May 22, 2013

On Women & The 'F'-Word (Feminism) #RaptureBlisterBurn

Recently, Lisa Timmel, the Huntington’s director of new work, exchanged emails with playwright Gina Gionfriddo about her play Rapture, Blister, Burn. Their conversation centered around feminism and the eternal bonds and conflicts of mother/daughter relationships.

LT: When you started writing Rapture, Blister, Burn, were you thinking consciously about feminism today?

GG: Actually, I was fascinated by the way access to pornography has changed in my lifetime. I read a lot of books about the impact of internet pornography, and what I found was there are books that say it’s the end of American civilization, and there are books that say it’s no big deal, and there are books that say nobody knows. So it was a fascinating thing to research, but I didn’t come away with any useful conclusions. I knew I had to start something and I had the germ of a situation: Catherine coming home. I knew that I wanted this stuff to be Catherine’s area so that all that research wouldn’t be in vain. And it sort of spun out from there.

With so much of the culture regarding feminism as undesirable, and even young, independent-minded women saying things like “I’m not a feminist but...,” were you surprised at the positive response the play received critically and/or with audiences?

I was very pleasantly surprised. Every so often we (the theatre community) get together to talk about why more female playwrights aren’t being produced. One reason, I think, is that plays about male protagonists in turmoil about who they are versus who they want to be are regarded as classic coming-of-age tales, whereas the same kind of play about a female protagonist is often seen as a story about a neurotic. So I was very concerned that the women in the play would be written off as neurotics and harpies rather than very normal women asking questions about their lives. I thought women would enjoy the play. Perhaps the biggest surprise was how many male audience members got excited about it. It’s the first of my plays that my brother really got excited about and that just shocked me.

During the play’s premiere last spring, Anne-Marie Slaughter’s article “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All” was published in The Atlantic and, of course, Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In was recently published. Like all great playwrights, you have your finger on the pulse of the zeitgeist. Do you have any thoughts on why this conversation is happening now? Does the high-profile nature of the conversation about women and leadership change how you think about the play at all?

I feel terrible that I don’t have an answer for you here! I would love to know why this discussion has moved to the front burner recently. I wonder if Hillary Clinton being a serious contender for the presidency may have nudged the door open some, but I don’t know. And I think, perhaps, that women get gutsier about having these conversations and using the “F word” (feminism) when they feel their rights are really, truly in danger. The only thing I had my finger on the pulse of was my own 40-year-old anxiety about being a childless woman with a very old mom. I was in the process of trying to have a baby, but it wasn’t happening easily, so I think I was just interested in looking at women who did and did not start families. What are the pros and cons of that very major choice?

Many of your plays include wonderful, complicated mother figures, Ashley in After Ashley and Susan in Becky Shaw. In Rapture, the mother-daughter relationship between Cathy and Alice is the central emotional bond. What does the inter-generational conversation give to your plays?

I think, speaking really generally, we grow up determined not to make our parents’ mistakes. We kind of scrutinize their lives and plan accordingly. We plot how we’ll do better and be happier. You see that with the college student in my play, the way she imagines her life will be better than the middle-aged ladies she’s in class with. I think in our teens and our twenties we often feel we know better than our parents and then as we get older... that dynamic shifts some. I think in both Becky Shaw and this play, we see women who tried really hard not to live their mothers’ lives wind up sidling up to them in search of wisdom.

May 15, 2013

The Gina Chronicles #RaptureBlisterBurn

From Sam Lasman, Literary Professional Intern
When Gina Gionfriddo’s Rapture, Blister, Burn opens in May 2013, three years will have passed since her Becky Shaw appeared on the Huntington stage. After directing Becky Shaw’s premiere, New York, and Huntington productions, Peter DuBois mounted Becky Shaw in London where it was hailed as a comedic bridge between the United States and the United Kingdom. Invoking Neil LaBute and Jane Austen in praise of Gionfriddo’s “cultivated panache,” the Guardian called the play, “astute, acerbic and richly funny.”

Supported by a Playwrights Horizons Harold and Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust commission, Gionfriddo began developing a new work in which a feminist scholar voiced misgivings about the corrosive effects of pornography. However, wary that drama might veer into lecture, she expanded Rapture, Blister, Burn to include a generational cross-section of women negotiating the pitfalls of academia and relationships in modern America.


Seth Fisher & Keira Naughton inBecky Shaw at the Huntington.
Photo: T. Charles Erickson
In her January 2012 New York Times op-ed, Gionfriddo recounts that following a preview performance of Rapture, Wendy Wasserstein’s former assistant Jenny Lyn Bader told her that she wished Wendy had been able to see the new play, “taking up where The Heidi Chronicles left off.” The Heidi Chronicles, Wasserstein’s 1988 Pulitzer Prize winner, depicts a woman’s journey towards self-assertion as a feminist and single mother. Though Gionfriddo did not set out to respond to Wasserstein’s work, Rapture inevitably came to confront many of the same hopes and fears.

Yet the link between the plays also has a personal dimension. In October 2011, Gionfriddo gave birth to a daughter, Ava. “I did not write a homage to The Heidi Chronicles, and I do not endorse that play’s ending,” she wrote in the Times, challenging that play’s paradigm of empowerment through motherhood. “But I have a play and a baby that suggest otherwise.” The ongoing search for gender equality must go beyond the prescriptive or the reductive — as the intricacies of both Gionfriddo’s work and experience suggest.


Gina Gionfriddo's biting new comedy Rapture, Blister, Burn plays May 24 — June 22, 2013 at the South End / Calderwood Pavilion at the BCA. Learn more at huntingtontheatre.org/raptureblisterburn.

May 14, 2013

Discovering Broadway with AWMC Finalist Iliana Mendez

August Wilson Monologue Competition finalist Iliana Mendez, a student at Brighton High School, shares her story about discovering theatre and performing on her first Broadway stage.


Iliana Mendez, center, with Antonio Stroud, Naheem Garcia, and Derek Lindesay

My main goal for this competition wasn't winning (though it would have been a bonus if I did.) After my parents divorced, I rarely get to see my father. My father had no idea about my passion for theater and what my interests were. When I told my father about this competition, he told me "I want to see you, mama. When is it?" Just those two sentences made my year. My father who I only got to see 5-8 times a year wanted to see me perform—wanted to see do what I love to do. And he came to see me and I cried. My father was about to cry as well! He told me that he has never seen me shine like that . . . It was one of the major things to happen over there. The fact that my father got a glimpse of what I expect my future to look was absolutely one of the most important things to happen.

The overall experience was surreal! I got so close to almost everyone on the trip! I made amazing friends from New York, Chicago, LA — everyone, really! I learned about their states and how. Things work over there which I found really interesting. When I lost, I was extremely let down and disappointed in myself.  I felt like I wasn't good enough (yeah, dramatic!) but the amount of support I got from the people over there amazed me! I got support from the contestants from New York, Seattle, LA, Chicago, and Pittsburg and I honestly felt a whole lot better! That was my first actual rejection and I realized that entering this field,  I was gonna face many disappointments. This was my first taste of it!

This experience basically confirmed my love for theater. This was my first year in theater and I already accomplished more than. I thought! I was a National Finalist! A WILSONIAN SOLDIER! This confirmed my destiny, honestly. I love performing and I love shining on a stage where everyone can see me do what I do best.

AWMC changed my life! Thanks to the Huntington and Kenny Leon for bringing this competition! It really helps people find themselves, even through a 2 minutes monologue, students are finding themselves. I already have someone who is interested in entering the competition next year at Brighton!

May 9, 2013

Gearing Up for the Boston Theatre Marathon

From Sam Lasman, Literary Professional Intern


This weekend (May 11 and 12), Boston Playwrights’ Theatre presents the 15th annual Boston Theater Marathon and the associated Warm-Up Laps reading series.  The Warm-Up Laps, now in their fourth year, present free, public readings of new plays by area playwrights, and the Marathon showcases ten hours of ten-minute plays by local writers, each produced by a different New England theatre company. Actors and directors volunteer their time, and all ticket proceeds go to the Theatre Community Benevolent Fund, a non-profit organization that provides financial relief for theatre artists and organizations who face dire need and require financial assistance.

As you might expect, a huge number of Huntington staff members, 
associated artists, and other friends are involved in the fifty plays that comprise the Marathon and the three Warm-Up Labs, both of which will take place at the Calderwood Pavilion at the BCA (the Huntington donates the venue each year). The Warm-Up Laps are on Saturday at 12pm, 2pm, and 4pm in the Deane Rehearsal Hall. The following day, the Marathon itself runs from 12pm – 10pm in the Wimberly Theatre. 
Five ten-minute plays run each hour, followed by a ten-minute break.

Amongst the Huntington affiliates whose work will be presented this weekend is 2010-2012 Huntington Playwriting Fellow Miranda Craigwell, whose Shelter will be read on Saturday at 2pm. It is directed by the Huntington’s Associate Producer, M. Bevin O'Gara. Learn more.

The Huntington’s entry in the Marathon, Saturday Matinee by Allan Appel, will perform in the 5pm hour of plays on Sunday. It is directed by yours truly, Sam Lasman (Literary Professional Intern)produced by Ali Leskowitz (Artistic Producing Professional Intern), and features Our Town actors Nicholas Carterand Jay Ben Markson.

Other plays with Huntington staff involvement include:
  • Drive by James Wilkinson, produced by the Boston Children’s Theatre in the 2pm group and featuring Robert Orzalli (Calderwood Pavilion Professional Intern)
  • Cleavage by Barbara Blumenthal-Ehrlich, produced by The Lyric Stage Company in the 6pm group, directed by Anna Trachtman (General Management Professional Intern) and featuring Paul Melendy from the cast of Ryan Landry’s “M”
  • Rocky Road by Elisabeth Burdick, produced by Nora Theatre Company in the 8pm group, directed by Vicki Schairer (Assistant to the Artistic Director).

The work of many Huntington Playwriting Fellows will also appear in the Marathon, including:
  • Joyce Van Dyke’s White Hole, produced by the Boston Center for American Performance, in the 12pm group
  • John Kuntz’s The Nice Hotel, produced by Happy Medium Theatre Company, in the 1pm group
  • Patrick Gabridge’s Curse the Darkness, produced by New Repertory Theatre, in the 3pm group
  • Sinan √únel’s Last Flight Out, produced by Provincetown Counter Productions, in the 4pm group
  • Ronan Noone’s Boyfriend, produced by the Salem Theatre Company, in the 6pm group
  • Lila Rose Kaplan’s The Chapel Play, produced by the American Repertory Theatre, in the 9pm group

Bad Habit Productions, helmed by Daniel Morris (BU Theatre House Manager) and Meg O’Brien (Manager of Education Operations)  is producing Red Drink by Obehi Janice, directed by Jeff Mosser, in the 12pm group.

And, of course, the entire Marathon is organized by HPF Kate Snodgrass, who is now  Artistic Director at the Boston Playwrights’ Theatre.

Learn more about the Marathon and get your tickets on BostonTheatreScene.com. We look forward to seeing you there!

May 8, 2013

Everything You Wanted To Know About Post-Post-Feminism But Were Afraid To Ask #RaptureBlisterBurn

From Lisa Timmel, Director of New Work
“Midway upon the journey of our life, I found myself within a forest dark, for the straightforward pathway had been lost.”— Dante's Inferno
“I guess the grass is always greener. It’s just . . . It’s what you said, right? It’s that forty-something thing where you start thinking about the life not lived.”— Gwen, Rapture, Blister, Burn
A popular assumption about feminists — not just among certain right-wing personalities — is that they are ugly, sexless, humorless harpies that no man wants (unless women advocate for access to birth control, then they are common sluts). In Rapture, Blister, Burn, Gina Gionfriddo grapples with the realities of women’s lives and pulls off a popular comedy about feminism. Fortune favors the bold and, as noted by Variety, “Gionfriddo’s some kind of genius.”

Originally, Gionfriddo tried to write a play about the possible psychological and sociological effects of internet pornography. As she told Playwrights Horizons’ artistic director Tim Sanford in an interview, “I was a child of the ’70s; when we wanted information about sex, it was extremely hard to get. We would try to steal a Playboy Magazine or find a dirty book in the library. Now it’s just like Sodom and Gomorrah at the click of a mouse. And I am fixated by the idea that there has to be some hideous psychological trickle-down from that.” She sketched out a character, an academic who would lecture on the topic, but lectures, she realized, are lousy theatre. Shifting gears, she developed plot ideas that would allow the character to confront her area of academic expertise in her life. Gionfriddo says, “From there, the play evolved into a story less about porn than the state of male/ female relationships at this particular time in America.”

The protagonist, Catherine, disenchanted with her life as a hotshot public intellectual, latches onto her mother’s recent heart attack as an excuse to return home. Home includes her friends from graduate school, specifically her ex-lover Don who jilted her for Gwen. Gwen, began in the same place as Cathy, but chose another path, dropping out of school to be a stay-at-home-mother. Both women wonder what life would be like on the path not taken.

Life meets theory when Catherine convinces Don to let her teach a summer seminar on her topic: “The Fall of American Civilization.” In an awkward twist, only two students enroll in the class has just two students: Gwen, and her erstwhile twenty-something babysitter, Avery. Cathy’s mother Alice is along for the ride, joining the women at the end of their sessions with martinis and yet another perspective.

A reconsideration of one’s life path at middle age is a near-universal experience, however, for women, the questions are fraught with political and social significance. Writing in The New York Times, Gionfriddo frames it this way: “The dream, then and now, postfeminist and post-postfeminist (or whatever we choose to call this moment) is still simple and still incredibly hard: How do men and women figure out how to negotiate their equality better? As Cathy in Rapture advises a female student in the throes of love and ambition, “My middle-aged observation is that, in a relationship between two equals, you can’t both go first.”

Catherine’s existential crisis prompts her to reflect, “My mother is going to die soon, and I find myself wondering if there isn’t some . . . wisdom in the natural order. In creating a new family to replace the one you lose.” She ultimately gets a chance to create a new family, but not in the way that we expect. Gionfriddo wanted to create a stage picture, “which was something about women without men who are both frightened and excited by what their future holds . . . ” Real feminists, as opposed to popular culture caricatures, never claim to be able to have it all. All human rights movements, fundamentally, are concerned with self-determination, for good or for ill, with the costs of freedom being well worth the price.

Gina Gionfriddo's biting new comedy Rapture, Blister, Burn plays May 24 — June 22, 2013 at the South End / Calderwood Pavilion at the BCA. Learn more at huntingtontheatre.org/raptureblisterburn.

May 1, 2013

It's Been A Week

So. It's been a week.

Or technically it's been a lot of weeks but more specifically it's this past week that has been particularly exciting for all of us here at the Huntington -- following, of course, one of the scariest weeks as Bostonians that most of us have ever lived through. But as we continue to heal from that tragedy, perhaps its a confluence of events that has made our own victories all the more sweet.

On Monday, April 22 we held our Spotlight Spectacular, our annual gala / fundraiser, at the Park Plaza Castle. The event, which honored Our Town director David Cromer along with production sponsorships / all around fantastically supportive people Judi & Douglas Krupp, raised over (cue close-up as I put my pinky to my mouth) ONE MILLION DOLLARS, making it our most successful event of all time. The night also included a sneak preview of our upcoming production of The Jungle Book, along with entertainment from the Tony-nominated stars of Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella on Broadway, Santino Fontana & Laura Osnes. Here they are performing an updated version of Cole Porter's "You're The Top" with additional lyrics by Robert Berliner, in honor of the Krupps.



Oh yeah, that's the other thing. We received a Tony Award. Though technically reserved for Broadway productions, the Tonys recognize a different regional theatre each year in recognition of their contributions to the performing arts. I believe Michael Maso is offering every one a staff exactly 3 opportunities to use "I have a Tony Award!" as a kind of get-out-of-jail-free card*, but we're still waiting on the official numbers. The Tony Awards will be broadcast on Sunday, June 9 in New York City, and those of us who are unable to attend (hey, we still have jobs to do!) still plan on having our own black tie screening in the BU Theatre.

  So that was Friday evening. And then this past Monday, April 29, was the 2013 IRNE Awards, which are awarded to theatre productions across the gamut by the Independent Reviewers of New England for shows within the calendar year (so any show produced in 2012, as opposed to Fiscal or school-year-type seasons). While sure, okay, Tony Awards sound like a big fancy deal, what makes the IRNE Awards so exciting is that they recognize the entire Boston theatre community, from Broadway In Boston to the smallest black boxes and community groups, and they give everyone an equal chance to win. We walked away on Monday night with 7 IRNE Awards: 
  • Best New Play - Large Company for Kirsten Greenidge's Luck of the Irish;
  • Best Ensemble - Large Company for Ma Rainey's Black Bottom;
  • Best Costume Design - Large Company for Clint Ramos on Ma Rainey's Black Bottom;
  • Best Supporting Actor (Play) - Large Company for Nael Nacer as Simon Stinson in Our Town;
  • Best Actor (Play) - Large Company for Jason Bowen as Levee in Ma Rainey's Black Bottom;
  • Best Director (Play) - Large Company for David Cromer and Our Town; and
  • Best Play - Large Company for Our Town.
Here's Associate Producer M. Bevin O'Gara along with many of the townsfolk of Grover's Corners accepting the award for Best Play:


Meanwhile, members of our Education team are down in DC for the National Finals of Poetry Out Loud supporting MA State Champion Courtney Stewart, Ryan Landry's "M" had its final performance on Sunday, and rehearsals are now underway for our upcoming production of Gina Gionfriddo's Rapture, Blister, Burn, which starts performances on May 24.

So like I said. It's been a week.

*Totally kidding here. I'm the only one who can use that line and get away with it because I've already changed my nametag to read "Tony Award-winning Web & New Media Manager."