Erin Mallon Kicks off the process

Hey all!

Erin Mallon here.

I’m not sure I can adequately express how happy I am to be one of Farm Theater’s playwrights for their College Collaboration Project this year and to be working with the students of Arkansas State University and Pellissippi State Community College. I am a writer though, so I suppose that’s the definition of my job, right? To adequately express things in words? Well, how’s this: I’m psyched. PSYCHED.

But, like, in a gentle way.

Which is new for me.

See, I’m accustomed to writing first drafts in less-than-30-days through a project I co-produce called The Brooklyn Generator. This approach is awesome because I don’t have time to second-guess myself. This approach is often horrifying though because I don’t have time for… well, much of anything!

So to have several months to let this new play percolate and grow feels like a real luxury. This is a slow burn of sorts when I’m used to theatrical grease fires. Each day I walk around pondering what the play may want to become and new images pop into my head. New characters visit me and delight me. Notebooks fill with potential scenes. Dialogue pops in my brain and plops itself into a file on my desktop labeled “College Collab Play.”

But before that all started happening, we kicked off the process with juicy discussions with each of our schools via videoconference.Erin College Collab image 2

Here are some of the topics we tackled:

  • Does the mind create the body?
  • What does the voice in your head say most often?
  • How might a silent character express themselves onstage?
  • What do you rarely if ever see in the theater?
  • What is your relationship to exercise?
  • What musical instruments do you play?
  • Mary Oliver’s poem “Wild Geese”
  • Louise Hay’s Mirror Exercise and seminal book “You Can Heal Your Life”

Erin College Collab image 1I’m so grateful to these thoughtful, openhearted students for sharing their stories with me. Because of them, I now sit here with approximately thirty pages of raw, seemingly unconnected writing that I have faith will expand and find its way into play form before July 1st , when my first draft is due.

Until then, I’m going to make the most of these next 2.5 months by soaking up more opportunities to learn from these wonderful students , trusting the process and enjoying the slow burn.

Keep you posted!

xo

Erin

 

 

 

 

Rose Bruford – empowering conversation

hey,

Last week Matthew Hallock, Chair of the Theater Department at Centre College, and I were invited to talk with Rose Bruford College in England about the College Collaboration Project. Rose Bruford has an exchange program with Centre and was interested in sharing with their students the value of developing a new script with the intent of generating a conversation thru the process.

Matthew and I facilitated a class for two days and we were part of a panel talking about play development. The panel also included Rick St. Peter from Clemson University andReginald Edmund, founder of Black Lives, Black Words. Reggie has produced Black Lives, Black Words across the US, which premiered in Chicago, July 2015. It is an ongoing international project that explores the black diaspora’s experiences in some of the largest multicultural cities in the world, Chicago, Minneapolis, Cleveland, Toronto and London. Over sixty Black writers from the UK, USA, and Canada have written short plays to address Black issues today.  It is a ‘pop up’ model of art – at major theater institutions.

What I value the most about the College Collaboration is the long conversation that the year and a half long process of developing the play offers all involved. Sitting on the panel next to Reggie, a self defined ‘cultural terrorist’, talking about creating these events was fascinating. Both programs were inspiring conversation through plays, empowering  participants, and they were different models for getting worked produced. They both use your voice thru the development of art to spark conversation, representation, and change. Listening to the Rock N Roll model of the one night only event of Black Lives, Black Words model – I thought that’s cool! img_0528.jpg

It is a model that is being used a lot now by new theater companies. The ten minute play or the monologue on a theme. Or the Poetry slam or hip hop theater. It’s exciting. Inspiring – and gets a lot of people creating. The energy is fantastic. And it builds community.

Talking about how the college collaboration develops a play over a year and a half thru the contribution of multiple communities felt important. But it also felt a little less exciting. Less cool. Less immediate.

One of the primary goals of The Farm is to create access for all who may not have a link to the established pipelines of support in our industry.  Sitting in that discussion – everyone on the panel was valued but I also felt part of the establishment. What I felt in the discussion was interest, but also a strong sense of immediacy, urgency, and impatience. A feeling of ‘now’ – I want to do it ‘now’. I want to know how to do it ‘now’. I want to know that my career will work out ‘now’.

Throughout our stay, I realized that that they are doing it now, they all are beginning their careers now, they are all learning now. It’s already happening. We’re in the mix together – right now.

Two students asked questions that stood out. One – “What would you tell your younger self, if you were in the audience listening to this discussion?” and I had thought about it recently, so I answered first “You’re going to live. All the worrying about survival and money, rent, and food is important but don’t let it stop you from doing what you want to do in your life because you’re going to live. You will make sure of that – so I want to encourage you to move beyond thinking about survival and thinking about thriving. Because you’re going to live.” IMG_0529

The other said, “students are always told to take a risk. How can you do that – and what stops you from doing it?” Matthew answered this one brilliantly. And I hope I represent it well, but he said, you’re already doing it just by asking the question here in front of a room full of people. Also, the thing that stops us is that we think that we’re impostors and that someone will find out. We’re not real artists. Someone else is an artist. Who are we to want to express our imaginings, or our thoughts and feelings? And we need to know you’re not a fraud, and that feeling doesn’t go away, but you’re not a fraud and by not letting that thought stop you – you will take a risk that will get to discover something wonderful you didn’t know was in you.

He said something like that. It resonated. Take the risk. You’re not a fraud. I want to see what’s possible and we won’t know if we don’t try.

The second day Matthew and I spent working thru Micheline’s script #Love95times with the students. They loved it. They thought it was nuanced and relevant – and true to their experience. They brought out details and nuance that are in the text that we hadn’t heard before. They were engaged and recognized how having a conversation through the development of a text that is specifically about their age group reflecting their experience is empowering. At the end of the day they had a lot of questions about play development and the best ways to go about it – and they were thinking long-term. And they wanted to participate in this program with their school. That was gratifying. Once we were in the work – I remembered, whether one night, one class, or multiple productions, the act of revolution is giving people a voice – and making sure they are heard.

It was great to be part of the conversation for those two days and I look forward to continuing the discussion.

Talk soon.

Padraic

Authentic, Accessibility, and Risk

Hi,

Last week I was invited to talk with the Fordham University 2nd year MFA Playwrights about play development and The Farm Theater’s College Collaboration. I was grateful for the conversation and impressed with the students thoughtfulness and their research on The Farm and the program. Also, in March, I have been invited to join Centre College in  London to talk with the Rose Bruford College about The Farm Theater’s College Collaboration Program.  In the conversation three themes came up during our hour and a half conversation. Obviously, collaboration came up but it was the ideas of Authenticity, Accessibility, and Risk that resonated.

19959381_10154752946160949_5773248805553313064_n
Centre College Dept. Chair Matthew Hallock and Farm’s Artistic Director Padraic Lillis

I was asked what The Farm Theater looks for in a writer for this program. The first word that came to mind is authentic. The writer has to be a skilled playwright, they have to have a good temperament to partner with students as equal collaborators and mentees, they have to have something to say. However, when we were talking about what gets those with those qualities to stand out, it became clear that it was those that are able to put themselves in the room with you through an email or a letter – and when in person, you feel as if you know them because they’ve authentically shared of themselves. The interview process is not about the right or wrong answer. It’s about bringing yourself into the room. This is what resonates in your writing as well.

19247916_1950764355157173_6452558395380481768_n
Playwright Morgan McGuire with cast of In The Cotton

Also, authenticity is vital when talking with students about what the writer wants to explore. If the writer shares of themselves in an honest, vulnerable, and authentic way – the students will feel empowered to share their authentic selves. It is through the honest sharing of our selves throughout the process that allows the work to resonate with everyone that participates in the program; from writer, actor, designer,- to the audience. Each artist wants to bring their authentic selves to each interaction around their art. Let us know you, we’ll share ourselves, and together we’ll have a deeper experience creating and presenting the work.

Accessibility for early career artists to mentors and experienced artists that generously share their knowledge, as well as opportunities to present their work as a way to improve their craft, strengthen their professional network, and showcase their talents is a core value of The Farm Theater. Our vision is to create a world that provides equal opportunity for artists, who don’t necessarily have a pedigree for success, to be able to be recognized for their individual talent and voice; and to be able to step up to the plate and take a swing on any artistic playing field. It is with this focus that The Farm Theater has shaped its programming, selection process of the playwright, and our partner schools.

26908055_2049710601929214_7552999812565227617_n
Talk back after a performance of Never Have I Ever at Birmingham Southern College

The conversation with the writers was a rich back and forth dialogue about a variety of topics. Before we ended I felt compelled to talk about one word: Risk.  Risk is where the discoveries lay, it where growth is, it is where their voice is. Do not be afraid to take a risk at any point of the process. Regarding the College Collaboration Project that is what the program affords the writers. They get to see their plays in multiple productions. Multiple rehearsal processes. I remember a phone conversation with 2016/17 playwright, Micheline Auger, who said she was having a vision of a Chorus in her play. Would that be okay? I didn’t know if it was a singing chorus, a Greek chorus, or what.

l95t10 hoodie chorus centre college
#love95times Centre College Hoodie Chorus

Neither did she. I called Centre College, one of our partner schools, and they said, ‘Sure, bring it on.’ It turned out it was a Greek Chorus in the spirit Hip Hop and the element that elevated the play. It only happened because the writer took the risk. All of these productions are development productions. They are the process. It is the chance to learn about the play and to strengthen your voice. Risk. It is the only way to grow. You have ‘save as’ on your computer. You’ll never lose what you had but you’ll never discover what might be if you don’t take the risk. That is true in every step of the process. Go deeper. Try something.  Risk getting messy. Be open to discovery. We ask the same about all of the collaborators: actors, directors, designers, and audience. Be open to discovery by taking a risk and doing something you’re not sure will work.

I talk about Risk in the process of developing the script. However, the greatest form of Risk and the commitment to process is modeled by the schools who sign on to participate in the program. The play will be slated to be part of their next annual season. A new play. Not only is there no title. Not only has not one word been written. But the playwright hasn’t been selected before the school has signed on to participate in the program. That is a Risk. And one I am always grateful. I am grateful for their willingness to participate in the program, to embrace process, and to trust that the experience will be valuable for their students. If the colleges are willing to take that level of risk – It is an encouragement for the writer to do so. Everybody is invested in the process and making the most of the opportunity: Discovery, Growth, Learning, Sharing, Collaborating, by making the process accessible to as many people as possible and bringing our authentic selves to it.

Talk with you soon.

Padraic

 

Interview with Abigail Riggs who plays Dove in Never Have I Ever at BSC

Abigail Riggs

Class of 2021

What was the experience like for you to work on a new play?

It was incredible getting to work on a new show! Personally, I felt as though it gave me the freedom to portray Dove how I felt that they should be without any outside influence. I’ll often look at scenes from shows to help with inspiration and see how they are done, but for this show, I had to rely entirely on personal experiences and other research to truly create and become this unique character.
Why is it important for a character such as Dove to be represented in the play?

27067801_10210510838111116_5185265996572483793_n
Callie (Stephanie Lee) and Dove (Abigail Riggs) in Never Have I Ever at BSC

The first time I read through Never Have I Ever, I was immediately in awe of Dove: I’ve never had the opportunity to play a nonbinary character before! Although the world as a whole is becoming more progressive, it can still be challenging to find good LGBTQ+ representation in media, especially transgender characters (and specifically ones that fall outside of the binary). While Never Have I Ever focuses primarily on eating disorders and body image, there’s something delightful about having a trans character that’s very comfortable with who they are. LGBTQ+ characters can still be in shows without being the forefront, and I strongly believe that casual representation like that is extremely important in normalizing LGBTQ+ people.
What will you take away from this experience that you’ll bring with you in life or your next play?

27458885_10210495306242829_196291582422584546_n
Jan Rosenberg (Playwright) and Abigail Riggs (Dove)

I’d definitely like to bring some of Dove’s “I-don’t-give-a-fuck” attitude into my own life! They’re such a bright character who is unabashedly themself, which I really admire. As for future performances, I want to be sure take the time to explore a character’s gender and sexuality (and encourage other people to do the same). It’s an incredibly important part of who someone is and I don’t think it should be ignored or avoided.

Morgan McGuire interview on her experience attending KCACTF with her play IN THE COTTON

IN THE COTTON was invited to be presented at KCACTF Region II and Morgan McGuire was invited to attend the Festival to be a respondent to the New Plays presented by students. Here is an interview with Morgan about the experience.

What was the experience like to be in the theater while 700 college students watched IN THE COTTON?

It was interesting, in the sense that, it’s a boost for the ego to hear a mass of people responding to something that you made. When it gets parsed down to other levels there are other thoughts I have about the spaces I think my work is intended for or how space can change a play. Because I think it definitely changed how the play was internalized by the audience, which shifted some of my intentions. And I think for me I have never intended my plays to be performed in spaces that large… because in a sense they become less personally confrontational.IMG_0320

I don’t think I’ve ever written a play in which I did not want the audience to leave in an extreme state of discomfort with themselves and the people around them. When you’re laughing with almost one thousand other people you don’t have to think about yourself. You get to lull yourself into a sense of security to the point that you’ll boo and hiss at a character that if you really thought about it you’re probably more like than you’re willing to admit. And rarely do I offer myself or the audience that level of emotional catharsis. Because honestly, in these topics I don’t feel like we are deserving of it. Emotional catharsis around certain issues, apparently is something I believe to be earned by a society, not necessarily a given. Probably because people like to give themselves a catharsis and then—you know—they like to then pretend like that changes a thing and then they never do any work.

So sure my ego responded with “this is exciting” but the deeper parts of me responded with “this is a disaster”. But those thoughts are about preference and intention, and whether or not any of that is important to anyone besides me, is debatable.

The goal was to develop the plays thru three productions. Did this additional presentation of the play confirm in you that the play was close to completion and ready to be produced outside of a developmental setting?

Is a play ever done? Sure, I feel like it’s done in the sense that I don’t feel like people need me in the room anymore to make sense of the play/characters. Do I ever feel like a play doesn’t need work? No.

Did you feel the students saw themselves in the play and felt connected to the conversation you created through the play?

Oh that feels like such a question for them… Maybe they lied to me to spare my feelings. But yeah. It sounds like they really felt like they could relate and also in the process definitely took ownership of the characters they were playing. Some of them expressed that they would have strong feelings to see anyone else play that part.

You were invited to respond to student playwrights presenting their work. How was that experience for you?

My brain is not large enough for that space. I was so impressed by my fellow responders… Because you watch all of the plays in one sitting and then give feedback. They were so organized and articulate with their note taking and I was… less so, one could say. But it was really encouraging to see so many people with really beautiful plays exploring so many themes I feel are important And was a really great example of what happens when an organization actually engages in issues of representation. I was able to see so many under represented experiences in these plays. And that was honestly, probably, the most exciting because it reminded me of the vitality and necessity of theatre and storytelling. I was changed by these stories and learned things emotionally and intellectually that I hadn’t known before. And I’m sad I haven’t seen stories like these before. It was pretty powerful.

As a playwright – what, if anything, will you carry with you from KCACTF?

To encounter so many young people who are excited about what theatre can do and be in the world was inspiring to me. I can often get bogged down in the work of making theatre and eventually it actually comes down to some weird alchemy or magic and the students seemed to have a balance of both. And it was a good reminder to believe in the good of what I do.

A note from Jan Rosenberg

It’s about time I contributed to this blog! I’m Jan. I wrote Never Have I Ever. Before I delve into the cathartic experience I’m having with The Farm Theater’s College Collaboration, I wanted to get something off my chest.

26994306_10210481233811027_406151699076161494_n
Jan Rosenberg, playwright

I was always going to write a play about Eating Disorders and addictive behaviors for this project. It’s a subject I’ve been writing about a lot lately: my play How To Destroy An American Girl Doll features three young people haunted by various food addictions, and my TV pilot Treat Yourself is a dark comedy that takes place in a women’s ED treatment facility. I can’t seem to stop myself. Before my interview with Padraic and Scott, I tried to convince myself to pitch a more ‘sexy’ topic to them, like politics or social media. After all, my predecessors Lindsay Joy and Micheline Auger had written plays that revolved around themes of suicide and sexual assault. In the popular media and culture, food and body issues are taken seriously—but not seriously enough. Eating Disorders have the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric illness. Excuse my language, but that’s really f***king serious.

Needless to say, I was given the green light to write the play. And while part of me feels like I keep writing the same stories over and over again, I know it’s not true, because everything is always in motion. We are always moving towards something, even when it feels like we’re stuck in the mud. I chose to write about characters who deal with Anorexia, Bulimia, Compulsive Overeating, and Exercise Bulimia because I’ve never seen those stories onstage. I can think of maybe three instances where I’ve ever seen a character who brings and honest portrayal to the subject of eating disorders without falling into Lifetime movie tropes. Yes, I know about all of the movies. Like an addict, I’ve viewed them all, hoping to find something that shows what it’s really like to have the disease, and even more importantly, show that recovery is possible.

These characters don’t exist. I googled “Anorexic characters” and “Bulimic characters”. I found episodes of Degrassi, Lizzie McGuire, Full House, and Boy Meets World. They lived in single television episodes, where the character (always a slender white female) decides to stop eating for a day, and by the end of the episode the issue is resolved and she’s “cured”.

I’ve had enough. I am sick and tired of having the media tell me that Eating Disorders are simply selfish cries for help. I’m done with movies and television trying to convince me that these are dainty defects of bored young women who have nothing better to do than count calories or eat junk food until they make themselves sick.

We live in a world that perpetually gaslights us for the way we eat our food, or the shape of our bodies. We’re assaulted by diet culture and fitness culture at every turn. It’s hard for a normal person to mute the peanut gallery of “Are you really going to eat that?” For someone with an Eating Disorder, it’s all they think about.

_DSC1454 edit
Stephanie Lee & Colton Hinderliter in a scene from NEVER HAVE I EVER (Stewart Edmonds)

I promise I’ll write more specifically on the journey I took with writing this play. Right now I’m sitting in the green room with the cast and crew, trying to act cool and pretend I’m working on play rewrites instead of writing this blog. I actually don’t think they realize I’ve been sitting here and I’m kind of afraid to move. I’m also trying to resist the urge to write down all of their dialogue because it’s so glorious. I’m in awe of their bravery and passion, and I can’t wait to write more about what it was like watching Never Have I Ever onstage.

27023842_10210478371739477_2445324028523614456_o(1)
NEVER HAVE I EVER, photo by Stewart Edmonds

To be continued!

Dedication to the process – goal met!

Hi,

IMG_0320

This past weekend Morgan McGuire’s IN THE COTTON was performed, by a team made up of students from Howard, Prince George, and Carroll Community Colleges in Maryland, as part of the The Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival at Indiana University in Indiana, PA.

I am thrilled.

This project started about three years ago when Bill Gillet reached out to me about the Maryland schools participating in The Farm Theater’s College Collaboration Project. At the KCACTF Region II in 2014 Bill talked with Scott Hudson about the program. Scott shared with him the experience he and his Ashland University students had working with The Farm. Ashland was our first school to participate. We had a second year of the program lined up. But it was very new. Bill reached out to me and wanted to see if we’d be willing to alter the model. Instead of the play being developed by three different schools independently – he offered three schools in Maryland collaborating together to develop the play. By working together, the vision was that the cast would come from all three schools, the design elements would stay the same; like the text and performances they would evolve with each production. The schools individually may not be able produce a production on their own that would be invited to present at the Festival. However, if the three schools combined their resources they could create something that would be of a caliber that could warrant an invitation.

Another shift in the program was suggested. Instead of having the writer picked the theme of the play, Bill brought a theme to the Farm: Race. It was right after the protests in Baltimore immediately following the death of Freddie Gray. Most of this is written about in an article in the Baltimore Sunbs-1509734661-rg8stzif9r-snap-image

However, what was not discussed in the article is that initially there was a different writer for the program. It was someone that was involved with social advocacy thru theater – participating in protests and working with arts groups that actively seeking change and discourse regarding issues of race.  They were being workshopped a lot but had not been produced. After being asked to participate in this program they were then offered multiple opportunities: a production, a writing mentorship, and graduate school acceptance. The writer declared that they wanted to and were committed to this project.

When the first draft of the play arrived it was an interesting intellectual investigation of class, capitalism, and art with an ethnically diverse cast of characters. However, the ethnicity of the roles excluded some students from the schools from being able to participate as actors and included ethnicities that were not represented on the campuses in the theater department and would make it incredibly difficult to cast. The play did not take place or have any geographical reference to Maryland. Not a requirement but the students did not feel like their experience was reflected in the script. To the schools credit, they committed fully to trying to be able to achieve the play.

What I enjoy the most about this program is that through the development of the script, the process benefits everyone involved: writer, departments, students, and communities. As the process progressed it became clear, as everyone worked to make this experiment work, that the only one that was going to fully benefit from this process was the writer. And honestly, not really because the play couldn’t be fully achieved.

A decision had to be made.

We decided to find a different writer. To develop a new play.

Morgan was on my radar because of a her play, The Red Room, that was presented in a very exciting production that summer. A mutual friend of ours told me that Morgan was writing a play about race. I read the draft. It was fascinating. I asked Morgan if we could meet to talk about her writing a new play for this program. In our meeting Morgan, without hesitation, rattled off her knowledge and thoughts on the issue, including referencing a book that specifically speaks to the history of race issues in Baltimore. It was clear she was the right person for the project.

I am so grateful that the schools still had trust in The Farm to make this recommendation and for our mutual commitment to make the project valuable for everyone involved.

Morgan went down for three days to work with students that were cast and begin to write a draft that would begin rehearsals for a production in…thirteen days. Thirteen days – and there was a draft that reflected the students experience with t19247916_1950764355157173_6452558395380481768_nhe issue at hand, their voices could be heard in the characters, and Morgan had created a context for the story that was in line with her interests and could create opportunities for growth and education for the students as they began to work on the play.

The choice to make the change was not about creating a production that was strong enough to be able to present at the KCACTF. The decision was to create a process that would be beneficial and exciting for all involved. It was clear immediately that it was the right decision. The students’ enthusiasm for the play and Morgan was palpable when I visited Carroll Community Campus to see the first production.  With each production: the cast got stronger, the design elements were refined, the script got tighter. After the Howard production – the production was invited to be presented at the KCACTF.

 

IMG_1629Morgan was invited to attend the KCACTF to be a respondent to students participating in the playwriting program. After the performance at Festival Morgan was invited on stage and was acknowledged with a standing ovation from the seven hundred students in the audience. Most importantly, the schools were recognized for their excellent work, their vision, and the value of collaboration.

I am so proud of everyone and grateful for their commitment to the process!  Congratulations on the product you created!

Talk with you soon.

Padraic