Monday, September 25, 2006

Interview with Playwright Craig Wright

posted by Eric Pargac at 3:30 PM

We are again lucky enough to have direct contact with the playwright during the rehearsal process of Grace. We are thrilled that Craig Wright has been open to meeting with us and answering questions as well as sitting in on rehearsals and previews to offer feedback. Such contact with a playwright is invaluable. To help shed some light on Craig Wright's thoughts on Grace, we have once again gotten journalist Ina Rometsch to interview our playwright. Here is an excerpt of her interview with Craig Wright.

Craig, what put the idea for this play into your head?
I heard a story about a love triangle in Florida that operated a little bit like the one in Grace does. Also, I wanted to write a play about someone who reaches the end of their belief system. I wanted to write something that said: There is grace, but grace is a lot weirder than we think.

Steve and Sara are from Minnesota, like you. Are there more parallels between you and the characters?
Well. I wrote the play when I lived in Minnesota and came to Hollywood. And the play is about people who lived in Minnesota and went to Florida - another hot, dangerous place. That's about it.

Let me borrow a line from your play: "Did you go to church growing up?"
I was born Jewish and went to synagogue and Hebrew school every week. My mother died when I was seven, and once she was gone I wasn't as exposed to Judaism as I had been. When I was 14, I became a Born-Again Christian. That ended when I was about 20. I started writing plays when I was 21. When I was 29, I decided to go to seminary. So I went to United Theological Seminary in the Twin Cities to get a Master of Divinity degree. I thought I was going to be a minister.

What stopped you?
Right around the time I graduated, I wrote a play called The Pavilion which kind of took off. So I did not get ordained and instead I kept being a writer.

Did your seminary training turn you into a better artist?
I don't know about "better," it certainly made me a different artist. For many years I had been searching for a style. Once I went to seminary, I found my subject.

Does that make you a religious playwright?
No. I see myself as a writer who tells stories about normal people with really big questions. Sometimes they are religious, sometimes they are romantic, sometimes they are both - like in Grace.

You are a successful writer for TV - why does writing plays appeal to you?
The appeal is twofold. First, writing for television is a very collaborative process. When I'm writing plays I have more power as the sole writer of the play. And second, I really believe in live theatre and the irreproducibility of it. Unlike a TV show, a play's value resides somewhere other than the marketplace where reproduced commodities can be purchased. The reason a play matters is not that it can be sold as a reproducible experience. It matters because you bought a ticket that night, you saw it that night, and those moments will never happen again. I find that more inspirational.

Interview: Ina Rometsch

Monday, September 18, 2006

The Scar

posted by Eric Pargac at 3:29 PM

So I play Sam, the not-so-religious neighbor in Craig Wright's "Grace." Sam has been disfigured in a car accident so we've been working on creating the scar. Christa McCarthy, our makup designer, has come up with a great technique that uses wax, which I will apply and basically build the whole thing from scratch myself for each performance. Christa did it the first time to teach me what i need to do, and this is the scar the first time I applied it myself on 9/17 without Christa. In our previous incarnations Christa and I tried using a little blush, and we liked the effect of the red, so she got some red makeup to see how that works. Dámaso Rodriguez, the director, liked the effect but thought it was a little too red. I agree. I kinda just got wild with it just to see what would happen, so I can pull back on the amount I use. I also think we might be able to help that with more highlight colors. I really just have reds now. I’ll have to ask Christa about possibly using highlights. It also tends to pull up at the bottom on the more fleshy cheek area. We’ll have to try new techniques to help prevent that. I'll continue to work on it to get better. I can already tell I need to pay more attention at the top and in the areas that are hard for me to see. It went pretty smoothly this first time, though, so I think it's just gonna keep getting better.

See more scar photos!

Stage to Screen... and Back Again

posted by brad at 10:55 AM

There was a really great article in yesterday's LA Times about Theatre writers who also write for TV.

Jan Breslauer mentions Craig Wright, award winning playwright and author of GRACE (we open the LA premiere in 3 weeks), twice in the article. Mr. Wright has been responsible for numerous episodes of Six Feet Under, Lost and is now working on ABC's new series Brothers and Sisters.

Besides the obvious trend of more playwrights compelled to work in the TV world and make the one hour drama a better, more engaging product... the trend seems to be true in the reverse. These writers are all bringing more challenging theatricality to their stage scripts (more progressive effects/elements in the design and production execution requirements... more TV or film-like) as well as changing the average length of our new American plays. Mostly all coming out to 90-100 minutes. No intermission. Etc.

Let's hope that these incredibly talented writers continue to love both mediums. The world of entertainment, live and taped is better because of what's happening right now.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Theatre That Matters - What does that mean?

posted by brad at 5:49 PM
Aly Mawji and Ammar Mahmood in the 9/11-themed Back of the Throat by Yussef El Guindi

Click here to read a really great article in the theater section of the New York Times (Sunday, Sept. 3rd Print Edition) by Charles Isherwood regarding the questions of:

"Can art save the day? More specifically, can theater rouse the populace from a sense of numbed anxiety? Can a stage play change minds, or help channel passive beliefs into active commitment?"

The article surrounds the new “citywide arts festival focusing on human rights, social justice and political action,” being hosted by Culture Project, titled IMPACT.

Mr. Isherwood has some great insight into the pro's and cons of politically and socially charged theatre and how it affects us as audience members. He references everthing from Shakespeare, to Odets, to Kushner, Eve Ensler's Vagina Monologues and David Hare's Stuff Happens. It was a thought provoking read (especially in regards to theatre being considered first and foremost: entertainment) as a member of a company that often gets thrown into the "political theatre" bucket.

For good reason I guess. Our first four years have been packed with "politically and socially charged theatre." Mostly because those plays were the stories we felt compelled to tell at the time. Plays we felt "were about something" (and were entertaining as well). When asked if we have a political or social agenda... we usually say "no." Which is true. We don't. Unless you consider trying to change the world one theatre production at a time an agenda.

The article goes on to site a quote from veteran theatre critic Eric Bentley that we really liked. Maybe it will end up on the rehearsal room wall:

“Any dent that any theater can make in the world is no doubt small, but theater people who on that account give up the effort as hopeless are generally agreeing to make no dent at all.”

Isherwood closes with this thought:

"I would add that theatergoers who neglect to support those efforts are generally agreeing to let the art form degenerate into the pervasive vacuousness of the cultural atmosphere, the fog of uncaring and unmeaning that cuts us off from a sometimes painful but necessary knowledge of the world as it is, right now."

Good Stuff. Give the article a read. Let's all make some dents.

Be Furious.

UPDATE (Monday, Sept. 11): Tip of the hat to "The Playgoer" for publishing part of Tim Robbins' response letter to this article, referencing his play Embedded and the true desire of audiences to see socially relevant theatre. Good points by both and worth seeing/talking about.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Fences Opening

posted by Furious Theatre Company at 11:44 AM
As promised a few days ago, here's what/who you might have seen if you attended Friday night's opening performance of FENCES by August Wilson, directed by Sheldon Epps and starring Laurence Fishburne, Angela Bassett, Kadeem Hardison, Orlando Jones, Wendell Pierce and Victoria Matthews.

1. A phenomenal (often monumental) night of theatre.
2. An ensemble that seemed like they'd been together for years.
3. Paparazzi
4. A sold out house
5. An extremely long standby tickets line
6. Autograph Hounds
7. Dennis Hopper
8. Eric La Salle
9. Harold Perrineau
10. Tyra Banks
11. A curtain speech by Mr. Fishburne in which he and the cast paid tribute to the late August Wilson, the late Ben Mordecai, and the late Lloyd Richards for their contributions to the American theatre and to their impact on the careers of the cast. He then handed out white roses to each cast member which they crushed and spread on the edge of the stage.

In general, the evening had the quality and energy of theatre as EVENT, something you rarely experience outside of New York or London.