Interview with Playwright Meron Langsner

Brooke M. Haney (BMH): Tell me a little about your process as a playwright.

Meron Langsner (ML): Most of my plays are built around images or ideas that then have characters build around them.  Sometimes I’ll get the idea for an exchange of dialogue and then build a play around it based on the type of people that would say that sort of thing to each other, occasionally the original exchange is not even in the finished play.

My process can be situational, it’s always best when I have access to readings and can hear what I’ve done.  That said, I feel that I’ve developed a good ear and can tell when a line rings false when I am rereading something for revision.

BMH: What part of the new play process is particularly helpful to you?

ML: Readings (table or staged) and workshops with intelligent actors are an amazing opportunity because they let you make changes almost as soon as you realize that they’re necessary.  Audience response is a tricky thing because you have to train yourself to filter out the worthless responses and only let in what actually helps your process.

BMH: When you go into rehearsal for one of your, what is the best thing and actor can do to help you?

ML: Play the part with the impulse that the script gives you.  And be open to suggestion from the playwright, as well as open about the impulses that you are getting from the script.

I once made a major change in a script at New Rep between the table read and the staged reading because the actress (Zillah Glory) practically exploded (in a good way) about what her character did at the end versus the track she felt she was on.  She gave me this great honest response about the journey she was on as that character and where she was experiencing resistance to the end that I had in an early draft.  I ended up with a far stronger ending because of that.

I’ve also had great feedback from actors about sound and language in a script. Willie Teacher and I once sat down with a monologue of mine and we talked about not just the actions but the sounds of letters and how he was able to use them on stage.  That kind of feedback and collaboration is fantastic when you can get it.

BMH: Tell me a little about your experiences at The Last Frontier Theatre Conference in Alaska.

ML: The Last Frontier Theatre Conference was one of my best experiences as a writer in my adult life.  It’s a ten day event dedicated to the development of new plays.  They have this whole schtick about how they are there to help the playwright and facilitate the improvement of their work and they mean every single word.  It is staged readings all day and polished works at night, followed by a fringe festival.  It is also theatre camp for grownups, plus beer.  I highly recommend it to playwrights as well as to any actor interested in working on new plays.

BMH: Are there any other ways that actors have impacted your work?

ML: A couple times plays of mine have been done because it was an actor who wanted it to happen more so than because of any marketing on my part (that is not to say that I don’t market my own plays, but in the end plays happen because actors and directors want to do them).

MERON LANGSNER was one of three writers in the country selected for the pilot year of the National New Play Network Emerging Writer Residencies, fulfilling his residency at New Repertory Theatre.  His plays have been performed around the country and overseas and developed at New Repertory Theatre, the Lark New Play Development Center, the Last Frontier Theatre Conference (which he later returned to a a featured artist), and the Region I Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival.  Publishers of his plays include Smith & Kraus, Applause, JAC, and Lamia Ink.  His writing has also won awards and grants from the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival, the Center for Jewish Culture and Creativity, the Last Frontier Theatre Conference, and numerous competitions.  Meron is also active as a professional fight director in the Greater Boston Area, having composed violence in venues that include Merrimack Repertory Theatre, New Rep, Lyric Stage Company of Boston, the Boston Center for the Arts, and several academic theaters.  His scholarly work has been published by McFarland, Oxford University Press, and Puppetry International.  Meron is also in print as a poet and journalist.  He holds an MFA in Playwriting from Brandeis University and an MA in Performance Studies from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts.  He is currently a doctoral candidate in Drama at Tufts University, where he has been recognized for Outstanding Contributions to Undergraduate Education.

Interview with Rick Lombardo, Artistic Director of San Jose Repertory Theatre

Rick Lombardo, Artistic Director

Brooke M. Haney (BMH): Why do you have a commitment to new works in your life and at San Jose Repertory?

Rick Lombardo (RL): The organizations, non-profit theatres, have a responsibility to take care of our audience and of the American Theatre. Cultivating new work is part of the job, if we fully embrace it. So, we need to make a commitment to nurturing new voices. If we don’t, there won’t be new voices. Theatre will become passé. Audiences won’t see themselves in the plays. Classics and Modern Classics are great, but people want to see themselves in the lives that they see on stage.

One challenge we are facing is the tight budget in this recession. That is probably having an impact on play development and level of risk that theatres are willing to take on. For example, we are not producing a World Premiere this season, we did last season, and we will next season. This is not an artistic choice, but the environment that we’re in necessitates it.

BMH: I did notice that you are doing the Regional Premiere of Sonia Flew. What is important about Regional Premieres?

RL: Unfortunately, often once the World Premiere is over, no one is doing the 2nd , 3rd , and 4th productions. Especially if a play doesn’t go to Broadway and get that stamp of approval. What about the really good plays that need that second production? So, we have a commitment to those as well.

The Regional Premiere of Sonja Flew

BMH: What is the Actor’s role in developing new works?

RL: In a workshop, we are not always looking for Actors who are perfect in every way for the role – type, spirit, intelligence. Type is least important and intelligence most important. Truthful acting easily and quickly is invaluable. There is never enough time with a new play, so if you can cast the workshop perfectly, if you can hang onto the same Actors from the workshop, it is very valuable. In a workshop, the Playwright needs to hear the play, not see the play. We need Actors who can speak on behalf of the character. “This moment strikes me as wrong…” Being able to talk about that in a smart way.

BMH: How do you approach a World Premiere?

RL: As a Director, it is an enormous responsibility to give the playwright their play, not my vision of their play. They might have a specific type in mind. I’ll take more risks with a classic play or a tried and true modern classic. We’re still saying “This moment doesn’t work for me…” We never move past that until opening night. There can be a lot of people with their ideas. So, the Actor’s job is to try to make every thing true. If a good Actor is struggling with that, then it is important information.

If you are lucky enough to have a Dramaturg, it changes everything. They are the ally of the playwright or at least the advocate of the play. Actor is the advocate for the character. Most often though, of financial necessity, the Director often has to function as Director and Dramaturg.

BMH: How do you set up communication in the rehearsal hall?

RL: I make it really clear that I want the writer and the Actor to talk to me. I’m perfectly happy to be the go between. Most writers don’t know how to direct. Actor’s don’t always understand the sensitivity of the writer. I’m the ambassador. What isn’t working?

BMH: Do you have any last tips or thoughts for Actors when approaching a new work?

RL: I advise new Actors: First observe. There really is an unspoken apprenticeship. See how the more experienced Actors in the room are handling communication.

Rick Lombardo (ARTISTIC DIRECTOR) is in his second season as Artistic Director at San Jose Rep, where he directed The Weir and As You Like It. He was previously the artistic director for thirteen years at the award-winning New Repertory Theatre, the leading midsize resident theatre in the greater-Boston area. Last spring, he was awarded the Norton Prize for Sustained Excellence from the Boston Theatre Critics Association for his work at New Rep. He has also been the recipient of four individual Elliot Norton Awards and is a nine-time winner of the “IRNE” Award for his productions of The Clean House, Sweeney Todd, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, A Streetcar Named Desire, Ragtime, Waiting for Godot and The Weir. His world premiere of According to Tip transferred to Boston’s theatre district last fall. His New Rep production of Bill W. and Dr. Bob enjoyed an extended run Off-Broadway in 2007. In the New England area, Mr. Lombardo also directed at Opera Boston, the Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theatre and the Actors Shakespeare Project, among others. He was previously the Artistic Director of the Players Guild in Ohio, as well as the Founding Artistic Director of the Stillwaters Theatre Company in New York City. He was the Co-Director of the theatre program at Fordham University’s College at Lincoln Center and is a member of the Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers. He lives here in San Jose with his wife, actress Rachel Harker, and daughter.

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