Interview with Reina Hardy

I met Reina at Orlando Shakespeare Theater’s 2010 PlayFest where she was doing a reading of her play Glassheart.

Playwright Reina Hardy

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

Reina Hardy (RH): Daydreams, cardio, private dance parties, insane typing sprints, sleep, slightly saner typing sprints, elaborate procedures to get rid of internet, readings, rewrites, despair, alcohol, solutions, rewrites, reading, alcohol, rewrites, despair.  Shake, repeat.

BH: For you as a Playwright, what is the most valuable part of the new works process? Reading, Workshop, or World Premiere? Why?

RH: Well, I can’t speak to Workshop, as I haven’t really had one.  I think that full productions are more valuable than Readings (assuming the play is ready for them) because you can live inside the play during the rehearsal period, and you can see it on its feet, as the beast it is.  You get more ideas that way.

BH: When you go into rehearsal for one of your shows in one of these capacities, what is the best thing and actor can do to help you?

RH: For readings: Keep the pace up and trust the text.  Even if the text isn’t working yet.  If you trust it instead of fixing it, I can see what’s wrong. For full productions: amaze me.  Do all the good stuff, and make all the discovery that you’d make with a classic play.

BH: How much does one of your plays tend to change from before a Reading to the World Premiere?

RH: I’ve only had one World Premiere, and that had already gone through two college level productions.  I made small but significant changes.  I had one other play that had a high school production (best workshop EVER).  That play changed significantly, and changed even more after the production.  I wasn’t allowed to switch up the script on the high schoolers as much as I wanted.

Glassheart at PlayFest

BH: What do you see as the actor’s role in developing new plays?

RH: Inspirations and collaborators. I think writers work best as part of an ensemble.  Actors should seek out new writers, and try to help them, for selfish reasons.  If a writer you admire expresses admiration for your work as an actor, volunteer your services for readings.  Actors who’ve been involved with my plays during the writing process have often hugely shaped the plays themselves, in a way that I think is magical.


Interview with Debbie Lamedman

Playwright Debbie Lamedman

I met Debbie working on the World Premiere of her play Triangle Logic in December of 2009 directed by Earl Weaver. I was lucky to have the opportunity to play Claire. Debbie came to Orlando for the last week or so of the rehearsal process and stayed through the run of the show for talk-back discussions.

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

Debbie Lamedman (DL): My process is a little hard to define.  It changes from one project to the next.  For example, “Triangle Logic” began as a short story told from a female character’s point of view. The short story was a snapshot moment in the lives of two friends.  I liked the characters and felt there was much more story to be told, so I expanded it into a full-length play.

For other pieces, I have started with an idea of theme or character.  Sometimes I do an outline to determine where the arc is, but sometimes, I simply sit down and start writing dialogue and let the characters decide where they want to go.  That can be the most fun!

BMH: For you, as a Playwright, what is the most valuable part of the new works process? Reading, Workshop, or World Premiere? Why?

Trent Fucci and Brooke M. Haney in the World Premiere of "Triangle Logic"

DL: I think all 3 aspects are equally valuable.  Every layer of the process will hopefully enrich the work.  Readings are terrific, because it’s usually the first time I hear the work outside of my own head.  I hear the rhythm of the piece and what is working and what isn’t.  Workshops are amazing, because now it becomes collaborative between the playwright, director and actor.  I love this part!  I love seeing what an actor and director can bring to the work and often, I have seen them discover things in rehearsal that would be impossible for me to come up with during the writing process.  Workshops are probably my favorite thing of all.  Finally, World Premieres?  Well, in addition to being incredibly nerve-racking, it’s what I imagine it would be like sending your child off to school for the very first time.  Nervous, but proud to send the work out into the world.

BMH: When you go into rehearsal for one of your shows in one of these capacities, what is the best thing an actor can do to help you?

Brooke M. Haney and Mason Criswell in the World Premiere of "Triangle Logic"

DL: What I’m about to say may sound like a contradiction, but I think it’s best if the actor can both embody the character and also be open and flexible to change.  If the actor is able to embody the character, discoveries are bound to be made both for the actor and for me as the playwright.  But also, if something isn’t working, or if it seems I’ve written the character too flat or two-dimensional, I need the actor to be flexible enough to make the change, and be willing to go deeper and not be afraid of exploring new ideas.

BMH: How much does one of your plays tend to change from before a reading to the world premiere?

DL: Again, it depends on the project.  My most recent piece “Ignorance is Bliss” changed significantly from first reading to World Premiere (which will take place on April 21, 2010.)  The ending for “Triangle Logic” changed several times prior to its World Premiere, and as you remember in our rehearsal process, you had originally thought the play had one ending until I got there and told you it was changed.  I would like to think that if the cast and the director of TL vehemently opposed the newer ending, I certainly would have considered changing it back.  I find writing endings to be the most challenging…I want to serve the play and the characters as best I can.  I’m not necessarily looking to wrap things up in a tidy little way unless that is actually the best way to end things.  I learned early on as a writer, that you cannot be so in love with your own words, that you are reluctant to let anything go.  Change is good!  Good writing comes from good rewriting, but that is also the most challenging thing about writing…the rewriting.

Brooke M. Haney and Trent Fucci in the World Premiere of "Triangle Logic"

BMH: What do you see as the actor’s role in developing new plays?

DL: I believe it all comes down to trust.  I think it’s imperative for the actor to trust the playwright and to trust the play as it is written.  I’m a natural collaborator, and I am open to hearing the actor’s thoughts regarding the character, and I am very open to changing something if I believe it is not working.  As I stated previously, there is nothing like watching an actor take on a role and make discoveries about that character in the rehearsal process.  So I think the actor’s role in developing new work is to be an open, communicative and collaborative part of the creative team, all the while respecting the boundaries of the playwright and her work.

Debbie Lamedman is a playwright, author and editor of eight acting books published by Smith & Kraus, Inc. Debbie’s produced plays include phat girls, Triangle Logic, Mind Control, Eating in the Dark, and Just Add Love. phat girls is featured in the Smith & Kraus anthology, New Playwrights: The Best Plays of 2003.

Debbie is the co-bookwriter for the  musical How the Nurse Feels, which has had staged readings at both the ASCAP/Disney Workshop in Los Angeles, and New World Stages in New York City. Debbie’s newest work, Ignorance is Bliss: a Global Warning will have its world premiere in April 2010.

Additionally, Debbie writes for the blog Confessions of a Cluttered Mind. She received her MFA from Brandeis University and is a proud member of The Dramatist Guild.

Interview with Steve Yockey

I met Steve doing the workshop production of Heavier Than at Orlando Shakespeare Theater’s 2010 Playfest.

Playwright Steve Yockey

Playwright Steve Yockey

Brooke M. Haney (BMH): What do you like to see in an actor in a reading, workshop or World Premiere?

Steven Christpher Yockey (SCY): In any one of those environments, I’d want and actor to be willing to try things and to be willing to play. I’d also want them to be open to different interpretations of the text. But mostly, I think it is being willing to try different choices before locking anything down.

BMH: Does the role of the actor change at all from reading to workshop?

SCY: In readings and short workshops, actors need to be more open to accepting guidance and feedback because of time constraints. When you don’t have staging, there are things that as a Playwright you just need to have happen.

In a sustained workshop, that isn’t the case for me. Instead, the goal for me is creating the strongest possible version of the play. Then, I want actors who are more vocal in saying things like, “well, I’m not sure in how this connects to this.” I really love actors who can talk about things within their character’s journey rather than actors who say “I don’t think my character would say this.” Phrasing it in a way that relates to the arch of the character is much more useful.

Avery Clark, Melissa Fricke, Brooke M. Haney, and April Montgomery in the workshop of Heavier Than.

BMH: And, does this go further when you get to a World Premiere?

SCY: Absolutely. In rehearsals for production, it becomes exceptionally important that an actor speaks up, and I don’t mean becomes adversarial – and I’ve certainly seen that happen –  but rather, the actor should take more ownership of the role. In a play that hasn’t been done before, there is a certain ownership of the role, the actor becomes the keeper of that character. At this point, the actor almost surpasses you in understanding where that character fits into the world of the play, and they can help to hone in on small details. This is where the actor becomes really valuable.

Grant Jordan in the workshop of Heavier Than.

BMH: Are there any extra tips you have for the new works actor?

SCY: Pay attention to the things other characters say about your character, because your character doesn’t exist in a vacuum.

I want actors to be confident in their craft, who have a sense of play. There are all different kinds of actors, but if you have a good attitude and are willing to bring the best of what you have to the role, as opposed to the best of what you think the role should be, then it’s going to work. I really love actors who just kind of go for it and then are willing to fall on their face and not get defensive about changing choices.

Steve Yockey is a roaming member of Out of Hand Theater. His projects with the company include HELP! and Cartoon. In 2008, Actor’s Express Theatre in Atlanta, GA presented the world premiere of Octopus followed by an extended run in San Francisco, co-produced by Encore Theatre Company and Magic Theatre. He is a regular fixture at Dad’s Garage Theatre Company including the short play cycle Sleepy, a work written to inaugurate the second-stage series, and the adults-only Skin — both commissioned & directed by Kate Warner. Dad’s Garage and Berkeley’s Impact Theatre produced the co-world premiere Large Animal Games this season. Octopus, Cartoon and subculture (collected short plays) are available from Samuel French. Other plays include: Bellwether, Afterlife and Wonder. Steve is a Phi Beta Kappa, Summa Cum Laude graduate of the University of Georgia and holds an MFA in Dramatic Writing from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. He recently completed a Coca-Cola Artist Residency teaching dramatic structure at Emory University in Atlanta, GA and currently lives/works in the San Francisco Bay Area as the National New Play Network playwright-in-residence at Marin Theatre Company.

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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