SYZYGY Director Paul Kaufmann Writes About Directing Terry Roueche's TWEETERS for The Jasper Project

Paul Kaufmann directs TWEETERS by Terry Roueche for SYZYGY: The Plays Thursday, August 17th at 7 and 10 PM   

Paul Kaufmann directs TWEETERS by Terry Roueche for SYZYGY: The Plays Thursday, August 17th at 7 and 10 PM

 

I got involved in Syzygy because Patrick Kelly emailed to ask me.  I immediately jumped on board.  I think the production of new plays is vital to making a more complete theater scene in Columbia.  Trustus's Playwrights Festival, which has been happening now for many years, has paved the way.  I have always believed that event should be expanded to include readings and stagings of other new works.   

 

Tweeters is, at least in part, about looking for something, someone, anyone to follow.  It's a short, funny take on the seriously disturbing use of social media by our country's leader. [Playwright] Terry Roueche has hidden some real commentary in what seems, on the surface, to be a short farce.  So I'd say it's a satire.

 

I have three extraordinary actors in my show.  Hunter Boyle plays Murdock, Eric Bultman is Fisher, and Tristan Pack plays Jones. This cast of three boast two actors who have earned MFA degrees (Boyle and Bultman). Pack is an excellent young actor who grew up performing in Sumter and who has done several plays in Columbia and at USC.  He's also a contractor to my company and has worked as an actor for me in Montana and elsewhere. Their chemistry as a trio is exciting.

 

We've had such a fun time exploring the levels and depths of this short piece. The brevity of the play has allowed us to run it more times than usual in each rehearsal, which really helps develop rhythm, comedy, and pace. I'm very happy with the work the actors have put into it.  We still have a few more rehearsals scheduled before Thursday.

 

I'm most eager to see how these actors will respond to having an audience and to see the audience's reaction to this Absurdist comedy. This type of play really speaks to the difficulty of finding the appropriate way to react to the political and social craziness of these times -- what other real choice to we have except to acknowledge the breakdown of dialogue, the lack of clear and controlled communication and the fear that permeates our current culture?  Yes, all that in ten minutes!

 

I want people to come so they can see local teams of theater people creating new work.  In and of itself, that's reason enough to attend The Syzygy Plays.  And no matter what one's taste in entertainment may be, I think these ten minute plays are a great way to see and sample work by dedicated artists.  I've not seen or read any of the other pieces, but I'm sure it will be an evening of varied and stimulating shows.

 

 

Paul Kaufmann is a Columbia-based stage and film actor, writer, voiceover artist, acting coach, visual artist and director. Directing credits include The Magical Medical Radio Hour, which he also wrote, funded in part by the Duke Endowment and Ho for the Holidays (also written by Kaufmann), The Testament of Mary and Season’s Greetings for Trustus Theatre. Most recently, he appeared in Trustus Theatre’s production of Hand to God as Pastor Greg.  In November/December 2016, he played The Actor in FUSIONS by Nic Ularu at LaMaMa Experimental Theater Club in New York, his fourth role there after The Cherry Orchard Sequel (NY Times Critics’ Pick), The System and Hieronymus (title role), all for Mr. Ularu’s UniArt Productions. Internationally, he’s performed in Wales and Romania with UniArt, in Australia with The Salvage Company and in Sicily with Florida State University. Recent Trustus credits include dialect coaching Grey Gardens and acting in Peter and the Starcatcher (Black Stache), Marie Antoinette (Revolutionary) and The Restoration’s Constance (Reverend Harper.) Other favorite shows there include: Assassins, Next to Normal, Dirty Blonde, I Am My Own Wife, August: Osage County, Side Man, Spinning Into Butter, Touch, Gross Indecency, The Last Night of Ballyhoo, Santaland Diaries, When Pigs Fly and The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told. Theatre South Carolina: King Lear, The Real Thing, The Illusion and The Country Wife. Pacific Performance Project/East: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Mizu No Eki. Co-founder of HIT SEND Studio Theater with Marybeth Gorman. A founding company member of SC Shakespeare Company, he’s proud to have played Iago opposite his late best friend Greg Leevy’s Othello among other roles. He’s proud to have provided voiceovers for several productions at Columbia Marionette Theatre, including Snow White and The Wizard of Oz, in which he plays Scarecrow, Tin Man, Cowardly Lion and the Flying Monkeys.  He also does voiceover work for radio stations across the US. Film/television/web series: Preacher Feature, The Girl from Carolina, Season 2: God Bless New Dixie, Third Reel, Junk Palace and Campfire Tales. Paul is founder of a company that contracts actors utilized in scenario-based training for the FBI and other federal and state agencies across the country. He is a proud former student of Jim Thigpen, his life-changing high school theater teacher.

Tickets are available at Tapp's Arts Center   https://www.tappsartscenter.com/event/syzygy-the-solar-eclipse-plays/

Tickets are available at Tapp's Arts Center

https://www.tappsartscenter.com/event/syzygy-the-solar-eclipse-plays/

Civil Blood Makes Civil Hands Unclean: Jason Stokes Premiers Original Historical Screenplay, Composure - by Haley Sprankle

composure  

Two households, both alike in dignity, in fair Columbia where we lay our scene...

 

The year is 1903. The Tillman family, headed by the Lieutenant Governor for the State of South Carolina, and the Gonzales family, headed by the founder of The State newspaper, are in a known feud. This ancient grudge (that began in the 1880s) broke to new mutiny as Lieutenant Governor James H. Tillman murders NG Gonzales.

 

That’s where local actor, filmmaker, and screenwriter Jason Stokes’ story begins.

 

“I first heard about this story at my ‘real’ work (Media Director for the South Carolina Bar) in 2000 during a presentation on the subject by Donnie Myers. I was fascinated by the story in part because of the sensational nature of the crime, but the more I began to research the story I realized that there was much more to it than just a murder and a murder trial,” Stokes explains.  “The Tillmans and The Gonzaleses were two powerful families in the city of Columbia who did not like each other for various reasons. This feud began in the late 1880’s and continued even after the events of January 15, 1903. During that time one side wielded power and opinion in the public press while the other side railed against the Gonzaleses and The State newspaper with every stump speech.”

 

This Saturday, Stokes presents an original screenplay titled Composure based on this rich piece of Columbia’s history. His cast includes such luminary local talent such as Paul Kaufmann, Eric Bultman, Stann Gwynn, Terrance Henderson, Hunter Boyle, Clint Poston, Katie Leitner, Stan Gardner, G. Scott Wild, Libby Campbell, Kevin Bush, Jonathan Jackson, Nate Herring, and Kendrick Marion.

 

“I’ve been very fortunate not only to have these talented actors lend their craft to this project but they are also valued friends and colleagues. I promise to anyone in attendance, if the story doesn’t impress you the talent certainly will,” Stokes says.

 

While Stokes is certainly no stranger to the Columbia arts community, having been seen in productions ranging from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof to Rent, not many know that he is a writer.

 

“I began writing just after my father passed away in 1989. My mother gave me a notebook to write down memories of my father when I had them but, being an adolescent, as I started writing down a memory or story it would veer away from facts to whatever fiction my mind was dreaming up at the time. So I’ve been writing for the last 27 years (to varying degrees of success),” Stokes said.

 

After writing about 30 screenplays, some of which have television spec scripts pitched to shows such as The West Wing and Castle, Stokes has developed his own style and writing process.

 

“Each screenplay is different, but they all seem to start before I really know where they are going. For example, I’ll write a scene that I either have no idea what it’s trying to say in a grand scheme, or I don’t know where it belongs in the story I’m thinking about,” Stokes delineates. “Composure was no different. The surface story was there but to make it interesting and make it build to something that makes people think was the challenge. This being a historical piece I just kept doing more and more research to see if I could find anything new to add to the layers, which took time. I worked off-and-on on the screenplay for about three years, and it wasn’t until I decided to begin with the murder and then bounce back and forth in time during the trial, to add the ‘why’ of the murder, that made it really exciting for me to want to write it.”

 

Being an actor himself adds a particularly interesting dynamic to Stokes’ work and process, as well.

 

“As an actor, it’s always a blessing to work on a well written piece of work, Tennessee Williams, Terrance McNally, Jonathan Larson, you want to chew on it as long as you can because really good, juicy dialogue and lyrics don’t come around all the time. So when I write I like to think of the story and dialogue in the vein; Would this be something I would want to sink my teeth into as an actor and rejoice in the fact that I GET to say these lines and tell this story?” Stokes adds.

 

Don’t miss the two hours’ traffic of the Trustus Side Door Theatre this Saturday, January 16 for free! Doors and bar open at 6:30 with the performance beginning at 7:30.

 

“Opinion reporting is nothing new, as evident by this story, but with the advent of technology and polarizing news outlets only compounding the divisive nature and climate I think we find ourselves in today, this is a true story that still has relevance and meaning,” Stokes says. “No one story, one person, one political ideology can be measured strictly in absolutes. If the audience can be entertained and enlightened in some way through the events of these gentlemen, then maybe the cast and I will have offered a different perspective in which to view our own world.”

REVIEW: Marie Antoinette at Trustus Theatre - by Jennifer Hill

Eric Bultman and Jennifer Moody Sanchez - photo by Richard Arthur Kiraly

“I was built to be this thing and now they're killing me for it." -- Marie Antoinette

Trustus Theater starts off its 31st season strong with Marie Antoinette by David Adjmi. In the first act, Director Robert Richmond takes the audience down the rabbit hole to a French rave where Marie Antoinette is the Mad Hatter presiding over what appears to be her own opulent, insane tea party, which sets the pace for the evening. This is not a stuffy historical piece by any means. It’s sexy, provocative, humorous, and it eventually takes you to a very dark place.

Jennifer Moody Sanchez is our Marie, the girl who was plucked from Austria at 14 years old to marry wimpy Louis XVI, played by G. Scott Wild, and then went on to become the Queen of France at the tender age of 19. Moody Sanchez is a strong performer, giving us a Marie that is silly and frivolous, but grows strong with backbone as the play goes on, and ultimately descends into madness during her final days.  Moody Sanchez did some of her best work of the night in the second act as Marie grapples with sanity in her prison cell. It’s a series of intense scenes and Moody Sanchez gives a haunting performance. Props to Robert Richmond for being willing to take it so dark. Bold choices are powerful, especially when a director uses them to create a very consistent stylized world, like Richmond has. That said, I would have liked to have seen more vulnerability in Marie at times, something with which we can empathize and connect.

Sanchez is not alone in offering a fine performance. G. Scott Wild gives us a perfect Louis XVI; an awkward, possibly impotent, man-child. Marie’s ladies of the court, Therese De Lomballe, played by Lindsay Rae Taylor, and Yolande de Polignac played by Ellen Rodillo-Fowler are like those two girls at a party who keep pressuring you to take another shot; the kind of women who tell you “go ahead, buy it in both colors” on a shopping trip, the ‘yes’ women to Marie. I especially liked Rodillo-Fowler in her scene as a creepy peasant and Taylor’s scenes as Therese showing true friendship to Marie. Eric Bultman plays the most striking and sexy sheep anyone would ever want to see. That’s right, he plays Marie’s sheep friend, her spirit animal, and he sometimes informs her of the realities of her situation. Bultman physically nails every beat. The terribly handsome Ben Blazer plays Axel Fersen, Marie’s man on the side. Blazer has a nice natural stage presence that is so easy to believe. Paul Kaufmann plays the Revolutionary who imprisons Marie and her family. Kauffman is a strong actor who makes a nice subtle transformation over the second act, in that he starts out with extreme hatred for Marie, but that hatred slowly turns to pity as her execution draws near. Chris Cook plays Joseph, Marie’s brother, come to get answers for why an heir hasn’t been produced in the seven years since Marie and Louis have been married. Cook is a joy to watch: he has impeccable timing and gives some really delightful deliveries that keep the audience laughing. Cade Melnyk, with a face of a cherub, plays the little Dauphin very well. He happens to be in one of my favorite scenes, a carriage ride depicted using only three chairs. The three actors sell it with perfect timing and movement which results in a very believable and entertaining scene.

Costumes by Jean Gonzalaz Lomasto were a joy. Marie’s frocks are one-of-a-kind pieces of art, as were the wigs by Mark Ziegler and the jewelry by Neely Wald. The lighting design by Marc Hearst was on point; I particularly enjoyed a scene where Marie and Axel watch fireworks in the distance. I really enjoyed what Baxter Engle did with the sound during the prison/madness scenes; an echoing treatment that is very effective. The set, designed by Kimi Maeda and constructed by Brandon Mclver is quite impressive as basically a giant reflective guillotine blade, always there, always reminding us where this is all going to end.

And that’s really what it’s all about, right? The falling of a great star. We build them up to burn them down a la 2007's Britney Spears. Marie herself pretty much sums it up toward the end of the second act, “I was built to be this thing and now they're killing me for it”. Overall, it’s a beautiful production, well played and well executed. (Pun intended.) A feast for the eyes. Get your tickets to the disco mad tea party now as shows will be selling out. The show runs through Oct.3rd.

Correction: A previous version of this review omitted the contributions of Neely Wald. 

"Sleuth" at Workshop Theatre - a review by Jillian Owens

 

sleuth2

Would you like to play a game?

No no no! This isn’t the latest installment of a poorly-written body horror series. This is Sleuth, a mystery/thriller by Anthony Shaffer. The title made me think this play was  probably a just silly British farce of some sort. I hadn’t seen it, or either of its film versions (both starring Michael Caine.) Upon entering the theatre, I was warned that  “There will be at least one, and possibly more gunshots in this show.” by at least three  ushers.

"Spoilers,” I thought.

The show opens in the lavish country home of Andrew Wyke (played by Hunter Boyle), a successful writer of many mystery novels and a man obsessed with games.  He’s clever, and he knows it.  Games of strategy and wit are what he lives for.  Shaffer once said he based parts of this character on his friend, Stephen Sondheim, who also  shared a love of games.

Unfortunately, his wealth and intelligence aren’t enough to captivate his much younger  wife. She has left him for the handsome young Milo Tindle (played by the also  handsome Jason Stokes). Wyke invites Tindle to his home to presumably discuss the  details of his pending divorce from his wife.

(L-R) Hunter Boyle and Jason Stokes match wits in "Sleuth"

Sleuth surprised me in many ways. As I said, I didn’t expect this play to be much more than a witty farce. But it is much smarter than that. What begins as a situation comedy, with plenty of funny wit-matching and clever dialogue, becomes something far darker  and complex as the action unfolds. Wyke and Tindle aren’t the only ones playing  games here. This script was written to toy with the audience and their expectations as  well. Just when we’re comfortable and think we understand what this show is about,  Sleuth takes another turn - carefully placing its next piece.

Boyle and Stokes are well-cast in their roles as the jilted-but-proud novelist and the  young-but-not-so-dumb lover. It’s a tricky thing to go from quick banter to far scarier  places at the drop of a hat, but they do this fairly well. Their British accents aren’t bad, although a bit of Southern crept in every now and again. There were opportunities  where they could really brought out the more sinister moments of this play with even  more intensity, but I only saw this show on its opening night. With seasoned actors  such as these, I expect even more commanding performances as the show  progresses.

Randy Strange’s country manor set is impressive, with all the trappings of wealth  presented in a style you’d expect of Wyke. Alexis Doktor’s costumes are nicely done as well, although they seemed to lean towards the 1970 publication date of this play, rather  than the contemporary setting that is indicated by the use of a few modern bits of  technology throughout the show. There were a couple of technical glitches in the  performance I caught, but seeing Hunter Boyle play them off made me forgive thesesmall flukes.

I hope others aren’t put off like I almost was by what kind of play they assume Sleuth may be, because you really don’t know. Trust me. I would love to share more...but I’m afraid  that would just ruin the game.  The play runs through Sat. 11/23; call the box office for ticket information at 803-799-6551, or visit http://www.workshoptheatre.com.

~ Jillian Owens

 

 

Be the first to see "The Velvet Weapon" (winner of the 2013 Trustus Playwrights' Festival) on Sat. Aug.10 at 2 PM!

velvetweapon

Love live theatre, but stymied by steep ticket prices?  Trustus has got you covered.

Love live theatre, but have commitments like jobs and children that keep you from going out at night?  Trustus has got you covered.

Love live theatre, but wish there were some way to see new shows other than traveling to New York?  Ever wish there were some way for new works of theatre to get a shot at an audience without having to worry about either being a Broadway blockbuster?  Trustus has got you covered.

Ever wish you could give feedback directly to a playwright, before the play ever even opens?  Trustus has got you covered.

Are you so tired of the famously hot August heat - punctuated by the monsoon-like August thunderstorms - that you wish you could just sit down in the dark somewhere with a cold beer or refreshing glass of wine, and watch some live theatre you've never seen before? Trustus has got you covered.

Tomorrow afternoon at 2:00 PM - that's Saturday, August 10th - The Velvet Weapon, winner of the 2013 Trustus Playwrights' Festival, will have a one-time-only staged reading at Trustus Theatre, open and free to the public.  The Trustus bar will also be open (although not free.)  There are only some 135 seats, however, so make sure one of them is yours.

The playwright, Deborah Brevoort, was kind enough to talk with Jasper about her new work, and you can read that exclusive interview here.  The cast for this reading includes:  Paul Kaufmann (last fall's Next to Normal and  I Am My Own Wife, both at Trustus), Trey Hobbs (Albany in USC's recent King Lear, Greg in reasons to be pretty at Trustus in 2010), Mandy Applegate (The Last Five Years and Plan 9 from Outer Space, both at  Trustus, and The Producers at Workshop) Hunter Boyle (Peron in Evita at Trustus, Big Daddy in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof at Workshop) Chelsea Nicole Crook, Eric Bultman, Cindy Durrett (numerous incarnations of Nunsense at Act One Theatre), Josiah Laubenstein (Edgar in King Lear, and Mike in Pine, the previous year's Festival winner  currently running at Trustus), Raia Jane Hirsch (The Motherf*@%er With the Hat at Trustus, Pride and Prejudice with SC Shakespeare Co.), and Kayla Cahill (The Shape of Things at  Workshop.)

Press material describes The Velvet Weapon as "a hilariously smart backstage farce that will leave you laughing while also engaging you long after you've left the theatre.  At the National Theatre of an unnamed country, in an unnamed city, a matinee audience rises up in protest over what is being performed on stage, and demands something new. They begin a performance of their own of The Velvet Weapon, a play by an unproduced playwright of questionable talent. Inspired by the Velvet Revolution in the former Czechoslovakia, The Velvet Weapon is a humorous exploration of populist democracy told through a battle between high-brow and low-brow art."

Director Chad Henderson shared a few thoughts with Jasper:

Jasper:   What has your involvement been in previous years with the Playwrights' Festival?

Henderson:  I directed Swing ’39 in 2011. I also acted in Copy Man under the direction of Jim Thigpen years ago.

Jasper:  Why is it important for an author to get feedback via a reading?

Henderson:  Probably the same reason I invite colleagues to come watch rehearsals of a show I’m directing before we open – its good to know what’s working and what’s not. In this particular case, Brevoort has written a farce – so pace and delivery is the name of the game it seems. The language on the page is the direct key to engaging an audience, so

Jasper:  How did you go about casting Velvet Weapon?

Henderson:  I was looking for people who are quick, humorous, and who have good timing.

Jasper:  For audience members who have never attended a reading before, what can they expect?

Henderson:  The actors (and it’s a great cast) will be reading without staging. Therefore, they will be acting while reading – but not walking around the stage. We would have loved to have staged this reading, however with farces there’s so much action that simplistic blocking would get in the way of the words being said. And since this is a celebration of a new work – we’re keeping it simple. But the script is certainly funny enough and endearing enough to entertain on a Saturday afternoon.

Jasper:  What sort of themes are addressed in this play?

Henderson:  “What is art?” is a question that strings through the narrative. Should art entertain? Should art explore the human condition? If it doesn’t explore the human condition – is it still art?

Be the first to see The Velvet Weapon, which will get a full production in the summer of 2014.  Curtain is at 2 PM tomorrow (Sat. Aug. 10) at Trustus Theatre, at 520 Lady Street in the heart of the Congaree Vista.  The Facebook "event" page for the reading is here.

~ August Krickel

 

Deborah Brevoort's "The Velvet Weapon" Wins 2013 Trustus Playwrights' Festival - Chad Henderson Directs Staged Reading Saturday, August 10th

The Velvet Weapon, by Deborah Brevoort, is the winner of the 2013 Trustus Playwrights' Festival, and will receive a full production in the summer of 2014, preceded by a staged reading  this coming Saturday, August 10th, at 2 PM on the Thigpen Main Stage at 520 Lady Street in the Vista.  As sponsor of one of the nation's longest-running play festivals, Trustus has nurtured and fostered the growth of new playwrights such as David Lindsay-Abaire, who later went on to win the Pulitzer Prize.

Over the following year, each winning playwright has the chance to develop the script for production, with the opportunity for input from and consultation with members of the Trustus staff and company, based on feedback at the initial staged reading.  This year's reading will be directed by Chad Henderson, chosen by Jasper readers as the 2012 Theatre Artist of the Year.  Included in the cast are Paul Kaufmann (Next to Normal and I Am My Own Wife at Trustus) Raia Jane Hirsch (The Motherf*@%er With the Hat at Trustus, Pride and Prejudice with SC Shakespeare Co.) Kayla Cayhill (The Shape of Things at Workshop) Trustus Managing Director Larry Hembree, Eric Bultman, and Chelsea Crook.

The reading is free and open to the public, but seating is limited; the bar will be open, with liquid refreshments for sale.

Deborah Brevoort holds an MFA in Playwriting from Brown University and an MFA in Musical Theatre writing from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, where she currently teaches. She also teaches in the MFA playwriting programs at Columbia University and Goddard College. Her web site is www.DeborahBrevoort.com.  She is perhaps best known for her work The Women of Lockerbie, which won the Kennedy Center’s Fund for New American Plays Award, and the silver medal in the Onassis International Playwriting Competition. It has been produced across the U.S., as well as in Scotland, Japan, Greece, Spain, Belarus, Poland, Australia and England, and has been translated into seven languages.

The Velvet Weapon was inspired by the Velvet Revolution in the former Czechoslovakia, and is described as "a hilariously smart backstage farce that will leave you laughing while also engaging you long after you've left the theatre," and "a humorous exploration of populist democracy told through a battle between high-brow and low-brow art.  At the National Theatre of an unnamed country, a matinee audience rises up in protest over what is being performed on stage, and demands something new. They begin a performance of their own of The Velvet Weapon, a play by an unproduced playwright of questionable talent."

 The author kindly agreed to share some thoughts with Jasper via e-mail in this exclusive interview!

Deborah Brevoort, author of "Thye Velvet Weapon," winner of the 2013 Trustus Playwrights' Festival

Jasper:  You have written drama, comedy, and the books for musicals.  Is The Velvet Weapon your first venture into farce?

Brevoort:   Velvet Weapon is my first farce, although one of my previous plays, The Poetry of Pizza, an Arab/American comedy about love, used elements of farce here and there. Albert Bermel, who wrote the definitive critical study on farce, said that it was “an older dramatist’s medium, because the techniques involved are so formidable.”   That surprised me; farces tend to feel so slight. They are like meringues that melt the minute they hit your mouth.   So, I wanted to try my hand at the form to see what was so difficult.  I was greatly humbled by it, I have to say.   These “slight” little plays are built like Swiss watches!

Jasper:  Do you find it challenging or difficult to move from one form to another, or does that give you a sort of freedom, to work in whatever form suits the material?

Brevoort:  I love writing in multiple forms.  I always find it difficult to move back and forth between them, but that is also the pleasure of it. As a writer, I have a couple of rules for myself. One is that I don’t ever repeat myself.  Another is that in every project I do, there must be something that I don’t know how to do. These rules help to ensure that I am always stretching myself as an artist, and that I don’t stagnate, or get too comfy.

Jasper:   Your theatrical career began at Alaska's Perseverance Theatre, and from there you moved into writing - how did that transition take place?

Brevoort:  I was the Producing Director of Perseverance Theatre, which means I was the person who raised all the money, and was the public administrative face of the theatre.  But Perseverance was an unusual company, because we were basically a group of artists who administered ourselves and the company. I started out as an actor, and worked in the acting company for the better part of 13 years.  I had always wanted to be a writer, so when we started offering playwriting classes at the theatre, led by Paula Vogel and Darrah Cloud, I took them. Paula snatched me out of the class, told me I was writer, and gave me a fellowship to come to Brown University to make the switch from theatre producing and acting to writing. I accepted the fellowship, and moved to NYC, where I’ve been ever since, working as a playwright, lyricist and librettist.

Jasper: I gather that contemporary themes, especially relating to political and social topics, recur in your work, although perhaps sometimes not overtly. Do you have a particular goal in your work?

Brevoort:  I am not aware that I have a political agenda or even that I have political themes - I just write what interests me.  And I am committed to writing each project truthfully, whatever that may entail.

Jasper:  How easy or difficult is it to make the audience think while still entertaining them?

Brevoort:  There are plenty of techniques you can use as a playwright to make an audience think or feel.  To me it’s simply a matter of craft.  It’s no harder to make an audience think than feel—it just requires different tools.  I do have to say, however, that the hardest thing to do is to make an audience laugh. That is 100 times harder than to make them cry.

Jasper:  Why did the "velvet revolution" in Czechoslovakia appeal to you as source material?

Brevoort:  I was very good friends with Pavel Dobrusky, a Czech scenographer who defected from the former Czechoslovakia and came to work with us at Perseverance Theatre in the mid-1980’s.  When the Velvet Revolution happened in 1989, Pavel worked with us on production called Wonderland, a sort of Alice-in-Wonderland take on the events taking place in Eastern Europe.  It was one of my favorite productions at Perseverance Theatre.

Fast forward 15 years:  Pavel and I both now live in NYC and got to talking one night about The Velvet Revolution and how we’d love to make a theatre piece about it.  Pavel knew all the theatre artists who had been involved—they were his old friends.  We put together a grant request to CEC Arts Link, which gave money to theatre artists to do projects in Eastern Europe.  We got the grant, which enabled the two of us to go to both the Czech and Slovak Republics and to interview all the artists who collaborated with Vaclav Havel to bring down the Soviet regime.  We spent about a month conducting intense, in-depth interviews with 43 of the ringleaders.

After the interviews, I remarked to Pavel that the Velvet Revolution was like one, great big back stage farce. Literally.   So, I wrote the play as a farce.

The goal was for Pavel to eventually direct the play.  But unfortunately, Pavel passed away.

Jasper:   Once you finished the play, you had readings at La Mama and the NJ Playwright’s Theatre?  How did that process work?   

Brevoort:  In addition to getting a CEC Arts Link grant to do the interviews, I got a playwriting fellowship from the NJ Council on the Arts, to write the play. The reading at the NJ Playwright’s Theatre was part of that fellowship.  Pavel directed the reading, which was done for about 30 NJ senior citizens, all of whom thought I was writing a satire about Obama.

The La Mama reading was part of the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts “Performing Revolution in Central and Eastern Europe” festival, a citywide, 5-month event to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution.  Pavel was no longer in NYC at that point, so he didn’t direct the reading. Many audience members at the reading were from Eastern Europe, so they got all the references in the play and recognized it as the story about Vaclav Havel.  The other half knew nothing about the Velvet Revolution and thought I was parodying populist democratic movements taking place around the world.

In February of this year I had a reading of the play at William Patterson University in NJ, and this time the audience thought I was writing about Occupy Wall Street.

This of course tickles me to no end; it was my goal that this play be about populist democracy not about the Velvet Revolution—and it appears to be working on that level because people are seeing references to American politics or world politics in it.  But I have also loaded the play with lots of inside jokes and references that only Eastern Europeans would “get”—and they seem to be “getting” them.

Each reading helped me to CUT the script. Speed of delivery is necessary for farce. If you have one syllable too many in a line, you won’t get a laugh.  So these readings have helped me to pare each line down so they work like darts.

Jasper:  How did you discover Trustus and the Playwrights' Festival?

Brevoort: I have heard about Trustus for many years,  most recently when I was the playwright-in-residence at Center Stage in Greenville, SC.  I’m delighted to get a chance to work with them!  I’ve never been to Columbia, so I don’t know anything about the community, and am looking forward to coming down and being there next year for rehearsals.

~ August Krickel

Columbia artists in the Conch Republic -- A Guest Blog by Chad Henderson

Note: This story goes best with Jimmy Buffet on the radio, a Hemingway novel on your nightstand, and a Key Lime specialty drink made with generous pours…

 

During the week of July 4th, four Columbia artists traveled down I-95 heading for the Southernmost point in the United States – Key West. Our Columbia collective consisted of myself (a local theatrical director), local dancer (turned stage manager for this trip) Bonnie Boiter-Jolley, and local actors Paul Kaufmann and Eric Bultman. Of course, some much-anticipated vacationing was expected – but our reason for traveling to the Conch Republic derived from an invitation from The Studios of Key West to be part of “One Night Stand” – a highly popular 24-hour theatre project that was celebrating its fifth incarnation.

 

The Studios of Key West (or TSKW) describes itself “as a place that provides a truly collaborative and supportive environment for creative experiences.” They offer studio space, lectures, workshops, residencies, partnership projects and nurture the creation of work. Their publicized mission is to “build audiences and support the advancement of established and emerging creative people in the Florida Keys.” TSKW is driven by a distinct cultural and educational mission to support creative community development, nurture artists and the artistic process, while forging collaborations that celebrate and advance Key West’s unique sense of place. And let me assure you – I have yet to experience any place in this country which offers such an inspiring array of opportunities with distinct cultural individuality.

 

Paul Kaufmann and I first went to TSKW in 2009 when we were part of their first theatre troupe residency. We stayed in The Mango Tree House - one of the studios’ residencies where the oldest mango tree on the island actually drops fresh delicious mangoes into your backyard. Our residency lasted two weeks, and we workshopped a new script called “Homo Apocalyptus” written by playwright Dean Poynor and featuring local actors Monica Wyche and Sydney Mitchell. TSKW provided us the time and space to explore and shape this story daily. This script went on to have productions mounted at Piccolo Spoleto in Charleston, and at an arts festival in Cairns, Australia.

 

While we were in Key West in 2009, we were also asked to participate in “One Night Stand” during that residency. So, imagine our excitement when we were invited to participate again in 2012! Bags were packed and loaded, and four travelers from Columbi-Yeah took their talents south for a week-long stay, and 24 hours of theatrical creation.

 

Our group was split between two residencies –Bonnie and I inhabited a lovely studio-style apartment with a private court-yard complete with a pool. Paul and Eric stayed in the newly renovated Ashe Street cottages just behind “The Armory” – the building that TSKW uses as their business headquarters. Paul and Eric had the pleasure of sharing the cottages with Danish artists-in-residency Lise Kjar (Installation/Sculptor/Video Artist), Gina Hedegaard Nielsen (Installation Artist/Sculptor), and Grette Balle (Textile Designer/Painter). Trust me folks, look these women up – they’re amazing and their work is just as awe-inspiring.

 

 

The week ensued with your local heroes partaking in some of the expected touristy fare: Sloppy Joe’s visits, sunset celebrations, sunning on gorgeous beaches with blue water, drinks up and down Duval Street bars (think the Bourbon Street of Key West), lunches at Fish Shacks where your meal was caught that day, drinking water from coconuts, and petting polydactyl cats at the Hemingway house. However, we were able to enjoy the colloquial treats of the island with our new Danish friends, and New York filmmaker and painter Christopher Bennett (also a TSKW artist-in-residency).

 

The time flew by, as it does when you’re having fun in paradise; and soon the weekend was upon us. On Friday, all of the “One Night Stand” participants gathered at the afore-mentioned Armory at 7pm. TSKW Deputy Director Elena Devers took the stage in the main gallery space, which was borrowed and transported from the beautiful St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on Duval Street. She started by welcoming everyone to the Fifth “One Night Stand” – which was met with thunderous applause from all those involved. In the room at that moment were four writers, four directors, twelve actors, four stage managers, a collection of visual artists and their assistants who would serve as scenic designers, and four teams of costume and props designers.

 

The goal was seemingly simple – write and produce four new shows in the span of 24 hours. After names were drawn from baskets to team up writers, directors, actor groups, and designers – the project had begun.

 

As a director I was asked up to the stage to draw a writer out of the basket. I drew and opened the paper to reveal I’d be directing a show written by locals Mike Marerro and Chris Shultz, co-author of local publication “Quit Your Job and Move to Key West: The Complete Guide.” I had worked with Schultz during my last visit when he was an actor in the play I directed for “One Night Stand” in 2009. Drawings concluded and our team was assembled, with Bonnie Boiter-Jolley stage managing my show and Paul Kaufmann and Eric Bultman acting with another team.

 

Besides the teams being assembled, there were a few extra guidelines for the shows. The plays had to be no longer than 10 minutes, there was a hand-mirror that had to be used as a prop, and each script had to include the iconic line “Powerful you’ve become, the dark side I sense in you.” Each writer also had a draw a specific location – we drew “Outer Space,” appropriate considering the required line of dialogue.

 

We left The Armory around 8pm, and the writers took off into the night to spend the next eleven hours drinking coffee (or beer) while constructing a 10-minute play that would be performed at a 7pm and 9pm showing the following night. I have no idea how the other teams spent the rest of their night, but we decided to do what we did best – be care-free and have some dinner and drinks with our Danish friends and Chris, the filmmaker.

 

My alarm went off at 6:30am the next morning, and Bonnie and I headed to the Armory. We arrived at 7:15am, met with a table covered in tasty morning treats and the most important element: a warm urn of coffee. I sat down at a table with writers Chris and Mike, and they looked on as I and the designers read the script. The actors were returning to the Armory at 8am, so there was little time to assess the story and decide what was needed from the designers.

 

The title at the top of the page read “Frank Hates China” – which instantly warranted a chuckle from this director. The story was simple: a group of tourists are visiting a viewing platform on the moon where they can get the best view of a soon-to-pass meteor. However, when the meteor goes off its expected path and crashes into the earth, the group loses their cool and struggles to pull it back together. The tour group was led by a just-doing-her-job guide played by theatre newcomer Ashley Kamen. The tourists consisted of a over-the-top Star Trek fan played by Brandon Beach – a popular leading-man in the Key West theatre-scene, a Star Wars nerd dressed as Yoda (remember the required dialogue) played by Mike Mongo – a entrepreneur who lives in Key West, goes to church in Jamaica, and has a web design business in Miami, and finally a widow who has brought the ashes of her husband Frank along for the visit played by Key West theatre critic Connie Gilbert.

 

After the first pass on the script, I asked our scenic designer Corynn Young to explore a Jetsons inspired moonscape with a dash of Metropolis. She alerted me she was a painter and not a scenic designer, to which I replied, “Just do whatever comes to you. There’s no way to go wrong - just have fun.” I then went down the props and costume list with our designer Kelly Duford – who does some work with Key West Burlesque. Kelly and her mother took off to scrounge through costume shops at the local theatres and use the $150 budget to get any other necessary materials.

 

Once the actors showed up at 8am, we immediately headed to a convention center near Mallory Square Dock where the famous sunset celebrations take place. We made a conference room our rehearsal space, and began blocking immediately following a quick read-thru. Bonnie, who was just planning on stage managing, became a performer in the show out of necessity. She walked the ill-fated meteor across the stage and then made a quick change of direction towards earth – which we were hoping would incite some laughter that night at the performance (it did, by the way).

 

Lunch was served at noon, and we had some visits from our tired writers just to make sure everything was working out. After a few more runs, I asked the actors to depart and learn lines for two hours. After that break, we reconvened at the Armory to continue rehearsing in an art studio upstairs.

 

There were varying degrees of success with the line-learning. Brandon Beach, who was quite experienced, was having the most difficulty. Whether it was the strange vernacular of his Captain Kirk inspired lines or the pressure of the situation – I don’t know. However, I had faith it would all come together. The others were off-book, and sometimes having the support of your cast can make all the difference.

 

We made our way downstairs to the main gallery for the one-and-only technical rehearsal at 5:00pm. The cast had one chance to run the show on the stage, and we were able to set levels for the three sound cues we had for the show. The cast was having intense problems remembering their lines at that moment – but still; optimism was the name of the game.

 

We left the technical rehearsal, and had a pizza dinner that was served in the court-yard behind the Armory. As I dined on delicious local slices with Bonnie, Paul, and Eric – I noticed members of my cast pacing around trying to recite their lines as they chewed cheese and drank a relaxing beer. Brandon Beach was sitting at a table under the aforementioned mango tree with his head in his script, when a mango almost fell directly on him – barely missing his head and landing behind him in his chair. He quickly moved to a more secure area to continue studying.

 

With the show an hour away, I asked Paul and Eric how their show was going. They seemed optimistic and devoid of anxiety. Minutes later I saw both of them exit their cottage with leather cowboy-wear featuring tassels…Bonnie and I could only smile as we tried to imagine what we were about to see our travel-partners perform.

 

At 6:30pm my cast convened in the makeshift backstage area in the main gallery. They put on costumes, make-up, and prepared to perform this show that had been written less than 24 hours earlier.

The first show at 7pm was sold out and had a very supportive audience. Two of the shows preceded ours, and then it was our turn. The audience clapped and laughed as our outer-space moonscape backdrop was revealed. Then I hit play on Bonnie’s iPhone that was plugged into the sound board. My cast came bounding down the aisles in the audience making their way to the stage by way of space-walking leaps as “Also Sprach Zarathustra” (The 2001 Space Odyssey Theme, or Gamecock Football intro music) blared through the speakers. As the final climax of the song hit, the cast was on stage and met with applause. So far so good…

 

The show commenced with very few mistakes. A few lines were dropped or changed, but it still looked very competent. There was a prompter off-stage to help in some of those situations – and the audience expected there to be some difficulty. However, when the show was drawing to a close, Brandon Beach – our struggling experienced actor – drew a complete blank on his final monologue. With complete confidence, he crossed the stage and took the script from the prompter inciting the loudest laugh all night. He then recited his last monologue, then threw the script down on the stage calling out, “who writes this shit?” More laughter. He then crossed to his last mark, and said the last line leading the cast off-stage. The audience cheered like they were having the best time of their lives.

 

As soon as they were off-stage I told Brandon, “Well, that certainly worked. Keep it for the 9pm – we’ll pretend we planned it the whole time.” He laughed and agreed.

 

Paul and Eric’s show followed, and it was the final one of the evening. The show titled “An Incident Proposal” was story about Eric’s character and his prostitute friend in 1950’s Key West. When Paul’s character entered the story he proposes $10,000 for a night with Eric’s “wife”. Well, the deal goes down, and Paul and Eric’s excellent performances brought a lot of comedy and presence to the show. The audience was enjoying it immensely, and by the end of the show we realize that Paul’s character is a wheeler-and-dealer who’s had a history of abandoned wives and crooked financial deals.

 

The first audience was escorted out after the show, making way for the almost-sold-out 9pm audience. The emcee told the new audience that “the 7pm show was more of a dress rehearsal and that they were about to get the ‘real’ show.” So the show commenced, and yet again – the shows got great laughs and response from a lively crowd.

 

At the end of both shows, the audiences were asked to pick a “crowd favorite” by round of applause. Both times, the emcee awarded the title to “Frank Hates China” – which meant absolutely nothing, but it did add a sweet cherry to the top of this already rewarding sundae of collaborative arts.

 

Paul, Eric, Bonnie, and I were humbled by an embarrassment of riches while in residency at TSKW. We dined and conversed with international and national visual artists, collaborated with local theatre artists, and were able exercise our craft for audiences in the Conch Republic. A truly unique experience that is just as amazing as the memories it creates.

 

As we began our 13+ hour-long trek back to Cola on Monday, I was thinking about how the locals of Key West were so supportive of “One Night Stand”. We actually produced a 24 hour theatre project at Trustus years ago. While the actual event was a testament to the talents we have in this city, we had a hard time selling 134 seats to our local audiences. TSKW filled hundreds of seats two shows in a row … that fact alone started an itch that I feel needs scratching.

 

Maybe its time for another 24 hour theatre project here in Columbia! We’ve certainly got directors, writers, and actors who could pull it off. We’ve even got an excellent group of visual artists in this city who could bring the scenic design to life in a big way. We don’t suffer from a lack of venues either. I also think, with the right press, we could generate a lot of excitement for this unique type of project.  Plus – we’re all enjoying multi-disciplinary collaborations these days – so why not? What do you say Columbi-yeah? Is it time for another go at it? Do you want to see what can happen when theatrical creations come to life in 24 hours? Let’s make it happen!

 

Note:

Artists interested in residencies should check out www.tskw.org for information.