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 rsvp@playwrightsfoundation.org 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 playwrightsfoundation.org

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 rsvp@playwrightsfoundation.org or call 415.626.2176.

*Member of Actor's Equity Association