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#selfie 2: natalie w. (with questions by isaac r.)

Natalie Wilson is one of our fearless leaders, who recently did a “pre-read” of her musical Sweethearts of Swing. Her official reading is July 16th at the Triad.

#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. 

ISAAC R. Where do you come from (born as well as raised) and how does that personal “geography” affect your work as a playwright?

NATALIE W.: I was born and raised in Los Gatos, CA — your basic California suburb about anhour south of San Francisco. Though I didn’t hate it growing up, I hate suburbs now. Each place I have moved since college has been increasingly urban, culminating in Manhattan (which I never want to leave). I know a lot of writers set plays where they are from, but I have yet to do that, probably because I find suburbs depressing. Though I did set my first full-length, Breaking Pairs, in an Arizona suburb circa 1979, specifically because I wanted the depressingly generic nothing-will-ever-change-unless-I-get-out-of here feeling of that.

ISAAC R.: From your musical background, I can see that this has had a strong influence on your work as a playwright. Why did you decide to start becoming a playwright?

NATALIE W. I became a playwright sitting on the lava rocks in Kona, Hawaii in the fall of 2008, writing in my journal while the rest of my family snorkeled (I was flying home that day and couldn’t get my snorkeling gear wet). Having quit my opera-singing career the year before, I had since started collaborating with Kat Sherrell (the composer for Sweethearts) on cabaret shows. We had just gotten the idea for a cabaret show for kids that would introduce them to the Great American Songbook (Porter, Gershwin, Berlin, etc). We had a concept for a story about two sisters with a time-traveling piano, and I started journaling about how such a time-travel universe might work. I wrote 30 pages by hand without stopping and suddenly realized I was writing the book for the show. I then decided maybe I should take a playwriting class since I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. And here we are.

ISAAC R.: Your piece “The Sweethearts of Swing” is based on actual historical events. Describe your research process for the piece, including research and assembling the musical elements.

NATALIE W.: I discovered the existence of all-girl swing bands in the 1940s from a book called Swing Shift by Sherrie Tucker. I magically stumbled across it while researching a completely different show (like you, Isaac, I have a penchant for setting shows in different historical periods). That book was my first and primary resource. There aren’t a lot of resources about this particular piece of history — especially not about white women who passed as black to play in “colored” bands — which is the only reason I can imagine that no one has told this incredible story before. I did find a couple of other books and a documentary on one particular band, The International Sweethearts of Rhythm. I also read a lot of non-fiction books and articles related to the period and the Jim Crow south in general, watched a lot of movies set in the south that were actually made during that time, and read tons of plays and novels that were similarly set. I looked through old Down Beat magazines on microfiche in the library to try to find tour schedules and venues where they played. I listened to as many recordings as I could get my hands on of music from the era, particularly by female musicians (alas there are very few extant recordings). There was also a lot of googling (what did we ever do before google?). In May, Kat and I took a trip from Memphis to New Orleans, stopping in many of the towns where I have set the play, to speak to musicians and people who were alive back then about the history. We got to meet several people who actually saw the Sweethearts of Rhythm in person when they were kids! (And one town even wrote an article about us). We’re still working on actually getting to talk to some of the band members who are still alive. As Kat is doing all the music, I can’t really speak to her process for creating and researching the music — but I know she’s as anal as I am about it.

ISAAC R. Who has been the biggest influence on your playwriting, both creatively and professionally?

NATALIE W.: I have to give credit to Julie McKee, my first playwriting teacher. I took from her at HB Studios. I stayed in her class for several terms, and learned so much about incredibly basic rules which I still think about all the time when I write: characters always have to want something; no unmotivated exposition – it has to come out in conflict; any time a character says “remember when” is death; make the bad guy sympathetic; and so much more. I also learned very valuable lessons about the feedback process (both giving and receiving), which have helped make me a much better writer and artist. She still teaches at HB; I can’t recommend her highly enough.

ISAAC R.: Why did you decide to start up LATHER, RINSE, REPEAT?

Brandon Marianne Lee (our co-founder) and I met in writing classes at ESPA-Primary Stages. They had a panel discussion one night about a writers group. I texted Brandon across the room during the panel and said “let’s make a writing group!” We went out after, and over a bottle of chardonnay planned just that. Our initial impulse was that we really wanted a forum where we could hear works in their entirety. Generally in classes you only get to hear 10 pages at a time, and that is a difficult way to get feedback. So we chose 8 amazing writers and gave each one a week to hear their full-length play out loud. The writers we brought in have helped turn it into so much more, with great ideas like adding professional actors to read, doing a short play round with a performance after, and a retreat to generate new ideas for the next round. We’ve now expanded to 10 writers, and it’s taking on a life of its own, which is awesome.


#selfie 1: isaac r. (with questions by jen b.)

Isaac is one of our new members, and we had a chance earlier this week to hear his full length play THE GNOME out loud, kicking off our new round of long-form readings.  So we’re really overexcited to hear all about him.

#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. 

JEN B.: Yesterday, you kicked off lather, rinse, repeat’s second round of full length presentations.  I was the first to go in the first round so you and I are part of a special club.  How did your first night in the “tub” go?  Does the process feel different than other groups or classes you may have worked with or been a part of?

ISAAC R.: The First in the Tub Club. We should make certificates. The whole evening was fantastic. I loved that the method of giving feedback is very focused and allows for the playwright to be involved. It does feel different, as I was able to have a full-length read (as opposed to an excerpt) as well as bring in actors to read. I can already tell there are a lot of motivated people in the group, which is great and the support structure is already in place.

JEN B.: When I found out I would have the honor of interviewing you I did a little snooping and found your website and noticed a whole section devoted to historical plays?  Can you talk about your attraction to historical source material and how your approach might change when writing something based in historical fact vs something conjured entirely from your imagination?

ISAAC R.: The last five years of my writing have been devoted almost exclusively to historical plays (I have 4 more full-lengths since my last update!). Last night’s piece, THE GNOME, is one of the only works that I’ve written recently that is completely fictional. The biggest change in approach is that with a historical piece the story is more or less already there. It’s just a matter of focusing on how to tell it as opposed to an original piece where so much time and energy is placed on what to tell. The investigation element of historical research is a lot of fun. I love reading accounts, quotes, anecdotes about a historical figure that can assist in bringing a character to life. And a lot of times it takes me to cool locations (NY Public Library, Baseball Hall of Fame, NY State Archives) and talk with historians that help me look for “clues.” It’s like gathering evidence and coming up with motive, psychological make-up, etc of a person. It makes me feel like I’m one of those cool people on CSI…..or Matlock.

JEN B.: I’ve always been interested in the creation of solo performance and I’m very intrigued by your play Captain Ferguson’s School for Balloon Warfare.  Can you speak about the creation of this particular piece?  How much of this was a collaborative process?  Was it more of a playwright driven experience or director driven? 

ISAAC R.:  I came up with the idea while I was at the Great Plains Theater Conference at Fort Omaha, NE. I read a plaque about how the fort was used as a balloon school during World War One. There was a picture of one of these balloons, with all these men holding onto it by ropes, like a Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade Balloon. And knowing the horrors of WW1 combat, I found the image very funny yet very tragic. That was the creative spark. The creation of this piece was perhaps the most collaborative process I have ever been a part of. It was very playwright-director-actor driven. Philip Emeott (our director) and David Nelson (our actor, who also read last night) helped create this piece from the ground up. Through working on it with space grants, creative retreats and workshops in the city, we were constantly working together to create the show from the script to the performance on stage to the technical elements. It was very open and collaborative, yet each of us also respected each other’s roles. And each one of us stayed committed to the play and to the process, from our workshops to 59E59 to the Edinburgh Fringe.

JEN B.: How did you find your way to playwrighting?  Were you always out to be a writer? 

ISAAC R. I was always interested and active in theater, whether as an actor, technician, designer, etc. However, I was always interested in creating and telling stories. In college, I was a film major and thought that was the medium I would pursue. But I just couldn’t leave theater behind. So right after college, on a whim, I adapted a short screenplay I had written into a stage play and submitted to a 10-minute play festival at the Brooklyn Lyceum, where it was produced. And everything just came into focus.

JEN B.: I’ve also come to find out that you are the father of two young boys and husband to a lovely wife who I believe also works in theater.  How do you balance your family life with your work as a playwright?  Do you and your wife ever collaborate on projects or is collaborating in life enough?

ISAAC R.:  To answer the first part, let me answer the second. 10 years ago (when we were just two kids ready to get hitched) Jennifer and I founded a non-profit company called Oracle Theater Inc. Since then, we’ve collaborated as playwright/director, designer/technician, co-producers, co-directors, director-choreographer, you name it! However, since our first son was born three years ago, we have not been as much a creative team as we used to be, and focus more on collaborating on the business end. On a positive note, we’ve had to pass on a lot more of those creative roles to some other amazing people. We’re hoping that when the boys get a little older, we can get back to being more of a creative team again. There really is no such thing as balance in our lives. Aside from parenting, we both work, maintain running the company and I have my work as a playwright. So at times rather trying to balance, it’s more like keeping our heads above water. But no matter the craziness, stress, sleepless nights, and endless diapers, I still love writing and working on plays. So I will make the time. I write on a legal pad on the subway. I’m on my computer the instant the boys go down for a nap. I make sure to coordinate our mothers coming to visit with rehearsal times. I edit scripts during the one-hour of Sesame Street. I will arrange my work schedule so that I can be a part of Lather, Rinse, Repeat. It’s extremely challanging not having a routine, but I’ve learned that as long as you are passionate about the work routine really doesn’t matter as much as well all think it does.

Find out more about Isaac at

It Came True!

Happily Ever Robots: A Night of Short Plays
robot and mermaid
That’s right it came true.  Our dream of hosting a successful night of short plays filled with amazing talent, led by daring directors and enjoyed by a really good looking audience has happened!

What people are saying about Happily Ever Robots
I’m uncomfortable laughing at dark humor-Kelly M.
I thought there would be more robots-Ronan T.
 I thought there would be more reviews-Jen B.

We feel very close to everybody that came out and plan to keep in touch.  And if you’re having trouble forgetting that first magical night then you’ve come to the right place!

This is where we’ll share:

-details about upcoming lather, rinse, repeat projects
-interviews with lrr playwrights
-our deepest, darkest, sexiest secrets

We’d also like to invite you to join us in social media land, be sure to join the conversation using #LRRIT. (just look to your right to see all the fun we’re having!)

So, we’re just about finishing up the rinse cycle and will be repeating very soon, lathering up for another ten weeks of long form presentations, putting that age old adage, i’ll show you mine, if you show me yours, into practice.

lrrIT_with love,
lather, rinse, repeat

HAPPILY EVER ROBOTS: A Night of Short Plays

Wednesday, June 5, 2013 – 7:00pm until 9:30p
TheatreLab, 357 W 36th Street, 3rd floor (btwn 8th and 9th Aves)
Join playwright collective Lather, Rinse, Repeat for a night of new short works. We’ll be covering hot topics like mermaids, robots for hire, true love and everything in between.

Good John Red 

Sweet Sixteen 


Hack Lock

I Hate the Scar

Dudes and Shoes

Little Sacrifices 

This, That and Other Holes 

Directors: John Hurley and Sara Lyons

Tickets are $5 and seats are limited. Reserve early!

To rsvp e-mail: Jen Browne at