“What was your most profound moment working with The Farm Theater?”

Hi,

Friday I got to listen to the this year’s College Collaboration Playwright Judith Leora speak with Shenandoah University students about the topic of hate speech vs. free speech for the beginning of the process of writing her play. Prior to Judith joining the conversation we had a few minutes for the students to ask questions about The Farm Theater. The third and final question was “What was your most profound moment working with The Farm Theater?”

52020819_2284793395087599_5870423650213036032_n
Judith Leora talking with students from Shenandoah University

My response was “Working with (faculty member) Scott Hudson.” It got the expected laugh. However, it is also true. It is profound to be able to work with friends, peers, and collaborators who are passionate about the development of new work, development of early career artists, and facilitating conversation on difficult topics through the theater. I then said that the profound part is watching the influence the students have on the development of the plays and the conversation that this process generates. It is true. Like most Q&A sessions the answer is geared toward the audience and the purpose you are addressing. We ran out of time and Judith was ready for conversation with the students.

While answering that questions I thought about many moments that were profound. The first college collaboration, where a student suggested that one of the characters in the play was queer. At the time the character was underdeveloped. The play was about the suicide of someone who was not out to his friends and family. That choice helped shape the character and influence the story.

L95T7 Centre College
Centre College’s production of Micheline Auger’s #love95times

Also, the student that suggested that talked about how empowering it was for her, a queer undergrad, to be able to play a character that reflected her experience in the world for the first time in her acting experience. During our second collaboration a student directly said to the playwright “I don’t like the main character.” The play was about sexual assault on a college campus and that comment helped shape not only the main character but the story line of the play. The influence student artists have on the stories are profound but what’s more profound to me is seeing the personal and artistic growth of the students when they recognize the value they contribute to the process.

38759339_2169494769950796_626707231101943808_n
playwright Jan Rosenberg talking with students during post show discussion at BSC

Then I think about the dialogue that the productions inspire. When Birmingham Southern College first produced Jan Rosenberg’s play about body image and addiction there was a post show conversation facilitated by a local professional therapist/counselor. At the conversation a high school student in the audience said, “I’m worried about my friend. How can I help her?” – the production and respect of all involved created an experience and environment that allowed this young person ask for help for the first time.

47192601_10155966351300949_1904664175817261056_n
Erin Mallon with cast of Pellissippi State’s production of Soft Animals post show discussion

Our current production of Erin Mallon’s play is about how our thoughts and emotional life effect our physical life. It’s primarily a comedy. I wasn’t sure what type of dialogue it would generate. At the end of our first post show conversation a woman, faculty member, stood up and said, “Thank you for this play. I have an autistic child and this production gave me a greater appreciation for her daily experience.”

I don’t want to limit my response to only the college collaboration project. One of the single most profound events in my theater career is writing and performing my solo show about suicide awareness. Since the original production, produced by The Farm Theater, I have been invited to present that show multiple times.

11talkbackcentre
Talk back after Hope You Get To Eleven… at Centre College

Each time after presenting the show people courageously share with me their experience with the issue of suicide. Most recently I performed the play at a high school in Kentucky and four students stayed afterward to talk with me. Each of them were clearly having a struggle with the issue. And they each asked me, separately, “Do you really think it helps to talk to someone?”

They were each told, for different reasons, not to talk about it.

It.

Their pain. Their struggle. Their lives.

The most profound moment working with The Farm Theater has been watching artists courageously share themselves in order to be seen, heard, and generate stories that allow the audiences to feel seen, heard, and valued in a way that they know they matter and are encouraged to share their stories.

Thank you.

Padraic

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!