There's Always Something Happening On the Square

2008-2013

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Hello to all our OtSP Supporters, Donors, Fans and Creative Community! 

 

We hope you’ve had a relaxing summer and are enjoying this beautiful autumnal time of year! 

The summer brought about many discussions and changes at OtSP. We have decided that after five inspiring and challenging years we will be bringing the company to a close.

In the wake of change with career and life goals, it has been mutually decided that it’s time for us to separate professionally and work towards our own individual objectives. The end of this fruitful chapter is bittersweet and positive for all of us.

We lovingly thank all of our supporters for your help over the years. Without you we could not have flourished. To all the artists and volunteers who collaborated with us, thank you for your time, talents, and dedication.

We are fiercely proud of the work we created, the connections we have made and community we have fostered. We look forward to connecting with you all again outside of On the Square.

With Deep Gratitude,

Jackie & Rachel with the OtSP staff and Board

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On the Square Productions Presents:

Keepsake

by Greg Beam

 

Keepsake

 

as part of our Write Angle Reading Series

Directed by Lori Wolter Hudson

Monday April 8th 7:30PM

 

In the wake of their father’s suicide, Abra and her adopted sister, Samara, find themselves together again in their childhood home in Massachusetts.  While confronting the troubling circumstances of their father’s death, the sisters  attempt to reconnect over drinks and discussions about life, work, and love. Things take a turn, however, when Abra asks Samara to make a huge personal sacrifice, and Samara delivers a reckoning that has been building for almost twenty years.

———

Logan Tracey here! Hello and welcome to our last playwright interview of the season!

Keepsake is our final reading in our Write Angle Reading Series of 2012-2013 but have no fear!

In the coming weeks, we’ll speak with Rob Benson and Deborah Wolfson about what’s going on with The Snow Queen and how that process has been developing.

So let’s talk about Keepsake

I asked playwright Greg Beam some questions about his work and his new play. Here’s what he brought to the table.

GregHeadshot1

Can you talk a bit about your past relationship with On the Square and how did OTSP come to find Keepsake?

I went to the University of Chicago with Deborah Wolfson. We worked together a couple of times (I played Clifford in her production of Cabaret), and smoked lots of hand-rolled cigarettes together on the parapet outside of the University Theater lounge. When I visited New York last spring, several months in advance of moving here, a mutual friend told me about this cool company that Deborah was a part of. Coincidentally, my wife went to UW-Madison with Jackie and Rachel. So I got in touch, sent the play over.

 

Can you talk a little bit about why this play? Why this story? — for you as a storyteller.

I wrote this play with two specific actresses in mind, one of whom is white/blonde and the other Middle Eastern (Iranian, specifically, though the family in the play is not Iranian). The two actresses are close friends and act like they’re sisters, and I wanted to make them sisters in the play. I decided early on that the white sister was the adopted daughter. Then the story unfolded gradually over many afternoons sitting at coffee shops in Southern California. Sometimes, ideas come to me wholesale — beginning, middle, and ending intact — and the job of writing is mostly transcribing and fleshing it out. This was not the case with Keepsake. I found myself surprised at every turn.

Why this story… I find myself fascinated by the legacies of trauma and abuse. How the things that hurt us shape our lives, and how we struggle to rise out of it.

 

What are you hoping to get out of the reading on March 18th? What are you hoping to see?

We did a reading of the play in California early last year. I want to see something different this time. I want to discover something I didn’t know about the play.

 

If I’m an actor in your play, what really excites you about a specific performance? Any actor pet-peeves?

In the first reading of Keepsake, there was a moment when one of the actresses was having trouble getting through an emotionally charged moment in the play. Out of the blue, she screams, “FUUUUUUUUUUUCCCCKKK!!” That made it into the next draft. It’s kind of a tightrope walk in acting, isn’t it, between honoring the script as it’s written and respecting the material enough to go beyond the words on the page.

 

Is a play ever finished? Do you ever hit ‘save’ and think, ‘yep. that’s done now?’

I think that every draft of every play — “There’s nothing more I could possibly do with this.” And every time I return to anything I’ve written, there are a dozen things (at least) I want to change.

 

How do you feel seeing your work performed in the moment? And where in the audience do you usually sit?

I prefer to stand. Somewhere in view of an exit, though I never actually leave.

 

 

We hope to see you Monday April 8th at 7:30 at University Settlement in the LES.

Check out the Facebook invite for all the details!

University Settlement, Speyer Hall
184 Eldridge St,
New York, New York 10002

 

 

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On Monday March 18th 2013, On the Square Productions will present a reading of

mass

by David Ian Lee.

About the play: Kay Hitchens abandons her life for an adventure, and finds what she’s looking for in Leo, a brilliant cosmologist who believes a mutation in Kay’s genetic code can unlock all secrets of creation. In an abandoned corner of the Arizona desert, Kay and Leo confront life-threatening forces — and the unexpected arrival of Kay’s husband, Tom — in a search for meaning at the edge of time and at the end of all things. Also, there are orgasms.
 

As per our usual, we like to do a short interview with the playwright to give you a feel for the development process with On the Square. So here’s David’s interview with me, Logan Tracey, Marketing Director of OtSP:

Can you talk a bit about your past relationship with On the Square and how did OTSP come to find mass?

I met Rob when I was assistant directing Richard II for the Pearl Theatre Company, and shortly thereafter had the opportunity to act opposite Rachel as the titular characters in a staged reading of a play by Gus Schulenberg, Denny and Lila. Later, Rachel saw me act in Gus’s play Deinde, which was produced by Flux Theatre Ensemble. One of the awesome things that Flux does is host nights of short new works inspired by their current productions. For the night of Deindeshorts, I created a short play adapted from the material I was then shaping into what would become mass. Once mass was a little further along, a playwright friend of mine, Lauren Ferebee, suggested I send OTSP my unfinished play for further development.

 

Why this play? Why this story?

 

It’s never easy to identify where a play comes from; you start with a few ideas and a sense of where you could be headed, but then somewhere along the way the creative process takes you where it wants to go. That said, mass had three clear points of origin: I’d spent a few years developing a play for seven men, so I knew I next wanted to write something with a strong female lead. I’m a fan of NPR’s Radio Lab, and was fascinated by an episode featuring a man whose brain tumor had manifested in such a way that he experienced sexual arousal when he thought about thumbtacks. Also around this time, I somehow wound up in a conversation with a friend much smarter than I am, discussing cosmic background radiation and dark matter. I chewed around these three disparate elements, wondering how they could possibly fit together, until I hit on the basic story of mass, but even then the play surprised me as it emerged. For the longest time, I thought the show would occur in real-time, in a single location, and up until quite recently I didn’t know how things would sort out for ol’ Kay and Tom.

 

What is the most gratifying part of the development process with OTSP?

 

I work best when a project has clearly defined goalposts and endpoints; I love imposed pressure.  The first of my plays produced in the city came about because I’d recently moved back to New York from London and couldn’t get cast in anything, so I booked a space for a month out and said, “I’ll be back in thirty days with a show.”  That seemed to work well, and so I repeated the process twice more, each time with a more ambitious project: My plays Liberty & Joe DiMaggio (written with L. Jay Meyer) and Sleeper were written without a net, because theatres had been rented and tickets were being sold, leaving me no choice but to finish my plays. Since then, I’ve not had clocks ticking down to opening nights to hound my writing – I’ve written for the sake of writing, and produced only when the material was ready – and I’ve found the process much more difficult. Sleeper wrote itself in about six months, and when the play was remounted at a regional theatre a few years later I didn’t do much polishing; it was in pretty good shape. In contrast, The Curing Room –my play for seven men – took about two years to pull together, and The Delaware Codicil before that took almost as long. I started work on massin December of 2011, worked in fits and starts, and really only hit my stride when OTSP said, “Hey, you’ve got a deadline for next spring. People are going to show up and you’d better have something for them.”

Rachel, Deb, and the whole of the OTSP crew have been exceptionally supportive during this process, and have offered to host mini-readings, check out my pages, or do whatever development I thought mass might benefit from, and I sincerely regret not having been able to take them up on those offers. I’m currently a graduate student at Illinois State University, getting my MFA in Directing, so I’m out of the city and my time is starkly crunched.  If I ever get another go at this with another play (assuming OTSP hasn’t had enough of me after Kay’s strange cosmic-orgasmic experiences in the desert), I’d love to take full advantage of the incredible talents and generosity of OTSP.

 

What are you hoping to get out of the reading on March 18th? What are you hoping to see?

 

Well…I’m hoping to see a productive rehearsal for Alan Bowne’s Beirut, which is what I’ll be in the midst of on the evening of March 18th. Unfortunately, I cannot be in the city to hear mass receive its first full reading, which disappoints me to no end.  However, I’m sending a gaggle of emissaries to be my eyes and ears: I’ve been fortunate enough to befriend and work with some of the most talented writers in the Off-Broadway and Independent Theatre communities, and I’ll be sending a few folk in my stead.

I’m always curious to hear how a piece lands on an audience: Are they with it, are the jokes working, are the audience members “breathing with” the play and finding its rhythms? I’m also curious to know what’s clear and what is not.  You’re never going to create something that will appeal to everyone (that has that never been my aim), but you can craft with a clarity that most anyone can understand. I want to take people on a ride, so it is important to me that the ride be something that won’t unintentionally buck an audience in the middle of a turn, but what folks ultimately think of the experience is in many ways not in my court.

I’m trying to work for pith these days, though you’d never know it from this interview. Sleeper and The Delaware Codicil are in the neighborhood of three-hour-runtimes, and The Curing Room is dense in its exacting look at a heightened situation moment-by-moment.  Part of my experiment with mass has been to create something far more elided. The play covers a lot of time and a lot of emotional territory; I’ve attempted a style that plays with impressionism, montage, and fractured narrative. I’m hoping the thing holds together.

 

 

If I’m an actor in your play, what really excites you about a specific performance? Any actor pet-peeves?

 

I love actors! I love when an actor teaches me something about my play or about my characters. I always say that all new works reach a point at which the playwright knows all that he can about the play and about the world, and he must turn his work over to a new set of artists to show him what he doesn’t yet know. I find that very exciting.

I suppose I’ve no pet-peeves with professional actors, and a “professional actor” doesn’t have to mean someone who pays dues to any particular union. A pro is someone who is inquisitive, challenges assumptions, makes smart proposals, works in concert with the text to make bold choices, thinks like the character between lights up and lights down, and pushes for the best production possible…and then, at the end of the day, learns the lines AS THEY ULTIMATELY APPEAR ON THE PAPER.  This is not Improv on the Sunset Strip, people.

 

 

Is a play ever finished? Do you ever hit ‘save’ and think, ‘yep. that’s done now”?

 

I hit “save” all the time, and sometimes I am done, though I rarely feel finished. I walk away, marinate– and then I come back. You need distance, and you also need perspective. mass has been a delight because I had a working Act One when I arrived in Illinois last August, and then I wasn’t able to look at the draft and continue pushing forward until several months had passed. That made for a wonderful incubation period, and it also allowed me to come back to the text without feeling precious about my work.  Artists hate killing their babies, but absence can sometimes make the heart a little less fond, which is great.

A play approaches being “finished”when I can hear a handful of actors I didn’t choose sit down and read the thing without any direction from me – without any suggestions from me about what a moment is, or what the piece is trying to say – and still I hear the play I intended. So often I think young playwrights undercut themselves by hosting readings of their work and offering notes and suggestions to the artists assembled. That has its place, to be sure, but it’s very easy to over-meddle – to pave over the holes in the road rather than hearing them and then addressing them through revisions.  When I hear an actor work with my words and turn back something other than what I intended, that’s often when I know that I didn’t write what I thought I had written: If a scene should be sad, but the actors are all in stitches, that probably means I need to go back to work. When a play starts to find itself, it will become – for lack of a better term – concept-proof.  You’ve got to go out of your way to screw up something like Hamlet or Angels in Americaor Inherit the Wind, because those plays are so perfectly constructed.

 

How do you feel seeing your work performed in the moment? And where in the audience do you usually sit?

 

I sit in the back, all the way in the back, where I can duck out the second the thing has wrapped! I flop-sweat and I hold my wife’s hand in a death-grip. This is the same way I watch a play as a director. Performances are very different experiences for writers and directors as compared to actors.  As a performer, I love show time: An audience offers that final ingredient without which rehearsal is nothing more than an exercise. Also, if something big goes wrong or a choice isn’t playing quite right, the performer can adjust in the moment.  It’s different for the writer and the director. Once the curtain goes up, there’s nothing you can do but sit and hope for the best: Gee, I hope I left those commas in all the right places…!

 

That said, when I’ve done my work and the people I’m working with have done theirs, I love letting go and taking the same ride as anyone else in the room.  It’s a fantastic experience to spend weeks – or months, or years – with a play, and yet still be able to enjoy it naively, as though for a first time.  But, again, I’m never finished. I’m always listening, always watching, cataloguing changes– even the microscopic changes – that might improve the final product.

 

mass

by David Ian Lee

Monday March 18th at 7:30pm

as part of our Write Angle Reading Series

Directed by Candace Cihocki

Featuring: Duncan Burgin, Mike DiSalvo*,  Kane Prestenback* & Logan Tracey*

* Actors Appearing courtesy of Actors Equity Association

Speyer Hall at University Settlement

184 Eldridge Street

Tickets are $10 cash at the door

 

 

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On Monday January 28th, On the Square Productions participated in our first ‘Share’ at University Settlement.

Core members Rob Benson and Leone Hanman have been working with a class of senior citizens from the lower east side community for a number of weeks in the beautiful space at University Settlement.

 

From OtSP’s Rob Benson:

“On Monday 28th of January we had a share of the work we have been devising with our Senior Ensemble at University Setlement. Leone and I have been working with this group since September, the idea behind these sessions had always been to share culture and as this particlar time of year is so important to so many different cultures in terms of celebrations and holidays we decided to focus on these. Our devising has come about through members of the group bringing items, dances or songs into the room and working and exploring these things through movement and scenarios. The resulting performance featured a Chinese New Year dragon, a typical American family Thanksgiving gathering and the travel involved in getting home to see loved ones.

 

I’ve always found when teaching drama, that giving a performance to a real live audience is essential, it brings the group together for the final push and is always a massive confidence boost. The Share was great! We had an audience of friends, family and colleagues and are very proud of our ensemble. We are now building to making this a permenant monthly event, where seniors from all over the University Settlement system can come and show their creative work.”

On the Square Productions wishes to thank everyone at University Settlement, Alison Fleminger, and the members of our amazing class!


We greatly look forward to more Shares and more time downtown at University Settlement.


On The Square Productions discovers and cultivates original works by established and emerging playwrights.  Through our unique developmental laboratory, playwrights experiment to transform ideas into fully mounted productions.  We are imaginative and innovative yet socially relevant and accessible. We produce work that is reflective of the world we live in, mindful of the past, with an eye focused on the future.

 

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On December 17th 2012, OtSP will work with our friends at MTWorks to produce a reading of

The Tragedy of Dandelion

by Duncan Pflaster.

 

While this is the first play for us to present a Write Angle Reading without a full development process, we wanted to begin to collaborate with our peers in the indie theatre community.  Our Executive Director, Rachel McPhee, has worked with MTWorks as an actress before and the opportunity arose for us to come together.

More about the play:

The Princess Dandelion dresses as a boy in order to escape her rapist and would-be husband, along the way falling in love with another princess, and traveling through her society, meeting nuns, soldiers, and clowns, and all the time her pregnancy continues, the impending birth complicating everything. Written entirely in iambic pentameter, The Tragedy of Dandelion is a five-act verse play full of Shakespearean tropes and double entendres.

The Tragedy of Dandelion by Duncan Pflaster

Monday Dec. 17th at 7:30pm

as part of our Write Angle Reading Series

Directed by Michael Swartz

Featuring: Rob Benson*, Charles Andrew Callaghan*, Erik Gullberg*, Leone Hanman*, Christopher Kloko, Jason Michael Miller, Rachel McPhee*, and Marnie Schulenburg* *Actors Appearing courtesy of Actors Equity Association

 

Speyer Hall at University Settlement – 184 Eldridge Street – $10 at the door

I had the opportunity to chat a bit with David Stallings from MTWorks about the play, their process, and working with OtSP. Take a read here…

 

 

David, talk to me a bit about your theatre company, MTWorks. What is the main goal of the company, how was the company formed, and where did the name come from?
MTWorks was formed in 2006 by Cristina Alicea, Antonio Minino, and myself.  The three of us had a synchronicity of aesthetic that was undeniable, a passion that was untempered, and a sense of direction that was boundless.  Maieutics is the art of giving birth.  Specifically it is the method Socrates used of teaching through asking questions.  Lofty I know!  But we synthesize that into art by asking New York audiences questions about the larger world through theater.  None of our plays take place in NYC; they bring social concerns from other cultures, places, and times to the New York stage.  Our plays have been everything from magical dramas about the partition of India and Pakistan (Parts of Parts and Stitches by Riti Sachdeva) to a Gothic tale of female church leaders in a Depression ridden South holding too many secrets (The Oath by Jacqueline Goldfinger).

 

 

From MTWorks’ most recent production, Parts of Parts and Stitches by Riti Sachdeva, directed by Cat Parker, photo by Antonio Minino, with Mariam Habib and Dathan B. Williams

 

How did you come upon this play, Tragedy of Dandelion?

Duncan Pflaster submitted the play!  You can read more about our process online.  Every year we produce a week of staged readings called the Newborn Festival.  A few plays are chosen from hundreds to be presented to the public with a cast of MTWorks actors, and a professional director.  Newborn is sponsored in part by City College New York and is performed on their campus.  This year we are reading 5 new plays Jan. 30th – Feb. 2nd!  Check it out on our website, it is absolutely free!  Mind you we had done another one of Duncan’s pieces in Newborn the year before, The Empress of Sex, and were thrilled to be reading another!  Be warned, Empress also won the Audience Favorite Vote that year!  He knows how to work a crowd… if you know what I mean.

 

Talk to me a bit about the playwright, Duncan Pflaster, how did he become involved with MTWorks?
The Indie Theater community is smaller than you think!  I had known Duncan’s work for a couple of years.  And he first found us through reviewing one of our plays online.  So when he first submitted Empress for the 2011 Newborn, I was aware of his style and presence in the community.  Needless to say I was not surprised at how clever, funny, and raucous the script was.  Duncan knows how to intertwine the classic with the contemporary, a skill I think he will become quite well known for.

Where you source materials from? What makes you say, “This Play! I want to do THIS play?”

All plays are submitted.  First, the play needs to exist outside of NYC.  With Dandelion, it exists in another world of poetry.  The land of Shakespeare perhaps?  I have a weakness for the Bard.  And this play deals with feminism in a provocative way.  Our reading had an all female cast playing both male and female characters (which is an option in Pflaster’s notes).  For me, the play needs to be the whole package, have strong theme, dynamic characters, poetry and skill in execution, theatricality, and nuance.  I love plays that are pure theater–and that Dandelion has in spades.  The moment I read it, I could see and hear it on stage.
Why On the Square Productions? Why did you want our company to work on this play and with MTWorks?

As I said, the Indie theater world is small.  And I think it works best when we support our peers, collaborating as much as possible.  Let’s face it, most of our audience on this level are other performers, directors, writers, and designers.  Occasionally people say, let’s skip that revival and see a new play downtown, but that is not as common as it used to be.  I love the mission and dedication to a writer that On The Square exhibits.  What better prize for a playwright than for their script to be worked on again by another company?  We just thought that was something the winner of the Audience Favorite Award would appreciate.  And we knew Jackie and Rachel would take good care of the play!

 

What do you hope is next for this play? What’s next for MTWorks?
As with all plays, I hope it gets produced and people see it!  For MTWorks, we are proud to be producing Glory Kadigan’s adaptation of The Picture of Dorian Gray this March-April at the Workshop Theater.  It is a sexually charged adaptation of the Wilde novel that Glory directs with a brilliant hand!  The play tackles in a more open way the sexuality Dorian and his male friends must keep hidden, and the corrosive nature of repression.  I think it completely honors Wilde while presenting the piece in a light it could not have been seen by a hundred years ago.

 

 

 So we hope to see some new faces at the Write Angle Reading of The Tragedy of Dandelion on December 17th! Come! Meet the staff of both these theatre companies, see this fanciful new play and some of the best actors OtSP has the pleasure of working with.

BE THERE AND BE SQUARE!

 

 

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On November 26th, On the Square Productions will present a

Write Angle Reading of

Carol Carpenter’s The Guadalupe.

 

 

On the first night of the annual chile harvest, the Northrip-Valle family farm becomes the target of a cartel territory war. But why? As gunmen surround the farmhouse in the dark hours of night, the family unite to strategize their escape. But as family secrets unravel and politics collide, they learn that the more they uncover, the less they understand about the rapidly changing world just outside their door — and inside themselves. The Guadalupe explores the changing economic and political realities of America’s rural borderland, and the greed and desperation that fuels it.

 

In keeping with OtSP tradition, I asked Carol to answer some questions about the piece and what it is like working with the company. The play is an interesting choice for OtSP and I hope you will see why we wanted to work with Carol.

 

“We were drawn to The Guadalupe primarily because it’s a thrilling read! It’s smart and tightly written, and we were excited to represent a community we haven’t had on our stage yet and to work with new faces. Watching The Guadalupe grow through out our Square One process has been a tremendous honor, and Carol is just fantastic (on and off the page).”

- Deborah Wolfson, Literary Manager OtSP

 

The lovely Carol Carpenter. 
 

Here, Carol Carpenter shares her thoughts on working with OtSP, where she is with the play right now, some of the challanges of this piece, and the all important question of: is a play ever really finished.

 

We hope you will join us for the reading!

 

The Guadalupe by Carol Carpenter
Monday Nov. 26th at 7:30pm

Speyer Hall at University Settlement
184 Eldridge Str eet
$10 – cash only at the door

 

Can you talk a bit about your past relationship with On the Square and how did OTSP come to find The Guadalupe? ?

Jackie and Rachel approached me at a fundraising event for MTWorks, where I’m a company playwright. They had seen something I’d written – I believe it was an early reading of Sweet, Sweet Spirit at Planet Connections – and said they would love to work together. I checked out one of their readings, liked what I saw, and said “Yeah, let’s do something. What can we do?” They really wanted me to write something new and develop it with them, which I was thrilled about – creating something original with a company behind it from the beginning was new for me. It really served as a ticking clock, a constant incentive to keep moving forward even though I was neck-deep in revisions on another play. It was this process that led to The Guadalupe.

 

Can you talk a little bit about why this play? Why this story? — for you as a storyteller.

Before I can tell you about the play, I have to tell you about where I’m from. I grew up in the border region where Mexico, New Mexico and West Texas collide. It’s a fascinating place for a storyteller, one that has a long history of violence and poverty, where just surviving is an accomplishment. Culturally, it’s where the Texas cowboy meets the Mexican vaquero. It’s the land of Billy the Kid and Pancho Villa. It’s a rich place for drama, and is the heart of this play. For me, place is always the heart of my plays – and the place is always the same, it’s just populated by a different slice of the population. My last play, Sweet, Sweet Spirit, was about white evangelicals in a little Southwestern town. This one focuses on a very different family, but a family in the same damn place.

Little Carol Carpenter.

 

It’s only with the perspective of time and travel that I can look back and realize that my childhood was incredibly foreign to what most Americans could fathom. For me, there was nothing abnormal about having a relative who trapped live animals and sold their fur for trade, or a twelve-year-old cousin who tried his hand at preaching in country churches that couldn’t afford a preacher, or an aunt who killed a rattlesnake that ate her rabbit and then squeezed the rabbit back out – because that rabbit was going to feed the family. Sounds savage, right? But imagine living in a land with no water, arid soil, and almost every plant and animal you stumble across has some version of a fang with poison in it. One time, my brother Jeff and his friends were on the run from drug gang members in Juarez, and they all got away in a car except for Jeff. So he ran for his life through the streets of Juarez at 3 a.m., battling it out with a guy who kept trying to kill him with a metal pipe. He finally slipped away to hide in the bus depot. My other brother, Greg, was sound asleep in Las Cruces when the phone rings. He picks it up and hears Jeff pant, “I’m in the Juarez bus station, bring your guns.” So Greg threw on a trench coat to hide his sawed-off shotguns, and made the 70-mile drive to Juarez in forty minutes. When he threw open the double doors, guns raised, he found Jeff asleep under a bench. Now this seems like an outrageous story, right? Well. It’s actually very tame compared the kinds of stories that people tell today about Juarez. Today, that metal pipe is a semi-automatic weapon. For literary nuts out there, I’ll just say: this is the region Cormac McCarthy writes about. Remember Blood Meridian?

 

That said, it was also a wonderful place to grow up and showdowns in Juarez were certainly not everyday occurrences, or anything even close to the norm. Normal life was having a best friend named Missy who lived with her cowboy dad and brother in a red sand dune town called Loco Hills. It was having a softball coach with gold teeth and a gold belt buckle who parked his El Camino on the field while blasting ranchera music throughout practice. It was living in a place where two cultures were far more intertwined than either culture would like to admit: Our cowboy hats and boots came from them. Their budding evangelism came from us. Our fire-hot palette from them. Their giant trucks from us. For both, family, faith, and survival was everything. People in other parts of the country could never understand why George Bush got so many Hispanic votes. Well, if you put aside policy, and just think about the political power of symbolism and imagery, it should be obvious to anyone who understands the border region: the Texas cowboy and the Mexican vaquero are deeply, culturally intertwined.

 

So I really wanted to write a play where this reality was expressed. Where instead of seeing white people and brown people, we see border people living their lives on the border. I wanted to write about a family that had a mixed heritage, which we so rarely see onstage or onscreen but which are actually quite common, especially along the Rio Grande valley where agricultural communities are very integrated. I wanted to capture that culture.

 

And I also wanted to capture the reality that the border region, and Mexico itself, is a changed land. The cartel-related death toll in Mexico since 2006 is between 60,000 and 90,000 people, the vast majorities of those cases being unsolved – and those who attempt to solve them are likely to end up dead, even if you’re, for example, the governor of a state. There are many reasons for this, and we could sit around and talk all day about causes and solutions, and play the game of Liberal Kvetch: American buyers fuel the drug trade, American weapons manufacturers’ fuel the gun trade, and American capitalists have engineered an economic structure that benefits multi-national corporations at the expense of traditional Mexican industries like agriculture. Yes. But that’s not why I wrote this play. Beyond the politics is this reality that the border region of my childhood is different, and I wanted to explore that.

 

When I go home to visit now, I am struck by the way people talk about security. And I want to be clear: it’s not just paranoid, racist, right-wingers talking about security, though these people are certainly very real and very loud. But on the ground, you now hear people from all walks of life and backgrounds expressing varying levels of recognition and concern that things feel out of control. Expressing varying levels of suspicion that the institutions that exist to protect us are becoming compromised. To put it more simply: People are starting to wonder if you can trust the cops and the judges and the border patrol agents to not be on the payroll, to some degree, of people who are somehow connected to cartel money. Can you trust that people in your own family and community are “clean”? One of the actresses from the reading, Claudia Acosta, said it so poignantly: The border region is an open wound. I wanted to dive into that wound through the window of one family.

 

For me, plays usually begin with an image in an opening scene. And this play was born when I was at a family reunion a couple of years ago and a relative said that her friend, an older woman, had been home alone on her ranch one night. And when she looked out the window she saw two men with machine guns marching across her land. Now let me provide some context. It has long been quite common for ranchers, who have thousands and thousands of acres of land, to see immigrants crossing their land and to find the trails and the water bottles and sometimes, tragically, the bodies. But this addition of the machine guns: that’s a very different image with very different meaning. I knew I had to explore it.

 

The complication, of course, is that this play could so easily be written, and read, in nationalistic and racist terms. But, for me, I always know that my best work comes when I go straight into the heart of something that feels politically dangerous. I believe that politics, on both sides, gets in the way of good people sitting down and finding the common ground needed to find solutions. I believe that politics gets in the way of good art. So I went for it. But this was another reason it was important to me that the family in the play was a mixed family, and that we see, in the end, how the drug trade has affected everyone in the community of the play – and that guilt resides with people from all walks of life, from all cultural backgrounds.

 

I hope the audience hears the characters when they talk about feeling alone, out on the land, with nobody watching out for them. People from this region feel forgotten, and ignored, and judged. And they are. I hope the play also communicates that whatever America and Mexico are doing, from a policy standpoint, it’s not working. So while I didn’t write a cause-solution play, I did write a play that presents many different perspectives, and that I hope prompts introspection about solutions. And I hope, even more, that the answers people come up with are complex ones – because the US/Mexican border is as complex a region as Afghanistan or Iran or Israel and just as important.

 

What kind of research are you finding to be the most helpful while you work on this piece? 

I read a lot of the journalism coming out of the border region, from the El Paso Times, to El Diario, to the Dallas Morning News. The work of Charles Bowden is outstanding, and the book Contrabando by Don Henry Ford, Jr, really helped me imagine the character of Ricky. I also go to the Borderland Beat online and YouTube, where there are way too many videos on YouTube that will make you hide under the covers.

 

Which relationship do you find the most challenging to write for in this play? Which has really grown within the play and even surprised you – the playwrite?

Susy. She’s the 60-year-old mother who is Mexican-American and born in Juarez. She’s been in the country for forty years and is very classist, and even racist, against new Mexicans coming over the border. She’s an American patriot. I always knew she would be these things, but I’ve had to really find her heart and her vulnerability as I’ve gotten deeper into drafts.

 Lucia has grown the most – she was a sketch of a character in the beginning – and she continues to grow. She plays a very important role, and one that has been challenging to get right. I’m not sure if I’m there yet.

 What strikes me as I answer this question is that the two most challenging characters for me are the two who are from Mexico. That makes sense. 

 

The Guadalupe is a work in progress – as many plays continue to be. Can you talk about where you are in the process? Where you came from and where it feels like it may be going?

I usually write fifteen drafts or so before I’m done, and this reading is from draft eight. . I’ve got another good year before it’s really done, I think. In terms of where it’s going: the plot’s not going to change, but these characters will get richer, and more layered, and their backstories and dramas with one another will become clearer and sharper. 

 

What is the most gratifying part of the development process with OTSP?

Having two private development sessions before the actual reading, and having them in Rachel’s cozy apartment. It’s really, really helpful. And I just think that Rachel and Jackie have incredibly good instincts about building a company, and babying the playwright. I’ve felt very taken care of. 

 

Our amazing playwright Carol Carpenter.
 

What are you hoping to get out of the reading on Nov 26th? What are you hoping to see?

I just have no idea how an audience is going to respond to the play. I want to see and hear honest reactions so I know where to go next. I really hope there will be people from the border region in the audience, because it means something very different when you’re from the area that’s been so impacted by the issues in the play.

 

If I’m an actor in your play, what really excites you about a specific performance? Any actor pet-peeves?

Well, I have a couple very specific pet peeves. Whenever I have characters of Mexican descent, they are often cast with any actor who has a Spanish last name. And most actors in New York with Spanish surnames are from Puerto Rico or the DR. And the cultures couldn’t be more different. I’m going to stereotype here so feel free to pull out your hatchets: but Mexicans, by and large, are a very mellow people. The opposite of how they are often played. And it’s not just the casting in my plays, I see this casting pattern everywhere in New York. I saw it in a big, mainstream musical last week. You don’t have this problem out West.

 My other pet peeve is that my West Texas characters are often played by New Yorkers using Southern accents and mannerisms. Long, soft, sensual drawls. Well, Texans just ain’t no good at talkin’ purdy. I’m sure every playwright in New York who is from a region that is not highly represented here experiences the same challenge.

 

Is a play ever finished? Do you ever hit ‘save’ and think, ‘yep. that’s done now”?

I always think that and I’m always wrong. That’s why development programs are so essential.

 

How do you feel seeing your work performed in the moment?

I have a strange ability to compartmentalize my emotions, and then they come back and whack me in some kind of physiological way. So I usually am completely calm, no anxiety, and sitting down in the first seat I happen to notice. And then as the play proceeds, I realize that I am shaking or gripping my own hand so tightly that I have nail marks in it. But if the actors are good, and the script is really done, they take me away and I forget that it’s my play and I fly.

 

 Please join On the Square Productions on November 26th in our second Write Angle Reading at University Settlement in the lower east side.

Seating is general admission — Tickets are $10 (cash only) at the door.

We greatly look forward to sharing this play with you!

See you soon!

 

 

Be There & Be Square!

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