Why Write These New Plays? Playwright Stories

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The Ingram New Works Festival isn’t just an opportunity to see great new plays first in Nashville before the rest of the country; it’s an opportunity for Nashville to get to know the artists behind the plays. We sat down with the 2013-2014 Ingram Playwrights and asked them why they’re telling these stories. We started with our own Playwright-in-Residence Nate Eppler:

Nate Eppler's New Play GOOD MONSTERSNashville Rep: Why did you want to tell this story?

Nate Eppler: This can be a difficult question and often leads to very convoluted responses, so sometimes it’s just better to say “I dreamt it.”   Several things sort of collided together to make this play: First, I dreamt it. I woke up with the sentence “A ghost haunts a monster” in my head. There’s something exciting in that sentence, some sort of threat or promise, and it became the first thing I ever wrote down for this play. Second, it seemed to me that people were getting shot with some frequency in Wal-Mart parking lots. I asked around about it and no one else had noticed an increase or a pattern and in fact there wasn’t one (nor for the record do people get shot with any unusual frequency in Wal-Mart parking lots over any other parking lots) but whenever I’m way too interested in something (that no one else is obsessing about) it usually means I’m already composing about it in my head and it’s better to just go with it. From there a lot of other pieces fell into place organically. Things that I had been reading about or had become interested in sort of filled in the constellation of the play. The monetization of capital-T Tragedy in America, the increased militarization of Police forces,  the way that traditional narratives are crumbling and failing us in an increasingly moment-to-moment world, the way sometimes everybody in this country suffers from some sort of fear-slash-stress induced anxiety that makes us respond with Powell Doctrine-style overwhelming force to even the smallest of infractions against us.

And from there the play emerged: He’s a police officer. She’s a teenage shoplifter. He shoots her. She’s unarmed. He’s a Gulf War Veteran. She was adopted from Kuwait. The shooting is national news. He waits for the trial. Her ghost haunts his backyard.

I thought I would know exactly how I felt about all of it when I laid the whole story out, right? But I was wrong.  How can I even begin to judge this guy? Or, for that matter, how could I possibly forgive him? And that got me very excited. Sometimes the very best plays are the ones that are almost too big to fathom alone, and that’s why we get together to watch them. We figure it out together. When I looked at all of it, when I laid the whole story out, I felt like we maybe needed to figure this one out together.

Good Monsters by Nate Eppler

Starring Nat McIntyre, David Compton, Jenny Littleton, Kristin McCalley, Megan Murphy Chambers, and Garris Wimmer, directed by René D. Copeland.

May  7 & 14 at 7pm (Livestreaming May 14 at www.howlround.tv

Next up is Jeremy Sony, an emerging playwright and graduate of Ohio University’s prestigious MFA Playwriting Program.

Jeremy Sony's New Play PATHOGENESISNashville Rep: The Ingram promise is that we will support you while you write the play you're dying to write. Why this play?

Jeremy Sony: There’s a quote by M. Scott Peck that encapsulates much of this play for me: “The whole course of human history may depend on a change of heart in one solitary and even humble individual---for it is in the solitary mind and soul of the individual that the battle between good and evil is waged and ultimately won or lost.” I’m in love with that. More so, I’m in love with the idea that such world changing moments can happen at the family level. How does family impact us; how do we impact them? There are three things you should probably know about me. One: My plays often focus on families dealing with world-size issues, which force them to deal with their own internal demons. Two: I like asking “what if” questions. I’m a science junkie, I love technology, and I think we have reached a point in our own evolution where we have the power to shape our world, for better or worse.  And three: The Stand by Stephen King is my favorite book. It’s this huge ensemble of characters in a cross-country, epic showdown between good and evil that occurs in the fallout of a super-virus; except super-viruses aren’t regulated to the fiction section. And world-changing good and evil moments can happen on the smallest scale between a few people. Over the past decade, we’ve all seen the reports of Bird Flu, Swine Flu, SARS, and now MERS; outbreaks that are very real and potential catastrophes if circumstances were different. With Pathogenesis, I wanted to combine all of that and find a way to make it work for the stage. I wanted to do the intimate version of a virus outbreak story, I wanted to take us back to the beginning of an event that had world reaching implications, and I wanted it to center on a father and daughter at a crossroads. As humanity moves forward and increases our capacity to engineer bio-threats, to have a discussion about engineering or releasing a pathogen into the population, I had to wonder what that conversation looks like; because somebody is having it. I saw the opportunity to tell a story about people on different sides of a coin, both thinking they’re doing the right thing even if it comes at the cost of someone they love. It’s easy, usually, to know right from wrong or good from evil. It’s harder when those distinctions have to be made with family.

Pathogenesis by Jeremy Sony

Starring Brian Russell, Evelyn O’Neal Brush, and Patrick Waller, directed by Chris Bosen.

May  8 & 11 at 7pm (Livestreaming May 11 at www.howlround.tv)

Andrew Kramer is joining us for his second time as an Ingram Lab Playwright and came to us with a play he specifically wanted to develop with Nashville actors.

Andrew Kramer's New Play CUT IT OUTNashville Rep: Why did you want to tell the story of Cut it Out?

Andrew Kramer: I re-read Ibsen's A Doll's House  and was deeply struck with how emotionally and socially relevant the play felt to me, especially considering our current social climate. For those who don't know, Ibsen's A Doll's House is a masterpiece play chronicling the re-awakening of Nora Helmer from her previously unexamined life of domestic, wifely comfort. This journey seemed so immediate to me, so worth exploring now. I started becoming passionately aware of the ways our culture values (and maybe even encourages?) certain standards of beauty, domesticity, and fulfillment; especially in our understanding and representation of women. We currently experience a never-ending barrage of info-tainment and hyper-focused media attention on the importance of looking good, of being pleasant on the eyes. This is a super interesting and dynamic issue to me so, in short: I am writing Cut it Out to explore and pervert our pre-concieved notions and beliefs about beauty, the Self, and domestic/personal bliss.

Nashville Rep: Why did you decide to tell the story of Cut it Out in this way?

Andrew Kramer: I was interested in telling a seemingly familiar and recognizable story in a more dynamic way than we're used to seeing.

It is my personal belief that we as audience members have seen the domestic, family drama more times than any other story trope in the world. And that's for a reason: we like these stories. We think they're important. And I sort-of agree. But I wanted to tell my own version of this familiar tale; one that doesn't so closely follow the rules and models that we're comfortable with. I wanted to write a living room play that explodes into something different; a play that warps our expectations every minute we watch, one that begins as something comfortable and quickly turns into a deeply subversive, grotesquely comical, and emotionally honest, relevant story.

Cut it Out by Andrew Kramer

Starring Rebekah Durham, Geoff Davin, Jennifer Richmond, Andy Kanies and Shelean Newman, directed by Martha Wilkinson.

May  9 & 12 at 7pm (Livestreaming May 12 at www.howlround.tv)

Last but not least is Dean Poynor. We were fans of Dean and his work right away. His plays are wholly original, genuinely powerful and deeply human. His play for the Ingram Festival is about a young mother and father trying to navigate the storm of grief that follows in the wake of their child’s death in a mass shooting. The play is an attempt to make sense of the senseless and an exploration of what it means to survive.

Dean Poynor's New Play TOGETHER WE ARE MAKING A POEM IN HONOR OF LIFENashville Rep: We know the play is in some ways a response to the Newtown shooting and other similar unthinkable tragedies. What made you decide to tackle this subject now?

Dean Poynor: Someone asked me if I could have written this play five years ago, and I said "Absolutely not." I didn't have the words, or the interest. I wasn't invested in this story. And then things happen in life - I got married, we had a child - and I found that I couldn't stop the story from coming anymore. All the fears and quiet voices that I had carefully been able to ignore showed up in full force, and, being a playwright, I did the only thing I could: I wrote them down.

Together We are Making a Poem in Honor of Life by Dean Poynor

Starring Brent Maddox and Shannon Hoppe, directed by Beki Baker.

May 10 & 13 at 7pm (Livestreaming May 13 at www.howlround.tv)

Nashville Repertory Theatre's Ingram New Works Festival runs May 7-17, 2014 at 7:00 PM. The new play reading are located at Studio A at (Nashville Repertory Theatre's Rehearsal Hall) located in the NPT Building at 161 Rains Avenue, Nashville, TN 37203.

The festival is free to our 2013-2014 Season Subscribers, $5.00 per person for students and actors, and $10.00 per person for general audience.

For reservations and more information please click here.