How do you solve a problem like Harvey Weinstein?
Well, if you're The Weinstein Company, the film studio Weinstein co-founded with brother Bob in 2005, you fire him. If you're the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the organization behind the Oscars, you also give Weinstein the boot. If you're France, you announce you're stripping him of an award he received in 2012. If you're one of the dozens of women whom he allegedly assaulted, raped, groped or otherwise behaved inappropriately towards during his decades-long reign of terror in Hollywood, you add your name to the growing list of people publicly calling him out for this behavior at long last.
And while all that certainly does solve, or at least address, the problem of Harvey Weinstein specifically, I am asking a slightly different question - how do we, as a society, solve a problem like Harvey Weinstein, that is, the problem of powerful, wealthy men using their power and wealth both to sexually assault women and shield themselves from consequences for years or even decades? Because while it's great that these allegations have finally come to light, and Weinstein is finally facing some consequences for his actions, if history - and Bill Cosby, Bill O'Reilly, Roger Ailes, Woody Allen, Donald Trump, and their ilk - has taught us anything, it's that this is not the last time we will hear about a powerful, influential man abusing and violating women, and that those around him were complicit, either through direct action or silence, in aiding and hiding the abuse.
Wouldn't it be great if, instead of hearing about this monstrous behavior after that fact, instead of punishing the perpetrators with lawsuits, firings and public humiliation, instead of forcing countless women, men and non-binary individuals to suffer the physical, mental and emotional ramifications of their abuse, the abuse just didn't happen in the first place?
Can you solve a problem like Harvey Weinstein?
What struck me the most while I was reading Ronan Farrow's New Yorker piece about Weinstein - besides the cringe-inducing casting couch cliche rendezvous Weinstein arranged with his victims - was how many people apparently knew something was amiss, and yet chose not speak up, mainly out of fear of retaliation. According to Farrow, one former TWC employee who was interviewed for the article said, "If Harvey were to discover my identity, I'm worried that he could ruin my life."
Wow, I thought as I read the article, I am so glad I don't work in an industry where being a compassionate human being, speaking up against inappropriate behavior and protecting fellow human beings, would lead to retaliation so great it would 'ruin my life.'
But that's not exactly true, is it? Sure, objectively, the world of regional theatre may not be as high-stakes or cutthroat as Hollywood, but to the people living in it, working in it, making sacrifices and putting lots of time and energy into succeeding in it, the stakes are high, and the knowledge that one wrong move, one bad impression or professional mis-step with an influential person may cost opportunities and advancement, is very, very real.
The same is true for pretty much any career in our society, because that's how we've set it up - an individual, or small handful of individuals, holds the power; everyone else scrambles over each other, asking "How high?" when the person at the top says "Jump." Those who jump the highest are rewarded - this is the promise of the American Dream. If you WANT IT ENOUGH, and WORK HARD, moving toward your goal NO MATTER WHAT THE COST, you will GET YOUR REWARD, and NO ONE CAN TAKE IT AWAY, DAMMIT.
Americans don't just love a good "go big or go home" victory story, we glorify it, we fetishize it. Kerri Strug sticking the landing on her injured leg at the 1996 Summer Olympics, and Curt Schilling pitching Game 6 of the 2004 ALCS with a bloody sock are the first two examples that jump to mind, but we know that scenarios like this exist in all industries. As a society, we're not turned on when someone simply works diligently and achieves their goal. That's not the real American Dream, no matter what your parents may have told you. The real American Dream is being the person who is willing to do anything and sacrifice everything - including their own physical, mental and emotional well-being, or that of others - to get what they want. The up-and-coming actresses who were lured to "meetings" and coerced into unwanted sexual activity know this, the employees who arranged those meetings fully aware of what was happening at them know this, and the Harvey Weinsteins of the world sure as hell know this. It's a system that rewards ruthless ambition, and leaves little room for basic human decency, compassion and concern. It's a system in which predators like Weinstein thrive.
Which means that it's not just about targeting individual perpetrators like Weinstein, Trump or Ailes (although, you know, we should still keep doing that, because fuck those guys). It's about saying collectively that no job, no opportunity, no career is worth sacrificing your own physical, mental, and emotional well-being, or that of someone else. It's about shifting the paradigm so we take care of each other, instead of just looking out for number one. It's about dismantling the structures of power so that one single individual doesn't hold so much influence over so many, and doesn't have the ability to wreak havoc on so many lives. It's about recognizing compassion and courage, not ruthlessness and ambition, as true markers of success.
Is this a realistic solution? I have no idea. Changing the structure of a society from the ground up is a Herculean task, especially in a country as gosh-darn stubborn as the U.S. But we owe to ourselves to give it a try, or else the problem will continue, just with a new name next time.
-Kristen M. Scatton
If you are a sentient being living in the U.S., you most likely caught wind of some major controversy this past weekend involving the NFL, the national anthem, racial inequality, social justice, #takeaknee, Twitter, the 1st Amendment, and a completely batshit bigoted sociopath - er, I mean the President of the United States.
"Wait, wait, wait - isn't this a theatre company blog?" you might be asking yourself. "Why are you writing about football?" Bear with me.
Since you are on a theatre company's website, reading a theatre company's blog, there's a good chance you've also heard about the Evita whitewashing controversy at the Beverly, MA-based North Shore Music Theatre.
I don't know about you, but I don't often think about the NFL and theatre as having much in common. But in this situation, as I was scrolling through my Newsfeed, reading the news articles, blog posts and think-pieces about these two situations, one thing became clear to me - no one, particularly those in positions of influence and public scrutiny, has the luxury of being silent anymore when it comes to racial inequality and social justice.
There are many people out there who would argue with this statement, insisting that politics should be kept out of sports and art, that these are forms of entertainment, escapism, and should remain that way. But that's a white privilege argument if I ever heard one. The truth is, for millions of people in this country, there is no escape from the realities of racial inequality and social injustice. And what's more, for those people living in that reality, when they try to speak out about it, they are constantly silenced, discredited, overlooked. So if you have a platform like a theatre or, even better, the NFL, you not only have the ability, but the social obligation to use it to give voice to the voiceless.
Which is why North Shore's refusal to recognize their own discriminatory practices and silencing of those who called them out is so infuriating and disappointing. As anyone who is tuned into the theatre world, either at a regional or national level, knows, calls for representation and equality, both onstage and behind the scenes, have been increasing and intensifying, thanks to initiatives like The Ghostlight Project and Project Am I Right?, as well as a rising collective awareness that it's just really fucked up to continually exclude people of color, people with disabilities, and transgender people from all aspects of theatre-making. I'm not saying that any theatre has gotten it absolutely right yet, but refusing to even try or acknowledge that more effort is needed feels like coming down firmly on the wrong side of history.
Being on the wrong side of history, at least when it comes to this particular situation, seems like something the NFL players, coaches and owners want to avoid, although it's not hard to pick your side when the leader of the free world calls you "sons of bitches" (seriously, friends, is this nightmare of a presidency over yet? Please? Pretty please?).
Is it an imperfect protest? Of course it is. Thanks to Trump's Twitter comments, much of the conversation has been derailed from calling attention to America's history of racial discrimination and social injustice, to discussing patriotism, and respect for the American flag and military. The NFL itself is rife with controversies, from its glorification of toxic masculinity, tolerance of players' violence against women, and on-going chronic traumatic encephalopathy scandal. Colin Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback who was the first professional football player to take a knee during the anthem last season, isn't even playing this season, with speculation that his outspokenness had something to do with teams refusing to sign him. While the NFL protests have garnered the most attention, they are by no means the only recent instances of athletes using their platform to call attention to these issues. And this was only one week out of 17 - there's a long way to go until the end of the season, so it remains to be seen if this protest can go the distance.
But we have to start somewhere, whether it's on a stage or a football field, whether our audience is 10 people or 10 million. No one is saying you can't lose yourself in the thrill of the game, cheering for your home team, or be swept away on a fantastic adventure full of song and dance. But if you can add a message in there about the state of our country, call attention to the wrongs that need correcting while you do it, why wouldn't you?
-Kristen M. Scatton
Recently Cameron Kelsall, with Broad Street Review, wrote an article regarding the inequality of produced works in Philadelphia, regarding the male-to-female ratio, and what we can do as a theatrical community to fix it. Below is an excerpt of the article as well as links to the articles sited, including an article by Terry Teachout of The Wall Street Journal, focusing on women playwrights, as well as Laura Collins-Hughes of The New York Times, which discusses theatrical manspreading and how we can combat it.
"Inclusiveness: Illusion versus reality
...I thought about parity in my own backyard. Many of Philly’s finest resident actors, directors, and playwrights are female or gender-nonconforming, nonwhite, and openly LGBTQ+. More than a half-dozen women run theater companies in the region, and Theatre Philadelphia recently named Leigh Goldenberg its first executive director. Jacqueline Goldfinger keeps winning playwriting prizes, Mary Tuomanen produced three new works in 2017 (and counting!), and what isn’t multi-hyphenate extraordinaire Kittson O’Neill doing?
But numbers don’t lie. The works produced by Philadelphia’s major theaters during the 2016-2017 season skew male and white. None of Walnut Street Theatre’s 10 shows were written by women — unless you count A Child’s Christmas in Wales, which Charlotte Moore conceived from Dylan Thomas’s extant writings. Arden Theatre Company and Philadelphia Theatre Company each offered one woman-authored play. Wilma Theater and Lantern Theatre Company both produced one play written by a female playwright and one co-authored play.
I thought perhaps mid-sized companies — which tend to attract younger audiences and cater to fewer older donors — might be in a better position to foster diversity. But like their more established counterparts, Azuka Theatre, Theatre Exile, Theatre Horizon, and Curio Theatre Company all produced one female playwright in 2016-2017...
...The greatest commitment to equity comes from small companies and collectives, such as the “women-centric” ReVamp Collective and the writer-focused Orbiter 3. Carly Bodnar and Erin Carr founded ReVamp in 2014 to “create a space for women to create.” Their programming agenda has included short plays, staged readings, and full productions representing a diverse slate of emerging female and feminist voices. By the time Orbiter 3 disbands early next year, four of its seven plays will have been written by women.
Conversations surrounding gender parity in theater must also include discussions of race. The overwhelming majority of women-authored plays presented in Philadelphia last season were by white authors. Among the major and mid-sized theaters in Philadelphia and the surrounding suburbs, I count four productions of plays written by women of color: Tracey Scott Wilson’s Buzzer, at Theatre Exile; Mia Chung’s You For Me For You, at InterAct; Katori Hall’s The Mountaintop, at People’s Light; and Pulley & Buttonhole’s One More River to Cross: A Verbatim Fugue, by Lynn Nottage. That’s simply not enough.
What to do?
There are several ways Philly’s larger companies can foster and improve their commitment to representational equity. Artistic administration could hire theater makers like Bodnar, Carr, Orbiter 3’s Maura Krause, and Women’s Theatre Festival founder Polly Edelstein as consultants. These artists have proven track records getting female voices on stage. Companies lacking in representative programming can also learn from larger theaters, like People’s Light and Pig Iron, that regularly deliver diverse seasons. Recently, playwright Ifeyinwa Frederick floated a yearlong moratorium on Shakespeare. “There are playwrights out there writing stories with casts that reflect the world we live in today,” she wrote. “If the industry could stop indulging in Shakespeare for a year, we could give these voices a chance.” Sign me up — and add Tennessee Williams, Eugene O’Neill, and David Mamet to the list. Check out Parity Productions and the Kilroys instead.
Theater has the potential to hold a mirror to society — but how honest can the reflection be if half the population accounts for only 20 percent of stories told? If women writers of all backgrounds cannot attain equal footing, does theater just passively reinforce the status quo? I find myself coming back to a sentiment espoused by ReVamp’s mission statement: “Art is created to give a voice to those without a platform. And until diversity is mainstream — including gender, race, sexuality — there is still art to create and stories to express.” Women writers create art encompassing a vibrant array of experiences and worldviews. Doesn’t that pair neatly with the goals of stages of all sizes throughout our city?"
-- Kelsall, Cameron. "Separate, but still unequal." Broad Street Review.
"Doubtless there’s a lot of overlap, but sometimes a woman will recognize and be moved by things in a play that a man won’t, simply because he has never walked through the world the way she has. That’s not sexism; that’s having a different frame of reference. The more of those, the better."
-- Collins-Hughes, Laura. "When Women Won’t Accept Theatrical Manspreading." The New York Times.
"The best available statistics indicate that somewhere between one-fifth and one-quarter of the plays professionally produced in the U.S. are by women."
-- Teachout, Terry. "All Woman, All the Time." The Wall Street Journal
As we work to create a playground for artists to create, call to arms and explore their artistic mediums together, we still aim to hear from our community as to what they want to see. Talk to us - through e-mail, phone, messenger, twitter, etc. Let us know how we can better serve our entire community as we work to create positive change in our backyard.
If you are a theatre artist or enthusiast (and let's face it, if you're reading this blog, you probably are), then by now you have heard about the kerfuffle over the Public Theater's Shakespeare in the Park production of Julius Caesar, in which the title character is styled to evoke Donald Trump, and is assassinated in an apparently very bloody fashion (full disclosure, I haven't seen the production). This depiction has incited such outrage among certain segments of the population that two of the production's corporate sponsors, Delta Air Lines and Bank of America, withdrew their support, and another of the Public's corporate sponsors, American Express, has gone out of its way to let people know they are not financially tied to this particular show.
The fact that some ruffled right-wing feathers made Delta and Bank of America drop their support like a hot potato is disturbing enough, but as I was reading about the controversy, what really struck me was a tweet from Donald Trump Jr. that read, “I wonder how much of this ‘art’ is funded by taxpayers? Serious question, when does ‘art’ become political speech & does that change things?”
As many artists and individuals were quick to point out, all art is political in some way, and depending on who you ask, being political is its main function. And as anyone who has ever had 10th grade English knows, Julius Caesar has always been a political play, dating back to its original publication in the 17th century. The play focuses on the treacherous navigation of public good versus personal gain, the corrupting influence of power, and the dangers of an unchecked leader whose popular rhetoric may mask sinister intentions (staging and casting choices aside, how can you not do a production of this play in 2017 without drawing parallels to the current state of American politics?). And it's not like this is the first production of Julius Caesar to incorporate current events into its concept.
Trump, Jr.'s comments are a shot across the bow, an attempt to undermine and intimidate not just theatre companies, but all artistic communities, by calling into question whether taxpayers should be funding art whose messages or implications offend them. As is the case with most things tweeted by the Trump family, it's a bs argument, because there are no taxpayers dollars funding this production, but it deserves the attention of all artists. It's a slippery slope from questioning whether art should be funded because its content or presentation offends someone to outright censorship, and now more than ever, we as a society cannot allow voices to be silenced, especially when they are pointing our challenging and uncomfortable truths about the world.
If the fallout from this rumpus is that theatres around the country decide to play it safe for fear of losing sponsors/donors or offending people, we all lose. Theatres, and all artists, need to stay strong and continue to produce work that is thought-provoking, socially and culturally relevant, and yes, maybe a little controversial. If we need inspiration, we need look no further than the Public's Artistic Director, Oskar Eustis, who said in his Julius Caesar opening night speech, "When we hold the mirror up to nature, often what we reveal are disturbing, upsetting, provoking things. Thank God. That's our job."
- Kristen M. Scatton
--**Contains spoilers about the film Wonder Woman**
Confession time: I have never read a Wonder Woman comic book. I have never seen the Wonder Woman TV show. My ignorance of comic book characters, lore and universes is probably second only to my ignorance of professional sports (hockey is still happening? STILL????) and I regularly make my more in-the-know friends shake their heads in consternation with my confusion of the DC and Marvel universes.
That being said, I was still pretty darn excited about the fact that, after 76 years, Wonder Woman was getting her own live-action feature film because, as our own Erin Carr said, representation matters. I mean, how many Batman reboots does it take to get to the center of Bruce Wayne's brooding? I don't need to fork over $15 every two years to see the same story retold with more explosions and worse acting (sorry, Ben Affleck - stick to directing). But a film exploring the backstory of a different, under-represented character who happens to be a woman? In the words of Fry, shut up and take my money.
Because of my general ignorance of Wonder Woman, any expectations or skepticism I had of the film were hinged on broader concerns of how Hollywood would treat her as a female character. Would she be oversexualized? Would she somehow be undermined by the male characters? Would there be some bullshit love story because we all know that all women really want is a dude with a strong jawline to sweep them off their feet, saving the world be damned?
Those concerns turned out to be both founded and unfounded. Sure, Wonder Woman’s costume is short and tight, but it actually provides more coverage than Lynda Carter’s costume from the 1970’s TV show, and it’s undeniably more functional than the more period-appropriate clothes Diana tries on during the London shopping spree scene. Additionally, Patty Jenkins’ direction doesn’t fetishize Diana’s body – I can’t recall a close-up of a heaving bosom or slow-pan of Gal Gadot’s statuesque frame. The male characters may be initially struck by Diana’s beauty, but they quickly learn that there is a hell of a lot more beneath the surface.
Likewise, the male characters quickly learn that their attempts to undermine her, however well-intentioned, are unnecessary and ill-advised, which is a pleasant subversion of expectations. Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) starts off the film by mansplaining war to an Amazon warrior goddess, but by the end, when she is locked in her epic final battle with Ares, the God of War (Professor Lupin! Say it ain’t so!), he knows there is nothing he can do for her that she can’t do for herself, again subverting the insinuation that, even though she’s a superhero, she still needs a man to bail her out.
And as for that love story? Yeah, it’s there. In the words of Liz Lemon, "Commencing eyeroll sequence." It's not the main focus of the plot, so I'll at least give it that. If they're going to continue shoehorning romantic storylines into the plots of future Wonder Woman features, here's hoping that they use them to explore Diana's bisexuality next time.
But what I really want to talk about is the way Wonder Woman shows war through a woman's eyes. The movie is set in the last days of World War I, which at the time was known as "The Great War" and the "War to End All Wars." While Diana has been told stories of war and trained for war her whole life, her arrival in the trenches is her first real exposure to actual warfare, and her immediate response is "Holy shit, this is awful, why do people do this to each other? How do we save these innocent lives from this hellish destruction?" (I'm paraphrasing, of course.) My point is, Diana enters the field of battle and sees the human toll of war, something that is often lost in movies told from a male perspective, whether they are superhero or actual war movies. In Wonder Woman, Steve Trevor represents that point-of-view - he is also on a mission to stop the war, but he's not going to let a little thing like innocent civilian casualties get in his way. As is often the case in superhero and war movies, these innocent lives lost are collateral damage, an unfortunate sidenote in the hero's journey to save the world. But it's Diana who points out, these people are the world. If the mission is to stop the war to save humanity, you actually have to give a fuck about humanity. And mind you, this is not a sheltered, squeamish little lady offering naive morals in the face of massive destruction; this is warrior goddess who has been training for slaughter and self-defense since she could walk.
I'm reminded of something my mother used to say: "If women were in charge, there would be no wars, because no mother wants to send her child into battle." Sure, that's an overarching statement in many ways, but I think it speaks to the heart of why Diana sees war in a different perspective than her male counterparts. Too often in movies and life, we lose sight of what the human cost of war actually is. Diana shows that you can be fierce, and fight for justice and peace, but ultimately, if we're not fighting to preserve the dignity and safety of human life, what are we fighting for?
-- Kristen Scatton
This is not your ordinary superhero. And it's not one to be skipped.
This past Thursday night, I went to see the midnight showing of Wonder Woman. Now a little bit about me, I've been obsessed with Wonder Woman since I was nine years old when I received my first Wonder Woman comic - the August '87 comic by George Pérez. I was mesmerized. This version emphasized her strength and the importance of mythology in her backstory. It gave her spirit depth and showed a woman who was fearless rather than just attractive. Wonder Woman is what inspired me to dive deeper into the storytelling of comics/graphic novels, study stage combat in high school and ultimately begin this company with Carly. Wonder Woman was not a sex symbol, but rather a true symbol of hope through adversity.
When this movie was initially announced, I was skeptic. How would they bring this warrior to life? Would Hollywood over-sexualize her as they had so many other heroines? I have seen my share of superhero films. Well, actually, I've seen several people's share of superhero films. So I am no stranger to the transition from comic to screen and the adjustments made in backstories. However, with the current state of the world, this particular backstory needed to click. We need to see someone raised with strong morals who fights with hope, not just because they can skill-wise, but because it's the RIGHT thing to do. Our children need a role model of a human who uses all skills, whether super or not, to help the world become a better place.
Thanks to the brilliant direction by Patty Jenkins, my fears became just vapors in the wind. Jenkins brought this warrior to life in way that hadn't been done before. Wonder Woman, known as Diana Prince, is a princess on Themyscira - an island of Amazonian female warriors - and from an early age has the fire to protect those she loves. The kids in our country right now need to see that they can play a positive role in helping better the world. That no matter their gender, race, religion, sexuality or ethnicity, if you are determined, you can change the course of history.
It cannot be put into words how impactful it is to see a woman in a powerful position, being treated with the respect she deserves, due to her strength. I can only hope that young girls seeing Wonder Woman come to life, will realize that the glass ceiling is only there to be shattered.
Change their minds and change the world.
As some of you may know, when I'm not being the Associate Artistic Director and Resident Playwright of ReVamp Collective by night, or an administrative extraordinaire by day, I dabble in stand-up comedy. (And by dabble, I mean I've gotten just about gotten my pinkie toe wet - I just started doing stand-up last fall, and have only performed a handful of times, always at "Your Sunday's Best," hosted by the Berserker Residents at Quig's, because they're nice and they like me there.)
But it's fun and I've been looking for more ways to learn and grow as a stand-up comedian, so when I heard about the Women in Comedy Festival happening in Boston April 19-23, I decided to get my whole damn foot wet, and see what it was all about.
The Women in Comedy Festival is an annual event celebrating (you guess it) funny ladies. The festival doesn't focus solely on stand-up, but also includes improv, sketch, musical comedy, filmmakers and storytellers. Over the course of five days, there were dozens of shows, workshops, panels, interviews, live podcasts and more, featuring headlining acts that included Rachel Dratch, RIta Rudner and Sasheer Zamata.
I was only able to be in Beantown Saturday and Sunday, but I packed a lot in to those 24 hours. Here are some highlights:
Q: Why do you feel this story needs to be told right now?
CARLY L. BODNAR: Our country is so divided on so many issues at this moment in time. This story of a young man who dies of a heroin overdose is a story that crosses party lines. So many people that I personally know have dealt with opiate addiction in their families. It is a story about romantic and familial love, dealing with the death of a loved one and what you could and could not control. This story is not only about addiction and death, but also toxic masculinity and how feminism fits into that world.
Q: What's the approach to telling this story?
CARLY L. BODNAR: This story is so close to my roots, growing up in a struggling town affected by the lack of high paying jobs and rising drug use. While I have a deep understanding of where this story takes place it is a story that is taking place in towns all over this country. My approach is one of understanding and compassion for those who are dealing with substance abuse, economic instability, and an ever changing world that these characters may not fully understand. Whenever I work on a piece I am always interested in exploring the human aspect of the characters and the deeper emotional depths. While this story is one of death there are also moments of levity. It was important to find these moments in the piece as well as looking at the grieving process. The lights and sound were key in telling the story and creating each space. This piece lives in three different worlds; the day Jimmy dies, the day of Jimmy's funeral and Jimmy's memories. I knew I wanted to use the sound and lights to differentiate each timeline.
Q: What's the process in getting this story onto it's feet?
CARLY L. BODNAR: For me it is always a process of play. I am interested in letting the actors explore the text and the space in a very organic way. This piece lives in three different worlds; the day Jimmy dies, the day of Jimmy's funeral and Jimmy's memories. All of the actors are living moment to moment while jumping between each timeline. We talked a lot about the world this play lives in which is small town America and how that differs from a suburban and/or city setting. There is much more emphasis in these towns on family dynamics, stability, nostalgia, and gender roles.
Q: Any additional thoughts on some of the themes of the play? Whether that's addiction, toxic masculinity, class warfare, clash between conservatives and liberals, etc
CARLY L. BODNAR: Working on the piece we found layers of addiction outside of opiate use. The exploration of what we use as a society to cope with the things that afflict us such as caffeine, cigarettes, alcohol, prescription drugs and pot use are heavy themes throughout the piece. The piece also touches on a deep passive aggressiveness and what is "acceptable to talk about". My own experience in my small town upbringing was it is not polite to talk about politics or religion. There is a level of propriety that must be upheld to keep the status quo. The character of Christina has experienced the city living and been awakened to larger, more global ideas. She comes back to her small town home and is confronted with notions of a simpler time. Some characters try to grasp these larger ideas while others dismiss them as the notions of an outsider. There is a level of conformity that must happen in this society. There is a specific way to life and any change or mention of change disrupts the status quo these characters have created for themselves. In dealing with the death of their best friend, brother and boyfriend, the status quo has been shifted and all three characters are asking the universal question of why in their own ways; Christina with her larger worldly ideas and outside prospective of this town; Phil who loves his home, but realizes that it may not be what he seems and Scott who is engrained in this society that champions specific gender roles, specifically "men being men".
Ask any of my friends, and they'll tell you this is true: although my primary writing medium is playwriting, although I've had staged readings of ten-minute and full-length plays I've written, although I have an MFA in Playwriting, for the last 8 years I've felt a teensy bit disingenuous calling myself a playwright, because there was that one final element of the identity that eluded me - the actual production. The full-on, off-book, blocked out, lights/set/sound/costumes whole shebang. Maybe I was a person who wrote plays, but until a play of mine was fully produced, I didn't feel I fully earned the moniker of playwright.
That changed as of last night, with the opening of ReVamp Collective's production of my play Jimmy Gorski is Dead. For the first time, I saw the complete journey of my work from the page to the stage, and thanks to the amazing director, actors, designers and other production team members, it's been an incredible journey from start to finish.
I knew I was in good hands with Carly Bodnar at the helm. As a person, I've known her for nearly two decades, and have watched her grow into a strong, smart, talented woman. As a director and collaborator, I've worked with her enough to trust her implicitly, and know that I was putting my baby in very capable hands.
From the first read-through, I knew that we had a fantastic cast who would bring these characters, who really do feel like my children, to life in a way that was honest, sympathetic and believable. Watching them work and play together, discovering who these characters are and building their relationships, was so much fun. Jimmy Gorski is Dead might not be the most light-hearted play, but there was lots of levity in the room, whether it was Richie (Jimmy) and Arlen (Phil) improvising on guitar or or Carly offering line notes on how to best say "Suck a bag of dicks, Phil." I'm pretty sure that no matter how many productions of Jimmy Gorski is Dead there are (fingers crossed there are more!) I will always see these actors as the characters.
Throughout tech rehearsal, as Raven Buck's set was coming together, and Amanda Jensen and Damien Figueras were adding their beautiful lights and sounds, it felt almost surreal that this whole world was being created because of words I wrote. As a writer, you always have a certain image in your mind of what the world of the play looks like, but trust me, the world that these brilliant designers created is way better than anything I could have imagined.
Of course, the most exciting (and nerve-wracking) part of the process is getting the finished product in front of audience. We've only had a few audiences so far, but I already feel like the hours and hours hunched over my computer, and the hundreds (thousands?) of trees I've killed in the process of re-writes were worth it (I do owe the world a fuck-ton of trees). While I know reactions will vary, my hope is that everyone leaves the theater having connected with something in the piece, and they felt it was 90 minutes well-spent. And if not, hopefully I'll get 'em with the next one. And there will be a next one. After all, I am a real playwright now.
-Kristen M. Scatton
Q: Why do you feel this story needs to be told right now? This story is at once timely and timeless. The process of grieving a loved one, worrying about what the future holds, the decision to stay where everything is familiar versus venturing into the wider world...these are all part of the human experience. But the opioid epidemic, fueled by the over-prescribing of opioid-based painkillers, is something that has been growing in the U.S. for years, to the point where it is affecting people of all genders, races, ages, economic backgrounds and geographic locations. The first step in getting people to address this as the public health crisis it is, is to make people understand that this can happen to anyone, with devastating consequences.
Q: What's the approach to telling this story? In a lot of ways, this was an easy to play to write, since it's rooted in my own personal experiences of losing a loved one suddenly, and living in a small town that felt familiar and comforting, yet horribly restrictive at the same time. I wanted those experiences to inform the characters, the setting, and the overall tone of the play. I also wanted to challenge myself to grow as a playwright, which was the impetus for the play's structure, which shifts back and forth in time, and is almost like two plays happening simultaneously. We see Jimmy alive, as well as the aftermath of his death, so how do those two storylines inform each other? What clues do we get, and how do they build tension? At its core, it's a pretty straightforward story, but I didn't want to tell it in a straightforward way.
Q: What's the process in getting this story onto its feet? My favorite part of being a playwright is getting into the room with the director and actors and seeing the words take on a life of their own. There really is a certain magic that happens when the ink on the page becomes actual dialogue and actions. And nine times out of ten, the actors and director make it so much better than I could have ever imagined. That's the beauty of collaborative arts - it takes a little bit of the pressure off, because I know as long as there are smart actors and smart directors working on a piece, they will find layers and moments and emotions that enhance it so much. In this particular case, working with Carly as the director is great because we've known each other forever, so I trust her completely, and feel very open and comfortable working with her. Since we're from the same hometown, she also inherently understands the world this play is set in, which is also a huge benefit.
Q Any additional thoughts on some of the themes of the play? Whether that's addiction, toxic masculinity, class warfare, clash between conservatives and liberals, etc. One of the important functions of theatre, in my opinion, is to expose us to the unfamiliar, and show us what we still have in common as human beings despite our differences. This play is set in rural Northeastern Pennsylvania, which is only two hours and 100 miles north of Philadelphia, but could very well be on a different planet. This disconnect became more evident than ever to me during the election last year, when everyone in my Philadelphia circles thought there was no way Trump would win, while two hours north in my hometown, I saw street after street where every lawn had a "Trump/Pence" sign on it. This play doesn't deal with the election, but I hope it demonstrates the different mentality and culture of this place, while also shining a light on what emotions and experiences are universal to all of us.