Category: playwright

Interview with playwright Gina Gionfriddo

Posted September 22, 2014 - 3:07pm

Wilma audiences swooned over Gina Gionfriddo’s Becky Shaw in the 2009/10 Season. The 2014/15 season opens with Rapture, Blister, Burn, Gionfriddo’s newest play (and, like Becky Shaw, a Pulitzer finalist).  The play follows Catherine, a celebrity academic, who returns to her hometown after her mother’s heart attack, and reunites with her best friends from graduate school, who are now married. Gina Gionfriddo talks with Wilma Dramaturg Walter Bilderback about the play.

Walter Bilderback You've said that Rapture, Blister, Burn isn't the play you set out to write. Could you tell our audience a little about that?

Gina Gionfriddo I actually set out to write a play about the impact of Internet pornography on the American psyche.  I had a pre-Internet childhood.  When we became curious about sex, we had to work so hard for every little scrap of information.  Now it’s just, as one of my characters says, point-and-click to see full penetration online.  So I went chasing after some wisdom about how this colossal change in access to porn has impacted us.  I read a lot of great books like The Porning of America, but I wasn’t able, finally, to translate a sociological inquiry into a living, breathing drama.  But when you read about the history of porn, you inevitably read about feminism because pornography as an issue really split the movement in the eighties.  Now, I had attended a women’s college, but never taken a Women’s Studies course.  (I was a bit like Avery, the young girl in my play, and felt it was all antiquated and not relevant to me.)  So I found myself reading these feminist texts for the first time at forty.  That led me to start thinking about different generations of women in conversation about their lives.

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Interview with Robert O'Hara, Part One: "Everyone is Welcome, No one is Safe"

Posted April 19, 2013 - 9:43am

Wilma Dramaturg Walter Bilderback sits with Playwright/Director Robert O'Hara. This is the first part of his interview.

WALTER BILDERBACK: Let's start with the basic: What's Bootycandy?

ROBERT O'HARA: Bootycandy is the name that my grandmother and mother used for the penis when I was a little boy. After seeing the world premiere of this play in DC, my mother turned to me and actually said "It was BooBoo Candy ­ why on EARTH would we call your penis Bootycandy?" and my response to her was "Oh Boo Boo Candy makes oh so much more sense, right???" Regardless I heard Bootycandy... all my life. So I think my Mother is making up some Boo Boo Candy ... that just sounds crazy. Now, Bootycandy... I can kinda understand. LOL...

WB: The play has been described as semi-autobiographical. I'm guessing the stress is on the "semi."

RO: When I watch the play I can see where most of the scenes come from... they are all from real life experience and most of the more surreal things are absolutely true...

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there are no jobs for hairy blokes without finesse: an interview with playwright richard bean

Posted March 11, 2013 - 12:26pm

"It's a tough town, Hull, but we are mad and proud."

Richard Bean is one of the most important playwrights to emerge in Britain in this century. He's best-known for his farce One Man, Two Guvnors, which ran on Broadway last year. Here is the full interview with Wilma Dramaturg Walter Bilderback.

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WALTER BILDERBACK: You had a somewhat unusual career path to playwriting, at least from an American standpoint. You started out as an occupational psychologist and then became a stand-up comic, if I recall. How did that develop?

RICHARD BEAN: Yes, I trained in Social Psychology at Uni, mainly an American discipline with the dominant psychologists being Milgram, Asch, Skinner.  I ended up with a BSc and went into the occupational side.

WB: What led to the transition to playwriting?

RB: I'd been working in Personnel and Training departments in big factory situations for 15 years and all of that time I was corrupting myself with the literary education that I hadn't had at university. Specifically I started reading Henry Miller, Kerouac, Steinbeck, and Conrad - just for fun really, but it was Henry Miller who corrupted me just through serendipity.  I was working as a Personnel Officer in a telecoms company and I, by chance, started reading Tropic of Capricorn, which is Miller's story of his life in New York and Brooklyn as a Personnel Office for a Telecoms company - and I was corrupted.   I became self-conscious about my work, which destroyed my ability to do it, and so, bit by bit, I started writing, and my first step was stand-up comedy.

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Calling a Line Crooked: An Interview with playwright Leslye Headland - Part Two

Posted December 18, 2012 - 10:47am

Leslye Headland, author of Assistance, spoke with Wilma Theater Literary/Artistic Assistant William Steinberger on Tuesday morning, October 23rd in a cab on her way to a rehearsal. This is the second installment of her interview.

Will Steinberger: Something that really excited the Wilma about the play is that it focuses on the workplace [as does the next play in the Wilma season, Richard Bean’s Under the Whaleback],  and does so almost as an anthropological study.

Headland: Studs Terkel’s Working was another big jumping off point for me.  In the introduction, he writes that his book, ‘being about work, is, by its very nature, about violence – to the spirit as well as to the body.’ It is about the subjugation of the human spirit. Work is not just what you do to make money or what you do to put food on the table, it’s actually an ordeal that you put yourself through and a lot of people make their work their life. They make Daniel their God or their Satan. It becomes their reason to get up in the morning. And the nature of work is fulfilling, there are a lot of fulfilling things about it – I get to do what I love doing for a living – but it’s also work. You’re putting yourself in a position to be less than and toil and I think even if you love what you do, you still have an obligation to your employer and you’re still serving someone. And that attitude of service can be one that can torture you, it can be something that you do willingly, but it’s not always the most rewarding or psychologically advancing thing.

Will: Assistance shows a workplace that has transformed into a less tangible experience over the past several decades.  There’s no real product that the assistants are making. What is the personal relationship they have to the work they’re doing, to that industry, or to their boss?

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Sam Shepard on...his family

Posted February 28, 2012 - 12:25pm

Our Production Dramaturg William Steinberger has pulled some key quotes from Sam Shepard. We will share Mr. Shepard's thoughts about his past, his family, and himself.

Sam Shepard on his family:

“Those Midwestern women from the forties suffered an incredible psychological assault, mainly by men who were disappointed in a way that they didn’t understand. While growing up I saw that assault over and over again, and not only in my own family. These were men who came back from the war, had to settle down, raise a family and send the kids to school—and they just couldn’t handle it. There was something outrageous about it. I still don’t know what it was—maybe living through those adventures in the war and then having to come back to suburbia. Anyway, the women took it on the nose, and it wasn’t like they said, ‘Hey Jack, you know, down the road, I’m leaving.’ They sat there and took it. I think there was a kind of heroism in those women. They were tough and selfless in a way. What they sacrificed at the hands of those maniacs . . .”  – The Paris Review, Spring 1997

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Sam Shepard on...his past

Posted February 22, 2012 - 2:46pm

Our Production Dramaturg William Steinberger has pulled some key quotes from Sam Shepard. We will share Mr. Shepard's thoughts about his past, his family, and himself.

Sam Shepard on his past:

“The California I knew, old rancho California, is gone. It just doesn’t exist, except maybe in little pockets. I lived on the edge of the Mojave Desert, an area that used to be farm country. There were all these fresh produce stands with avocados and date palms. You could get a dozen artichokes for a buck or something. Totally wiped out now.  – The Paris Review, Spring 1997

“These guys – my father’s generation – were coming out of World War II. I can’t help but think that these wars had something to do with the psychological state that they came back in. I mean imagine coming back into the Eisenhower fifties. It must not have been easy. At all. Where everything was wonderful, the front lawns were all being taken care of, there was a refrigerator in everybody’s house. Everybody had a Chevy, and these guys had just been bombing the shit out of Germany and Italy and the South Pacific and then they come back; I mean it just must have been unbelievable. I mean nobody ever really talks about that. Back then it was taboo to talk about it. ‘Nobody’s crazy; everybody’s in good shape.’ I mean can you believe it? And this happened across the country of course, but my dad came from an extremely rural farm community – wheat farmers – in Illinois, and next thing he knows he’s flying B-24s over the South Pacific, over Rumania, dropping bombs and killing people he couldn’t even see. And then from that into trying to raise a family and growing up in white America, you know. I mean it’s extraordinary...”  – The Cambridge Companion to Sam Shepard

 “World War II was a trauma that was mysterious. The women didn’t understand it, the men didn’t understand it and the medicine was booze.” The Almeida Theatre

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A Visit to Jedwabne

Posted September 13, 2011 - 8:46am

The terrain from Warsaw to Jedwabne is a flat, boring landscape, but the conversation in the car is lively. Tadeusz is talking about faith and free will, free choice and destiny, and how these seemingly contradictory notions mysteriously coexist in our lives.  These are the themes that permeate the text of the play. In Our Class, Tadeusz touches on the biblical story of Isaac, Abraham, and Sarah, which he brings up as we are driving towards Jedwabne: “In the Jewish interpretation, the story gives a deeper meaning to suffering and suggests the absolute necessity for faith. The Polish Catholic Church sees in the lamb Jesus who was sent as the lamb to be sacrificed instead of Isaac, and thus Jesus resolves the conflict between free will and destiny. This is of course nonsense,” adds Tadeusz, who was brought up in a Catholic family but is now lapsed. Then he adds, “Some conservative Rabbis explain the whole Holocaust as the deeper meaning of fate, as God’s will.”  

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Arriving in Warsaw - Part One

Posted July 28, 2011 - 10:03am

Early morning – I’m leaving Prague for Warsaw by train. Tonight I’m seeing the Polish production of ‘Our Class’ and meeting Tadeusz Slobodzianek, the author of the play. Tadeusz’s assistant Kalina is waiting for me at the train station. She is waving at me as if I were an old friend. In order to recognize me among the rest of the passengers, she watched Wilma YouTube interviews. ‘I feel like I have known you for a long time,’ she laughs.  I’m staying in an actor’s apartment at Teatr na Woli, in the former Jewish section of Warsaw. The city was largely destroyed by the Germans during World War II, after the Warsaw Uprising.  In contrast to Prague, admired for its beautiful architecture dating all the way to the 11th century, it’s difficult to find any authentic buildings that pre-date World War II. Most of Warsaw had to be re-built after the war.

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Alan Ayckbourn’s Wonderful Career

Posted May 24, 2011 - 10:59am

By David Gardner

Born on April 12, 1939, Alan Ayckbourn just recently celebrated both his 72nd birthday and the completion of his 75th full-length play, making him one of the most prolific writers of our day. But not only prolific, this London-born playwright’s body of work has earned over 35 awards and honors, including a Tony, two Olivier Awards, two Moliere Awards, and a Special Tony for Lifetime Achievement in the Theater. In 1997 Ayckbourn was knighted for his service to the theatre, and his plays—both new and revived—continue to delight audiences in both England and America.

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Alan Ayckbourn on My Wonderful Day

Posted April 26, 2011 - 1:07pm

by William Steinberger

Alan Ayckbourn is one of the most prolific playwrights at work today. His output, however, extends far beyond the seventy-three plays he has authored. He is also a frequent essayist and interviewee on the subject of his work.

Ayckbourn has spoken at length about how he sees My Wonderful Day unfolding from Winnie’s perspective. The play was originally titled “Winnie’s Wonderful Day.” The change in title reflects Winnie’s role as first person viewer. The play is a children’s view of the adult world. “Adults drift away and you hear them talking in a corner,” he told the Yorkshire Post, “but you stay with [Winnie].” Interestingly, Ayckbourn’s official website notes that “prior to My Wonderful Day, children are generally heard but not seen in Alan’s plays.” As we learn about the adults that inhabit My Wonderful Day, “Winnie just observes, writes and makes us wonder: who are the children?”

Ayckbourn also sees Winnie in some ways as the most commonsensical and mature character in the play. “Her mother is a dreamer…and she says they’ll go back to the land of sunshine and you think, ‘C’mon mum get real.’” To The Press, he described, “By the age of eight or nine, you’re beginning to sort your parents out.” He further observed, “I wanted the child, Winnie, to be quite young. Young enough that the adults would misread her."

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