Previously On/ Next Time On… City Theatre

Summertime is prime time in South Florida, and City Theatre is no exception! This summer brought the annual Summer Shorts Festival, the Next Gen Workshop Readings for young playwrights in both Miami and Broward counties, as well as our yearly playwriting conference CityWrights!

The 22nd season of Summer Shorts: America’s Short Play Festival ran during the month of June, bringing South Florida audiences some of the most exciting and thought-provoking shorts from playwrights and composers countrywide, including works from Chisa Hutchinson, Steve Yockey, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and the winners of our National Award for Short Playwrighting, Christyn Budzyna, Charles Cohen, and Helen Park.

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June was an action packed month at City Theatre; in addition to Summer Shorts, we hosted our annual playwright’s conference CityWrights! This year CityWrights participants not only met and mingled with prominent playwrights and industry experts, but also workshopped with these talented folks in order to deepen playwriting skills. By tackling the complex relationship between art and politics, CityWrights attendees, guest artists, and presenters alike gained a deeper understanding of the role of art in politics as well as the unique relationship playwrights have to political change through their art. Of course, it didn’t hurt that it all took place at the luxurious Epic Hotel in downtown Miami!

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Even if July is the languid Saturday afternoon of the season, there is never a dull moment at CityTheatre! Currently we are working on our upcoming productions of Shorts Gone Wild and a groundbreaking full-length production of Robert Schenkkan’s Building the Wall. 

Shorts Gone Wild boldly makes way for 10 minute plays chronicling unique stories from the LGBTQ+ community. Filled with both humor and heart, Shorts Gone Wild is a much needed opportunity for LGBTQ+ voices to fill the stage as well as a great opportunity for those in the the greater Miami area to actively uplift the stories of their diverse and thriving community. Shorts Gone Wild opens to the public on August 18th!

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But wait! There’s more! Opening this September is Robert Schenkkan’s  Building the Wall, a harrowing depiction of a potentially tragic near future. As real life becomes more like fiction daily, the time for conversation is crucial no matter how unsettling conversation can become. Building the Wall is Schenkkan’s direct response to the immigration policies being put in place by the Trump Administration. Opening as part of the National New Play Network’s Rolling World Premiere series, Building the Wall is sparking conversations nationwide. City Theatre is proud to be showcasing this timely work and proud to help foster dialogue locally.

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City Theatre was also honored to be joined by Robert Schenkkan himself for an evening of discussion, both of his play and the current state of the union.

Building the Wall opens on September 20th, 2017.

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Entertain/Local: A Curtain Raiser

Mark your calendars! June 8th at 7 pm, City Theatre and the South Florida Theatre League will be celebrating all of our past produced, published, and finalist playwrights with a staged reading at the Arsht Center! Admission is free to all & we will be offering a special in-person discount to our CityWrights Conference!

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22 Days Until CityWrights! A Q&A with Casey McLain

City Theatre is excited to welcome Casey McClain, Production Director for the Samuel French Off-Off Broadway Festival, Operations Supervisor for Samuel French, Inc., stage manager, and lighting designer, to the CityWrights 2016 Team! Casey will be moderating the panel “Right to Share: Piracy & Protection in the Age of Internet Visibility” and speaking on “Exploring ‘Other Platforms'” and “Development/Submissions/Publishing/Producing.” We’ve asked her a some questions about her work, City Theatre’s relationship with Samuel French, Inc., and the Samuel French Off-Off Broadway Festival. Read our interview with Casey below, and register for CityWrights 2016 here!

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Q: In your theatre company, how do you approach new works?

A: My theatre company, Concrete Temple Theatre, is a multi-disciplinary company that emphasizes the creation of compelling new theatre works, incorporating drama, dance, devising, puppetry, music, and the visual arts, which focus on the individual’s struggle for identity and society’s struggle for cohesion. With that in mind every project starts a little differently, in most cases there is a piece of art or literature that inspires us. From there our writer will begin her writing process, during this process she will meet with the rest of the team between drafts to discuss how the new writing affects the visual elements. This process can take anywhere from 5 months to 3 years depending on the piece. We will often have 2 to 4 workshops of the piece during this time to test out new drafts and design elements.

Q: Can you speak briefly on the relationship between CityWrights and the Sam French Festival?

A: CityWrights and the Samuel French Off Off Broadway Festival have a wonderful supportive relationship. We work together to make sure authors are seen and heard by audiences around the country. I think of Citywrights and the Samuel French Off Off Broadway Festival as Yin and Yang, individual each festival allows the playwright to experience one half of theatre, together we allow the playwright to experience all sides of theatre.

Q: Coming off of the previous question, in what ways does that relationship benefit the playwrights involved?

A: Both festivals offer unique experiences to authors, when an author gets to participate in both it’s a great learning experience on many levels for that author. At one festival a playwright can learn first hand about producing and mounting a show, at the other festival the playwright gets to work with an amazing producing team and has the chance to watch their work be professionally produced.

Q: What have been some of your favorite pieces form the Off-Off Broadway festival?

A: It’s very hard for me to choose a favorite, it’s like choosing a favorite child. I can tell you what makes a good short play great; the voice has to be unique and different, the story has to be able to stand on its own, and have its own identity. All the winners in the last few years have accomplished that.

Q: Where can we get information about the Samuel French Off-Off Broadway festival and when is it?

A: Our festival is August 9th to the 14th this year. More information can be found at oobfestival.com.

23 Days until CityWrights! A Q&A with Guest Artist Georgia Stitt

City Theatre is excited to welcome Georgia Stitt, acclaimed composer and pianist, to the CityWrights 2016 Team! Georgia will be hosting the workshop Using Music in Storytelling and speaking on panels for “Right to Share: Piracy & Protection in the Age of Internet Visibility” and “Musicals: Production and Process.” We’ve asked her a few questions about her work, what she’s excited for, and what’s current in new musicals. Read our interview with Georgia below, and register for CityWrights 2016 here!

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Q: At CityWrights this year we’re trying to foster relationships between playwrights and composers – what musical collaboration have you enjoyed working on the most?

A: Well, each collaboration is different, and so I’m inspired and challenged by the problems that they present. I’m currently collaborating with Bob Banghart, a bluegrass musician in Alaska, on the score for our new show SNOW CHILD that we’re writing for Arena Stage. It has been crazy hard to find ways to communicate with each other and to find common ground in our language and our processes. But we both love the music we’re writing, and after months of getting to know each other, traveling across the continent several times, sharing meals and good bottles of wine and sending musical samples back and forth between Juneau and New York City, Bob and I have built a trust and a friendship that makes the collaboration feel generous and fruitful. (Our director Molly Smith must have predicted this alchemy when she paired us together.) We both know that we have things to learn from each other and that our score sounds better because we are writing it together. As we approach the finish line with this piece I have been expressing such gratitude for the surprising gifts of this collaboration.

As far as a collaboration with a playwright goes, I have to say that I’m super excited to be starting a new piece with Hunter Foster. He and I have known each other from our past lives as performers — he was on the stage and I was in the orchestra — and now we’ve found our way into a partnership where he’s writing the book and I’m writing music and lyrics. There are passages he writes in the script, knowing full well they will be turned into songs, that are such beautiful prose they could be the beginning of a novel. He is a generous collaborator and such a smart man of the theater. Between the two of us he’s been the actor, he’s been the singer, he’s been the director; I’ve been the conductor and the pianist and the orchestrator. We just make a good team, and it’s been fun to dream up this story together and then try to craft it into reality. Honestly, I think that’s the thing I would say is the most valuable about collaboration: find a well-matched partner and then be generous with each other.

 

Q: As a composer, when you’re not writing, what do you find your favorite kind of musicals to be?

A: I like to be surprised in the theater. I get the most discouraged in a show when I’m ahead of the storytelling, when I see the plot twists coming or I feel like the songs state the obvious. So I love the shows that take me to unexpected places. And I really, really want the music to be good. There is a kind of musical theater writing that is quite prevalent among younger musical theater writers where the scores sound like musical theater itself. And I don’t know why “musical theater” has a sound. If we’re doing it right, the music of a score should inform the world it inhabits. Some of my favorite scores include epic pieces like A LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA, SWEENEY TODD, THE MOST HAPPY FELLA, FLOYD COLLINS and PARADE and then even shows like CITY OF ANGELS and PACIFIC OVERTURES and LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS in which the score tells you exactly what you need to know about place and time and character. I got to play in the pit for the Broadway production of SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS and I thought it was a master class in score writing every single night.
Q: What is your favorite new musical?

A: I am on the HAMILTON bandwagon because I think what Lin-Manuel Miranda and Alex Lacamoire and Tommy Kail and Andy Blankenbuehler created on that stage is singular and generation-defining. And I think the craft of the script and score writing in FUN HOME is exceptional and that the Jeanine Tesori-Lisa Kron collaboration is strong and vital. But other shows I have enjoyed a lot in recent seasons include FIRST DAUGHTER SUITE, A YEAR WITH FROG AND TOAD, AFTER MIDNIGHT and, without question, HONEYMOON IN VEGAS.

 

Q: Can you speak briefly on what will you be teaching at CityWrights?

A: I’m teaching a session called “Using Music In Storytelling” that outlines some of the how-tos I was referencing above: what are some of the basic tools composers use to define character and plot in the songs of a musical? This session is designed to aid both composers and playwrights as they begin to think about music as part of the fabric of the storytelling and not just as the underscoring for the words. Amanda Green and I are co-teaching a session about how we use songs to tell the story of a musical, how the structure of “what-kinds-of-songs-go-where” makes the puzzle pieces of a musical fit together. And I’m on a few panels about protecting your work in the age of internet piracy and about the production process.
Q: Can you tell us about Big Red Sun and the impact the show had on you?

A: BIG RED SUN is a show I’ve been writing for a very long time. John Jiler is the playwright and lyricist and I’m writing the music. It’s a show about a family in 1962 and the teenaged boy (a future Bob Dylan-type) who learns that his father who died in WWII was a celebrated swing musician (a Benny Goodman-type) in the late 30s and early 40s. It tells the story of how much our country changed in those two decades by charting how much the music changed and the distance it created between fathers and sons in one generation. I would say that I have learned a lot through that show about pastiche writing – writing music that is meant to sound like a swing tune in 1943 or a folk tune in 1962 — and how important it is to make sure that your voice is still in there, even if you’re writing “in the style” of someone else. It’s also been interesting to live through the decade-long gestation of this piece. There were many moments when John and I thought we’d reached the end, that nobody was interested in it, that we clearly hadn’t gotten it right, and we’d put it away for a few months. And then some nagging thing about the characters or the themes would surface and we’d find ourselves doing another rewrite. We’re now headed into production in Philadelphia at 11th Hour Theater with a great director, Megan O’Brien. It feels to me like that last week of pregnancy when all you can think about is the relief that your baby will eventually be born and your hope that the world will love it as much as you do.

Q & A with Jennifer Ashley Tepper, Theatre-Maker Extraordinaire!

City Theatre is thrilled to welcome Jennifer Ashely Tepper, acclaimed author, theatre historian, and Director of Programming at Feinstein’s/54 Below to the CityWrights 2016 Team! Jennifer will be lending her knowledge of new musical theatre and theater history to CityWrights panels this year. We asked her a few questions about her many “hats,” her love of theatre, and what’s current in new musicals. Read our interview with Jennifer to learn more about this exciting CityWrights panelist, and register for CityWrights 2016 here!
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City Theatre (CT):  You’re a theatre professional who wears many hats: Director of Programming at Feinstein’s/54 Below, author, and theatre historian. How do you balance what sounds like 3 very time-consuming occupations?

Jennifer Tepper (JT): I love doing all three things, so having a genuine passion for each “hat” helps! I actually find that juggling multiple projects helps me to be productive. On a given day, I might work on programming shows for Feinstein’s/54 Below, then conduct an interview for an article, then meet with artist whose show I’m producing, then complete some research on a theater for my book… the variety makes things exciting, and each project feeds the other both mentally and through the connections I make. It certainly adds another layer to your understanding of theatre history when you’re also making your own theatre at the same time! It’s the difference between having the same meal for lunch every day, or having a different meal for lunch each day – you’re probably going to enjoy each food more if you have that variety. Wearing multiple professional hats is kind of like that. Diversifying your jobs makes you appreciate each one more. Focus is also a great asset and something that I consciously developed as a young theatre student. When you want to do so much, you have to be able to work at a high level of productivity, and always take full advantage of the time you have.
CT:  Theatre historian is a title that not a lot of people know about. What exactly is a theatre historian and how did you find yourself investigating the history of Broadway?

JT: I loved reading the work of writers who I considered theatre historians when I was a teenager. Ken Mandelbaum was a great influence on me, and his book Not Since Carrie astounded me. Several of my favorite books made me understand the ways that one could write about theatre which were separate from criticism or dramaturgy. I always wanted to share the theatre with others – whether that meant introducing my friends to cast recordings, making my mother take me to regional productions, or refusing to talk about anything except Broadway with strangers. The idea that I could share theatre with others by writing about it or speaking about it was something I realized that a few select people did. Theatre historian is not so much a full time job as it’s a title one receives based on one’s body of work. People who are theatre historians are sometimes also journalists, professors, directors, producers, and so forth. I was lucky enough to start discovering theatre historians and their work, and I began to understand that I could forge my own path to become a theatre historian in my own way.
CT:  You’ve jokingly been referred to as Broadway’s biggest fangirl—when did your love of theatre begin?

JT: My parents, while both in medicine, have always been theatre fans. My grandparents were huge theatre fans as well. I remember getting taken to see national tours of A Chorus Line and Fiddler on the Roof when I was in elementary school. I started going to theatre camp at the JCC in Boca Raton when I was 9 years old, and that completely sold me. After that, I started asking for cast recordings for every birthday and Hanukkah present. My mother encouraged me at every turn in every possible way, and pretty soon my sister was equally enamored with the theatre. (She’s now in her third year of law school and on track to become an entertainment lawyer!) My stepmom was also instrumental and introduced me to a lot of movie musicals. She never lets me forget that when I was 9 and she showed me Bette Midler’s Gypsy for the first time, I turned to her and said, like a smart-ass, “You know, this would make a great show.” Oy.
CT: Who is a current theatre artist that inspires you?

JT: My best friend and frequent collaborator Joe Iconis is the theatre artist who inspires me the most. His work as a musical theatre writer emboldens me and heartens me and influences me every day. He has a new musical premiering this summer at Barrington Stage in Massachusetts, called Broadway Bounty Hunter! You can check out info on that and other work of his (albums, upcoming concerts, etc.) at http://mrjoeiconis.com
CT: You produce the New Musicals at 54 series at Feinstein’s/54 Below—what excites you most about being on the cutting edge of new musical theatre?

JT: What I am most passionate about in the world is finding ways to share worthy musicals, both new and old, with people who will love them. That means both helping the artists at hand to realize their vision and also cultivating the audience that will be influenced by the show. With the New Musicals at 54 series specifically, I’m getting to collaborate with some of my favorite musical theatre writers of today on things like casting, budgeting, presentation, press, and so forth, in order to create the most exciting, successful evenings possible in celebrating and presenting concert versions of their shows. It’s been so wonderful to share these evenings with the world and have hundreds of people, as they exit, talking about the plot or a character or a song or what they hope will happen next for the musical they just saw. It’s been incredibly rewarding to watch audiences enjoy the musicals as much as I have, and to connect the artists with industry who may be of help to their future or the future of the show. We’re also forging new collaborations – between writers and actors, musicians and orchestrators, audience members and artists… all who may connect again or support each other in the future. It’s just been wonderful to produce so far, and at the moment, we still have 6 of the 10 musicals to go! You can visit http://54below.com/new for more info.
CT:  If you had to pick one cast recording to listen to on a loop for 6 months—which one wouldn’t make you crazy?

JT: There are actually many I could pick! I might say In Trousers. I never get sick of that recording. I always come back to it.

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CityWrights Throwback and Save the Date!

CityWrights 2016 is coming together with a finesse and splendor that heeds good tidings for those who attend. This year’s workshops will center around niche genres of the short play that City Theatre has yet to conquer–one minute plays and ten minute musicals!

Dominic D’Andrea, the Producing Artistic Director of the acclaimed One Minute Play Festivals, will be joining the CityWrights team to lead workshops and Wrighter’s Blocks in the art of the one minute play, what D’Andrea calls a “cultural barometer.”

We’re also tackling the “little giant” of ten-minute musicals. Because we are a playwright’s company at heart, our musicals workshop will focus on the non-music side of writing a musical–i.e., books, lyrics, and librettos. This workshop/Wrighter’s Block series will be led by an exciting–but yet to be announced–special guest artist.

CityWrights 2016 is really starting to warm up! Save the dates of June 23-26, 2016, and keep checking this blog, our Facebook, and our website for continual updates on the attendance and events happening at CityWrights this year! Registration will open shortly and early bird passes will be discounted, so keep your eyes peeled, playwrights!

As you get excited to return to the Magic City, here’s a little CityWrights Throwback from last year!

 

SHORT CUTS! Coming to a School Near YOU!

City Theatre is kicking off our 2016 programming with inspiration and education to the next generation of theatre makers and advocates–middle schoolers!

Touring for 30+ performances around Miami middle schools,SHORT CUTS consists of commissioned material from 4 Miami-grown playwrights–France-Luce Benson, Lauren Feldman, Vanessa Garcia, and Jessica Farr (who also serves as our director!)–with a message of anti-bullying, cooperation, inclusion, and friendship. The program features 4 short plays meant to engage students with cultures, backgrounds, and abilities that may resonate with them or differ from their own experiences. The tour fosters kindness and empathy in students while exposing them to the arts and live theatre.

Our team is seeking to engage students and, in turn, learn and grow as artists in the process. We spoke with our playwright/director Jessica Farr to get her insight on the content of the program, its message, and the impact this material has on the audience and creative team.

City Theatre (CT): From a directorial standpoint, how do you make the anti-bullying message accessible and clear to the students while keeping the content entertaining?

Jessica Farr (JF): The anti-bullying message is still relevant today in its many modes and forms. Whether grappling with issues of racial tension, immigration, ADHD and self image, we aimed to discuss real problems without padding the content, or attempting to distract. We bring the stories into the room and let their messages reverberate. The production moves from one play to the next, denoted by a school bell, as if the events are happening during a day in school. We jump from one lesson to another, each story varied and presented in its own unique way. It’s quite a trip! We think the students will respond to it.

CT: Why do you think this content is so important for students of this age group?

JF: The students are going through these issues NOW, so we want to hold a mirror up to the nature of these problems. Middle school is a difficult, formative time. These plays reflect that tension with honesty and humor. The ensemble and I considered our own middle school years during the rehearsal process, and embodying that state of being mentally and physically really helped us to shape the stories as we moved along.

CT: Why is it important for the students to see work from local playwrights of different backgrounds?

JF: We want the students to see an image of themselves on stage, and not just from one perspective. Diversity was key in putting together this tour. We have many stories to tell in our community, and this tour really begins to dilate what that means. We feel these plays can really bring people together and that is important. Especially in such a polarized world as we seem to have today.

CT: Though each of these plays share a theme, they are all very different in their execution of the anti-bullying message. How are these variations on bullying giving the students a well-rounded experience?

JF: Although the plays are quite different in context and presentation, they seem to really speak to one another. We’ve created a journey together as an ensemble that moves from the external to the internal, from youth to an older age, and from the sense of “other” to a state of inclusiveness. The plays are all specific to their own aim, but blend pretty well. It was unexpected, honestly! But a welcome surprise.

CT: From your unique standpoint as both a director and playwright (and an actor in other contexts), how does working with material for students with this message enrich you, the cast, and the rest of the SHORT CUTS team as artists?

JF: This process has been so informative. I had never written a play for this age group before and it was quite a challenge. It feels affirming to be doing this kind of work, on the fly, but there’s purity and magic in it. We are telling stories, sharing pieces of a broken mirror and attempting to heal the fractures. It’s what is at the root of theatre. It has been a great pleasure to work on this with such a giving group of creatives. Now, to bring it to the students.

 

Thank you so much to Jessica and the SHORT CUTS team for all of their hard work! If you’re a parent or educator and you’re interested in having SHORT CUTS come to your school, please call our office. 305-755-9401 ex. 12

SHORT CUTS tours January-April 2016.

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