All alone in a crowded room

Scottish playwright Stef Smith isn’t yet 30, but her plays show a power beyond her years. Philadelphia’s Inis Nua Theatre Company, which focuses specifically on presenting contemporary work from England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, is a perfect fit for her unique voice.

Playwright Stef Smith. (Photo via StefSmith.co.uk)

Here, we speak with Smith and director Claire Moyer about Inis Nua’s production of Swallow. Smith’s tale about a trio of lonely adults all in the midst of life-changing events finds a kind of universality in alienation from the modern world. Smith has received an Olivier Award for her play RoadKill and is an associate artist at the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh, Scotland. This is the third play Moyer has directed for Inis Nua. Together they discuss the play’s symbolism, getting into the heads of these characters, and the reactions from audiences around the world.

To read Mark Cofta’s review of Swallow, click here.

Girl on fire

On this podcast, award-winning Philadelphia-based playwright Jacqueline Goldfinger talks about her newest production, The Arsonists. This “play with music” marks the third and final installment of her Southern Gothic trilogy, after The Terrible Girls and Skin and Bone. A National New Play Network (NNPN) rolling world premiere, it will open first under the aegis of Azuka Theatre Company and then head to theaters around the country.

Goldfinger is not afraid of the dark. (Photo courtesy of Jacqueline Goldfinger)

Swamp things

Goldfinger grew up in rural Florida and, captivated by the region’s literature and music, decided the Southern Gothic form was worefully underutilized onstage. The Arsonists, inspired by Sophocles’s tragedy Elektra, follows a father-daughter arson team who reside deep in Florida’s swamplands. A live band will play during the show and, on certain nights, give concerts afterward. Here, Goldfinger discusses how the play and its predecessors came to be, NNPN’s rolling premiere process, and much more.

Get a clue

This week, we grabbed our magnifying glasses and followed the clues to New Paradise Laboratories’ site-specific mystery Gumshoe, which takes place deep in the bowels and throughout the corridors of the Free Library of Philadelphia. Afterward, we went even further and tracked down the company’s innovative founder and artistic director, Whit MacLaughlin.

Whit MacLaughlin. (Photo by Jorge Cousineau)

On the case

MacLaughlin, who arrived in Philadelphia after more than 20 years with the Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble, brought New Paradise Laboratories’ (NPL) founding ensemble here in 1996. Some of the company’s members have gone on to become this city’s most recognizable onstage faces (Lee Ann Etzold, Jeb Kreager, Matt Saunders, Mary McCool), and the company and its members have also seen much success in New York (NPL won an Obie Award for 2000’s The Fab 4 Reach the Pearly Gates) and elsewhere. NPL has created roughly one original work per year since its founding, and this year, they’ve paired with the Free Library and Rosenbach Museum to present Gumshoe. Listen in to learn the difference between fact, fiction, and falsehood, and — perhaps most importantly — how to escape a maze.

Interact takes The Drake

On this podcast, we catch up with InterAct Theatre Company artistic director Seth Rozin to talk about his first year at the Drake. While his company has only been performing there for the past a year, the conversations about moving there began in 2013. On the edge of completing a $2.97 million campaign, InterAct aims to create an inclusive space where all are welcome, including resident partners PlayPenn, Simpatico Theatre Project, Azuka Theatre, and Inis Nua Theatre.

Seth Rozin and the Drake, a perfect pairing. (Photo courtesy of InterAct Theatre Company)

Expanding vision

Rozin founded InterAct in 1988, and this year marks his 27th season at its helm. The company, always committed to exploring social, political and cultural issues as well as championing new work, left its Adrienne Theater residency last year to build on its vision in a new setting. Rozin hopes the Drake will become a social and artistic hub for the region’s burgeoning “new play” community. The space includes a 120-seat proscenium theatre, a 75-seat black box, and two lobbies. Here, he discusses the reasons behind his company’s move, his plans for the future, and much more.

PlayPenn gets to play on Broadway

On this podcast, PlayPenn artistic director Paul Meshejian discusses the PlayPenn Annual Conference. I spoke with Meshejian in 2013 about the conference; since then, many plays that have been workshopped there have helped shaped the national conversation around contemporary theater. These new plays transfer from the conference to regional stages, and J.T. Rogers’s drama Oslo, about the negotiations surrounding the Oslo Accords, opens on Broadway April 13, 2017, featuring New Paradise Laboratories founding member and longtime Philly actor Jeb Kreager.

PlayPenn artistic director Paul Meshejian. (Photo via PlayPenn.org)

The highlight reel

PlayPenn describes itself as “an artist-driven organization dedicated to improving the way in which new plays are developed. Employing an ever-evolving process, PlayPenn creates a relaxed tension within which playwrights can engage in risk-taking, boundary-pushing work free from the pressures of commercial consideration.”

Some of the conference’s esteemed graduates and awards include:

  • MacArthur Fellowship: Samuel D. Hunter (PlayPenn 2010)
  • Whiting Award: James Ijames (PlayPenn 2013, 2015)
  • Guggenheim Fellowship: Gabriel Jason Dean (PlayPenn 2013), Jordan Harrison (PlayPenn 2005), J.T. Rogers (PlayPenn 2005, 2009, 2015)
  • Lilly Award for Playwriting: Lucy Thurber (PlayPenn 2005)
  • Pew Fellowship: James Ijames (PlayPenn 2013, 2015)
  • Sky Cooper Prize for American Playwriting: Samuel D. Hunter (PlayPenn 2010), Martin Zimmerman (PlayPenn 2012)
  • American Theatre Critics Association’s Osborn Award: Jonathan James Norton (PlayPenn 2012)
  • Susan Smith Blackburn Prize: Sheila Callaghan (PlayPenn 2005)
  • Terrence McNally New Play Award: James Ijames (White, 2015)
  • Barrymore Award for Best New Play: R. Eric Thomas (Time Is on Our Side, PlayPenn 2015), Michael Hollinger (Ghost-Writer, PlayPenn 2009), Jacqueline Goldfinger (Slip/Shot, PlayPenn 2011)
  • Top 10 Plays, New York Times: J.T. Rogers (Oslo, PlayPenn 2015; Blood and Gifts, PlayPenn 2009)
  • Top 10 Plays, Time Magazine: J.T. Rogers (The Overwhelming, PlayPenn 2005)

No business like show business

On this podcast, we meet Mindy Dougherty, co-founder with Dan Dunn of Midtown Village’s musical-theater training program Music Theatre Philly. Both Dougherty and Dunn have Broadway bona fides, and they have worked on some of the region’s best-known stages. The company offers a unique blend of classes for both children and adults with “quadruple threat” aspirations: acting, voice, (several types of) dance, and music (guitar and piano).

A couple of young Music Theatre Philly students get into character. (Photo courtesy of Music Theatre Philly)

Mind the gap

About 20 years ago, Dougherty noticed a gap between what she learned in Philadelphia’s performance-training programs and the skills she saw in students coming out of a comprehensive independent program in Pittsburgh. She worked and attended graduate school in New York, but when she returned home to Philadlephia, she realized nobody in this city had stepped in during the intervening years to fill that gap. That’s where Music Theatre Philly comes in, and Dougherty hopes it will help create this city’s next generation of great stage talent.

Architecture is everywhere

On today’s podcast, we interview Thomas Choinacky to talk about his new work, A User’s Manual. Choinacky is the founder, producer, and co-curator of SoLow Fest, an 11-day festival of solo experimental performance in Philadelphia. He is also a company member of Applied Mechanics, a devised, collaborative theater ensemble. At the time of the interview, Choinacky was on location at Washington College in Maryland with Applied Mechanics for a residency of their FringeArts production, FEED.

Thomas Choinacky spaces out. (Photo by Jen Cleary)

Step into my parlor

A User’s Manual is a solo performance designed to respond to the body’s constant manipulation by the architecture that surrounds us. Drawing attention to structures, sounds, textures, and history, each site-specific performance catalogues the memory of its place. In Choinacky’s own words, he attempts to make “visible how humans are constantly affected by the surroundings we pass through and by the architecture we build.”  This interview goes deep into Choinacky’s philosophy of creating a performance and considers the spaces we occupy.

Rebel/Rebel

InterAct Theatre Company’s world premiere of Mary Tuomanen’s MARCUS/EMMAbrings together Jewish immigrant and anarchist Emma Goldman and Jamaican immigrant and pan-African movement leader Marcus Garvey. Both were turn-of-the-20th-century activists deported from the United States, and in Tuomanen’s drama, they meet in a sort of purgatory for a no-holds-barred, sex-fueled, bloody-minded battle to rekindle the smoldering flames of their legacies.

Stevens and Davis as Goldman and Garvey. (Photo by Kathryn Raines/Plate 3)

In this REP Radio interview, Akeem Davis, who plays Garvey, and Susan Riley Stevens, who plays Goldman, discuss what their characters’ lives and actions mean today and how much more relevant they’ve become since the presidential election. You might even say the world has turned into the show’s director’s notes! The play is also intensely physical, and the actors discuss how they prepared for their roles, the many contrasts between their characters, and the way those contrasts are highlighted by InterAct’s design team.

Stevens has been acting professionally in Philadelphia since 2001, won a 2007 Barrymore Award for Best Actress in a Play for her performance in Act II Playhouse’s production of Bad Dates. She also happens to be married to another Philly favorite, actor Greg Wood. Davis arrived in Philadelphia in 2011, has appeared on area stages almost constantly since then, and in 2015 won the F. Otto Haas Award for an Emerging Artist.

Act up, write back

On today’s podcast, we met with Stephanie Feldman, Philadelphia writer and coordinator of the Philadelphia chapter of Writers Resist. This movement is designed to engage a community of authors, poets, filmmakers and the like to use their talents and shine a light on the fundamentals of democracy. Writers Resist will host a rally this weekend at the National Museum of American Jewish History with a plethora of local writers slated to speak.

Stephanie Feldman, ready to resist. (Photo by Sarah Miller Photography)

The Writers Resist movement rapidly coalesced after poet Erin Belieu posted on Facebook, “We will not give in to despair. We will come together and actively help make the world we want to live in. We are bowed, but we are not broken.”

Belieu’s call for writers to organize local events in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day has already resulted in more than 50 events throughout the United States and around the world, including a flagship New York City event co-sponsored by PEN America, and additional events in Boston, Los Angeles, Oakland, Austin, Portland, Omaha, Seattle, London, Zürich, and Hong Kong.

Stephanie Feldman is one of the Philadelphia rally’s organizers, with Alicia Askenase and Nathaniel Popkin. She is also a novelist, and a professor of fiction writing at Arcadia University in Glenside, Pennsylvania.