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  Playwrightsfoundation.org

Save a Seat with an RSVP! Email rsvp@playwrightsfoundation.org or call 415.626.2176.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Interview with a Playwright: Kevin Artigue

The 2016 Season of Rough Readings continues with a fresh set of new plays still in development. The Late February Rough Readings features The Most Dangerous Highway in the World from playwright Kevin Artigue. We were fortunate enough to ask him some questions about this work and the Producing Partnership with Golden Thread Productions:

Rachel Finkelstein: It's a pleasure to speak with you! I'd love to hear how you first learned about the Kabul-Jalalabad Highway, and what compelled you to write a play on it?

Kevin Artigue: I can’t exactly remember! I think I first saw a picture in an old library book researching a different play (also set in Afghanistan). But it was a series of articles by the journalist Dexter Filkins that sparked the first images for the play. What stuck with me was the idea that these drivers were purposefully risking their lives, driving way too fast, taking stupid risks - and why? The mystery of their death wish stuck with me. And in the middle of the exhaust and chaos was a charming, hopeful little boy eking out a living. 
Kevin Artigue

The image of a car soaring over his head while he directs traffic – I wanted to see that on stage. 

RF: How did you come to know the characters you feature in the play?

KA: I’m not from Afghanistan so I had lots of homework to do – which continues to this day. The process of getting to know my characters starts with a superficial first draft that slowly gets better, becomes more grounded, moving outside in. But the key to my understanding of my characters and the world of the play is thanks to the faith of Golden Thread. They have provided me with moral and creative support for the last three years, including vital introductions to the Afghan community. These contacts and conversations have enriched and transformed not only my play, but my life. Writing this far outside my experience has been tough, but I believe worth the extra effort.

RF: So, what is your connection to Golden Threads Productions and their New Threads Staged Reading Series? How are you collaborating them to bring your vision to life?

KA: My collaboration with Golden Thread began three years ago with a staged reading of an early draft, and has continued to this day. They have championed this play and supported its development. Together, we took the play to the National New Play Showcase in 2014, and out of that successful week we hatched plans for a production. In preparation for production in May, Golden Thread has provided me with all the dramaturgical love a playwright can ask for, including access to experts and cultural consultants. As the first writer of non-Middle Eastern descent to be produced on their mainstage, I feel honored and humbled.

RF: The play has a beautiful dreamlike repetition to it - what was the driving force behind that use of language?

KA: Some of the characters in the play are caught in a literal limbo, wandering off after their car accidents in a state of amnesia. Slowly, in pieces, they begin to remember what happened. As memories come back to them, the language circles and builds until it clarifies and makes more sense.

RF: And to close up, is there anything you'd like the audience to keep in mind going into the reading?

KA: I’d like them to know something that took me a while to really see: that Afghanistan is more than a war torn “graveyard of empires”. We’re bombarded with depressing images and stories of war, trauma, and suffering. While these images of Afghanistan are mostly accurate, they are biased, and override the simultaneous bigger story of the vast majority of Afghans who manage through hope, perseverance, religion, and humor to create meaning and order in their day-to-day lives. A need for meaning and order we can easily recognize in ourselves. 

RF: Definitely - I look forward to seeing it! Thanks again for speaking with us.

The Rough Reading Series is Pay What You Can. The 2016 series begins with "The Most Dangerous Highway in the World" by Kevin Artigue, playing Sunday, February 21st, 5:00pm at Custom Made Theatre, San Francisco and Monday, February 22nd, 7:30pm at Roble Hall, Stanford University.

Read more about "The Most Dangerous Highway in the World", Kevin Artigue, and the Rough Reading Series at  Playwrightsfoundation.org

Save a Seat with an RSVP! Email rsvp@playwrightsfoundation.org or call 415.626.2176.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Interview with a Playwright: Christina Gorman

The 2016 Season of Rough Readings is beginning, and with it a fresh set of new plays still in development. The Early February Rough Readings features Fidelis, a brilliant new work by playwright Christina Gorman. 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, let's get started! So much of the play is dedicated to getting to know the main character, Nick. The audience clearly sees him an honorable man who has dedicated his life to the Marines. Why was it so important for you to emphasize this to the audience?

Christina Gorman
Christina Gorman: Growing up, the Marine Corps was revered in my household.  My father served in Vietnam, so he experienced the absolute worst of what it means to serve.  He would also say he experienced the best: the discipline, the camaraderie, the self-confidence.  His time as a Marine was a double edged sword for him, and I wanted to capture that by showing the positive effects being in the armed forces can have on one's character.

RF: How did you get to know this character so intimately?

CG: I'm glad it feels that way.  In constructing the play, I wanted to keep the audience as close to Nick's journey as possible.  I wanted to keep us inside his head, so we experience the world through his eyes and experience the emotions he feels.  So I did a lot of research.  And, as I said, I'm the daughter of a former Marine.

RF: The play jumps around in time - why did you choose that method of storytelling?

CG: Nick's past and present are so closely tied together, it's almost all one moment, so I chose to have the play unfold in a way that, at least on a subconscious level, reflects that.  The play spills out the way our thoughts do when we are at a critical point in our lives and we ask ourselves, "How the hell did I get here?"

RF: Is there anything you would want audience members to keep in mind before they see the play?

CG: Though the play takes place in the 1960s-70s, I hope audience members will see the strong parallels to what's happening today.

RF: Will do! Thanks again for speaking with us.

The Rough Reading Series is Pay What You Can. The 2016 series begins with "Fidelis" by Christina Gorman, playing Monday, February 1st, 7:30pm at Roble Hall, Stanford University and Tuesday, February 2nd, 1:30pm at Custom Made Theatre in San Francisco. 

Read more about "Fidelis", Christina Gorman, and the Rough Reading Series at  Playwrightsfoundation.orgSave a Seat with an RSVP! Email rsvp@playwrightsfoundation.org or call 415.626.2176.

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  Playwrightsfoundation.org.

Save a Seat with an RSVP! Email rsvp@playwrightsfoundation.org 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  Playwrightsfoundation.org.

Save a Seat with an RSVP! Email rsvp@playwrightsfoundation.org or call 415.626.2176.

* Member of Actors' Equity Association