ESPA

ESPA Drills presents: All My Love, Kate by Joe Breen

Primary Stages ESPA Drills is an annual new play development program providing extensive workshopping, a public presentation, and advocacy within the theater community for four new plays written at least in part at Primary Stages ESPA. A staged reading of All My Love, Kate by Joe Breen will be held on Tuesday, October 3 at 6:30pm.

Joseph Breen

What is your play about?

For years, Jack and Danny have lived quietly and privately; keeping their life together separate from the world outside their door. But after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the couple find themselves separated by an ocean, a War, and a world that would rather pretend they didn’t exist. Thrust into this new reality, they must find a way to stay as strong apart as they ever were together.

What inspired your play? How did you go about the research process?

The initial idea for my play came from a photo (below) that I found online. After that I began researching the experiences of gay Americans during WW2 and came across a book (and subsequent documentary) by Allan Berube called “Coming Out Under Fire: The History of Gay Men and Women in World War Two”. More than anything I was inspired by the idea of the countless “Gold Star” widows that went unacknowledged during the war because gay soldiers couldn’t speak of the loves they had waiting at home for them.

During the writing of this play I’ve been inundating myself with photos from the period, magazine advertisements, War Posters, etc. Also the music of the 1940’s—especially Vera Lynn, Artie Shaw, and Glen Miller—because the music from that period is so specific to the experiences of a world at war, that it truly does help set a scene and provide me with a certain mood to write in.


Primary Stages ESPA Drills will be held on October 2 and 3, 2017 at the Cherry Lane Theatre. All readings are free and open to the public. Visit our website for a full list of readings and to RSVP.

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ESPA Drills presents: Carl’s Not Here by Daniel Loeser

Primary Stages ESPA Drills is an annual new play development program providing extensive workshopping, a public presentation, and advocacy within the theater community for four new plays written at least in part at Primary Stages ESPA. A staged reading of Carl’s Not Here by Daniel Loeser will be held on Tuesday, October 3 at 2:00pm.

Daniel Loeser

What is your play about?

In a small Texas border town, Roger doesn’t have much left to lose except the family bar, and now he’s about to lose that. What Roger does have, however, is super-powers, and his nemesis has arrived from a most unlikely place. Carl’s Not Here is a dark comedy about a man who believes he can save the world, even if he can’t save himself.

What inspired your play? How did you go about the research process?

I suppose what initially inspired me to begin this play was the time we lose when we’ve had too much. The idea that in that window between the painful morning and the previous night’s last memory, there’s a version of you out in the world that you’ve had little control over. I think it’s generally agreed upon that that version of ourselves is not our best, so I started to examine the possibility of that person being an even better version of ourselves. Someone that is benevolent and mighty and out for the greater good, but the only present after passing through an intoxicating, dangerous, weak, and ultimately, selfish act.

At least that’s where I began with Carl’s Not Here. It’s been through my classes at ESPA and now looking ahead to continued work in Drills that the play has taken a shape that I hadn’t imagined, and I’m very excited to expand it even further.


Primary Stages ESPA Drills will be held on October 2 and 3, 2017 at the Cherry Lane Theatre. All readings are free and open to the public. Visit our website for a full list of readings and to RSVP.

ESPA Drills presents: Another Revolution by Jacqueline Bircher

Primary Stages ESPA Drills is an annual new play development program providing extensive workshopping, a public presentation, and advocacy within the theater community for four new plays written at least in part at Primary Stages ESPA. A staged reading of Another Revolution by Jacqueline Bircher will be held on Monday, October 2 at 6:30pm.

Jacqueline Bircher

What is your play about?

Two graduate students from opposing scientific disciplines are forced to share a lab at Columbia University in 1968. Amid interpersonal differences, a campus devolving into political chaos, and the uncertainty and turmoil of the outside world, they each discover what it’s like to be thrown into someone else’s orbit.

What inspired your play? How did you go about the research process?

Writing a period play about scientists requires a ton of research, so there were many, many inspirations for this play. My process included everything from trips to the Hayden Planetarium, to combing through Columbia’s student newspaper archives, to talking to a real-life ecologist about how she conducts her experiments. I found inspiration from some pretty unlikely places as well, but some of my favorites were:

  • “How the Universe Got Its Spots” by Janna Levin and “Lab Girl” by Hope JahrenSince both of the characters in my play are scientists, there was a lot of research involved in learning about each of their scientific disciplines. These two books were invaluable to me in shaping the personalities and worldviews of Kat and Henry, and one of the many reasons I found these particular books to be the most crucial is the way they each present science as just one facet of a larger life, and drive home how scientific theories, whether they’re about plants or black holes, can creep into your life and relationships so that the world seems somehow bigger and more interconnected than you originally thought.
  • Hillary Clinton’s interview with Humans of New YorkWhen interviewed by Humans of New York, Hillary Clinton told this story of taking her law school admissions test surrounded by a group of boys who taunted her and the other women in the room, claiming that if the women were to take their spots at law school, they would be drafted to Vietnam and likely face death. This story really resonated with me, because the stakes on both sides are so high. In exploring the parallels between 1968 (when my play takes place) and now, Hillary Clinton became a very important touchstone. She was there in 1968, nearly the same age as my characters, and 50 years later, she was there again, still fighting the same battles.
  • The 2017 Women’s March and the 1968 Columbia University ProtestsThe Women’s March earlier this year was another strong inspiration, as it ushered in a new culture of resistance. That mindset entering back into our culture became so important as I continued to explore the Columbia University protests of 1968, which provides the backdrop for my play. In addition, Columbia’s meticulous archives and exhibitions about even the not-so-flattering portions of its history were instrumental in creating the world of this play and maintaining its authenticity.
  • The Detention Series at Primary Stages/ESPA: This full length play actually began its life as a ten-minute play written for Detention at ESPA! I wrote this short play for the very first Detention I ever participated in, and even though I’ve been part of several more Detentions since then, this first one sparked something that I couldn’t quite shake. While the play has certainly evolved since then, many of the most important seeds came from that original piece and I’m so excited about the amazing journey these characters have taken!

Primary Stages ESPA Drills will be held on October 2 and 3, 2017 at the Cherry Lane Theatre. All readings are free and open to the public. Visit our website for a full list of readings and to RSVP.

ESPA Drills presents: Moonshine by Liz Appel

Primary Stages ESPA Drills is an annual new play development program providing extensive workshopping, a public presentation, and advocacy within the theater community for four new plays written at least in part at Primary Stages ESPA. A staged reading of Moonshine by Liz Appel will be held on Monday, October 2 at 2:00pm.

Liz Appel

What is your play about?

After their world is suddenly cracked open by a moment of violence, Wolf and Rooster are on the run. Alone, in the dark, and desperate to start a fire that will keep away the night, memory becomes a battleground as the brothers struggle to survive in the wilderness of their new world and each other.

What inspired your play? How did you go about the research process?

I’d say that this play comes out of a deep love for two other plays: Suzan-Lori Parks’s Topdog/Underdog and Enda Walsh’s Disco Pigs.  Both plays are two-handers, visceral and explosive, the kind of theater that grabs you by the collar and won’t let go. Both plays experiment with form, particularly with language; both sets of characters seem to have a language of their own making, totally unique to their respective worlds. Both plays also feature souls trapped in sealed worlds: Booth’s tiny apartment in Topdog/Underdog, and Pig and Runt’s shared imaginary kingdom playing out alongside, but separate from, the very real city of Cork in Disco Pigs. Both plays also look at what happens when these private worlds are blasted open and the outside world comes rushing in.

I’m particularly interested in the sibling relationship, how unique it is. I think of siblings as the holders of each other’s childhoods, as each other’s ultimate witnesses. It’s like they keep the vanishing time of childhood alive for each other. This is quite an amazing and complicated burden. What does it mean to carry the past for someone else? Are there parts of ourselves we’ve stowed away in other people for safe keeping? Can we ever reclaim these parts or are they lost to us forever? What happens when different versions of history collide? Can denying a memory be an act of love?

On that note, and tying it all together, I think both Topdog/Underdog and Disco Pigs are finally and profoundly about love. There’s a moment early in Disco Pigs when Runt turns to Pig and says: “Wa colour’s love, Pig?”

And this puts the focus squarely on what the play is about: how to understand love, how to get it, how to keep it, what it feels like when it’s lost.

Love. Tiny word. Casts great shadows.

These are some of the questions I’m trying to explore in Moonshine.


Primary Stages ESPA Drills will be held on October 2 and 3, 2017 at the Cherry Lane Theatre. All readings are free and open to the public. Visit our website for a full list of readings and to RSVP.

Primary Stages Profile: Rockwell Scholar Vanessa Pereda-Felix

In the program for this winter’s production of Fade by Tanya Saracho, we featured a brief interview with Primary Stages ESPA actor Vanessa Pereda-Felix.  Below is the extended version of the interview.

vpfheadshot3Vanessa Pereda-Felix moved to New York in 2009 from Central California.  She ventured east with a BFA in theater and a dream to perform in New York.  After three years in the city, she longed for a community of artists and the opportunity to hone her craft.  She found that home at Primary Stages ESPA.

You are an ESPA Rockwell Scholar.  Tell me a little about the scholarship.

When I choose to be part of a community I really want to be active, so when I first started taking classes I’d always ask if I could help out.  Based on my participation in and out of class, I guess the company thought that I’d be a good match. As a Rockwell Scholar, I’m an ambassador for new and interested students.  I also get to take three classes for free each year and serve as the teaching assistant in those classes.  As the teaching assistant, I act as the liaison between the teacher and the class, for example, making sure everyone understands the assignments.  I also convey information about all the events sponsored by Primary Stages and ESPA [like Detention or ESPAFest].  Additional  responsibilities as the Rockwell Scholar include being part of Detention as both an actor and an audience member; going to ESPA Drills; and going to mixers, where I represent both ESPA students and Rockwell Scholars, to talk about what makes ESPA great (which I was already doing before I received this honor, so it’s easy).

What has being as Rockwell Scholar meant to you?

I didn’t see the scholarship coming and it was an honor to receive it.  I was so in awe and overwhelmed.  It means that I have the support of company behind me as both an artist and a person.  And it represents how nurturing and caring ESPA is; it’s a cheerleader on my side.

What are you currently working on?

In the spring I work with Superhero Clubhouse, which is a company at the intersection of environmental science and theater.  We do a project called Big Green Theater where we work with 4th and 5th grade students at two schools in Bushwick.  The students write short plays inspired by the information they learned from an environmental scientist who visits each class at the beginning of the semester.  Then five to seven of those plays are given full productions at the Bushwick Star, which is our partner on this program.  The plays are always produced during Earth Week, and really helps demonstrate the power of storytelling.

To learn more about Vanessa visit her website. To learn more about ESPA visit our website.

 

Meet the 2016 ESPA Drills Writers!

Primary Stages ESPA Drills is an annual new play development program providing extensive workshopping, a public presentation, and advocacy within the theater community for four new plays written at least in part at ESPA. Each June, these plays are selected by blind submission from dozens of submissions for their ambition, voice, imagination, and energy.

MIKE POBLETE

artist-poblete-mikeMike is thrilled to be taking part in Drills. Born in Brooklyn, he has had six full length plays and numerous one acts performed in six countries. His newest play, One Down, will premiere and run the month of August at San Antonio’s Overtime Theatre. He has a Playwriting MFA from Trinity College Dublin and currently works in a Broadway production office.

 

Surfacing by Mike Poblete
Directed by Carolyn Cantor
A bit of advice: don’t open with your botched suicide attempt on a first date.
August 15 at 4pm
RSVP

DANIEL MCCOY

artist-mccoy-daniel

Daniel McCoy is a playwright and performer based in New York City whose plays include Perfect Teeth, Cleave, Rapture2K, Epimythium, Dick Pix, Group, and Eli and Cheryl Jump. His work has been produced and developed at Theaterlab in New York, Simple Machine Theatre in Boston, Source Theatre Festival in Washington D.C., the New York International Fringe Festival, and many other venues. He is a current member of the Project Y Play Group and regular director for the Writopia Lab Worldwide Plays Festival. As an ensemble member of the New York Neo-Futurists, Daniel can be seen writing and performing regularly in Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go BlindDaniel is a graduate of the Rita and Burton Goldberg MFA Playwriting Program at Hunter College.

Rapture2K by Daniel McCoy
Directed by Morgan Gould
The end of the world’s not what it used to be.
August 15 at 7pm  
RSVP

JOSHUA STRAUCH

artist-strauch-joshua

Joshua Strauch hails from Boca Raton, Florida. He earned a bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing and History from Florida State University. He’s also completed training programs in Improvisational Comedy from the iO and Annoyance Theatres in Chicago, Illinois. He is currently a member of the experimental improv troupe Mutual Slayer. Two of his short plays I Hate You, You… and Code Blue have been featured in the Detention short play series through the Primary Stages Einhorn School of Performing Arts. He hates, HATES mayonnaise and loves tomatoes. Joshua credits his full head of hair for all of his playwriting abilities. Without his thick, beautiful hair…Joshua would be nothing.
The Call Center by Joshua Strauch
Directed by Gregg Wiggans
The telemarketing industry is dying… but so is humanity.
August 16 at 4pm
RSVP

STEPHEN BROWN

artist-brown-stephen

Stephen Brown’s work has been developed and received readings by Primary Stages, MCC, Page 73, The Road Theatre, and the Aurora Theatre. He’s been a past winner of the Global Age Project, a finalist for the Juilliard Playwriting Fellowship, and a semi-finalist for the O’Neill, PlayPenn, and the P73 Fellowship. He was a member of Page 73’s playwriting group I-73 and has had residencies with the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and SPACE on Ryder Farm. He is a founding member of the famous Nighthawks Dance Crew.

Montgomery by Stephen Brown
Directed by Suzanne Agins
When you don’t have a license but you do have a vengeance, kidnapping country music singers is easier than you’d think.
August 16 at 7pm
RSVP

The Unbearable Writing of Being

Guest blog post by Primary Stages ESPA instructor Caridad Svich (2012 OBIE winner for Lifetime Achievement)

CaridadSvichphotobyJodyChristopherson-1_finalcopyDec19_2014

Caridad Svich. Photo by Jody Christopherson.

How do we live in crisis? How do we make art in times in crisis?

Both questions face us as writers when we confront the page in these times called end times, by some, and out of joint times by others. In the ancient days, when Sophocles and Euripides made their work, tragedies spoke corrosively to the heart of Greek societies rent by war. Performed by war veterans to an audience of veterans and their families, the plays some of us call the foundation upon which Western drama was built – Oedipus, The Oresteia, The Bacchae – were pieces that resonated in an immediate manner (by all reasonable historical conjecture of what spectatorship of theatre must have been like in ancient Greece) to the disorientating and disharmonious times in which most Athenian citizens lived or had experienced. One need only look at Aeschylus’ The Persians, the first Greek tragedy (472 BCE) of the 31 extant Greek tragedies that have survived, to witness a dramatic rendering of the fall-out of the Greco-Persian War told from the point of view of the defeated. Whilst scholars have debated whether Aeschylus’ deliberate focus on the Persians is meant to reinforce xenophobic feelings from an audience reveling, albeit battered, by Greece’s military victory, a close look at the play’s empathy with the lamenting Persians justifies a contrary point of view – namely that Aeschylus is asking his audience to put themselves in the Persians’ place, and reconsider the spiritual costs of war when a society has declared itself triumphant.

No winners here, one can almost hear Aeschylus saying. We are all complicit in this mess, for we too are the Persians.

Aeschylus’ act of radical empathy as a playwright and his challenge to his audience paves the way for increasingly demanding works in the tragic canon of ancient Greek drama – works that position the ethics of citizenship at the center of most of its stories, whether told from a more internal point of view, as in Euripides’ Medea or Sophocles’ Antigone, or from a choral perspective, as in Aeschylus’ The Libation-Bearers.

In times like these, times that are out of joint, tragedy and what it teaches us as a dramatic form may be our best hope of finding a way toward considerations of peace, reconciliation and forgiveness.

This last word sits on my tongue. Forgiveness. In some ways, its sound is soft and evanescent. The double “s” at the end of the word nearly fades as soon as one utters it. Yet, the word, for all of its seeming softness, is hard. And harder still when you face the page with the rage and despair effected by a world that feels increasingly fractioned by myriad issues, not the least of which are exponential economic inequity, and mercenary sectarian violence.

But Aeschylus and his fellow tragedians demand forgiveness from us, even when they show us narratives about figures that are blind in their ability to effect it. Greek drama is said to live suspended in the twinned axis of Apollonian and Dionysian desires. The radiating power of radical empathy and through it the courage to forgive the ones who attack and destroy, and the ones too that are on the receiving end of violence – physical, economic, and spiritual – allows citizen-spectators to reflect upon and perhaps embolden themselves toward acts of progressive transformation.

You may say, but why speak of tragedy now? The world is messed up, to put it mildly. What can a writer do or even hope to do in times such as these?

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A couple of years ago, I decided I wanted to face the page in a new way (or maybe it was an old way that felt new to me). Regardless, I wanted to look at the poetics of the page in a manner that felt intimately connected to the heart-mind-body. In effect, I wanted to look at dramatic form as a container not necessarily for narrative and character (although I have nothing against either), but as shape – the shape of being. My overriding question for this dramatic project (one I am still on, by the way) was “How are we/I in the world?” How do we define a communal “we?” And what do we mean when we say “I?”

I suppose this central question seems unbearably simple, but I have found – play after play – that drawing a shape of being and doing so with clarity, purpose, and intention, not to mention, an awakened sense of grace, is much harder than it seems, because it has something to do – at root – with forgiveness.

That word again. With its double “s” folding into the corners of the mouth, sitting on the tongue, waiting to be welcomed into the body.

If drama is animated by conflict – by opposing forces battling it out or making love in an arena of desire witnessed by spectators immersed in a dance of wills that cast their semaphoric signs across space and time – it is ultimately called to deliver on how and where it sits in relationship to forgiveness, and its twinned reflector, radical empathy.

If drama – old-fashioned word, I know; much less favorable to use when “performance” is preferred – but, for now, let’s say drama, because, well, it actually means “action” in its noun form, and “to do and/or to act” in its verb form – demands of its citizen-spectators the creation of or the making way for the condition of the tragic to be held in time and space, and in body and mind, then it may just encourage at very least a consideration of our greater potentialities as human beings.

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Ok.  I admit. I tend to write out of creative outrage over what happens in the world – whether the “world” defined on the page is seen from a defiantly local lens or a panoramic, global perspective. Anger over ongoing and immediate social injustices does rather stoke my creative fire. In many ways, waking from the lethargy of the everyday and its petty concerns, is what often drives me to hunker down and actually put words to screen in the hope that there will be an audience somewhere someday that will wish to share in the experience of seeing/hearing/feeling an event in space.

I’m not idealistic enough to think a play can change the world – that any play can change the world. And while my colleague Lin Manuel-Miranda is carrying the burden (freeing and not) of representation on his shoulders right now, I know that Hamilton may change some things about the way some in the field may think about casting and who can tell whose story and what that means, but real change is not the deal. The deal is somewhere else. The deal is not even a deal, but rather a spirit-thing that cannot be quantified and measured with words like “social impact” and “effective outreach.”

What I’m saying is that the ontological process of examining being-ness goes beyond identifiable barometers of efficacy.

What I’m saying is that art may actually not be useful at all, despite the fact that in the immediate matter of things, there is the desire to measure its worth and value in economic and educational terms.

I think theatre’s great power may lie in its uselessness – as radical and Wildean as that may seem – even while it reflects in ways mimetic and not upon the ethics of citizenship, the rule of law, and how power is wielded in manners tyrannical and not.

Theatre is not the world.

Theatre is something else, somewhere else.

It may look and sound like the world sometimes, but really, it is its own thing.

And yet, paradoxically, it becomes the world because of the unbearable beauty of drama’s capacity to express a shape of being.

The I and we of theatre are in constant negotiation linguistically, corporeally, and sensorial – site to actor, actor to actor, actor to audience, text to space, and so on – to locate and dislocate. A sign is marked. A sign is erased. A sign lives in the ghosted space of theatre. Its meaning changes and shifts according to how it moves, and how it is received. Through unfixing planes of signified existence, it allows for new possibilities to be born out of the wreckage of solidity. The liquid and plastic nature of theatre make it urgent, dangerous and defiantly useless.

You can’t hold it in your hands, because it cannot be contained.

And even when you film it, something in theatre resists.

It is this resistance – this essential dissidence – that lies at the heart of making theatre.

It cannot be the world, because the world already exists.

It can only be other, alterna, defiant, marked by its refusal to be marked.

Untracing theatre, un-marking from its markings, is what every writer does, even while lines are drawn into the sand of the page’s canvas.

In so doing, the daily practice of enacting commonwealth – central to the making of drama – teaches us something time and again about what is possible through conflict resolution, and opens us toward a lightness of being we may not even know we possessed in the first place.

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So, back to tragedy. What can tragedy teach us about who we are and who we might be?

The ancient Greeks in their extant plays show us time and again that the destabilizing space in which tragedy lives is the one where knowledge occurs. Rent asunder, we learn who we are, to what we have been blind, and how we may live again and/or teach our children to live.

Framed in light, witness the Persians crying for their loved ones and the loss of their country. Witness how Aeschylus cracks open the floor of grief to locate a different script, or maybe one that has been there all along – one that says hey, here we are, this script is neither mine or yours, but one that belongs to us all.

Caridad Svich received the 2012 OBIE for Lifetime Achievement. She is the author of over forty plays and translations. Her epic poem for theatre Sanctuary will be seen at Arena Stage’s Kogod Cradle Series in January 2016. She is editor of Innovation in Five Acts (TCG, 2015).  She teaches playwriting at ESPA, and is a Lifetime Member of EST. Visit her at http://www.caridadsvich.com

To study playwriting with Caridad, join her for an Online Class at Primary Stages ESPA this Spring: Online Class: The First Draft or Online Class: The Rewrite.