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Excerpts from Morning in America: November 9, 2016, 9:00am

The week after the election, we reached out to playwrights across our community and asked them each to write a one-minute monologue from the point of view of a character reflecting on the results the morning after at 9:00am, November 9th. We received over 70 monologues from a diverse group of playwrights, which we presented in a staged reading on February 18 & 19, 2017. We are pleased to include a few here on the blog.

Fruit Loops

By Michele Lowe

(A WOMAN not unlike Huma Abedin, stands outside a door and talks to someone on the other side. She is dressed in work clothes, ready to go to her office.)

WOMAN: Open the door.
Please unlock the door.
There are people downstairs who want to talk to you. I’m not going to tell you who.
Of course you can wear sunglasses.
Because they want to make sure you’re all right.
They’re worried about you. We’re all worried.
Of course you’re going to feel better.
Soon.
And you’re going to do great things, important things. But you need to come out first.
Fine, don’t come downstairs. Just come out and be. Take a shower. Brush your hair. Let me give you some breakfast.
Please open the door.
(gaining speed as she speaks) Because I love you. And I’m so proud of you. Because the world needs people like you. America needs you. I need you. I need you to come out so I can take you to kindergarten. Because if you don’t go to kindergarten you won’t grow up smart and strong. And the smart and strong people are going to figure out a way to keep us all going.
I don’t have any Fruit Loops.  Because they’re pure crap. You can cry all your want.
Nope.
Nope.
Not.
Never.
You know what the President-Elect eats for breakfast? That’s right.
Because I know.
Now, let’s go.

Hungover

By Eljon Wardally

(Nicole, 30s, Black. The boss’s office. NICOLE, in leggings, slippers, and a t-shirt, stands in front of her boss. Her hair is mussed. She either just woke up or hasn’t slept at all.)

NICOLE: I’ve been drunk for two days now.
Wine. Red.
Not my first choice but once you start you don’t want to switch. That’s what makes you sick.
Wasn’t even planning on it.
I mean, I purposely went to the polls in the morning so my evening could be free to curl up on the couch with popcorn and soda to watch the show.
Went out with some cousins for some pre-celebratory tacos because… Taco Tuesday when results started to pour in.
And nerves started to pour in.
And then wine started to pour in…
But my cousins didn’t have the same reaction as me.
I think they were relieved to have a different passport, an escape plan in case this-
But I don’t and when I knew all hope was lost…
It felt like I died.
Like your heart breaking, your insides exploding and going deaf, all at the same time.
And I don’t have an escape plan. Because it’s not something I prepared for like a terrorist attack or a blackout…
We are lost and I am still drunk.
And my family says it won’t be so bad, and they pat me on the back but, no, you have a way out to another country.
I don’t.
So don’t tell me to calm down.
I know what could happen.
We’ve seen this before.
This man-
We know there are tyrants who started out, charming at first,
you know, those big talkers who could command a room?
We know the power they have over people who ache for change they think is right.
So don’t tell me it won’t happen again.
Don’t tell me they won’t put us on boats or planes or send us away or brand us because, we’ve seen this before.
Taco Tuesday…
History might repeat itself.
Again.
Again.
Again.
And I am still drunk.
Maybe the whole world is still drunk.
Maybe I’m in a nightmare like Leonardo DiCaprio was, in that movie Inception?
Because that is the only explanation that makes sense to me.
Except I have no totem.
My country was my totem.
And I can’t wake up.
…So yes, today I will wear my t-shirt, leggings, and slippers, because that’s all I can do right now.
Until I open my eyes tomorrow and hope that the world isn’t still drunk.
Can I go back to my desk now?

(more…)

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3 Ways You Can Help Save the NEA

If you’re reading this, there’s a fair chance you support the Arts. We don’t need to explain to you the deep importance of Art in America and the absolute necessity of a federal organization to champion our national artistic identity, as the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) has done since 1965.

The current administration’s budget proposal eliminates the NEA and in the effort to combat rhetoric that increasingly undermines the values Primary Stages cares so deeply about, we wanted to share with you some things we know to be unequivocally true:

  • The NEA provides funding to all 50 states.
  • This funding helps provide theater (and other arts) access and arts education to communities large and small.
  • Every $1 of NEA funding is matched by almost $9 of private or other non-federal support.

These are just three reasons that the NEA is absolutely vital for the United States international leader in the Arts.

Additionally the NEA provides critical support to the Arts Market,  maintaining jobs and vital tax revenue.  Nationally, the arts generated $135.2 billion of economic activity. $61.1 billion of the overall revenue is stems from the nation’s nonprofit arts and culture organizations.  This economic activity supports 4.13 million full-time jobs and generates $86.68 billion in resident household income. The arts also generate $22.3 billion in revenue to local, state, and federal governments every year. 1

But beyond the dollars and cents the arts brings to our state, local, and federal economy, the arts has a deep, intrinsic impact on our identity as individuals and as a nation. The Arts foster empathy, community, and an expansion of our understanding as humans. As such, we must do everything we can do to protect this critical institution.

On March 21st, people from communities around the country visited Washington, D.C. or called their Congressional Representatives to express support for the NEA and other cultural agencies as part of National Arts Advocacy Day. It’s not too late to make your voices heard.  Here’s how:

  1. Call your Representatives, two Senators, and the White House. Tell them you are a constituent and that you support sustained funding for the NEA and other cultural agencies. 

    To find out your Congressperson’s phone number, go to www.house.gov.

    Locale senate phone numbers:
    Kirsten Gillibrand (D) New York – (202) 224-4451
    Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer  (D) New York – (202) 224-6542

    Cory A. Booker (D) New Jersey – (202) 224-3224
    Robert Menendez (D) New Jersey – (202) 224-4744

    Richard Blumenthal (D) Connecticut – (202) 224-2823
    Christopher Murphy (D) Connecticut – (202) 224-4041
     
  2. Share this information on Facebook and reach out to your friends. 
  3. Ask those small businesses with whom you work to make these calls as well. 

Primary Stages has devoted itself for 32 seasons to nurturing an artform that thrives on the support of a community of real people, like yourselves. We thank you in advance for everything you do to keep the Arts alive in America. We promise we’ll return the favor.

-The Staff of Primary Stages

1: http://www.americansforthearts.org/by-program/reports-and-data/research-studies-publications/arts-economic-prosperity-iv/national-findings

2: Advocacy cheat sheet courtesy of Art/NY

Who Would Play You on TV?

Fade playwright Tanya Saracho has been a successful writer for both stage and screen. Keeping with the theme, we asked the staff of Primary Stages to choose who they would like to play them in a TV show. What follows might just be the greatest cast ever assembled. Without further adieu, we present to you the cast of Primary Stages: The TV Show.  

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A Chat with Matthew Capodicasa, Fordham/Primary Stages MFA, ’15

capodicasa-pictureMatthew Capodicasa is a 2015 graduate of our Fordham University/Primary Stages MFA in Playwriting. In honor of our MFA Alumni Reading Series, which runs January 9-12, 2017, we’re catching up with the graduates to hear about what they’re working on these days.

Tell us about your play in the Alumni Reading Series.

Frelmetsch the Maneater is about two puppeteers who meet inside Frelmetsch, a two-person puppet on the set of a fantasy adventure film. The play came about after I saw a documentary about the puppeteers inside Jabba the Hutt during the filming of Return of the Jedi. I was fascinated. I’d seen Jedi probably a hundred times, and while I’d always known that I was watching a puppet, I’d never once thought about the human beings inside it. Underneath that creature’s latex skin was a complex and agonized-over collaboration that was entirely invisible to me. I wondered: could a play taking place inside a puppet get at something essential in how people connect, or become estranged? Or even disappear? And what is the cost of allowing your identity to be subsumed by the act of creation?

How did you come to be a playwright?

I was always writing, but usually in secret (I operated under the misapprehension that I was going to be an actor), and towards the end of my time as an undergrad, I got bold enough to show people some of the play I was working on, and I got to put up a production of it. That was the first time I’d ever not been onstage for a production I worked on.

That strange and thrilling experience got lost in the shuffle as I farted around from audition to audition and from tiny gig to tiny gig over the next few years. But eventually the idea of acting fell away (which was, for anyone who was forced to see me perform, a blessing) and the idea of writing remained. Of telling stories. Of listening, of trying to imagine other people, of striving for empathy, of trying to make the invisible visible. And that felt like something I had to do. I committed myself to just writing (and, naturally, a plethora of day jobs), and after a couple more years, I decided I wanted to go to grad school.

Of course, that’s just how I tell the story, and I may have gradually re-arranged the timeline, re-sequenced the decision-making, and without realizing it made a bunch up. Which I suppose is an equally valid answer to this question.

Tell us about a pivotal theater experience from your life.

When I first moved to New York, I got to see Mabou Mines’ The Red Beads. I was young and stupid and didn’t know anything, but I do remember thinking how thrilling it was to watch this company, this production, this play using every imaginable theatrical tool they had at their disposal to tell a very old, very beautiful, very human story. They had created–out of text and music and puppetry and dance and flight and color and light and sound–their own language. And despite my youth and stupidity and not knowing anything, from time to time something (an image, a word, a crazy choreographic gesture) would crack it open for me and I was right there with them, and I felt like I could almost understand this new language myself.

Also, I got to see Elaine Stritch do Madame Armfeldt. That was pretty awesome.

Which plays, playwrights or theater artists do you admire?

Oh, gosh. This could take a while. I’m just going to rattle off a whole host of writers whose work I love and pretend like that’s an answer. Alphabetically, so as not to show any favoritism: Edward Albee, Annie Baker, Samuel Beckett, Georg Büchner, Chekhov, Caryl Churchill, Cusi Cram, Bathsheba Doran, Christopher Durang, Will Eno, Maria Irene Fornes, Melissa James Gibson, Amy Herzog, Naomi Iizuka, Rajiv Joseph, Sarah Kane, Tony Kushner, David Lindsay-Abaire, Tarell Alvin McCraney, Marsha Norman, Nick Payne, Sarah Ruhl, Jenny Schwartz, Shakespeare, Nicky Silver, Diana Son, Stephen Sondheim, Paula Vogel, Thornton Wilder, Tennessee Williams, August Wilson, Lanford Wilson.

Seen or read anything good lately?

The Wolves is pretty awesome. And Vietgone is just fantastic. And the experience of watching the Gabriel plays at the Public this year was strange, troubling and beautiful.

What else are you working on right now?

I’m working on a play right now about cities and doubles and disguises and war and refugees and travel and global vs. personal grief. And pushy waiters and ancient jazz singers. Also I’m hoping maybe it’ll be funny.

Any New Year’s resolutions for 2017?

I kind of want to read Bleak House in the original month-by-month serialization, but I’m afraid I might get greedy and end up reading it all at once, though. But resolutions are meant to be abandoned, right?

Catch a reading of Frelmetsch The Maneater by Matthew Capodicasa on Wednesday, January 11 at 6PM. The reading is free and open to the public. RSVP to readings@primarystages.org.

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?

*

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.

*

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.

*

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.

Perfect Arrangement: Fifties Favorites

When audiences came to see our production of Perfect Arrangement by Topher Payne, we asked them to share their favorites from the 1950s. We’ve tallied up all the responses, and here were your favorites! And the winners are…

Favorite Television Show: I Love Lucy

Runner up: Your Show of Shows

Favorite Movie: All About Eve

Runners up: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, On the Waterfront, Silk Stockings, and  Some Like it Hot (a 5-way tie!)

Favorite Musical: My Fair Lady


Runner up: Singin’ in the Rain

Favorite Celebrity: Buddy Holly, James Dean, and Elvis Presley

Buddy Holly, James Dean, Elvis Presley

Runners up: Doris Day, Elizabeth Taylor, and Gregory Peck

Favorite Play: Inherit the Wind

Inherit the Wind

Runner up: The Crucible

Thank you to everyone who shared with us. We loved taking this stroll down memory lane with all of you.