September 2009 Archives

Intrepid readers, I’d like to bring you back to the letter F in this particular blog entry and The F Word that we at The Inkwell are exploring at our Inkubator Festival this year.

If you’ve been following this blog, you’ve been following the evolution of the play The F Word by Melissa Blackall. It’s gone on quite a journey, and here we are... near the point in the road where we let this play walk on its own two feet. The point at which we give it over to actors and the director to make it into a production. Before we cross the last mile with the play, here’s what Melissa has to share with us.

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It’s a huge (we’ve all realized puns are literally unavoidable with this play) subject to tackle... FAT.  I wanted to explore how American’s obsession and fear of fat, effects individuals.  Specifically examining the questions: where does the obsession come from?  Can it be stopped?  Is it the individual's place to stop it or ignore it?  How do individuals develop a positive body image in this culture? Is fat really that bad?  Etc....

Here’s where I started. I had just finished two years with AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps and was touring the country with a play that I wrote promoting National Service. As my time in AmeriCorps was waning, I looked in my writing journal and saw the list of plays I hope to someday write and one stood out to me… “A play about fat.” I thought to my myself. “Hmmm. I might be ready for that one….”  That was five years ago.

I started with research – lots and lots of research. One book in particular was instrumental in the creation of this play – The Obesity Myth: Why America's obsession with weight is hazardous to your health by Paul Campos. The book is very thought provoking and one quote was so striking, I’ve included it in the written script:
The F Word Rehearsal.jpg
“And nothing less than a revolution is needed to overthrow America’s eating-disordered culture, with it’s loathing of the most minimal body diversity, its neurotic oscillation between guilt-ridden bingeing and anorexic self-starvation and its pathologic fear of food, pleasure, and life itself.

I read lots of other books, interviewed lots of people and paid attention to how the media, medical field, my peers, family, and I responded or interacted with the subject.  I instantly realized that while we’re bombarded by images and judgments around fat, nobody really wants to talk about.  I also realized asking someone’s weight is worse than asking their age! I read horrifying statistics, including that a majority of American woman would rather get cancer than be considered fat. And that’s how I got the title. Fat has become the new F word!

After the first reading of The F Word at The Kennedy Center's Page to Stage Festival in 2007, I realized I had a great set of blueprints, but I didn’t have a play quite yet. The draft lacked an emotional anchor – it was full of concepts. Audiences don’t relate to concepts, they relate to characters. Major rewrites followed and have continued over the past two years.

Working with Director Patrick Torres during Inkwell’s Inaugural Festival in 2008 proved to be invaluable. We tackled a section of the script we have called the Symptoms Scenes. In these scenes, the seven bodies experience a metaphorically infection that is caused by the cultural obsession with Fat. Patrick and the actors helped me understand why some of the Symptoms Scenes worked and some didn’t. The scenes that took place in a concrete place (The Grand Canyon, a New Jersey bus terminal) worked much better than those that were in a void space.  That staged reading gave life to the next chapter of the play and the symptom scenes and the characters were far more developed.

The Symptoms Scenes continue to be a main focus of rewrites. Jessi Burgess (an incredible dramaturge) felt it was necessary that all the characters have a symptom scene (we started this process with only five) and that they could serve as the emotional anchor that the script has been missing. She was right! So now, ALL seven characters experience a symptom in a concrete location in the United States and infect another body (like a cultural virus). The domino infection helps navigate us through this vignette play. The Symptoms Scenes have become my favorite probably because they have evolved the most over the Inkubator process, and I love that they take us all over the United States and examine universal feelings in a totally different way.

The play still needs some tweaking, but I’m much closer to the play I want to write. I’m most interested in finding threads to connect the vignette style of the piece. While some of these threads will emerge from rewriting and structure most of them will be created with the help of our wonderful and insightful Director Jessica Lefkow and the extremely talented cast. This cast has been so helpful in sharing their thoughts and bringing their craft to this process. With additional ideas from the sound designer Matt Nielson, set designer Matt Soule, lighting designer Adam Magazine, costume designer Maggie Clifton, and prop designer Suzen Mason. I have no doubt that by the end of this process all of these amazing artists will help this vignette play find a smooth rhythm and a clear dramatic arch.

The Inkwell’s Lee Liebeskind, Lindsay Haynes, Anne McCaw, Amy Kellett, and of course the fabulous Ms. Jessi Burgess have been incredibly supportive throughout my exploration and writing of this play. Without the Inkwell, I wouldn’t have been able to wrap my head or arms around this FAT play!

Above, The Inkwell team of actors, dramaturges, and producers participate in an open rehearsal of The F Word at The Inkwell's inaugural Inkubator Festival.  The photo is by the playwright, Melissa Blackall.
Hello there, loyal readers. WOW. There's so much going on over at H Street Playhouse... it's hard to keep up with the panel discussions, the rewrites, the showcase readings, the conversations between playwrights and actors and directors. So here is my solution... a little alphabet lesson in the land of The Inkwell!

A is for ACTOR, who is so important to the play development process. We heard from acclaimed actors Naomi Jacobsen and John Fescault at our panel discussion — The Actor and the New Play — the dos and don’ts of working with an actor on a new play. Do trust an actor to help you fill in a character, to find the funny in a comic play, to “find the pebbles among the boulders in the river, so we can make it to the other shore” as Naomi put it. DON’T ask actors to read a monologue that they have been stumbling over for weeks, that they have tried to make work three ways to Sunday. Much shouting and stomping follows.

B is for BOLDNESS, which we are finding is a big part of the play development process. Actors are bold in asking pointed questions about character and in helping playwrights make choices about the emotional intention of a scene. Playwrights are bold in putting raw material in the hands of directors and actors… plays that may not have seen the light of day before.

C is for COMMUNITY and CONNECTION, which we found that local playwrights crave. That’s what they said when we brought them together for a moderated discussion on what they need to put forward their professional and artistic goals. They need a community of playwrights, actors, and directors to help them better understand their own writing process, to hold their hands in between drafts, and help writer overcome the fear factor of looking at a blank page.

D is for DRAMATURGES, who have been an essential resource to our playwrights thus far. A team of 13 dramaturges is working with 18 playwrights. Their first job is to listen… listen to what the playwright needs, where they are with the play, what questions that they can no longer answer by sitting hunched over a computer. Their second job is to help the playwright identify goals for a play development process… such as better understanding a girl attracted to a boy who is the son of a warrior, a boy who has a very dark side (see G is for Gray below).

showcase reading 2.jpgE is for EXCERPT, which each of our showcase playwrights present to you, the audience. We’ve asked them to give us 20-minute excerpts from their plays high in emotional conflict, a place in the play were we as an audience are dropped right into the middle of the action. We’re finding that (1) those scenes are fun for you all to watch and (2) these scene are illustrative in helping the playwrights find out more about the world of their plays.

F is for F WORD, or FAT. This is the subject of Melissa Blackall’s biting, funny, and heart wrenching play about our obsession with body image and fat. She’s totally rewritten the play over the past several weeks, mixing metaphor with satire with brutal confession to show the journey of seven different bodies — Toothpick, Voluptuous, Stout, Blimp, Lean, Belly, and Huge.

G is for GRAY, as in the middle name of the fabulous Jason Gray Platt, who joined us for a week to explore his play strike/seek/find. Director Chris Gallus and actors Lindsay Haynes, Nigel Reed, Valerie Leonard, and Evan Casey put their heart, soul, and heads into this dark, bloody take on The Odyssey. In this version, Odysseus is no where to be found in Athens.  Telemachus is a sullen teenager, unsure of himself as he sits in the shadow of his missing father.  The team helped Jason explore some key character arcs, particularly that of Calliope, the young girl who is attracted to Telemachus for his fame, his vulnerability, for all that he can promise and all that he can take away. They also dug into the motivations of Telemachus’ mother, Penelope, who is caught between her abiding loyalty and love for Odysseus and the political machinations of her many suitors. The actors put on a hell of a performance. We were all stunned by their commitment to this emotionally fraught piece. We hope that Jason went home to New York with a new enthusiasm for the piece.

H is for HIP HOP, which we explored through the world created by Q Terah Jackson in his play 20Twenty, one of four plays we showed off on Sunday, September 27th as part of a Local Writers Showcase and Convening. The Inkwell’s own Lee Liebeskind guided a talented group of actors through a reading of a 20-minute excerpt of the play. They covered a lot o territory in 20 minutes — from the rage that inspired the first hip hop songs to the troubling sexual imagery of hip hop today to the disconnect between generations that grew up with different versions of the hip hop mythos. We can’t wait to see the next draft, Terah!

And I is, of course, for INKUBATOR, the name of this smorgasbord of new play development, this festival that we are in the midst of at the playhouse.  Please come on down for our next series of events, which include a master class on new play dramaturgy, a showcase of plays inspired by literature and history, two open rehearsals of The F Word, and a staged reading of Susan Soon He Stanton's Cygnus.

Above, actors Eric Humphries, Jace Parker, Theo Hadjamichael, Toby Mulford, Alia Faith Williams, Lynn Horton, and Tara Garwood perform an excerpt from Of Dice and Men by Cameron McNary as part of the Local Writers' Showcase event held last Sunday, September 27th.  The photo is by the multi-talented Melissa Blackall.

A Taste at Page to Stage

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We've launched, loyal readers!  We're off!  We're out of the starting gate... you pick your metaphor.

In plainer speak, we started our second Inkubator Festival at Page to Stage last week... and it was such a treat to hang out in The Kennedy Center's North Atrium with directors, actors, dramaturges, and playwrights to catch up, talk shop, and get a taste of five new plays!

There's so much to share about our Page to Stage activities, but here's a great summary from DC Theatre Scene... the inteprid Rosalind Lacy joined us for the entire day of events.

I thought I'd also share with you my notes from our showcase event, where we presented 20-minute excerpts from four new plays, each with a political bent.  As the supervising dramaturge, I am serving as a sommelier of sorts, helping playgoers taste all the rich, surprising flavors of the plays we have chosen to explore.  Let me know if that metaphor works for you.

Without further ado, let me introduce you to the plays we showcased last week:

Island of Outcasts by Fengar Gael

What you are about to see is the first 20 minutes of a wildly imaginative take on the next phase of human existence.  The play is set on the imaginary island of Dolphina, amidst the raging storms brought on by climate change.  On Dolphina, two idealist marine biologists hatch their own solution to perpetuate a species on the verge of extinction... that species is, of course, human beings.

Our readers were fascinated by the magical way that Fengar approaches pressing issues of the day... of climate change, of how we steward the planet and ourselves, and of the ethics of scientific experimentation.

 

Here's a comment on the play from one of our readers:

"Nearly everything about the play is memorable.  It suggests visual, musical, and dramatic possibilities that are stunning to consider -- from raging storms on a tropical island to shimmering swimmers and ethereal songs of fish people."

Empire of the Trees by Adam Kraar

We now go back in time to 1963, the moment before Kennedy is assassinated, as our picture of perfect America dies.  An expatriot, a Jewish American, is living in New Delhi, coming to terms with the loss of her child, her loneliness, and a crisis of identity that often comes when a person is uprooted and taken from everything they know.

Again, we are seeing the very beginning of the play, as well as a journey of the imagination that the heroine, Deborah, finds herself in.

This is also a story explored through magic, through the mythology of India, and through a dangerous, compelling relationship between our heroine and a poor Indian bookseller.

Our readers loves the mixture of political events, of mythology and literature, and the journey of troubled people in a landscape that they don't really understand.

i put the fear of mexico in 'em by Matthew Paul Olmos

This is a tense thriller of a play, and it kept us all on the edge as we read it.

It's also a dissection of difference, of connection, of the borders and barriers we use to distance ourselves, and those dangerous moments when we cross over those borders and barriers.

This is the very beginning of the play when two hapless tourists, Adrey and Jonah, have wandered down an alley in Tijuana to find Efren and Juana.  While it first appears that we are the edge of a nasty confrontation, we soon learn that they have more in common that it seems, more in common that either couple is comfortable with.

Matthew is getting a lot of attention with this play.  He recently received a workshop at the Sundance Institute, and the play will receive a reading in October at Gala Hispanic here in DC.  We're delighted to showcase it and these characters, all of whom are dangerous and terribly delicate, brutal and passionate and terrified of the future.

Monkey Adored by Henry Murray

We end this showcase in another strange and surprising place, in the world of animals.  Literally.

This is a play from the perspective of animals, those that fight and love and lose as we do, yet always fighting the pernicious ways of man, who are in search of the next lab experiment.

This excerpt drops us into the middle of the play, when Sonny Bonobo, a monkey, is about to engage in an act of terrorism.  His partner of the moment, Brown Spot the dog, is dead set against Sonny's activism, struggling to come to terms with his deep sense of loyalty in a world of people and animals who are not very loyal to him.  We also catch a glimpse of Sonny's compatriot, James the Rat, and Sonny's former lover, Madeleine the Cat.

I was the one who first this play, and it made me laugh and laugh and laugh.  But there's something else beyond a set-up of animals wrestling with a human condition.  The language is stunning, moving, surprising.  The philosophical discussion is engaging.  The characters are complex, rich, hilarious.  And you'll see here in this excerpt a theatricality that is truly surprising, funny, and thought provoking.

We'll be creating a library of these excerpts and of the suite of plays we are exploring through our Inkubator Festival, which picks up speed again on September 24th, where we host an open rehearsal for Strike Seek Find, a dark, brutal, and truly modern take on The Odyssey from the perspective of Telemachus, Odysseus's son.

Stay tuned!



Kickin' it off at Page to Stage

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Fearless reader!  I can’t wait to finally reveal to you the details of The Inkwell’s next big adventure… 

 

THE SECOND INKUBATOR FESTIVAL!

 

So let me catch you up a bit.  The Inkwell team has been reading and reading and reading and reading… scripts that is.  We sent out a call for submissions in March and received 428 PLAYS!  Over the past several months, we read every single one of them and chose 24 wild and wonderful plays to explore as part of our Inkubator Festival, which launches this coming Monday (Labor Day) and ends October 17th.

 

As a writer myself, I want to take a moment to acknowledge the imagination and courage of all the writers that submitted plays.  Please keep writing and keep in touch with us!

 

So now, we are about to launch the latest and greatest Inkubator Festival, which will feature 24 plays and playwrights, a forum to discuss the needs for local writers, two fascinating panels exploring the role of the actor in new play development and the challenges that women writers face in the DC area.  We’ll also host a class on the mysterious art of dramaturgy… and end the festival with an Inkubator production of The F Word by Melissa Blackall.

 

Gosh, there’s so much to tell you about.  But let’s start with our kick-off event.

 

Leave that Labor Day barbecue early and join us at The Kennedy Center for a day of new plays and talk of new plays.  We are taking over that venerable institution’s North Atrium as part of the annual Page to Stage Festival.  Here are all the details you should need...

 

THE INKWELL'S KICK OFF

of the SECOND INKUBATOR FESTIVAL

Monday, September 7th

at The Kennedy Center's North Atrium

 

Come join us for any and all of the following events:

 

A SHOWCASE OF PLAYS WITH A POLITICAL BENT at 2:00 p.m.


 The Inkwell presents excerpts from a suite of thought-provoking plays that explore topics of the day... from global warming to terrorism, from the ethics of scientific experimentation to the explosive confrontations between people of different classes and culture.


Here’s what you’ll be seeing and hearing:

 

Island of Outcasts by Fangar Gael

Directed by Jessica Burgess

featuring Danielle Drakes, Fatima Quander, Felipe Cabezas, Gregory Burgess, Lindsay Haynes, and Michael Grew


On the mythical island of Dolphina in the middle of the Caribbean — amidst the storms brought on by a warming planet — two marine biologists hatch a plan to save humanity.


Empire of the Trees by Adam Kraar

Directed by Chris Neibling

featuring Cindy Martin, Frank Mancino, Jamie Jager, and Valerie Fenton


In 1963 — the last year of America's Camelot — a young wife reaches out to a poor bookseller and thief in search of her own perfect kingdom among the ancient trees of New Dehli.


i put the fear of mexico in 'em by Matthew Paul Olmos

directed by Jessica Burgess

featuring Adam Segallar, Ashley DeMain, Betsy Rosen, Jon Reynolds, and Rachel Beauregard


A chance encounter in the back alleys of Tijuana bring three couples together across borders of wealth, opportunity, and love... while setting in motion a confrontation that will tear their worlds apart.


Monkey Adored by Henry Murray

directed by Chris Niebling

featuring Cindy Martin, Valerie Fenton, Frank Mancino, Jamie Jager, and Steve Beall


It's a dangerous world for animals.  That’s what Sonny the monkey, Brown Spot the dog, Madeleine the cat, and other species find time and time again as they search for love and purpose in the underdog fight against the pernicious, bewildering ways of man.

 

A PANEL DISCUSSION: THE ACTOR AND THE NEW PLAY at 5:00 p.m.


How do you built the most fruitful partnership you can between actors and playwrights?

 

The Inkwell brings together actors, playwrights, and dramaturgs to investigate the inspirations and the impediments that actors encounter while working on a new play — and that playwrights encounter working with actors — in hopes of defining some best practices for the actor/playwright collaboration.

 

Our impressive panel of experts include:  awarding-winning actors Naomi Jacobsen and John Lescault, dramaturg and Artistic Director of Maryland's Active Cultures Mary Resing, playwright and dramaturg Jacqueline E. Lawton, and Jason Loewith, the Executive Director of the National New Play Network.

 

A STAGED READING OF MELISSA BLACKALL'S THE F WORD at 7:30 p.m.


Directed by Jessica Lefkow

featuring Alice Gibson, Jason B. McIntosh, Jessica Lynn Rodriguez, Prairie Griffith, Thierry Barston, and Patrick Magill


We’re so proud to present the latest iteration of Melissa’s biting play about America's obsession with the dirtiest word in the English language… FAT.  She’s been working with us for 18 months now, and we think you’ll be excited to join the journey of her characters Belly, Toothpick, Stout, Voluptuous, Lean, Huge, and Blimp as they search for their perfect size and shape — physically, psychically, and spiritually.  (You can learn more about the development process for this play in previous Inkblog entries, like this one.)

 

AND MARK YOUR CALENDARS FOR THE INKUBATOR PRODUCTION OF THE F WORD, OCTOBER 13th THROUGH OCTOBER 17th, at H Street Playhouse.

 

More to come about the festival, readers… and soon!

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