Friday, November 13, 2015

Interview with a Playwright: Dipika Guha

The Rough Readings Series is wrapping up for the year with Lifted by Dipika GuhaWe had the chance to interview Dipika Guha on her process, motivation, and experience as a Resident Playwright at PF.

You can view the entire interview on Vimeo, but here's just a sampling of some of her remarkably insightful thoughts:

Dipika Guha
"As a playwright, we have the opportunity to begin the world again when we write plays, and my plays tend to be set in imagined worlds that draw very real resonances from history, but they're always slightly askew...I think there's an attempt in that to foster a kind of imaginative space."

"I think tragicomedy in particular strikes me ... of life being both things simultaneously, that speaks to me as being true...There something in that multi-genre device that is thorny and poses the question rather than a simple solution."

"I think point of view can be embodied in a very direct way...where you are forced to take another perspective. And I think the more perspectives we can take on the world right now, the better it is. We do live in a globalized world, but it's also a world of such iniquity."

"There's a sort of pressure to devote ourselves from imagination and from play, and I think I'm drawn to everything that preserves that in the writing of my play worlds."

"There is such a diversity of aesthetic and voice in this room it's truly thrilling to be part of the [Resident Playwrights] Initiative."

Dipika Guha's Interview

The Rough Reading Series is Pay What You Can, and is closing out the year with "Lifted" by Dipika Guha, playing Tuesday, November 17th at 2:30pm at Custom Made Theatre in San Francisco and Wednesday, November 18th at 7:30pm at Roble Hall in Stanford University. 

Read more about "Lifted", Dipika Guha, and the Rough Reading Series at

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

* Member of Actors' Equity Association

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Interview with a Playwright: Lauren Gunderson

The 2015 Season of Rough Readings has brought us readings of four remarkable new plays in draft form, and is coming to a close this month with The Revolutionists by playwright Lauren Gunderson. 

The Revolutionists has also been selected for the 38th Annual Bay Area Playwrights FestivalYou can get a sneak peek of the festival and see this inspiring new work before it comes to the Tides Theatre stage this Summer!

As an additional treat, Lauren was kind enough to share some insight into the play's development -- read on below:

Rachel Finkelstein: Thanks for speaking with me! To start, I'd love to hear how you got interested in this topic and the four women the play is centered on.

Lauren Gunderson
Lauren Gunderson: I was in Paris with my mom and sister 3 years ago and we went to the Pantheon to visit Voltaire and Marie Curie (like ya do) and happened to read a footnote about a feminist playwright who was guillotined during the French Revolution that the people of Paris were considering re-interring there. I did a cartoon-style double take and said "Wait. A feminist playwright? During the French Revolution? Guillotines?!" After that it was a gradual exploration of that time and the striking similarities to our time in America: ridiculous war, drowning national debt, vast divide between rich and poor, institutional racism, and the quest for women's equality. But the play has really turned into a grander story about stories. Why we need to make art, what art does in times of crisis, how stories connect eras and philosophies across time. 

RF: That's as true today as it was then. So, how did you go about getting to know these women so intimately? 

LG: I basically wrote about myself and my cadre of incredible female friends, many of whom are artists. I wrote two of the roles for Kat Zdan* and Jessica Lynn Carroll* (who you'll see in the reading) which is a treat because I had their voices in my head. The fun of writing about historical women is in revealing their humanity, not indulging their mythology. Marie Antoinette was a woman, a mother, a scared mortal person not just a queen. The fun of the play is going into both the grandeur and the grounding of these women. 

RF: There's an incredible mix of history and modern language in the work, which makes it so relatable -- how did you find that balance between past and present?  

LG: I think it's mainly because I was making fun of myself for most of the play. The main character is a feminist playwright who's desperate to think that her work matters and can change the world for the better even though she knows that her work may be an outgrowth of her need to be in charge and speak for others. That's not a far leap from *ahem* someone I know very well. So the tone of the play starts out light, ludicrous, and confessional... until it crashes into the hot threat of violence and censorship of the Reign of Terror. Then it gets dangerous. Then it, ultimately, puts our main character nose to nose with mortality and her own legacy, which is something everyone across time has come to at some point. The play really aims for a timelessness. 

RF: In what ways has this work changed since inception, and in what ways do you hope it will develop moving forwards? 

LG: So many ways. Just last week I cut a whole character. And I'm continuing to rearrange scenes and revelations as I craft the larger story that erupts from the smaller ones. That's kinda vague but it means that this play is still very much in a kind of excavation and discovery. The work we'll do for these readings will have a huge impact on this play. 

RF: Thanks again, Lauren. I'm really looking forward to seeing this play action!

The Rough Reading Series is Pay What You Can, and is wrapping up with "The Revolutionists" by Lauren Gunderson, playing May 18th at 7:30pm at 424 Santa Teresa, Stanford University, and May 19th at 7pm at the Tides Theatre, San Francisco. 

Read more about "The Revolutionists", Lauren Gunderson, and the Rough Reading Series at

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

* Member of Actors' Equity Association

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Interview with a Playwright: Lauren Yee

The 2015 Season of Rough Readings is now in full swing, granting audiences the rare chance to see up-close and personal readings of new plays in early draft form. We're continuing with King of the Yees, a brilliant new work by playwright Lauren Yee. We were able to speak with her about her work and process, and she's shared some wonderful insight below:

Rachel Finkelstein: Thanks for your time! King of the Yees touches upon some of the issues you face as a woman of Chinese ancestry, and I know you're a Fellow at the Women’s Project Playwrights Lab and a member of the Ma-Yi Theatre Writers Lab. As a playwright, what do you most hope to communicate about the intersection of culture and gender as it appears in your work?

Lauren Yee: I love it when cultures smash up against one another and I can make connections between seemingly disparate communities. King of the Yees reflects that in spades for me. To me, this play is a parent-child story and all those questions and stories you sometimes forget to ask about. It's also about those contradictory feelings on where we come from--what we love, what we don't, all the strange and wonderful things that reflect who you are.

RF: How did you go about partnering with the Contemporary Drama Working Group at UC Berkeley on this work, and what does that partnership entail?

Lauren Yee
LY: Because King of the Yees  is set in San Francisco Chinatown and is very much a local story, I really wanted to find different ways of introducing King of the Yees  to the Bay Area, and I'd heard great things from other playwrights about working with Berkeley's Contemporary Drama Working Group.

So now I have the really great opportunity to hear the play out loud in the Bay Area two times in April. After the UC Berkeley reading, I'm looking forward to making some changes, and I'm also really looking forward to working with Dennis Yen, one of my lead actors in both readings. We previously worked together on the play at a workshop in North Carolina at UNC Chapel Hill.

RF: This play deals with a lot of surrealism and completely obliterates the fourth wall in the process -- what got you going in this direction?

LY: For me, King of the Yees starts from a very real, grounded place and explodes outwards as we and our protagonist go through the journey of the play. I love asking the question of "how is this theatrical?" It also reflects a general trajectory in my writing thus far--when I first began writing, I started from a place of heightened realism, big farce, and have gradually continued my exploration of what it means to be big and theatrical and formally inventive. I want to write plays that surprise me as I'm writing them, and hopefully that translates to a satisfying experience for an audience, too.

RF: From what I've seen, I'm sure it will! Now, your father plays a huge role in this work - what level of involvement did your father have in the creation of the play?

LY: Absolutely none! Though he definitely did have a lot of ideas about what the play should be about, which was particularly interesting when he suggested things that had actually made their way into the play already. And I think I'm a writer who's deeply invested in strong character voices, so hearing a strong voice for this play really helped me to jumpstart it more quickly than usual.

RF: It really shows in the work. Thank you so much for sharing, Lauren!

The Rough Reading Series is Pay What You Can, and continues with "King of the Yees" by Lauren Yee, playing April 20th at 7:30pm at 424 Santa Teresa, Stanford University, and April 21st at 7pm at the Tides Theatre, San Francisco. 

Read more about "King of the Yees", Lauren Yee, and the Rough Reading Series at  Playwrightsfoundation.orgSave a Seat with an RSVP! Email or call 415.626.2176.

*Member of Actor's Equity Association

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Interview with a Playwright: Erin Bregman

The 2015 Season of Rough Readings is now in full swing for the Winter and Spring seasons! Continuing over the next few months, we will be presenting audiences with up-close and personal readings of new plays in early draft form. Read more about Erin Bregman, The Lady Onstage, and the Rough Reading series at

The March Rough Reading features The Lady Onstage, a new work by Erin Bregman. We were able to ask her a few questions about her work  -- read on below!

Rachel Finkelstein: Thank you for speaking with me! To start off, I'd love to hear about what drew you to write about Olga Knipper.

Erin Bregman
Erin Bregman: Actually, it was something that Graham [The Lady Onstage director M. Graham Smith] and Lauren [The Lady Onstage performer Lauren Bloom*] had been working on for a couple of years before they asked me to get involved. I jumped in mostly because I love Graham as a director, and totally trusted anything he would set out to create. But, I had never heard of Olga Knipper before starting this project. This is my first time working with Lauren, and it's been a blast, and have felt very lucky at every step that they asked me to join the team.

Then Graham mailed me a couple of books to read. One was a collection of letters written between Knipper and Checkhov, and the other was a biography about Olga. Her life is a great story in and of itself, and as soon as I started reading about her, I was hooked.

Ironically, it seems fitting that I was drawn to this piece as much for the collaboration as for the content. So much of what made Olga's work great and lasting was that she did it in the context of intense collaboration. So that's a nice accidental parallel!

RF: It is! So, how did you go about understanding Knipper's life and her impact on modern theater?

EB: One thing that Graham said at the beginning of this collaboration that has stuck with me was that there was a point early in Olga's career where she was just at the beginning of something great, and she didn't know it yet. She was working her ass off day in and out (the rehearsal and performance schedule she had definitely wasn't equity approved!), and hadn't yet come into the career she would later have. So that's the part I understand and identify with the most. I am just at the beginning of my own career as a writer, and have no idea where it will go. I'd be thrilled to have 1/1,000th the impact Olga seems to have had!

RF: Let's hope you do! I've noticed that this play is distinctly "you", but I also see some Chekhov seeping in here and there -- is that an intentional callback to Knipper's role as the "originator of the leading female roles in Chekhov's four major plays"?

EB: It's interesting that you say that. I can't say that I know Chekhov's work well enough to be able to distinguish what in this piece is me, and what might be Chekhov seeping in. However, As Knipper is the originator of the leading female roles in Chekhov's plays, [his work] is definitely a big part of her story.

RF: I can certainly see that in the play. Why did you choose to make this work a one-woman play? 

EB:  The last two pieces I've spent a lot of time working on have been 13+ person plays, which are great fun to write, but a one-woman play is a whole lot more manageable. Especially if you're trying to write a good draft in a year. Plus, that was the deal!

RF: I can imagine! As a quick follow-up, I know that in the 2013 BAPF, your play Before & After utilized actors playing multiple roles -- did the BAPF development process help you in writing multiple characters for one actor in The Lady Onstage?

EB: The development process from any play is going to impact how you work on the next one -- it's all just another tool in the toolbox.

RF: Well, I'm excited to see it in action next week -- thank you for sharing with us!

The Rough Reading Series is Pay What You Can, and continues with "The Lady Onstage" by Erin Bregman, playing March 9th at 7:30pm at 424 Santa Teresa, Stanford University, and March 10th at 7pm at the Tides Theatre, San Francisco. 

Read more about "The Lady Onstage", Erin Bregman, and the Rough Reading Series at  Playwrightsfoundation.orgSave a Seat with an RSVP! Email or call 415.626.2176.

*Member of Actor's Equity Association

Friday, February 20, 2015

Interview with a Playwright: Marcus Gardley

Playwrights Foundation alumni Marcus Gardley has won the prestigious Glickman Award for his play The House that will not Stand, produced by Berkeley Repertory Theatre in 2014. The play takes place in 1836 New Orleans, following a period of French rule that permitted common-law marriages between free women of color and white men. The historical drama centers around the recently widowed Beartrice Albans and her struggle to keep her home and maintain the welfare of her three unwed daughters.

The work is both witty and poetic; brilliantly illustrating Gardley's unique talent and cementing his position as one of the most compelling young playwrights in the country.

I was fortunate enough to get an interview with Gardley, who shared some insight into his process, inspiration, and how his time at Playwrights Foundation impacted him as a playwright.

Rachel Finkelstein: Thank you for speaking with me, and congratulations on the Glickman Award! I know that you're fascinated with parts of American history that tend to drift away from common discourse, and this work definitely calls to that. How did you come upon this subject, and what drove you to write on it?
Marcus Gardley

Marcus Gardley: My first introduction to this period and the system of placage In New Orleans occurred when I read the book and saw the movie Feast of all Saints by Anne Rice. I was fascinated by the role the African-American women played in society and wondered if they had any connection to the Civil Rights movement. I knew that Homer Plessy (of Plessy v Ferguson) was Creole and born in New Orleans and so I immediately wondered if these women were his grandmothers and therefore apart of the beginning lineage of civil rights in this country. What I discovered once I read several history books was that these women fought for their own rights as free colored women as well. Many of them were very wealthy, powerful and controlled much of New Orleans at the time. What drove me to write about them was the fact that so few people had heard about them or knew anything about this period. I wanted to give audiences a glimpse into this pivotal moment in our country's history in which racial dynamics, class and gender were just the opposite as most people would assume. This to me, is a prime example of how histories have been take from people and buried. My passion is for the stage and for archeology. We need to know our histories and we need to embrace our past in order to understand who we are as citizens of the United States. 

RF: In what ways did you go about researching and understanding the environment of New Orleans following the period of French rule?

MG: I read every book I could get my hands on but I also spent a lot of time in New Orleans. One of the most incredible things about this city is that the inhabitants know, cherish and revel in their history. All of the questions that I needed answered were there. A lot of the buildings from the period were still standing, even Katrina could not wash away the indelible marker of history in a city so grand, so proud that it reeks of the past. I visited several mom and pop book stores in the French Quarter and befriend the owners and they shared 'books from the back room.' They gave me the 'real' history, which is what I put on stage.

RF: I love that you're striving to produce more roles for African American women -- you've mentioned elsewhere that this play is the beginning of your work to do that. Do you have anything in the works that you would be willing to share?

MG: I am working on a musical that has an entirely African American cast. I can't tell you what its about because its still cooking and a good cook won't tell you what's in their food until they've tasted it. But I will tell you the piece is about African Queens. 

RF: Thanks for the sneak peek! You've had multiple plays developed in Bay Area Playwrights Festival and some of our other programs -- how did your experience here impact your work and process as a playwright?

MG: I actually can't imagine my career at all without the Bay Area Playwrights Festival. Amy Mueller and Playwrights Foundation gave me my first shot as a writer, while I was still in grad school and since that time I have developed most of my work here. I consider myself a Bay Area playwright. I will always be a Bay Area playwright. I learned a lot about craft, process and collaboration by working with the Bay Area Playwrights Foundation and many of their programs such as Rough Reading Series, Des Voix Festival and the New Play Institute. 

RF: We are proud to count you as an alumni! Overall, what most influences you as a writer?

MG: I think my major influence as a writer would be nature. There is so much to learn from the land which nurtures us. There is wisdom in the wind, true serenity beneath trees, and healing in the water. 

RF: Beautiful. Finally, Is there anything you've always wanted to discuss in an interview that you haven't had a chance to?

MG: No, I usually feel like most interviews cover it all.

RF: Glad to hear! Thank you so much for your time, and congratulations again on the award!

Gardley joins Aaron Loeb and Christopher Chen as the third consecutive 
Playwrights Foundation Alumni to win the Glickman Award. New PF Resident Playwright Kate E. Ryan's play Hundred Days was also a runner-up for this year's Glickman!

Read more about Marcus Gardley and the Glickman Award at Theatre Bay Area