Five Minutes with the Playwright

Season 40 Playwrights:

We will post new interviews every week until all of our Season 40 playwrights are represented.


Five Minutes with the Playwright: An Interview with Andrea Fine Carey

March 2, 2021
 
 
1. LOST CAUSES is a recent play you’ve submitted to The Baltimore Playwrights Festival. What is it about?
LOST CAUSES shows the disintegration of a white southern family when they display a huge Confederate flag in retaliation for the removal of a Confederate statue. As the crowd of protestors grows more agitated outside the house, family tensions mount inside, especially after the favorite son comes home with his African-American wife.
 
2. Why was it important to you to write LOST CAUSES?
After the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, VA, I felt driven to examine what makes a person choose to embrace racism, violence, and the doctrine of white supremacy. Since then, the prevalence of police brutality against black people, the stark political divisions that have strained our country, and the violent attack on the U.S. Capitol reveal an urgent need to better understand this disturbing tendency.
 
3. What special challenges did you encounter in the writing a play that deals with a headline topic?
I hope LOST CAUSES will provoke everyone–both liberals and conservatives–to consider how their actions may inadvertently contribute to the fear, ignorance and estrangement that underlie extremism. This is difficult to do without alienating the audience. The feedback I got from the Baltimore Playwright’s Festival readers was invaluable in helping me present both sides of this highly sensitive and thorny issue.
 
4. Tell us about yourself.
I live in Bethesda, MD, not far from the house where I grew up in Chevy Chase. Since I’ve stopped teaching project management for the federal government, I’ve been taking classes in improv, story-telling, and Nia dance.
 
5. What are you working on now?
I’m putting finishing touches on the book and lyrics for a musical about Esther, the Queen of Persia, who saved her people from genocide in the 5th century B.C.
 

Five Minutes with the Playwright: An Interview with Rosemary Frisino Toohey

February 27, 2021
 
1. CHARM CITY is a recent play you’ve submitted to The Baltimore Playwrights Festival. What is it about?
CHARM CITY is a shortie, a little piece that came to me while I was looking up something on UNESCO, for reasons I’ve long since forgotten. It’s about a conflict of cultures that occurs when a resident of Charm City—that would be Baltimore, of course—seeks UNESCO designation for her hometown. Happily, I got lucky with this one because not long after I wrote it, Urban Stages in New York held an “Acronym Plays Competition.” With “UNESCO” as an acronym, it was an easy one to submit. It wasn’t staged but it was one of their Judges Picks and they put it on their website. It’s still there. Very nice of them, indeed.
 
2. Where do you get your ideas from? How do you know an idea has legs?
Ideas come from everywhere and everything. They’re not always great, they don’t always have legs, but once an idea presents itself, it’s pretty much a given that I’m going to put something down. Michael Hollinger, a talented guy who wrote Under The Skin, among other things, says he starts a file on every idea and he uses an agrarian approach…cultivate an idea, give it time, and then harvest only the hardy. Some plays just don’t get to be “hardy” and you have to recognize that at some point, I suppose, in order not to go completely mad. Though I do find it difficult to give up on a play…
 
3. What is your general approach to developing a play?
I begin by writing the scene I want to write. That’s my strategy.
If I’m lucky, one of the characters who appears on the page becomes so bloody compelling to me that I cannot let her/him reside only in my computer. I become bound and determined to take them to the broader world, even if the broader world has no use for them. Do I get stuck sometimes? Yup. But I so love the creation process and find it so much fun that I can’t do it any other way.
 
4. Tell us about yourself.
Writing was always a given. It got me through countless courses at school and I figured I’d be a journalist. Then I discovered I loved the microphone and the mike loved me. My career in radio news lasted more than four decades, working in Baltimore, San Jose, Boston, New York, and DC, although the writing was always going on in the background. I was working early mornings at WTOP in Washington when my car was rammed by a hit-and-run driver on the Capital Beltway. After I landed in the hospital, I realized I was never going to finish a play I had started if I didn’t carve out more time. We had four kids by then and it was busy. So I quit the radio job, finished the script, my first full-length, and it was accepted by the esteemed Baltimore Playwrights Festival and produced. That play is now published and has had more than forty productions across the US, Canada, Mexico and the U.K. I later went back to radio part-time and continued to write, but I owe so very much to the BPF for that boost twenty-one years ago.
 
5. What are you working on now?
Two things: turning a full-length play I wrote a while back into a musical and finishing a full-length comedy.
 
6. What is coming up next for you?
Awaiting the publications of my first screenplay in an anthology and a short play on the pandemic in another anthology of comedies.
 

Five Minutes with the Playwright: An Interview with Dan’ae Henry

February 24, 2021
 
 
1. SUICIDE WATCH: FOR THE ONES DEALING WITH DEPRESSION AND CONSIDERING SUICIDE is a recent play you’ve submitted to The Baltimore Playwrights Festival. What is it about?
This is a play that deals the struggles of everyday life while having depression, or anxiety that could lead to suicide. I wanted to portray how mental health effects people at different ages and walks of life.
 
2. Why was it important to you to write the play and what do you hope the audience will take away?
I wrote this play hoping to reach out to people who feel like giving up. I want the audience to connect and not feel alone when it comes to mental health. I also want people who see or read the play to gain knowledge about depression and other mental health disorders and how it effects people differently.
3. What was your preparation for writing SUICIDE WATCH?
I usually try write out my issues when I’m feeling down or depressed. I realized I had written a handful of monologues I felt needed to be shared. I knew I was not alone dealing with depression. When I wrote this play it was around a time when suicide was more visible to the world. I thought about how and why people would give up and it inspired me to write for them and create different scenarios and backgrounds for them. I put myself in other people’s shoes and imagined how I would feel dealing with the issues they faced.
 
4. Tell us about yourself.
My name in Dan’ae Henry and I am a Baltimore native playwright. I have been writing scripts and stories since 2010 and have had opportunities within my church and school to have some of my plays and skits performed and or read in front of an audience. I like to write plays and stories that people can connect to and learn from. I also enjoy writing fiction novels and poetry as well. I am always looking for opportunities to improve my work and better myself. I appreciate the support from the Baltimore Playwrights festival for giving me an opportunity to share and gain feedback to improve.
 
5. What are you working on now?
I am currently working on a poetry/story book about mental health, therapy, and self-love. I have also been improving past scripts, and building new stories and ideas. I am working on becoming a fiction/non-fiction author as well as a playwright.
 
6. What is coming up next for you?
I hope to have my book published this year. Right now I am editing and putting the finishing touches on it.


Five Minutes with the Playwright: An Interview with Kevin Kostic

February 21, 2021
 
 
1. THE SEARCH is a recent play you’ve submitted to The Baltimore Playwrights Festival. What is it about?Kevin Mooney Headshot
It’s about two sisters. One’s dead and the other’s living. One’s applying for the top job at a fancy all girl high school and the other’s getting in the way.
 
2. What do you find particularly exciting about theater, and how did you try to incorporate that excitement into THE SEARCH?
My favorite part of going to the theater is the anticipation. It’s that moment just before the lights go down and the action starts. At that moment – anything is possible. From there, the most exciting shows to me deliver a memorable evening where the playwright takes you places both unexpected and emotionally real.
For THE SEARCH, I did my best to land in the memorable camp. To accomplish that, I tried to follow a simple formula. Be clear in my intent and don’t be dull.
 
3. When you get an idea for a play, how or when do you know the idea has legs?
If I go to sleep thinking about the show, that’s a good sign.
If I wake up thinking about the show, that’s a better sign.
If I’m 30 minutes late to work because I couldn’t drag myself out of the shower because I finally figured out how to bring the long-lost cousin back into the final scene…yeah, that’s the best.
 
4. Tell us about yourself.
I grew up in Delaware, did my twenties in Virginia and have lived in Baltimore since with my wife and two kids. In addition to playwriting, I’m also a fundraiser for an international humanitarian organization. kevinkostic.com
 
5. What are you working on now?
A one act about a guy who sells fake cancer meds. It might be a full length. We’ll see. (Beat.) Keep on rockin’ BPF!

Five Minutes with the Playwright: An Interview with William L. Mooney

February 19, 2021
 
 
1.CROSS KEYS is a recent play you’ve submitted to The Baltimore Playwrights Festival. What is it about?
Brendon Riordon, beloved professor from a local university, looks forward to a peaceful retirement with hisWilliam Mooney headshot long-time live-in girlfriend Mackenzie. Those plans are threatened when a non-binary student demands that Professor Riordon use his preferred pronoun to address him. The situation escalates and eventually challenges Professor Riordon’s liberal beliefs and ultimately transform his own conception of identity, time, and space. Mackenzie and others in Professor Riordon’s life must face these changes.
 
2. What was the inspiration for CROSS KEYS? Did the play stay true to its inspiration or take another path?
Even before the 2020 election, challenging long-held norms about what is true or real has dominated the news. For several reason, many beyond our understanding, the current zeitgeist has us all on edge because our long- held beliefs, some of which are sacrosanct, are challenged daily. A desire to explore this tension inspired me to write this play. I mostly stayed true to the original inspiration but my own obsessions, quirks, and a desire to entertain myself took me down some unexpected paths.
 
3. Did you have a plan in place before you began writing: number of scenes, subplots, the ending? Do you outline your plays or just jump in?
I had a rough outline for the play before I began but the structure revealed itself more through rewriting than prewriting.
 
4. Tell us about yourself.
After nearly 30 years teaching in Taiwan, I returned home to Maryland to help care for my elderly mother. During the first half of the pandemic, I wrote every day. In October, my mother’s health further declined, as did the time I had for writing.
 
5. What are you working on now?
In January of this year, I started “The Mainstreet Podcast,” a podcast focused primarily on the people and stories of Harford County, Maryland.
 
6. What is coming up next for you?
I hope to resume writing soon.

Five Minutes with the Playwrights: An Interview with Jonas Tintenseher and Alec Moyes

February 16, 2021
 
 
1. SHE WHISPERED VENOM is a recent play you’ve submitted to The Baltimore Playwrights Festival. What is it about?
SHE WHISPERED VENOM is a horror play following teenager Devon Webb after her transfer to theTineteseher Moyes headshot Ambermorne School for Young Girls. With students disappearing and teachers encouraging abusive behavior, Devon sets out to investigate the school’s secrets, and finds out that Ambermorne is not what it seems — something beneath the school is alive, and it is hungry.
 
2. Please tell us about how your collaboration worked: did you write together, write different scenes? How did you resolve disagreements and inspire each other?
We wrote on WriterDuet, an online app designed for collaborative screenwriting. We would write together, usually with one of us taking the lead on a scene (typically whoever had the stronger impulse for some detail or image) and the other tweaking as we went. As for disagreements and inspiration, they went hand-in-hand; our refrain throughout the process was “We can have our cake and eat it too”. Whenever we had differing ideas about a character or direction to go, we bounced off of each other until we’d figured out how to combine them, which ultimately gave us a lot of complex and interesting tools to play with. The rest of the time, we were on the same page, and with almost every scene, we experienced an idea cascade, where some offhand comment or quick line one of us had, spurred the other on to something new, and that did the same, over and over, letting us weave through the story in tandem.
 
3. Did you have a plan in place before you began writing: number of scenes, characters, subplots, etc?
In order to make it easy to work on the script together, we built a sparse outline, laying out each scene’s chief purpose and any important dialogue or concepts we wanted to include. We expanded the character list as we moved through the outline, trying our best to be economical (not easy — even combining as many as we could, the cast still ended up being pretty large) and give each character at least one or two unique traits or quirks to distinguish them, establishing their place both in the story and in the setting. Alec is typically much more of an outliner than Jonas is, so this loose framework of “big ideas” was a good balance that allowed us to stay focused and in sync while also leaving room for discoveries and cool twists as we wrote the actual script.
 
4. Tell us about yourselves.
Alec is a student in the secondary education program at Towson University, and hopes to teach high school Spanish. His writing debuted at the Capital Fringe Festival in 2019 with Let’s Fight and Say We Didn’t. During the pandemic, his focus shifted from live theater to preparing tabletop RPG sessions for his friends.
Jonas is a poet, novelist, and video producer living near Annapolis. They’ve always loved telling stories, and have focused heavily on their writing career since rediscovering their love of it toward the end of high school. They studied Creative Writing at AACC, which is where they met Alec.
 
5. What are you working on now?
Alec’s current biggest project is One Minute Lyric Analysis, a popular TikTok series examining the poetry of modern music (@awmoyes).
Jonas is currently querying for their Norse mythology-themed novel How to Bottle Moonlight (And Other Useful Tricks), starring an ex-valkyrie hunting a rogue einherjar across the American Midwest. They also irregularly write shorts, songs, and video essays for YouTube.
 
6. What is coming up next for you?
Alec hopes to finish and release a new play, This Machine Makes Folk Music, once theaters open again. It follows siblings Milo and Tasha as they navigate harboring a fugitive from the eyes of the dystopian state.
Their project backlog is long, but in the realm of theater, Jonas has plans for a comedy musical based on the Cthulhu Mythos. They and Alec are also brainstorming for another horror script around the corner.

Five Minutes with the Playwright: An Interview with Mark Berman

February 8, 2021
 
1. ALTOONA is a recent play you’ve submitted to The Baltimore Playwrights Festival. What is it about?
ALTOONA is about a diverse group on a cross country trip who are driven by a Latina who plays saxophone, each seeking a hunk of the American Dream.Mark Berman headshot
 
2. Did you have a plan in place before you began writing ALTOONA—number of scenes, characters, subplot, etc? Is this your usual approach to writing?
I start with an idea of, an image of the characters; in this instance to eschew traditional forms, conjuring a Dreamscape wherein the characters initially appear in one reality, then into alternative realities, becoming archetypes.
 
3. When you get stuck while writing a play, what gets you unstuck?
Encouragement from colleagues and theatres gets me unstuck; also when I feel I may have something unique to say.
 
4. What are you working on now?
Still working on ALTOONA, hoping for a workshop production; also another play, BLONDE ON BLONDE, about a 67 year old Marilyn Monroe, still somewhat marilynesque, but radicalized after knocking around the country suffering from a 30 year drug induced amnesia.
 
5. Tell us about yourself.
Here are the opening lines of a longer poem, CONFESSIONS OF A KNUCKLEBALLER
I pitched baseball on the Elipse;
Scrubbed decks on Merchant ships.
Played ball at Ebbets Field.
Been different things to different people,
At different times.
Sometimes I confuse myself.
 
6. What is coming up next for you?
Perhaps an existential moment or two.
 

Five Minutes with the Playwright: An Interview with Luke Narlee

February 2, 2021
 
 
1. DINNER WITH A GUEST is a recent play you’ve submitted to The Baltimore Playwrights Festival. What is it about?
Narlee headshot
Dinner with a guest is a comedic play about an older married couple who are very old fashioned and set in their ways, living their lives like it’s still the 50’s. In an attempt to step out of his comfort zone, the husband (Don) decides to invite his much younger co-worker, John, over for dinner one night. But nothing goes as planned, starting with John showing up with an extra guest, his girlfriend, which irritates Don and sets off a series of comedic events and mishaps inside their apartment as they all try their best to get along, despite their differences.
 
2. Once you began writing DINNER WITH A GUEST, did the play proceed as you intended, or were there surprises?
There were many surprises along the way. I had a firm idea on how I wanted the basic plot to carry forward, but many of the dilemmas the characters experience and as well as the conversations have come to me as I was writing it. I played around with character motivations and agendas throughout the writing process. It was fun.
 
3. What came easily in the writing of the play and what challenged you the most?
Dialogue has always been my favorite aspect of writing (especially utilizing it as means of exploring human relationships) whether it be a novel, short story, or a play. So the flow of the dialogue and the banter between characters came very naturally for me. Initially, the most challenging part was writing dialogue that was actually funny, since comedy was a new adventure for me. But a group of actors performed a reading of the play for me last year with a small group of people attending, and everyone laughed quite a bit, so I was happy with how it turned out. Second biggest challenge was making sure the character’s motivations and hidden agendas were not confusing or illogical. I wanted it to be relatable to the audience, while also tying it in to what is going on in the world today.
 
4. Tell us about yourself.
I live in Glen Burnie MD with my wife and three kids. I’ve been enjoying a career in Homeland Security with the federal government for over twenty years now, but I’ve had a passion for writing since I was very young. I’ve written many short stories and published three novels in 2015-2018. After that, because of my love for writing dialogue, I decided to try my hand at playwriting. So far, it’s been a pure joy and I plan to stick with it. It would be a dream come true to see one of my plays performed on stage someday.
 
5. What are you working on now?
I took a break from writing last year, but I am getting back into the writing groove now, working on a few shorter, one-act plays.
 
6. What is coming up next for you?
Just to continue writing new plays as much as possible, creating stories that will make people think and hopefully laugh, and then submit them to wonderful organizations such as the Baltimore Playwright’s festival in hopes of finding an audience.
 

Five Minutes with the Playwright: An Interview with Greg Jenkins

January 26, 2021
 
 
1. WHITEY is a recent play you’ve submitted to The Baltimore Playwrights Festival. What is it about?

 

As the title hints, WHITEY is a play about race.
 
Jenkins Headshot
2. Did you choose the theme of WHITEY or did it choose you? Did the theme change during the writing of the play?
Race might be the most pressing and difficult issue in America today, so I think the theme and I chose each other. With so many writers tackling the same issue, the danger is you could turn out a cliché. I hope I’ve avoided that.
 
3. What is you approach to developing a play?
I work a play and rework it. And rework it again. As Gene Fowler said, “Writing is easy. All you do is stare at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.”
 
4. Tell us about yourself.
I like Siesta Key Spiced Rum, and I like feeding apples and bread to the deer in my neighborhood.

Five Minutes with the Playwright: An Interview with Brad Mendenhall

January 26, 2021
 
 
1. TWO OF US is a recent play you’ve submitted to The Baltimore Playwrights Festival. What is it about?
Medenhall Headshot
TWO OF US is a two act comedy focusing on how friendships and relationships can fray, about the disconnect that can set in, and how differently people react to similar experiences. In TWO OF US, these themes are explored following the friendship of Madi and Casey. Madi is a teacher. She’s organized and prepared and life with her fiance Parker will be perfect. Probably.
Casey is a singer. She’s passionate and fool-hardy and not organized, which means she forgets important things — like telling Boyd, who she drunkenly married in Vegas, critical information that will impact their future.
All relationships — including friendships — change over time. When Madi and Casey’s divergent lifestyles lead to a fight, they set off in opposite directions, but their lives follow similar paths. They marry, they fight, they miss each other, and come close to reconnecting, but not quite.
There’s also a conversation with a pineapple, so clearly something for everyone.
 
2 When did the theme of the play become apparent to you, and how did that knowledge impact the play’s development?
With a creative project like this, there is usually a distinct event or idea that gets the ball rolling. Heck, I wrote a book entitled SEX, MONEY, GOOD GRADES & OTHER THINGS YOU WON’T GET IN COLLEGE that was inspired by the memory of me crying after receiving a care package from my parents when I was a freshman at Lock Haven University. Something gets me thinking about a topic, then I figure out what to do with it. As I’m writing, the idea evolves and changes until it becomes what it should be.
For TWO OF US, that germ of an idea started with someone I knew from theatre in Baltimore a few decades back. Not long after my twins, Logan & London, were born, a friend reconnected. We hadn’t been in touch because of a fracture in our friendship that took both of us growing up a little to heal. After we began talking, we discovered our lives had followed similar trajectories and it got me thinking about the way lives of those dear to us continue after losing touch.
 
3. Where do you get your ideas from? How do you know an idea has legs?
Most of my ideas are taken from real life experiences (like the above mentioned care package) and I twist stuff around in my head with a healthy dose of ‘What If?’
If I’m really lucky, those ideas continue to grow and change to become something special. Too often, they end up in the circular file. I don’t often know if my writing has legs until the characters start ‘writing themselves.’ My best work is that where I re-read it and am shocked by what is created. There are a few passages in TWO OF US where I was surprised by what the characters said. Seriously, I have no idea where the pineapple conversation came from, but it makes me laugh each time I read it.
 
4. Tell us about yourself.
Me? Oof. I’m not that interesting. I have a job and a family and too many pets. I grew up loving comic books, music, movies and books. I know too much arcane superhero trivia and 90’s alternative rock factoids. I’ve been involved with theatre in some way for most of my life, regardless of where I lived or what was going on in my life. I’m active in the world of podcasting and I’ve been performing with Ovation Dinner Theatre for the last three years. I think theatre and live performance is something that’s taken for granted and this past year has made us more aware of its value.
 
5. What are you working on now?
I am in the middle of releasing Say Yes – A Weekly Radio Play via podcast. I probably wouldn’t have done it as a radio play if not for the current limits on live performance. It follows a couple who has a one night stand and ends up living happily ever after (OR DO THEY?!).
I am the Host/Co-Founder of the Cosmic Geppetto Podcast, where we interview cool people about cool stuff like books and movies and music. On occasion, episodes feature scripted skits I’ve written and somehow convince suckers talented individuals to lend their time and abilities.
 
6. What is coming up next for you?
I am working on what I am calling a coffee house musical. It’s something that would lend itself to an intimate performance space. The play follows a musician who encounters someone important from his past. The book is written, but the music needs work. Lotta guitars and pianos mixed with the small stakes but big emotions I like in my writing. It is unlikely you’ll ever see something written by me that involves the word DEFCON.

Five Minutes with the Playwright: An Interview with Daniel Prillaman

 

January 23, 2021
 
1. IN THE SLUSH is a recent play you’ve submitted to The Baltimore Playwrights Festival. What is it about?
Headshot of Daniel Prillaman
The play is about two editorial assistants reading through their publishing house’s slush pile of manuscripts. One of them is newly married and newly pregnant, and she comes across one manuscript that claims she is not human. She is instead a vessel for her baby which is actually the second coming of an ancient cosmic darkness.
Now, obviously (especially as I type this), that sounds absolutely ridiculous. But I’m a big fan of destabilizing moments in plays. So the play is really about…what if it’s not ridiculous? What if it’s true? What would that mean?
 
2. What was the inspiration for the play? Did the initial story change once you began writing?
You know, I don’t recall a single source of inspiration. I think it was mainly the coalescing of several things that were running through my mind at the time. Some of it was the fact that I’m a huge horror nerd, cosmic horror and existentialist terror being a subset I’m particularly fond of. Anything where humanity is tossed up against the idea that there are massive cosmic forces that couldn’t care about us in the slightest is fun for me.
But that “genre” smashed into my corresponding rabbit-hole journey of slush piles and the folks who wind up going through them. How does it affect them to read so many people’s stories and aspirations? How does it affect their own? I became entranced by so many hopes and dreams in one place, and I got really intrigued by the thought “What if some of those dreams are just bad? Terrible? What about evil or malignant?”
All that combined and came to a head in what became the play.
 
3. What came easily in the writing of IN THE SLUSH and what challenged you the most?
The most challenging part was determining how much to reveal about the exact nature of Laura Beth’s “predicament.” Without spoiling whether the manuscript is true or not, the play dives into questions of identity and ambition and how much of our self is defined by others. The interpersonal conflict of the characters is, to a degree, ultimately more important than the logistics of the world-building, so it’s a very thin line of how much do I need to give the audience so they don’t question too much and are satisfied, but not so much that they lose sight of the questions that I’m more concerned with.
Or rather, the exact nature of the darkness is the less important idea when compared to the implications of what it means. The possibility that your entire life as you know it might be a lie. If you aren’t who you think you are, then who are you? What is your purpose now? Does it change? It was a challenge to try and tackle that and include the perfect amount of “what do we need to know?”
 
4. Tell us about yourself.
I am based in DC, but originally from Charlottesville, Virginia. Most all of my writing is based around attempts to put something on stage that I’ve never seen before, so it usually results in a lot of genre-bending fare. I have a special love for absurdism, folklore, and horror, and was definitely the kid in class way more affected by Ionesco’s “Rhinoceros” than anybody else. That and Annie Baker, whose voice and delivery I just freaking love, have probably been my biggest influences. I love how unafraid she is of silence.
I also act, and usually split my time between the two. When not doing either of those, I legitimately enjoy long walks on the beach, red wine, video games, and biscuits. I graduated from UVA and am a member of the Dramatists Guild.
5. What are you working on now?
I have a full-length in progress about a colossal humpback whale that suddenly appears along the Southern Appalachian Trail. Like, giant. It’s as big as a mountain. Naturally, humanity likes to do things they arguably shouldn’t, so some folks start hiking it and climbing to the top. But nobody who’s done so has come back down. Our protagonist decides to make the trek to find their partner, and things get…weird. It’s very magic realism and folk horror. Have I mentioned that I like horror? I don’t feel like I’ve mentioned that enough.
 
6. What is coming up next for you?
I have a reading of my short play, “The Furniture Store,” coming up on January 30th by the lovely folks at Root Beer Occasion Theatre Company. It is a part of their Garbage Revue, and will be a night of deliciously, intentionally bad theatre. https://www.rootbeeroccasion.com/garbage-revue
On the other side of the table, I’m moving to Sandusky, Ohio soon to rejoin the cast of Cedar Point’s “Forbidden Frontier on Adventure Island” this summer. It’s like Westworld, but for all ages. We’re the robots.
 
 
 

Five Minutes with the Playwright: An Interview with Carol Anne Douglas

January 20, 2021
 
1. GERTRUDE, QUEEN OF DENMARK is a recent play you’ve submitted to The Baltimore Playwrights Festival. What is it about?
In my play GERTRUDE, QUEEN OF DENMARK, Gertrude is devastated to learn that her husband has died suddenly. She feels suicidal. Claudius acts sympathetic and, with the help of Polonius and Hamlet’s old nurse, persuades Gertrude that she should marry him and that that will be best for Hamlet. She is heartbroken when Hamlet becomes angry at her. She tries to calm him and reconcile him with Claudius. I have borrowed the Nurse from Romeo and Juliet to be a confidante for Gertrude and to add touches of humor.
 
2. What were the challenges of writing a play using a well-known fictional story and characters?
Of course no play can compare with Hamlet. Although my play is a take-off, I hope no one will expect it to have such majestic language. The characters are so rich that it is tempting to give them additional lines. I try to keep my characters like the originals, except that I have a more sympathetic interpretation of Gertrude than many directors have.
 
3. What is your general approach to developing a play?
My full-length plays come from a passion. I don’t think I could write a full-length play unless I were obsessed with it. I work on what I see as a full first draft, then show it to others, including the Dramatist Guild’s Plays in Progress program, and especially other members of the Playwrights’ Collaborative. I keep working on it. I think about it and think about it. I find that it will change shape often.
 
4. Tell us about yourself.
I am a feminist, and that shapes my vision. I am also a compulsive reader and a compulsive writer. I have written essays and novels. I particularly enjoy taking characters from literature I love and putting them in different situations. I always knew I wanted to write novels, but I had my first desire to write a play when I woke up in the middle of the night and knew I had to write a play about Queen Gertrude because I had been widowed by a sudden death.
 
5. What are you working on now?
I am working on a play that is a take-off on Jane Austen’s work.
 
6. What is coming up next for you?
I am hoping to have readings of my work, especially more readings of Gertrude, Queen of Denmark. Of course I hope that they will go beyond readings to productions.

Five Minutes with the Playwrights: Nancy Arbuthnot and Le Pham Le

January 17, 2021
 
1. BEQUEST OF WINGS: AN AMERICAN JOURNEY is a recent play you’ve submitted to The Baltimore Playwrights Festival. What is it about?
BEQUEST OF WINGS: AN AMERICAN JOURNEY by Nancy Arbuthnot and Le Pham Le, dramatizes the story of the Vietnamese refugee family of Mai Trương, her husband Minh, son Vinh, and American-born daughter Kim. The scenes shift back and forth in chronology to highlight war-inflected life in Vietnam in the 1960s and 70s; the fall of Saigon in 1975 and the flight of the Trươngs to Malaysia; and their subsequent life in America as they struggle to adapt to a new land. The cast of characters includes U.S. military service members and their families who interact with the Trương family in both Vietnam and America Narrated mainly by the younger generation–Kim, Vinh and their friend Andre, the son of a wounded Vietnam veteran–the play maintains a central focus on Mai and Kim, who has become a U.S. Marine pilot. Vivid flashbacks and re-enactments of scenes the children know only secondhand, along with the use of iconic Vietnamese and American songs, provide a compelling, multifaceted perspective on the American experience and a troubling period of American history.
 
2. Why was it important to tell the story of BEQUEST OF WINGS: AN AMERICAN JOURNEY? What do you hope the audience will take away from the play?
Many stories of the Vietnam era have been told—and told beautifully. But the stories of the Vietnamese during the war years and later as refugees in America have not been presented in meaningful or realistic ways. In particular, the lives of young Vietnamese women often appear in a shallow, negative light. Ever since attending a performance of “Miss Saigon” years ago, Le Pham realized that she could tell a richer story that would not attack the personal dignity or sense of self of Vietnamese woman. Le and I—also a poet, and an American who came of age during the Vietnam War years–have been working together on Bequest of Wings for over ten years. Having grown from a narrower focus on one Vietnamese family and their journey to America to a widened lens that encompasses the lives of other Americans, we aim to tell a story universal in its confrontation with issues of love and war, intergenerational conflict, and self-identity.
We want to share a nuanced, three-dimensional portrait of a Vietnamese family and their life in America that goes beyond the too-often-perpetrated stereotypes. Through the poems and songs of this ancient land as well as attention to the sacrifices refugees make in leaving behind their country, we hope the audience will gain insight into Vietnamese history and culture. We hope too that the audience will come to a deeper awareness of such relics of war as post-traumatic stress syndrome and its effects on veterans and their families. Most of all, we hope that the audience will appreciate the interaction of cultures that so invigorates life in the United States of America.
 
3. Talk a bit about the choice of using verse to tell the story of BEQUEST OF WINGS.
Poetry is highly regarded in Vietnamese culture; lullabies, The Story of Kieu, the national epic familiar to all Vietnamese, and many folk sayings and tales are composed in rhyme. Because of this importance of poetry, and because both of us consider ourselves primarily poets, we chose to use a rhythmical, loosely- rhyming verse line as a concise and powerful means of presenting our play. In order to share our mutual respect for both Vietnamese and American culture and to create as dynamic a theatrical experience as we can, we include Vietnamese and American poems and songs throughout the play, particularly in the “song-trading contest” highlighted in Scene Six. The title phrase, “this bequest of wings,” comes from an Emily Dickinson poem.
 
4. Tell us about yourself.
Le Pham Le, born in Vietnam, is the author of a bilingual collection of poems, From Where The Wind Blows (translated into English with Nancy Arbuthnot), a trilingual collection, Waves Beyond Waves (with Nancy and Noriko Mizusaki) and three children’s books: Magical Voice In The Forest, Guava Hill, and Baby Sparrow Song. Her poems’ been published in several anthologies and periodicals. Le has received “Poems and Poet of The Month of June 2017” recognized by United Poet Laureate International-World Congress of Poets (UPLI-WCP),“Special Prize/Writing On America” awarded by Viet BaoMagazine, California and “Peace Poetry Golden Medallion” by UPLI-WCP, Japan. Le is retired from Los Medanos Community College.
Nancy Arbuthnot is a poet, artist and professor emerita, United States Naval Academy, Nancy conducts art and poetry workshops for children, veterans and homeless populations. In addition to the co-translations of Le Pham Le’s Vietnamese poems, Nancy’s published works include Postcards from the Border: Poems and Watercolor Meditations; Spirit Hovering: Poems and Guiding Lights: United States Naval Academy Monuments and Memorials. Nancy has received fellowships from the National Park Service, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Camargo Foundation, the Atlantic Center for the Arts, and the Virginia Center of the Creative Arts.
 
5. What are you working on now?
Le is working on a short memoir “My School Days” and an English translation, “Journey of a Dream,” of her essay “Hành-trình Một Giấc Mơ” written in Vietnamese. Nancy is working on “Blue Rhapsodies,” a poetic memoir of growing up in a navy family, and an illustrated collection of children’s stories, adaptations of folk stories from the Marshall Islands.
 
6. What is coming up next for you?
During COVID-19 Le has been able to spend time with her family, travel, exercise, cook, clean and do some home improvement projects. Nancy is looking forward to catching up on reading and writing, working on watercolors, and being a first-time grandmother.

Five Minutes with the Playwright: An Interview with Barbara Barnow

January 13, 2021
 
1. THE COUPONISTA is a recent play you’ve submitted to The Baltimore Playwrights Festival. What is it about?
THE COUPONISTA is about Jane Parker, a millennial who is unemployed and has no permanent residence but is kept afloat by the support of friends and her passion for extreme couponing. Her best friend Lisa, irritant Sam and grounded Paul also face challenges in a job market that won’t accommodate them.
 
2. Where did the idea for THE COUPONISTA originate and where do you generally get ideas for plays?
This play was inspired by a friend who is masterful at couponing. It would be impossible to convey all the techniques he uses to avoid paying for food.
I am never out of ideas for plays. As in THE COUPONISTA and Long Live the Pig!, the last of which was read at Baltimore Playwights Festival, the ideas emerge from people I know and their circumstances. In Send Off, the subject of mentally ill people came from a series of newspaper articles about patients who were recklessly discharged because of a lack of funding.
 
3. When you get stuck in your writing, what gets you unstuck?
Surprisingly, sometimes it takes a while to remember what I want to communicate and why I created the characters I did. Once I connect the two, the direction of the play gets easier.
 
4. Tell us about yourself.
I’ve been writing since I was about 8 years old. I have dabbled in poetry, op-ed pieces, children’s stories, short stories and most recently playwriting. Professionally, I’ve been a marketing strategist and produced business communications.
 
5. What are you working on now?
I’ve tried my hand at 10-minute plays, which are challenging for me. However, my real ambition is to write a musical comedy and I’ve already started one.

Five Minutes with the Playwright: An Interview Rick Thompson

January 8, 2021
 
1. ALMOST OPPOSITES ATTRACT: A MUSICAL ROMANTIC COMEDY is a recent play you’ve submitted to The Baltimore Playwrights Festival. What is it about?
Almost Opposites Attract is a love story that spans over half a century. George Dwyer and Abigail Sorenson met during their first month as freshmen in college. They were an immediate and passionate love match, staying together until almost graduation when George proposed marriage and Abigail answered “no.” An emotional explosion followed, and for twenty-five years not a word passed between them.
Now at their 50th college class reunion, they remember when they were thrown together during the 25th reunion, and their surprising reconciliation with both their shared memories and each other. Now suddenly alone, they decide how they will face their future, together at last — because “the memories come back, and memories are made, when we dance.”
 
2. Please tell us how you approached the writing of the book, music and lyrics to ALMOST OPPOSITES ATTRACT.
Almost Opposites Attract was conceived six years ago with an invitation to my 50th high school reunion. What if a certain old girlfriend attended? (In fact, she didn’t.) A college reunion, however, seemed to offer more possibilities. Enter George and Abigail, two lovers whose romance had ended badly and who are thrown together at their 25th college reunion. Will almost opposites still attract?
So yes, the title was present at the creation, as was the mythical Rankin College in mythical Prineville, Indiana, by the banks of (the real) Wildcat Creek.
I started writing with the most important scene, the reconciliation, and very soon found myself writing lyrics and music. My first thought: “Omigod, this wants to be a musical.” The song was “The Memories Come Back,” and 42 rewrites and revisions later it remains the theme of the show.
The end result in September 2015 was a one-act musical which I directed at two different one-act festivals. The revised second version enlarged the characters of George and Abigail’s spouses, giving them a song. I copyrighted it and started work on other shows, but George and Abigail had different ideas and kept bugging me. They wanted to end up together.
Eventually I hit on the 50th class reunion, while at the same time further developing the 25th, enhancing the characters of the spouses and showing George and Abigail interacting with their college friends.
Not a trained musician, though I’ve taken piano and theory lessons, I felt I needed musical help, so I invited Sara Nelson to do the new music. She wrote the music for all but two of the new songs, and the finished music score is approximately half hers.
 
3. The play takes place in different time periods. How did you meet the challenge of maintaining clarity about the time of the action, especially if production values might be sparse?
This show is written to not require much scenery and tech, though it can be done with a lot of both. Audiences will fill in many of the details if you let them, meaning Almost Opposites Attract can be done black box. After all, the original one-acts were allowed only a ten-minute setup on an empty stage at festivals!
Almost Opposites Attract is two stories: George and Abigail’s reconciliation at the 25th reunion, and what they decide is their future at the 50th. For clarity, two non-speaking student roles from the one-act were refashioned as guides for the audience. They are first seen as 25th reunion registration staff, and unlike the rest of the characters, they break the fourth wall and directly address the audience.
To use 2021 as an example, in the first scene they welcome George and Abigail’s friends to the 25th reunion of the Class of 1996. They let the audience know they are in a time machine and will be traveling to 2046, where they will meet George and Abigail at the 50th reunion. At the end of that scene is a dialog sequence that sets up a flashback to the 25th reunion, which is where we meet the younger George and Abigail.
Every time the two students appear together, the audience knows a 50th scene will follow, which in turn will flash back to the present. (To avoid dating the show, there is no technology shown in the 50th scenes, and only cell phones and a laptop in the 25th.)
 
4. Tell us about yourself.
I grew up in New York, went to college in Pennsylvania, moved to Maryland in 1970, and had a 42-year career as a multi award-winning reporter, editor, publisher and finally public affairs officer at a Navy base. I also became involved in several community theater groups in suburban Washington as actor, director and lighting and sound designer. After a 15-year hiatus coaching my sons’ baseball teams, I returned to community theater, this time in Southern Maryland. I also started writing plays after my retirement in 2011. The first one-act Almost Opposites Attract was my third completed play. Since then I have completed two other one-acts and a full-length straight play. I have also continued directing, sound designing and acting.
 
5. What are you working on now?
I have two one-acts in different stages. The first is Green Room, which is intended to also go with two other one-acts to make an evening under the umbrella title The Stage Is a World. Another one-act, The Law of Averages, is a two-hander in the early writing stage, and I’m doing research for a play based on the famous “Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus” editorial. And, of course, I am seeking that first full production of Almost Opposites Attract.
 
6. What is coming up next for you?
First up is directing the Tom Dulac play Breaking Legs for New Direction Community Theater. It’s scheduled for the first two weekends in June — assuming the pandemic allows. In the fall comes auditions for the world premiere of my Christmas play, The Ghost Before Christmas, based on a little-known Charles Dickens novel. It is being produced by Twin Beach Players in North Beach, Md. and directed by Sid Curl. Also on my schedule is directing my one-act, The Beauty of Natural Love.

Five Minutes with the Playwright: An Interview with Joseph Palka

January 4, 2021
 
1. OBLATION is a recent play you’ve submitted to The Baltimore Playwrights Festival. What is it about?
Johnny Chromik is returning home to McKee’s Rocks, Pennsylvania, outside of Pittsburgh, after having served five years in Florida for having tried to set up a meeting with a 13 year old girl. He, a now former English teacher, has lost not only his own wife and daughter, but any true significance in his life. His last remaining hope of some emotional, spiritual contribution at least to his family is to somehow uplift his 22 year old nephew Eddie Minukas, whom Johnny suspects of having a substance abuse problem of which his parents Maggie (Johnny’s sister) and Gus are entirely unaware.
Maggie and Gus have just returned from watching the Steelers, where their team has just gone “O” for October. Maggie and Gus now go to different bars as Maggie honors her father’s dying wish that she take his ashes to what was his favorite bar. So now Maggie and Gus “worship” in different establishments, Gus unwilling to give up the bar where he has seen the Steelers win six Super Bowls. (Plus wearing his lucky jersey and his underpants inside out. Where would the Steelers be without him?)
The piece remains eminently theatrical as a sensuous African-American woman haunts the interior of Johnny’s mind, she the only one able to perceive his dishonesty. She becomes integral to the climax of the play, allowing Johnny at long last to admit the true magnitude of his sickness.
 
2. Why was it important to you to write this play, and what do you hope the audience will take away from it?
Our society today is plagued by sickness. Yes, perhaps this is not new, but with the dawn of the internet and social media, it is not a stretch to suggest that our thoughts and feelings are forced to penetrate a very flawed filter. Obsessive/Compulsive behaviors emerge like lust, as in this play, or alcohol and drugs. It is not implausible (although this is NOT what this play is all about) that the anger, prejudice, hatred and befuddling prevarication that occurs throughout society are not just a disease, but more a medication for that disease. I too have my own medications. As a playwright, I have no desire to “preach to the choir.” We must have a new understanding.
 
3. When did you begin writing and what was the prompt?
I began writing Oblation when a friend of mine, who’d set up via the internet to meet a 13 year old boy in Florida was actually the victim of an FBI sting. I wrote letters to him, understanding that though what he did was wrong, he was not an evil person. He was a good man. A very good man….yet would not admit that he had a problem!
And Maggie taking her father’s ashes to the Steelers bar? In 2015 I was in a Steeler bar in Virginia Beach and there she was! She would be a character in a play of mine some day, but not for a couple of years.
 
4. Tell us about yourself.
I am an actor/playwright in the Washington suburbs of Gaithersburg, Maryland. I have had just enough success to delude myself. My acting forays include a bevy of Irish plays, plus being a member of a small non-Equity Shakespeare company called Avant Bard. I am currently basking in the afterglow of having been in Wonder Woman 1984, which has at long last been released and my presence not only survived the final cut, but turned out about as well as one line can turn out! I’ve had around twenty productions of my plays and am currently represented by Gary Da Silva in Los Angeles, who also represents the estates of Neil Simon and Larry Gelbhart. I work one day a week as a newscaster at Voice of America.
 
5. What are you working on now?
Sometimes characters roll around in my head for ten years before I find a play to fit them in. For years I had a grandma who ran a phone sex service for people into bestiality. At long last in 2009-10 I found a place for her in Mookie Cranks a Tater! which played to glowing reviews in Buffalo, New York. In my head now is a struggling actor in 1937 who’s has an opportunity to audition for an MGM movie going soon into production.
 
6. What is coming up next for you?
Nothing…that I know of. Last time I said that to anyone at the beginning of the New Year in 1997, within short weeks I sat in for Dick Cavett on his very short-lived radio show in New York. Quite an experience. I’m glad it was because I never got paid.

Five Minutes with the Playwright: An Interview with Marilyn Bennett

January 1, 2021
 
1. 1959 is a recent play you’ve submitted to The Baltimore Playwrights Festival. What is it about?
The play takes place in the spring of 1959. It is about a college freshman named Jane who has always worked hard in school and is looking forward to finishing college and having a career. But Jane is also in love with Avery, a charming college junior who convinces her to spend a weekend with him at his home several hours away from their school. Unfortunately, the weekend doesn’t start out as planned, and Jane soon finds herself faced with a difficult decision, one which is almost certain to change the course of her future.
 
2. Were there unexpected developments with theme, structure, or character once you began writing 1959?
1959 is based (roughly) on a true event, but the setting and characters are completely fictional. Two of the characters changed quite a bit from the time I began writing the play. The plot also took some turns I had not anticipated.
 
3. What prompted you to write your first play? Tell us about yourself.
I have been involved in theatre as an actor in the DC area since the early 1990’s. Shortly after I retired from my day job as a staff attorney at the Environmental Protection Agency, I received a letter from George Washington University saying that, as an alumna, I was eligible to audit courses at the University. I looked for courses in the drama department, but none were offered at that time. Playwriting 101, however, was being offered. I never thought of myself as a writer, but I decided to give it a try. That was over ten years ago, and I have been writing plays ever since.
 
4. What are you working on now?
I have an idea for a murder mystery comedy. I have co-authored several audience participation murder mysteries and look forward to trying my hand at writing one as a stage play.
 
5. What is coming up next for you?
Post Covid, I hope to do more acting and will keep writing plays.

Five Minutes with the Playwright: An Interview with Susan Middaugh

December 29, 2020
 
1. FEEBLE-MINDED WHITE TRASH is a recent play you’ve submitted to The Baltimore Playwrights Festival What is it about?
During the 1920s in southern Virginia, Hattie Clawson, an illiterate laundress with two illegitimate children, one of them black, hasn’t heard of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes. But she will feel the devastating impact of his majority opinion in Buck vs. Bell, which upheld a Virginia law authorizing involuntary sterilization of the unfit – and it will be painful for her and her children for decades to come. After Hattie’s sterilization and loss of parental rights, Millie and Jed never see their mother or each other again.
All told, 33 states allowed forced sterilization as an outcome of the eugenics movement that swept our country during the 20th century; 65,000 Americans were affected, 85% of them were women. Efforts to restrict women’s reproductive rights persist to this day.
 
2. Talk about the structure of FEEBLE-MINDED WHITE TRASH and why you chose it.
This play covers many decades. I chose to tell it in chronological order from the point of view of the three main characters: Hattie, her son Jed and daughter Millie. Each one takes turns at being in the foreground while the others offer their reactions or commentary on one another’s behavior. For balance purposes, the play begins and ends with Millie; Hattie and Millie each sing a hymn during the course of the play. The secondary characters, who play more than one part, are a form of Greek chorus in that they represent the classism and racism of the southern establishment. The loss that Hattie and her family bear along with the stigma they internalize but don’t reveal is a through line of the play.
 
3. What is your approach to developing a play?
Because this play was inspired by real people and historical events, research and authenticity were critical. I read newspapers from the period to develop a sense of place, court documents to learn what happened to the character I call Hattie and reached out to a woman who was involuntarily sterilized as a teen. Later I developed character bios and an outline. Believing that playwriting is very much a collaboration, I brought individual scenes to the Playwrights Group of Baltimore and later spent a week at a playwright’s workshop at the University of Iowa making revisions. More revisions came after public readings, feedback from — other playwrights, my partner Rosser Pettit on technical details of rural life, director Barry Feinstein and two dramaturgs – Abby Katz and Lisa Wilde. Feeble-Minded White Trash was six years in development.
 
4. Tell us about yourself.
A native New Yorker, I moved to Baltimore in 1985. What I like best about this area is access to the arts as well as the outdoors. I’ve been writing plays for 30 years. I’m a charter member of the Playwrights Group of Baltimore, a member of the Dramatists’ Guild and the New Play Exchange. I sing alto in two mixed choruses, enjoy hiking, qigong and yoga. I’m a member of the Catonsville Women’s Giving Circle and the peace and justice committee at my church.
 
5. What are you working on now?
I’m reading and recommending the works of other playwrights who belong to the New Play Exchange. We’re all part of the same community.
 
6. What is coming up for you next?
The Swinging Bridge, a short play of mine, was a winner in the 10-minute play category of the Chameleon Theatre Circle’s 21st annual new play festival in Apple Valley, MN. There wasn’t an actual physical festival in 2020 due to Covid-19, but the theater plans to set up zoom recorded readings on its website sometime in 2021.

Five Minutes with the Playwright: An Interview with Greg Jones Ellis

December 13, 2020
 
1. DEAD AIR is a recent play you’ve submitted to The Baltimore Playwrights Festival. What is it about?
It revolves around a beloved daytime talk show host who has worked her way up the media ladder from local radio personality to national treasure. One of her trademarks has been regaling her audience with the latest achievements of “my son the genius.” What the audience doesn’t know is that her son, while indeed a genius, is a reclusive young man who is his mother’s severest critic. When the producers demand that the woman bring her son on the air, the family has to face the consequences of media celebrity in conflict with personal privacy.
 
2. What was the inspiration for DEAD AIR? Did the play develop along the path of that inspiration or go in a different direction?
I worked in TV in New York a while back. I saw firsthand the disconnect between what audiences perceive about an on-air person and the reality. In addition, I came to believe that celebrity can take talented people down a path of compromise that can ultimately destroy their integrity. The conflict with the son has some roots in my own youth. While I was far from a genius (!) I sometimes felt pressure to fulfill my parents’ aspirations despite my own shyness and self-doubt. It never boiled over in real life as it does in the play, but I guess I still feel deeply that the temptation to fulfill one’s dreams through children is fraught with danger.
 
3. At what point is a play ready for rewrites and how do you handle the revision process?
First, I write a draft without judgment. I don’t worry about whether it makes sense, whether it’s stageworthy — I just get it all down. After I get a reasonably coherent first draft, I try to have an informal reading at my house (or these days on Zoom) with friends. No critique, just a chance to hear it. At that point, I do indeed start fixing what doesn’t make sense, what’s not stageworthy, repetitive, or (probably my worst habit) dialogue that sounds more like the playwright than the character. Then, I’m usually fortunate to have some more formalized readings in front of trusted friends and colleagues. One final point I would make about revision. It’s never over. My play All Save One went into professional production after several readings and rewrites. The director, Carl Randolph, and I worked well together. At his request. I went in for the first week but then I stayed away the following week so he and the actors could work without feeling the playwright’s presence. Each night that week Carl and I would talk via email. One night, he asked if I could take a look at a four-page passage in Act Two. He and the actors were rehearsing it that day when they suddenly said, “I think our characters have covered all this by now. Do you think we need it?” It was an astute observation, and one I should have noticed. I took a look that night and emailed back: “cut it.” Bottom line: a play isn’t a play until it’s performed in front of an audience. Up to that point, it’s all still a draft.
 
4. Tell us about yourself.
I’m a local boy who grew up in PG County and then lived in New York for a good many years. We moved back to the area seven years ago and I was beyond thrilled that some of the theater folks I had known from college days here still remembered who the heck I was. Through their generosity, I was able to get back into both performing (something I have done since the age of ten) and writing. A lot of my life experience seems to be dovetailing right now: my theater training and experience is rewarding me with creative opportunities, my graduate work has resulted in teaching gigs at area colleges, and my unbelievable good fortune in meeting and marrying the perfect guy and being sustained by him and my fabulous friends for decades has kept me grounded during tough times.
 
5. What are you working on now?
Thanks once again to the Baltimore chapter of the Dramatists Guild, I have just had a reading of a first draft of a play called The Other Cheek: a famous atheist writer is randomly attacked. He meets his young attacker and it turns out that it wasn’t quite as random as he thought.
 
6. What is coming up next for you?
It’s so tempting to spill the beans, but so much of what I think will happen in 2021 has to be kept under wraps, either by contractual agreement or because we don’t know yet what the post-pandemic world will mean. Fingers crossed. I also have a possible production of a drama/dance adaptation I conceived, based on the Edith Wharton story “Roman Fever.” And, of course, like all playwrights, I’m submitting my scripts all over the globe for awards, grants, readings, productions. Anyone who reads this is more than welcome to check out my website (www.gregjonesellis.com) and contact me if they have buckets of production money and a theater just waiting for my work! Or if they just want to say hi.
 
I’d also like to give a shout out to the BPF. Having submitted many a script to many a panel, I have to say that I have been impressed by the efficiency of BPF’s process, along with the quality of the critiques that I have received from panel judges. I have taken all of the comments seriously and found the constructive criticism truly helpful in the revision process — and a welcome boost to my morale when they’re complimentary!

Five Minutes with the Playwright: An Interview with Jerry Slaff

November 21, 2020
 
1. GRAND UNION is a recent play you’ve submitted to the The Baltimore Playwrights Festival. What is it about?
The patriarch of the leading Jewish family in a small central Pennsylvania railroad town has died, and his son and daughter confront their 40-year history with their Black housekeeper. The play’s 10 scenes and a coda go back and forth over those 40 years, telling the history of the town and the two intertwined families.
 
2. What was your inspiration for GRAND UNION, and did that inspiration inform the style of the play?
I’m from Brooklyn, but my wife is from Hagerstown in western Maryland, and both sides of her family had strong roots in central Pennsylvania. We visited the area often, talked to relatives and got their stories. We also started looking over census records, and found some of them had live-in maids.
I began to write a simple one-scene play with the son and the daughter inviting the housekeeper for a final lunch, but they kept on talking about people who weren’t on stage–the housekeeper’s husband and son, the town’s young rabbi, and the patriarch. I thought, well, why not put them on stage? And that led to the scenes that cover all 40 years. In fact, while the first scene is in the present, the final coda goes back 40 years. And the actors play their characters at all ages–which is a challenge for them, but adds to the timelessness of the work.
 
3. What is your approach to creating a strong protagonist?
I like to write ensemble plays, where rather than one strong protagonist, every character has a strong story. In Grand Union, who the protagonist is is up to interpretation–it could be the daughter, who assumes she’ll inherit their large house, or it could be the housekeeper. But in any case, your protagonist has to want something almost more than life itself. They’ve sacrificed for it, they’ve dreamed of it. They don’t just want it–they need it.
 
4. Tell us about yourself.
I had the bad fortune to have some early successes in my 20s–my first three plays were produced in regional theater, and off-off-Broadway. Wow, I thought, this is easy! And then life happened. I got married, we had a child, and I focused on my other life. I felt freed, almost–being a writer is like having homework for the rest of your life.
I returned to my writing 15 years later or so, and found a home with BPF, who’ve done readings of two of my plays. I’ve got a play running now in Tampa, Lies, an O’Neill semifinalist which BPF read last year, through November 22.
 
5. Which of your plays was the hardest to write, and why?
Grand Union, no doubt. I rarely have to rethink the entire structure of a play, but here I did. Since I was writing also about the dynamics of a Black family, I had to be sensitive to that, and figure out what I really knew and what I only assumed. In the end I think it came out pretty well–it was a semifinalist for the Austin Film Festival’s playwriting competition.
 
6. What’s next for you?
I’m halfway through a comedy about Middle East politics transferred to a Midwestern suburb, and sketching out a play about why Americans seem to love to be taken by con men and charlatans. I’m retiring from the federal government soon, so I’ll have more time to write.

Five Minutes with the Playwright: An Interview with John Bavoso

December 23, 2020

1. CAMP MANNUPPIA: AN ALT MASC COMEDY is a recent play you’ve submitted to The Baltimore Playwrights Festival. What is it about?
Camp Mannuppia is a slapstick comedy set in 2003(ish) at a summer camp that allegedly teaches teenage boys how to be more masculine. In reality, the camp is run by a drag queen and her partner, who let the campers be themselves for one week each year. This year, however, two new campers show up who actually want to learn to be more macho, and that throws everything into chaos. The story is told as an end-of-camp skit for the characters’ parents and friends, so the whole thing plays out as a play within a play.
 
2. Why was it important for you to write CAMP MANNUPPIA? What do you hope the audience takes away from it?
The script came out of a lot of experiences I had growing up as a (closeted) gay man and being hyperaware at all times of whether anything I was doing could be read as “too feminine” and therefore open to mockery or scorn. And, as an adult, having conversations with other gay men who had similar experiences—including within the queer community itself—of having any hint of femininity reading as weakness or aberration. Then, because life is never black and white, I got to know several trans and non-binary folx who were actively exploring their more masculine identities in a healthy and positive way, and this further complicated my views on masculinity. I knew I wanted to try to represent these different perspectives and experiences, and, at the time, books and movies like Boy Erased and The Miseducation of Cameron Post were movingly portraying the agonizing experience of conversion therapy. Recognizing the inherent absurdity of gender roles/stereotypes, I decided to go in the opposite direction and explore some of these same themes through comedy.
My favorite sound in the world is a gaggle of queer people laughing together in recognition. So, I hope that audiences enjoy seeing a bit of themselves in these characters and can get a bit of levity from it. In a perfect world, someone in the crowd who sees gender roles as inherent and immutable may start to reconsider that position; but, really, at the end of the day, I just hope theatregoers enjoy a good chuckle while watching Camp Mannuppia!
 
3. How do you develop a play once you have an idea?
For me, that process can be… very long! I usually generate ideas instantaneously and can write quickly once I have a good outline in place, but going from idea to “I know what this looks like as a play” can literally take years. Camp Mannuppia’s process was unique in that I started it, put it on hold to write an entire other full-length play, then came back months later and finished it. I’ve found that, in my case, no two plays come together in quite the same way!
 
4. Tell us about yourself.
I grew up in New York but have lived in DC for 13+ years now. By day, I work in the marketing department at a civil engineering firm supporting our transit and rail team, and when I’m not doing that, I’m a playwright, book and theatre reviewer, and aspiring wrangler of unicorns. When asked about what I write, I usually respond “plays about women and queer people who are awkwardly attempting (and generally failing) to engage with serious subject matter using only dry wit and impeccably timed combative taunts.”
I’ve been fortunate enough to have plays produced and/or developed in DC, Virginia, New York, New Jersey, Colorado, Texas, California, Florida, South Carolina, Wisconsin, Washington, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Maine, Massachusetts, Kansas, Missouri, New Mexico, and Arizona; Canada; Japan; South Korea; United Arab Emirates; Australia; and the UK. For more info about me, you can check out John-Bavoso.com.
 
5. What are you working on now?
Honestly… not a whole lot! As someone who usually writes at coffee shops or basically anywhere outside of my tiny studio apartment, the pandemic has not been a productive time (I am no Shakespeare, and my greatest works will definitely not produced in quarantine). I have started playing with a new gender-bending comedic romp in which a modern-day Zeus is ousted from Mt. Olympus by his children/fellow deities for being a PR nightmare and immediately kidnaps a Greek mythology-obsessed drag queen from Athens, GA… and learns lessons about consent and toxic masculinity in the process. I’m not sure if will turn into anything real, but it’s been nice to be excited about playing around with an idea again! I’m hoping 2021 will be a much more generative time for me.
 
6. What is coming up next for you?
I’ve got two things I’m excited about in 2021: This year, I was accepted to the Sewanee Writers’ Conference for the first time, which was postponed to next year (and hopefully it will actually happen!). Also, The Parsnip Ship podcast will be doing a live reading of my play MLM is for Murder (Or, Your Side Hustle is Killing Us) as part of their all-queer sixth season. I love pairing plays with music (I create excessively long and aggressively themed Spotify playlists for all my scripts) and they do a really great job, so I’m really looking forward to collaborating with them!

Five Minutes with the Playwright: An Interview with Amy Bernstein

November 18, 2020
 
1. DAYS OF RAGE is a recent play you’ve submitted to the The Baltimore Playwrights Festival. What is it about?
DAYS OF RAGE explores a young woman’s journey from a tradition of peaceful political protest to participating in armed conflict and how her choices affect those around her. The Weatherman, a real-life pro-violence group operating in the 1970s, provides context for the play.
 
2. Why did you choose a theatrical format for this particular story?
The sociopolitical implications of public protest, so present in our lives today, lends itself to dramatic exploration in so many ways, whether tapping into America’s recent history of violent protest or dramatizing what choosing such a path could like today. The choices and consequences are stark.
 
3. What is your approach to creating a strong protagonist — and does a play need a central character?
I do think most plays work better with a central character, although a talented writer can certainly create a powerful ensemble piece that works. Understanding the protagonist’s needs and wants—the most essential drives—and the obstacles that stand in the way of achieving them—are key.
 
4. Tell us about yourself.
I write for the page, the stage, and forms in between. My novel, “Ell,” will be published in June 2021 followed by “The Potrero Complex” in the fall of 2022.
 
5. What are you working on now?
I recently completed a short story and a one-act play, neither of which may ever see the light of day, and I’m outlining my fourth novel.
 
6. What is coming up next for you?
The publication of “Ell” next June, and all the pre-publication marketing that goes with it.

Five Minutes with the Playwright: An Interview with Stephen LaRocque

November 13, 2020
 
1. DAYLIGHT SAVING TIME is a recent play that you’ve submitted to the The Baltimore Playwrights Festival. What is it about?
It’s a romantic comedy about two people whose lives intersect for a very short time, and about the terrifying choice that a person faces when she realizes that her dreams of loving and being loved might actually come true.
 
2. Did you choose the theme of DAYLIGHT SAVING TIME or did it choose you? Did the theme change during the writing of the play?
I’ve never actually articulated the theme of the play before, but it’s something like this: when opportunities come up in life – which they rarely do – they come with a choice to be made.
Since I really wasn’t consciously aware of the theme as I attended to all the details of dialogue, characterization, etc., I’d have to say that it chose me.
Did the theme change? Not really. During the thirteen years that I wrote, and re-wrote, DAYLIGHT SAVING TIME, the theme was always there, unbeknownst to me.
 
3. What motivated you to begin telling your first story?
When I was Senior Patrol Leader in my Boy Scout Troop, I told stories around the campfire; I guess I considered it one of the responsibilities of adolescent leadership. But my most intense story-telling began when I drove my kids to Montessori School, almost thirty years ago. I came up with a new story every day, wrapping it up just as we pulled into the school parking lot.
 
4. Tell us about yourself.
I am a retired Navy man (29 years on active duty – enlisted, then officer). I was a cryptologist (Russian linguist) and did a fair amount of Cold War reconnaissance work. Before, during, and after my Navy career, I did theater: acting, directing, running lights and sound, building and striking sets, selling drinks in the lobby at intermission, and – always – writing. I wrote my first piece of theater dialogue (a prologue, spoken by a minor character) for our high school production of Saul Levitt’s The Andersonville Trial, in which I played the Prosecutor; that was in 1969. I have been writing ever since: full-lengths, one-acts, one-person shows, and sketches.
In 2005, I had a show produced in the Baltimore Playwrights Festival, and got to know the Baltimore theater community, which was a great experience.
 
5. What are you working on now?
A full-length history play, set in Baltimore, about the printing of the first version of the Declaration of Independence that revealed the names of all the signers. The printer – Mary Katherine Goddard – is the only woman whose name appears on any version of the Declaration.
 
6. What’s coming up next for you?
Hopefully (as soon as the pandemic allows) a return to the boards, playing the World War II correspondent, Ernie Pyle, in a one-man show that I put together, using Pyle’s newspaper dispatches from the war. I have done the show nearly thirty times in the past six years, performing at seniors’ homes, Montgomery College, and the Montgomery County History Conference.

Five Minutes with the Playwright: An Interview with Lynn Rhue

November 25, 2020
 
1. MEANINGFUL RELATIONSHIPS was your recent submission to The Baltimore Playwrights Festival. What is it about?
The play is about two successful African-American young males who were raised in the Church. The play does a deep dive into how they view their relationship with God and the choices they make based on their own perceptions of God and the Bible.
 
2. What inspired you to write MEANINGFUL RELATIONSHIPS?
A sermon I heard from my Pastor.
 
3. At what point in writing the play did you identify the theme of the play, and what impact did that have on your play, if any?
After listening to the sermon and studying the notes, I began reflecting on my relationship with God: whether I was reading my Word daily and how much I was following His statutes and commandments to guide my life. It’s from there that the play developed.
 
4. Tell us about yourself.
I am an African American Christian female. Married for 21 years with 5 children. I am an educator for Baltimore City Public Schools (26yrs). I love movies, reading books, and cooking.
 
5. What are you working on now?
Revising MEANINGFUL RELATIONSHIPS with the notes given and a modern version of the Book of Ruth.
 
6. What’s next for you?
More playwriting.

Five Minutes with the Playwright: An Interview with Bruce Bonafede

December 2, 2020

1. ELLIE is a recent play you’ve submitted to the The Baltimore Playwrights Festival. What is it about?
ELLIE presents two older men—brothers—whose love-hate relationship comes to a head while they are mourning the death of one of their wives. That, however, is only the plot, not what it’s about. It’s about how men kill the thing they love.

2. How did you develop ELLIE and is this your developmental approach in other plays you have written?
Two professional actor friends challenged me to write a play for them. At first I laughed it off; I don’t do requests. But then I came up with an idea and saw how these two could bring it off, so I wrote the play. Then I brought in a professional director and we had private readings and then organized a public reading. I’d never developed a play with a personally assembled team like this but I was very pleased both with the result and the process. I may well do it again since I’m lucky to know some very talented theatre people.

3. When do you know that an idea for a play has ‘legs”?
When the characters need to live so much they won’t leave me alone until I let them.

4. Tell us about yourself.
I was one of the founding members of the Washington Playwrights Unit—the first playwright group in DC—back in the early 1980s. I had some critical success but then got remarried, started a family, and had to make a living, so I took a brief, 30-year break from playwriting. But I always knew I’d go back to writing plays and in 2016 I did. Since then I’ve written 13 plays of various lengths.

5. What are you working on now?
I’m polishing the script of the full-length play I recently finished. It’s been a real challenge because it’s in verse but also needs to work as dialog.

6. What is coming up next for you?
A short play will be coming out soon in one of those “Best Ten-Minute Plays” anthologies. I’m also thinking about turning CRUSADE—which BPF produced last year—into a film script. If I don’t do that next I have another play in mind where again the characters won’t shut up and leave me in peace.


Five Minutes with the Playwright: An Interview with Larry Malkus

December 5, 2020

1. RV (A PLAY) is a recent play you’ve submitted to the The Baltimore Playwrights Festival. What is it about?
RV is about what people can do when they have to. It’s about anger, resentment, and fear – and how love can make all of those things bearable.

2. What came easy in the writing of RV (A PLAY), and what challenged you the most?
The whole process of writing RV came easy. I had just finished acting in a production of Annie Baker’s Circle Mirror Transformation with a group of actors that I really enjoyed working with. After the production closed, I decided to write a play with a part for each of them, and the story coalesced around the characters that I created for my friends.

3. When do you know you are ready to write a play? What do you need to have in place?
My process writing other plays has differed and has included writing about my own personal experiences, being inspired by a news story, and responding to thematic prompts.

4. What are you working on now?
The most recent thing I’ve written is a short piece that I will read as part of Fells Point Corner Theatre’s audio holiday greeting card.


Five Minutes with the Playwright: An Interview with Theodore Hendricks

December 8, 2020

1. AN ARTIST’S LIFE is a recent play you’ve submitted to The Baltimore Playwrights Festival. What is it about?
“An Artist’s Life” portrays a pivotal point in the career of Suzanne, a painter from Scranton who has settled in New York. At the opening Suzanne still believes that she can make a living by painting, with a little help from her lovers, Trevor and Marc. Over seven months Suzanne lets her career slide while she tries to choose between them. Trevor and Marc move ahead, and Suzanne ends up dependent on them. I’m grateful to the readers who reviewed “An Artist’s Life” for BPF. Their comments are perceptive and helpful. However, I was surprised that the readers said that the characters were convincing and interesting, but not likeable. I guess that’s praise; it’s easy to make characters likeable but much harder to make them interesting.
 
2. Did you have a plan in place before you began writing—number of scenes, subplots, how the play will end, etc.? Is this your usual approach to writing? What playwrights have influenced you and can we see any of this influence in AN ARTIST’S LIFE?
I took the plan for “An Artist’s Life” from Puccini’s La Bohème. The opera follows young artists through three seasons. It ends, poignantly, with Mimi’s death in the season of high hopes and new beginnings. I was influenced more deeply by Chekhov’s Three Sisters. Chekhov portrays the rise and collapse, over two years, of each sister’s hopes of getting out of the dreary provincial town where their father’s death left them. I suspect the readers would have found my characters more likeable if “An Artist’s Life” had ended on a clearly tragic note: Mimi dies of an untreated illness, Irina, the youngest of Chekhov’s sisters loses her lover in an absurd duel. As I wrote, however, I realized that I wanted to make Suzanne’s tragedy subtler. Suzanne ends up as Marc’s executive and Trevor’s building manager. Is Suzanne a tragic heroine? Not by traditional standards: Marc may not make it big, but Trevor won’t let her starve, and she’s going to be a mother. Nevertheless people face choices like Suzanne’s every day, and those choices are no less profound for being commonplace.
 
3. Tell us about yourself.
I grew up in Baltimore; I’ve worked as a designer and tech director here and in New York. These days I teach dramatic literature at Towson University and the University of Maryland.
 
4. What are you working on now? What is coming up next for you?
Last year I produced a reading of one of my plays, and I’m looking forward to staging another.

Five Minutes with the Playwright: An Interview with David Liu

November 28, 2020

1. SPEAK LINES ALL GARBLED is a recent play you’ve submitted to the Baltimore Playwrights Festival. What is it about?
It’s about strangers who find themselves seated next to each other during the intermission of a play they’re watching. It’s about the things that come between us, and the things that bring us together. It’s about loneliness and longing and generosity.

2. What was the inspiration for the story, and did the initial story change once you began writing it?
The direct inspiration was my experience as an audience member, seated (mutely) next to a stranger, watching a shattering production of Sarah Ruhl’s “Passion Play,” and having this feeling that she describes in the play wash over me:
Ever get the feeling
That you want to run onstage?
You want to move,
but you can’t?
It’s this horrible feeling,
as though you will run onstage
and speak lines all garbled—
lines you made up yourself?
The lines I eventually made up myself took the form of a variations play; some of the variations did wander rather far afield of the original conception, but the play always found its way back to its roots of interpersonal awkwardness and artifice.

3. What do you find particularly exciting about the medium of theater, and how did you try to incorporate that excitement into your play?
As an audience member and occasional writer, I find myself amazed, over and over again, by the alchemy by which directors, designers, and especially actors transform the bare words on the page into the stuff of life itself. Among other things, my play is a love letter to the theatre and to theatre artists’ miraculous empathetic genius. Hopefully I’ve left enough room between the lines to allow that genius to work its magic on them.