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selfie #6: jeremy w. (with questions by tim d.)

On Tuesday, Jeremy W. regaled us with “Proximity,” a dark comedy in which a mysterious experiment leaves a modern-day mad scientist cohabiting with the consciousness of historical mad scientist Nikola Tesla. This week he and Tim D. chatted about science, the nature of comedy, and the vicissitudes of college bureaucracies.

#selfies are an ongoing interview series where Lather, Rinse, Repeat playwrights interview one another. They have free reign over the questions. The interviewee must then post an actual selfie, for the sake of being meta.

TIM D. Why Tesla? Also, who is your favorite scientist and why?

JEREMY W. The week before I went to Bosnia, I thought I’d do a little Wikipedia research on the place since I knew next to nothing about it.  After several hours, I knew less than I knew when I started.  In the backseat of a car leaving Sarajevo, I felt like writing 50 plays about the place.  Just as soon as I figured out what the hell was going on.

I think I might write a few plays that have something to do with Yugoslavia.  I was looking for some kind of way in.  So I tried Tesla out.  I researched him up and down; as people who knew me knew what I was researching, they kept sending me articles and links about Tesla and how he’s more and more in the dreaded Zeitgeist.  I’m a lot more ambivalent about him than most people seem to be.  And I’m a lot more interested in that parts of him that have nothing to do with Edison.  You’ve got to be a bit of an asshole to think you see something nobody else seems to see.  I’m that asshole.  So was Tesla, now that you mention it.

My favorite scientist right now is Sir Francis Galton, Darwin’s cousin.  I envy the scientists of yore and their ability to advance a number of different fields in one lifetime.  Galton was a little bit of everything, seemingly in search of analytical justification for common sense.  He coined the phrase “nature versus nurture”, established the uniqueness of fingerprints, devised the first weather map, and sorted out regression to the mean.  Galty and I would have been homies.

TIM D. Though set twenty years in the past, “Proximity” touches on issues of great relevance to today’s world — including the military-industrial complex, drone strikes and the ethics of war. What leads you to write about contemporary issues?

JEREMY W. When I started the play, drone warfare wasn’t so topical.  I came at it more from piecing together these odd coincidences from Tesla’s inventions, his writings, and what happened in the former Yugoslavia in the early 90s.  That the father of wirelessly controlled vehicles and wireless power transmission was, himself, a Croat. Serb, and New Yorker just seemed to fit.  I kept wanting to kiss Tesla’s feet and punch him in the face.  He’s infuriating.

Drones are tough.  World War I kicked off in Sarajevo, and Tesla living through World War I, he experienced second-hand what trench warfare was.  If you put yourself in his shoes, you can see why he dreamt of an unpeopled war.  Now that the era of the drone is upon us we know they are no panacea.  I don’t think we’ve determined if war is less or more terrifying the more impersonal it becomes.

TIM D. In a blog on your website, you call yourself “a deep, morbid, brooding soul” and conclude that this is why your work is often comic. Can you explain this a bit more? What kind of humor most excites you?

JEREMY W. I wrote that?  I couldn’t have been serious.  Really?  I wrote that?  The whole idea of me having a blog about playwriting is never going to work for me.  I should probably take it down.

I’m naturally gregarious in social settings.  I think I’m deep when I’m alone.  I’m not.  My trying to be profound while I simply want to go be an idiot in public is probably what’s funny.  It’s undignified at the very least.

There are two very different pathways through the brain to smile.  The forced smile, the awkward one in so many photographs, runs through your more evolved, conscious brain.  It’s actually quite a nuanced muscular feat, the genuine smile.  That instinctual smile of yours runs through the old, reptilian brain.  A smile is very similar to that menacing face meant to ward off would-be dangers.  The baring of teeth, the narrowing of the eyes.  One of my favorite neuroscientists has a theory that the smile is a way to turn “I’m going to eat you if you step any closer” face to “Oh, hey, hahaha, it’s cool” face.  Laughter is inherently a stress reliever.  We laugh to tell each other, and ourselves, it’s okay; but first there’s danger.

TIM D. You designed your own major in college. What was it? Why?

JEREMY W.  Long story.  Technically, it’s called “Humans and the Arts”.  When asked, I have instinctively given a very different answer every time.  I took the idea of my major very personally for some reason; it would be a topic unto itself to give you all the whys and wherefores.  Essentially, somehow I was aware I was a very young man, even for my age, was a fist-by-fist eater of everything I could stuff down my brain, and I thought it would be an insult to call what I did in college anything that was already a single or combination of majors.  I couldn’t specialize.  I wouldn’t lie about it.

I might hold the record for denied applications to the self-designed major program at the university.  I played academic chicken with them; eventually, they just let me graduate.  Come graduation, the Dean who seemed to feel my approach cheapened her program, did something shitty at the podium in front of my family.  I thought that was pretty low.  I’m left with a lot of conflicting feelings about that major o’ mine.

TIM D. What do you think your next play is going to be? Where did the inspiration come from?

JEREMY W. I recently finished a first draft of a play I recently titled “Pre-Fabricated Homes”.  It was originally going to be a very short play that couldn’t end in less than 90 minutes.  After Elevation and Proximity, I needed to do very little research for whatever it is I was going to write.  I really just tried to follow myself, see where I was going.  Once it hit me, I thought it was terrifying in a “Hey, I’m right here!” kind of way.

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selfie #5: tim d. (with questions by lauren f.)

Tim D. regaled us with the first act of a pirate musical about a lesser-known composer of the Spanish Renaissance this past Tuesday. This week he and Lauren F. chatted about pirates, the order of the Tims, and the usefulness of silence.

#selfies are an ongoing interview series where Lather, Rinse, Repeat playwrights interview one another. They have free reign over the questions. The interviewee must then post an actual selfie, for the sake of being meta.

LAUREN F. Tell me a little about your pirate musical. What pirates inspired you? How much do you love singing pirates?

TIM D. My pirate musical, currently titled THE REAL-LIFE ADVENTURES OF FRANCISCO GUERRERO, is about a Spanish Renaissance composer who became a pirate. It’s sort of based on a true story (Francisco Guerrero was, in fact, a Spanish Renaissance composer, and he was captured and ransomed by pirates, though he didn’t become a pirate… I added that part). The project has required a lot of historical research into Renaissance culture and geopolitics, which I find super fun.

Unfortunately, historians know little about real-life pirates because there are so few reliable sources. As a result, my musical is based less on “real-life pirates” than on the pirates of romantic fiction and, of course, the movies. (So, yes, it was research when I watched those ten pirate movies in a row.)

One aspect of pirate films that interests me was that, because the hero is a pirate, the villain is almost always a civilized or cultured person, often a member of a corrupt government. This is because pirate films situate piracy in the history of ideas as a kind of radical libertarianism—i.e. a way to combat tyranny. The pirate hero turns to piracy only after he has come to witness society’s injustice. Piracy becomes a kind of political statement, and the hero is motivated not so much by greed as by a desire to right what is wrong in the world. And since I’m kind of obsessed with politics, this was one of the things that fascinated me about pirates right off the bat, in addition to the fact that they’re unassailably cool.

(In history, piracy was probably closer to radical capitalism than to radical libertarianism, but in the Golden Age of cinema, when most of these pirate films were made, it was not nearly as cool to glorify unbridled capitalism as it is now).

My research also led me to the discovery that someone wrote a book of historical research called Sodomy and the Pirate Tradition. I haven’t read it, but as I understand it, the thesis is that pirate ships not only tolerated homosexuality, but that they de facto attracted it (see above re: radical libertarianism). That’s what made me certain that there had to be at least one flamboyantly gay pirate in my musical… but musical comedies must end happily. And then there were two.

LAUREN F. A lot of your work happens in high-style farce. What draws you to this style specifically?

TIM D. I guess it’s mainly the fact that when I go to the theater, I enjoy myself most when I’m laughing. The best time I had at a theater this year was at Signature’s production of Old Hats—infectious physical humor that was more about a connection with the audience than Saying Something Deep—but that managed to say some clever stuff along the way too. (For example, an iPad sketch that lampooned the proliferation of modern devices we use to project images of ourselves, a sketch ridiculing modern politicking, and a song that began with the lyric “Feminists don’t have a sense of humor”).

In high school, my favorite playwright was Christopher Durang, and I devoured every word he ever wrote. Then I went to college and decided I wanted to be a Serious Writer, so I wrote some dramatic plays. Then I began to realize that being a Serious Writer and writing funny stuff are not mutually exclusive. Humor will get your audience to pay attention—and once you’ve got that, hopefully you have something to say to them.

LAUREN F. In our writing group, you are affectionately known as “Tim 2.” How does this designation make you feel? Would you rather be “Tim 1”? “Tim 3”? Why is Tim the best name?

TIM D. The problem of duplicated names would have been mitigated if I had joined Lather Rinse Repeat before I entered the fourth grade, because then I would have been Timmy. However, I rightly judged that Timmy is much too childish a name for a fourth-grader, so over night, I became Tim, and ceased to be a child.

But to answer your question, I don’t mind being Tim 2. As long as everyone recognizes that I am the alpha male in the group, I don’t care what they call me.

TIM D. You write a lot of silent characters that people love. What is your favorite thing about silence?

In one of his books of lyrics, Stephen Sondheim reminisces about being in the nose-bleed seats of Broadway shows in the mid-1950s and having to lean forward to hear. That’s one of the most unique things about theater: knowing that you have to be so present in every moment or you’ll miss something—a gesture, a word, an intake of breath. Today’s audiences are so used to having culture come to us immediately when we want it (cf. Netflix, Hulu, et al), but theater provides something different: a demand on our full attention. So I like the idea of someone who is hard to understand—or who you have to learn to understand.

I have written two nonverbal characters recently – one is based on the character Lavinia from Titus Andronicus and the other is Marbles, a mute pirate in my musical. Lavinia’s difficulty communicating arises partly from her lack of a tongue and partly from the fact that most of the other characters don’t listen to her. However, if we in the audience are interested and expend our full attention, we will understand her—and that understanding can be unexpectedly rewarding both because it requires effort and it bucks our expectations. We realize that words aren’t nearly as important as we think they are.

Marbles, on the other hand, despite being mute and unable to sing, communicates better than any other character in the musical. In fact, there are a few moment when Marbles is communicating nonverbally with the other characters so effectively that the audience doesn’t grasp exactly what he is saying. Again, words aren’t really that important, if you pay attention, and if you’re present in the moment.

If Lavinia or Marbles are particularly lovable characters, I think it’s mostly because, in spite of their verbal difficulties, they are dedicated to communicating and, above all, to listening. Which is what I love about silence, I think. It reminds us to listen.

LAUREN F. You’re super busy this summer! What are you looking forward to, working on, excited about?

TIM D. At the beginning of the summer, I directed music for a show at Ars Nova’s ANT Fest and then departed on a two-week whirlwind tour of the West Coast. I hit up San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, and Canada’s Sunshine coast. I’ve also been having a blast directing a professional a cappella group called The Manhattones. And, because one can never have too much a cappella, my college group the Yale Spizzwinks(?) is having its 100th Anniversary next year, so I’m interviewing alumni from many decades to make a video filled with crazy anecdotes of things old Yale men did when they were young. (They sang, for example.)

Also, I just finished my first full day of a month-long residency at an incredible artist’s colony in the Adirondacks called the Blue Mountain Center. It’s been thrilling to meet so many talented and generous artists. It must have been a mistake that they let me come too. Also, there’s a No Cell Phone policy, which is wonderful (yay silence!). My plan for the residency is to finish the musical and to return to a play that’s been on the back burner for about ten months. It’s a satire/farce about micronations, which is, more or less, when you declare your bedroom to be an independent country and start making stamps and passports.

Right now, I’m just happy to be in such a beautiful place surrounded by nature… and, of course, silence.

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tim d. fears the abyss.

 

#selfie 4: lauren f. (with questions by mariah m.)

Lauren previewed her Fringe draft of SOMEWHERE SAFER this week and then was ruthlessly grilled by Mariah MacCarthy about life, feminism, and the best ways to eat an avocado.
 
#selfies are an ongoing interview series where Lather, Rinse, Repeat playwrights interview one another. They have free reign over the questions. The interviewee must then post an actual selfie, for the sake of being meta.
 
MARIAH M. You know I’m slightly obsessed with your Fringe play, SOMEWHERE SAFER. Why this play, why now? 
 
LAUREN F. There are a lot of answers to that – I guess the simplest one is that the play is very relevant in ways that I wish it wasn’t.  I have a distinct memory of penning the first ten pages of the play about a month before Occupy Wall Street took over Zuccotti Park, and the going-on two years since then have pushed a lot of the play’s questions about citizenship and power to the forefront of our national conversation.  
 
On the other hand, I think we should always be asking ourselves how we can be better citizens, and more political.  It sets my teeth on edge when people start sentences with “I’m not usually political,” because, yes, you are. We all are – deeply political because political decisions end up coming back to us and affecting us.  
 
MARIAH M. Tell me about your Fringe collaborators and how you found each other. 
 
LAUREN F. Deborah Wolfson, our director, was the first person who greenlighted the play’s development with its original home, On the Square Productions. We have been working together on it for about a year and a half, through four closed readings and two public readings.  Jen Kipley and Yvette Kojic, our fabulous producing team, are friends and colleagues of mine who jumped on board with enthusiams and verve. Our actors. God. I love our actors. But I can’t talk about them yet because we haven’t officially press-released them.  Suffice to say they are an intimidatingly smart and extraordinary bunch of people.
 
MARIAH M. Favorite way to eat an avocado?
 
LAUREN F. Guacamole. My staple food. It’s not even a joke. It’s pretty much my whole diet.
 
MARIAH M. A theater experience that made you uncomfortable in a good way?
 
LAUREN F. Ooh, that’s a really good question. Clybourne Park, actually. I bit my nails the whole way through, then left with a soaring heart and a troubled mind.
 
MARIAH M. You and I are both very vocal feminists. What relationship does your feminism have with your work?  
 
LAUREN F. Feminism is everything to my work. I went through a long period in my early twenties where I didn’t write at all because I had this idea that I didn’t deserve to talk about anything and didn’t know enough to be an authority on any topic.   Not writing made me miserable, so I started writing. But that period of feeling like I didn’t have a voice – feeling silenced in some way – I will never forget that.  Throughout history, women have been silenced and oppressed in ways so ingrained in culture that we are only now starting to understand them.  We have silenced and oppressed each other, and we have silenced and oppressed ourselves.  
 
We create our world through language.  Laws are language, speeches are language – second to speaking, writing is the most powerful tool ever created to change the world. So much of the harm done to women begins in the language itself.  In my work, I constantly hope to examine language and examine how we talk about each other, how we talk about the world, and what we can do to start to shift our notions of gender and power through ideas and language.
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#selfie 3: mariah m. (with questions by natalie w.)

Mariah MacCarthy. Totally awesome. Writing her plays. Doing her thing. Making the world a better place. Just closed a show in an apartment. Wrote a new play already like a boss. BOOM.
 
#selfies are an ongoing interview series where Lather, Rinse, Repeat playwrights interview one another. They have free reign over the questions. The interviewee must then post an actual selfie, for the sake of being meta.
 
NATALIE W. I saw your recent “Pussyfest” production of monologues written by and for people who identify as women. You clearly have a great eye/ear for talent, as it was a remarkable collection of writers. What are the qualities you look for in a good writer?
 
MARIAH M. To clarify: Anyone of any gender can write for Pussyfest! And I think we’re going to make it more trans-inclusive in the future, to include transmasculine or genderqueer performers as well. Anyway, just about all the writers involved with that evening have something exceptional about their work. Either they’re writing from a unique perspective that we rarely see onstage, or they’re a special kind of gutsy, or they have a unique sense of humor, or whatever. I also look for heart. I think something else that made Pussyfest special was, all those monologues were written specifically for those performers. Many of these writers didn’t know their actor before they were (randomly) paired up together. I think writing for a specific performer made the work stronger, braver, more specific, more physical, more more more.
 
By the way, you and Brandon clearly have amazing taste too, because these writers? Damn. I love our LRR crew so hard.
 
NATALIE W. I believe it was Caryl Churchill who said all her plays are ultimately about a trapped girl. I know I almost always end up writing about how much to sacrifice for something/someone you love. What do you find yourself always writing about?
 
MARIAH M. Someone who wants someone who’s bad for them.
 
NATALIE W. In the plays of yours I’ve heard, you seem to have a knack for writing distasteful characters who are nonetheless incredibly compelling and interesting. Is this something you consciously set out to do? Any tricks for how you achieve that?
 
MARIAH M. Haha! I love the word “distasteful.” Like they’re telling poop jokes at Thanksgiving dinner or something. I do find it rewarding and delicious to write characters who are flawed and destructive, but I almost never set out to write a “villain”–or a “good guy,” for that matter I don’t have much interest in clear lines of allegiance. Contradiction is fun! Give a character a point of view you find abhorrent, and then argue their case as convincingly as possible. Take the character you’d think of as most likely to be bullied, and make them the bully. Have the nicest person in the room say something horribly hurtful. 
 
But it all has to be motivated, too. I’ve discovered that even my most despicable characters, for the most part, want to be good. They’re trying to navigate their own desires and selfishness and what they think the “right” thing is, and they’re all falling short, but none of them are heartless. I have tremendous love and compassion for all my characters–and the more complicated they are, the more they break my heart.
 
NATALIE W. What is your favorite food, and how might it appear in a future play? (or has it already??)

MARIAH M. I have a lot of favorites! Food actually ends up in my plays a LOT. A major scene in The All-American Genderf*ck Cabaret revolves around peanut butter banana sandwiches (which I actually don’t eat too much). There’s pasta in The Foreplay Play, and chili in Mrs. Mayfield’s Fifth-Grade Class of ’93 20-Year Reunion. I think maybe my favorite food is ice cream, which also showed up in Genderf*ck–the last scene involves one character asking another out to ice cream. We wanted to do a food fight in Mrs. Mayfield, but since we were doing it in an actual apartment, it seemed like it would be unfair to the apartment dwellers.
 
NATALIE W. You’re also a producer with your own theater company, CAPS LOCK THEATRE. What has been A) the most frustrating experience running your own company and B) the most rewarding experience?
 
MARIAH M. Probably the most frustrating thing is that there’s always more money to raise, especially when you want to pay people any more than the bare minimum. There are fun ways to raise money, I prefer to make fundraising a party whenever possible, but it’s still a slog because it just never, ever ends. But the most rewarding thing is that the work I want to see goes up. So far it’s mostly been my own plays, but that’s about to change–next season will be our biggest production yet, of Sarah Shaefer’s The Gin Baby. The very best part of any process, for me, is opening night, when a production is UP and you’re watching people watch the show and you think, holy crap, this happened. This thing that was just an idea in my head is actually happening in front of real live people, and they’re laughing and gasping and invested, and oh my God that actor just came alive in a way I’ve never seen her do before. I think this is why I pursued playwriting, rather than being a novelist. The joy of performance is irreplaceable.
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#LRRIT Weekly Roundup

Tonight the fabulous Mariah MacCarthy makes full-length magic . Today we round up the last two weeks, in which Natalie Wilson had a home-run of a reading with Sweethearts of Swing.

WHAT WE’RE #REPEATING

1. Guacamole parties. Who doesn’t love a good avocado?  We think every summer party should be a guacamole party.

2. The last two weeks. Let’s never stop making plays. Forever and ever and ever more plays. Full-length round two has officially kicked off with a couple of bangs.

3. This quote from feedback last week: “putting that onstage took balls…and by balls, I mean eyeballs.”

4. Theatre in apartments. Mariah MacCarthy. We like your theatre in apartments.

5. Cute dog pictures. These dogs cannot handle how awesome our plays are. 

WHAT WE’RE #RINSING

1. Twitter hacking.  Your bikini-fat-burning Twitter DMs are a scam and a a lie!

2. VICE Magazine’s bizarre spread on women writer suicides. Can we get the history eraser, please, and keep everyone involved from making such bad decisions?

3. Loud people. Stay away from our reading bar on Tuesday nights! We are misanthropes who like to hear things!

4. Daily rain.  You thought it would be sunny. It is! It’s also thunderstorming on your head.

5. The subway. Literally. Every time. Gotta rinse that summer subway grime.

Tune in later this week for Mariah M.’s #selfie interview, with deep and profound questions by Natalie W.

love,

lather, rinse, repeat