A picture from S. Lewis Feemster and the peeps at Dauphin Island

Written by Patrick Burr on May 6th, 2015

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Dauphin Island gets to rehearse on the festival stage.  Seems like a very inspiring environment. Looking good, Cheri Vanden Heuvel!

Thanks for the photo, Lewis!!

A word from Betsy Helmer and the peeps at “Much Ado About Willie”

Written by Patrick Burr on May 6th, 2015

Betsy is reading for Mary/Jane in Much Ado About Willie (The reading will also feature ASF all-stars Greta Lambert and Rodney Clark #powercouple). Betsy also plays Rosalind in ASF’s As You Like It and an adorable messenger boy in King Lear. Here’s what she had to say about today’s rehearsal:

Today’s rehearsal for Much to Do About Willie was very exciting as we received new edits and in some cases new scenes for the show. It was such a thrill to be able to see how a play can transform over night, and to hear the differences read aloud in the room. After reading the play, the discussion among those in the room turned to the sequencing of the scenes and whether or not placing certain scenes at different places than they stand currently would prove more effective in telling the story.  During the afternoon, the playwrights took some time to make some more changes to the script and I can’t wait to see what they have come up with tomorrow morning when we will rehearse again.  Off to a reading of Cindy Cinderella: An American Fairy Tale! [part of the guerrilla reading series. We read two plays over pizza and beer to get more playwrights’ work read by actors]

See you at the reading, girl! Betsy will be playing a Cinderella-type named Cynthia and I will be playing….Thomas Edison? Sounds kooky!

Playwright in Profile: John Walch

Written by Patrick Burr on May 5th, 2015

Well, SWP has begun and we are busy as bees! I started rehearsing John Walch’s play What God Hath Wrought today, so I figured what better time to give you blog readers a chance to learn more about him and his play, the fascinating story of Meg and Connor. The former is a modern day costumer service rep for a burrito chain and the latter is a 19th century Irish immigrant. How do they connect? Through a powerful conflation of love and technology!

Because of our current busy schedule and John’s rich answers to my poor questions, I’m doing a somewhat lazy copy and paste of our interview. I know John won’t mind because I’ll spend the extra time researching the complicated programming vocabulary my character uses in his play (………right John?). Without further ado, the interview:

-Since we are celebrating Southern voices, how do you feel that living in/being from the American Southaast has influenced your work?

JW: This is my third SWP, and while this play isn’t explicitly about the South (although the American Civil War and the importance of the then emerging technology of the telegraph is briefly touched upon), I am excited to come back to ASF and continue the conversation with this community and audience.

-Along those lines, what and who influences your work? Are there playwrights you admire or strive to emulate?   Artists of other mediums you enjoy?

JW: Oh lots.  In particular, since my play is a farce, I looked to masters of that form: Wilde, Wilder, Orton,  and others.  The thing everyone knows about farces is that they have lots of doors. So in this piece, I wanted to explore a farce without doors, or—to put it more precisely–a farce with virtual doors, where characters, memories, random thoughts pop in and out to add texture, or backstory/information, and hopefully humor.

-In particular, what inspired you to write the play we will be workshopping this year?

JW: I’m interested in emerging technologies and how they help or hinder how we communicate.  My generation has been witness to an enormous growth in communications technology and the birth of the digital age. I am not a digital native and recall growing up when the the humble answering machine entered our home and changed it forever.  I also vividly recall the first time I ever saw anyone use a cell phone, publically.  The opening monologue from the character Meg is pretty much true to my experience; the first cell phone call I ever saw made was on a bus in San Francisco and was about a dude extolling the virtues of the burrito he just had.  It was exciting and intriguing; absurd and ridiculous. These are the tones I wanted to capture in my play.

I also wanted to take a larger, longer look. So I started going back, which eventually landed me at the birth of global communications, and the  laying of the Transatlantic cable. The laying of the great cable took from 1857-1866 and is itself a monumental  story that could be its own play, but I wasn’t as interested in writing a straight history play, as I was in following the pulse from that first message up through the beeps, blips, and pings our contemporary devices assault us with.  What also intrigued me about the laying of the cable was how similar the impulses behind laying it was to the start-up of some of the tech giants today (Apple, Microsoft), complete with “adventure capitalists” and technological set-backs.

I was lucky enough to get a travel grant to research the play from the Lippmann Family Foundation through New Dramatists, which took me to Valencia; a small island off the Southwest Coast of Ireland.  There, everyone had a piece of the cable, a story to tell, and, like in the play, there is this charming heritage museum that is a bit like your grandmother’s attic, full of ephemera from the cable and those who worked on it.  (The cable operation in Valencia continued into the 1960’s.)  So, here I had tension, this very analog old school miracle of communication—they sent a message across the ocean instantly, unthinkable!–with this new school, sleek digital age where communicating across time and space is taken…almost…for granted at this point.  And as a dramatist, when I find a central tension, that’s where I begin digging in to find the human story.

-What are your thoughts on coming to Montgomery for the Southern Writers’ Project? What do you hope to gain?


It’s a blast to come and work on something with a completely new group, to see what fresh eyes and ears and minds bring to the table. It’s also very informative to see how it lands on this audience, so I will be watching them watch. I hope to leave with a solid draft of a funny, heartbreaking, historically resonant and contemporarily relevant play…isn’t that what we all want?

-What about your past experiences here made you want to return? Are there any defining moments from your past SWP experience you would like to share?


JW: I remember my first SWP, where started IN THE BOOK OF.  I came in with about 15 pages, holed up in the Residence Inn, and left after the week with 90+ pages and a complete draft.  The cast, led by Greta as director, we’re totally game and supportive, and the audience that Sunday morning for the reading was engaged and I could tell was rooting for the play. Having on audience like that is a gift that you want again and again.

The following year, I worked on the musical DOUBLETIME, with the composer Nile Rogers. Again, we had this crazy level of commitment from the cast, the staff, the theatre, and the audience. This let us get the piece on its feet and see what we had. Even more surreal that year, is that this Japanese film crew was shadowing Nile, making a “a month in the life of…” documentary about him, so we had all these guys with cameras walking around videoing and interviewing us.  The documentary is called “Start Again” which is  actually one of the songs from the musical and it loops throughout. If you want to see ASF/SWP dubbed in Japanese check out the Wowow TV documentary.  http://www.nilerodgers.com/nrmedia/videos/181-start-again-documentary-by-wowow-tv.  (The ASF segment is about 29 minutes in.)  Nile was  battling cancer at the time and SWP was a really special time, as it allowed us to focus on the music and the play and just do our work and focus on control what we can… Happily, the development of the turned out great, and far more importantly, so did Nile’s treatment

I look forward to being part of SWP in 2015.

 

Getting Excited!

Written by Cory Lawson on May 5th, 2015

imageHey Patrick! Great stuff! It’s late and I’m headed to bed but I just wanted to say that I’m so excited to get to work tomorrow on these amazing plays. I can’t wait to see and meet everyone at rehearsal! As for me, I’ll be working on Nathaniel Lachenmeyer’s script Sorrows End! I was just reading it! So good!!

Playwright in Profile: Jeffry Chastang

Written by Patrick Burr on May 1st, 2015

You may already be familiar with this playwright if you have attended SWP before.  This year marks Jeffry Chastang’s fifth Southern Writers’ Project, his fourth as a playwright.  You may remember his play Preparations, an SWP workshopped piece, and/or Blood Divided, a Civil War piece commissioned by the Alabama Shakespeare Festival. Chastang also participated as an actor during SWP 2013 in James Bowen’s play Deconstruction, Part One. (James Bowen currently playing the Fool in King Lear has participated as an actor, playwright and this year a dramaturg for Chastang).

It was actually while working on Bowen’s Deconstruction that the wheels started turning for the play he will be workshopping this year, Dauphin Island. Two of his fellow actors Cheri Vanden Heuvel (currently playing Regan in King Lear) and Esau Pritchett (who last appeared in the ASF repertory as Othello) were his inspiration and “became the faces and voices of the two characters.”  Dauphin Island is the story of “the risks involved when two displaced souls intertwine.”  It follows Selwyn Tate who is leaving Detroit for a new job on Dauphin Island, but on his way he meets Kendra and interrupts her isolated life in the woods of Alabama.

Chastang’s grandparents, aunts, and uncles were wonderful storytellers and he cites them as his biggest influence.  He is also inspired by the works of August Wilson, Eugene O’Neill, Suzan-Lori Parks, Tennessee Williams, and Alice Childress.  In film, he loves film noir and road movies–one of his favorites is “Wizard of Oz.” (Mine too!).  Some of his favorite directors are Quentin Tarantino, Kasi Lemons, Elia Kazan, Martin Scorsese, Ralph Bakshi, and Spike Lee.

Jeffry told me that he’ll never forget his first SWP: “The playwright,director, dramaturg, and cast are working together for the good of the play. Egos get checked at the door! My first SWP experience was wonderful.”  He certainly has me excited for my first SWP!

For more information about Jeffry Chastang and his work, check out these links:

http://ohioplaywriting.org/mfa-bios/

http://www.metrotimes.com/detroit/real-people-talkin/Content?oid=2172344

https://www.tcg.org/tools/newplays/details2010.cfm?ShowID=110

Playwright in Profile: Nathaniel Lachenmeyer

Written by Patrick Burr on April 27th, 2015

The Alabama Shakespeare Festival is excited to welcome first-time participant Nathaniel Lachenmeyer to this year’s Southern Writers’ Project. Not only a playwright, Lachenmeyer has written award-winning books for both children and adults. Additionally, he has lectured across the country and internationally on mental health and homeless issues.  I was excited to speak with and learn more about this Atlanta-based multi-hyphenate. Using the framework of an exit counseling for individuals transitioning out of the cult mindset, his play Sorrow’s End explores, to quote Lachenmeyer, “the idea that we are all, to some extant, prisoners of both our upbringing and our past.”  Lachenmeyer did substantial research to prepare for the writing of this play, interviewing former cult members and exit counselors. It will be interesting to see how this research will play out in the depiction of the play’s protagonist, Eric, who is an ex-cult member turned exit counselor.

After speaking with the playwright, I learned that two of his driving inquiries are finding “the dividing line between rational and irrational thought” and investigating “belief systems and their impact on the individual.” These meditations stem from his family history, in particular, from the story of his father’s life.  Lachenmeyer dealt with this subject directly in his book The Outsider, but this influence is certainly part of Sorrow’s End as well. His father was born into a Christian Scientist family and “had to make sense of the discrepancy between his family’s belief system and what he experienced in the world.” We all  go through this transition, to varying degrees, reconciling the beliefs of our parents with our own developing sense of self.  Later in life, his father developed schizophrenia and struggled with homelessness.  When we talk about cults, they seem to have an air of being far removed from reality; we think: “that could never happen to me.” But, Lachenmeyer’s personal experiences in conjunction with his thorough research are sure to bring this far-fetched impossibility to a more human and universal level.

We look forward to your arrival in Montgomery, Nathaniel! We can’t wait to watch this thought-provoking piece grows through the week of SWP. I will leave you, blog readers, with a quote from Long Day’s Journey into Night by Lachenmeyer’s favorite playwright, Eugene O’Neill. This is a line that resonated with him when he was first writing Sorrow’s End:

“None of us can help the things life has done to us. They’re done before you realize it, and once they’re done they make you do other things until at last everything comes between you and what you’d like to be, and you’ve lost your true self forever.”

Don’t loose your true self forever!! Come check out Sorrow’s End at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival’s Southern Writers’ Project!

For more information on Nathaniel Lachenmeyer, visit his website: http://www.nathaniellachenmeyer.com/

 

 

Written by Cory Lawson on April 25th, 2015

Hello again!
Patrick I’m glad you asked! I also had a lot of fun at our first YSWP rehearsal! The plays really have grown and it was exciting to see how a little feedback can help shape the work. These playwrights worked so hard between the two reads and it really shows. Next week we are back at it with rehearsals so we will make sure to have an update for everyone then!
We are currently just finishing up with the award ceremony for next years YSWP plays and we will make sure to give you an account of everything happening here soon. For now though I just want to say wow. The amount of talent in these Alabama schools is inspiring. James Bowen has done a phenomenal job working in these class rooms and next years crop of plays promises to be just as exciting and powerful as this years!
Ok updates soon!

Later,
Cory

YSWP Second Drafts!

Written by Patrick Burr on April 23rd, 2015

Hello again! And a special hello to Cory, my mate of both cast and room! (Come see As You Like It to find out whether Cory or I will prevail in a wrestling match!)

The Intern Company sat down together today to read through two fresh drafts for the Young Southern Writers’ Project. The plays:  Letters from Becky by Anna Robertson and There’s Snow Place Like Home by Brian Prichard.   It’s been about a month since the young playwrights came to visit us in Montgomery and heard their plays read aloud for the first time. I’m happy to say both have grown considerably since.  Our initial readings and discussions hopefully planted some of the seeds that made these already exciting plays even better.  In Robertson’s heart-wrenching drama, for example, the addition of dramaturgical specificity vividly elucidated her southern small-town setting, and in Prichard’s sardonic coming-of-age piece, his protagonist’s journey was enhanced by more nuanced relationships with the supporting characters. Advanced stuff, to be sure. My only wish was that these burgeoning Shakespeares could have been with us today to hear how much their stories have evolved! I’m looking forward to returning to Only Half of the Mirror by our second place finalist Sarah Matthews.  It is certainly the most enigmatic and experimental of the three works that will be presented this year.

Crazily enough, this Saturday morning, eight young playwrights will be awarded for their submissions to YSWP.  The top three will have their plays read at the 2016 SWP, and by then, this blog will be in the hands of another intern…and so the world goes round.  At ASF, the week of SWP takes much longer than you might think to make a reality.

Stay tuned for my first interview with one of this years “big kid” SWP playwrights.  Coming soon to a blog near you.  This blog to be exact.

What did you think about today, Cory?

Patrick

Cory’s First Post

Written by Cory Lawson on April 22nd, 2015

Hello everyone in Blog Land!
I’m Cory Lawson and I am an actor this season at The Alabama Shakespeare Festival! If you haven’t read it yet, scroll down and check out my friend Patrick’s first blog post. It’s fun, informative, and as far as his passion for the Southern Writers Project goes, I find he names my very deed of love…only he comes too short!
I am very excited to start work on this project. It’s one of the things I was most looking forward to upon signing my contract with ASF, all the way back in September. I’ll get more into why in a moment, but first a bit of background on me.
I am originally from Roanoke Virginia, which is where I went to school and got my Bachelors of Fine Arts degree from Roanoke College. I then packed up my “small town mountain life” and in 2011 I graduated with my MFA in Acting from The New School University in New York City. Since then I have traveled and performed in theaters around the US and internationally.
I had been wanting to work at ASF for many years but have had to miss the auditions for one reason or another each of the last few seasons. I finally made it out to the auditions last summer and the past year is history! What a year it has been too! It started with playing Jacques and Charles the Wrestler in As You Like it, which has toured on and off all year and can now be seen at ASF in the Octagon theatre! I was also in A Christmas Carol, appeared as The March Hare and The King of Hearts in a SOLD OUT and EXTENDED production of Alice in Wonderland, and currently I can be seen in King Lear which I was also able to consult and build fights for ( By the way if you haven’t seen Lear yet do. It’s good…REALLY good). On top of all this I have taught acting classes, directed a youth production of The Velveteen Rabbit and understudied some amazing roles and actors in every show this season. So when I tell you its been an incredible, busy year I’m not blowing smoke.
With all that said, I mentioned earlier that I was looking forward to The Southern Writers Project, maybe more than anything I’ve done this season. The reason? I LOVE new works! For me, it’s the single most exciting thing we can do as actors. I even chose my grad school because of it’s foundation in developing and and teaching their artists how to work on new plays.
It’s art in it’s purest form. Helping to craft an original piece, that is what the Southern Writers Project is all about! It’s celebrating artistry, creativity and the act of collaboration. Theatre is a communal experience and a group effort. For these playwrights, this will be the first time they have shared their work with actors, and most importantly with an Audience, so they can go back and rewrite and shape the piece to be the best it can be. You want to know the best part about this? YOU CAN BE A PART OF IT!!!! Just come out and watch, laugh, cry, ask questions if you want, comment if you feel like it but COME! Because it’s such a unique and exciting event that ASF puts on, and it deserves to be supported.
So that’s it. That is why I’m thrilled to be a part of this. As the days count down toward SWP Patrick and I will have interviews with participants, important updates and our own personal behind the scenes experiences to be shared. I hope you’ll keep checking back with us, and I hope you’ll come out and support SWP and all the wonderful shows at ASF that are happening right now!

Till next time,
Cory

Patrick’s First Post

Written by Patrick Burr on April 21st, 2015

Hello all!

My name is Patrick Burr and I am one-eighth of the 2014-2015 Intern Acting Company at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival.  After graduating from New York University’s Tisch School for the Arts in May of 2014, I began my professional theater career here at ASF in Montgomery. It has been a busy and exciting year! Currently, I am playing Orlando in As You Like It and Oswald in King Lear–both a part of the spring repertory. I have also had the privilege to play The White Rabbit in ASF’s Alice in Wonderland and to do some caroling in this season’s A Christmas Carol.  However, as you may know, ASF season really culminates in the week of the Southern Writers’ Project.  It’s a great time to visit the theater because there is so much going on: the rep season (the aforementioned plays plus the hilarious Importance of Being Earnest) and a multitude of readings of new plays by playwrights young and…experienced.  Myself and the other seven-eighths the intern company have already had the opportunity to sit down with the three talented finalists of the Young Southern Writers’ Project (all high school students) and read their plays.  It was great to watch them experience their plays out-loud for the first time and to discuss their work with them.  I’m looking forward to seeing the next drafts!

In the coming weeks, I will be interviewing some of the artists (playwrights, actors, dramaturgs, stage managers, etc.) that will be joining us for this intensive week of theater and posting what I find out here.  Stay tuned.

Patrick