Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Interview with a Playwright: Philana Omorotionmwan

Our next interview is with playwright Philana Omorotionmwan. We were fortunate enough to be able to ask her some questions about her imaginative and haunting play Before Evening Comes , a powerful dystopian allegory of black life in America: 

BAPF:  What was the inspiration for this play?  

PO: This play began with a prompt – vaudeville. That lead to me watching a lot of YouTube videos of the Nicholas Brothers tap dancing. Around that same time I had become somewhat obsessed with might happen to me if I ever ran down the street late at night in Oakland. (This was shortly after hearing a police officer threaten to “blow [someone’s] head off” as he ran past my bedroom window.) As a result, I began thinking about when people are and aren’t fully allowed to be in our bodies.

BAPF: What role does time play in this story?

PO: The honest answer is I’m still figuring that out. Since the play is set in the future, one function of time is to let us know that this world is like our own but isn’t quite our world.

BAPF: One of your characters, Mary, makes a comment about the difference between masculine (external, seen) and feminine (internal, hidden) loss. Did you identify with this idea?

PO: It’s certainly true in the world of the play that the men’s losses are external, as their bodies are physically altered. In our world, however, it would seem to be the reverse because men are socialized not to talk about or show what they feel. The current conversations, though, about police violence and the criminal "justice" system often focus on the impact on black men. There seems to be less discussion when it comes to the impact on women. Both in terms of women who are direct victims of police violence and those of us who experience victimization more indirectly.

BAPF: Although many scenes begin in different years, the dialogue repeats. What role does repetition have within the play?

PO: In “Elements of Style,” Suzan-Lori Parks writes about the way refrains create a weight and rhythm in poems. I’m a wannabe/failed poet, so I just dig rhythm. But I’m also interested in the weight that the characters accumulate with each repetition. And how moments change even when they appear to be exactly the same as before.

BAPF: Thanks so much Philana! We look forward to seeing Before Evening Comes July 16 at 8 pm and July 24 at 2 pm!

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!