Interviews with NYC's Indie Theatre Directors
CP: Welcome to you both! Thank you for doing this interview. Let’s jump right in and discuss the play. I’m told that “Frail/Ingilin” addresses hunger and the homeless. How valuable is the connection between theatre and social change for you?
EE: All live arts are forms of community organizing. Good theater – theater that makes a community = community, is a boon to the earth no matter the esthetic engine. I often write plays that involve political subjects – but if they don’t work, they’re less valuable to social change than a really good grammar school production of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown (which still stays with me – Snoopy was awesome). The more good art, the more change; the more the world sees beauty, the more they will insist on it, in action.
MR: I think theater and social change inherently go hand in hand, and to not acknowledge this would be somewhat disingenuous. As theatre artists, we make work in order to enter a conversation with our audiences about our time, our cultures, our histories and our futures. I believe that theater in its immediacy is political even if it doesn’t set out to be. And I find that I am most moved by work that lights a fire underneath us, sets us into motion, instigates dialogue, and reveals an opportunity to think critically about the way we choose to engage or disengage with one another.
CP: What drew you to working on this piece with Planet Connection’s Gala in support of City Harvest?
EE: I’ve always been drawn to food, in particular, in terms of service, and – structuring any meeting. Theater is more like food than it is like a book…
MR: Erik and I first met when we collaborated on producing a food justice event a few years back, bringing artists and activists into a room to break bread and share some dialogue about how to bring these two communities closer together. We have been collaborating for the past few years on a couple of different plays, and have always had a profound experience tackling difficult questions about the human experience in our work together. When Erik asked me to collaborate on his piece for Planet Connections, I leapt at the opportunity to work with a fantastic team in bringing his beautiful words to life for such an important cause.
CP: Mia, you are a playwright and teacher, as well as a director – how do these jobs mingle in your brain and influence each other?
MR: As a professor, I always learn so much from my students’ diverse perspectives on the personal approaches they take to the work they are making, and what they believe they have to say to the world. I feel there is a very important exchange between making art and remaining in a dialogue with the next generation of artists and the work they are envisioning, and ultimately, the voice of the community they are cultivating. We have so much to learn about where theater is going from these young artists and working with them opens my eyes even wider to what is possible in the theater. As a writer, I have been interested in both directing my own work as well as stepping into the background to work with other directors (and designers) who inevitably bring an entirely new perspective to the work. I feel that text is one of many narrative theatrical tools, so I tend to pursue collaborations where all parties involved contribute early and equally in service to what we are making live in the room. I am interested in work that generates a strong community amongst its collaborators and then finds a way to truly include the audience in the culminating creative act of this community’s work together.
CP: Erik, you are also a professor. When you teach playwriting, what’s the most important advice you give to playwrights about working with directors?
EE: Patience, perseverance, humility; assume good will. Pay attention to what you’re holding on to because it’s true and inevitable – and what you’re hanging on to because you like to hang on to things…
CP: And speaking of education, you and Glory met at La Mama Umbria. I’ve heard so many wonderful things about the La Mama Umbria Symposium – tell us a little about it, please. Hoping to go there myself someday!
EE: There is sunshine in Umbria, there is sunshine in Gloria; one’s health is supported by exposure to these bright lights. Umbria is ideal as a school – it has beds and a kitchen. The food is breathtaking. With so much taken care of in terms of body and soul, there is no anxiety left over to resist mutual learning.
CP: Mia, I love this quote you said about “...a passion for the impossible onstage…” What’s your favorite example of that?
MR: I recently saw Robert Wilson’s The Life and Death of Marina Abramović, a biographical piece about the artist’s life (and imagined death) in which Abramović performs. I was struck by her ability to completely give over both her own narrative voice and the stories of her life to the rest of her ensemble. When discussing the piece, she talks about giving up control and completely surrendering the authorship of her own life story to her collaborators. This courageous surrender opened a space for so many extraordinarily theatrical encounters to take place that were truthful, painful, and beautiful all at once. I don’t think this piece would have soared the way it did if this artist hadn’t so bravely taken on the impossible task of harnessing such a complete sense of trust and humility in the midst of making such a personal work.
CP: Since this series is about directing, Mia, let me ask you what do you love and hate most about directing in New York City?
MR: I love directing in NYC because I have the privilege of working with an overabundance of extremely gifted, generous artists every single day of the week. Living in such a vibrant, diverse city means finding inspiration in the most unexpected places at any given point in your day. You just can’t help but stumble upon the glorious nature of humanity revealed on every street corner, in every subway car. Additionally, there is so much great work going on all the time that inspires me to be a better artist and a better human in the world. Participating in the work of my peers really informs the work I choose to make and the conversation I hope my work can be in with our community. I would say that one of the biggest challenges to making work in NYC is the struggle to secure the financial support it takes to produce a show in such an expensive city. On the other hand, this challenge also leads to some pretty creative solutions that draw us to make work in unconventional performance spaces, to try out new models for collaborating, and to actively seek out more ways for artists to support each others’ work in whatever ways we can. And this ultimately serves to strengthen our community and create a sense of family amongst us all.
CP: I just love that this conversation begins and ends with “community.” Thank you both very much for taking the time to do this interview, and thanks for offering your talents to help PCTF do so much good for our community. I wish you many broken legs at the Gala!