An Interview with Kevin Mullins, Undesirables Playwright

TWBW7PosterWe hope you can join us on Thursday, May 23, when we’ll be reading Undesirables by Kevin Mullins upstairs at Trident Booksellers & Cafe as part of our There Will Be Words program! Take a moment to get to know the playwright below and get psyched for our next TWBW!

What was your first theatre memory and why did you decide pursue it?
It was in second grade when my father took me to see a friend in a production of The Hobbit that the Watertown Children’s Theatre was doing. I begged my father to sign me up as we were leaving. I’ve been hooked ever since.

How did you get started in playwrighting?
I started out trying to write a novel, but I kept getting bogged down in having to describe everything. I was already doing a lot of acting and in a dramatic act of frustration said “Well, that’s what set designers are for!”

But the reason I kept writing plays is that theatre is a collaborative art. That’s what’s most important to me. It’s more than just words on the page. It’s a blueprint that tells my collaborators what they need in order to do the play. The trick is in only telling exactly what they need. No more. No less.

If you weren’t a playwright, what would you do?
Good question! I have no clue.  I’ve always been very political and I’ve often been called a political playwright. If not theatre I probably would have studied in the social sciences and done some type of leftist organizing. There have been times in my life where I have thrown myself into political work, but theatre has a gravitational pull that just sucks you in and doesn’t let you go. Part of the reason all of my plays deal with social issues is an attempt to make up for not dedicating myself fully to some lost cause.  

Any specific questions you want answered? What should we as audience members look for during the reading?
I’m a huge nerd. I tend to write plays that take place in worlds that are not our own. So worldbuilding is a HUGE thing for me. My main question would be does this world make sense? Can you imagine it? At what point did things about the world pull you out the story?

When did the idea for Undesirables first pop into your head? What experiences have influenced its development?
It was my thesis play at Carnegie Mellon University. I had been trying to write another play that I thought was going to be my thesis play and I was stuck in the mud with it. It was during the summer of 2011 during the whole debt ceiling “crisis” and a massive heat wave.  I decided that I would take a few days off from the play and picked up a book to read while sitting in front of the air conditioner.

The book was Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence by Christian Parenti. It’s about how climate change is having an effect in places and conflicts as far reaching as the war in Afghanistan to the drug war in Mexico. If we don’t change course, it’s going to trigger massive migration. In some aspects it already has. There’s a decent chance that we’re going to have something akin to climate apartheid, where the wealthy live in gated communities with guards and the rest drown or starve. The book scared me to death and it, added with the craziness of the right wing, coupled with the fact that it was 110 outside in the shade made me write with a furry.

At CMU I felt like the play was put through the ringer. When the play originally ended they all arrived at the house. Then it took place in or around the house. As a result of the CMU production the whole story is confined to the main room of the house. I still have scenes and scenes that take place in the outer world of the play that I wonder where they belong, if anywhere.

What’s next on the docket for you? Do you have any upcoming projects?
I’m getting married in July! So that’s the next big project on my docket.

As for theatre projects: I’m collaborating with the amazingly talented director Lindsay Eagle on an adaptation of Euripides’s Medea. It’ll be set in near-future Sudan and involve Iranian cyborgs, Chinese spies, Russian mobsters and queer people… always queer people. I’m beyond excited for it.

I’ve also been fortunate enough to have gotten into The Accomplice Writers Group with Interim Writers. They’re an amazing group of people who you should all take notice of.

What do you like most about the Boston theatre scene?
Sarah Rhul, (whom I adore) totally dissed Boston theatre in an article about a year or so ago. She said that we weren’t a real theatre town because we still hold to our Puritan founding’s. Maybe she just tried to get a drink or take the subway after 1:00 am and was less than forgiving… Anyway, there was a time where I might have agreed with her, but when I look around at all the young companies and the dedication towards new work, I think… I hope… we’re starting to prove her wrong.

What advice can you offer other playwrights?
A few things:

1. Most importantly: Write! Don’t stop. Write one play and then another, and then another. The more you do it, the more you’ll get a feel for it. Write the play that you would go see by yourself on a Friday night when you don’t know a single person in it or anyone who worked on it.

2. Seek out the people who share your sensibilities as an artist. Find the writers who you respect and admire. Find directors who get what you’re trying to do. A good director is a real treasure, when you find a good one hold on to them.

3. See theatre. A lot of theatre. I see a show a week. You should too! And always go to the bar after. Always. Half the battle is getting them to remember that you exist. I can’t tell you how many opportunities and contacts have happened because of after show socializing.

4. Self-produce! Don’t wait for a third party to select you. Have people over to your house and give them beer and pizza and read the play in your living room…hell try staging the play in your living room (tell the roommates first though) and put it up yourself when it’s ready. Even if it’s for a night or two, you’ll learn more from a production than any reading or workshop.

5. And lastly: BE NICE. This is a small world, not just Boston theatre, but all theatre. It’s really just six of us, so if I hear that you’re an asshole, or a narcissist, or someone I trust won’t work with you, it’s going to make me think twice about collaborating with you. You can always catch more flies with honey than vinegar as my grandmother would say.

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King Arthur in Contemporary Connecticut

Vagabuddies!

529263_10151577717839400_2123365514_nThings have been getting awfully busy around VTG as we gear up for our big summer production of Supergravity and the Eleventh Dimension.

Thank you to all who joined us at There Will Be Words last month. We depend on your commentary for the development of new plays, and it’s certainly good to know there are such helpful, smart, and enthusiastic contributors in our audience.

Unfortunately, playwright James C. Ferguson couldn’t be in attendance. That being said, what a fantastic talkback we had! Don’t worry, we sent extensive notes of your commentary to the playwright after the event! Thank you to all who contributed, and we hope to hear your responses for future readings at Trident!

More photos of our event in Trident’s brand new upstairs space can be found on our Facebook page!

Paper City Tuh-Wuh-Buh-Wuh

Hello Vagabond Theatre Groupies! Your Literary Associate here to give a big “thank you” to everyone who came out to Trident Booksellers & Cafe on Thursday for There Will Be Words. It was an excellent turnout, and a very fun evening.

Rachel Katherine Alexander And Kayla Ginetis reading Paper City Phoenix at There Will Be Words

The development of the plays we present at TWBW (pronounced “tuh-wuh-buh-wuh”) relies heavily on your feedback, and we got some excellent commentary. Judging by the smile on Walt McGough’s face, each response was appreciated, and you can bet every contribution will be immensely helpful as he continues work on Paper City Phoenix.

If you didn’t get the impression, Vagabond Theatre Group is very enthusiastic about theatre, especially when it comes to new works and young playwrights. To stand before a room of people who share that same enthusiasm is almost overwhelming. I cannot even begin to describe the passion and heart that has been on display at every TWBW Trident has so kindly hosted. Thanks to that, we are determined to continuously provide new and innovative works of theatre for your viewing and listening pleasure.

After the reading, Artistic Director James Peter Sotis announced that we will be presenting a full-fledged production of Burning Up the Dictionary by Meron Langsner at Boston Center for the Arts this November. As some of you may recall, our last TWBW was a presentation of that very same play (we’re pulling a True Believers here, so fasten up!). If you’re interested in seeing just how much your support and contributions work their way into the development of new works, you won’t want to miss out.

Again; thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you again, and thank you some more. Without collaboration between artist and audience, VTG simply does not work. It’s like a party where everyone’s invited to experience and contribute to the various stages of its development- Want beer pong? Done. A watermelon eating contest? Done. Beach barbecue? Done. A petting zoo? What the hell, let’s do it!

For updates on our next TWBW, our upcoming productions, or any other Vagabond Theatre happenings, “like” us on Facebook, “follow” us on twitter, or “talk” to us at any local theatre events we attend. We’re easy to identify, and I think you’ll find we’re pretty nice people.

An Interview with Paper City Phoenix Playwright, Walt McGough

Paper City Phoenix Playwright, Walt McGough

Paper City Phoenix Playwright, Walt McGough

Hello friends! In preparation for our upcoming reading of Paper City Phoenix, we have a fancy-schmancy interview with playwright Walt McGough for ya! And we hope to see you this coming Thursday at our There Will Be Words reading: 7:00 PM at Trident Booksellers & Cafe. You can RSVP to our facebook event here!

What was your first theatre memory and why did you decide pursue it?
I’m pretty sure I saw the touring production of ‘Cats’ when I was, like, five, but beyond a vague feeling of disquiet I don’t recall much of it. Practitioner-wise, I came to theatre relatively late (ie high school). I played the Priest in a production of ‘Twelfth Night’ and remember spending an entire Saturday sitting in the audience watching rehearsal in preparation for my one tiny scene, and just being enthralled by the whole thing. I think I went to, like, 95% of the rehearsals for that show, despite having maybe ten lines total, just to sit and watch and soak it all up. That pretty much sealed it for me.

How did you get started in playwrighting?
I knew I wanted to write, but in high school I thought I’d be a journalist because that’s a “respectable” writing job. Then in college I switched to wanting to write prose, but all of my stories were, like, two lines of description and then three pages of dialogue. I think around then I figured that playwriting might be the better approach.

If you weren’t a playwright, what would you do?
When I was five I told my grandfather that I wanted to be a paleontologist, and then between digs I’d be a stand-up comedian. I think that’s still pretty much the back-up plan.

When did the idea for Paper City Phoenix first pop into your head? What experiences have influenced its development?
I had just come off writing “The Farm,” which is fairly realistic (as much as possible when you have a ghost on stage) and very dark, so I wanted to change gears a bit and write something comedic and really big and crazy and theatrical. I got a picture in my mind of the moment that closes Act One (you’ll know it when you hear it), and had also just had a conversation with a friend about whether anybody out there has ever tried to make a hard copy of the Internet, as an archive. The two ideas kind of fused together in my brain and then a bunch of other things popped in there, too. At one point I surveyed my Facebook friends to get their favorite pieces of random trivia, and a lot of that found its way in there, as well.

Development-wise, I’ve heard the play a few times and last summer did a workshop with Orfeo Group, but it’s always changed pretty drastically from version to version as I gradually try to reign in the story and keep the characters consistent.

Any specific questions you want answered? What should we as audience members look for during the reading?
For this draft I’ve tried to make the logic of things as consistent as possible: the world of the play is pretty crazy and I’m curious to see if the audience comes out of the reading with a sense of what the rules are. On the character level, there are some arcs and conclusions that I’m happy with, and some that are still going to take some work, and so I’ll be listening for people’s opinions on where all the characters end up at the end of things.

What’s next on the docket for you? Do you have any upcoming projects?
I just finished a new draft of a swordfighting play called “The Haberdasher!”, and am working through a first draft of a post-apocalyptic mother-daughter drama called “Chalk.” In the meantime, my play “Priscilla Dreams the Answer,” which Fresh Ink produced last December, is being published by Playscripts, which has been a very fascinating process to go through. And lastly, I teach a Playwriting course at the Boston Center for Adult Education which is starting up next Monday (and can be signed up for at www.bcae.org, plug plug plug).

What do you like most about the Boston theatre scene? The real sense of excitement that seems to permeate the scene; it’s young and it’s scrappy and this really feels like a time of definition where anything is possible.

What advice can you offer other playwrights?
1) Write your characters into situations that you don’t immediately know the solution to. If you can solve the problem in five seconds, then the audience will be able to, as well, and they’ll get ahead of you. But if it takes you a week of walking around and thinking and stressing to see the answer (and there’s always an answer), then you’ll write it into the play and no one will see it coming.

2) Don’t waste your audience’s time. They’re giving up an entire evening of their lives to listen to something you wrote, so make sure to include them on the experience. (This goes double for your collaborators: they’re dedicating entire MONTHS of themselves to your work. Their opinions matter.)

3) Realism, by and large, doesn’t exist. Nobody actually thinks they’re looking through the invisible wall of a house. This is a good thing, because it means you get to decide how the rules of your world work.

4) Do everything you can in the theatre and learn as much as possible about it. You can’t write for it until you know it, and if you can talk to a designer or a director or an actor or a marketing manager in a way that connects with them, you’ll be a much better collaborator.

5) Whenever it is humanly possible, start your scenes in the middle of a conversation. If you start at the beginning, you’ve damned yourself to a page and a half of small talk before anything dramatic starts happening.

Who’s Ready for Another TWBW?!

Hello there!

Submissions for TWBW #4 closed a little over two weeks ago, and we here at VTG have been drowning in your talent ever since. Shorts, comedies, histories, tragedies, and even movement pieces have crossed our desk, with some amazing, gut busting, heart wrenching works glowing in the pile. This go around, you’ve sent us the most plays yet in the short history of TWBW, and it has been a pleasure to discover the depth of creativity in Boston.

After much internal debate, and a Hunger Games-esque battle to the finish*, we have finally chosen the script we’ll be presenting live and on stools (with script stands!) at Trident Booksellers and Cafe:

Paper City Phoenix by Walt McGough!

Paper City Phoenix
, in the playwright’s own words, is “an explosive comedy exploring how we connect when we’re always connected.”  The show is fantastically energetic, and brings forth some great discussion on identity, love, technology, and memory and how we as a society have incorporated all of those ideas into our lives in the light of the others.

We think you’re all going to dig it.

So join us! There Will Be Words: 4th Edition will go down on Thursday, September 13th, at 7pm. As always, the lovely people at Trident Booksellers & Cafe will be our gracious hosts (338 Newbury Street, Boston).

Come on down, grab a coffee or beer, some food, watch a reading, and Q some A’s. A great time is sure to be had by all. You can RSVP to our Facebook Event and we hope to see you there!

Until then, thanks from all of us at VTG.

*this part isn’t true. 

Meet the Cast of Burning Up the Dictionary for There Will Be Words

Hello folks! I know that this blog has been all-nerd-all-the-time lately in prep for True Believers, but I hope you haven’t forgotten that we have a reading of Meron Langsner’s Burning Up the Dictionary coming up on Thursday, May 17 at 7:00 PM at Trident Booksellers & Cafe (which means you can buy coffee/beer/wine/food while you hear the play!)

We’ll have an interview with Local Playwright Meron Langsner up on this blog soon, but first I want to take a moment to introduce you to our fantastic cast for the reading!

Joseph Edward Metcalfe is a graduate in theater performance from Salem State University. This year he was a one of the top 16 finalist in the in Region 1 for The Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival (KCACTF) and was personally selected to attend the National Festival in Washington D.C. Past theater credits included: Balthazar in Our Lady of 121st Street (SSU), Hal in Proof (Marblehead Little Theater), Achilles in Ghosts of Troy (SSU), Brodin in Red Noses (SSU), and Dorian Gray in The Picture of Dorian Gray (Ghostlight Theater Co.). Joseph will be an acting apprentice starting at the end of July in the 2012-2013 apprentice company at The Actors Theater in Louisville, KY and will be part of the 37th annual Humana Festival of New American Plays.

Caitlyn Conley has a degree in theatre arts from Westfield State University. Her recent credits include Wandaleria (Argos Productions), Tom Sawyer in Huck Finn (New Rep on Tour), The Effect of Gamma Rays (Happy Medium Theatre), The Blue Room (A workshop production directed by Paula Plum), Twelfth Night (Summer Festival Theatre) and Farragut North (Zeitgeist Stage). Caitlyn is also an Acting and Improv teacher for Merrimack Rep as well as founder of her own theatre education company for children, Cookie Jar Kids.

And our lovely Literary Associate Zach Winston will be reading stage directions. We’re hoping to see all your bright and shining faces there!

There Will Be Words – We’re Reading Like Woah

Heya, sportsfans – Happy Monday! We closed submissions at 9 PM last Friday and have spent the weekend furiously reading the last rush of scripts for our Spring There Will Be Words event (*cough* Thursday, May 17 at 7:00 PM *cough*). We’ll have an announcement for you by next Friday about what play will be featured while you relax and enjoy a night at Trident Booksellers & Cafe.

If you’re curious how we deal with all of the awesome submissions that come our way–and I know you all are–here’s how we make our decision:

We divide the submissions up among our staff and at least one staff member reads each script. After careful consideration and thought, we write a summary of the script that goes into an online folder that we all share. This way, we can all keep tabs on the fantastic work coming our way. Technology!

Here’s the tough part: we receive so many incredible scripts that would be perfect for us, but we can’t possibly choose them all.

Staff members advocate for the scripts that they think will work best for TWBW, and Literary Manager, Zach Winston and I make sure to read all of the favorites, if we haven’t done so already. In addition to discussing the script’s potential life with VTG and how it fits with the Vagabond style, we also take a look at the real-life logistics of the piece–length, cast size, and if we can do a few short plays or read one full-length.

Usually, at this point, the rest of the staff takes a stab at reading the “finalists”. This is where the spirited debate comes into play. Let me tell you, I work with some very opinionated people.

And with that, we finally choose our next There Will Be Words piece.

When we’ve made our final decision after careful deliberation, we make sure to write response emails to everyone who submitted scripts to us. This whole event is about allowing playwrights to get feedback on their work, and the artistic process doesn’t stop at our decision. Even if we don’t end up performing a script, we still want to give a response in hopes that it will be helpful for the playwrights and their journey with the work.

As I said before, we’ll have a play chosen by Friday because everyone here at Vagabond is reading like woah. It really is inspiring how many awesome New England playwrights we found through this process and I am extraordinarily intrigued to meet you all! (…on Thursday, May 17 at 7:00 PM. Trident Booksellers & Cafe. Coffee. Beer. Collaboration. Theatre.)

Stay golden, everyone.