Director InkSight: Kelsey Mesa

In anticipation of Sunday’s First Contact Showcase, I asked Kelsey Mesa a few questions about the director’s process with new play development. Kelsey is the producer of this First Contact series, and has been instrumental in formatting our exciting (and experimental) new salon format, which brings a visual “gallery walk,” interactive games, and engaging discussion to our family of playgoers. She is an Inkwell leader, and has directed showcase readings of Periwinkle Walls by Robert Montenegro, The Impracticalities of Modern Day Mastodons by Rachel Teagle, and Apocalypse, Please by NicoleViñas. Kelsey is an amazing collaborator, and has also worked with Nicole during her Wellspring workshop of The Break Room. 

Kelsey Mesa, left, directs actors during an Inkwell workshop.

Kelsey Mesa, left, directs actors during an Inkwell workshop. (Also pictured: dramaturg Laura Miller and playwright Robert Montenegro.)

What has been your favorite experience working on a new/developing play? Why? What made it amazing?

In The Impracticalities of Modern Day Mastodons, the main character Jess is a mastodon. Anne asked me to lead the cast in movement exercises to help Rachel figure out the possibilities (and realities) of having a mastodon onstage. We did some Viewpoints-based things–to be honest, I was completely out of my comfort zone–but everyone in the room trusted in each other and worked together to create a mastodon out of five actors. We then put that five-actor mastodon into some improv scenes, which revealed a lot about the characters’ relationships and the world of the play; Rachel was able to incorporate a lot of what she learned into her next draft. The most amazing moment came the next day, during the presentation. The actors filed outside…and came back into the room as the mastodon. They were so in sync, they even breathed together. Who knew you could create that within the bounds of a staged reading?

What is your favorite thing about working with a developing play?

My favorite thing is having the playwright in the room, and seeing them frantically scribble notes because they’ve seen or heard something new or been freshly inspired.

How do you approach a development process, knowing that the script might (and probably will) change before the showcase?

Most of my approach involves reading and re-reading, and taking a lot of notes on what questions I have or what strikes me. Then, I listen to what the playwright has to say and read the play again, with that in mind. I want to know the world of the play, what connections there are within the play, what its major themes are…things change, but generally what’s important to the play and the playwright does not—and those important things are what I focus on.

How would you describe The Inkwell’s process, from a director’s perspective?

The Inkwell uses dramaturgical discussion and an excerpt of a play to explore the large questions a playwright has about the play they’ve written. If all goes well, the playwright sees his or her play with fresh eyes.

How would you describe the relationship between a director and dramaturg during an Inkwell process?

I’ve worked with some marvelous dramaturgs through the Inkwell. Because the dramaturg leads the discussion, I can focus on listening. At first, it was really hard for me not to talk…as a director, I assume I should take the lead. It’s a huge luxury to sit back and listen and take that time to figure out how I can best serve this play. I also touch base with the dramaturg to figure out where the playwright is at each point—what they need from me and the actors, what they need to see, how they’re feeling. I rely on the dramaturg for their insight and perspective, to guide our next steps.

What do you think our readers should know about the director’s process–specifically with The Inkwell–while working on a developing play?

Every play is different, every playwright is different…to every process is different. As a director, the best thing I can do is serve this specific play at this specific moment and give it what it needs. I want to help answer the questions the playwright has about his or her work.

Actor InkSight: James Flanagan

The Inkwell loves nothing more than exploration and collaboration. With that in mind, we’re exploring a new format for our upcoming Showcase, which will give the audience a deeper look into the new play development process, including a “gallery walk” of visual materials that have arisen from the rehearsal process, a game involving everyone in the room…and tea and coffee. We’re so excited to bring our First Contact Salon to Woolly Mammoth’s classroom space on Sunday, May 10.

In the vein of exploration and new experiences, actor James Flanagan sat down with a few InkSightful questions, which will let us in on the mysterious thing that is the actor’s process with new play development. James previously appeared with The Inkwell in 2008’s Page to Stage Festival, and is excited to be working with us again for Sunday’s Salon.

Flanagan

What has been your favorite experience working on a new/developing play? Why? What made it amazing?

My favorite experience remains Columbinus.  I was lucky enough to come into the process fairly early, back when the show was being workshopped at the Kennedy Center, and managed to stay with the project over the next three of four years during its incarnations at Round House, Perseverance Theatre Alaska, and New York Theatre Workshop.  The script evolved with each production.  It was a privilege to be involved in that growing and changing discussion.

What is your favorite thing about working with a developing play?

Questions.  In any process, you begin with questions.  When working on a play that’s already been established, these questions usually seek to discover what’s already there.  With a play that’s still in development, the right question at the right time might inspire the playwright to sharpen, cut, or change a piece.  A group meets, questions are asked, and all of a sudden, the world of the play may change.  It’s humbling to be a part of that process. [Ed: Yes! This is absolutely what makes us at The Inkwell excited about exploring a play and working with a playwright, too!]

How do you approach a development process, knowing that the script might (and probably will) change before the showcase?

A lot like I would’ve approached a pile of mismatched action figures as a child.  An open mind.  At first glance, you wouldn’t assume that, say, Ninja Turtle action figures belonged in the same pile with My Little Ponies.  Until you finally have the eureka moment of having Raphael ride into battle atop one of them.  Or have the two sit down to discuss anthropomorphism over plastic cups of tea. Or maybe have a few My Little Ponies standing atop the turtle’s shell, with a compact disc balanced atop their heads, which would actually be something close to a Terry Pratchett novel.  Theatre at its best is an opportunity to play.  Developing a new play, from an actor’s perspective, is just a more exciting sandbox.

What are you most looking forward to about this process?

Aside from all that?  The people.  I’m very excited to work with Jenna Berk, who was magnificent in a recent production of DRUNKLE VANYA.  Gray West is another fantastic human being that I’ve not yet had the opportunity to work with.  So many people I’ve not yet met…  And of course, the indomitable Kelsey Mesa.  She brings intelligence, insight and ease to her work.  I’m not sure if she’ll agree with the “ease” part.  But she’s always made it look easy.  And that’s made my work a joy.

What do you think our readers should know about the actor’s process while working on a developing play?

That’s a tough question.  I’d probably have different things to say, depending on who your readers are.  Are they actors?  Roll up your sleeves, open your hearts, and dive in.  Are they writers?  Thank you for inviting us into your world (we’ll try not to ruin the place).  Are they patrons?  Don’t worry about the actor’s process — your job is to be the final scene partner for the play itself, so you have enough on your plate.  Oh, and to everyone involved, thank you.  Always, thank you.

Five Things or Overcoming Psychodrama or Introduction to WELLSPRING

There’s something that we have been puzzling over at The Inkwell.  As you know, we love playwrights and we love the surprising and thrilling work that they send us.  But we also know that so many playwrights are working at their computers on their own without a support system.  They are completely self-motivated and self-directed.

That’s awesome and we applaud them.  But we have always wanted to provide some kind of program where we encourage playwrights to write new plays.  And we want to encourage them stretch their writing muscles to create the inkiest play that they can.

So we came up with a program that we launch in January.  WELLSPRING is a writing intensive structured to challenge and encourage playwrights to write a the first draft of a full-length play in five months.  We invited four local writers to test the program, putting themselves in our hands to stretch, experiment, and struggle together.  Those writers are Rich Espey, Noelle Vinas, Nicole Jost, and yours truly (your intrepid Artistic Director Anne, writer, and a wayward blogger).

We’re getting close to the end of the program now, and it’s long time we started to share some inksights (we can never give up our puns, people) into the process.  You’ll be hearing from each of the playwrights in the coming weeks and months.

So here’s a blog entry from Nicole Jost, reflecting on five things she’s learned so far through WELLSPRING.  Just so you know, we are HUGE fans of Nicole, who wrote a wonderful play, The Terror Fantastic, that we explored with her.

The adorable Nicole Jost fooling around and comtemplating writing in the Angelina Ballerina room at The Inkwell's official retreat center (i.e. Anne's home).

The adorable Nicole Jost fooling around and contemplating writing in the Angelina Ballerina room at The Inkwell’s official retreat center (i.e. Anne’s home).

——————————————————————
Five Things About Wellspring
by Nicole Jost

1.

I am a writer who lives mostly in my head. I develop a clear sketch of where I’m going way before I get there, a skeleton of a play that grows over months and months into a body. I start with the bones and fill in the flesh.

Sometimes I think of plays in equations:
Fairy tales + anxiety + monsters = The Terror Fantastic (another play I worked on with The Inkwell)
Female promiscuity + violence against women + divinity = Slut (a one-act I’m working on)

I lead the play. I don’t let the play lead me.

The Wellspring process is the opposite. We were asked to arrive at our first retreat at Anne McCaw’s house in January with no pre-conceived notions. We were led through exercises by Michael Bigelow Dixon and by Anne that resulted in wild and wonderful bits. My play is an ear, a leg, a kneecap, maybe part of a shoulder. And maybe there are three ears here and there, and I have to throw one out. I don’t know what this thing is.

I have an image of a woman whose face is obscured by clouds.

I have an idea of what it means to speak in the subjunctive (i.e. the “What if…?”).

I have a children’s book, Shel Silverstein’s The Missing Piece Meets the Big O, which is actually sort of disturbing for me and I don’t know if it’s appropriate for children.

Speaking of which, I have Alice, and the Mad Hatter, and the Queen of Hearts.

And I have this: Did you know that pigeons and doves are basically the same bird? Around the world, the words for “pigeon” and “dove” are used interchangeably – doves are just freaking pigeons! Doesn’t that strike you as unfair, when you consider the life of a pigeon?

I don’t know where I’m going. This play is leading me.

2.

It is stupid to compare yourself to other writers. It’s pointless. Creating is not a competition. It’s not a zero-sum game where someone else’s success means you miss out on an opportunity. We are all beautiful and unique snowflakes. You shouldn’t want to be like another writer, you should want to be the best you you can be.

But, I compare myself to other writers. Because I am a human person.

My fellow Wellspring-ers, Rich Espey, Noelle Viñas, and Anne McCaw, are brilliant. It’s terrifying. It’s somewhat less terrifying now, when we check in on Skype and hear about each other’s progress in the comfort of our own homes and sweatpants. But in January, at that first retreat at Anne’s house, it was really frightening.

For three days we were together, writers writing in proximity. It’s not often that I get to experience another writer’s process firsthand. Rich is a machine. The man cranks out page after page, and they’re all brilliant, and it’s happening so quick. Noelle is completely weird (which is high praise), a creator of never-before-seen theatrical images that are stirring and unsettling. Anne is an intellectual and a poet, pulling from history and memory and spinning out the most gorgeous language.

Writing in that house, in my little Angelina Ballerina bedroom (yes, really – it is awesome and the best room in the house), I was at first too aware of the smart people around me. It made me nervous. It made it hard to write.

3.

Do you know about psychodrama? I didn’t know, till I read this blog post (thanks to Renee Calarco for sharing it with the DC-Area Playwrights Facebook group!). A psychodrama, it says, is “a self-created world of made-up rules that exists only inside your mind.”

There are so many reasons not to write. I can’t write if I didn’t get enough sleep. I can’t write if I’m stressed out. I can’t write if I have to get up early, or if I have to work late. I can’t write when there’s less than an hour till the next thing. Or less than two hours. I can’t write if I’m hungry. I can’t write before I check my email. I can’t write if I’m emotional. I can’t write if it’s sunny out – what a waste! I can’t write if it’s rainy out – it depresses me. I can’t write if I’m not inspired.

4.

As it turns out, this is all bullshit. I can write. I’m not saying what I write will always be the best if something else is going on. But is that really a fair requirement?

5.

Here’s what happened in January: it’s harder to compete with someone when you become their fan. Over the course of the weekend, sharing work, asking questions, venting frustrations, I got really excited about the plays that Rich, Noelle, and Anne are writing. That excitement overwhelmed my neuroses, stopped the psychodrama. I became a cheerleader for these three awesome writers, who totally deserve your respect and attention. I wrote. And they wrote. We created together and ate together and played together, and you better never say an unkind word about these three because they are the best.

Go Rich!
Go Noelle!
Go Anne!

GO WELLSPRING!

Playing with a Mastodon

If you’ve been reading Inkblog over the years, you may get a sense that we like plays that are, well, wacky.  I (this is Anne, one of your Partners in Ink), prefer the term “cracktastic.”  So it’s no wonder we were drawn to Rachel Teagle’s comedy The Impracticality of Modern Day Mastodons.  In the world of Rachel’s play, everyone suddenly wakes up to be what they wished to be as a child.  Some are newscasters, some are ballerinas, some are super spies, some are ballerina super spies.  And one woman, Jess, wakes up as a Mastodon.  As she says in the play:  “I was an impractical child.”

What a great way to start our year of play with this play.  We brought Rachel into town for a week of exploration, where we made paper dolls, figured out the actual size of a Mastodon in human bodies, and pretended to be all sorts of childhood dreams, from vampires to garbage men (yes, one of our actors, Emma Jackson, dreamed of becoming a garbage man.

Here are a few shots from the rehearsal room, playing in a world where you can spin like a ballerina or walk with a Mastodon.

Mastodon - Ricardo as Astronaut

Actor Ricardo Frederick Evans shares the paper doll he made of an astronaut, complete with shuttle and Tang.

Mastodon - Size of a Mastodon #2

Here’s our INKTASTIC acting troup — Fatima Quander, Emma Jackson, Jennifer Knight, Ricardo Frederick Evans, and Thony Mena — working out the size of a Mastodon. They were 15 feet long and seven feet high. They weighed several tons — somewhere between a pick-up truck and a school bus.

Emma Jackson imagines herself the most industrious of garbage man in this improv scene.

Emma Jackson imagines herself the most industrious of garbage man in this improv scene.

I don't even know how to describe this improvisation exercise.  It was just fun and cool

I don’t even know how to describe this improvisation exercise. It was just fun and cool.

The world of Grand Guignol and the language of music

These past two years, we’ve had the most immense privilege of engaging in longer term collaborations with playwrights.  Often, it’s hard for us to keep a whole team of collaborators together — dramaturg, actors, and directors.  Not true for Krista Knight and her wildly horrific and funny and poignant musical Salamander Leviathan.

One of our most seasoned and insightful dramaturgs, Brent Stansell, worked with Krista on and off for a year on the musical, and we finally got to bring her back to the Woolly Mammoth Classroom for a week-long exploration of the play, leading to a staged reading.  Director Amber Jackson was there, too, and so were two actors (Kari Ginsburg and Sasha Olnick) who had worked on 20 minutes of the musical in 2013.  It was a terrific Christmas present for us all.

Looking back on the workshop, Brent talks about the language of theater, dramaturgy, Grand Guignol and music in a variety of ways.  He also reveals how he approached the play by pulling the playwright away from the script, looking at the play from a visual perspective.  We call this visual dramaturgy.

———————————————————————————–

I am a dramaturg who loves language. I fall in love with plays that demonstrate a mastery of wit, innuendo, and double entendre. I find it difficult to work on a new play if I do not admire the verbal dexterity of the playwright.

But plays are made up of much more than words — plays embody whole worlds of images, emotions, songs, places, rhythms, and ephemeral magic. So how do you explore these qualities of a play when you start with black ink on a white page?

This was the question I was tasked with answering as part of an exploration for a recent INKREADING workshop of Salamander Leviathan, a musical fable by playwright Krista Knight with music composed by Barry Brinegar. How could we see and understand the entire musical in new ways without focusing on the book’s language, avoiding the minutiae of revising words and lines of dialogue? The answer I found was for the entire team to chart the musical’s expansive twenty-five scene structure without using the words from the book itself. I put up large pieces of white paper around the room (one to represent each scene) and I assigned everyone to take a single focus/source/idea and make connections between their inspiration and every single scene from beginning to end. It was important to me that the team thought about the musical holistically instead of only focusing on a small part.

Here the team reviews and discusses the "map" of the play that they constructed, led by dramaturg Brent Stansell.

Here the team reviews and discusses the “map” of the play that they constructed, led by dramaturg Brent Stansell.

Luckily for us, Salamander Leviathan started as a project inspired by incredibly rich source material—Wisconsin Death Trip, a photography book cataloguing daily life, disease, insanity, and death in Black River Falls, Wisconsin in the 1890s. Mapping the scenes through these photographs seemed like an obvious choice—but what else?

The musical also explores the theatrical styles of American vaudeville and French Grand Guignol. In order to refresh our understanding of what kinds of acts and qualities these styles consisted of, I made a list cataloging many of them. I also encouraged the team to expand the possibilities on their own. Here are the lists that I provided:

Vaudeville Acts
classical musicians
singers
dancers
comedians
trained animals
magicians
female and male impersonators
acrobats
illustrated songs
jugglers
one-act plays or scenes from plays
athletes
lecturing celebrities
minstrels
movies
freak shows
American burlesque

Qualities of Grand Guignol
Prostitutes
Psychopathic killers
Poison
Suicide
Skinning
Sexual ecstasy
Vomiting
Losing consciousness
Blood
Sperm
Sweat
Brutal murder
Former lovers
Naturalism
Melodrama
Fear
Death
Gasps
Faints
Shadows
Weaponry
Acid burns
Ulcers
Severed heads

I also encouraged actors to explore their character’s motivations and objectives throughout the entire piece. I encouraged our composer to identify specific musical phrases and tempos. I encouraged the team to use anything — emotions, symbols, pictures — to explore. Of course, some words ended up in our exploration too (I personally spent some time defining dramatic action through language just because I couldn’t help myself).

Here is a breakdown of one scene from the play, using words, emotions, and images.

Here is a breakdown of one scene from the play, using words, emotions, and images.

We ended up having an incredibly rich discussion emerge from our two-hour mapping work. We identified overdeveloped scenes, asymmetrical structures, and underrepresented moments. The mapping inspired restructuring and revisions. Our conversation explored questions of setting, style, character objectives, and music. Most importantly, we started our weekend of rehearsal understanding the musical in an indefinable way that we would have never discovered just reading the words on the page.

Playwright Spotlight: Meet Noelle Vinas

Are you as excited as we are for Saturday’s First Contact reading? We’re looking forward to introducing you to three 21st century fairy tales on November 22 at 8pm. Join us in Woolly Mammoth’s rehearsal hall for our “first dates” with three outstanding playwrights and ten minutes of their their magical plays!

We are delighted to collaborate with Noelle Vinas on APOCALYPSE, PLEASE, which we first explored through our Inklings event at the 2013 Page to Stage Festival. Noelle is a poet, playwright, actress, and teacher originally from Uruguay.

Recently, Noelle sat down with five InkSightful questions that went beyond her official bio. We’re happy to introduce you to Noelle!

Playwright Noelle Vinas

Playwright Noelle Vinas

What are three interesting things about you that are NOT in your bio?
  1. Tomato soup and Arizona iced tea are unhealthy obsessions.
  2. I’m starting a band with a friend from high school called UnMono.
  3. LET’S TALK ABOUT FILMS THIS WINTER!
We at The Inkwell LOVE questions. So, this question is: Can you summarize the play you’ll be exploring for Saturday’s First Contact in one sentence? (The statement version is: please summarize your play in one sentence.)

Remy, a computer programmer potentially framed as a terrorist, is forced to face questions of responsibility, love and madness with interruptions from omniscient Arthuranian characters.

What are you most looking forward to about your Inkwell process?

People forcing me to leave the bubble of my own playwriting by asking me questions about my play that force me to see it in ways I haven’t before.

Who or what inspires you?

Talking about writing & narrative structure (especially after seeing movies), Twitter, white noise, going on runs, and reading a lot of plays.

What’s in your refrigerator right now?

My friend Chase, who is visiting from Boston and hungry.

Inkspot on Dramaturgy: Meet Allison Bucca

I (Inkwell Advising Dramaturg Jenn Book Haselswerdt) am fond of saying “for every dramaturg, there’s a different definition of dramaturgy.” And even though The Inkwell has a very specific eye on dramaturgy, it always fascinates me to hear fellow dramaturgs talk about their work–especially as they approach a new dramaturgical process!

So, what makes an Inkwell dramaturg? I’ve posed this question to a few of our intrepid dramaturgs, and I’m excited to bring you their responses.

During our upcoming First Contact series, Allison Bucca will be joining us as one of the dramaturgs for Steve Totland’s God’s Dog.

Here’s a little bit about Allison, who hopes to see you in Woolly Mammoth’s rehearsal hall on Saturday November 22 at 8pm for the First Contact with 21st Century Fairy Tales: our “first dates” with three outstanding playwrights and ten minutes of their their magical plays!

Bucca-Headshot

Dramaturg Allison Bucca

Please give us a one-sentence bio? (That question mark is in the Inkwell spirit of questioning!)

I am a teaching artist, dramaturg and playwright in the Washington, D.C. area.

What are three interesting things about you that are NOT in your bio?

  1. I’m obsessed with William Joyce’s books and will create any excuse to use them in my classes.
  2. I love to run, rollerblade and ice skate though my health restricts me from doing so as much as I would like.
  3. I come to the world of theatre from a different angle having studied communications rather than theatre in college. Most people in this field come from a similar theatre/musical theatre background so I like that my experience is a bit different.

What is your favorite question you’ve ever asked a playwright *OR* what’s your favorite research spiral you’ve ever gone down in the name of dramaturgy?

I once was doing research as a dramaturg for a period production and was looking up details as to how soldiers would greet each other and whether or not they would shake hands. These were very minor details that I just got lost in and loved learning the history of though I probably found out way more information than was ever really needed!

What are you most looking forward to about your Inkwell process?

I love it when the playwright has a light bulb moment from our dramaturgical discussion or from observing the rehearsal. Some playwrights can enter this process completely stuck in their process with a certain piece and I love the fact that through our questions and support we can revive their process once more.

If a movie were being made about your life, who would play you?

Ellen Page. She is cute, quirky, short and a brunette like me. And she seems like the sort who is unafraid to say exactly what’s on her mind. Though if I were to have my life narrated it would definitely have to be Paul Bettany. His voice is wonderful, Ironman is one lucky fellow.

Playwright Spotlight: Meet Steve Totland

We’re excited to dive into our First Contact reading of 21st century fairy tales, on Saturday November 22 at 8pm. Join us in Woolly Mammoth’s rehearsal hall for our “first dates” with three outstanding playwrights and ten minutes of their their magical plays!

One of the plays we’ll explore is Steve Totland’s God’s Dog. Recently, Steve sat down with five InkSightful questions that aimed to go beyond his playwright bio. We’re pleased to have the opportunity to get to know him better before introducing him to our audience of playmakers and playgoers.

Steve has worked on more than 45 productions with Lifeline Theatre in Chicago, where he is a founding member. His plays have been produced by Steppenwolf Theatre, Lifeline Theatre, The Road Theatre, the 24th Street Theatre, The Virginia Avenue Project, stageworks/Hudson, Another Country Productions, and The Herring Run Theatre Festival. Steve has won several contests and awards, for both writing and performing.

Playwright Steve Totland

Playwright Steve Totland

What are three interesting things about you that are NOT in your bio?
1. I like to garden.
2. I was born and raised in Kansas.
3. I zazen.

We at The Inkwell LOVE questions. So, this question is: Can you summarize God’s Dog in one sentence? (The statement version is: please summarize God’s Dog in one sentence.)
It’s difficult to forgive; impossible to forget.

What are you most looking forward to about your Inkwell process?
Discovering what other artists make of this play.

Who or what inspires you?
Question.
My students.
Music and Dance.

What’s in your refrigerator right now?
Ho’made pickles and apricot jam.

We look forward to seeing you on November 22, as we explore God’s Dog and follow the sacred search for a sacrificial werewolf in a small Kansas town.

Inksights into Three Inky Playwrights

We at The Inkwell get to know playwrights pretty well, whether it’s through responses to our submission forms when we ask them to send us plays; to long pre-rehearsal conversations between playwright, director, and dramaturg; to roundtable discussions with the actors and team during rehearsals. But can you ever know everything about someone?

Nope. You can, however, dive a little bit further under the surface. Enter Inksight: A Five-Question Interview with Inky Playwrights.

I (Jenn Book Haselswerdt, that is, intrepid Advising Dramaturg) sent some important getting-to-know-you questions to the three playwrights we’ll be working with in the upcoming FIRST CONTACT showcase: Rebecca Bossen (Delilah Lee), Rich Espey (The Revelation of Bobby Pritchard), and Rachel Teagle (The Impracticality of Modern Day Mastodons).

Rich Espey Headshot

Here is playwright, Baltimorian, and activist Rich Espey, author of The Revelation of Bobby Pritchard. It’s a play of hauntings, baptism, gunshots, and the struggle to find identity in a small, southern town.

Here’s what I learned:

INKSIGHT #1:  Give us a one-sentence bio.

Rebecca Bossen suffers permanent neck strain due to the number of hats she wears as a playwright, actor, voice coach, communications coordinator for the Bonobo Conservation Initiative, and mommy; luckily, she is also a certified yoga instructor.

Rich Espey is a playwright, actor, teacher and activist from Baltimore.

Rachel Teagle is a playwright, storyteller, and comedian who has called most of the regions in America home.

INKSIGHT #2:  What are three interesting things about you that are not in your bio?

Rebecca Bossen:

  1. I enjoy baking stupidly complicated cakes.
  2. I can stand on my foot-knuckles.
  3. I never scored less than 97% on a Latin test during all four years of high school; you can verify this with my Latin teacher Mrs. Keene — she lives across the street from me.

Rich Espey:

  1. I’ve been a Middle School teacher for 26 years!!
  2. I have become a fearless cook.
  3. I love taking long drives and plan to take several this summer.

Rachel Teagel:

  1. When I was fifteen, I won a national chicken knowledge bowl contest. I still remember far more poultry facts than she should.
  2. I enjoy both very good movies and pretty terrible movies.
  3. In my spare time, I knit, craft, and take care of my rescue dog, Grayson.
Here is Rebecca Bossen, author of Delilah Lee, an Appalachian ghost story with rattling cabinets, glamors and spells, blue grass music, and a courting dulcimer.

Here is Rebecca Bossen, author of Delilah Lee, an Appalachian ghost story with rattling cabinets, glamors and spells, blue grass music, and a courting dulcimer.

INKSIGHT #3:  What are you most looking forward to about your Inkwell process?

Rebecca Bossen:

The “Funknown,” of course! I’m looking forward to discovering what I don’t know about this play, which I’ll wager is quite a bit. I’m also excited to discover what the other lovely people in the room DO know about the play, which I’ll also wager is quite a bit.

Rich Espey:

I love it when actors, directors and dramaturgs help me solve story-telling problems. One artist can get the play going; it takes a village, I think, to make it really work

Rachel Teagle:

I am so excited to get into a room with smart artists and live in the world of the play with them for a few hours. I want to be surprised, challenged, and inspired, and come out of the experience with a stronger, sharper, better play.

INKSIGHT #4:  Who or what inspires you?

Rebecca Bossen:

Trees, stars, laughter, a hot mug of tea, old buildings (bonus points for secret rooms or tiny doors), art in all of it various manifestations, delicious food, highly improbable yet totally delightful coincidences, Shakespeare (cliche but true)–and too many people to name, my husband Patrick and my son Isaac chief among them.

Rich Espey:

My quietest students, Baltimore, the incredible strength of my LGBTQ fellow travelers in the world, cell structure and function, Nelson Mandela.

Rachel Teagle:

I love seeing theater tell stories that you can only tell on stage. I think it’s one of the last places where magic can exist – everyone is pretending together, and the audience becomes complicit in the creation of this collective act of imagination so we can make anything happen. I’m drawn to the intersection of opposing forces in our lives – fact and fiction, humor and pathos, childhood and adulthood. The stories I latch onto are the ones we tell ourselves to make sense of these contradictions. Or at least to make us think about them in a new way.

And last, but definitely not least, here is Rachel Teagle, author of The Impracticalities of Modern Day Mastadons.  Spies, ballerinas, ballerina spies, and a Jewish Mastadon.  What more do you need in a play?

And last, but definitely not least, here is Rachel Teagle, author of The Impracticality of Modern Day Mastodons. Spies, ballerinas, ballerina spies, and a Jewish Mastadon. What more do you need in a play?

INKSIGHT #5:  What’s your karaoke song?

Rebecca Bossen:

*runs from the room*

Rich Espey:

“Beyond the Sea” (Bobby Darin version)

Rachel Teagle:

“A Whole New World,” as Aladdin so I can yell “DON’T YOU DARE CLOSE YOUR EYES!”

Bonus points to Rebecca for using The Inkwell’s favorite word, “Funknown.” It was actually coined by the lovely playwright and then appropriated by Anne M. McCaw (founding member/Executive Director/dramaturg). “Funknown” encapsulates the enjoyment we feel exploring the questions that arise in a rehearsal process. We might not find answers to all (or any!) of the questions that pop up, but man, do we have a good time diving in! And we find that this process really helps the playwrights answer their own questions through text and character.

We’re so looking forward to working with these multi-faceted playwrights, and we can’t wait to see you on Sunday, May 18th at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company to hear excerpts of thrilling, funny, a little frightening, and delicious new plays by these writers.

Spellbound after a week with A Bid to Save the World

I believe as you dig deeper and deeper into a new play, the words and images, conflict and characters, begin to spin magic.  And that magic drives us further into the world of the play, the secrets and questions it holds.

This is Anne, wayward blogger, founding member, and dramaturg.  I still feel a bit spellbound from the week I spent with my partner in theater crime Lee Liebeskind, an open hearted, witty and talented cast, the pied piper Jon Jon Johnson, and of course the master of this particular brand of magic — playwright Erin Bregman.  We were working on Erin’s epic A Bid to Save the World through our INKREADING process.

Perhaps you, too, can feel a bit of the magic as I take you through our week, day by day, as we dove into this play that meditates on death, heartbreak, mourning, and what it really takes to save the world.  I also hope this gives you all a sense of The Inkwell’s development process, where we hopefully help the playwright release the particular, unique and delicious magic of their play in progress.

DAY ONE:  Introduction and Readthrough, or “This play is like a tortellini.”

It’s a bit of a misnomer to call this Day One of the development process of working with Erin.  We’ve actually been collaborating with her on and off for about a year.  And about a month ago, Lee, Erin, and I got on the phone to talk about a draft of the play in progress.  Together we decided on what we might explore over a week of development, and we came to the conclusion that we wanted to take a closer look at the journeys of each character through the play, how they connect with one another in the seemingly disparate worlds of the play.  Erin hoped to find the right ending to the play.  She wasn’t satisfied with the one on the page.

Our conversation led to another draft with a new ending that both Lee and I were excited to hear out loud.  This ending included a confrontation with the figure of Death that the three of us began to imagine in discussion.

But first, we needed to introduce the actors to the script.  After all, they haven’t been a part of the conversation.  So we start with an introduction of the play by Erin, who talked about its inspiration and her big questions about the play at that moment.  We then read the latest draft and discussed four seemingly simple questions:

1) What is this play about?

2) What is the story of this play?

3) What are the worlds of this play?

4) What are the big questions that we can’t answer right now?

Below are the some of the “funknown” questions we came up with, meaning those questions that none of us have answers to but are excited to explore.

2014 ABTSTW INKREADING Discussion Funknown

And here you can see some of the interesting representations of the structure of the play, which is one its most mysterious, ambitious, and intriguing characteristics.  My favorite comment about the play’s structure:  “It’s like a tortellini.”

2014 ABTSTW INKREADING Discussion #1

DAY TWO:  Visual Dramaturgy

We at The Inkwell believe that a writer can’t write their way through every question, especially as a play becomes more and more complex.  That’s why we take the second day of our INKREADING process to step away from the words and engage in some mapping and drawing exercises.  We call this “visual dramaturgy.”

For A Bid to Save the World, we broke into teams for two exercises.  First, four teams drew genograms, which are maps that track the relationships between characters.  Here’s an example of what we came up with.  You can see the glorious complexity of the play.

2014 ABTSTW INKREADING Genogram Exercise #1

Next, teams of two drew chakra charts for key characters from the play.  Chakras are energy centers through which life force flows.  If a particular chakra is blocked, it can mean a host of problems for a person, or in this case, a character.  It’s another way of looking at the desires and needs of a character.  You can see the teams playing with markers and an example of the diagnosis of chakras that the group came up with.

2014 ABTSTW INKREADING Chakra Exercise #1 2014 ABTSTW INKREADING Chakra Chart

Finally, each actor drew a representation of Death based on one of the characters they play.  This is a play with 26 characters, and we cast nine actors playing multiple roles.  As you can see, we got some really different versions of Death.

2014 ABTSTW INKREADING Death #2 2014 ABTSTW INKREADING Death #3

The next step was for Erin to take the comments on the script so far, the “funknown” questions, and this visual information to guide her in revising the play.

DAY THREE: Singin’

Erin has a background in music. In fact, she has founded a children’s opera in San Francisco.  So it’s no surprise that another important element of A Bid to Save the World is music.  Erin wrote seven original songs for the play, which musician, composer, and teacher Jon Jon Johnson arranged for this reading.  The third day of rehearsal was spent learning the music, but not just melody and harmony.  Lee and Jon Jon helped Erin and the cast discover the ebb and swell of the music as it relates to the moment in the play.  Here is a video of the actors rehearsing one of the beautiful and haunting songs for the play, Too Young To Die, which opens the show.

DAY FOUR AND FIVE: Let’s get it up on its feet

So we read and talked, charted and sketched and sang.   And Erin wrote and wrote and wrote.  By Day Four,  we were ready to put this play up on its feet.  This is the time in the process where I, as dramaturg, get to step back and just watch the play spin magic, and Lee as director gets up on his feet to stage.  He did a wonderful job, pulling us from moment to moment and helping Erin see key moments in the play where before she had just imagined them, like these below.  I don’t want to tell you too, too much about these moments, because I am hoping you will come out for the full production of the show at the 2014 Source Festival this June.  But I’ll tease you.

2014 ABTSTW INKREADING Rehearsal Ascension

Historical Causes of Death:  Other. Ascension.

2014 ABTSTW INKREADING Rehearsal Napalm Girl

A representation of Nick Ut’s “Napalm Girl.”

2014 ABTSTW INKREADING End of Play

Brother, holding his orange, is surrounded by the chorus, rowing. They hum. From the sky falls a gentle rain of flower petals. Brother looks up, smiles, and holds out his hand to catch a few.

DAY SIX:  INKREADING

So, before a small audience, we all saw and experienced the latest version of the play all the way through, staged and with music, for the first time.  For me, and I believe for the others who watched, it was magic.  One of the beautiful things about this play is that, because it is shaped like a tortellini, you find some new secret, some new spell, each time you see it.

What’s next?  Erin and I will form a new collaboration with the team at the Source Festival, including Elena Velasco, who is directing the production.  I’ll be telling you more about the magic we find with a new cast and with sound, lights, set, and costumes.  I have no doubt that the full production will cast a powerful spell.