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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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.

 

A Chat with Eljon Wardally, Fordham/Primary Stages MFA, ’14

eljonwardally_headshotEljon Wardally 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.

No matter which part of the world you’re in, the multifaceted concept of gender politics is ever constant and ever present. For many women in the Caribbean, it is more difficult to break free from the stereotypes of wife, mother, and “just a girl,” especially on a small island where society is dominated by men. I rarely see these stories told on stage. It’s time to bring it to the forefront.

Through Blooming In Dry Season, my aim is to demonstrate that women stuck in traditional roles in the Caribbean can break free and create their own path, no matter the age. How do gender politics affect a nuclear family in the Caribbean – especially when a suppressed member of the family decides enough is enough? In the case of Blooming In Dry Season, that person is Rose, a mother and devoted wife who on the surface, represents the traditional role of a woman. Just as talented as her husband, Fitz, she pushes her dreams and goals down so he can be happy but when she sees her daughter going down the same path she did, she decides to make a choice. Rose’s struggle to break free echoes stories of so many women who push themselves to the side to appease their significant others.

How did you come to be a playwright?

I had been writing short plays since I was in undergrad but never pursued it professionally. Then, in 2010, I suffered a stroke. The threat of having my ability to write taken away from me pushed me to pursue my passion. When I recovered, I took my first Playwriting class at Primary Stages ESPA under the direction of Rogelio Martinez, applied to Fordham’s MFA Playwriting program, and never looked back.

Tell us about a pivotal theater experience from your life.

The National Asian American Theatre Company’s Awake and Sing by Clifford Odets, directed by Stephen Brown-Fried, with an all-Asian cast blew me away. We need more actors of color on stage. Having an Asian cast portray a Jewish family is even more proof that actors can do anything and should be given the same opportunities as everyone else, regardless of race. That production was not only a stunning portrayal of Odets’s work but, in my eyes, was also a call to action.

Which plays, playwrights or theater artists do you admire?

I am inspired by the fearlessness in An Octoroon by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins. I greatly admire August Wilson. To this day, nothing I have read has given me the feeling I got when I read the ending of Seven Guitars. The endings to his plays always surprise me. He is someone I look to when trying to plant twists and turns in my own work.

Seen or read anything good lately?

I recently purchased The Black Book by Middleton A. Harris, Morris Levitt, Roger Furman, and Ernest Smith. It is a beautiful book of black history that is probably going to take me a good three months to read through! I also recently saw the film, Fences. I love that August Wilson’s work can now live on in a different way. Having this film makes his work more accessible to more people. Since I have adapted some of my plays into screenplays, I appreciated the care that was taken to preserve his words.

What else are you working on right now?

The second season of my award-winning digital series, Docket 32357will premiere in early 2017.

I am a part of a black writer’s group at Juilliard called HomeBase. I wrote a 15-minute piece called ImPrisoned, which premiered with them on January 8. Set in solitary, a man who is about to hang himself is visited by the spirits of Ota Benga and Saartjie Baartman. Jasmine Batchelor directs.

Big Black Balloon, an O’Neill National Theater Conference finalist, will be making its podcast debut on The Parsnip Ship on February 12. It will be directed by Kel Haney.

Any New Year’s resolutions for 2017?

One of the resolutions that I have upheld for the past few years is to travel somewhere new every year. I’m looking forward to seeing where that will be in 2017!

 

Catch a reading of Blooming in Dry Season by Eljon Wardally on Thursday, January 12 at 6PM. The reading is free and open to the public. RSVP to readings@primarystages.org.

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.