A Chat with Jenny Rachel Weiner, Fordham/Primary Stages MFA, ’14

weinerJenny Rachel Weiner is a 2014 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.

My play is a father/daughter road trip story set to classic rock. It’s my way of putting two people who haven’t ever really communicated, in the absence of the one person who held them together, in a confined space that requires them to face each other. It’s my way of exploring my own relationship with my father, who I am only now starting to really get to know. It’s fascinating to grow up and begin to see your parent as a human being, not as just a Dad. part & parcel is a play about two people, who seemingly know each other better than anyone in the world, discovering each other for the first time.

How did you come to be a playwright?

I became at playwright during my undergrad days at Boston University. I began there as an actor, and as an eighteen year old, was steadfast and determined to remain one. During my sophomore year in a class called Theatre Ensemble, led by the inimitable Lydia R. Diamond, I wrote and performed a monologue from the perspective of a window that had shattered my childhood home, a product of Hurricane Irene that, in 2005, wreaked havoc on South Florida. After that class, Lydia pulled me aside. She looked me straight in the eye, and she said, “I don’t know if you know this, Jenny, but you’re a writer. You may not be able to see it yet, you may not be able to acknowledge it now, but I want you to know that you are a writer.” Lydia saw something in me that day, and although it did take me a couple of years to allow that path to unfold, I think that was the day that the beast was unleashed.

Tell us about a pivotal theater experience from your life.

In 2012, I was lucky enough to be a part of the International Crisis Arts Festival in Tuscany, Italy, where I brought a documentary theatre piece about female experiences of survival and hope. While I was there, I met a group of theatre artists from Greece who didn’t speak a word of English, but who I connected to immediately. One evening it was their turn to share their work. They brought us all up to the roof of one of the buildings; it was a quiet and windy night, the light from the moon was incredibly bright, and there was a feeling of electricity (maybe it was the building’s voltage, who knows, but it was present!) A violinist played, and we sat down while we watched three actors interacting onstage with water. They began the play with a man standing in the center, flanked by the woman and second man, in an exercise where the only actions were a kiss or a slap. It was clear that the actor in the center didn’t know which was coming, and as he spoke the text in Greek, the two actors on his side would respond with either action. It was hilarious, heartbreaking, and so human. I didn’t understand a word of the piece, but for an hour and a half I cried my eyes out, laughed hysterically, and felt elevated by their storytelling.  That was a moment of theatre I will never forget.

Which plays, playwrights or theater artists do you admire?

My favorite playwrights range from Wendy Wasserstein to Sheila Callaghan, from Tennessee Williams to Tony Kushner, from Sarah Ruhl to Chuck Mee. I am drawn to writers who ask questions of us we never tire of asking, who make me belly laugh with their perceptive portraits of families, communities, isolation, matters of the heart. I am drawn to theatricality and moments of poetry amidst very real and very grounded circumstances, because I think life is full of those and if we blink we might miss them

Seen or read anything good lately?

I saw Brandon Jacobs-Jenkins’ play Appropriate at Juilliard a few weeks ago and it TOTALLY blew my mind. I haven’t stopped thinking about it.

What else are you working on right now?

Other than continuing to work on Part & Parcel which is in a very early stage of development, I’ve just begun working on my next play which explores epigenetics and the way experience is carried through DNA. I am also working on a commission for Roundabout Theatre, where I have just begun my post as an Associate Artist.

Any New Year’s resolutions for 2017?

I’d like to be less judgmental and critical of myself, and be accepting of the process without being anxious for the final result. This resolution works well in preparing for the reading of this new play!

Catch a reading of Part & Parcel: A Father/Daughter Road Trip Play Set to Classic Rock by Jenny Rachel Weiner on Thursday, January 12 at 2PM. The reading is free and open to the public. RSVP to readings@primarystages.org.

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.

A Chat with Alessando King, Fordham/Primary Stages MFA, ’16

Alessandro King

Alessandro King is a 2016 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.

When I was a kid, I had a VHS tape called “Bugs Bunny Superstar” that featured Looney Tunes cartoons mixed in with a documentary about Warner Brothers animation. The documentary contained thirty seconds of silent black and white footage of the very young animators cavorting around their ramshackle studio, known as “Termite Terrace.” These men danced around my head for decades until my career as a sketch and improv comedian dropped me in a similar environment, triggering my fingers to finally write Cartoon Blue and bring that ancient footage to life.

Tell us about a pivotal theater experience from your life.

There are a lot of good ones, but the one most pertinent to this reading is from my first high school production. I was playing the zany German director in Kaufman and Hart’s Once in a Lifetime, and Kitty Carlisle Hart was in the audience. Afterwards I introduced myself and she said, “Oh, you were heavenly!” and that was basically it for me.

How did you come to be a playwright?

I was definitely an enthused character actor in high school, which means you play a lot of people much older than your actual age. I knew that didn’t really bode well in the professional world, so I think on some level I was always thinking about switching tracks. And then I got really heavily into Lanford Wilson the summer before college and woke up one morning knowing I was a playwright. It seemed like the logical career for someone who wants to tell stories about people who look different from him.

Which plays, playwrights or theater artists do you admire?

I’ll use this space to talk about Terence Rattigan. When his plays get done they’re usually accompanied by press pieces about how he’s a structure-obsessed chronicler of the British Upper Middle Class who was typical of his time. Don’t buy it. Rattigan was sui generis, one of the few playwrights with true affection for his characters, who treated them as ends in and of themselves and not means toward a contrived political or thematic point. In terms of emotional sophistication, manipulation of ensembles, and individuation of characters’ voices, he is one of the very few true heirs to Chekhov.

Seen or read anything good lately?

I’ve never seen a musical like The Band’s Visit at the Atlantic. So elegiac and delicate, with every song truly earned by the interactions of the characters.

What else are you working on right now?

I have written a monologue about the recent election. You’ll have to stay tuned to the Primary Stages blog for more details.

Any New Year’s resolutions for 2017?

I have sign over my desk that says “ONLY USE FACEBOOK FOR EVENTS.” I’m going to have it dipped in bronze.

Catch a reading of Cartoon Blue by Alessandro King on Monday, January 9 at 6PM. The reading is free and open to the public. RSVP to readings@primarystages.org.

A Chat with Julian Giat, Fordham/Primary Stages MFA, ’16

Version 3Julian Giat is a 2016 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.

Ventura is about the allure of pulling the covers over one’s head and returning to childhood, and why it’s worth resisting. In certain ways, I think many of us never stop learning how to be grown up, and when today’s world is at its most incongruous, the desire to return home, to a simpler time, rears its head. I tried to imagine a character who (terrified of the pressures of modern adult life and insistent of his own ineptitude) is forced to start again in his childhood home. What I landed on was James, who moves back in with his mother in west LA when suddenly and mysteriously stricken blind. When the claustrophobia of being taken care of again turns to an addictive coziness, when his adult relationships threaten to dissolve, and when an old childhood confidant returns in crisis, James must finally spring into action and find his way back to the world of the living.

How did you come to be a playwright?

My father is a screenwriter, who succeeded in raising me in the religion of plot structure and made me understand why the movies I loved worked. One of the first scripts I ever read as a kid was his copy of an early draft of Back to the Future. Though I imagined I could support myself as a sort of script doctor while studying as an actor, in my junior year of college I finally came back around to writing my own work, studying with Roy Kendall in London for a semester at the Institute of Contemporary Arts/Writer’s Guild of Great Britain. As my father had told me of his experience, sometimes all it takes is one great teacher and one great writer (for me that writer was Pinter), and that semester in London years ago altered my course exclusively towards writing. Much of the work I’ve seen since, including that of my peers, has utterly cemented that pursuit.

Tell us about a pivotal theater experience from your life. 

I have to take an obvious route here and cite David Cromer’s production of Our Town at Barrow Street Theatre. I think it’s the only thing I’ve paid to see three times.  It was just one of those experiences that lived up to every speck of the hype, and it left me absolutely wrecked each time. Though there were plays that were influential ensemble efforts for me as a young performer, and plays that introduced me to theatre at a much earlier and more formative age, nothing has stuck with me like that production. I hope Wilder had an inkling of how shockingly modern his words would continue to feel. It inspired me to not get bogged down in postmodern distancing when an emotion or point needs to get across. What his characters feel is raw, and when they speak there’s no question of what they’re going through (even in an experimental play). Because of Cromer’s leaning into the artifice of putting on a show, and trusting the audience to dissolve that artifice, I felt like I heard those words for the first time, and adopted the cheesy habit of keeping a copy in my bag when writing in case of crisis.

Which plays, playwrights or theater artists do you admire?

There are plays and writers I can’t help but come back to habitually. Some, like Night, Mother, are classics. Slowgirl, by Greg Pierce, which was at LCT3 a few years ago, captured a quiet discomfort I’d love to tap into and still think about. I greatly admire Annie Baker, and have been studying John recently like a “found document.” Most of all, though, the entire body of work by Harold Pinter continually fascinates me. What many of my friends feel about their first experience with Shakespeare, I feel about mine with Pinter. I never knew language could bite like that. His first published play, The Room, is one of my all-time favorites, but combing through his one-acts, ten-minute plays, and lesser known full-lengths will always yield some brilliant, sad, hilarious, and incredibly concise turn of phrase that almost makes me wish he had held a Twitter account.

Seen or read anything good lately?

I loved Ripcord. I was also a big fan of Tom & Eliza, by Celine Song, at Jack, and Kingdom Come at Roundabout!

What else are you working on right now?

A bizarre sort of play in which the theatre is used as a lecture hall, and one in which the characters are stuck in an Old Navy. But mostly, I’m working on how to write about where we are as a country at the moment.

Any New Year’s resolutions for 2017?

To learn about, and by extension write about, a greater variety of people.

 

Catch a reading of Ventura by Julian Giat on Tuesday, January 10 at 2PM. The reading is free and open to the public. RSVP to readings@primarystages.org.Version 3

#HortonFoote100 Highlights

The sun shined undeniably bright during the run of Horton Foote’s The Roads to Home , but now we have reached the end of this beautiful journey. As a part of our celebration of Horton Foote’s centennial, we posted 100 days worth of Horton Foote memories from his dearest friends and family. To wrap up our final #HortonFoote100 post, we have picked 10 of our favorite Horton Foote memories:

10. What we love about this artwork of Horton Foote by Ken Fallin is how he included a drawing of an old southern house, an element that is always a part of Horton Foote’s plays.

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9. A photo of Horton Foote and Harper Lee taken on Horton’s 90th We just love to see these two literary geniuses laughing together at the antics of the inimitable Dame Edna.

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8. A family affair! This picture of Horton Foote and his daughters is one of our favorites because it shows the support Horton Foote had on his daughter Daisy’s theatrical career by directing her play When They Speak of Rita at Primary Stages.

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7. Opening night grandeurs! Just a little celebration for all the cast, crew, and creative team’s hard work.

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6. Short, simple, and truthful advise from the ever-wise Horton Foote.

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5. This shows where it all started for the Academy Award-winning Horton Foote film, Tender Mercies.

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4. Horton Foote always writes the best comeback lines for his characters. This passage from The Day Emily Married is just one of them.

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3. Another one of Horton Foote’s wise words that we love. His plays tell the most truthful stories about living in the south.

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2. This is the free student matinee edition! These students were actively asking questions and sharing their ideas with the cast.

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1. Last but not least, this photo of Cicely Tyson at our 2016 Gala. Cicely Tyson spoke beautifully and eloquently about her experience working on Horton Foote’s A Trip to Bountiful.

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We would like to once again thank all cast, crew, and of course, the audience for making our show the best it can be. In this bittersweet moment, we’d like to remind all of you that even though the production has ended, Horton Foote’s impact in all lives will live on.

A Taste of The Roads to Home

Please enjoy these highlights reels from The Roads to Home! 

A Nightingale

 The Dearest of Friends

 Spring Dance

The Primary Stages production of The Roads to Home runs through November 27, 2016 at the Cherry Lane Theatre. Visit the Primary Stages website for tickets and more info.

The Roads to Home Production Photos

Enjoy looking through the production photos for Horton Foote’s The Roads to Home, featuring Devon Abner, Dan Bittner, Rebecca Brooksher, Harriet Harris, Hallie Foote, and Matt Sullivan.  In these photos, you can see Michael Wilson’s staging, David C. Woolard’s costumes,  and Jeff Cowie’s scenic design, which is illuminated by David Lander’s lighting design.

All photographs by James Leynse

The Primary Stages production of The Roads to Home runs September 14- November 27, 2016 at the Cherry Lane Theatre. Visit the Primary Stages website for tickets and more info.