Category: 2015/2016 Season

From ‘Rhinoceros’ adaptor/director Wesley Savick

March 8th, 2016 in 2015/2016 Season, Alums, Blog, Rhinoceros, Wesley Savick

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Alex Pollock and Nael Nacer (Photo: Stratton McCrady)

I wish Rhinoceros would go away. I wish Ionesco’s brilliant metaphor for the dark, collective human impulse it describes was finally irrelevant. Oh how I wish there was no longer a need to perform this magnificent play!

I have a long personal history with Rhinoceros. The first time I directed it was during the twitchy twilight of the Reagan Era, before the “end” of the Cold War. The second time was months prior to the beginning of the seemingly endless war in Iraq. David Brooks, the conservative columnist for The New York Times, describing the current presidential race, wrote on February 9th of this year “…there is a tone of ugliness creeping across the world, as democracies retreat, as tribalism mounts, as suspiciousness and authoritarianism take center stage.”

Here we go again.

A truly great play, in my opinion, does not explain. Instead, it names the condition. What is “the condition?” It is the unnamable way we feel about something. It is a very specific state of existence which defies the specificity of words. It is an experience of being alive which can only be described through the subjective, indeterminate language of an experience.

Welcome to the world of Eugene Ionesco…a place which lays bare the terrifying logic of illogic. And vice-versa.

—Wesley Savick

‘Rhinoceros’ concludes its run this week. Don’t miss it! Tickets

The. Rhinos. Are. Coming.

February 26th, 2016 in 2015/2016 Season, Alums, Blog, Rhinoceros

Check out this amazing video from Aria Serangy and our buddies at Suffolk University—and check out our co-production of Rhinoceros too! Tickets

Meet Brandon: Michael Underhill on his role in ‘Back the Night’

February 20th, 2016 in 2015/2016 Season, Alums, Back the Night, Blog, Melinda Lopez, new plays

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Michael Underhill as Brandon (Photo: Kalman Zabarsky)

What is your role in 'Back the Night'?

I play Brandon, who is Em’s boyfriend and serves as a leader within his fraternity, Alpha Delta.

What have you learned while creating this role/these roles?

While having never served in a fraternity, it was a unique opportunity to do some research on ins and outs of ‘being a brother’. The fraternity culture is a lightning rod for controversy, but also exists in and serves their communities in extremely well-meaning ways. The sense of community that is provided to these young men who are out on their own for the first time in their lives is something that is understandably attractive and valuable in a new time in their lives. I had my own assumptions about them looking in from the outside, but was pleased to be able to flesh out a well-rounded education on Greek Life.

How did you approach and play your character? Have there been any surprising discoveries during the rehearsal process?

Melinda has done a really fantastic job of creating characters who could be very easily construed as a stereotype or a stock character, but instead juxtaposes that implied assumption against a fully formed human, who has their own kaleidoscope of beliefs, ethics, and priorities. While creating Brendan, it has been invigorating and enlightening to be constantly balancing and weighing and shifting his allegiances to Em, his loyalty to his community at the fraternity and his own shifting beliefs about the campus atmosphere.

As an actor, what are the unique challenges of working on a new play?

I love working on new plays with playwrights in the room. Especially when anything is game for being changed. Working in that atmosphere is electric, because it feels like the play is a living, breathing thing that you are nursing and bringing to life for the playwright.

In this play specifically, almost all of my scenes are exclusively with Em, or group scenes. So while this limits the physical text or history that Brandon would have with other characters, it also opens up the possibility for imagination for me as an actor to create those scenes on my own time!

What else inspires you artistically?

I love physical theatre. To me, that’s the kind of show is one that has you mentally, physically and emotionally tired at the end of it. Literally leave everything on the stage.

What’s next for you?

I’ll be portraying Joseph Surface in The School for Scandal in my debut with Actors’ Shakespeare Project!

 

Don't miss Melinda Lopez's 'Back the Night,' now through February 28. Tickets

Meet Candy: Abby Goldfarb on her role in ‘Exposed’

December 12th, 2015 in 2015/2016 Season, Blog, Exposed, new plays, Robert Brustein

Dress Rehearsal  "EXPOSED"

Abby Goldfarb as Candy and Jeremiah Kissel as Seymour (Photo: Kalman Zabarsky)

What is your role in 'Exposed'?

Candy. The ex-showgirl wife of Seymour Sackeroff.

What have you learned while creating this role?

Oh, so much. I have learned more about trusting myself, my process, and respect for others I am fortunate enough to work with.

How did you approach and play your character? Have there been any surprising discoveries about your character during the rehearsal process?

Creating Candy has been too much fun. Originally, the role was written to be the archetypal shiksa chorus girl, but clearly (look at any picture of me and you will see), I am not a shiksa, so she became Jewish! Working with a writer like Bob, who is so collaborative and accommodating, makes it so easy to bring his characters to light and create something really special.

As an actor, what are the unique challenges of working on a new play?

The challenges of working on a new play are also the advantages, in my perspective. Creating and trying to predict how audiences will react, perceive, or understand the show, and the constant updating and editing that occurs are triggers of occasional frustration and tons of excitement. The positive of being a part of this collaborative process is the deeper connection developed between fellow actors and the play. I really feel like I have played a unique part in creating something brand new that will always be ours, no matter where it goes next!

What else inspires you artistically?

Watching television. I feel like that sounds so simple and obvious, but watching some of my favorite comedians always fuels me reignites my passion for this industry--or at least the performance aspect!

What’s next for you?

I will be performing on AIDA Cruise Line in Germany and the Mediterranean Sea for a few months doing six pop/rock shows on board!

 

Don't miss Robert Brustein's 'Exposed,' a new collaboration with our friends at Boston Center for American Performance, now through December 18.  Tickets

Playwright Robert Brustein on ‘Exposed’

December 7th, 2015 in 2015/2016 Season, Blog, Exposed, new plays, Robert Brustein, Steven Bogart

Brustein_headshotAbout two years ago, while putting the finishing touches on my eleventh play, The King of Second Avenue, I found myself sharing an increasing state of dejection about our arts and our society. Greed and corruption had replaced the original ideals of the American democracy, a small fraction of the population was expropriating large amounts of income, and elections were being bought for candidates in order to bring any regulatory government to an absolute standstill.

These developments were meanwhile being given spiritual justification by evangelicals who believed that humanity had been been created 6,000 years ago out of Adam’s rib. I thought immediately of Molière’s Tartuffe, an 18th Century comedy about human stupidity and religious hypocrisy, and decided to write Exposed, a 21st Century comedy about human stupidity and religious hypocrisy. Plus ca Change, Plus C’est Le Meme Chose.

The object was to have some fun with it, and I thought that the character of an evangelist with Presidential ambitions who runs around exposing his privates until he is publicly exposed had comic possibilities. I also thought it might be fun to satirize those power brokers who were spending millions of dollars in order to personally pick their own political candidates, and that is how the character of Seymour Sackeroff came into being.

The writing of the play was a breeze, but my greatest enjoyment was in the rewriting. Every day brought some new juicy revelation about the way the one-percenters were evading taxes and manipulating the economy. And it was fun to examine such other familiars in our society as Sackeroff’s lusty mother, his derisive au pere, his ex-chorus girl wife, and his gay son, desperately trying to make apologies to the ecology.

Readings both at Suffolk’s Modern Theatre and the Vineyard Playhouse demonstrated that many of my perceptions were shared, and so I quickly accepted Kate Snodgrass’ and Jim Petosa’s kind offer to produce Exposed at the Calderwood under the auspices of the Boston Playwrights’ Theatre and Boston Center for American Performance. I eagerly look forward to learning what people think of the play in full production.

—Robert Brustein

 
Don't miss Robert Brustein's Exposed, a Boston University New Play Initiative co-produced with Boston Center for American Performance, which opens this week for a limited engagement (Dec. 10-18) at the Boston Center for the Arts' Wimberly Theatre.

‘Exposed’ poster art

December 4th, 2015 in 2015/2016 Season, Blog, Exposed, Robert Brustein

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Exposed by Robert Brustein—a BU New Play Initiative Production, co-produced with the Boston Center for American Performance—opens next week. The multi-talented Tim Spears (an MFA Director who was also in the cast of Uncle Jack last season) designed the poster to show evangelical conservatism, "the Right, the Left, the NRA, AIPAC, and greed in all its guises"! It's a bawdy good time. We hope you'll join us!

 

Celebrating Derek Walcott: Adam Kirsch

October 16th, 2015 in 2015/2016 Season, Blog, Boston Playwrights' Theatre, Derek Walcott: A Celebration

DW_headshot_IMG_0416This month we are celebrating our friend and founder, Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott. We held a private event here at BPT featuring a number of Derek’s colleagues, friends, and former students who honored him by telling stories and reading his (and their own) work. The invited audience was treated to selections from his work including The Ghost Dance, The Joker of Seville, and many others. 

We shared essays about Derek in the program for the event, and want you to have the opportunity to read them too. Enjoy!

Every poet begins as a provincial, dreaming of emigration to the city of the honored dead. “I think I shall be among the English poets after I die,” wrote Keats, and the ambiguity is moving: he wants to be remembered as one of them, but also to actually walk and talk with them, like Dante with Virgil. To be born far from the center of literary society may, then, be an advantage to a poet’s literary culture. He sees no reason not to converse directly with the authors he knows only from books; he does not need his passport stamped by London or New York. This is the freedom that allowed Keats, the Cockney poet, to be the direct heir of Shakespeare; and it is the same freedom that drove Derek Walcott, as a child on St. Lucia, to envy a blind neighbor, thinking of “Homer and Milton in their owl-blind towers.” Today, after decades of writing some of the most beautiful poems in the language, it is clear that wherever Walcott is, there is the capital of English poetry.

—Adam Kirsch

Adam Kirsch is the author of several books of poetry and criticism, including most recently Emblems of the Passing World: Poems after Photographs by August Sander (Other Press) and Rocket and Lightship: Essays on Literature and Ideas (W.W. Norton).

Celebrating Derek Walcott: Laurence Breiner

October 15th, 2015 in 2015/2016 Season, Blog, Boston Playwrights' Theatre, Derek Walcott

DW_headshot_IMG_0416This month we are celebrating our friend and founder, Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott. We held a private event here at BPT featuring a number of Derek’s colleagues, friends, and former students who honored him by telling stories and reading his (and their own) work. The invited audience was treated to selections from his work including The Ghost Dance, The Joker of Seville, and many others. 

We shared essays about Derek in the program for the event, and want you to have the opportunity to read them too. Enjoy!

Among Walcott’s many distinctions is this: he is, as far as I can tell, the first Anglophone Caribbean poet to quote another Anglophone poet in his work. This happens in his autobiographical poem Another Life (1973), where he describes the exhilaration he felt as a teenager reading the then-new collection by the Jamaican George Campbell (First Poems, 1945). In the first depiction of the act of transmitting a West Indian poetic tradition, Walcott quotes several lines as read by his mentor Harry Simmons. Actually he quotes Campbell again later, but with characteristic slyness: the quoted phrase (“thank you, life”) is so banal it can easily pass unrecognized, but it is a line from one of Campbell’s most famous poems, “Litany.” To put that another way, Walcott is the first to insist that there is a community among the poets of the region, and that they can be engaged in a conversation. The filial gesture, with its nod to Simmons, is especially sweet, coming at a time when Walcott was often criticized for too much reference to “Western” culture.

Since Walcott, two succeeding generations of poets have arisen in St Lucia, for whom the conversation of poets is normal.  Leading the first successors are Robert Lee, Kendel Hippolyte, Jane King, and MacDonald Dixon, lifelong friends who have for the most part remained in the island, supporting each other’s efforts (though their poetry sounds nothing alike) and investing in the rising younger writers. The work of the new cohort, though highly individualized, is clearly aware of and engaged with the poetry of Walcott and of the intervening, mentoring, generation. Walcott has his outright imitators (Wayne Brown seems permanently stuck with that label), but none of them seem to live in St. Lucia.

Walcott’s slyness about allusion is a robust trait he has passed down, close kin to his love of egregious bad puns (for every reader of Walcott, a headslapping moment accompanies the realization that thanks to his Eastern Caribbean vowels, whenever he is watching the “gulls” at the beach he may also be watching the “girls”). Hippolyte’s “Poem in Manger” makes that Walcottian move in its very title, which sets up the poem as a holy infant, first forcing us to read it as a very incongruous Christmas poem, and then (if we are dogged) leading us to an unexpected source, surely the oddest prior Christmas poem in English, Robert Southwell’s “The Burning Babe”  (1595). Meanwhile there is yet more on the plate for the St. Lucian reader, who is likely to have reacted already to the disturbing bilingual pun planted in the same three words: “poème à manger” – a ready-to-eat poem, which is also a baby.

In the current generation, Vladimir Lucien, as we might expect in this tight community, is one who has learned from Walcott and Hippolyte especially, but their presence in his poems is subtle rather than imitative. For example, his poem “The True Sounds of Numbers” is shaped by a trope of enumeration that Hippolyte often employs. On the level of detail, however, the line “I want to count leaves of cane” invites us to associate the speaker productively with Walcott’s Ti-Jean, the folk-hero who defeats the planter-devil who sets him this very task.

Ben Jonson, the Renaissance poet-playwright to whom Walcott is sometimes compared, had his tribe, the “Sons of Ben.” So too does Walcott – it is one of his gifts to his country.

—Laurence Breiner

Laurence Breiner is Professor of English at Boston University and a member of the African American Studies Program.  He is the author of An Introduction to West Indian Poetry and Black Yeats: Eric Roach and the Politics of Caribbean Poetry, as well as numerous articles and reviews on Caribbean poetry and drama.

Celebrating Derek Walcott: Russell Lees

October 14th, 2015 in 2015/2016 Season, Alums, Blog, Boston Playwrights' Theatre, Derek Walcott, Derek Walcott: A Celebration, Russell Lees

DW_headshot_IMG_0416This month we are celebrating our friend and founder, Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott. We held a private event here at BPT featuring a number of Derek’s colleagues, friends, and former students who honored him by telling stories and reading his (and their own) work. The invited audience was treated to selections from his work including The Ghost Dance, The Joker of Seville, and many others. 

We shared essays about Derek in the program for the event, and want you to have the opportunity to read them too. Enjoy!

A typical class with Derek (the years I was in the program anyway) went like this: the weekend before class, the playwright, director and actors meet to rehearse a scene. We block it out, find some props, the actors ask questions; then several run-throughs and perhaps some rewrites. A couple of days later we arrive in class all rarin’ to go. The lights come down, brief silence to settle the audience, lights up and the scene began! Very exciting indeed for a playwright.

Generally about 45 seconds into the scene (and certainly never more than 2 minutes), Derek, who sat invariably on the front row, would put up a hand. “Sorry! Stop there, please. I’m sorry, but...” And then he’d pose unsettling questions. “Why would he iron a shirt at this moment? What is the time of day? What is your idea, tonally? Why is she standing there?” Next he’d conduct a few experiments, some textual and some directorial. He might ask the actors to skip every other line, or place them facing unusual directions or remove a character from the scene altogether. His directions to the actors mostly involved rhythm: “Staccato to begin! Staccato!” In the initial weeks, these sorts of things drove the playwrights completely insane. It was enormously frustrating to write and rehearse a 15 minute scene, only to have it abruptly up-ended during its first few seconds. Infuriating, really.

But…

It took a while for us to set aside our defensiveness, but eventually, each of us did simply because it was undeniable that each time Derek tossed those change-ups at our plays, they came alive onstage. Clichés were stripped away, implications surfaced, words took on greater meaning. What at first had felt almost like an affront, instead was revealed to be a purposeful unveiling of substance within the work that, until Derek messed with it, had been opaque to the writers themselves.

We came to call this (unimaginatively) “Derek’s magic” and soon looked forward to it. It was no parlor trick, however. All his meddling was showing us how to rethink the text in space and time, opening up unforeseen possibilities.  Derek was pushing us to take our own work more seriously. It turned out that, once a writer had seen this ... it’s difficult to call it a method, since it was so idiosyncratic ... this restructuring in action class after class, it was possible to do a similar version of it in one’s head while writing. It is, in fact, a way to push for a little extra depth or obliquity or acuity. And that was Derek’s imprecation to us always: push the writing a bit further, try to write just a tad better than we were comfortable with, dare a little. After all, it’s live theater. It’s no place for cowards.

—Russell Lees

Russell Lees is the author of Nixon’s Nixon, which played off-Broadway at the MCC Theatre and in regional theatres around the country as well as across the UK and in London’s West End. Subsequent plays include Monticel’ (produced at BPT in 2003) and Rancorous. Currently he is what is called a narrative designer at Ubisoft, Montreal.

Celebrating Derek Walcott: Anita Patterson

October 13th, 2015 in 2015/2016 Season, Blog, Boston Playwrights' Theatre, Derek Walcott, Derek Walcott: A Celebration

DW_headshot_IMG_0416This month we are celebrating our friend and founder, Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott. We held a private event here at BPT featuring a number of Derek’s colleagues, friends, and former students who honored him by telling stories and reading his (and their own) work. The invited audience was treated to selections from his work including The Ghost Dance, The Joker of Seville, and many others. 

We shared essays about Derek in the program for the event, and want you to have the opportunity to read them too. Enjoy!

I am grateful to Derek Walcott for the wisdom and beauty of his poetry, and because he has taught me that education and craftsmanship have the potential to release us from our servitude to history, bringing peace of mind through love and acceptance. I have reflected for many years on these lines from Omeros, where we learn,

…the right journey
is motionless, as the sea moves around an island
that appears to be moving, love moves around the heart—
with encircling salt, and the slowly travelling hand
knows it returns to the port from which it must start. (291)

Walcott writes in the modernist tradition of T. S. Eliot, Aimé Césaire, and St.-John Perse, poets who drew their strength from a fertile desert, the diverse cultural rubble of the New World. For Walcott, as for Césaire and Perse, this multifaceted legacy on the frontiers of empire fostered elation, an awakening to new possibilities in what Walcott has called “the tidal advance of the metropolitan language” (“Muse” 51). Like Eliot, Walcott embarks on an odyssey to discover and reassemble shattered New World histories, where the end is a homecoming, Walcott’s knowing acceptance of his poetry’s beginnings in a Caribbean port. Receiving the gifts of memory and heritage conferred by family, community, and the landscape of his native island, in Omeros the poet’s homecoming brings his father’s advice to fruition:

“Once you have seen everything and gone everywhere,
cherish our island for its green simplicities,

…The sea swift vanishes in rain,
and yet in its travelling all that the sea-swift does
it does in a circular pattern. Remember that, son.” (187-188)

In 1974, Walcott explained how the modernist ideal of the craftsman figured in his own self-conception as a poet from the Caribbean archipelago:

In the indication of the slightest necessary gesture of ordering the world around him, of losing his old name and rechristening himself, in the arduous enunciation of a dimmed alphabet, in the shaping of tools, pen or spade, is
the whole, profound sigh of human optimism, of what we in the archipelago still believe in:  work and hope (“Caribbean” 13).

A year earlier, Another Life honored the artisanal achievement of the poet’s mother, a seamstress who imposed order and significance on a childhood lived within the chaotic panorama of contemporary New World history:

Your house sang softly of balance,
of the rightness of placed things. (157)

One reason for Walcott’s great success as a poet is that his devotion to craft affirms solidarity with the invisible, nameless, countless, laboring men and women who, believing in work and hope, built his Caribbean island heritage. Not all of us have the brilliance and strength to achieve such a homecoming, but Walcott’s lifelong commitment to poetry and teaching gives me hope that future generations of students and readers will continue to discover the wondrous possibilities of the New World in his work.

—Anita Patterson

Anita Patterson is Professor of English at Boston University, where she teaches courses on American literature, modernism, and black poetry of the Americas. In her book Race, American Literature and Transnational Modernisms (2008), she developed a more global and comparative perspective, exploring the dynamics of influence and intercultural dialogue among New World poets such as T. S. Eliot, Langston Hughes, Ezra Pound, Aimé Césaire, St.-John Perse, and Derek Walcott.

Works Cited
Walcott, Derek.  Another Life.  Collected Poems, 1948-1984.  New York:  Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1986.  143-294.
---.  “The Caribbean:  Culture or Mimicry?” Journal of Interamerican Studies and World Affairs 16.1 (February 1974). 3-13.
---.  “The Muse of History.”  What the Twilight Says.  New York:  Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1998.
---.  Omeros.  New York:  Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1990.