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.

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