Susan Bernfield, Peter Gil-Sheridan and Lynn Rosen on The Pool by Declan Maloney Drummond

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THE DIONYSIAN: What was the inspiration behind The Pool and how did it come to be?

LYNN ROSEN: WASHED UP ON THE POTOMAC has had a lot of readings and workshops, which was so helpful. But at some point a play requires a more rigorous process that can only come from rehearsals. However, despite some interest, a production and the accompanying rehearsal process I longed for, hadn’t yet materialized. At the same time, the constraints at many traditional theatres meant fewer production opportunities in NYC. Of late, I’ve had productions regionally, which I’m so grateful for, but it’s been a few years since I had a show in NYC. I wanted my peers and my family to see my work. I wanted industry to see my work. Hell, I wanted to see my work done in my own back yard, and I wanted to do it with people I know and love. So I began musing about self-producing, but was totally daunted by the prospect. Raising money? Staffing? Scary! Around the same time, I was accepted into New Dramatists and was inspired by many resident playwrights who were taking the reins of their own careers by self-producing. Their work is some of the most exciting theatre I’ve seen – daring, theatrical. It’s a vibe that my work shares. However, going it alone was not for me. Theatre is a communal experience. In fact, I think collaborating (when it’s working well) is the BEST part of making theatre. So I decided to lean into that and make my producing experience communal, too. About a year and a half ago I asked Susan to join me. (I’m an Affiliated Artist at New Georges and they produced my play GOLDOR $ MYTHYKA: A HERO IS BORN a few years back.) Then we brought Peter on board, whom I met at The Lark and liked so much. And thus, The Pool was born. We began pooling our resources, pooling our ideas, and as we launch into our previews this week, we’re also hoping to cross-pollinate (aka pool) our audiences. The communal ethos and sense of generosity that this collaboration engenders has been one the most satisfying parts of The Pool. I’m so glad I did it this way. If I were doing this myself, I’d be hiding somewhere right now or robbing banks.

PETER GIL-SHERIDAN: I had been toying with the idea of self-producing my play Cockfight in collaboration with Anna Brenner. So I had started asking other writers what their processes were like. One of the writers I talked to was Andy Bragen, who is a mutual friend of mine and Lynn’s. A few weeks later, I got a call from Lynn asking if I’d be interested in producing my play in rep with hers and Susan Bernfield’s. I thought this was a great idea. Having seen the sheer amount of work this was for Andy, I thought the only way this would be tenable my first time out would be to do in collaboration with other playwrights. I loved Lynn’s idea to hold each other in this process and that is exactly what happened. We collectively came up with the name The Pool, because we were pooling our resources, our talents and especially our communities. We have produced one another’s plays…but we have also been produced by our communities in the form of artistic, financial, and business support.

SUSAN BERNFIELD: Lynn, Lynn, Lynn!  She was inspired to put on her own play, and I’ve known Lynn a long time and that felt to me like a big and smart and exciting step.  I was supportive of her proposal and pretty soon I was IN it.  Ha!  I’m so grateful that she asked me, initially hesitant, but I mean, my play was just sitting there, in Portia I had a longtime collaborator who cared as much as me about getting it up… eventually I just had to hit myself over the head and get over it!  Plus I realize now I am such a geek for producing I was attracted to this new way to do it, creating new names, new mission, new structures, new marketing stuff, just getting my hands dirty in ways that, oh boy, I gotta admit get me going.

D: What is your play about?

SB: My play!  Is really about my mom, who caught the wave of the women’s movement just as suburban motherhood was driving her nuts and went back to school then back to work and became, in her words, a “person.”  And my experience of that – freaked out in the ‘70s when I was a shy kid wanting to fit in, but hugely influential as I moved into adulthood.  It’s a story, and it gets fictional, especially when it moves closer to the present day... but I’ve always felt (or been surprised, as the character is in the play) that people don’t know or remember much about what happened then, at least as it applied to real people, on the ground.  I hesitated to ever write about this cause I felt like feminism, ick, just makes people wince!  But turns out I’m producing this play at an interesting time, suddenly it feels like it’s in a conversation, one that’s both more relevant and more challenging to the play’s assumptions than when I started writing it 6 years ago.

LR: Washed Up was inspired by my years of freelance proofreading. Though I often didn’t know my coworkers well, I also felt I knew them intimately. Like so many office dwellers, we spent a lot of time with each other in close, ignominious quarters. Usually, beyond our cubicle walls no one even knew our names. We depended on each other to get through the day with our dignity intact, with our dreams (or lies?) about ourselves intact. Small things, like someone remembering a birthday, could make a huge impact on our day. Small things mattered in our small world. Small people mattered. We were small, doing “small” work, though our dreams were quite large. But at least in that office, if not in the outside world, we mattered. But coworkers would often vanish with only a sweater draped over a chair to remind us they once existed in our world. Maybe they quit? Moved away? It was usually a mystery, as life tends to be. As such, Washed Up On The Potomac is about the myths we create about ourselves in order to keep us from vanishing from our own lives. It’s about the challenge of living a hopeful life. It’s about family – in this case a work family – and the small but significant ways in which we try to keep ourselves, and each other, afloat. And it's a comedy. It’s playful and fun and eerie. Until it's not.

PG-S: My play is about my imaginary marriage to tennis superstar Rafael Nadal. About 5 years ago, I was having a hard time in my life and I was spending a great deal of time fantasizing about being whisked away to Mallorca. The fantasy was sexual, sure, but it was also about something bigger. It was succeeding. It was about success. It was about working and my relationship to it. It was about wanting to get away from the life I felt stuck in. So the first act opens in New York where I am telling my old friends Eva Patton and John Ort about my brand new life in Spain. In the second act, I (along with the audience) are transported to Mallorca to get a behind-the-scenes look at this “life” I’ve generated for myself. I think more than anything it’s a play about playmaking, or playing, or even the play that we have running in our minds. These impulses are powerful. They reveal us. But they can also be painful. It’s a wacky piece…but my hope is that it’s one that uses theatrical artifice as a way to get to the truth of ourselves.

D: Are initiatives like The Pool the future of producing for new writing?

PG-S: I hope so. I tell you what though. This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It’s epic. I’ve done some things right. I’ve done some things wrong. There’s been a huge learning curve. There are days where it seems like hundreds of things are coming at you at once. I don’t know that it’s really possible to be actively writing, or writing from the best space and also producing. That said, I did rewrite the play some. I did write a new play this summer. I wrote a web series. I also teach full time at a graduate program in Indiana. So…you know, it’s a lot of speeds to run at. I’m not complaining so much as asking how tenable this is in the long-term for someone of my temperament. It’s why the temporary arrangement was so attractive to me. On December 17, it will end. I will no longer be a producer and I think that is a good thing for my creative brain.

The absolute best part of our model is that Lynn was wise enough to select a fellow writer who knew how to produce. Susan’s expertise, savvy, level-headedness, and most of all kindness as a fellow producer made it all possible for me. Lynn also has this extraordinary capacity for detail and follow through. I can’t tell you how many times these two friends saved me, or helped me up, or encouraged me. They produced me. I produced them.

And this is important for a writer like me, someone who has been around for a long time and who has gotten a lot of attention in the new play development world but who has struggled to get produced. So many of us struggle to see productions because there so few spaces and maybe every play I write doesn’t serve the communities who are attending the theatres I dream of being produced at. This play, in particular, is very much for my community, for the kinds of people who respond to this work. I, frankly, write this play for the people I know and love. So I had to make it. I would have never done it without the overwhelming support of my fellow playwrights (my director is Morgan Gould, another well-respected playwright and dear friend,) my sweet and patient boyfriend, my family and friends sending money, and cooking for our parties. One of my friends, Elizabeth Huber, actually started a not-for-profit called The Artists Patron Fund, a whole not-for-profit to raise money for initially for my endeavor Now she’s staying in the funding business and raising money for other artists. She’s done her second round of grants. She’s raising more money for her Fund by bringing members of the Investment Bank she works for to strike our set because her company will donate if she organizes a volunteer event. I mean, it’s just moving beyond belief to see that I’m cared for, as an artist and as a human being by so many people. It has made me feel so much less alone. It has made me a working, producing artist. It has shown me that I have to accept that there will be hardship, imperfection, balls will drop…but in the end, there will be a play on the stage that I wrote. And that is what I came to this world to do.

LR: The reality is that it may be the best way to get new work up these days, but that’s a good thing! Besides the wonderful theatre often presented by traditional theatres, we’d have this whole other strain of work to be inspired by. And it wouldn't be just the work itself that inspires, but the effort behind it. I think it’s important for artists to know they can have agency and take the reins of their own trajectory. It’s not easy – and it’s certainly not cheap – but it is empowering. And as I found on my Pool journey, there are smart, ambitious, generous people willing to go on the adventure with you. Along those lines, we plan to pass The Pool – the know how, the name, the buzz we hope to get – onto three other intrepid playwrights when we’re done. It’s a pretty exciting model, and an important model, and we hope it can live on once our run ends.

SB: I think they’re the future of new theatermaking all together – the perception of artists producing their own work has shifted a lot in the past few years, along with the perception that you should stay in your lane, just be a playwright, just be a producer.  I see it everywhere.  Artists don’t want to wait around anymore, for many of them traditional gatekeepers are (at least initially) irrelevant.  They just want to make work, make it the way they want, or take control of their processes, as we’ve been saying.  They know they can do it cause they see it throughout the community, and a whole bunch of really great independent work has washed any of that old stigma away. And of course it brings their work forward, in so many ways.  I’ve always been an avid observer of new producing models, and a participant (I hope), cause at New Georges we’re always trying to find new ways to make things, if nothing else to keep ourselves interested!  Watching even MORE models and initiatives emerge has been a thrill, we’re trying to support and encourage it any way we can, so by being part of The Pool I feel like I’m putting my money where my mouth is a little bit.  AND I’m super psyched that these initiatives are trickling up from early-career artists who don’t think twice about making their own work with close collaborators in nontraditional ways to mid-career artists like us.

https://www.thepoolplays.org/

https://twitter.com/Pool_Plays

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Jody Christopherson on AMP and Greencard Wedding by Declan Maloney Drummond

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You've got 2 upcoming shows in rep at HERE. What are they about?

AMP is my new solo work/ live horror film for the theater.  An amp is an electrical current, and a nod to A Modern Prometheus. The piece is an investigation of the discovery of “animal electricity”, the birth of modern feminism, and the monsters society creates. Mary Shelley begins the process of writing Frankenstein on stage. Mary’s monologues are interwoven with film interviews of a woman who auditions for the Boston Symphony during their first historic blind auditions; and is committed to an asylum. It’s essentially a world in which women behave badly and can be grotesque and powerful. The piece has film and projections created at abandoned asylums and also internal organs and historical props and costumes.

Greencard Wedding is inspired by a true story of my band Greencard Wedding. It’s part rock concert, part Skype film featuring notable locations in the New York indie rock scene. A multi-media indie rock musical that speaks to how we define ourselves as artists, the politics of immigration, and artist visa regulations. It’s interactive, performed in English and some Gaelic and Whiskey soaked wedding cake is served to all audience members.

You describe yourself variously as a performer, photographer, actress, spectacle creator, writer, filmmaker and generative artist. How do you balance those different professional lives and do you often find they intersect?

I actually try to avoid describing myself as an actress, though others might.  If I had to choose a word in that realm, I’d say actor as it’s non-gendered. Actors get paid the same (or they should). Actresses get paid less. What I typically say is that I’m a generative artist (performer (stage/ film actor and musician), writer (playwright and journalist), photographer and filmmaker). Sometimes I act in other people’s work but more recently I’ve been focused on creating my own body of work and touring.

Generative Artist, (and really all art is generative) is a fairly recent term. This is just a fancy way of saying that I create my own work, which I conceive, execute and perform through many mediums. It encompasses all the things I do. Actor/Playwright Erin Mallon once said to me, “a person can play tennis and also be a good cook and know how to tie their shoe.” It’s the same for artists. All my shows incorporate elements of visual art, film and theater performance to create a spectacle. I like to research and often bring that visual research to an audience. LES rock venues I’ve played and Skype film for Greencard Wedding, photos and films scavenging through abandoned asylums and historical documents for AMP. It’s also more cost effective for small shows to tour as well as feel large with portable set requirements (film and projections).

It’s very helpful as a headshot photographer and theater photographer to be an actor and also a journalist. I have the advantage of being in front of as well as behind camera, living through the type of situations I’m shooting, getting feedback from lots of different types of industry professionals and also honing ways to communicate/collaborate. I have a lot of empathy for other artists and absolutely want them to be able to determine the ways they are represented, the way their work is represented. It’s not my gaze that’s capturing them and their work. 

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Can you describe the journey of the 2 shows from conception to playing together at HERE with Goode Productions?

I’ve been working on both shows since 2012. AMP has been developed at New York Society Library (an incredible historical members library in New York whose members have included George Washington, Aaron Burr, Herman Melville, Wendy Wasserstein, Willa Cather...), underwritten by Alexander Sanger, All For One Theater's SoCo Lab with a workshop at The Bushwick Starr, Write Out Front (in the window of the Drama Bookshop), Live-Source, and a writing retreat in Rouen, France, 7 blocks from where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake. To create projections and films for AMP,  I’ve been traveling to abandoned asylums in New York and Massachusetts as well as meeting with representatives from the Museum of Public Health in Tewksbury to investigate the history of electroshock therapy.

Greencard Wedding began when I could only Skype with my Dutch bandmate Michael de Roos. After his visa expired we found out we couldn’t make music via Skype (due to the delay) and we certainly couldn’t gig anymore. The piece was part music, part performance art. I recorded some calls, transcribed those, we toured to FringeNYC, The Brick, FilmGate Miami and then ultimately the distance and lack of a visa was too much. So the show went through a full page one rewrite with American/ Irish actor/ musician Ryan McCurdy (who plays about 6 instruments) and producer/ sound/projection designer Martha Goode, who suggested putting the Skype calls on film instead of doing live calls. We toured and developed the show at Carrie Morris Performing Art Center in Detroit, Dixon Place, went to APAP and The Studios of Key West brought the show as part of their season. They were really able to give it the sound support that a full concert venue would, and bring in an audience who didn’t know us at all. The response was huge and really helpful to our process.

What's next for you?

In February, AMP will be touring to Edmonton, Alberta Canada. Workshop West Playwrights Theater is bringing us out for a festival called Chinook. Vern Thiessen, who is their Artistic Director and a prolific playwright whose work I’m a huge fan of (Of Human Bondage as part of Soul Pepper’s residency at Signature Theater) has been an incredible supporter of the show.

Greencard Wedding will run November 29-December 20 in rep with AMP, December 5-19. Both shows are playing at HERE (145 Avenue of the Americas, entrance on Dominick Street, one block south of Spring Street). Tickets ($35) are available for purchase in advance at www.here.org.

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Susan Soon He Stanton on Solstice Party! and Today Is My Birthday by Declan Maloney Drummond

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First of all, how did you end up with 2 shows running off-Broadway in the same month?

That’s a good question! I feel very lucky and overwhelmed. These are the first NYC productions I’ve had since 2012, when my play TAKARAZUKA!!!  was at Clubbed Thumb Summerworks. So this is the first time anything like this has happened. Tyler Mercer and Chris Dieman commissioned me a little over a year ago. Unlike typical commissions, they were very clear the show was going to be produced at this time. It was extremely brave of them to know that I was going to be writing something so new they were going to program instantly. Today Is My Birthday was more of a surprise in terms of the production slot, but the play has been in development since 2014. I’ve been working the play at Sundance in 2014, with director Kip Fagan, and sound designer, Palmer Hefferan. Many of the actors have stuck with the play since then. Both plays are very different and I’m delighted to share them this fall. 

What are SOLSTICE PARTY! and Today Is My Birthday about?

Solstice Party! is inspired by an actual camping weekend I took with my friends. This play is about a celebration of the summer solstice at a farmhouse, deep in the woods. What begins as a celebration weekend turns far darker, an escapist-folk dream turned nightmare. The play is both deeply personal and theatrically extreme. I’m so excited about the production. There are live songs composed by Adrian Bridges, our sound designer, played with live instruments, and real trees, and projections on stage. Live Source is a design driven company, and it’s been thrilling to write a new play with design in mind.

Today Is My Birthday follows a young woman named Emily who flees New York City for her hometown in Hawaii after a traumatic breakup. She is isolated, unsure of her identity, and desperate for connection. Through an odd sequence of events she finds herself with a side gig calling into a shock-jock radio station, pretending to ask out the “office stud of the week.” She begins to pursue the other fake caller on a Sisyphean romantic quest, while desperately trying to manage her career aspirations and family complications. She flails and fails and grasps and misses, but keeps trying — eventually finding her wobbly way to a new stability and identity. This play also toggles between a mostly realistic world, but told through radio and phone calls, so no two characters are ever in the same place. It’s been wonderful to physicalize this world with our team.

How did you make the transition into writing for TV?

I’ve been doing theater and screenwriting simultaneously for years. I had my eye out for TV for awhile now, with a few close calls to join shows. I got staffed on Succession with my play, Today Is My Birthday. HBO has been really wonderful and a producer there, Christine Kim, thought I’d be a good fit for the style of Succession, which is a fascinating blend of drama, comedy, and political/financial events. It’s funny because as I’m answering this question, I have just come from the first rehearsal of Today Is My Birthday, I’m currently on set for the TV show, and I’m about go to tech for Solstice Party!. I think it feels good and exciting to be working in television, especially health insurance. I think remaining in theater remains something that continues to be a high priority but does require quite a bit of juggling. I love the intimacy and control of theater. In TV there are so many people involved in the whole process, that the end result, while potentially wonderful, isn’t so much yours.

You’ve been a member of groups and labs at places like Sundance, Page 73, Soho Rep and Women’s Project. How have they impacted your career?

So much. I think in ways that are quantifiable and then in ways I cannot imagine. When I got out of NYU, in college, I didn’t have the common sense to join any of these writing groups. I didn’t know or meet anyone. What I love about all of these groups is they are all different. Some groups, like Page 73’s Interstate 73, Primary Stages, and MaYi Playwrights Lab are all writers. It’s a safe room, a fellowship. SoHo Rep pairs together writers with directors, which is a very exciting conversation, to see how directors who aren’t necessarily attached to your work respond to your pages. Sundance you work with a team for weeks, with a director, dramaturge, actors, and in my case, a sound designer. Women’s Project Lab is particularly wonderful and unusual in that it brings together writers, directors, and producers. The Lark is so cool because they offer multiple programs, some with just writers, some with a mix of writers and directors, so it’s a bit of chose your own adventure.

I really love the fellowship of these groups and having a safe place to work on new plays. I also love the accountability. One of the reasons I’m able to write so many plays is that, while I’m not a fast writer by any means, I’m accountable in these groups to bring in 10 or more pages at a time. It’s great to see everyone trying to find their way through a new play. Sometimes it’s rough going and it’s so nice to have the fellowship of kindred spirits.

http://www.live-source.org/

Reina Hardy on Glassheart by Declan Maloney Drummond

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What is Glassheart about?

It's "Beauty and the Beast" but it's set in a crappy Chicago apartment instead of a fabulous castle.  And the protagonist is a magical talking lamp.  I know this sounds very cute, but it's actually about depression. 

How did Everyday Inferno end up producing the play and how involved have you been in casting and rehearsals?

A few years ago I sent them a short called "Dark King Kills Unicorn."   It turned out that our aesthetics really lined up, and they did another one of my full lengths "A Map to Somewhere Else."  We had to wait a little bit to do "Glassheart" together because of some rights situations, but I love them forever and we're best theater friends. 

How did you get your start in theatre?

I've been writing plays since college, and I recently graduated with an MFA as a Michener Fellow from UT Austin.  But really, I think I learned most of what I know about theater from a project I took on a long time ago- seeing a play in every Chicago theater venue in the course of one year.  

What's next for you?

On October 5th, I have a podcast recording with the Parsnip Ship of my play "Annie Jump."  Then, in February, my devised circus sci-fi spectacular "Agent Andromeda: The Orion Crusade" is being remounted in Austin.  I have the world premiere of my play "The Afterparty" also in Austin, in June.  And there's something happening in October of next year that I can't really talk about yet, but I'm super excited!

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Leelee Stranger on Rebellion Dogs by Declan Maloney Drummond

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What is Rebellion Dogs about?

Rebellion Dogs is about addiction. When I first wrote it, I thought it was a relationship piece, but when I tackled the finished script from a director’s point of view, I realized it was actually about the effects of addiction; how it warps one’s perspective, changes one’s behavior, and clouds everything in denial. Rebellion Dogs is about two people in love and their drug dealer, whom they consider a friend. All three of them are in pain, all three have these tremendous needs and a sense of desperate loneliness, and instead of being able to help one another, they all turn to substances for solace. It’s a three person play where Heroin plays the biggest role.


What's been the process of taking such a personal story and transitioning it into theatre?

It has been absolutely amazing writing such an autobiographical piece. I think my learning curve as a playwright went way up too. Just because something happened in a certain way, doesn’t mean it’s the best way to portray it on stage. Sometimes things that actually happened can read as unbelievable on stage. You gotta know what reads, what to cut, when to kill your darlings. I originally wanted to write this play as full-on epic three act story arc, from the first meeting to the bitter end of the relationship, but trimming it down to a one act has been the best thing that has happened for the play. Everything is succinct, relevant, sharp. As for the autobiographical aspect, it is what makes the piece so personal and raw. The story and emotions I want to evoke in the audience are crystal clear. I lived them, I know them. Though the words may be drawn from imagination, the emotional experiences are pulled from memory.
How involved have you been in casting and rehearsals?
 I wrote Nila (the female lead) with my friend Tori in mind. I told her I wanted her for the part a few years ago when I began dabbling with scenes from the play. As it became clear to me as I was writing the play that I had to direct it, I think it affected my writing. Potential actors for the roles came up. I could write even more freely with a human model in mind- how would Tori say this? How would Marc (who plays the male lead) react to something like that? That was also a revelation for writing- if you write with a real flesh and bone human in mind, even if you don’t get that intended human, your character will still be richer, more alive, more real for it. So I’ve been along every step of the way, from writer, to director, to producer. By far the hardest part has been producing!
 
How did you get your start in theatre?

I’ve always been a performer. I did school plays when I was a kid and then fell absolutely head over heels in love with circus. I had a little mini art career in that in my late teens and early twenties. I studied at a pretty prestigious school in Sweden, and then I suddenly walked away from it all. I moved to California and buried my broken heart under a rubble of drugs and alcohol. At 25 I went back to school to see if I could get myself sorted out and find a real job I could foresee myself in for the rest of my life- something in social justice, was the vague plan. Then, out of curiosity I took an acting class. I had acted before, but never studied. That there was a technique behind this strange art that presumably anyone could do, fascinated me. It snowballed from there. Theater and acting became more and more important to me in parallel to my addiction worsening. Five years later I was living in New York with one year clean. Two years after that I’ve completed a Meisner acting program and am self-producing my own play. Life is wild.
What's next for you?

Directly after this run I’m flying to LA to attend the Reel Recovery Film festival for a short film I co-wrote and starred in last year. It will be nice to think about something else for a little bit! But I want to take Rebellion Dogs as far as she will go. I’m sure that means a whole bunch more mountings of the show in different locales. Then there’s been some talk about making it into a film- the challenge of turning a stage play into a screenplay interests me tremendously. But we’ll see. I’m full of ideas! I’m finishing a pilot up for a 30 min dramedy (this one I actually wrote for myself to act in), I have a few film and TV show ideas, and I have a short film I’ve been dying to shoot waiting to go. I’d be happy to tackle any one of those projects- whatever gets greenlighted by the circumstances of life!
 
Rebelliondogs.org
https://www.gofundme.com/rebellion-dogs
facebook.com/dogsofrebellion
twitter.com/RebellionDogsNY
 
Rebellion Dogs at BAX / Brooklyn Arts Exchange
October 6th and 7th, 8pm

Tickets at Rebelliondogs.org