Hi-Ho, the Glamorous Life: An Interview with Danielle Gray

Marissa Skudlarek speaks with one of the Bay Area’s most exciting multi-hyphenate performers!

I don’t think I’d ever seen the actor-singer-musician-clown-fashionista Danielle Gray at this time last year, and then all of a sudden they burst upon the indie-theater scene. And, while I spend my days in a cubicle at a day job, Danielle always seems to be learning new circus skills, or singing torch songs in secret cabarets, and looking fabulous doing it. Currently, Danielle is acting in the new play Hunting Love in Oakland, which seemed as good an excuse as any to chat with them about their art and aesthetics.

HuntingLove

Nican Robinson as Narciso, Danielle Gray as Echo, Susan-Jane Harrison as Love.

Marissa: Tell me a little bit about Hunting Love and the character you play in it.

Danielle: Hunting Love is a new play by Susan-Jane Harrison. It’s kind of a reunion collaboration between Susan-Jane and director Erin Merritt, who used to work together at all-female Shakespeare company Woman’s Will. Hunting Love is being produced by a new company called Local Dystopia, which has produced shows here and in London, and is going up at the Flight Deck in downtown Oakland. The piece is fairly ambitious in its incorporation of dance/movement and sound/music. We have this amazingly talented three-person Greek chorus/band (Jed Parsario, Mia Pixley, Bruce Bennett) who play original music, provide atmospheric Foley sounds with their instruments, and act as minor characters. I am so impressed by them all the time.

Hunting Love is a new story, loosely using characters from Greek mythology. I play two characters who are inextricably connected in the story – Echo, a lovesick dryad who has willingly been turned into air so that she may follow Narciso (played by Nican Robinson) forever, and I also play Histrionia, daughter of Love (played by Susan-Jane Harrison). Character inspirations for my Echo include ballerinas, kittens who scratch you even when they’re trying to be affectionate, and baby velociraptors. She’s a bit feral, but in a lovable way. Histrionia is in her early twenties, but has had some emotional development setbacks… so she is a fully-grown woman with the emotional capacity and understanding of intimacy of a teenager. The play is about learning what intimacy and love even are — how do we go about this confusing business of loving one another?

Marissa: You’ve said that your audition for the 2015 San Francisco Olympians Festival (after which you were cast in a major role in the staged reading of Allison Page’s Jasons) is the reason you’ve been so busy with work over the last year.

Danielle: This is true! I auditioned on the advice of a friend who did it several years ago, and quickly found myself surrounded by excellent new friends and collaborators.

danielle-Theater Pub

Danielle as a mime in the March Theater Pub show, On the Spot. Photo by Tonya Narvaez.

Marissa: What were some of the artistic highlights of the last year for you?

Danielle: It sounds like I’m pandering, but sincerely, working with Theater Pub has been a major highlight of 2016. [Danielle played the Duke in Theater Pub’s February show Over the Rainbow, had roles in two short plays in our March show On the Spot, and also appeared in our June show Better Than Television –ed.] Theater Pub is the opposite of elitist, and everyone involved is engaged fully in the process of trying new things, both with existing texts and new work. It’s been really refreshing. However, my favorite show I only got because the director and writer saw me at Olympians was The Horse’s Ass & Friends, Megan Cohen’s delicious vaudevillian showcase of short works that played last December. It was a dream cast and crew and experience — everyone involved was a super talented pro and a lovely person, and I still count them all as friends I would recommend to anyone, or work with again in a second.

Marissa: Since so many good things came out of the Olympians Festival for you, it’s appropriate that you’re now acting in another play that is inspired by Greek mythology. What’s your favorite Greek myth or mythological figure?

Danielle: Oh, it is hard to pick. I like Medusa quite a bit, because she’s such an interesting, nuanced character who is often unfairly reduced to a Halloween monster. Her situation is fully unfair and she’s just trying to make the best of things by living up to her bad bitch reputation with no apologies, amirite? I’ve also always been fascinated by Hera, who is clearly the one keeping Mount Olympus running behind the scenes while Zeus is being a swan unconcerned with consent or whatever. I like complicated, imperfect female or non-binary characters in basically any mythology.

Marissa: You are making it as a working artist (sans day job) in the Bay Area, at a time when many people say that that’s no longer possible. What are your tips on how to make this work?

Danielle: So this is a popular rumor, and it’s only sometimes true, but I have been known to pull it off for months at a time. My situation changes frequently. I have anywhere from two to four part-time day jobs going at any given time. Nearly all are at least a little art-related, a rule I made for myself this year.  Right now I am teaching at an outdoor preschool for the summer, and I work at the front desk of a dance studio so I can get class credit, which is like… medium artistic, more about supplementing process expenses and doing research. Other arts work is contract-based and somewhat unpredictable, like cabaret or walk-around character acting for parties.

Tip #1: FOUR JOBS IS TOO MANY, don’t do this, I do this so you can see how crazy it can make a person.

Tip #2: Most artists I know have at least two things they love. My advice, for people who are willing to hustle like they will die tomorrow, is to do both of them. Don’t buy the advice that you have to pick. I love working with kids, so I keep my side job options open in five-and-under education, and luckily I live in the Bay Area, where when parents find out I also do cabaret they just think I am cool. They recognize that adults contain multitudes and are capable of being responsible, caring human beings AND doing weird circus sideshows for cash.

Tip #3: Accept help from trusted sources. It would be disingenuous for me to pretend that as an artist in a city with skyrocketing prices, I never hit a surprise financial wall and let my mom (a former costumer and lifelong artist/arts supporter herself) boost me with grocery money. I figure I’ll pay her back when she’s old and I’m successful by being Dorothy to her Sophia and making sure she gets to go on a vacation whenever she effing wants, just like she does for her mother.

Tip #4: This one is honestly the most important. Don’t work jobs that make you miserable. Don’t do it, it’s not worth it. Hold out if you can for a day job that has a team you love, or perks that are actually worth it (like training you in skills that will benefit your arts career), or a job that just makes you happy. Do not languish in industries you hate because you are afraid you won’t find something better in time to rescue yourself from late rent. You will manage. Believe in your own resourcefulness. Ask your network for help.

Marissa: You’ve also been getting into the cabaret scene as a singer, ukulele player, and clown. I am an amateur ukulele player myself so I have to ask: what are your favorite songs to play on the uke?

Danielle: I have been clowning and doing circus sideshow for a couple of years now, started teaching myself ukulele about four years ago but only started playing publicly last year, and I’ve been singing since I could open my mouth. But now I get paid to do it all in dark cabarets and variety shows, fulfilling my destiny of being Sally Bowles with (slightly) more sense in my head, and hopefully fewer Nazis. Lately I’ve been playing the following to relax: “I Wish I Was the Moon,” by Neko Case, “The Chain,” by Ingrid Michaelson, and “That Was Us,” by Julia Nunes. And I’m learning a duet with my dear friend Adam Magill which we will finish eventually: “To Die For Your Ideas,” Pierre de Gaillande’s English translation of a Georges Brassens song. I play so many broody songs on the ukulele I created a clown character centered around it just to lighten the mood. Triste is a sad, pretty clown, who sings pretty, sad songs.

danielle - fortune teller

Danielle as Gilda the Fortune-Teller. Photo by Ralph Boethling.

Marissa: What are your biggest influences or contributors to your aesthetic sensibility?

Danielle: I read a lot of Edgar Allan Poe as a kid, starting just about as soon as I could read a novel. That probably had a lot to do with what is happening here. I read Grimm’s fairy tales and the Anne of Green Gables series like a hundred times. My favorite book in high school was Lolita, because I am obsessed with Nabokov’s love letters to the English language, and the concept of playing with and manipulating audience sympathies. Lydia from Beetlejuice was a strong influence, though I only started wearing black in my late twenties: I didn’t have a “goth phase,” at least not where wardrobe is concerned, because I grew up in the desert. I also grew up in a very theatrical and musical household, so we watched a lot of TCM as a family and on our own. Old Hollywood films, musicals in particular, have had a huge impact on my aesthetic: Katharine Hepburn, Marlene Dietrich, Judy Garland, Carol Burnett, Buster Keaton. Also the fashion of forgotten gems of 1990s cinema. Not the enduringly popular films, but the weird ones like With Honors, or Michael, or Truly, Madly, Deeply. Dad-jeans time capsules. I am enduringly obsessed with vaudeville aesthetics, magic, etc.

Marissa: What’s coming up next for you, and what shows are you most excited to see this summer/fall?

Danielle: So we just opened Hunting Love this past weekend, and it will run through August 21. Click here for tickets. We’ve also begun rehearsals for KML: The Musical, opening in September, which is SO EXCITING because it’s not just my first time working with Killing My Lobster, it’s my first foray into any sketch comedy since my high school cohort’s tragic but heartfelt attempt to form a troupe. I’m thrilled about the team for this show.

I haven’t booked anything at Panic & Give Up (a secret speakeasy cabaret I love) in the near future, but I am always haunting that joint and I’m sure I will turn up on their stage again eventually. It’s a good place to look for me. You can keep in the loop by using the form at www.daniellegray.com/booking, and requesting to be added to my email list. Or follow me on Facebook — I always do a public post when I have a show coming up.

The next show I’m going to see is The Thrush and the Woodpecker at Custom Made, and I’m pretty stoked about the space station they’re building over at PianoFight for Faultline Theater’s The Ice Cream Sandwich Incident.

Marissa: My column is called “Hi-Ho, the Glamorous Life” and you are a notably glamorous person, so I also have to ask: do you have any pointers (either practical or philosophical) for achieving glamor?

Danielle: Oh goodness, Marissa. Blush. I get asked about fashion advice a lot because I am not subtle about my evolving love affair with my wardrobe, and the best advice I have for anybody is to wear what you actually like. It is that simple. Honestly. If you want to wear a ball gown every day, just do it. I’m not at all exaggerating. If you like to wear yoga clothes, buy the ones you really like and rock them. The only thing stopping you from looking exactly the way you want is your hesitation – find photos that inspire you and replicate the items, scour thrift stores and department stores alike, be real about the colors you enjoy, don’t be snobby about brands (high end or low end). I think of every outfit as a costume, with a particular inspiration. Once a friend told me my outfit was “a pair of fishnets away from Bob Fosse Captain Hook,” which remains one of my most treasured compliments. Some days I’m “Andro Duckie.” Often, I get “80s New Wave/Boy George.” You know what makes you feel good, you know whose style you admire. There’s no reason you can’t do what they do. People like to see other people being unabashedly themselves.

Keep up with Danielle’s adventures at www.daniellegray.com.

Advertisements

The Real World, Theater Edition: An Interview with Cecilia Palmtag and Addie Ulrey

Barbara Jwanouskos brings us to Home.

This week I had to interview two theater artists and playwrights, Cecilia Palmtag and Addie Ulrey who are both Core Artists with Ragged Wing Ensemble. Cecilia and Addie both developed pieces for the evening of short plays, “Destination Home”, now playing at The Flight Deck in downtown Oakland.

Both Cecilia and Addie had very interesting thoughts and perspectives on the craft of writing a new theater piece. Not shirking from the sometimes all-consuming frustration that comes with writing, both give their thoughts on sacrifice and perseverance during the times of creation and development. But, let’s get to it, because with two featured writers, this week, we still have a ways to go!

BJ: What drew you to theater and how would you describe your writing interests or voice?

CP: Utter necessity. The medium has a visceral potency that can’t be found anywhere else and can be deeply satisfying in the way that only direct experience can be. I’m interested in the breadth of a Shakespearean audience appeal, and work that is revitalizing to communal and ritual experience. Intellectual, emotional, and culturally significant themes drive my work and I tend to go for really big ideas.

One of my plays, Now! Now? Now. asked the question, “What are the mechanisms by which we prevent ourselves from experiencing the present moment?” There is a significant amount of humor and levity in my work, which is always helpful as the ideas can sometimes be very chewy and the audience needs breaks. Recently I’ve been writing stage poems (not to be confused with Slam poems). My current piece, Mother’s Fever Dream, is physically expressive, textually sparse and dense with meaning.

Cecilia Palmtag

Cecilia Palmtag

AU: I started as an actor. At some point I took a mandatory playwriting class, and realized I was obviously in some ways a writer. My friend Tadd and I were discovering this about ourselves at the same time, and at first we wrote plays together, or at the very least we were each other’s’ editors and first audience. Our writing styles were exactly opposite, so we were good teachers for each other. Tadd always wanted bigger, weirder, crazier. In his plays, Mariah Carey was being worshipped as a god while humans were devolving into animals while life-sized cans of coca cola were having babies. In my plays, someone opened a box of tea bags one by one and read the advice on the paper tabs. I wanted the poetic to be banal, and for not much to happen.

I tend to have a strong autobiographical streak in my writing, which I used to see as an amateur phase, but am now beginning to see as something I’m interested in in a deeper way. I still like the banal, but Tadd taught me to be less afraid of including things I can only imagine, to not be afraid of inventing and possibly getting it wrong. I’m interested in the place of the artist in the world today, and the romanticized idea of the artist. I’m interested in learning to make plays the way you might make a painting: starting with image, starting with materials.

Addie Ulrey

Addie Ulrey

BJ: What is your play about?

CP: A child alone in a car and a mother who in her attempt to heal others sickens herself. The reward of containment. The price of containment. Inheriting our parents’ gifts and burdens. Frogs. The central question which inspired Mother’s Fever Dream is, “How are we going to deal with climate change on a story-making basis?” What stories will we tell ourselves, what is the new myth for this unprecedented era that we can return to as things go from whack to… whack-er.

AU: My play is about quitting and failing. Well, it’s about “homing” obviously, so I guess it’s about where those concepts meet: quitting, failing, and homing. Is home the destination? Is home the place you must leave in order to reach the destination? Clearly home is both. The play follows two pioneers on the road to California from the Midwest during the 1800s, and they– well, am I supposed to spoil it? — they turn home. They go back.

BJ: How did you get involved in “Destination Home”? Had you written in this matter before?

CP: I’ve been writing one acts with Ragged Wing since 2012, and have been a core member since 2011. Proposals were being put forth last year and I submitted the concept of my solo piece early on. The development process is becoming more codified, and more closely resembling a typical drafting, reading and rehearsing process. In the past we called them “Fierce Plays” because we had ten days from first rehearsal to opening night. This time we had nearly three weeks! Pressure creates a lovely necessity, and the Fierce Play process primed me to be open to significant changes right up until opening.

AU: Ragged Wing chooses a season theme every year that in some way speaks to the phase that the company itself is in in that moment – a ten-year-old company that has been growing and changing especially fast in the last few years. I’ve been part of the company at Ragged Wing for four years now, so I’ve written on many of these themes: It’s About Time, Just Ripe, and now, Homing. Right now, I’m also in the process of co-writing a play with the youth ensemble of high school students on the same theme. Which is a totally different process because you’re trying to take their ideas and characters relating to home and help structure them into a story that holds acting opportunities for all the students. It’s more technical and less free-form. It’s a good exercise.

BJ: What was your initial idea and what did it morph into?

CP: It started with Ibsen’s Brand, a woman at the center of the earth sounding a huge drum, and a doctor who seemed to be the only one trying to cope with a mysterious epidemic. Approaching this project I knew I had about 15 minutes of stage time, and about two months to develop it. So after sifting through about 80-100 pages of raw material, Amy Sass’s Awesome Dramaturgy helped me focus on the salient, urgent, and totally relatable crisis of a child trapped in a car. The boxes were a powerful image that became central to the vocabulary, and doctor stuck as well. She encouraged me to follow where the script felt alive.

Cecilia Palmtag in her piece, "Mother's Fever Dream"

Cecilia Palmtag in her piece, “Mother’s Fever Dream”

AU: So I was initially writing a totally different play. Like for about a month. And we got all the way to the point of our second draft reading, which was about a week out from the start of rehearsals and one month out from the opening of the show, and it became clear that the piece I was working on wasn’t going to happen for this show. It was getting too big in scope to fit well into this evening of shorts, and it required fairly specific casting which wasn’t coming together, a lot of things. So we made the decision to table that piece for a future date when a longer development period is possible. Which was kind of a relief, and seemed right. Except that meant I had one week to come up with something altogether new in time for rehearsals to start. So I spent a few days throwing a fit and saying, “no I can’t I won’t”, which morphed into, “okay I will write a play but it’s going to be all about quitting and failing”. The pioneers already existed from the previous piece, so they ended up getting carried over and used as the container for this new idea.

Addie Ulrey's "Making It"

Addie Ulrey’s “Making It”

We do a lot of fast processes at Ragged Wing, which has taught me a lot and made me more fearless I think as an artist. It produces a lot of stress though, and I was feeling so stressed out about the prospect of making a new piece from scratch that I basically decided I would try to make it my task to enjoy the process, even if sometimes that meant closing the computer and going bed, and even if that ultimately meant the piece itself would fail. Or that I would fail to complete it. That I would try not to let it become my sanity versus the piece. So I guess that’s how the piece evolved.

BJ: Was there anything about the process of creating a piece for “Destination Home” that pushed you as an artist or gave you additional insight into the creative process?

CP: The new element was creating and performing a solo show. In the later part of drafting and early part of rehearsing there was a blurred line between the two. I improvised scenes in my writing time and later developed them in the script. When the script felt stuck I improvised, when I had enough material I distilled it into something concise. The structure was Queen in this piece, and it took me almost two months to nail it. When I had the right props the imagery and language unfolded and intertwined in really satisfying ways.

AU: I’m looking at that paragraph I just wrote for the last question, and the phrase, “enjoy the process”. Which is a funny one. Because you don’t enjoy it like you enjoy lemonade, you know. Well at certain times you do. But what it really means is learn to enjoy the tumultuousness, because it needs to be tumultuous; that’s what you sign up for. It’s somewhere between meditative and volcanic. It’s not like knitting a sweater.

So that’s hard.

One thing I’m finally learning is to not be resentful of the massive amount of space a play takes up in my life. Every time I make a play, there is a long list of things I have to ignore in order to make it happen. I don’t exercise, I don’t see my friends. I don’t get to go to the movies and I don’t get to make dinner and I don’t get to say yes to invitations. And if I do make the mistake of saying yes, I probably will have to cancel at the last minute. And it tends to feel really unfair, and I start to hate the play. Especially because it just doesn’t seem like the product is going to be WORTH all this flaking out on people and skipping work and almost losing my job. But I’m starting to learn to see it as seasonal, as an ebb and flow: when the play is over, there is lots of empty space, and these things can flood back into my life again. And when a new project begins, I have to actively make space for it. Because it’s not like knitting a sweater– you can’t just fit it in around everything else. It needs a lot of space. That’s just how making is. It’s not efficient. Art is not efficient!

BJ: Any challenges or considerations that came up? How did you handle them?

CP: My big challenge was doing everything. Years ago I told myself I’d never self-direct again. It’s good advice. Being totally embroiled in all aspects is costly. It was a struggle to approach the material with fresh eyes. Hear the script like an audience member. Watch the performance like a director. Perform the play like an actor. In all stages, but especially now, I’ve had to consciously step away from the piece as a playwright in order to fully commit as an actor. One job at a time is much simpler than everything at once.

AU: What to do with actors in rehearsal when you don’t have any new scenes written for them, and the ones you do have need fixing.

Experiment with string. Figure out how many ways one can walk on an endless expanse and not make any progress. Cry a lot. Crying generally helps move rehearsal forward.

BJ: Any thoughts or advice for others who want to create and develop a play?

CP: Follow the heat of your story, which to me means the personally relevant pay dirt. Have really high standards for where you’re going, and surround yourself with people you trust to be kind and to tell the truth. Then let it go. Cut whatever you have to- pages, scenes, characters. Write more. And then more. Bow to the structure, or the action, or the character, or whatever is the Queen of your play’s kingdom.

AU: Well… it’s a map. I find it so relieving to not think of a play as primarily words, but as primarily occurrences. It takes the pressure of crafting dialogue that is clever without being obvious, is deep without being after-school special. It allows dialogue to be a tool among several, and be used when it’s needed. There’s also poetry, there’s movement, there’s silence, there are objects… and so on. You map what you want to occur. I also find it helpful to constantly go back to embracing the primitive-ness of theater (in this age). What can the primitive do well that the technological cannot?

BJ: Shout-outs or plugs for upcoming theater events, shows or performances?

CP/AU: Ragged Wing’s Destination Home! ☺ April 3 & 4th at 8pm at The Flight Deck (1540 Broadway in downtown Oakland).

The Real World, Theater Edition: Wolf Chat with Amy Sass and Anthony Clarvoe

Barbara Jwanouskos talks with two local playwrights, Amy Sass and Anthony Clarvoe, about their latest collaboration.

I had a chance to speak with playwrights, Amy Sass and Anthony Clarvoe, about their recent collaboration, REDWOLF, a story inspired by Little Red Riding Hood thatfollows a young woman’s journey from girlhood to wolfhood. The play is being produced by Ragged Wing Ensemble, which I recently joined as their Development Manager. Seeing theater, dance and art built on a constant basis around The Flight Deck (Ragged Wing Ensemble’s new theatrical home) has been an inspiration and a wonder.

I was curious about the collaboration between two playwrights and how that worked and how they approached this classic fairytale with a new twist. In the course of the interview, however, I learned about their approach to writing and their creative process.

BABS: What kinds of plays are you drawn to?

AMY: The poetic and surreal. I’m drawn to work where daily life collides with something that feels mythic or archetypal. I like plays where I can hear a strong element of music or rhythm to the writing; plays where I can taste the words and the spaces between the words… a sort of music to the language that makes me want it in my mouth. I am also drawn to work that has a strong sense of a visual world. I like plays that surprise me.

ANTHONY: Plays where people want things from each other right now and do things to try to get them. I admire language that is nuanced, densely layered and structured to resonate through the whole work. I love theater that demands and displays a high level of virtuosity, intelligence, and emotional availability from performers. But some of the most moving theatrical moments I can think of have been created by collaborations among designers and a director to create an evocative world.

BABS: What do you like to explore in your plays and how do you do so?

AMY: The unexpected. I like to explore the point where seemingly disparate topics or characters are in strong relation to one another. In REDWOLF, combining elements from Red Riding Hood with topics like Trigonometry and the building of a beltway- this unusual weaving together is fun for me. Surprising things happen.

Much of my writing makes use of myth, legend, and folklore. I have been creating female-centered stories for awhile now and I do tend to look at things through the lens of gender and power. This often leads me to writing in ways that challenge some dominant ideas.

ANTHONY: The intractable and irreducible conflicts and contradictions of human existence. Create a constellation of characters with different ways of being in the world, who are nonetheless deeply invested in each other.

BABS: Could you tell me anything about your creative process that has come in handy when writing plays?

AMY: Drawing, painting, cutting or ripping things up to explore the dynamics within the show visually. I’ll make a painting and then scribble stuff on the painting for instance. Creating some visual art related to the show helps me express some things texturally and instinctually and gives me a sense of the world.

Also, I do a lot of uncensored spewing. Some people call it ‘free-writing’. Some raw stuff comes out and that’s pretty fun and unexpected. And because I am a writer/director, at some point fairly early, I will share some raw writings with my ensemble and get the words on their feet. It’s easy then to see what elements ignite the performers and which things I might explore through nonverbal choreography.

ANTHONY: I don’t write in order. I often don’t know at first where a chunk of action will go, or even who will do it. I repurpose things a lot. At key moments I like to print out everything I’ve got, spread it out all over the floor, and walk around on it, spotting patterns and arranging accordingly.

This process started with Amy saying she was thinking about the color red. One of us brought up Little Red Riding Hood. That got us thinking about other stories with girls and wolves and woods. Being who we are, I read a lot of books about the archetype of the wolf and the woods in myth and folklore, and Amy went to the woods and visited a pack of actual wolves.

redwolf_girl

BABS: What about the process of making REDWOLF and writing as a team? How was that different than other plays you’ve written in the past and was there anything exciting that came up while working with another person? Perhaps even something that you might try to replicate in the future?

AMY: Co-writing is a totally new experience. It requires a lot of trust and a desire to learn each other’s language. For Anthony and me, it worked best once we discovered what each of our strengths were and created primary roles for one another. Anthony looked after dramaturgical structuring- sort of the architecture of the script. He’s brilliant at that. I looked after the central character’s arc in terms of her growth as a young woman and the ways in which we featured our ensemble of actors & designers. Writing with them in mind was a primary point to the work.

One really cool thing was sharing a project journal. We passed it back and forth and wrote in it and drew things and glued things in there and riffed off the other’s scribblings. It was a very exciting and unique thing to do. We could graffiti and deface and add to each other’s thoughts and prompts and images. This shared journal helped us define a language that was unique to the partnership by interweaving words & images.

ANTHONY: I’ve never co-written a play before. Showing raw material to someone else was a challenge. But I do a lot of teaching of playwriting and working with other playwrights on the dramaturgy of their scripts. Amy is able to write very quickly and freely, and she writes very personally, but with a strong awareness of myths and archetypes. That makes it easy to see strong moments that we could use in a narrative structure.

At some point we realized that Amy essentially should be in charge of writing our protagonist and the scenes Red was driving, and I should focus on the antagonists. And antagonism generally. Essentially, Amy wrote the angry sexy stuff and I wrote the grumpy nerdy stuff.

BABS: How did the REDWOLF collaboration come to be? Any anecdotes about its history that you would like to share?

AMY: Anthony and I met at a panel. We started talking and walking and discussing writing & theater. We have very different backgrounds but a sort of common risk-taking drive. I was wearing a purple furry hat and he stuck it on his hand and made it talk. We both grew up with puppets in our lives as it turned out. And for some reason that seemed important.

The decision to co-write felt like a strange whim. Almost like a weird dare. I don’t think either of us knew how much we’d need to pour into this, but we both wanted to do something totally out of our comfort zones. Shake things up. Which we did.

ANTHONY: Seeing Ragged Wing Ensemble’s work – when we met at that Play Café panel, RWE was performing in the park across the street from my house — and hearing about their process from Amy. In the context of the more mainstream theater companies with which I usually work, I’ve been interested for a long time in creating theater that was more physical and design-driven, and that’s very much the RWE house style. At first I was curious to see what Amy might do with a script of mine as a director. She was curious about my process as a writer. Writing a play together for her to direct wound up being the best way for each of us to learn the most.

BABS: For people that may be considering writing as a team, what advice would you give? Anything that made working together function well between you two?

AMY: You need to be resilient, consistent and honest. Co-writing is not frictionless. Really fantastic successful artistic relationships take time & real energy and you have to be able to weather conflict.

In co-writing, you show all your raw work to another person and your half formed ideas and your inarticulate mumblings and you have to find the common mutual YES in there. And the common mutual NO’s. The reaping of things can be painful. It can feel like dying. But it is also absolutely liberating. So I think it’s good to be ready to really get at the meat of a thing with someone. If there’s blood, use it.

ANTHONY: Establish, as early as possible, how to tell each other which ideas you agree with absolutely, which hold no interest for you, and which are intriguing but not entirely convincing yet. The hardest thing was when one of us would change our mind about something we had more or less agreed to. The best was when we couldn’t remember which of us had thought of or written something.

BABS: What’s your connection with Ragged Wing Ensemble? How did you get involved?

AMY: I’m the Artistic Director and Co-Founder.

ANTHONY: I’ve got a title like Resident Guest Associate Artist or something.

BABS: Is the process of writing and developing a play with Ragged Wing Ensemble different than other productions that you’ve worked on? How so? What special considerations or modes of operating did you need to use?

ANTHONY: I came to understand the writing as a kind of adaptation. But instead of creating a play out of a pre-existing piece of writing or a body of research into a historical event, we were writing a play based on a folktale, characters inspired by the talents of ensemble members, moments of physical action created in improvisation by the ensemble, discussions with the ensemble about the themes we were working on, and of course a bunch of stuff we made up.

AMY: We are very serious about physical training. We try to take things to our physical and emotional edge through this process. We like to see where our edge of daring is and push on it. In the development of a piece, it is important to let things be raw so we can watch and listen to what emerges out of the real time play and physical action. It’s a sweaty humbling thing.

BABS: Did the new space (The Flight Deck) inform any of the decisions you made about the story?

ANTHONY: It made us think about the power of place. A big theme of the play is the contrast between wilderness and mapped space. Demolition and construction, as opposed to organic growth, came up a lot.

AMY: It is amazing to create a design for a place where we get to fully inhabit and call home. We could not have done a design like this without The Flight Deck. We completely fill that space with a wild daring design and that has a great impact on the story since the story was created with opportunities for design spectacle in mind.

BABS: Do you think making theater in the San Francisco Bay Area is different than other places? (How so, how not so, or both?)

AMY: I’ve been here for 17 years making theater and before that I was a kid on the East Coast doing it. This place has access to both the urban and the wild. Somehow those two landscapes seem important to me. My work emerges from my experiences in vast spaces like the coast and more dense spaces like Downtown Oakland with all its wonderful architecture and murals.

ANTHONY: It’s different for me because as a freelance playwright I’ve always created my work in places scattered around the country, a staged reading here, a workshop there, a premiere and subsequent productions elsewhere. It’s very unusual for me to have a script go from first idea through writing multiple drafts through full production, all with one group of artists in a place where we all live.

BABS: How do you stay active as a playwright? (productions, readings, workshops, teaching, etc.)

AMY:I make sure to write and direct a new play every year. Plus having one or more in the slow cooker. With that in mind, I’ve created programming in our company geared toward the development of new works through Fierce Plays, One Acts & Park Festivals. We have an internal culture of developing writer/directors and a unique process of creative development within our ensemble. Also I am a Resident Playwright with PlayGround, a vibrant organization that has lots of opportunities to develop and practice as a playwright and to meet and engage with other playwrights. The relationships I have with artists like Anthony and my ensemble members keeps the spirit going with regards to writing.

ANTHONY: I’m at various stages of three commissions, teaching for four organizations, answering questions from people doing subsequent productions of a couple of my older plays, giving dramaturgical consultations to colleagues and students, and talking about projects for the future.

BABS: What are you working on now? Or, what would you like to work on next? Any fascinations, obsessions, or nagging interests?

AMY: A Whale’s Wake is a piece that was commissioned by PlayGround last season. It’s on its 3rd draft now. It is inspired by the death of my father and the death of a beached baby whale that I witnessed at Stinson Beach.

ANTHONY: Currently I’m writing the first draft of a commission for Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble in Pennsylvania about the moment in American history when the Founding Fathers all turned on each other and the America we live in today was born.

BABS: What is the best and worst advice you’ve been given as a playwright?

AMY: When someone says “you can’t do X”- that’s generally the next thing I’ll try to do. This habit is either foolish or brilliant depending on the outcome.

ANTHONY: Roxanne Rogers, a director (and Sam Shepard’s sister) said: especially when you’re a young playwright, you’ll say yes to anybody who tells you they like your play. But before you do, make sure that you and the director are talking about the same play. Of course, co-writing the script with the director does get a lot of that danger out of the way early on.

BABS: Any words of wisdom for other playwrights trying to develop their craft, get produced and make connections with other theater people?

AMY: The main thing is to reach out. Go see some things. Then arrange a face to face conversation. Being curious rather than judgmental of someone’s work is a good thing. Asking questions and being interested will increase your network and show the way your mind works. That’s when partnerships start to happen leading to a mutual investment in each other’s creative growth and success. That’s an artistic alliance. For me, it’s less about producing your specific piece, and more about being interested in investing in you.

ANTHONY: Read all you can, plays included. See all you can, plays included. Act in plays. Learn how theater is made by watching and helping. Practice the skills of collaboration. Eavesdrop. Be always on the lookout for the dramatic and theatrical.

BABS: Anything else you would like to share, plug or shout-out?

ANTHONY: I’m teaching a course for PlayGround in Berkeley starting in November. I’m teaching courses at Stagebridge (if you’re over 50) in Oakland all the time. I’m teaching a course for the Playwrights Foundation in San Francisco in the spring. I love helping other writers learn what is strongest in their work and how they want to build on it.

AMY: We built an arts center in Downtown Oakland. It’s super cool. The Flight Deck features a rehearsal studio, a 99 seat black box theater and a co-working office space plus a really fantastic community of artistic leaders from various disciplines. Come be a part of it.

redwolf

REDWOLF is playing at The Flight Deck (1540 Broadway in Oakland) from now until November 8th with performances on Friday and Saturday at 8 PM, a Saturday matinee at 2 PM and Sunday at 7 PM. Pay-What-You-Can performances are: Friday, October 31 at 8 PM, for anyone in costume. Saturday, November 1 at 2 PM for women, followed by a post-show discussion, “The Wilderness of Sex: The Perilous Journey through Female Adolescence”. Saturday, November 8th at 2 PM for students and educators, followed by a post-show discussion, “Predator and Prey:In Bed with Red Riding Hood”.

Barbara Jwanouskos is a local playwright and contributor. She will have her acting debut on November 1st at 8 PM at the EXIT Theatre for the San Francisco Olympians Festival opening party. She is a part of Just Theater’s New Play Lab 2014-15 class and will be sharing a one-minute play during the One Minute Play Festival hosted by the Playwrights Foundation on December 15 and 16. For more of Barbara, you can follow her on twitter @bjwany.

Theater Around The Bay: Yes To Crowdfunding!

Bay Area actress/director/performer Lisa Drostova recently posted this on her Facebook page. I thought it created some interesting conversation and I liked that it contributed in a positive fashion to the “where’s the money going to come from/is the age of crowdfunding over?” discussion/panic that hit in July (aka “Potato Salad Month”) and seems to have already blown over. Thanks for letting us share this, Lisa, and if you have any thoughts of your own, be sure to leave them in the comments!

I’ve been linking to a lot of crowdfunding campaigns lately, much more now that I’m a blooded Indiegogo warrior myself, and it strikes me that there are different ways of looking at them. For a long time, it just seemed overwhelming and distressing that every artist and arts organization I knew had to go hat in hand. Yes, there’s a lot wrong with a culture where billions will get spent on military equipment that doesn’t even function while people making beautiful, important work that changes lives have to hit up all their friends to pay for their projects. And as several friends have so aptly noted, artists are all just passing what funds we have around to each other.

But the other way to look at the next campaign that shows on your newsfeed–and the one after that, and the one after that–is with defiance of the system as it stands. And as an opportunity to help with something with which you might not otherwise get to be part. Because even the tiny donations actually do make a difference. You get to help build something, even if you don’t have carpentry or singing or animation skills, or time to volunteer.

No, you’re not going to get a room at MoMA named after you, or a massive million-dollar gala thrown in your honor. But I assure you that your contribution will be just as appreciated by the artist(s) bitting their nails behind the campaign, and possibly more. They are throwing you a gala in their heart. When we were fundraising the last $50K for The Flight Deck, as an admin on the campaign I could see all those unspecified donations, and who chose to be anonymous, and every single donation meant the world to me, because it was another person believing in our project. Five thousand bucks is great, of course, don’t hesitate to give that if you have it, but five is also going to make a difference–especially the way the online campaigns and their freaky algorithms and “Gogo Factor” and the rest of it work. Each contribution nudges Indiegogo, or Kickstarter, or Hatch, or GoFundMe, to push the campaign.

Which is the other thing you can do, even when you absolutely can’t donate money. Cross-post the campaigns you believe in. You might not have the moolah, but someone in your network might just be entranced by what your friends are trying to accomplish. I have donated to campaigns for people who I didn’t know from Adam’s housecat because we had a mutual friend who shared the link. And I know how very hard it is for people to ask for that help.

Which is the long answer for, yes, I am going to keep posting other people’s campaigns, whether I can donate myself at the moment or not, because I choose to see the potential for excitement versus exhaustion, and I beg your patience with me for it. I know people who are doing amazing things, and until we live in a world where artists don’t have to struggle to stay afloat, this is one small way I can support them.