As promised, I'd like to introduce you to the Mentors of VSA's 2012 Playwrights Discovery Program! I was really quite moved and inspired by my experience working with Bradley Hildebrandt on his play, Life is Jazz. So, I wanted to reach out to the other mentors to see how the experience impacted them. They were happy to oblige and shared their thoughts with us here!
Norman Allen’s work has been commissioned and produced by the Kennedy Center (The Light of Excalibur), the Shakespeare Theatre Company (On the Eve of Friday Morning), Olney Theatre Center (Coffee with Richelieu) and the Karlin Music Theatre in Prague, where his contemporary take on Carmen (score by Wildhorn & Murphy) recently ended a four-year run. While playwright-in-residence at Signature Theatre, Allen premiered Melville Slept Here, Nijinsky's Last Dance (Helen Hayes Award, Outstanding Play), In the Garden (Charles MacArthur Award), and Fallen from Proust, with subsequent productions throughout the United States, South Africa and Europe. He provided the concert adaptation for Encore's Sweet Adeline at New York City Center, and the libretto for the national tour of Cirque Ingenieux, later featured on PBS. Other PBS credits include documentaries on Van Gogh, Sargent, Cassatt, and Cezanne. Allen’s plays have been translated into Czech, Hungarian, and Slovenian, and will soon be heard in Japanese and Korean. His features and commentary have appeared in The Washington Post, Smithsonian and Washingtonian magazines, WAMU-FM (NPR), and other media outlets.
I was enormously impressed with Catherine's work over the last several weeks. It's very difficult to write something you believe in deeply, than have some random guy show up in your email box with a bunch of questions and suggestions. But she was incredibly open, and very responsive - and that's a key skill for any writer. We all need the ability to listen to feedback - to really hear it - and then to discern what is actually relevant to our particular vision. Catherine had the good sense to disagree with me a few times. She also did some incredibly rich work, deepening the emotional through-line of her play, building suspense and clarifying characters. I was enormously impressed.
I've experienced first-hand the amazing benefits that come from having a great mentor. I wouldn't have survived my first years as a teacher if my mentor hadn't been brilliant - and patient. In a pay-it-forward move, I've just started working with the Center for Inspired Teaching - as a mentor myself. To bring some of those same skills to a young playwright, through the Kennedy Center's program, has been especially satisfying. And the best is yet to come! After weeks of emailing back and forth, I can't wait to actually be in rehearsal with Catherine, as she sees her work come to life - and navigates that heady experience of actors, and a director, taking over the characters that she's lived with for so long. I know what a complicated moment that can be. It's going to be a very interesting - and very exciting - weekend.
Renee Calarco lives and works in Washington, DC. Her play SHORT ORDER STORIES received the 2007 Charles MacArthur Award for Outstanding New Play. Other plays include THE RELIGION THING (2012 Helen Hayes Recommended), KEEPERS OF THE WESTERN DOOR, THE MATING OF ANGELA WEISS, BLEED, and IF YOU GIVE A CAT A CUPCAKE (commissioned by Adventure Theatre in 2011). Her 10-minute play WARRIORS was published by One Act Play Depot in 2010. Other short plays include SEMPER FIDELIS, POUNDS AWEIGH, and FIRST STOP: NIAGARA FALLS. Renee is an artistic associate with First Draft/Charter Theater, the program coordinator for Naked Ladies Lunch, and a proud member of both DC Area Playwrights and The Dramatists Guild of America. She teaches playwriting at George Washington University and improvisational comedy at The Theatre Lab, and is a licensed professional tour guide. www.reneecalarco.com
On Mentoring ...
You know, we playwrights talk a lot about what makes something theatrical or why a certain story can only be told on the stage. I learned so much about theatricality from "my" student playwright; he's amazingly inventive and has a fantastic sense of theatricality. Plus, he's a wickedly funny writer. And! To my complete and utter delight, he's done improv, which is how I started out in theater. So we had some great conversations about that. Thank heavens for the Kennedy Center and this program...mentorship is just so important. We gotta get those writers while they're young!
Jacqueline Lawton is the author of Anna K; Bend and Sway, Don’t Break; Blood-bound and Tongue-tied; Deep Belly Beautiful; The Devil’s Sweet Water; The Hampton Years; Ira Aldridge: the African Roscius; Lions of Industry, Mothers of Invention; Love Brothers Serenade, and Mad Breed. Lawton’s work has been commissioned, developed and presented at the following venues: Active Cultures, Classical Theater of Harlem, Discovery Theater, Folger Shakespeare Library, theHegira, Howard University, Kennedy Center’s Page to Stage Festival, National Portrait Gallery, National Museum of American History, Rorschach Theater Company, Round House Theatre, Savannah Black Heritage Festival (Armstrong Atlantic State University), Shakespeare Theatre Company, Source Theatre Festival, Theater J, and Woolly Mammoth Theater Company. She is published in Experiments in a Jazz Aesthetic: Art, Activism, Academia, and the Austin Project (University of Texas Press). Lawton is a 2012 TCG Nathan Cummings Young Leaders of Color award recipient. She has been nominated for the Wendy Wasserstein Prize and a PONY Fellowship from the Lark New Play Development Center. She was named one of 30 of the nation's leading black playwrights by Arena Stage’s American Voices New Play Institute.
I loved working Bradley on his remarkably beautiful play, Life is Jazz, which is abut about vision (sight), social awareness (technology obsessed world), love, and art. As soon as I read it, I wrote a note to Gregg Henry: "OHMYGOSH, I am in love with this play! Thank you for this amazing opportunity!" It just so happens that I'm currently working on a play, The Hampton Years, which is about vision (self-expression), social awareness (race politics), love, and art!
In his play, the artist is blind. I have always been fascinated by sight. When I was eight years old, I was told by my optometrist that I would be blind by the time I was 30. Um, first of all, don't tell that to an 8 year old! This terrified me. I loved colors! I cried, but eventually comforted myself by saying that my memories of this vibrant world would be enough to sustain me. And while my vision decreased, it actually reversed and improved in my 30s! So there you go!
Throughout the six weeks, Bradley and I were working on rewrites at the same time. In one of our exchanges, he shared that he felt stuck and was writing in circles. This happened to be at the exact same time that I felt stuck and was writing in circles! He asked me about my process to which I responded:
Somehow in the process of sharing this with him, I unlocked the script. I began to trust and rely on my own process again. What's more, Bradley and I became champions for each other! Each time I checked in with him, he never failed to check in with me! There was a mutual respect, investment, and admiration for our respective journeys and for the life of our plays. This is what I feel is so unique, wonderful and important about mentorship.
Gregg Mozgala is a critically acclaimed actor and playwright. Gregg has been in various New York productions Off- and Off-Off Broadway with Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, The LAByrinthTheatre Company, La Mama ETC, Performance Space 122, Theater Breaking Through Barriers, The Brick Theater, The National Theatre Workshop of the Handicapped, Imua! Theatre Company, Visible Theatre and the Ensemble Studio Theatre. His plays have been presented Off-Broadway with Theatre Breaking Through Barriers and at the Ensemble Studio Theatre as well as the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and in various theatres throughout New York City. Gregg is a former member of the Obie-award winning playwriting group, Youngblood, at The Ensemble Studio Theatre. His ten-minute play, "French Twist," was presented by SHOUT LLC and Semantic Compaction, Inc. as part of the Pittsburgh Employment Conference in August 2011 and had the distinction of being the first play ever to feature assistive augmentative communicators (AAC users), speaking in real time. He has been profiled in the New York Times on several occasions, most notably for his groundbreaking work with choreographer Tamar Rogoff, which was also featured on CBS Sunday Morning and Good Morning America. Their experience is the subject of the soon to be released documentary, The Faun Experiment, currently in post-production.
Mentorship is an exchange. I "teach" the mentor but the mentor has also done the same for me. Samantha Brown has so much fire and passion for her art and the theatre that it reminds me why I got into this in the first place. She has carried herself with such a professional demeanor that I often forgot that she's only sixteen years old. First and foremost she has succeeded in teaching me what I already know; theatre is an amazing venue for expression and enjoyment that creates community, breaks down barriers and serves as a place of inclusion and a forum for ideas. Not bad. Not bad at all.
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I'm a playwright, dramaturg, and teaching artist. It is here where you'll find my queries and musings on life, theater and the world. My posts advocate for diversity, inclusion, and equity in the American Theatre and updates on my own work. Please enjoy!