Young Playwrights and Dramaturgy

Young Playwrights Inc. Urban Retreat 2012
July 14-22, 2012
New York, New  York

19 July 2012. Elizabeth Bojsza takes Urban Retreat participants through some of the characteristics, functions, and roles of dramaturgy. Image by Martha Wade Steketee.

A few years in a new city have already inspired for me repeat viewings of newly discovered events and productions and places and people. We return when we feel inspired, we return when we feel welcomed, we return when we feel that we’re of service.  And after two years in New York City, inspired by my established love for working with young people finding their voice in theatre (ah yes, the Goodman-AWJ Young Critics Circle program, let us replicate you), I return again and again to the delightful, delicious, enthralling and supportive Manhattan-based Young Playwrights program.  As reader of submitted scripts for their various competitions, as dramaturg for the annual conference of playgoing and readings for the winners, as dramaturg for their week-long summer program for young writers called “Urban Retreat”  – I’ll do anything for them. They’re that good.

This week we are deeply ensconced in  the 2012 edition of the Young Playwrights Urban Retreat and it is a wash of activity and a wonder to behold.  I have the privilege of speaking to the current group of 15 or so participants during, as the program materials describe it, one of the  ”luncheon roundtable discussions related to the craft and business of playwriting.” I talk about my experiences as a dramaturg (reading scripts, working on productions, writing reviews, working with playwrights) and am terribly impressed by the energy and enthusiasm and intelligence of these young people.

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© Martha Wade Steketee (July 22, 2012)

Original posting on Steketee’s blog Urban Excavations at urbanexcavations.com.

Theatre Photography as Record and Meditation

Photo Shoot: Chance and Layers of Play
Sunday June 24, 2012
Alder Manor, Yonkers, NY

Alder Manor shoot, makeup room at the far end of the hall, endless possibilities. Image by Martha Wade Steketee.

A series of meetings inspired by music, enhanced by fellowship, fueled by a love for theatre and respect for the preservation of its ephemeral record lead me to a photo shoot in an empty mansion in Yonkers on a beautiful summer Sunday.  Sound designer Fitz Patton attended a brunch I attended a month or so ago — he knew one of our hosts and I knew the other, and we soon found a common language in the theatre making we love.  He has a scheme: a new magazine with fashion photography photographic quality that will capture as straight production photos, behind the scene photos, and photos inspired by theatrical art — the ephemera of theatre.  His magazine in development will be called Chance — from a line in Tom Stoppard‘s Travesties: “All design is chance.”  And so it is.  Chance and attention to detail and capturing the moments and being inspired by the possibilities.  Fitz says to me at one point that what he seeks to create in this publication is a “noise-free, calming, focusing, meditative space.”  I hope to be a part of it as it goes forward.

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© Martha Wade Steketee (June 29, 2012)

Original posting on Steketee’s blog Urban Excavations at urbanexcavations.com.

The Avant Garde Meets Broadway

The Group Theatre & How it Transformed American Culture
Co-curated by Ronald Rand & Mel Gordon
Featuring Ellen Adler, Laila Robins, Wendy Smith, John Strasberg, Fritz Weaver (and others)
Monday, June 4, 2012
Martin E. Segal Theatre Center in Elebash Hall, The Graduate Center, CUNY, 365 Fifth Avenue
event site

The Group Theatre, Brookfield Center, summer 1931. Crop of image by Ralph Steiner.

We assemble in the lovely Elebash Hall of the CUNY Graduate Center this cool June Monday to celebrate, analyze, synthesize, rhapsodize about, and contend with the art and the legacy of the individuals who came together out of hope and vision and the need to make a new kind of American theatre. As one commentator says: this was “the last time the avant garde merged with Broadway theatre.” We have come together to parse that statement and celebrate the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Group Theatre. What a day it is.

The celebration events have been planned by experts on the people and legacies of the Group Theatre. Ronald Rand writes and shares the legacy of Harold Clurman and his colleagues and was a student of several of the Group members. Mel Gordon writes and teaches about Stanislasky, the Group members, cinema, and related topics. Wendy Smith, another expert who has written on the Group and several of the Group personalities is present throughout the festivities and takes an active role in the final panel of the day. Consistent with the Group members themselves who created theatre, acted and directed productions, and became teachers — the experts are themselves teachers. This is not a static kind of knowledge. It lives and breathes and begs to be shared and debated and passed along.

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© Martha Wade Steketee (June 9, 2012)

Original posting on Steketee’s blog Urban Excavations at urbanexcavations.com.

Tectonic Plates and Play Development

Industry Talk: Literary Directors and Managers
Host and moderator Christie Evaneglisto with
Kirsten Bowen, Adam Greenfield, Carrie Hughes, Annie MacRae, Elizabeth Frankel
Thursday, May 31, 2012 at 6pm
Signature Theatre Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre, 480 West 42nd Street
event site

Signature Theatre and its new home at the Pershing Square Signature Center has become a meeting place of sorts. A fabulous airy open second floor main lobby, a bar and cafe with reasonably priced items open long before and long after shows in any of the theatres, wireless internet, friendly people. A place to hang, to meet, to have a chance encounter. A place to immerse yourself in provocative new and old productions perhaps enhanced by pre- and post-show discussions, special conversations with creative staff, and other production-specific programming. This evening Signature inaugurates a free Industry Talk series to discuss the business of making theatre more generally.

Read more: click here

© Martha Wade Steketee (June 1, 2012)

Original posting on Steketee’s blog Urban Excavations at urbanexcavations.com.

It’s Raining Dramaturgs: Collaborating on new plays about the BP Oil Spill

While I call Philadelphia my home, I have been working long-distance on a project for playwright Caridad Svich’s new play The Way of Water about the aftermath of the BP Oil Spill. So far, it has been a rich research project (that I will hopefully post about later this month as now over 40 theater companies and universities are reading the play to raise awareness about the two-year anniversary of the disaster), it has also been an opportunity to collaborate with other dramaturgs! Dramaturgy is often a solo act, so it is quite delightful when I have the chance to be a part of a dramaturgy team. Since January, playwright/dramaturg R. Alex Davis has been a part of the team preparing for the reading scheme in April 2012 and it’s been great to ‘divide and conquer’ as the research on the BP Deepwater Horizon Spill is quite extensive. Together, we have created both a research website and a blog so that all the theaters participating can access our dramaturgy.

Credit: Abigail Feinberg and Quentin Pharr
We were then thrilled to discover that UMASS Amherst was also creating new work in response to the BP Oil Spill disaster. Tasked by their Dean to devise new work to the theme “The Gulf Oil Spill: Lessons for the Future”, dramaturg Megan McClain has been organizing a festival for their Theatre Department. Not only did Megan arrange for Caridad’s new play to be read during their festival, but she’s also shared with us her research from the Gulf region. It’s not just ‘good timing’—but an example of artistic generosity and the spirit of dramaturgical collaboration. And if we also count dramaturgs Adewunmi Oke and Alison Bowie who have worked on these devised pieces for UMASS’s festival—that makes five dramaturgs concurrently researching and creating new work responding to the BP Oil Spill crisis. We hope you enjoy this article by Megan as we’re all responding artistically to the crisis by asking those dramaturgical questions of  this continuing national crisis. The BP Oil Spill has long-ranging impacts and these new works created will hopefully raise a dialogue of how we can engage with this issue and not forget those Americans who are currently struggling because of this disaster.—Heather Helinsky, freelance dramaturg 

Beyond the Horizon: A Devised Theater Festival

by Megan McClain

On April 20, 2010, BP’s Deepwater Horizon off-shore drilling unit exploded, killing 11 people. For the next three months nearly 5 million barrels of oil gushed into the Gulf of Mexico, negatively impacting plant, animal, and human life.  The full extent of the catastrophe’s aftermath is still unknown.  Though the news media’s coverage of the spill has dissipated in the ensuing years, artists and activists continue to give voice to the lasting devastation of this event.  Addressing the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill and its position in a long line of environmental disasters, the Beyond the Horizon Festival presented by the UMass Amherst Theatre Department seeks to use performance to map our changing relationship to the natural world and offer models of community response to ecological crisis.   Developed by a interdisciplinary community of theatre artists, musicians, dancers, and environmentalists, the Beyond the Horizon Festival offers three original devised theatre pieces that use the power of performance to illuminate the interactions between humans and the environment.

The first piece, What Have We Learned, uses letters, dance, and song to explore how the BP Gulf oil spill has effected the lives of those in the Gulf and beyond.  To whom it may concern addresses how we struggle to communicate during times of crisis in a world pulsing with the din of suffering, disconnection, and corruption.  The final piece, Nightingale, imagines a post-apocalyptic society in which natural organisms are strictly controlled and shows what happens when one bird throws the whole system into shock.

Members of the Beyond the Horizon artistic team are also participating in a reading of Caridad Svich’s new play, The Way of Water, presented in collaboration with NoPassport Theatre alliance and press as part of a nationwide and international reading scheme.  The Way of Water interrogates the BP Gulf oil spill by exposing the continued negative effects of the disaster on the health and livelihoods of those in the region.  This network of readings across the country joins theatre artists in a larger conversation about the hidden and ignored human suffering of those exposed to contaminated water in the Gulf.

Silent Spring author Rachel Carson once wrote, “In nature, nothing exists alone.” The same can be said of theatre.  Though theatre has been described as the site for exploring the human condition, that human condition is intrinsically linked to the conditions of all other life on this planet.  Theatre gives us a space to play out sites of connection and disconnection. It creates a place to reassess our destructive actions and celebrate the most beautiful wonders of the world around us.  Above all, it offers the chance to rediscover and announce what poet Mary Oliver calls our “place in the family of things.”

The Beyond the Horizon Festival runs April 5-7 and April 10-14 at 8pm and April 14 at 2pm in the Curtain Theatre of the Fine Arts Center on the UMass Amherst campus.  The reading of Caridad Svich’s new play, The Way of Water, will be held at 4:30pm on April 10th at Food for Thought Books, 106 N. Pleasant St. Amherst, MA. For more information visit our festival blog

What Have We Learned is directed by Carol Becker, dramaturgy by Adewunmi Oke, and actors: Ryan Hill, Tyler Appel, Shailee Shah, Corrina Parham, Jenny Jin, Tori Clough, Kathryn McNall, and Alex Dunn.

To Whom it May Concern is directed by Daniel Sack, dramaturgy by Alison Burke, creative consultant Phoebe Vigor, and actors Rachel Garbus, Tiahna Harris, Ella Peterman, Kevin Cox, Christina Mailer-Nastasi

Nightingale is directed by Brianna Sloane, dramaturgy by Megan McClain, and actors Anneliese Neilsen, Katrina Turner, Devyn Yurko, Samantha Creed, and Brianna Sloane.

The Way of Water by Caridad Svich was developed at the 2011 Winter Writers Retreat 2011 at the Lark New Play Development Center in New York City and was further developed at a Lark round-table reading in February 2012 directed by Jose Zayas, dramaturgy by Heather Helinsky, R. Alex Davis, and Suzy Fay, and actors Lanna Joffrey, Alfredo Narciso, Caitlin McDonough-Thayer, Bobby Plasencia. For more about the project: http://nopassport.org/wayofwater

Daisey, Jobs, Translations and Truth

Ruminations inspired by the final Public Theater performance of
The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs
Sunday, March 18, 2012 at 2pm
Public Theater, Martinson Hall, 425 Lafayette
event site 

This piece of writing can’t be a typical review for many reasons. The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs has been reviewed for two years in its many forms and we know what it is (one man’s story of his adoration and frustration with Apple and its cult and the factories that create the cult objects) — my summary of its journey on stage on this day plot-wise and dramatic structure-wise is now irrelevant. I thought what I was going to be doing when I purchased my ticket for this return engagement as soon as the Public Theater Member tickets became available weeks and weeks ago was to catch this piece of the cultural zeitgeist before it cut a swath somewhere else, before all the “do it yourself from the published versions of the script provided by Daisey himself with blanket permission to do just that” started springing up, crazy quilt, across the globe.  I wanted to see the man himself do this show at one of his theatrical homes.  And then, living in real time one of the memes of this piece of theatre, the whole megillah changed.  The paradign shifted.  In Daisey’s words repeated at several points of his monologue, “I can feel the metaphor shifting underneath me.”

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© Martha Wade Steketee (March 19, 2012)

Original posting on Steketee’s blog Urban Excavations at urbanexcavations.com.

Smith-Kron-Jones-Daisey On Going Solo

(L-R) Anna Deavere Smith, Lisa Kron, Sarah Jones, Mike Daisey, 2 January 2012 at Playwrights Horizons, Dramatists Guild Academy Solo Actor/Writer Roundtable. Image by Martha Wade Steketee.
  • “Theatre is a vocation. It chooses you.” (Lisa Kron)
  • “A journey to absorb America through its sounds.” (Anna Deavere Smith)
  • “Getting audiences to the spot where they don’t know what the fuck is going to happen.” (Mike Daisey)
  • “In an organic, urgent kind of way … cathartic and inevitable.” (Sarah Jones)

The Dramatist Guild holds readings, panels, and other events for its members in many areas of the United States. As a member and now a resident of New York City, I frequently take advantage of these benefits of membership. When I received notice of the planned Smith-Kron-Jones-Daisy discussion about developing and performing solo work, I immediately reserved a seat. All of these performers have entranced me on stage or on film on represented by scripts they have written for others, so my fandom was invoked. In addition, the topic of the one person play (multiple character or not) with its special challenges of crafting dramatic situation and arc and drive has long fascinated me personally and professionally. A 2010 blog post reflecting some of these ruminations during (still ongoing) collaborative work on a one woman show about makeup artist Dorothy Ponedel provides some of professional connection that merges with personal interest.

So this evening, I settle into the comfortable 2nd floor main performance space at Playwrights Horizons surrounded by DG members and their guests, am welcomed by Gary Garrison of the Guild (who provides short questions to mark chapters in our journey), and these brilliant invested theatre artists take us on a ride.  I’ll provide some themes and rich quotations.

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© Martha Wade Steketee (January 4, 2012)

Original posting on Steketee’s blog Urban Excavations at urbanexcavations.com.

Polly Carl, David Dower, Souls, and the Rooms We Live In

(L-R) David Dower and Polly Carl in conversation at the CUNY Graduate Center, December 5, 2011. Image by Martha Wade Steketee.
  • “I built a career by creating the rooms I want to live in and insisting that I have a soul.” (Polly Carl)

Speaking as much with each other (bouncing ideas off each other let us say) as with the energized theatre folks in the audience at the Martin Segal Theatre this Monday evening, David Dower and Polly Carl of Arena Stage share their infectious enthusiasm for the future of playwriting and institutional theatre-making and strategies of building theatre communities in the digital age.  Each has been performer or director or theatre maker in several cities across the country (San Francisco, Minneapolis and Chicago to name a few) and are now both located at Arena Stage in Washington DC — where Dower is Associate Artistic Director and Carl directs the American Voices New Play Institute housed there.  As Dower often states of the DC-resident Arena and repeats this evening “This is not a national theatre but a regional theater that happens to be located in the nation’s capital.”  This actors’ theatre is morphing into a playwrights’ theatre with the assistance of these two professionals and the Institute they are building with a small resident staff and a growing series of overlapping communities who feel some stake in its success.

Moderator and host Frank Hentschker asks just a few questions to get things going, then watches and listens along with the rest of us to the articulate and enthused pair.

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© Martha Wade Steketee (December 7, 2011)

Original posting on Steketee’s blog Urban Excavations at urbanexcavations.com.

Taken by/to Stage Directions

by Amy Jensen

For me, stage directions have been the literary equivalent of butlers; unless they seem out of line, I don’t really pay attention to them. That changed, however, after I saw The Complete & Condensed Stage Directions of Eugene O’Neill Vol. 1 Early Plays/Lost Plays by the New York Neo-Futurists. I met with director and adaptor Christopher Loar to talk about his research and creative process surrounding this American theatre icon, and I fully intended to write about that for the blog.  However… my mind just kept coming back to stage directions. What was it about them that the Neo-Futurists had hit upon; what were the stage directions doing for them? What could stage directions suggest that subsequent volumes may have to offer?

But these questions—they seem to be, well, obvious. A stage direction’s a stage direction’s a stage direction.  Still, my curiosity led me to pulling out Patrice PavisDictionary of Theatre: Terms, Concepts, and Analysis and turning to the section on stage directions. I was half afraid there wouldn’t be a definition, or that it would be something like:

Stage directions:

a) oui, c’est banal, mais cette banal Americaine a demandé, qu’est-ce qu’on peux faire: notes separated (either by italics or indentation) from  the dialogue; they indicate a character’s actions or emotions, and (ostensibly) are not meant to be read aloud

b) a stage direction’s a stage direction’s a stage direction.

Luckily, there was more to it than that. For all of their everydayness, stage directions shed light not only on individual style but have a key role in theatre history and the evolution of character, and continue to assist (or hinder) our ability to capture the human spirit in an already ephemeral medium.

A World and a Play Without Stage Directions?

Before jumping into the different components of stage directions, I have to first mention the assumption that great plays have few, if any, stage directions. Like Shakespeare, great playwrights write great dialogue that contains all necessary information. And like Shakespeare, great playwrights don’t write long stage directions. In fact, they might not write them at all; that may be the work of editors or stage managers (case in point: exit pursued by a bear”). Most importantly, great playwrights leave interpretation open to directors and actors.

So when contemporary theatre artists read playwrights, even great ones, who wrote lengthy stage directions, this assumption is bound to affect how the playwright is viewed. Loar, as he wrote in the program notes, surmised that O’Neill was a “paranoid” writer for whom stage directions were “an insurance policy of sorts against anyone screwing with his plays; it was as if he wrote them in fear of unworthy actors and directors.”

 

Stage Directions as Literal Action

Assumptions aside, the majority of plays use stage directions to record entrances and exits. Most plays also use them to show action. Corneille felt that it was right for playwrights to “mark in the margin the same actions which do not warrant his burdening his verses with them.” Over the years and styles of plays, the dialogue-to-stage-directions ratio ranges from dialogue-centric drawing-room plays (Wilde) to action-centric mime plays (Handke and Beckett).

The Neo-Futurists are all about action. As stated by founder Greg Allen, they seek “to present actual life on stage by creating a world in the theater which has no pretense or illusion.” Neo-Futurists don’t pretend to be someone else, and they don’t pretend to be doing something they aren’t; “all tasks are actual challenges.” Vol. 1 follows a perfect format for the company: a narrator gives the stage directions to the actors, transforming all of the stage directions into tasks.

Allen also writes that there is “no need to ‘act’ tired as you enter the stage with an empty suitcase. Fill it up with rocks, run around the block three times. You’ll be tired.”  If that sounds literal, interpretations often are in Vol. 1. How do you do half of a whisper? “Whis.” An actor literally “sniffs a scandal.” When the audience is told “there is an interval of three minutes in which the theatre remains darkened,” yes, the company and audience spend a full 3 minutes in darkness before continuing. Vol. 1’s literalism, as well as the ensemble’s excellent timing, is kinetic.

Stage Directions and the Narrative Voice

But there’s more to stage directions than action or paranoia. According to Pavis, starting with eighteenth and nineteenth century writers such as Marivaux, Diderot, and Beaumarchais, “dramatic writing is no longer self-sufficient; it needs a mise-en-scene that authors endeavor to provide through their stage directions.” Why? Characters were increasingly “socially marked individuals,” and in order to capture “the character’s interiority and the mood of the stage,” stage directions had to change. Pavis notes that “this information is so precise and subtle that it requires a narrative voice. Here theatre approaches the novel, and curiously enough it is just when it aims to be believable, objective, ‘dramatic’ and naturalistic that it falls into psychological description and resorts to a descriptive or narrative approach.”

Although the practice of theatre making has changed since Beaumarchais, contemporary playwrights still use a narrative voice in stage directions. Take, for example, this stage direction from Angels in America: “Harper is having a pill-induced hallucination. She has these from time to time. For some reason, Prior has appeared in this one. Or Harper has appeared in Prior’s dream. It is bewildering.” Clearly, this is more than just an action. Tony Kushner isn’t just handing out information neutrally—and, really, would he ever? It isn’t dictatorial or prescriptive; in fact, as he seems to enjoy undermining the assumed clarity of the stage direction. That’s what I expect of Kushner. That’s a narrative voice.

It may seem a bit of a disappointment to develop a narrative voice in stage directions that is then never heard, since stage directions are not read aloud in performances. They’re only heard in staged readings  or productions with a narrator. That makes giving stage directions voice and center stage all the most novel for the Neo-Futurists.

Stage Directions and Psychological Description

To be fair, O’Neill’s stage directions weren’t that far from descriptions of emotions as they were described by scientists like Darwin or studied by psychologists like William James, which Eric Bentley records in The Life of the Drama.  However, to contemporary audiences they come across as histrionic and requiring close-up shots to show just how their “nostrils dilate” and or to catch as an actress “flushes red.” O’Neill was particularly impassioned in writing about eyes: “wild with feverish eyes,” “expressive eyes,” “intelligent eyes,” “eyes staring from sockets,” eyes in which “a light of a dawning madness is dancing in,” and “she has large eyes which she attempts to keep always mysterious and brooding”—and, ah, how the Neo-Futurists have fun interpreting that.

The impossibility of completing a stage direction is comedic, particularly when an actress struggles to be “an American girl suffering from delusions of being a Russian heroine,” or an actor has decide how to “get ready to crush her with the weight of his eloquence.” And when combining a literal interpretation with O’Neill’s psychological description and attempts to sum up a character and his or her motivations, the Neo-Futurists’ hit comic payload. I won’t reveal how Neo-Futurists accomplish the task of flushing red—you deserve to see it.

 Volume 2 and Beyond

And see it you may! Loar initially hoped to do all 52 of O’Neill’s plays. Now, focusing on plays that fit the Fair Use law aka those written pre-1923, they’re considering only doing 32. Loar, however, is undaunted, and plans for Volume 2 are underway. Loar argues that a benefit to seeing the body of O’Neill’s works (particularly in condensed versions) is that audiences are able to quickly recognize reoccurring traits and themes, particularly significant themes in later plays. Loar plans on exploiting these repetitions as well. Since several characters in multiple plays engage in the same actions, he plans on using these actions as “portals” in which a character crosses from one play to another where the same action would have just occurred.

Volume 1 is almost entirely a comedy. The ensemble experimented with incorporating serious plays in it, but the plays were cut in order to keep a unified style and tone. Volume 2, Loar relates, will have plays in which serious actions take place. But for a company that does not “play characters” or “manufacture emotions” or “pretend to be somebody else,” can stage directions be anything more than comedic?

In one of his best-known early pieces, Bound East for Cardiff (1914), a man keeps vigil over his dying friend. The Neo-Futurists literally interpreted the actions, without any pretence to create a character or to manufacture emotions. All of this fit the Neo-Futurist aesthetic and principles. The result? It was considered by reviewers one of the least successful parts of the production.

That said, undoubtedly if Loar set out to create a serious play, he and the ensemble would have made entirely different choices in setting up and interpreting the stage directions in that scene. Perhaps they would have chosen not to be so literal, or not to focus on psychological descriptions or draw out the melodrama. Perhaps they would have given more gravitas to the narrative voice by creating stillness on stage. Perhaps I’m limiting tragedy to fiction.  But if upcoming volumes are serious, will stage directions be enough?

I hope that we all get to see.

*If you took a theatre history or play analysis class, did you cover stage directions much in your theatre studies? Please comment below.

THE COMPLETE & CONDENSED STAGE DIRECTIONS OF EUGENE O’NEILL, VOLUME 1

Early Plays/Lost Plays

Text by Eugene O’Neill, adapted and directed by Christopher Loar; sets and props by Cara Francis; lighting by Chris Cullen; sound by Mr. Loar; stage manager, Christine Cullen; general manager, Mikell Kober. Presented by the New York Neo-Futurists. At the Kraine Theater, 85 East Fourth Street, East Village; nynf.org. Through Oct. 1. Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes. World premiere.

With Danny Burnam, Brendan Donaldson, Cara Francis, Connor Kalista, Jacquelyn Landgraf, Erica Livingston and Lauren Sharpe.

On the premiere of “The Dangers of Electric Lighting”

A letter from Cheryl Katz, Associate Artistic Director/Director of New Play Development at Luna Stage.

Two years ago, we commissioned Ben Clawson to write a play about Thomas Edison. Our company had just relocated to a new space in West Orange and we were thinking about ways to embrace and engage our new community.  We thought a play about the town’s most famous denizen would allow us to learn more about the heritage of our new neighborhood and provide opportunities to partner with local organizations.  Having enjoyed a long relationship with Ben, we knew his approach to the man would not be your run of the mill idolatry and homage. We knew he would dig deeper into what makes a man like Edison tick.  What we had no way of knowing was that our world premiere of this play would coincide with the death of another great inventor.

Edison’s legacy is mammoth.  At any moment in history, an examination of his work and psyche would prove relevant and provocative.  But somehow, the death of someone who has lived among us makes everything more immediate and personally, leads me toward introspection.

Thomas Edison (and I imagine Steve Jobs and Nikola Tesla as well), was clairvoyant. He knew what the public needed and wanted before the public knew themselves. He had an unshakable confidence in the necessity and definitiveness of his inventions. In lesser men, these traits might lead one to simply be labeled arrogant, but, in a genius such as Edison, they are inspiring.

As many of you know, two years ago, Luna Stage lost our Montclair space in the midst of the worst financial meltdown in recent history. We saw countless theatre companies close their doors permanently. We could easily have chosen to do the same, but we chose to persevere. Because, at the end of the day, I guess theatre artists share some characteristics with great inventors.  We believe we know what the public really wants and even though everyone says that people are spending all of their time tuned in to reality TV and Facebook, we cling to our conviction that the human soul thrives on genuine contact. And we are utterly convinced of the power and electricity of live theatre.

So, here we are– opening our second season in our new home with the world premiere of this wonderful new play. We hope that through The Dangers of Electric Lighting, you can gain access to these extraordinary men in a way that would prove difficult in a biography or another medium, and that in turn, you will discover something about yourself. Because that is our work, our passion: to illuminate the world around us and to foster a common understanding and appreciation for all that it is to be human.

© Cheryl Katz (14 November 2011)

The Dangers of Electric Lighting by Ben Clawson received its premiere at Luna Stage, Oct-Nov. 2011. Directed by John Henry Davis, sets by Andrea Mincic, lights by Paul Hudson, costumes by Deborah Caney, production manager Liz Cesario, stage manager Danielle Constance. Jane Mandel, Artistic Director; Mona Hennessy, Managing Director. 555 Valley Road, West Orange, NJ. (973)-395-5551.

WITH: Frank Anderson, B. Brian Argotsinger, Jon Barker, James Glossman, Joseph Langham.

For further reading, see New York Times review.