Hello! How are you?
What is your name?
Where are you from?
Brooklyn, NY. Born and raised.
Great, and then you went off to college and then back to the New York City? Was that your trajectory?
Yeah, BU for 4 years then back.
What made you want to move back to NY?
Well, my friends and I decided we wanted to start a collaborative theatre company by our junior year and then were considering staying in Boston but a play of mine got into the Fringe Festival in the city so…we were definitely contemplating moving back to NY anyway, but once the play got in it just seemed like a great opportunity to do it!
Awesome. So what have you been working on here at SPACE?
Mostly I’ve been working on a play that I’m writing partly through the Soho Rep Writer/Director Lab, which is about an elementary school class (4th graders, 8 and 9 year olds) learning about the 2008 Presidential Election as it goes along. They take on the roles of the people in the election, Obama, Biden, McCain, Palin, and they get caught up in the messiness of the campaign and the election and they learn all about the grossness of life and politics through this faux version of the election. And then I’m also working on lyrics for songs for a children’s musical, a youth-oriented musical that we’re writing at the company, in residence at the New Victory Theatre.
Great! So you, personally, are an individual playwright and also part of this company?
And for the Soho Rep Lab, did they give out a topic or a theme or did you just come up with this idea for your play?
No, when I was a finalist, they asked for a proposal of a play I might write in the group and they asked me to write a few pages of it. So that was just an idea I’ve been thinking about for a little while and it feels like the right time and place to try writing it.
Yeah, it’s great, I love it. I loved what we read last night. The topic is such an interesting, original idea.
Oh thanks! There’s something about juxtaposing kids that are just about to be teenagers but aren’t even at pre-pubescence. I’m interested in writing something that is more about, as dark as it may be, a younger child, as opposed to, we have a lot of plays about teenagers. So I wanted to juxtapose the innocence of these kids with the total lying ways that adults have in politics. Also, when in politics, adults act like children, I think it’s interesting when children act like adults…so yeah.
Yeah, I hope it will be funny, and it’ll be very dark I think.
Are you hoping to have kids play the parts of adults?
Well they way I picture it is adults, but I’m not really sure how casting it is going to go yet…it’s been suggested that it might be quite interesting and bizarre with children but ya know, I think there’s something about the layers of adults playing kids if its done in the right way that’s more interesting to me, but I don’t know yet.
Well, good luck with it!
How has your process of writing here been different than it is in the city, if you’ve noticed a difference?
Well it’s just so fully supported here, so, you’re kind of handed the time and the space and there’s just not a lot of distraction, so it kind of lets you grapple with your own discipline issues, and it lets you really focus. On this particular residency, I actually did a lot of reading, but that’s an equally important part, for this play, of what I’m doing. I always think a lot of the writing process is the research and all of that. I’ve done writing here as well but just having the time to saturate my brain in the subject matter is really necessary to get the writing done. So it’s two birds with one stone this week for me. And there’s actually a third project that I’m supposed to be working on. I’m sort of ruminating on it, so I’ll try to get some words down today.
Going back to your company that you’re a part of, could you talk a little bit about it? What is your process when you create pieces, what is your mission, how did you guys come together?
The mission is to create ensemble-based theatre collaboratively, and to maintain a consistent core company while collaborating with an ongoing pool of regular, frequent collaborators from outside the company. And to make really risky, challenging theatre that appeals to a more non–traditional theatre base, which I would define as, younger audiences, maybe the 40-45 and under crowd. Unlike the many, larger non–profits in NY that appeal so much to a pretty specific older crowd. We’re also interested in appealing to a wider diversity, in terms of ethnicity, sexual orientation, backgrounds, and economic backgrounds.
The company is called Collaboration Town. We define collaboration differently for each project we work on, so much so that sometimes we do one of our plays, because we have three playwrights in the core of five people who run the company. But, we also do entirely group created work. We do work with two writers or three writers. So how we define collaboration varies from project to project. When we work as a group, well that’s different from project to project, too, but we’ve known each other for 15 years now, so that has a lot to do with the question, ‘how do you make a group devised play?’ The three of us who are playwrights (Boo Killebrew, Geoffrey Decas O’Donnell, and I) are also sometimes performers, so in some ways, our most group-created stuff is the pieces that we also perform in. We have a piece called The Momentum, which is actually just performed by me, Boo, and Geo, which we co-created with its director, Lee Sunday Evans, and TJ Witham, who in total, those are the 5 people who also make up the artistic core.
So just to give you an example, we were on a residency at Robert Wilson’s Watermill Center and we brought in… we often just bring in a seed idea, a theme, a subject matter, or whatever we want to make a piece about. Our jumping-off point at this residency was medieval morality plays. And we were knocking our heads against the wall figuring out what we wanted to do and we didn’t just want to do the morality plays like updated. So then we came up upon the subject of self help, because these plays used to travel around in covered wagons and groups of people from the community would play all the roles and it was all kind of preaching the stories of the Bible, and to some extent, preaching Christianity. But, every time we were like, ‘how do we adapt these?’ we kept discovering that all of our feelings and messages were a little anti-organized religion, and we were all like, ‘we can’t make a piece that’s like, hey we don’t like organized religion’ So then we came upon the self help idea, which is this kind of modern-day equivalent. Oprah is literally traveling around this country putting up this Oprah tent, telling people how to live their lives. And we also became really obsessed with The Secret, which is a pretty famous book and movie that kind of says you can positively think your way to health and happiness, and you just have to think about the things that you want and then you’ll get them. We don’t really believe in that, but also one of the funny things about the self help movement in America is that the tenets are pretty practical and sensible. They’re like ‘hey, don’t think negatively, think positively, and you’ll be happier!’ Well yeah, we agree with that, but we don’t particularly believe that there’s a regimented system that you can read in a book like The Secret that will change your life or get you money or solve your marital problems. So we made this piece called The Momentum, which is about a fictional self help program called The Momentum.
We’ve worked very collaboratively in a lot of other ways as well. Lee and I co-directed a play of Geoffrey’s, The Deepest Play Ever, the Catharsis of Pathos, which is basically a musical, a play with music, a riff on Brecht and epic theatre and Mother Courage, and that was something we did in the fringe in 2006 in a very different version and he always wanted to see it re-realized so we worked with Geo a ton on the script and re-mounted a drastically different version of it in 2012. And then we’ve produced plays of mine, we’ve produced plays of Boo’s. Our last play was called Family Play (1979 to Present). All the text was by me, and Boo and Geo, Lee directed. We were in a residency at New Ohio theatre for two years and that was like being handed a gift in terms of development process because we had a very clear time line of how to go about spacing out the development periods for the play. So Boo and Geo performed in that one as well. I did not perform in that one, but the three of us shared writing credit. TJ helped with the actual creation of the piece, and then Lee directed, and she is a very collaborative, shaper of text, so she had a lot to do with the final structure of the play. All of those conversations were had as a group.
Do you guys typically perform in a space or where do you perform?
We perform wherever we are invited or wherever we rent. We had nine months of semi-permanent office space through a grant, through LMCC, last year. We operate on a very shoestring budget so we haven’t been able to afford a very permanent office space yet, but that’s a pretty clear next step for us, having had the nine months of donated space. In terms of a home performance space, I think very, very few, if any, companies our size, have permanent space because of real estate in NY right now. We definitely do rent spaces sometimes for individual productions, but we’ve been so lucky to have the donated space at the New Ohio for the Family Play (1979 to Present). So that’s pretty amazing because, well that space in particular is pretty awesome, but just renting space is so expensive, so having that given to us through a residency is a really big deal.
You were saying that part of your mission is to appeal to younger audiences of diverse backgrounds. How would you say you guys go about that?
Well a lot of it just has to do with the fact that we are younger ourselves. I think of myself as having graduated this past May, but YOU actually graduated this past May. But, I guess, the fact of the matter is that being 33 years old and pulling in my peer group is still younger than almost of the audiences in NY. And I think the material we make appeals naturally to younger audiences. We’re lucky to have relationships with many similarly sized and aged companies, so cross-marketing has a lot to do with that. Also, Theatre of the Oppressed, which is a theatre company also out of BU… I mean, Katy Rubin is an actual genius, and she just has been, as an individual, an amazing resource for us when we’ve done plays that have dealt with subject matters that we feel we should be reaching out to specific groups for. She’s a particularly amazing resource that we happen have because we’re friends with her and went to school with her and all that, and she’s very generous. I also feel like there’s a pretty big queer quotient in Collaboration Town. We have two straight women and three gay men. While the New York City gay community perhaps attends more theatre anyway in the city, I think our work has a pretty pronounced queer angle and voices it a lot of the time and that also sort of does some of the work for us, because it’s already speaking out to a pretty, its not a minority in NYC necessarily, but that community is smaller everywhere else in the world. So the material kind of calls out to a lot of those communities, just by the nature of the work.
Great. So how did you hear about SPACE?
I think my former agent introduced me to Emily. And then I came the first year that Emily had people come up here, in 2009 I think, and it’s just amazing in a short amount of time what she’s done. Kay Hall wasn’t happening, and this kitchen in The Sycamores wasn’t happening. It was very minimal.
Do you have a favorite spot at the farm?
The bed I’m sleeping in this time is shockingly comfortable. I love the little Kay Hall outlook over the pond. It’s a little too cold to spend much time out there, but…I’ve done a lot of my reading in the Adirondack chairs. And I’ve done most of my writing in Kay Hall because I like the taller ceilings and light for writing. Oh! And that little dock is amazing by the lake, again a little too cold to spend a lot of time at, but if I could be right by water all the time I’d be happy.
Interviewed by Julia Schonberg.