February 2011 Archives

Crowns, Sister Act, and Monkeys!

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Intrepid reader!  The winds of March are upon us (even though we're not quite out of February) and so is an incredible year of playmaking at The Inkwell.  Here's a little summary of what's happening right now.

We're extremely proud to present the latest draft of Henry Murray's Monkey Adored (98% Human), a riotous play about a motley crew of creatures searching for love and purpose.  Henry has been in town since Monday night, working with dramaturg Meghan Long (a regular with The Inkwell), director Michael Dove (Artistic Director of Forum Theatre who is stepping away from the company's Naomi Wallace festival to work with us), and a talented team of actors:  Adrienne Nelson, Steve Lee, Frank Britton, John Delaporta, Maboud Ebrahimzadeh, and Toni Rae Brotons.

I sat in on the first reading and was laughing my fool head off.  Monkeys are always funny, but so are dogs that fall into epileptic fits, existential penguins, a cat that croons like Madeline Kahn in Blazing Saddles, and a Jello mold with an imprint of Elvis' face.  It's all in the play.

The reading of the latest and greatest draft of Monkey Adored (98% Human) is on Saturday, February 26th at 8:00 p.m. at the Woolly Mammoth classroom.

If you can't make the reading, tune back here to Inkblog! to hear more from the playwright, the director, and the dramaturg about the exploration of the play.

Next up for The Inkwell will be a showcase reading featuring excerpts from three plays that chill the spine and leave a lingering sense of dread in your soul.  This Blood and Guts showcase (happening on March 5th at 8:00 p.m. at the Woolly Mammoth classroom) includes a menacing doll, a house that fills with mud, and a photosensitive girl who sees visions of the future.  One of the three playwrights will be in town for the reading... Ms. Katharine Sherman who is the author of Cassandra.

And you still have time to catch the Doorway Arts Ensemble production of Tether in Silver Spring (which runs through March 13th).  This play about interracial twin sisters and their life on and off the tetherball court.  Here are a couple of production photos to whet your appetite for the play.  Gwen Grastorf and Jade Wheeler play the twin sisters Lach and Lam in the production.  The photographs are by C. Stanley Photography.

Tether Production Medium.jpg

Tether Production #2 Medium.jpg
Tether Production #3 Medium.jpg
Looks pretty cool, huh?  It's a terrific play with a totally unique rhythm inspired by the back-and-forth of a tetherball game.

Finally, we are so excited to tell you that another play The Inkwell discovered is going to receive a world premiere production in Washington, DC!  Round House Theatre has announced that it will present Jason Grey Platt's Crown of Shadows: the wake of Odysseus (formally known as Strive/Seek/Find) in April and May of 2012.  We fell in love with Jason and the play at our 2009 Inkubator Festival.  We can't wait to see what the play has evolved into!

The Inkwell has a number of other plays to show you this year... so stay tuned!

Theatrical Expeditions

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All of us at The Inkwell are proud as punch to make a contribution to launching new plays... largely as playmakers. But there's another important group of people that make playmaking possible... our playgoers.

If you're not already tuned in, there's been a rather robust discussion about audience participation in playmaking. It started with a major convening of the new play community  -- entitled "From Scarcity to Abundance" -- hosted by Arena Stage's American Voices New Play Institute.  At the end of January, Arena brought playmakers from across the country to their spiffy new space to talk about all the ways in which the theatre community is supporting new play development and how this work can be taken to a new level.

There's so much that was discussed (with much blogging and tweeting afterward...much of the after-convening conversation can be found at www.2amtheatre.com) but there was one particularly splashy moment. The chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts Rocco Landsman suggested in remarks and in a back-and-forth with theatre folks that there were two many theaters in America, especially given that audiences for theatre is shrinking. (The entire conversation was recorded on video by Arena Stage.)
 
Huh. Well, lot's of people have had something to say about Mr. Landesman hypothesis, including the following (just in case you want a short list of the responses):
 
One of The Inkwell's newest supporters (and our newest board member), Manny Strauss, offers the following thoughts on what an audience member really is... and how we might want to rethink the nomenclature.

We'd love to know what you think. Please join in on our discussion about the role of the audience in new play development. What do we need to do to energize and engage audiences in making plays? What do we need to do to help audience members to become active explorers and collaborators in new play development?

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This is Manny Strauss and I am honored to be blogging for the first time on Inkblog! For five years, Betsy Karmin and I published Washington Theater Review. It was a labor of love and, in some ways, a chronicle of our personal journey with the Washington theater community. While that particular journalistic journey came to an end a few years ago, our theatrical expeditions never ceased and our passion for new play development recently led us to The Inkwell.

Lewis and ClarkSince attending the Inkreading of Monument in November, I have had the opportunity to chat several times with Jessica Burgess (The Inkwell's Artistic Director) about The Inkwell's plans, aspirations, and ambitions and can easily say it appears headed toward becoming (if it isn't already) an essential resource for new play development in our flourishing theater community.

I have been particularly impressed with the strategic thinking being applied to all aspects of the organization's development. Let me give an example here. In our first conversation, Jessi described a nomenclature issue with which she was grappling. As you know if you have been reading this blog, The Inkwell is a resource for playwrights, playmakers, and playgoers. She was concerned about the inadequacy of the term "playgoer" to describe the unique kind of audience experience offered by Inkwell for people who want to be part of the play development process. She preferred "playgoer" to "audience" or "spectator" as the latter both imply more passivity but was still dissatisfied and thought "playgoer" did not go far enough.

I fully understood the root issue here. Playwriting begins as a very solitary activity. That said, the end result of the endeavor is a play - an interaction with a live audience. At some point during the process many playwrights and plays benefit greatly from exposing the work in process to sentient others to experience the piece. Ideally, the audience in such situation will be engaged, thoughtful, interactive, and participatory. Jessi challenged me to come up with a more descriptive term that better characterized this role of an Inkwell audience.

This was not an easy assignment! After the challenge was delivered in an in-person conversation, the e-mail exchange began. My first two suggestions were "collaborators" or "partners in crime." Jessi politely rejected those while encouraging (humoring?) me that I was on the right track. She feared that "partners in crime" would send the wrong message. What was the crime? Playwrights might get nervous and fear that the crime was the "heartless murder of their nascent work" and while that might happen at other institutions that was certainly not the Inkwell way. She shared her vision of Inkwell in general as a "think tank" for new plays and indicated that she elicits much eye rolling from her Inkwell colleagues when using the term "Ink tank" to describe the interaction between the Inkwell team, including the audience, and a playwright.

It was time for more contemplation. "Navigators?" "Rudder?" That doesn't sound right. What self-respecting person is going to want to be called a "rudder?" "Midwives?" While a midwife has a certain applicable nurturing characteristic, the term just doesn't work.

After further mulling, I propose referring to Inkwell audience members as "explorers." The essence of exploring is to go to a place that is by definition unfamiliar. Explorers approach whatever they are doing with a keen sense of adventure and excitement and isn't that what new play development needs? The goal is to develop new voices and new methods of expression; otherwise we would all be happy staying at home watching another reality show on television. Inkwell matches new voices with an audience that seeks adventure and facilitates a lively discussion and interaction between playwright and explorer.

I participated in the exploration of Monument. Playwright Doug Dolcino's piece included a fascinating Greek chorus of postal workers. I must admit that I have never seen that before and found myself thinking about his use of the chorus many times since then.

Are you qualified to be an explorer? Exploring sounds like an advanced course. Are there prerequisites? These questions are rooted in an incorrectly perceived snobbishness embedded in some playgoers. Betsy and I are both "self-taught" explorers. We always have loved going to theater and using a play as a springboard for a post-show conversation. The only materials needed for this type of course are inquisitive, open, and thoughtful minds - characteristics that are in quite large supply in the Washington area.

You might be wondering how Inkreadings are different from play readings presented by any number of other organizations around town. I haven't put my finger on that quite yet. I do know that Inkwell's work is unique and exciting. Alas, further contemplation on this subject may lead to a future blog.

In the meantime, should you choose to join the corps of explorers for future adventures, you might not fall in love with every new piece you get to know but you undoubtedly will enjoy the ride. Plus, you will have the opportunity to interact with many amazingly bright members of our theater community. I know that Betsy and I look forward to participating in many future Inkwell expeditions!
Intrepid readers, all of at The Inkwell team hope that you are intrepid explorers, too, who seek out productions of new plays. (Playgoers and explorer?  We'll be blogging shortly about this interesting way to viewing yourself as an audience member....)

We're happy to point you toward one of those world premieres here in Washington, DC of a play that The Inkwell discovered and helped develop.

The world premiere production of Tether by Julie Taiwo Oni opens on Friday, February 18th, at Studio Theatre Cultural Arts Center at Montgomery College in Silver Spring, Maryland.
 
Please get your tickets to Tether now!

You can also follow the production on Facebook!  Reviews should be coming in by next week.

We're happy to introduce you here to the talented playwright and give you hint about what Tether is about.  Dramaturg Jenn Book Haselwerdt, who helped Julie revise the play to get it to production, spent some time asking Julie about the play and her experience in developing it.

It's all yours, Jenn!

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It’s always a pleasure to work with a playwright who likes to engage in dialogue with her dramaturg, director, and actors, and who is incredibly thoughtful about her work.  Julie Taiwo Oni, playwright of Tether, is just such a playwright.
 
After a developmental period during The Inkwell's 2009 Inkubator Festival, Julie continued to work on the script, and recently joined Doorway Arts Ensemble for further development leading up to a full production of Tether.

Emails and phone calls flew between Julie and Jessica Lefkow (the production’s director), and I joined in the conversations after being hired on as the dramaturg.

Julie was amazingly open with her thoughts and her script as she worked toward a full production, including coming all the way from Los Angeles for a week of script work with the actors. Julie is the daughter of a Nigerian father and German-American mother. She’s also an identical twin. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Creative Writing from Pepperdine University in 2006 with an emphasis in sociology and a Spanish minor, and her MFA in Dramatic Writing from University of Southern California's School of Theatre in 2009.

Since I’m continually curious about the script development process—I am a dramaturg, after all, and no two processes are exactly the same—I sent Julie a few questions to answer about the play. Here are her responses:

Tether photo.jpgJulie was inspired to write Tether “for many reasons. I have always been interested in exploring and creating new kinds of language in my dialogue, and as a twin, I felt that it was an interesting challenge to dissect the way that my sister and I communicate, and bring that onstage. I also saw a newspaper article about a pair of mixed-race twins and was fascinated. My father is Nigerian, and my mother is American with mostly German roots, so I tend to explore multicultural and biracial identity a lot. I became excited about the possibility of connecting twin language with a conversation about racial identity.”

In her words, the play is about… “twin sisters who encounter their first separation as young women while simultaneously recognizing that they are tethered to each other for life.”

Is there one character she relates to more than the other? "I completely relate to both characters. It's funny because most people assume that I am EXACTLY one or the other, and that my sister is EXACTLY one or the other, but this is a work of fiction. I have used my experiences and emotions connected to my sister to create a story that is both completely us and completely NOT us. I connect with Lach's curiosity as well as Lam's racial conflict."

What was the script development process like? "I had a great time working with Jessica Burgess at The Inkwell. We spent a few days doing table work and really delving into the script. The reading was a lot of fun, and I gained a lot from experiencing the play with actors who were mature enough to become teenagers even as adults. When I started working with the Doorway Arts team, I was able to work through the glitches of the script even more, especially when thinking about the specifics of the production. I am grateful to The Inkwell for inviting this story to breathe its first DC breath, and thankful that Doorway picked it up and has carried it for the past few months.

Julie's favorite part of the rehearsal process was… “I was able to consider the script in ways that I hadn't before. I understand my plays better through actors and directors helping to bring the characters to life. The collaboration process is priceless. I felt so welcomed to become involved in this production process. A highlight for me was watching a screening of Sister Act II with the crew--lovely!” [Dramaturg’s note: that was truly a special evening.]

Before the audience sees the play, Julie would like them to know… “that anybody who loves somebody very much can hate that person in an instant and then love them again. We're all tethered at some point in our lives.” Julie would like the audience to walk away from the play considering… “that blaming stereotypes and "news facts" for our experiences is the worst thing we can do for our development and that of others. Nobody fits perfectly inside of any box, no matter how similar they might seem to what's inside.”

The photo above depicts the two actresses in Tether who play mixed-race twins.  Gwen Grastorf is Lach and Jade Wheeler is Lam.  The photo was taken by C. Stanley.


Kisses and Wishes for 2011

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Is it February already?! Is it too late to wish you intrepid readers a Happy New Year?!

What about an early Valentine’s Day present instead?

The Inkwell
has a lot to share with great love, affection, and pride, including...

... the opportunity to build the master class series of your dreams...

....an upcoming production of a play that The Inkwell found and helped develop... and

...dozens of raw, new plays to share with you throughout the year!

So here's what we've got to warm the cockles of your heart... all the way to Spring!
 

THE INKWELL GRANTS YOUR LEARNING WISHES

The entire Inkwell team is donning sparkly fairy godmother wings and pulling out our magic wands (on loan from the props department of Imagination Stage) to fulfill your heart’s secret desires for innovative, affordable classes for playwrights, playmakers, and playgoers!

That’s right. We want to bring America’s most inspiring artists to teach you what you want to learn.

So all you have to do is wish… and fill out our online class survey describing the class of your dreams.

As the resource for new play development, we are committed to giving playwrights, playmakers, and playgoers in our nation’s capital the tools to make bold, compelling new plays. We’ve held some incredible master classes in the past several years with Liz Duffy Adams, Wendy McClellan, Gary Garrison, and Michael Bigelow Dixon.

Now we’d like to know what tools you’d like to add to your toolkit. We also want to know who your current playwright and playmaking heroes are. And we’d love to do whatever we can to make your dream class a possibility.

So wish away for that master class you’ve always wanted to take… and tell us all about it through our class survey.
 

THE PREMIERE PRODUCTION OF TETHER

We are so proud that Julie Taiwo Oni’s beautiful play about twin sisters (one black and one white) coming of age on the tether ball court is receiving its premiere production right here in the Washington, DC area.

Doorway Arts Ensemble is presenting a full production of Tether as part of Montgomery College Silver Spring Arts Alive Theatre Series from February 18th through March 13th.

The production team is chock full of some of The Inkwell’s favorite playmakers. Jessica Lefkow is the director (she previously directed the Inkubator Production of Melissa Blackall’s The F Word) and Jenn Book Haselwerdt is the dramaturg, who has whipped many a play and playwright into shape for The Inkwell (check out her last blog entry on her experience with Doug Dolcino’s Monument). And Gwen Grastorf, a favorite actor of ours, plays Lach, one of the pair of twins. She was last seen in The Inkwell’s Miracles and Migrations showcase at Woolly Mammoth Theatre.

You’ll be hearing more about this play and the process for taking it to production in the coming weeks. We loved working with Julie during The Inkwell's 2009 Inkubator Festival and we’re just so excited that Doorway Arts Ensemble is showing Tether off to the world.
 

THE INKWELL’S UPCOMING READINGS: EIGHT BOLD NEW PLAYS!

The Inkwell is excited to present to you more of the daring, imaginative, and provocative plays we have found through our open calls for submissions.  We've got two reading series at Woolly Mammoth Theatre lined up this Winter and Spring, and we can't wait to see you there.

On February 26th at 8:00 p.m., we'll present an Inkreading of Henry Murray's Monkey Adored, a truly wild adventure following the lives of Sonny Bonobo, Madeline Kahn, James Rat, and Brown Spot, among other animals on the edge. We're so glad to bring Henry back into town to explore his play about animal love, lust, and experimentation.  We first met him in 2009 when we presented an excerpt of Monkey Adored at The Kennedy Center's Page to Stage Festival. (Take a look at what he wrote about the process for Inkblog!)

On March 5th at 8:00 p.m., we'll offer you another sampling of excerpts from three plays we discovered through our 2010 open call for submissions.  This showcase reading features snippets Tiffany Antone's Twigs and Bone, Katherine Sherman's Cassandra, and Steve Mould's The Body.  There's a lot of imaginative material in these plays... an exploding house, a baby made of twigs, a photophobic, adolescent prophet... we think you'll have fun.

On May 28th at 8:00 p.m., we're presenting an Inkreading of Rebecca Bossen's  Blue Straggler, a play about love, loss, and the idiosyncrasies of stars.  Rebecca is a local writer and we're so glad to be working with her again after showcasing an excerpt of her play at the 2010 Page to Stage Festival at The Kennedy Center.  (Rebecca also wrote about her experience with us for Inkblog!)

Then on June 4th at 8:00 p.m., we've got another showcase featuring three more plays we found through the 2010 call for submissions.  They are Kit Idaszak's Fugue (A Particle Accelerator), Jonathan Goldberg's Deus Machina Ex or Eleanor Roosevelt versus the God Machine, and J. Stephen Brantley's Furbelow.  At this showcase reading you'll meet Schroedinger's Cat, the indomitable Eleanor Roosevelt, a vinedresser and a lacemaker, among other unforgettable characters.

There's much more to share with your from our full hearts, including more on our last Inkreading Series plans we are cooking up for the Summer and Fall.  Stay tuned!

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