Take 5 with ‘S&S’ playwright Kate Hamill  

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LIKE MANY WOMEN IN THEATER, Kate Hamill was fed up with the lack of female roles onstage. “I was frustrated because oftentimes when you’re a woman, you’re competing with 400 other actresses to play someone’s wife … girlfriend … prostitute.” Her decision to do something about that led to this adaptation of Sense and Sensibility (through Oct. 15 in Synchronicity Theatre’s Midtown space … details, tickets HERE). Kate, who lives in Queens, N.Y., with her partner, Jason O’Connell, writes plays about people who struggle to reconcile the demands of society with the dictates of their consciences. She borrowed time from several projects to chat with resident dramaturg Kathy Janich.

SYNCHRONICITY: How and when did your affinity for all things Jane Austen develop?

KATE: I grew up in a teeny-tiny rural town, and my parents didn’t believe in television — so I read a LOT. And I really found myself drawn to Jane Austen. She’s so incisive, witty and cutting — without losing heart. She’s make-you-cry-laughing funny. And I think her observations on class and the absurdity of the human character really spoke to me.

S: Your SENSE AND SENSIBILITY is a pretty wild ride. You’ve talked about adaptations needing a point of view, but how did you decide upon this fast-paced, madcap way to do it?

K: Well, you know, I really believe in making a piece of theater highly theatrical. I didn’t want to try to reproduce some BBC experience; I wanted to emphasize what theater does best … and that includes high absurdity, big characters, huge stakes, and the living, breathing, sweating sensation of being in a room together, having a communal experience. I wanted the audience to feel complicit in the pressure — the constant observation — that Marianne and Elinor feel; that’s why I created the gossips. And I also wanted to emphasize the humor, both because I myself have a fairly madcap sense of humor, but because I think humor helps us open up to the more “serious” parts of the story. So the play really taught me how it wanted to be written.

S: You’ve played Marianne Dashwood on a couple of occasions … is that because she is most like you or least like you?

K: Oh gosh. Of the sisters, I’m most like Marianne, probably. I find that people tend to self-identify as “Mariannes” or “Elinors” and I’m definitely a Marianne in that selection. But she’s a very extreme version of one aspect of me: the version that’s all id. Half of her lines are written IN ALL CAPITAL LETTERS because she’s very extreme. The truth is that I identify with all of the characters, in some way; even the less benevolent characters like Fanny, Lucy, or, oh, Willoughby. I think if you’re doing your job as a playwright, part of you creeps into any character you write.

S:  What playwrights, past or present, influence your work as an actor? As a playwright?

K: As an actor, I’m very into LOTS of playwrights! I love working on the classics as well as new stuff, and each play teaches me something new. As a playwright, I have lots of influences. I particularly love [Eugene] O’Neill and [Arthur] Miller, and I think you can see how they’ve influenced my structure. In terms of living playwrights, there are so many I respect and love — and they span a broad range of styles and tone, because I love seeing how far theater can stretch. Jose Rivera is one of my favorites; his plays are so poetic and courageous and heartbreaking. Annie Baker, she’s so fearless. Nicky Silver, I love. Janine Nabers, who’s a dear friend, her plays always make me cry and think. It’s a really exciting time for playwriting; there are so many great people out there.

S: What are you working on now, and next?

K: My screwball-comedy adaptation of Pride and Prejudice is going up at Primary Stages off-Broadway (as a co-pro with Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival) in November; I’m playing Lizzy Bennet. I just finished workshopping a Little Women with the Jungle Theater in Minneapolis and am working on a new version of The Odyssey that heavily focuses on PTSD, as well as co-writing the book for a 20K Leagues under the Sea musical. I also have two original plays in development: Prostitute Play and In the Mines. And I have S&S, Vanity Fair or Pride & Prejudice going up at several theaters around the country, so I’ll be bouncing around to those!

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Synchronicity is Hiring!

Synchronicity is hiring a full-time Marketing Director to build on 20 years, and to take the company to the next level.
Synchronicity is a nonprofit theatre company founded in 1997. Since bursting onto the Atlanta scene, Synchronicity has produced gutsy, high-quality and entertaining plays that resonate with our audience, our community and our lives. Our mission is to uplift the voices of women and girls, and build community through theatre. We produce great plays. We take artistic chances to make our audiences think about important issues. We partner with community groups to deepen the relationship between our audiences and the work. Synchronicity makes its home on Peachtree in the heart of Midtown Atlanta.

MARKETING DIRECTOR | *FULL-TIME POSITION* | 40-50 HOURS/WEEK

The Marketing Director supports the highest strategic priorities of the theater. He or she will focus on growing new audiences while retaining and deepening relationships with current audiences. Through effective communication of the mission, vision and programming activities, the Marketing Director develops and executes strategies to generate all earned ticket revenues for the theatre. The Marketing Director also plays a leading role in the Theatre’s strategic planning initiatives which currently include increased brand awareness, new individual ticket campaign planning, expanded group sales, and higher-level customer understanding and service. This position collaborates with the Producing Artistic Director, and reports directly to the Managing Director. This position also works in parallel with Synchronicity’s public relations specialist.

SPECIFIC RESPONSIBILITIES INCLUDE

 Collaborate regularly with the Managing Director and Artistic Director to ensure a clear and accurate interpretation of the organization’s vision and direction.
 Supervise the planning and implementation of all marketing, public relations, publications, and sales programs to raise earned income through single ticket, group and season ticket sales annually.
 Shape public perception of the theater through execution of brand identity through digital and print communications, publications, public events, and physical spaces.
 Manage annual expense budgets to run all marketing, publicity, sales and graphic design efforts and operations.
 Coordinate with Public Relations specialist to ensure cohesive messaging through electronic media and media relations
 Coordinate all communication and negotiations with vendors and consultants to achieve annual and long-range goals.
 Cultivate an innovative working environment that enables growth in new technology and marketing practices to ensure the Theatre’s vitality.
 Develop community ties and serve on committees to further develop the profile of arts within the city and state.
 Participate in arts marketing roundtable and other networking/learning opportunities.
 Oversee cross-promotional trades with other theatres.
 Lead initiatives to achieve goals defined in the Theatre’s strategic plan, and further develop long-range audience development goals and strategies.
 Support initiatives to increase the capabilities and revenue of the theatre rental program.
 Collaborate with other departments to improve the patrons’ experience of the theater.
 Collaborate with the Development Director to integrate organizational strategy and customer relationship management in marketing and fundraising efforts.
 Handle all back end set up in Spektrix, our ticketing and donor database, including inventory management, integrated mailings and promo code development.
 Oversee box office staff and handle daytime box office service.
 Serve as staff liaison to the Business & Brand Relationships Work Team of the Board.
 Oversee registration and promotion for after-school program.
 Keep website and blog up to date.
 Manage and negotiate any advertising in digital, print, radio or other.
 Oversee the creation of season collaterals, including posters, postcards, bookmarks, etc.
 Oversee the booking and execution of photo and video shoots for promotional and archival purposes.
 Layout and design small ads and social media graphics (using Canva, etc) and playbills (using InDesign).
 Oversee direct mailings and poster and bookmark distribution.

SKILLS
 Effective communicator
 Good collaborator
 Computer and internet proficiency
 Strategic and analytical skills
 Ability to work at the conceptual level as well as the implementation phase
 A genuine interest in and knowledge of the theater
 Proven organizational skills and ability to multi-task
 Ability to meet deadlines
 Strong writing skills
 Basic design skills a plus
 Experience with Ticketing/Donor software. Spektrix knowledge a plus

The successful candidate will have significant career experience in marketing, communications or a related field. He or she will have proven initiative and will be a goal oriented innovative thinker. The ideal candidate will be flexible with the ability to work independently and as part of a team, and will be able to work successfully under pressure and meet deadlines and goals.

COMPENSATION
Salary is in the low-mid 30’s with benefits. Start date: mid-late September. Please apply by August 28. To apply, send cover letter with salary requirements, resume, and two writing samples to Lee Nowell, Managing Director (lee@synchrotheatre.com). No phone calls please.

Synchronicity Theatre is committed to recruiting and fostering a diverse community of staff. Women and minorities are encouraged to apply. AA/EOE

Bird: My Stripped Bare Experience

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This post is by guest blogger Adrienne Reynolds, the writer and composer behind Bird: A Study of Sound and a selected participant in Synchronicity’s Stripped Bare arts incubator project.  Adrienne developed Bird at Synchronicity June 26-28, 2017.  You can learn more about the Stripped Bare project and submit proposals here.  The first round of Stripped Bare project applications for 2017-18 are due September 5, 2017.

A little over a year ago, I had a crazy idea about birds living in a world created by birds. Over the course of the year, I researched birds, wrote an outline of the story, wrote songs and began to develop and conceptualize the world where these birds lived. I wondered what it would be like to have a group of people come together who could help breathe life into the idea rooting around in my brain. Then, I received an email about a new project called Stripped Bare, conceived by the team at Synchronicity Theatre. Stripped Bare provides a space for artists to help further the completion of their work at any stage of development, in the manner which would best benefit them.

Awesome! A place for the writer to hash out ideas and move their project forward. I was excited, intimidated and nervous all at the same time. Would people understand the concept? Would I be able to move the piece forward? All of these questions crossed my mind. I relished the idea of having a space and support that would allow me to breathe life into my idea, and I believed Stripped Bare was the perfect vehicle to make it happen. The process stretched my mind and made me exercise creative muscles I was not aware I possessed. It forced me to think outside of the box and require the rest of my team do the same.

The days were set up to have time working with the team and then in the evening have a short presentation of the ideas put together during this time. By far the presentations were one of the most impactful elements of Stripped Bare. The insight received from our smart audience members helped to establish a clear direction for the plot of the piece and the voice of the birds. One comment from an audience member still remains with me and continues to spark ideas:  “Allow the voice of the birds to sound like the call of the birds, ‘cause everybody knows the Cardinal says ‘party, party, party.’”  This comment has inspired music and dialogue.

I am honored to have been a participant in the inaugural session of Stripped Bare. It gave me an opportunity to have other people hear my vision, music and words. It gave me an opportunity to see my ideas up on their feet and it allowed me to be in a room with other artists which always pushes me harder.  Finally, the insight and feedback from the audience which sparked ideas and influenced pages of dialogue and song are invaluable. My experience with Stripped Bare was better than I anticipated and I look forward to seeing all of the shows that will be birthed from future sessions.

-Adrienne Reynolds

 

 

 

 

 

 

Synchronicity Finishes Three-Year $475,000 Capital Campaign with a Bang!

June 30th, 2017 marks the end of Synchronicity Theatre’s three-year-long Transition Campaign for the build out and improvement of our first ever permanent performance space. In the spring of 2014, we were performing at 14th Street Playhouse when it was sold to Savannah College of Art and Design. This closure of a prominent rental venue left Synchronicity and dozens of other organizations with nowhere to perform.

Synchronicity faced this problem head on. Building on a successful track record of collaboration and outreach, Synchronicity was ideally positioned to lead the development of a much-needed flexible arts space in Midtown Atlanta. We seized the moment and embarked on a $475,000 Transition Campaign to provide for renovations, underwrite facility start-up costs, and sustain ongoing operations.

This campaign also provided:

  • capacity-building support across three years as we transition into an expanded business model
  • funds to renovate our new theatre
  • a central home to expand our programing
  • an affordable rental venue to numerous Atlanta arts and non-arts organizations

Our new home is located in Midtown in the Peachtree Pointe office complex (home of Invesco). This 140-seat venue underwent a cost-effective transformation into a new, intimate performance space for Synchronicity’s programming, as well as arts, community and corporate groups. Our growing rental community, paired with our expanding programing and capacity-building goals, has helped establish Synchronicity Theatre as a vital hub for the arts in Metro Atlanta.

In the very first year of this incredible campaign we raised $427,292.  In the final two years, we raised $56,375, bringing us to a total of $483,667 — $8,667 over our initial goal! This was done through the tremendous efforts of our staff and the incredible generosity of our donors, local businesses and numerous foundations.  We would like to express our deepest thanks to all who supported this campaign and helped us turn this house into a home.

Moving into to our new space has led to an incredible amount of growth for Synchronicity in the last three years.

We:

  • Increased our main stage programming from three shows a year to five, adding two full productions to our Bold Voices Series for adult audiences
  • Launched our new arts incubator project, Stripped Bare. This project’s aim is to provide free space, technical support and marketing support to young professionals with new and experimental work
  • Premiered two projects in 2016-2017 from creators Rebekah Suellau (Hannah Cremation & The Ash) and Adrienne Reynolds (Bird – A Study of Sound)
  • Expanded mission-driven programming like Playmaking for Girls to reach more at-risk teen girls across Atlanta
  • Brought in over 10,000 new patrons and increased ticket sales across all of our play series
  • Added two full-time staff members to bolster our team and help us reach our new goals
  • Launched a new five-year strategic plan and increased salaries for our artists, designers and staff
  • Rented our space to over 55 different organizations, bringing in over $75,000 in rental income
  • Continued to produce Smart, Gutsy, Bold theatre, including at least one World Premiere every year

These are just some of the numerous accomplishments we made in the past three years, and our goals for the future are just as ambitious. Again, none of this would have been accomplished without the support of our donors and the community around us. So, from the bottom of our hearts, we say thank you!!!!!!!!!!!!! Thank you so, so much.

Please join us in celebrating the next phase of Synchronicity Theatre, as we enter our 20th Anniversary Season.

The best is yet to come.

 

Keep The Fire Burning: Developing Hannah Cremation + The Ash

Hannah FB Banner copyThis post is by guest blogger Rebekah Suellau, creator of Hannah Cremation + The Ash and a selected participant in Synchronicity’s Stripped Bare arts incubator project.  You can catch the workshop of Hannah at Synchronicity May 16-17 and learn more about the project here.

In August 2015, I headed a team of actors as a writer and director for The Seedling Project’s Serial Killers. Our mission: to create and stage a ten-minute episode of a new play, every week, for a month. The catch: each week, a live audience voted on their favorite shows and “cancelled” two of them. The cancelled team would have to return with a new pilot the following week.

In the beginning, we tried to work smart, to plot out our arcs and know just where we were heading. We tried to get the jump on things. But there was no way to predict the tastes of the crowd from week to week, and no way to know what wonderful stories the other teams were cooking up. And sure enough, at the end of the second week, our serial got killed.

I gathered up the team, including Sarah Beth Moseley, Mary Ruth Ralston, and Kevin Roost. “So for next week,” I started, choosing my words very carefully, “I have this idea for a musical.”

A musical. Not one note written. Not one word. And not one of them blinked an eye.

Awesome,” came the unanimous response.

That was Monday. I hammered out a script on Tuesday, wrote an original song with Sarah Beth on Wednesday, and we developed two more by Friday. We added Chelcy Cutwright to the cast and staged it all over a single weekend. The following Monday, Hannah Cremation + The Ash was born.

Awesome, indeed.

We never got cancelled again. We performed our second episode on the final evening of the monthlong event. But our story wasn’t finished. We knew that. And even as we all moved on from Serial Killers, we carried the spark of Hannah Cremation with us.

I’d love to say we tended that fire diligently over the next year and a half, working slowly and carefully and taking pains with this story that had lit us all up. But the reality for us, as for so many early-career artists, is that we had to turn our hustle toward the next deadline, the next project, the next paycheck. Still, we couldn’t run into each other at a show or on the street without saying it: When are we gonna finish Hannah Cremation?

Enter The Stripped Bare Project, in a moment of synchronicity worthy of its producing company’s name.

Hannah Cremation + The Ash is a story all about turning anger into action. Hannah Creem is a dreamer, a musician who gave up under the guise of growing up. Ash Swanson is a drifter, a street drummer who spends her days shouting without saying anything. Without each other, Hannah is a slave to structure and the expectations of others, and Ash is at the mercy of her own defiant anger. But together, they become two-woman punk piece Hannah Cremation + The Ash. Their friendship teaches them to unite order and chaos, rage and love, through the creative channel of music.

When I got the application for Stripped Bare early in 2017, I knew immediately that we had the answer to our question. We needed to finish Hannah Cremation now. In the wake of a deeply divisive election, I was seeing so many strong, passionate people around me fall into the patterns that our characters embody. Some were desperate to make nice, to shut down the fear and loathing that was rising up from their guts. Many more were desperate to make noise, giving voice to their rage without giving much thought to speaking up in a way that could actually be heard. Everywhere I looked, I saw Hannahs and Ashes, dampening down their emotional fires because they felt powerless, or giving them free rein and sometimes burning the people around them. As I felt myself veering between the two extremes, I did what I tend to do when I need answers most: I started writing.

I called Sarah Beth the day I received the application and asked her to join me as music director. I sent an email to the rest of the original Serial Killers team with the subject line “Getting The Band Back Together!” And just like that Monday night in 2015 when we’d been cancelled, the unanimous response was: awesome. The team came back together, and a story that had been left to simmer for sixteen months came back to life in an instant.

We had just a few short weeks to turn two ten-minute episodes into a full-length musical, but we work well under pressure. Our rehearsal rooms are much like our story, a dance between structure and chaos. I bring in new scenes for us to tackle all together. Then, we split off, with Sarah Beth teaching music while I take other actors off to talk through their characters’ arcs and develop next steps for them. You might walk in and find three people strumming three ukuleles, building three separate brand-new songs, while I scribble lyrics or new scenes on the back of the script pages we replaced earlier that day.

Stripped Bare has given us the perfect structure in which to release this creative chaos. Different stages of new play development have different needs. A few months ago, all we had was the spark of a story that wouldn’t go out. And all we needed was the framework to develop it: the deadline, the theatre, the aim of an audience to share with and learn from. This new arts incubator has helped us keep our fire alive, and we can’t wait to share it with you.

Make New Friends: Arts Marketing Innovations

Make new friends, but keep the old.

To me, this sentiment from a familiar children’s folk song succinctly captures the central goal of audience building.  It certainly speaks to Synchronicity’s current focus, as we work to attract new audiences to our three-year-old performance space and build innovative programs without losing sight of our core mission and audience.  Much of what I learned at the 2016 National Arts Marketing Conference tied to this overarching theme: branch out, take risks, try new things, but don’t abandon the tried and true.  This sage advice echoed in sessions on integrating new media, navigating risk, and innovating audience building practices on a practical nonprofit arts budget.

I left the conference with several clear, manageable and affordable steps I could take to advance Synchronicity’s audience building goals, making friends with new industry standards while building on the good practices already in place.

Prioritize photo and video.

Budgetary restrictions have often impacted the quality of Synchronicity’s show photography in the past, but as I learned at NAMPC, visual storytelling is paramount in today’s audience building.  As people sift through the information overload that is a social media newsfeed or email inbox, an eye-catching visual is essential to making your message stand out.  After returning from NAMPC, I went straight into the Excel document where I track marketing expenses and shifted additional funds into the photography line.  Investing in excellent promotional photography has allowed Synchronicity to create more compelling visual content for social media and digital advertising.

While high quality photos and videos are worth investing in, however, a little goes a long way considering the numerous free and inexpensive tools at our fingertips for capturing and sharing visual media.  An actor with an iPhone can capture compelling rehearsal footage for social media, in many cases more readily than a professional videographer.  Our art relies on strong visual elements anyway.  Why not showcase elegant set designs, colorful costumes and bold choreography?  Equipping our artists and production teams to capture and share the production process with handheld technologies has led to an uptick in social media interaction.

Have a conversation.

NAMPC presenters stressed again and again that we should think of social media and email campaigns as a series of one-on-one conversations, rather than impersonal newsletters or marketing pitches.  These conversations need to be clear, targeted and persistent.  One of the most immediately applicable sessions I attended at NAMPC was the Email Marketing Extreme Makeover.  There I got specific tips for making our email contact with patrons more effective.  Subject lines should be fifty words or less (try writing a tweet about your email content and then shorten it as necessary!).  Each email should include one clear call to action, one column, and one image (and make it a strong one: see above).

These tips improve the email’s mobile friendliness and make it more likely that recipients will actually read the email.  The fewer words used to get the message across, the better.  Think of how crammed full your own inbox is!  None of us has time to read a manifesto in every email.  The form the words take matters, too.  I learned that most of us skim emails in an “F” pattern, looking at headers first and glancing along the left margin.  These helpful hints guided me in creating a simple standard email template for Synchronicity, which gets each message across with one bold image and a few choice words.

If you’re feeling anxious about losing all of that copy space, you’re not alone.  I was hesitant to try an email template with fewer words and only one graphic.  But what’s lost in the bulk of each individual email is quickly made up for in the number of emails sent to each person.  Patrons usually buy tickets after the 5th-12th contact, so sending shorter, more frequent emails can be more effective.

That’s especially true if your emails are targeted and segmented, which they absolutely should be.  At NAMPC, I was told to ban the dirty word “e-blast” from my vocabulary.  We are having a one-on-one conversation, remember?  With Synchronicity’s integrated email platform, Dotmailer, I have the ability to segment email lists by patron zip code, how many events they’ve attended, which events they’ve attended, whether or not they’ve opened any of my emails, and more! In addition to selecting who I send each message to, and how often, I’ve also begun utilizing A/B testing.  This allows me to test different subject lines with different groups of patrons to see which ones make more of an impact.  In Dotmailer, I can set emails to resend in 48 hours with a new subject line if the first one didn’t take.  This has facilitated an increase in opens and clicks with very little additional effort.

To recap

Investing in high quality photo and video is essential for compelling social media and email communications.  Quality also counts more than quantity when it comes to email content.  Keep email messages short, sweet and segmented.  And remember, you don’t have to make all of these changes at once.  It’s good to make new friends, but don’t abandon the practices that are working well for you in your quest to innovate your audience building.  A few small, strategic steps can go a long way towards reaching the audiences you want and keeping the loyal patrons you already have.

Happy Audience Building!

Caitlin Thomas White, Marketing Director, Synchronicity Theatre

LG photo by Kirsten Lara Getchall

Photo Credit: Kirsten Lara Getchall

LAUREN GUNDERSON. You might know the name. Besides being a hometown girl, the Decatur-born, San Francisco-based playwright is the most-produced living playwright in America this 2016/17 season. Among all playwrights, she is second to only the late, great August Wilson. Her plays have run on Broadway, off-Broadway and at many of the nation’s top regional theaters.

Locally, you’ve seen her work at 7 Stages (The Revolutionists); Aurora Theatre (I and You); the Essential Theatre Company (Parts They Call Deep in 2001); Theatrical Outfit (Silent Sky); Weird Sisters Theatre Project (The Taming, EMILIE: La Marquise du Châtelet Defends Her Life Tonight); and, of course, here at Synchronicity Theatre (Exit, Pursued by a Bear). The Heath (a one-woman workshop staging May 4-5) is a much more personal, intimate, personal story. We’ll let Lauren explain.

SYNCHRONICITY: Why do you think this play is what came from you after your grandfather’s death?

LAUREN: Writing about him didn’t come to me right away, but when it did occur, I felt a smooth wave of relief. I felt soothed already, just by the thought of putting his story and mine together onstage. And then during the initial writing and research, I was further invigorated by the work that went into understanding him and my lineage. I interviewed my family. I poured over old pictures. I investigated generations of family lines. My mom and I found old family graves in the backwoods of South Carolina. I even took up the banjo. It was a kind of hero’s journey in miniature for me. It was a homecoming that I had to both create and live. And now I get to tell it.

S: What kind of a life do you see for The Heath going forward?

L: Unclear. At the moment it would seem odd for another actor to play the role, so it is my story to share one audience at a time. I’ve thought about putting the whole thing online in an interactive unfolding story of pictures, narrative and music. That’d be pretty cool.

S: How did the structure evolve, with King Lear, the banjo, bluegrass, etc.

L: King Lear was always the undercurrent of this play for the obvious reasons of age and madness. Within King Lear is the unstoppable storm motif, the themes of natural destruction from within (madness) and without (the storm). I used that ominous approach as a structural element in getting myself and the audience to the brink of this story’s central moment —facing one’s own death, facing one’s own failings, facing one’s own forgiveness. The banjo came long after I started writing the play actually. I was walking on the street and looked up a saw a sign — a literal sign — that said “LEARN BANJO.” It clicked that I could learn my PawPaw’s favorite songs if I did that very thing, so I told that sign, “OK!” and bought a banjo the next day.

S: How has The Heath helped you process your grief and guilt, do you think?

L: I process it every night I perform it, every song I practice, and every line I rewrite. You don’t ever get over grief really, and most of us don’t every fully swallow guilt either. But there is catharsis in sharing it. There is also relief in knowing others’ stories. I hope that is where my experience and the audience’s converge. There is strength in coming to see the coherence of a shared human pattern of losing and learning. That’s life. But life is messy and has terrible timing. So it’s art’s job to create something people can come to, bring their experiences to, share together and go home having met with meaning.

S: What’s next for Lauren, playwright, screenwriter, banjo player, famous person?

L: Oh, Lord, I don’t know. It changes every day. There are a few brand-new play ideas I’m excited about writing, and a few big productions upcoming including my newest play, The Book of Will, which is headed to Roundhouse Theatre, Northlight Theatre and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. My play Miss Bennet is coming to Atlanta’s Theatrical Outfit this November and my Ada and the Memory Engine is coming to Essential Theatre this summer. And my first children’s book, about an adventurous young girl scientist — Dr. Wonderful and Her Dog: Blast Off to the Moon! — launches May 2! It’s perfect for any budding young nerd. LG photo by Kirsten Lara Getchall

To keep up with the always busy Lauren Gunderson, visit her website at http://laurengunderson.com/.

 

 

Take 5 with The Heath playwright Lauren Gunderson  

Take 5 with ‘Strait of Gibraltar’ playwright Andrea Lepcio   

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ANDREA LEPCIO AND SYNCHRONICITY THEATRE are old friends. We staged her drama Looking for the Pony, about sisters and cancer, in 2009, and first read Strait of Gibraltar three years ago. We’ve been waiting for the right moment to produce it.

Here’s a bit of Andrea’s philosophy:

“I write out of a need to make sense of the world,” she says. “My subjects include climate change, gender, baseball, justice, insurgency, friendship, love, hate, race, being female, art. Sick of being female, I write being human.”

Andrea lives in Bar Harbor, Maine, with her partner, France Hilbert, and their dog, Lady. She took time from Strait rehearsals to chat with resident dramaturg Kathy Janich.

SYNCHRONICITY: Where did the play begin for you (in your life, life experience, brain)?

ANDREA: I was driving around, by myself, listening to NPR. They were reporting on the Patriot Act. This was about 2012 or so, and I was shocked that there was so much I didn’t know. In particular, I didn’t realize that it eliminated habeas corpus for the accused. I pondered this. And, as usually happens when I am confused, I started to think about a play. A memory came to me. In the early 1990s, I had briefly dated a Moroccan man. This was nothing like the love affair in the play. At the time I worked for a bank. We met in an acting class. He came to me one day and asked if I would put money in my account for him. It wasn’t that much money, but he couldn’t explain why he needed me to do this and I said no. We stopped hanging out not much later. When I remembered this, I thought, that’s my way into this story.

S: Without giving anything away, what has changed in structure and plot since the early drafts in 2013?

A: The play is a love story, and a mystery. The trick is to sustain the mystery for the widest number of audience members. I know some will get ahead of me and some will believe what I tell them and some will be in between. As I progressed, I added more things to add doubt and suspicion to make the end more of a surprise, or, rather, as we like it, surprising and inevitable.

S: With a world premiere like this, a lot of script changes happen in rehearsal. What’s your philosophy on this?

A: Necessary. Actors and directors are smart. As they start to work through a text, they make discoveries, and I always treasure this process. It is fairly often that they come up with requested changes that I immediately agree to. At the same time, and probably an equal number of times, I make the case for why something is the way I wrote it.

S: What playwrights, past or present, influence you and why?

A: Milan Stitt was my mentor, and his play The Runner Stumbles is a masterful mystery. Tina Howe was also a teacher, and I love sinking into her super-detailed worlds. I love so many contemporary playwrights like Lynn Nottage and Diana Son. And Beckett, always and forever, Beckett.

S: Again, without giving anything away, how would you like audiences to feel when they leave the theater after seeing Strait of Gibraltar?

A: I hope the play puts them through changes, that they go through a process of figuring out who they trust and don’t trust. Then I would love them to think through why they thought/felt what they thought/felt at different points in the play. When they leave, I guess I hope they are energized to fight for a fairer world.

 

 

5 questions with IVAN playwright James E. Grote

2016-10-16-jim-sf-heartJames E. Grote is an artistic ensemble member at Lifeline Theatre in Chicago. The 30-year-old company specializes in original literary adaptations for adults and children. Jim is both an actor and a playwright, with such titles as Giggle, Giggle, Quack and Duck for President to his name. He first encountered The One and Only Ivan in 2013, when he began adapting it for the Lifeline stage. He took time from his latest projects to chat with Kathy Janich, Synchronicity’s resident dramaturg, and answer a few questions.

SYNCHRONICITY: When, and how, did you first learn of Ivan’s story?

JAMES E. GROTE: It actually sort of fell into my lap. One of my first adaptations was of Doreen Cronin and Betsy Lewin’s Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type in 2003, which was a big success for Lifeline Theatre, and which led to my adapting four of the other books in that series. Doreen and Betsy’s agents, Pippin Properties, are also the agents for Katherine Applegate, and they sent me The One and Only Ivan in the summer of 2013, asking if I might want to adapt it. And I thought, “Come on, it’s a Newbery winner, of course I want to adapt it!”

S: What made you think it could be a play?

JG: I wasn’t sure at first, given the serious (and sometimes very sad) aspects of the story. But even as I was reading the book for the first time I was already visualizing how I wanted to make it into a play. It’s ultimately such a beautiful and hopeful story that even with all the pain and sadness in it, I knew I had to bring it to the stage and to our audiences at Lifeline.

S: How did you decide what to leave in and what to leave out?

JG: With picture books like Click, Clack, Moo, I’m doing a lot of original writing to fill out the story, but with a longer chapter book like this one, I have a lot of difficult decisions to make about what to keep and what to cut. I always want to include scenes that I love, scenes that explain who the characters are, and scenes that point up the themes that I want the play to express. I sometimes combine and condense multiple scenes into one, or I give a character in the play lines that may have belonged to a character in the book that I had to cut.  But even so, I sometimes have to cut scenes that I love if they don’t move the story forward.

Some of the easier scene cuts are ones that are dictated by technical limitations. For example, if you only have five actors, you can’t have a scene with six characters. During the development process we talked a lot about how we would realize the many memory stories in the play (from Ruby, Stella and Ivan). Lifeline’s stage is small (we have a 100-seat house), so there’s no way we could change the entire set to a jungle from the mall. So I had to think about how to either make those scenes work on the set we had, or those scenes had to go.

S: How many drafts did you write … and what are the major differences between the early versions and the final version?

I just went back to my Ivan folder on my computer and I counted 30 drafts! At Lifeline we have a combination development/rehearsal process, so most of those 30 drafts are just smaller changes from one rehearsal to the next. I would say there are probably five or six drafts where the script changed a lot.

The biggest change from the first draft to the final draft is that I took out a lot of Ivan’s narration.  Once you get in the rehearsal room and see the actors bringing the characters to life you realize how much less language you need to tell the story. A look, or a movement, or one word said in a certain way can accomplish more than a whole series of lines.

S: How did you go from acting to playwriting (although we know you still do both)?

JG: My first show as an actor with Lifeline was in 1992, playing Tucker Mouse in an adaptation of The Cricket in Times Square, and I performed in a number of shows after that.  Because nearly all of Lifeline’s shows are original adaptations that we develop in-house, we are always looking for new writers, and in 1999 I was invited to join the ensemble with the hope that I would develop into a playwright/adapter. While I had never written a play before, I knew that the support the artistic ensemble gives to the development of our scripts would mean I’d be in good hands. I am working on my 14th show for Lifeline, so it looks like it turned out OK!

S: What do you want audiences of all ages to leave the theater thinking about and why?

JG: Mostly I want audiences to think about our responsibilities to the creatures in our care, whether in our homes, our farms, our zoos, or in nature. We have a great obligation to be good stewards to the world’s creatures and to do what we can to treat animals with respect and to ensure that their environment is healthy. I also would like folks to think about how we can be more like Ivan, helping others (like Ruby) when they need help, and standing up for what is right when we see injustice in the world.

BONUS QUESTION: What character do you most identify with and why?

In some way I identify with all of the characters in my plays, because they all have some elements of who I am, particularly in my shows based on picture books, where I’m creating a lot of original story. With this play, though, Katherine gave me such rich characters to work with that what you see onstage is very much what she created, and they don’t have much of “me” in them. That being said, I’d probably say I’m most like Bob the dog: true to my friends, somewhat cynical at times and always looking for a snack!

19.

Last night began our 19th season.

19 years of producing smart, gutsy, bold theatre which uplifts the voices of women and girls.

The play?  Anne Boleyn by Howard Brenton.

As our Director Richard Garner said, everyone has an opinion on Anne.  In just the past week he has been treated to opinions by a 16-year old girl and a 91-year old neighbor.  They were both passionately committed to their idea of Anne, their understanding of her and her intentions.

This play is historically accurate.  In as much as we know.  But because Anne’s (and Henry’s) history is so contradictory and dynamic, this play will provoke you to revise, examine and delight in the complexity.

It will also make you laugh. Whoo boy, do we have a great group of actors.  The first ‘table read’ was already rich with humor, heat and heartbreak.

Check out our set, designed by Barrett Doyle, below.  And get a peek at some of the talented folks around our table.