic Direction Apprentice at Magic Theatre, BA,  Drama from Ithaca College.

Jessica Holt (Director, Sycamore) recently directed Significant Other by Joshua Harmon at Actor’s Express in Atlanta, Georgia.  She is thrilled to return to the Bay Area, where she served as the Artistic Director of the Bay One Acts Festival and as an artistic associate at the Magic Theatre.  Directing credits include: Bright Half Life (Magic Theatre), The Lily's Revenge, Act 5  (Magic Theatre), We Are Proud To Present... (Yale Summer Cabaret), Why Torture Is Wrong… (Yale Summer Cabaret), Have I None (Yale Cabaret), The Seagull (Yale School of Drama), Twelfth Night (Yale School of Drama), The Children (Yale School of Drama).  New play development at: Alliance Theatre, Berkeley Rep’s Ground Floor, Theater Emory, Playwrights Foundation, Cutting Ball Theater, New Conservatory Theater Center, Piano Fight.  Upcoming: Ugly Lies the Bone by Lindsey Ferrentino (Alliance Theatre). 2015-2016 Phil Kent Directing Fellow, Alliance Theatre. 2016 National Directors Fellowship. MFA: Yale School of Drama.

M. Graham Smith (Director, Good, Better, Best, Bested) is a San Francisco-based Director, Educator and Producer. He is an O’Neill National Directing Fellow and an Oregon Shakespeare Festival FAIR Fellow. He’s directed at HERE in New York City, and in San Francisco at A.C.T., Aurora Theatre, Crowded Fire, Central Works, The EXIT Theatre, PlayGround, Brava, The Playwright’s Foundation, Cutting Ball Theatre, Ray of Light, Berkeley Playhouse, Golden Thread, SF Opera, and New Conservatory & Berkeley Rep’s Ground Floor. He directed the West Coast Premiere of Jerry Springer: The Opera in SF and Truffaldino Says No at Shotgun Players, (Best Director, Bay Area Critics Circle). Recent credits: The Lady Onstage (Profile Theatre Portland OR), The Liar adapted by David Ives (Occidental College, Los Angeles as an Edgarton Foundation Fellow). He teaches at A.C.T.’s actor-training programs, and was Producer of Aurora Theater’s international new play festival, The Global Age Project, for the last five years.

Sango Tajima (Director, whisper fish) is an Oakland-based artist who grew up internationally in the U.S, Japan, Tanzania, Trinidad & Tobago, and Thailand. In the Bay, she is member of a political theatre collective The Bonfire Makers, co-founder of a new producing ensemble Dirty Hands, and Associate Artist of Ragged Wing Ensemble. After serving as the Artistic Direction Apprentice at Magic Theatre, she’s acted in various productions with Campo Santo, FaultLine Theater, Impact Theatre, Cutting Ball Theater, Ragged Wing Ensemble, and New Conservatory Theatre Center. She recently directed for the Playwright’s Foundation’s FlashPlays 2015. BFA in Acting from the University of Michigan.

Christine Young (Director, Wild Goose Dreams)  is an Associate Professor at University of San Francisco and a free-lance director specializing in new plays about social issues affecting women’s lives.  From 2000-2006, she was Literary Manager and Artistic Associate at Playwrights Foundation. She has directed and taught for Tenderloin Opera Company, Crowded Fire, Lunatique Fantastique, Shotgun Players, California Shakespeare Theater, Magic Theatre, New Conservatory Theater, TheatreWorks, San Francisco Shakespeare, Golden Thread Productions and Just Theater. Christine curates Works by Women San Francisco ( a blog that spotlights the work of Bay Area women theater artists.  She is a member of Theatre Bay Area’s Gender Parity Advisory Committee and serves on the board of WomenArts.member of Theatre Bay Area’s Gender Parity Advisory Committee and serves on the board of WomenArts.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Interview With A Playwright: Jonathan Spector

Preparations for the 2016 Bay Area Playwrights Festival continue with a fresh set of new plays still in development. Our next interview is with playwright Jonathan Spector. We were fortunate enough to be able to ask him some questions about his hilarious (and at times disturbing) play Good, Better, Best, Bested about war, intimacy, and cultural consumption:

BAPF:  You mentioned in a previous interview that the setting of Las Vegas appealed to you because it was an entire city built to encourage people to only care about their own pleasure in the present moment. What drew you to exploring individualized experience in contrast tocollective experience?  

JS: I'm interested in how we as individuals respond to large scale events that don't affect our lives directly. How much time do we or should we take out of our day to think about, or take some action towards, a tragedy involving people we don't know? The machinery of Vegas, built to part people from their money, works particularly hard to get you to privilege what is happening right now for you over anything else. 

BAPF: Additionally, the characters featured in this play are extremely
characteristic of what one assumes they will find in Las Vegas.
Theatrically, why might it be important for us to hear their opinions
about issues like foreign policy or global tragedy? 

JS: It's not. What's important, at least for the play, is less about
people expressing an opinion and more about them navigating an

BAPF: Do you believe the responses in this play demonstrate a genuine
representation of our modern-day society when it comes to tragic

JS: I hope so. 

BAPF:  Thanks so much for talking to us! We look forward to seeing your play brought to life!

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Interview with a Playwright: Walt McGough

Welcome to the 39th Annual Bay Area Playwrights Festival!  It's an exciting time: the plays and artistic teams are confirmed.  Auditions have begun. Event planning is underway.  We hope you will check our website and blog for updates, latest backstage news and added special events throughout the festival. 

We will be posting a series of interviews in the weeks leading up to the festival from this year's talented playwrights. Walt McGough, whose timely Non-Player Character lays bare the darker side of gaming, was the first to sit down with us.

BAPF: What drew you to explore the world of gaming and its culture? 

Walt McGough: I've been a pretty avid gamer for just about my whole life; I'm pretty sure that I can still play Mega Man 2 just by sense memory alone. Games have always been one of the major ways that I unwind in what little down-time I have. I'm a particular fan of open world role-playing and strategy games, which is a problem because I tend to have a pretty addictive personality and so when I start a game with too many things to explore, I'm in constant danger of just disappearing down the rabbit hole completely and never resurfacing. (The closest I've come so far was the year that I spent living by myself in Chicago, with an original Xbox, a copy of the Elder Scrolls game Morrowind, and a cheap Chinese restaurant right across the alleyway from my apartment. It...wasn't pretty.)

As far as gaming culture is concerned, I've always followed it avidly, but from a bit of a tangential position. A combination of personal finance limitations and parents who actually wanted me to see the sun occasionally when I was growing up meant that I never had the most up-to-date gaming consoles or computers, and so I had to spend a lot of time playing games that were a couple years out-of-date. When new ones that I was excited about would come out, I would play them at my friends' houses, or (and I actually did do this) force my friends to describe them to me, at length, with much detail. My inability to play most games when they came out didn't stop me from staying up-to-the-minute on all of the various news and developments and new releases, and that's continued into my adult life even though I still have to be very choosy about the games that I spend my time with. I've spent a lot of time learning and reading about games that I'll never actually get to play, covetously. It's my own special brand of masochism, I guess.

As far as what made me want to address gaming and games culture in a play...I tend to play around a fair amount with genres of all kinds in my plays. I have a comic book-style play, and a spy play, and a post-apocalypse play, etc. It's never a really conscious decision to write things that way, but given my interest base and my desire to play around with what's possible theatrically, it just kind of pans out.

So I'd been thinking for a while about what a play about video games could look like on stage, and then gaming had a sort of cultural flashpoint moment a few years back, with the #gamergate "movement" flaring up and exposing a lot of the massive obstacles that women in the games industry and gaming culture face on a daily basis. It's really not much different at its core than the issues women and minorities face all over in society, but when it happens in the sphere of gaming culture it tends to mostly happen online, which means there's no real filter and there's a lot more...I guess "passion," would be the word? No, wait. Not passion. "Awfulness." That's a better word.

Anyway, when GamerGate was really heating up, I just remember being riveted to my computer, following the whole horrific mess of it all, and feeling like it was finally time to write a play about video games, because I finally knew what the conversation I wanted to have about them was. I wanted to talk to audiences about the very real and pertinent cultural issues that are present in the world of video games, but also show them why so many people from all different walks of life love games to start with, and want to fix them.

BAPF: In gamer parlance, non-player characters can be unknown or an "agent" in the game. Did this "otherness" 

​ resonate for you?

WM: Hoo boy, did it ever. The fascinating thing about games culture is that it's always been viewed (and continues to be viewed, by many) as a sort of monolithic thing: awkward white guys between the ages of 12 and 30, sitting in their mothers' basements and doing nothing but play the newest games.

But that mental picture ignores the fact that, especially in recent years, the field of gaming has become filled with an almost infinite diversity of narrative approaches, styles, and agendas, and there are just as many different people playing video games now as there are games for them to play. That's just about always been true, of course, but the more stereotypical, Platonic ideal of the "gamer" is the demographic that most mainstream games have been pitched to for decades. So for a lot of people who don't fit that mold, whether due to their gender, or their race, or any other number of reasons, there's a sense that you're being forced to look at this thing that you love through a glass window: you're not actually allowed to consider yourself a part of it.

I can't imagine how dispiriting that experience must get sometimes, for someone who loves games but finds themselves not allowed to claim it as a part of their identity. (I mean that literally: I can't imagine it. I'm a straight white guy. Every mainstream thing has been made for me pretty much my whole life, and I can identify with it as I see fit. I'm very much ready for that to stop, because it's boring as hell.)

The trouble really arises when you factor in that gaming is pretty much the only art form that actually started off as a competitive medium. The only reason that Jumpman is rescuing a princess from a gorilla in Donkey Kong is because the programmers needed a thing for players to look at while they scored points. The stories serve the competition, and the medium is the message, and so for a lot of people who play games, there is no "gaming culture" without a competitive drive. That can translate into a constant need to be THE BEST at everything about a game, from the playing of the game to the consumption of the game ("I'm gonna get the best version of this game and the best system to play it on and I'm gonna buy them all on the day they come out before anybody else and that means that I'm winning!!!!!"). For people with that mindset, the inclusion of more and different types of players and stories can be perceived as an honest-to-God threat, and that can cause some really ugly pushback. That fact was very much on my mind as I started in on writing the play, and it found its way into the title.

BAPF: NPCs are often defined as characters controlled by the game for players to interact with, as opposed to player characters which are controlled by whomever is playing the game.  From a theatrical perspective, 

​how did this inform your approach?

WM: It really shaped the central conflict, I think: Katja (the main character) is an aspiring game designer, and has been deeply in love with gaming her whole life. During the course of the play, however, she finds herself pushed out to the periphery, and continually victimized by others simply for trying to claim an agency and control over her own story. She finds out that a lot of the people she interacts with don't actually view her as anything but a part of their own personal stories, and her struggle to fight back against that and claim her own, central role in her own life is the driving action of the play. Plus, a bunch of it is set inside of a video game, and so we get to see her cast spells and do badass spin-move attacks on fantasy monsters. So that's cool, too!

BAPF: You were quoted as saying "Realism, by and large, doesn’t exist. Nobody actually thinks they’re looking through the invisible wall of a house. This is a good thing, because it means you get to decide how the rules of your world work."

​ What did this mean for NPC specifically, and your work in general?

WM: I personally don't like writing plays that attempt to emulate or be super-true to reality in their style, because I just know that it's never going to work. Nobody thinks it's real, or that the events of a play are actually happening. You're not fooling anyone. The audience has already consciously decided to pretend that they're invisible while they watch your play. They're on board. So, to my mind, if they've already come that far, why not bring them a little bit farther, as well.

I'm a big fan of plays that invite the production team, directors, designers, and everybody else in on the world-building, and provide a lot of opportunities to create something new and fun and exciting that nobody's seen before. The specific style is always going to change to fit the story, because at the end of the day, that's all you're doing: you're telling a story with everybody involved all at once. It was easy to get that kind of imagination and sense of play into NPC, because video games inherently have that to start with, so it was really just a matter of figuring out what's possible and what isn't in a real, physical space. I'm sure that there's plenty of calibration left to do in rehearsal, so that I can really make sure I got the math right.

            BAPF: Walt, thank you so much!  This was fascinating.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Interview with a Playwright: Steve Yockey

The 2016 Season of Rough Readings continues with a fresh set of new plays still in development. The March Rough Readings features Mercury from playwright Steve Yockey. We were fortunate enough to ask him some questions about this delightfully dark comedy:

Rachel Finkelstein: Thanks for taking the time to speak with us! Much of your work, Mercury included, is so surreal -- what draws you to that? 

Steve Yockey: I love when anyone says “surrealism.” It’s sexy. But as alluring as that label sounds, I honestly can’t own it. Sure, the mythic qualities are definitely there, the unexpected punctures in the natural world, but all of my work adheres to a pretty strict internal logic. There are rules; we’re driving towards something. 

Steve Yockey
I guess for all intents and purposes, it’s really just dark realism with some pretty grand theatrical gestures. I’ve always been fascinated by taking these intimate, very human stories and placing them right at the edge of something epic in size or unknown. Seeing the scale of those two things create friction. That’s where most of my plays live. Mercury takes something simple and familiar like failing relationships and casts them against the literally immense and horrifying mechanics of a vengeful universe. It’s fun. Or at least it should be fun. 

RF: Because underneath all of those more “mythic” details, the play really is about some deeply dysfunctional relationships. How do you want the audience so feel about relationships when they come away from the play? 

SY: Amused by the terrible choices? Although I’m betting some people will leave identifying with the terrible choices, which would also be pretty great. It’s essentially a dark comedy and only one character of the seven in the play is anywhere even close to being a “good” person. So it’s tricky. Maybe I’d like the audience to come away hoping these characters will become better people. I want to say it’s never too late for anyone, but the play doesn’t really make that case. 

RF: Why do you use so much overlapping speech in Mercury

SY: Oh, that’s something I use in all of my plays. In real life we don’t wait for other people to finish speaking, especially in heated exchanges. And it’s also a way of tuning rhythms and builds, like in a piece of music. 

RF: You write for several different forms of media, including for comics and TV -- how does that compare to playwriting? 

SY: Playwriting lets you be a little bit more ambitious with storytelling. I think that’s the best way to say it. In theatre we ask audiences to suspend their disbelief and imagine a lot more. That means we can take bigger swings.

RF: That's the beauty of it. Thanks again for your time!

The Rough Reading Series is Pay What You Can. The 2016 series continues with "Mercury" by Steve Yockey, playing Monday, March 14th, 7:30pm at Roble Hall, Stanford University and Tuesday, March 15th, 2pm at Custom Made Theatre, San Francisco.

Read more about "Mercury", Steve Yockey, and the Rough Reading Series at

Save a Seat with an RSVP! Email or call 415.626.2176.