Category Archives: Theatre

Ready for Homecoming? Its arts-and-culture focus turns 5 this year.

homecoming12

It’s been five years since the University introduced an arts-and-culture focus to Homecoming weekend — a focus we here at the Arts Blog happen to love. Each year we bring you a roundup of the events we’re most excited to attend. Here is this year’s list. (Note that advance online registration for certain events, available here, closes at 5 p.m. on Nov. 4. You can find the full schedule of events for Homecoming weekend here.)

FRIDAY, NOV. 8, 2013

  • Tour of Penn’s 19th-Century Architectural Masterpieces (2 – 3: 30 p.m., leaves from the steps of College Hall): David Brownlee, the Frances Shapiro-Weitzenhoffer Professor of Art, will guide alumni through the 19th-century architectural gems on campus. (Advance registration is required. A tour focused on Penn’s 20th-century architectural masterpieces departs from the top level of Garage #40 on Saturday at 2 p.m.)
  • Opening Reception: Penn Alumni Artist Exhibit (4 – 7 p.m., 2nd floor of the Inn at Penn): The Burrison Gallery presents its first show devoted to alumni artists. Works on display will include photographs, paintings, mixed-media and etchings, all of which will be up for sale. The exhibition will remain on view through Dec. 20, 2013.
  • Film Sound: The evolution of the subversive art of sound in movies (3:30 – 5 p.m., Claudia Cohen Hall): Alumni filmmakers David Novack EAS’86 and Nancy Levy Novack C’87 return as co-curators for the Alumni Film Festival this year. In this session, they’ll discuss film sound’s history and evolution. (Advance registration is encouraged, and a reception follows from 5 – 5:30 p.m. On Saturday at 5:45 p.m., the Film Festival will screen Head Games, which exposes the concussion as a leading public health issue and features several Penn scientists and clinicians.)

SATURDAY, NOV. 9, 2013

  • Classes without Quizzes: The City and the Museum (10 – 11:30 a.m., Meyerson Hall): David Brownlee will join Gail Harrity, president and COO of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and architect Tod Williams to discuss museums’ design history and their continuing impact. (Registration at http://penndesignhomecoming.eventbrite.com.)
  • Life in the World of Theatre Today (10:30 a.m. – 12 p.m., Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts): This broad discussion of the theatrical professional boasts a number of distinguished panelists: Jed Bernstein C’77, Broadway producer and president of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts; Lori Fineman C’92 W’92, executive director of Transport Group Theatre Company; Stephanie Kramer (Penn Parent ’16), board member of the Roundabout Theatre Company; and Brett Sirota C’89, CEO of The Road Company. Vickie Reiss, executive director of The Shubert Foundation, will moderate.
  • Curator Conversation: Jason Rhoades, Four Roads (11 a.m. – 12 p.m., Institute of Contemporary Art): ICA Senior Curator Ingrid Schaffner leads a Q&A discussion of the museum’s current exhibition, Jason Rhoades, Four Roads. Roads kicks off the ICA’s 50th anniversary year and marks the first U.S. survey of the artist’s work. (Docent-led tours of the exhibit will follow from 1 – 5 p.m.)
  • Classes without Quizzes: How to Teach Poetry to 42,000 Students at Once: ModPo, MOOCs, and Online Learning (4 – 6 p.m., Kelly Writers House): Al Filreis, Kelly Professor and faculty director of the Writers House, is in the midst of teaching ModPo — a massive open online course on modern and contemporary American poetry — for the second time right now. His students number in the tens of thousands and live all over the world. In this session, he’ll discuss teaching poetry via MOOC.
  • Gallery Hop (4 – 6 p.m., starts at the Arthur Ross Gallery): This year’s hop stops at the Arthur Ross Gallery (Auguste Rodin: The Human Experience), the architectural archives (Louis Kahn: Three Houses) and the special collections center at the library (Recent Acquisitions). A director or curator will be available at each stop to discuss the works on view.

SUNDAY, NOV. 10, 2013

  • Mural Arts Tour (10 a.m. – 12 p.m., departs from Inn at Penn): The group will explore Center City and West Philadelphia via antique trolley, taking in the murals each has to offer. (Pre-registration is required and there is a $35 fee for this event.)

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Our 5 most popular posts of 2012

You may remember our “best of” (i.e. most-viewed) blog post countdown from last year. We’re back with another for 2012, only this time with a twist: We decided that only posts written this year would be included.

Before we get into our countdown, ever wonder where people are reading this blog?
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It seems the answer is “all over the place.” This past year, we had visitors from Zimbabwe, Argentina, Australia, Thailand and 90 other countries. (Long-distance readers: please say hello sometime in the comments!)

Now, without further ado, here are our five most popular posts from 2012:

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Alumna’s poem video goes viral — with help from Lady Gaga

Photo by Jonathan Weiskopf

Caroline Rothstein C’06, the same Caroline Rothstein for whom an annual poetry program at the Kelly Writers House is named, created a video that recently caught Lady Gaga’s attention — and, by extension, the attention of Gaga’s 53 million Facebook fans and 30 million Twitter followers.

Rothstein is a writer and performer who specializes in spoken-word poetry. (Recent grads may have seen her on stage with The Excelano Project, which she directed her junior and senior years at Penn.) She has performed her oral poetry at colleges, schools and other venues around the country, and is also a longtime eating-disorder recovery activist who hosts a Body Empowerment series on YouTube.

Her spoken-word and eating-disorder activism often overlap, as they did with the video Gaga discovered and shared with fans. “Fat”’s powerful message begins immediately, surging from its first three lines: “I am not fat. It took me 22 years to purge words onto a page the same way I purged my body into stomach ulcers, popped eye blood vessels and missing tooth enamel. Twenty-two years to tell the tale of my bulimic, anorexic, and disordered-eating hell.”

Rothstein spoke with us about writing “Fat” as a senior at Penn and about the video’s recent spread. She also discussed some of her other work, including an award-winning one-woman play based on her own experience with and recovery from an eating disorder.

Lady Gaga revealed her own eating-disorder struggles shortly before sharing your video. Do you have any idea how she found “Fat”?

[Last month,] a friend posted an article on my Facebook wall about how Lady Gaga had come out saying she has a history of an eating disorder and then announced, ‘Let’s start a Body Revolution; everyone share your story.’ I went to [Gaga’s website] littlemonsters.com, which I had never heard of before that evening, to see what was going on. By the minute, thousands of people were posting their stories and saying things like, ‘I had anorexia.’ ‘I had bulimia.’ ‘I cut myself.’ ‘This is a picture of my stomach.’ It was so powerful and amazing and I thought, You know what? I’m going to join in. So I posted a link to the video of my poem “Fat” and in the caption I wrote, ‘I’m eight years recovered from a decade-long eating disorder and really grateful to Lady Gaga for being so brave and spearheading this movement.’

I went to sleep. I figured maybe a few fans would see it. Then the next day, I saw all these tweets from Lady Gaga fans saying, ‘We love you. The whole world knows who you are.’ I went and checked [Gaga’s] Twitter page and sure enough, she had tweeted the link. The part I know is that I posted it;  the speculation is how, amidst the thousands and thousands of posts, she or whomever came across mine. That’s the part I don’t know.

What sort of response did you experience from people discovering your video?

It’s been amazing. I have all these new fans and followers and supporters, and on [littlemonsters.com] I received hundreds and hundreds of incredible comments. I am so moved and grateful…. I feel awkward just listing all the accolades I was getting, [but] more importantly, a lot of people shared their stories, too, and that’s why I do what I do. That’s why my art is personal and political and that’s why I believe the personal is political. My hope is that we all eliminate the shame surrounding whatever our stories are so that in our honesty we heal ourselves and we heal each other.

“Fat” is such a compelling piece. Can you tell me about the process and experience of writing it?

I wrote it at Penn when I was a second-semester senior. I was 22 years old at the time. While I had been a writer and performer my whole life and I had been publicly speaking about my experience for years, it was so hard to articulate it succinctly. At that point, I was about a year and a half into recovery and I was finally able to concisely articulate my experience in a way that felt manageable, authentic and honest to the severity of the illness and also to the reality of recovery being possible.

[The piece] went through a lot of edits. I vacillated between words and lines for weeks, I remember. I can picture myself actually sitting in Qdoba at the counter window looking out onto Superblock and editing word by word. I wanted it to be accessible, and that’s what this whole Lady Gaga thing has proven to me — that it is the accessible piece I hoped it would be.

At what point did you realize how powerful spoken-word poetry could be for you?

I didn’t know spoken-word existed until I was at Penn. Carlos Andres Gomez had just started The Excelano Project and I saw him perform. I was a freshman and I thought, ‘Now there’s an art form that exists where I can be a writer, performer and activist all at once instead of separately.’ My whole life I’d been a theater kid and a poet and now I had a way to do it all at once.  I tried out for Excelano, made it and I was in the group for the rest of Penn.

Spoken-word is so personal and expository. How do you prepare yourself to go on stage and share such intimate thoughts and moments with an audience?

That’s actually always the easiest part for me. Even before spoken word I was publicly speaking about my eating disorder and writing very confessional poetry about depression and bulimia and sexual abuse. To me it feels inherent in who I am as an artist. I don’t know any other way to do it. That’s not a roadblock for me. The roadblock is, Do I have this memorized? That’s always the biggest challenge for me.

And how do you memorize everything?

Everyone has their own thing. I use a lot of old acting techniques. One is lying on my back and breathing each word so I get it in my body. Another is reading it over and over so I have it visually memorized.

Are there things that work well with spoken-word poetry that wouldn’t work as well in written-on-the-page poetry, and vice versa?

Absolutely. I think that’s why there are a lot of poets who struggle on the page who are incredible on-stage and vice versa. Performing gives you an opportunity to let go of grammar and structure, but I personally like to make sure my stuff works on the page before I bring it to the stage. If you read every spoken-word poet’s stuff it all looks different. Some people are like me and take care of how it looks, some just throw it in a paragraph and somehow get the cadence.

I’m in a really big repetition phase right now. I’m working a lot with repeating words and lines and motifs and performance lends itself better to that than the page does.

Tell me about your one-woman play, faith.

I developed it with the support of a director and production company. It debuted in the Culture Project’s Women Center Stage Festival in April here in New York. I did a two-night run and then I did a one-night benefit performance in another social-justice theater festival in New York in June. From there it won Outstanding Production of a Solo Show, so now it’s officially award-winning, which is really exciting for all of us. My producer and director and I are looking into some really incredible opportunities for moving forward with it, so this is really the beginning of its life, I hope.

What else are you working on now?

I tour and perform spoken word at colleges and universities and schools. I also facilitate workshops in writing, performance and empowerment in different schools. I have a Body Empowerment series on YouTube, which I’ve been doing for four years. Any day I’m wearing 50 different hats and multitasking and juggling to crazy degrees. Right now, I’m just working on loads of different projects and also traveling and performing all the time in New York and around the country.

What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in spoken word since you discovered the art form 10 years ago?

When I started spoken word it was a very adult art form. Very few youths had access to it and it was just starting to pick up in the college world. Now it’s starting in elementary school. That’s the biggest difference — you can grow up wanting to be a spoken-word poet.

Click here to read the full text of “Fat.” You can also see more of Caroline’s work on her YouTube channel, including this recent poem about her brother’s death:

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Douglas Leferovich C’94 makes magic at the Tropicana Las Vegas

Photo by Joseph Connell

Much has happened for Douglas Leferovich C’94 since he spoke with the Gazette’s senior editor Sam Hughes in 2008. At that time, he had recently co-created CatHouse, a restaurant and “loungerie” in Las Vegas at the Luxor Hotel. In the four years since, he has focused on performance, consulting on a dozen shows up and down the Las Vegas Strip, and more recently, serving up some performances of his own.

He’s been appearing nightly in Murray at the Tropicana Las Vegas’s Laugh Factory since April. Starring comedian-magician Murray SawChuck, the show also features Leferovich’s “Lefty”—a bumbling stagehand with hidden magic talents and dreams of stardom.

With the Vegas heat at a steamy 115 degrees and his nightly show only a few hours away, Leferovich made time to discuss his latest Sin City endeavor and his lifelong love of magic. (You can also see Lefty in action at the end of this post.)

When did you get into magic? Was it something you started as a kid?

My father John Leferovich Jr. W’53 was a lawyer in New York City and he was very busy working. My mother said, ‘You should do something fun with your two sons on the weekends.’ My dad had always been fascinated with magic—I often joke that magic and being a lawyer are kind of the same thing: trickery, deceit—so it’s something we started doing as a family hobby.

It wasn’t something at 4, 5, or 6 years old I was doing as a career. It was just something fun to do with our dad. But over time word spread. I think I was 7 when we did our first show. My dad had a very interesting philosophy which worked for many years. Since I was 7 and my brother was 9, there were times we’d be doing shows for kids who were the same ages we were, so my dad would always start the show to give it that authoritative figure.

I kept doing it all throughout elementary school and high school. As my friends had paper routes or would bag groceries to make money, I would do two or three magic shows a weekend.

Tell me about your character Lefty in the Tropicana show.

For the first half of the show, you think I’m just a stagehand. Even though I do some funny comedy bits with Murray, you don’t know that I’m also a magician. When I start doing manipulations with playing cards, people are even more stunned than usual because they can’t believe that the stagehand is doing this amazing magic.

And you do it all without speaking.

Right, I don’t speak. You can do a lot without speaking. The music I perform to and the facial expressions I give are so vivid and so clear that some people don’t even realize I’m not speaking.

From the videos, it looks like you’re primarily doing slight-of-hand magic.

I do a lot of slight of hand, a lot of small manipulations. I think the card manipulations that I do are closer to true magic than a lot of store-bought tricks. I’m using a regular deck of playing cards, not a trick deck. All the magic you see is something I have to create. It’s the way I hold the cards. It’s the way I’m using my hands and body to make the cards disappear and vanish, as opposed to when you buy something and the trick is self-working. What I do in the show, and the magic I enjoy the most, is the magic where you really have to put in the practice. It’s spending time videotaping myself, practicing in front of the mirror, and going, ‘Okay, how do I take what I do and make it even better?’

I’ve been to magic shows where I see people leave and instead of being happy, they’re frustrated because they can’t figure out how the magic was possible. My character is very happy-go-lucky, and there are times when the magic almost seems to happen to me. When the card appears, I’m just as shocked as the audience is, so the audience is on my side. I don’t present it as Ta-da, I fooled you. I present it as I can’t believe the card appeared either.

So you’d rather entertain people than confound them.

I think laughter is real. When I get a laugh on stage, I know it’s real because you’re not forced to do it. Clapping isn’t a natural reaction. It’s something, over time, you’ve learned. With laughter, you’re not thinking about it. You don’t go, ‘That was funny, now let me laugh.’ To me, getting a laugh is a real and raw emotion.

I’m curious to hear your thoughts on the status of magic today. How has it changed from when you first started?

I think magic has become a bit more current and a bit more hip. A lot of that has been David Copperfield and then Criss Angel. For a while, the tuxedo stuck as the classic magician look. Now, I think magic is turning a corner and becoming more modern. The look of it is assimilating to what our culture is producing, as opposed to just staying in that old period.

Who are some of your magician idols?

Definitely David Copperfield. My magician friends and I would wait around for his big TV special every year. I also admired people outside of magic. Growing up, I was a huge Michael Jackson fan. I thought he was an incredible entertainer. I was lucky enough to perform for him at Neverland Ranch in 1999, which was an unbelievable highlight of my career.

How did you wind up performing for Michael Jackson?

My friend [Franz Harary] was doing a magic show that he’d performed a couple times for Michael Jackson. He asked if I wanted to come out and perform, too. I flew in from the East Coast, and it was just a wonderful experience. I got to meet somebody who was, for a while, the biggest star on the planet, and I got meet him in the most real and relaxed environment possible. He was wearing a baseball hat, a button-down shirt and jeans.

It was surreal. As we were driving to get to the [Neverland] theater, we had to stop at one point because elephants were crossing the road we were on. Then, after the show, they gave us a tour of the amusement park area and let us go on all the rides for as long as we wanted to. The guy would say, ‘I’ll turn the ride on; when you guys are tired of it, just let me know.’

Want to experience the magic MJ did? Here are a few videos of Douglas performing in his current Tropicana show:

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In Penn Players production, Rocky gets a new look

In my mind—which I’ll admit does not speak for all minds—puppets and musical theater should be at the top of any Great Things list. It was pretty exciting, then, to see the two combine in the Penn Players’ performance of The Rocky Horror Picture Show this past weekend. In a twist I’ve never seen before, the show used a large, body-worn puppet to portray Rocky, Dr. Frank-N-Furter’s latest creation. Here’s a (somewhat blurry) photo of Puppet Rocky flexing his biceps:

And here’s Rocky cowering from the criminologist:

Puppet Rocky came from Alisa Sickora Kleckner, a theatre artist who has designed costumes, puppets and masks throughout the Northeast and who serves as an adjunct faculty member and resident designer at Arcadia University.

For further Penn Players/Rocky Horror fun, check out the flash mob that cast members staged on Locust Walk leading up to performance weekend:

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Melissa Fitzgerald C’87 on her new documentary, Staging Hope

“Imagine you are a teenager who is abducted in the middle of the night and forced to become a child soldier or sex slave. Imagine trying to sleep, as your friends go missing everyday, wondering if you will be next. Now, imagine many of the people you know and love will soon die and most of the world has no idea what is happening to you…

Teenagers like Scovia and 13 others don’t have to imagine, this is their life. Having escaped their rebel abductors, these teens and their families are now living together in camps for internally displaced persons (IDP.)

Their stories of suffering and resilience have never been told…until now.”
–Staging Hope
synopsis

While Melissa Fitzgerald C’87 is most often recognized for her work as Carol on NBC’s political drama The West Wing, her more recent role has reached people who have never even seen a television. A longtime social activist, Fitzgerald helped create the documentary Staging Hope: Acts of Peace in Northern Uganda. The film will screen tonight as part of the Philadelphia Film Festival.

Staging Hope follows Fitzgerald’s team of actors, playwrights and activists as they help 14 Ugandan teens transform their traumatic personal experiences into works of live theater. Addressing the themes of reconciliation, peace-building and HIV/AIDS, volunteers helped the teens create two plays based on their own lives. “I think in an area where there’s no television and very little access to information, [theater] is a great way to share information,” Fitzgerald says. But at the same time, “a play’s gotta be good or people aren’t going to watch it. We knew we had to deliver some good theater.”

A former English major and Penn Singers alumna, Fitzgerald recently made time to speak about her work in Uganda and her new documentary. Here is a condensed version of our conversation.

From what I’ve heard, social activism has been a big part of your life for quite a while. Tell me about Voices in Harmony.
I co-founded Voices in Harmony in 1995 with several other actors. We knew we wanted to do something in the community in Los Angeles, and [acting] is what we knew how to do. We also felt there was a unique opportunity for storytelling in theater to build bridges because creating a play is such a community activity. We wanted to do something to bring people from different parts of the city together and we wanted to reach economically disadvantaged at-risk teens.

We paired actor mentors with teen mentees, and each team created a short play based on the theme racism/prejudice/intolerance. We had professional writers come in and help write their pieces, then we had professional directors come in and direct them. We put it all together into several evenings of theater and performed around Los Angeles.

It was going to be a one-off, but it was such a wonderful experience for all of us that we just kept going.

How did that lead to your work in Africa?
We started Voices in Harmony long before any of us had success as actors. We were mostly broke and unemployed. We had the passion to do it, the belief that something we were doing was valuable and good, and I think we had the energy of youth. Then I got the West Wing, and continued to do Voices in Harmony. I also started doing some volunteer work during the summers, when the show was on hiatus. I went to South Africa to volunteer with an AIDS organization and in 2006, the International Medical Corps gave me several options to volunteer with them. I was really disturbed by the whole issue of child soldiering—I think it really struck a chord with me because of my work with teenagers—so I chose Northern Uganda. I felt like that was the place I was supposed to go.

And what was it like there?
They let me go around with their field team to several internally displaced persons camps and I was disturbed by what I saw there. A thousand people were dying each week in these camps. There was a cholera outbreak while I was there. The camps were overcrowded and unsanitary. When we were leaving one of the camps, a man came up to us and said, ‘Please don’t let us die in this horrible place. Please tell the people in America what is happening to us here.” Since then, that has been my mission.

How did that mission evolve into Staging Hope?
When I went to Uganda, I had taken my video camera with me. I turned my tapes over to the International Medical Corps and said, ‘Maybe we can make something with this.’ Martin Sheen offered to narrate, and it became [the short film] Hope Not Lost. I never set out to make a movie, but it won a few awards and had a great impact on my family and friends.

 I thought, ‘If this little home video camera I brought can make a movie with this much impact, imagine what a well-done movie could do.’ I thought, ‘What if I actually did set out to make a movie? What if I did assemble a team of talented filmmakers? What a huge impact that could have.’

I talked to my friend Katy Fox [G’08] who’s a wonderful producer. Both of us were committed to not just taking stories out [of Uganda] but also to putting something in as well. Voices in Harmony in Uganda seemed like a natural fit for that.

Why did you think a theatre program could help Ugandan teens?
I think that being able to tell your story is an incredibly valuable thing. I think it helps us to make sense of the world. I think when the world has gone mad, as it has in a war territory, it’s even more important to have an opportunity to make sense of the world. These teenagers were able to tell their community what they felt was important. How else, besides through theater, can you share your story and explore big issues in front of a thousand people at a time.

What sort of changes did you see in the teens themselves?
They thrived working on this theater program. We felt strongly that this was the beginning for these teens—an opportunity for them to do more after we left. We asked them what they wanted to do after we left and they said, ‘We want to teach the other children what we learned.’ They’re still teaching other children the theater program that we taught them, and they’re touring the plays that we created together, and more plays that they’ve created since we left.

What are you hoping people take away from this film?
I hope people will be moved by what they saw, and that they will be motivated and inspired to take action and make a change there. There are a lot of actions to take right now, many of them listed on our What You Can Do page. My hope is that we will find distribution for our film, that large audiences will get the opportunity to see it, and that they will be moved to take action because there’s so much that we can do. Right now is such a critical time. I think there really can be lasting peace in central Africa, and that we can be part of that.

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Susan Bernfield C’86 prepares for her theater company’s 20th year of producing plays by women

Photo by Jim Baldassare

Susan Bernfield C’86 has been busy since her days as a Penn Player. She’s gone to drama school, acted professionally, written several plays, and in 1992, she founded New Georges—a nonprofit theater company based in New York City and named in honor of George Eliot and George Sand. She’s served as artistic director there for the last 19 years, leading the company in its mission to produce exciting new plays by women. On the cusp of her company’s 20th year, Bernfield made time for a conversation about New Georges.

What led you to start New Georges?
It wasn’t ever really my intention to have a theater company. In 1991, there was this mini-resurgence of feminism happening, and I ended up in an acting class where the women were complaining about how there weren’t any parts for them. We decided to start a theater company; we thought there’d be better parts for us if we produced plays by people who were like us. Some of those original partners fell away over the years, but I just kept going.

What’s been the most challenging part of keeping New Georges running for the last 19 years?
At the beginning, there were a lot of things we forgot to anticipate: I found myself saying things like, “We didn’t find someone to strike the set, so I guess I’ll be striking the set.” “I will carry this tire across the street and almost be hit by cars.” You just do everything that needs to be done. It’s really an insane endeavor, especially at the level we were—and in some ways still are—working at. Staying scrappy and small is a huge mandate for us, even now.

The money thing is always difficult, too, and I think it just gets more difficult as you need and have more money. The hardest thing for me is asking people for money, time or other things, which is a huge part of the job. That’s still really difficult for me.

How do you choose the works you produce?
It’s a pretty unscientific process. We are always keeping an eye on what a lot of different people are doing. Often, we develop the piece or we already have relationships with people and we want those relationships to come to fruition in production. We consciously work project to project and not seasonally. Generally, we do two [productions] a year, but they’re discrete projects that may have started at different times. For example, there’s a play we’re producing [next month] that we’ve been working on for two years.

And the works all have to be brand-new?
Yes; usually, it’s [the writer’s] biggest production to date, and for about half, it’s their first production ever. It’s interesting, because when I was growing up and performing at Penn, plays were something you were in. I don’t think we thought much outside the box in terms of interpreting them. The play was something that existed, and that’s what I thought theater was. [With New Georges], I became interested in the idea of starting from the beginning of the process and making a play the best piece of theater it can be. Since we work with early-career artists, there are always textual changes all along the way. During rehearsals, the playwright and director are both in the room, working to come up with this cumulative theatrical vision. That process is what interests me.

What, to you, makes a strong play?
I want to be surprised and see something I’ve never seen before. That can happen through the characters or the method of storytelling. I want to feel like there’s an expansive notion of the world. I’m very interested in things that are magical and surprise me in different ways. I want to see a very different perspective of the world.

Do you think New Georges could have done as well as it has if it were based outside of New York City?
I think so, but we probably wouldn’t have had the same level of support. I do think the status of theater outside New York is really healthy right now, though. The center of gravity seems to be changing very rapidly, especially for new plays.

A scene from Bernfield's play, Stretch (a fantasia), produced by New Georges in 2008. (Photo by Jim Baldassare.)

Tell me about your own play-writing career.
I started out writing solo pieces, as a lot of actors do. I wrote my first play in 1994 or 95, and New Georges produced it in 1996. I’ve written six or seven plays over the years [including Stretch (a fantasia), Big Hungry World, Barking Girl, Out From Under It, Tracy Petunia, and a solo musical, Tiny Feats of Cowardice] and right now I’m trying to reboot a little and write something new.

How has running a theater company affected the way you write?
A lot of what I do at New Georges involves guiding plays and playwrights along. Structure is something I understand well—I know what’s going to come next [in a play] intuitively, not intellectually—and I’ve become more interested in the design moment that’s about to happen rather than what the people on stage are about to say. I’ve become much more visual, so being a producer has really changed my writing that way. I had never pictured myself as someone who would become a visual writer, but now I see the way [scenes] will look almost as much as I hear them.

What’s next for you and for New Georges?
We’re getting ready to kick off our 20th anniversary season next month with a play called Nightlands [on view Oct. 5-29]. It’s a really cool, really theatrical play set in Philadelphia. It’s about a Jewish housewife who wants to become an astrologer, and who studies with an African-American woman in the 1960s.

As for me, I’ve been writing songs and teaching myself the ukulele.

Interested in learning more about New Georges? The company maintains a YouTube channel with promotional videos for its productions and fundraising efforts. Below, Susan talks about what makes her company unique and reveals a favorite New Georges tradition: saving one souvenir item from each production:

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