Friday, August 14, 2009

Inside The Festival: Thoughts From A Lowly Intern, Take Two

Tonight the festival proper kicks off with the first of our staged readings, David Wiener's Extraordinary Chambers. It is a deeply moving play about an American couple on a business trip to Cambodia, and the individuals they encounter there. Inspired by the UN Tribunals presently being conducted against several surviving former leaders of the Khmer Rouge, and the ongoing fallout of its genocide against its people in the 1970's. I have been lucky enough to travel to Cambodia myself and have to say that, based on my limited perspective of the circumstances surrounding the play, David grapples masterfully with some pretty heavy stuff. I had the privilege to hear a draft of the piece read during last week's pre-conference at Twin Peaks ranch. I know David has been working feverishly on the piece since then, and am excited to see how much it has grown.

Last night was the Solo Performance Symposium, which completely blew me away. While each of the six performers who took the stage was inspiring and powerful, being a sometimes slam poet I was particularly struck by Sekou (The Misfit) and Steve Connell's pieces. It was bizarre seeing them in this context, though; I wanted to get involved and respond to their performances as their work so strongly begs for, but found myself somewhat embarrassed to be the only audience member really willing to break the fourth wall. Nevertheless, it was a rare treat. Robert Egan described it as the only time we would ever see those six performers on the same stage, literally once in a life time, and by the end of the evening I realized how profound and true that really was. As different as each piece that took the stage that evening was, they managed to compliment each other in a strange and uncanny way.

It also seemed to mark a sudden and bizarre shift in the mood of the conference. I know I commented in my first post that time was running short here, but up until last night it still seemed like the arc of these two weeks was still heading upwards; now I get the distinct impression that things are starting to wind down, resolve themselves. This feeling was even more marked after our last rehearsal for Lidless in our production room today. Seeing two of the tables moved out, and the (more or less) final reading draft of Frances' script (which has grown remarkably, especially with a rewrite that turned a place-holder scene into one that tied the whole play together), made me very aware our shift into the denouement of the conference.

Craziness. I'm getting nostalgic already. I hope that there is still enough time to pull one or two more profundities out of the experience.

More later.


Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Thursday's Symposia

Symposia B: An All-Star Evening of Solo Performance
Thursday, August 13th 7:30 pm at Matilija Auditorium

A collection of some of the best solo artists in the country perform monologues, poetry, samplings of their works-in-progress, puppet shows, and more. Both dramatic and comedic, these pieces will take you from L.A. to Vietnam to the Middle East to Africa and back to Ojai in an evening of innovative and artistically vibrant works. 

Steve Connell, Sekou (tha Misfit), Lisa Kron, Mozhan Marno, Leslie Carrara-Randolph and Charlayne Woodard put their best forward.

Tickets: $20

Inside The Festival: Thoughts From A Lowly Intern

Hello world, this is William Cirocco. I'm one of the interns toiling to make this festival as incredible as it deserves to be, and at the request of the lovely Ms. Baron, will do my best to offer a few insights from the trenches here at Ojai. To start, I'll offer a few thoughts from the rehearsal process we've been engaged in

How best to put it? Intense. We've spent the past three days in our cramped little rooms, actors, directors, playwrights, stage managers, dramaturges, and interns, slaving away on the scripts that are the centerpieces of this festival. I've been in the room with a piece by Frances Ya-Chu Cowig, called Lidless. It is a wonderful story told with beautiful, dream-like dialogue. What I really admire about it, though, is that even with its ethereality, the play still manages to be visceral and relevant. Frances has a real skill for setting up these striking visuals, and I'm looking forward to getting past our table work and putting the piece on its feet, so some of those stage pictures can emerge, even if we are only offering a staged reading.

The one responsible for creating these images is our absolutely brilliant director Jessica Kubzansky. She is a theatrical erudite, and commands a remarkable ability to understand and dissect a scene, or guide the actors through the construction of their characters. And she does this all with a smile on her face. She is the director I want to grow into.

So, we've been fighting our way through the script, bit by bit, hammering out all of the moments and details in the story. The amount of intellectual and creative energy in the room is staggering; I just sit there reading stage directions while the actors carry on remarkably sophisticated conversations with each other, Jessica, and occasionally Frances. Every once in a while I'll work up the nerve to offer my two cents, which is great, because the atmosphere is such that even I feel comfortable speaking up amidst these powerhouses.

It is truly an honor and privilege to be in the company of such extraordinary people. I cannot possibly do justice to each of the artists here, and really, I wish I had a month here at least so that I could soak up the vibes and talent from each and every person, but time runs short (only five days left!). As a matter of fact, I gotta run back to rehearsal right now.


Youth Workshop

You may hear shouting coming from lower Pheonix, maybe a lot of jumping around, certainly the occasional swearing, sounds of a karate chop and the inexplicable gibberish, "bippity bippity bop". No worries, it's just the next generation of playwrights, actors, director and designers unleashing their inner demons under your feet. 

Since Saturday, the 12 youth performers have been writing and laughing away. In case you don't know what's going on, here's the divvy:

10-4 every day young artists aged 13-18 exercises their creative muscles under the prized tutelage of Kim Maxwell. They freewrite, they dance, they sing, they lunch with theater's greatest.

These theater geeks have decided to spend a part of their summer up at the conference to learn the craft, become inspired, or do something completely new and terrifying. The workshop is unique in that it lets the writers/performers explore the range and depth of their artistic talent in a welcoming ensemble with access to professional minds of the highest caliber. The goal is through daylong exercises, dramaturge sessions, theater games and Q&A with the conference pros, to produce and hone original material. The pieces are then presented in a showcase, open to the public, on Sunday at 10:30 a.m. It is a truly intense and extraordinary workshop, and a great facet of the conference. (I would know, I've done it 6 times).

The youth workshop began with the much dreaded singing exercises. Kim asks each of the students to bring in a piece of music they love, and then the student performs a sort of karaoke to the song, running around the room as an ugly chicken, opera singer, ballerina leaping and flipping off the on-watchers. They laugh, they cry, and as strange as the exercise might sound, it opens everyone up in a shared, humiliating, raw way.

Through the past few days, the ensemble has grown closer, and produced at least 40 original pieces of material, ranging from monologues, scenes and performance art. We've lunched with Leslie Carrara-Rudolph, who taught us puppets can in fact make us cry and connect with a group of "cool" teenagers, not an easy feat. David Wiener also came in, talked about love, writing, and then walked the class through a memory exercise about needs. Dramaturges Chris Breyer, Catherine Kimmel and Arla Sorkin Manson have worked with everyone in individual sessions to refine their pieces. The next few days will witness the "killing of the babies" syndrome as the class chooses which piece to move forward with, and which to leave behind. There are more great lunches, fine writing and wild yelping planned.

Here are some pictures to give a sampling of the action...

Tawney does a read-through...

The Russian comes out of the closet during rehearsal...

Maddie and Chris collaborate

The much dreaded singing exercise

Watching classmates...

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


It's been a busy few days at the conference. Actors have arrived, the meet and greet at the Zalk welcomed everyone and began introductions that continued through a BBQ dinner. Playwrights now wander through the tranquil Besant Hill grounds in various states of confidence and disarray, depending on how rewrites fare. Turkey vultures, peacocks, bats and tarantulas all add to the general atmosphere and decor, surprising some of our city-folk visitors. (For anyone desperately concerned about bears, Stephen Belber now knows exactly what to do if one should dare approach...)

Monday showcased the intern writing with a works-in-progress presentation. The show displayed a range of talents, with pieces both bold and clever, heart-breaking and funny.  

Tonight (Tuesday), musician/composer Jeanine Tesori launched off the professional performances with a staged conversation with conference director Bob Egan. Tesori amused the audience in Matilija Auditorium with her stories of becoming a woman conductor, composing for "Shrek the Musical" and learning the traditions of Southern music. She colored the evening by hopping to and from the piano, singing and playing her compositions with a dynamic and humble talent.

The evening concluded with all the playwrights on stage giving a synopsis of shows expected this week and whetting theater appetites.

The next performance is Thursday's Symposia, a not-to-miss collection of solo pieces by some of the best contemporary performers, Steve Connell and Sekou (tha Misfit), Charlayne Woodard, Lisa Kron, Leslie Carrara-Rudolph and Mozhan Marno.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Playwright Bios and Play Synopsis


Extraordinary Chambers

by David Wiener

Public Presentation -- Friday, August 14 at 8:00PM -- Ticket Price: $25

Wiener Photo

 Carter Dean brings his wife, Mara, with him on a business trip to Cambodia. He has no idea that she will become fast friends with the resident business "facilitator", Dr. Heng.  When Mara encounters a mysterious green-eyed child, Carter realizes their visit is about to become more than "just business". A new play about a marriage torn apart by loss; a business deal in a country devastated by horrific genocide; and a global deal dependent on a mysterious man with connections to the government and the Killing Fields.  A provocative  and timely new play about the ethics of survival.

David Wiener is a graduate of Duke University and Columbia University's Dramatic Writing Program.  His plays include Blood Orange, in vitro, and System Wonderland.  His work has been developed and produced by theatres in the United States and Britain that include The Cherry Lane, The Atlantic, The Almeida (UK), and The New Group. He is recipient of The Rosetti Fellowship, Lark Theater Fellowship


Entertaining a Thought: The Imagination Project

by Leslie Carrara-Rudolph

Public Presentation "Family Theatre Day" -- Saturday, August 15 at 1:00PM 

Leslie w/Lolly photo

Once upon a time there was a girl, Leslie, whose brain wouldn't let her sleep at night. So she takes it out of her head, puts it on a leash, and lets her mind wander. This whimsical musical play is narrated by a candy loving, red headed, sock puppet with four teeth named Lolly Lardpop.  With the help of her musical buddy, 88's, on the piano, they pop into the "thought bubble," gather up pink monkeys, a magic tutu, and some very large pants.  The first act is a hoopla of joy, silliness and lots of heart. The second act is a live interaction celebrating the imagination between audience, Leslie, and the puppets!

Leslie Carrara-Rudolph is an award-winning internationally-acclaimed performer/writer/puppeteer. She got her start puppeteering with the Jim Henson Company on Muppets Tonight and later toured with their improv group, Puppet Up. She currently performs the fairy puppet, Abby Cadabby, on "Sesame Street," for which she has been nominated for a 2009 Emmy Award as Outstanding Performer in a Children's Series.


The Motherf**ker with the Hat!

by Stephen Adly Guirgis

Public Presentation -- Saturday, August 15 at 8:00PM -- Ticket Price: $25

Gurgis Photo

 Out of jail, clean and sober, and home in New York City, Jackie is in crazy love. But Veronica, his lady, is not so clean and sober. But nothing can come between them ever -- except a hat. You see, there's this hat on their table. This hat is not Jackie's hat.  Then there's this gun Jackie borrows from the wrong person to shoot the hat. Events ricochet into wild complication. The path to true love is full of hair-raising twists, turns and collisions in this ferocious comedy of need and consequence; unbridled passion and brittle self-control.

Stephen Adly Guirgis is the Co-Artistic Director of New York City's LAByrinth Theater Company and has been a member since 1993.  His plays have been produced on five continents and throughout the U.S.  They include The Little Flower of East Orange (OPC 2007), Our Lady of 121st Street (Lucille Lortel, Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle Best Play Nominations), Jesus Hopped the 'A' Train (Laurence Olivier Nomination for Best New Play, Barrymore Award), and The Last Days of Judas Iscariot (10 Best Time Magazine & Entertainment Weekly). His television work includes "NYPD Blue" and "The Sopranos."


Dusk Rings a Bell

by Stephen Belber

Public Presentation -- Saturday, August 15 at 4:00PM -- Ticket Price: $25


Belber Photo

A woman is mysteriously drawn to a deserted vacation home. She searches for a letter she wrote at thirteen to her future self with instructions on how to be "happy".  A man is back from jail. They come across one another on a wintry day. He claims to have known this woman way back when. Their entire lives are taken out for show and tell like glow-in-the-dark yo-yo's. And around and around they go, rising, falling and twirling to memories of first kisses, first love and the pains of growing up. A tender, funny and moving drama!

Stephen Belber's plays include Geometry of Fire, (Rattlestick Playwrights Theater), Tape, McReele (Roundabout/Broadway), and Match (Broadway, Tony nomination for Frank Langella). He was a writer and performer for both the stage and HBO film productions of "The Laramie Project" (Emmy nomination). He recently wrote and directed the feature film, "Management," starring Jennifer Aniston and Steve Zahn.


by Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig

Public Presentation -- Sunday, August 16 at 1:00PM -- Ticket Price: $25

Cowhig Photo

 Fifteen years ago Alice was an interrogator at Guantanamo. Thanks to drugs she has forgotten this traumatic time. But one detainee cannot forget. He tracks down Alice to get back his life. He demands a shocking payment for the damage she wreaked on his body and soul during their interrogations. A physical, visual, theatrical tour de force about the startling rituals employed to re-humanize a world losing sight of its common humanity.

 Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig won the 2009 Yale Drama Series Prize and the 2008 Glimmer Train New Writer's Award. She has been honored with grants from the Playwright's Center, Interact Theatre, Santa Fe Art Institute, the Ragdale Foundation and the MacDowell Colony.  She participated in Hedgebrook's Women Playwrights Festival and in 2009, her work will be appear at the Alley Theatre, Open Fist Theatre, and Yale Repertory Theatre.


How To Write A New Book For The Bible:

A play for an older actress

by Bill Cain

Public Presentation -- Sunday, August 16 at 4:00PM -- Ticket Price: $25

Cain Photo

 It has been several thousand years since anyone has added a new chapter to the family saga that is the Bible. Perhaps each family should write its own story and add it to the Bible in order to keep the story current. This is one family's entry. A poignant, penetrating comedy/drama about a mother who will let nothing, not even death, get in the way of her love for her two sons, whether they want it or not.  A touching, surprising story of the two sons' and their love for their mother to the very end. 

Bill Cain's Stand-up Tragedy premiered at the Mark Taper Forum and it went on to play on Broadway and around the country. Bill's other plays include Equivocation, which was developed at OPC and is being produced at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Seattle Repertory Theatre, and the Geffen Playhouse. For television, he has received the Writers Guild, Humanitas, Alma Awards, and a Peabody Award for the series, "Nothing Sacred".


Writers in Residence:


By Lisa Kron (writer) & Jeanine Tesori (composer) 

Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori are working on a musical adaptation of Alison Bechdel's acclaimed graphic novel, Fun Home. The book charts Alison's attempt to understand her father through the common and unspoken bond of their homosexuality. The New York Times wrote, "Fun Home, must be the most ingeniously compact, hyper-verbose example of autobiography to have been produced. It is a pioneering work, pushing two genres (comics and memoir) in multiple new directions with a seriousness, emotional complexity and innovation completely its own."



Ticket Price for Both Symposia -- $20


Symposium A: Tuesday, August 11 at 7:30

The American Musical: A Celebration

With Multiple Tony-nominee Jeanine Tesori

and other Musical Theatre Luminaries!!!

Great singers, composers and musicians perform some of the legendary and some of the newest musical material for the theatre. A magical, romantic and once in a lifetime evening of  musical entertainment!  Meet the 2009 Ojai playwrights in a discussion that will follow the performance. Jeanine is best known for such musicals as Shrek: The Musical, Caroline Or Change, and Violet.Thursday, August 13  7:30 PM

Symposium B: Thursday, August 13 at 7:30

An All-Star Evening of Solo Performance

An ensemble of the top solo performers in the country including Steve Connell, Sekou (tha Misfit), Lisa Kron, Mozhan Marno, Leslie Carrara-Randolph and Charlayne Woodard gather together to perform their best dramatic and comedic scenes. Take a journey from L.A. to the Middle East to Vietnam to Africa and back to Ojai in this highly charged and powerful evening of theatre. Meet the artists in a post-show discussion about theatrical creation and performance.

First Day

The playwrights, directors and interns have arrived. After a meet and greet BBQ at host Helene Gordon's house, the crew got down to work in the library, introducing their plays and starting the rewriting process.
Kim Maxwell held lovely dinner at her home for the hardworking artists, managers and interns the following day.
Photo Credits: Helene Gordon, Carl Thelander, Kim Maxwell (and many Maxwell minions, thank you)
Stephen Belber discusses his play "Dusk Rings a Bell"

Robert Egan, Stephen Belber, Stephen Adly Guirgis, and Bill Cain chat

The wonderful host for last 12 years of pre-conference, Helene Gordon

Playwrights David Wiener and Leslie Carrara Rudolph