Have you ever wondered what our Resident Playwrights are up to? Shortly after I began at Arena this summer, I asked all of the Resident Playwrights to share some of the highlights of their residencies so far - and the results were beautiful. I'm delighted to share with you some of their feedback, as a window into the work of the AVNPI.
And you can always learn more about their residencies here: http://www.arenastage.org/artistic-development/new-play-institute/residencies/
Director of Artistic Programming
“The ability to be able to work without having to constantly scramble and hustle has allowed me to deepen and expand my skills as a writer. “
During her residency, Karen Zacarías has been afforded the time and resources to write, research, travel, imagine and aspire. Through the residency salary and benefits, she was more able to attend rehearsals for her plays in development and production - both locally and nationally. Through her residency development budget, Karen was able to prioritize and design her own artistic development process. “Readings” has always been the most ubiquitous symbol of support for a playwright; but when Karen started her residency, she had no need for a reading. In order to open a path for a strong new play, she needed to re-visit her existing body of work and prepare these plays for important second and third productions. As a result, she hired Dramaturg Jocelyn Clarke, and spent many months discussing and re-tooling a wide array of scripts that were slated for production at Arena Stage, The Goodman Theatre, The Denver Center, South Coast Repertory Theater and La Jolla Playhouse. She was the first resident playwright to be produced at Arena Stage with her production of The Book Club Play in Fall 2011.
In addition, Karen was able to organize a convening with Latino Artists to talk about their geographic and artistic isolation and the possibility of creating a national festival, as well as engage with the Arena staff, board, interns, and students through meetings, gatherings, and programs such as Arena Stage’s Student Playwright’s Project. When reflecting on her residency, she said, “Arena Stage has become my artistic home. It is a place of work and possibility. My residency has afforded me the time to grow and deepen as an artist.”
“The residency's loose parameters and generosity have enabled a connectivity for me that I treasure.”
During her residency, Amy Freed has worked on a variety of projects and utilized her time and resources to work on these projects in unique, supportive ways. In the first year of her residency, Amy began working on a new play focused on the Oneida community in upstate New York. Her residency afforded her the funds to research the community in its original landscape, visiting an old brick community house built by John Noyes and his acolytes in the 1870's, meeting with some of the local residents of the area to collect their stories, and perusing through the Oneida archives in the University of Syracuse. Following her research visit, Amy held a reading of her Oneida project at Arena Stage with Director Ed Iskandar and dramaturgical support from American Voices New Play Institute Director Polly Carl and a subsequent reading in New York followed by a conversation with the audience that went for several hours. In tandem with her work on the Oneida project, Amy was able to tackle an opportunity she was really hungering for with another new play in development, The Monster-Builder. The play deals with the state of architectural design today, so in order to fully realize the piece, Amy worked with set designer Erik Flatmo to create a mock-up of the scenic environment during a two-week workshop. For Amy, it was a chance to get out of her thoughts about the play and tackle its nature physically - push against the issues of staging and transition, see how fluidly she could conceive it. The play was recently read at New York Theater Workshop and feels “complete” to Amy.
During Amy’s residency, her play, You, Nero, was produced at Arena Stage, in the Fichandler. Amy got to see the play make a successful transformation from a proscenium comedy to a physical life in the round. As Amy notes, “[The Fichandler] is a dynamic, poetic, poignant space when used well - and I am now feeling like I could quite prefer to work in the round whenever it was a possibility.”
Throughout her residency, Amy has enjoyed many opportunities to interface with the Arena staff and fellows and participate in additional projects through the theater company, such as directing a one-act for the Edward Albee Festival in 2010. “Participation with various aspects of the theater's public face and educational aspects are no burden, but create a sense of purpose and reason to be present at an institution.”
“The support of the residency has allowed me to devote myself full-time to playing without worrying I would not be able to pay my rent or health insurance bills.”
During her residency, Lisa Kron has been able to devote her energy full-time to working on a new and ambitious project, a musical adaptation of Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, in collaboration with composer Jeanine Tesori. As Lisa notes, “It's a bit hard to imagine how I would have been able to devote myself so fully (or even adequately) to the project without the support since it there has been no other subsidy for the writing of the piece and it is a long and painstaking process.” During the first two years of her residency, Lisa and Jeanine visited DC twice early in the process to escape their hectic lives in New York City and burrow into their attempts to find a way into this extremely complicated adaptation. These writing retreats birthed a successful workshop of the musical at the Public Theater last fall, attended by collaborators from Arena Stage, the Public Theater and author Alison Bechdel. As Jeanine said, "Every musical has a moment when it's 'born' and that happened at this workshop."
For both Lisa and Jeanine, Fun Home remains a profound collaboration. They recently completed another workshop of the piece at the Sundance Institute this summer with Dramaturg Jocelyn Clarke in attendance and both feel it to be some of the deepest and most significant work they’ve ever done. “It is a delicate, rigorous, all-consuming and time consuming process. I've been able to devote myself to this work because of my residency.”
“Having a good space to write, a room of one’s own, is the first step to creating work that is emotionally evocative, clear and steady, and I must say having this rock allowed a river to flow from me.“
During the first year of Katori Hall’s residency, she was eager to be in the thick of the action at Arena Stage and relocated from New York to D.C. to live full-time at the playwrights’ house. The physical comfort of being adjacent to her artistic home and not worrying about where she was going to lay her head or how she was going to pay her rent allowed her to focus and do the hard work of learning how to “fall deep inside of herself.” In addition, the creative collisions she experienced with Lynn Nottage, David Henry Hwang, Marcus Gardley and many others who came in and out of the playwrights’ house were precious moments that helped shape her as an artist - conversations that roamed from the writing process to what was the best business acumen for the current theatre climate.
With the physical proximity to Arena, Katori experienced a deep artistic connection with the Arena staff members and fellows. Throughout her residency, Katori embarked on a diverse range of projects, including an onsite dance workshop and extensive research trip throughout the DC-metro area and in Atlanta for her new play, Pussy Valley, centered around the lives of strippers in a fictional night club in Mississippi; readings of her plays Our Lady of Kibeho and Saturday Night, Sunday Morning, and a research trip to Rwanda and collaboration with an East African theatre artist to continue work on Kibeho and Children of Killers.
“The residency has allotted me the time to write, dream, and eat!”
Charles’ residency kicked off with revisiting Skindiver, a new musical he has been developing for the past ten years in collaboration with Nona Hendryx. The musical, described by Charles as a “sci-fi cat and mouse thriller,” received little response from producers and theater companies when it was first conceived in the early 2000s, but Charles felt our current culture’s interest in technology made the piece more timely and relevant today. He staged a concert reading of the piece at D.C. restaurant Bus Boys and Poets, followed by several readings at Arena Stage and in New York. This development culminated in a late-night presentation of the piece in the Kogod Cradle in May 2011, attended by 200 local artists and patrons. In tandem with his work on Skindiver, Charles began to focus his energy on two new plays in the development – an autobiographical piece titled A Waiter and a new project tentatively titled The Afghanistan Play. His residency development budget afforded him several writing retreats to work on both plays, as well as the support to stage readings of A Waiter in D.C. and New York, featuring Brian Stokes Mitchell and Maurice Hines. Charles plans to continue work on The Afghanistan Play through the culmination of his residency.