In April/May 2015 I collaborated as dramaturg and director with three performer-choreographers – Lori Hamilton, J Reese, Sarah Starkweather – and musician Ken Kruper on a dance piece that aimed to capture the spirit of a neighborhood as it changes over time. New people are first attracted and then pushed out in a constant recursive flux that materializes at different times during the exhibition through movement and music.
Between April and May 2015 I was invited to my second artist residency with Forwardflux for three weeks of intense collaborative exploration of how neighborhoods are transformed, gentrified, or even colonized. Through meetings once a week with the whole group of participants and more intimate rehearsals with two smaller groups, for the first time I worked as dramaturg of a dance piece, Changing Neighborhoods. For the exhibition program, click here.
One of the readings I directed at the Flea Theater was Egyptian-American dramatist Andre Fuad-Degas’s The House of Charity, a collaboration with the Queens College MFA program in Playwriting. Seven actors of the resident BATS company helped me bring this work to life in a series of lively exchanges. Here’s how the author describes the play:
In a few hours, wealthy donors will come to the House of Charity soup kitchen to sit down for a meal beside the homeless clientele, to determine whether the mid-western shelter they’re financing is fulfilling its mission of love and kindness to all. Back in the kitchen, six newly recovering addict/alcoholics, grudgingly affectionate toward each other but tempted by self-sabotage, prepare that high-stakes meal. Whether they succeed or not will determine the future of the shelter … and their own lives.
The Fall season of 2014 at The Flea was dedicated to the Cutthroat Series, eleven Grand-Guignol plays organized in four pods. Each of them replicated the concept of the douche écossaise, a mix of gory and lustful pieces. I directed Tics, or Doing the Deed (Apres Coup!… ou Tics) by René Berton with a cast of BATS, the resident company.
Not only did the title of the series apply to the stories portrayed, it also meant that each evening the audience voted for the best play, eliminating the others. Tics received the most votes and was extended for a run in January 2015 for the Winners’ Victory Lap.
For pictures and program of Tics, or Doing the Deed, click here.
To publicize the entire event The Flea produced a scary video where my cast experimented with makeup and grandguignol grimaces. You can watch it below.
This project was my first practical involvement as Resident Director with the Flea Theater in New York City and lasted about seven months from December 2013 to June 2014. With 48 playwrights involved, 54 between actors and singers, main director Ed Sylvanus Iskandar, a large group of associate and assistant directors, an indefatigable stage manager and 11 assistant stage managers, the show was an exercise in coordination of an incredible number of creative inputs and professional skills.
From my point of view, the most interesting part of this collective endeavor was the opportunity to witness the several phases of contemporary script development under master dramaturg Jill Rafson, Literary Manager of Roundabout Theatre Company. The project started with an offer to several American playwrights for a commission to write a 1- to 10-minute rewrite of an episode from the York cycle of medieval mystery plays. Each episode would need to “stand on its own while serving the larger goal of telling the story of Man’s Salvation.” Not only was it important for the plays to work in terms of their own dramaturgical arc, they also needed to be stitched together in a coherent fashion.
The plays went through a series of drafts, revisions, readings, workshops, rehearsals, and combined run-throughs that at times seemed more than chaotic, but the whole eventually paid off, and produced a contemporary take on the Medieval collection, including digital media/hashtags, gender-bending, and unexpected outcomes for traditionally revered religious figures.
The Fall season of 2014 at The Flea was dedicated to the Cutthroat series, eleven Grand-Guignol plays organized in four pods. Each of them replicated the concept of the douche écossaise, a mix of gory and lustful pieces. Not only did the title of the series apply to the stories portrayed, it also meant that each evening the audience voted for the best play, eliminating the others, in a cutthroat duel among shows and directors.
I directed Tics, or Doing the Deed (Apres Coup!… ou Tics) by René Berton with a cast of BATS, the resident company. In this outright farce, animal instincts resurface and human impediments disrupt the tranquil and boring routines of the bourgeoisie in the country. Everything ends with a loud and chaotic pandemonium. Tics received the most votes and was extended for a run in January 2015 for the Winners’ Victory Lap.
For more info and a full color program click here (Gore) and here (Victory Lap).
Ellen Joffred, The Flea’s Audience Development Associate, published an interview with me about the show on The Flea’s Tumblr blog. If you’re not on Tumblr, you can download a pdf here.
Playwright and theatre critic James Armstrong wrote a couple of reviews, describing the staging as a “splendid production” and “the most successful of the three pieces (“The Best of the Grand Guignol” and “Grand Guignol“)
On April 26, 2014 I directed The Palace, a staged reading of a play by Graham Parkes, an incredibly accomplished young playwright graduating from NYU Tisch School of the Arts who went on to become a filmmaker and screenwriter in LA. Four BATS from the Flea Theater‘s resident company made this event memorable and gave life to the words on the page, a story about an old cinema, brotherhood, and films pruned of all the boring scenes.
I worked with the actors to create a stage action that hinged on their relative positions and utilized the scripts as a visual correlative of the cinema’s decay, as pages were discarded and were scattered on the floor.
On October 15, 2013 the Pirandello Society of America sponsored a reading I adapted and directed of Pirandello’s The Giants of the Mountain, with nine actors and two visual artists, who took turns at drawing the characters so precisely described by the author’s stage directions. The play is a “myth” between fable and reality that Pirandello continued to imagine, write, and rework from 1929 to 1934, but eventually left unfinished despite encouraging contracts with American impresarios. Yet, in its present form, the play vibrates with the powerful contradictions of sublime Art torn between the inner necessity to reach out to spectators who may not understand it and the temptation to abandon the world altogether. It was, in the playwright’s opinion, the culmination of his artistic endeavors.
“What is there in the empty space of the role? […] You have to discover material for the role and organize the scenes in pauses, between phrases, between the lines and even between words.” Jurij Alschitz, 40 Questions of One Role
I see silence as the zero-point energy of theatre, the point where everything can be created from nothing. How can a short scene expand – and to what extent – into a longer piece, and at what distance lines and fragments of the text can still cohere or instead become other? To attempt a response to this question, in Cherry Blossoms I explored the silence between lines and words, as a place for events to occur in the absence of speech. The actors and I devised three versions of the same brief dialogue from the first act of Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard. Two sisters, Anya and Varya, reunite after one of them has been on a long trip. The different lengths of these versions – about 1, 3, and 5 minutes – depend on how the silence in the interstices of the text is either ignored or allowed to blossom.
Cherry Blossoms was developed for the May 2013 Forward Flux collaborate:create “Power of Silence” 3-week residency at Theaterlab. For more info click here. With Rebecca Tucker and Kelly Sloan.
THE OPPRESSOR. Verminous game, thou art caught! Ensnared as a loathsome bug stuck in the great spider’s silken strands. Jason Sofge, The Tortured One
The Tortured One was developed for the May 2013 Forward Flux collaborate:create “Power of Silence” 3-week residency at Theaterlab. For more info click here. With David Riley and Joyana Feller.
As we struck up a conversation on our first creative meeting, Jason Sofge had an idea for a character to be able to use silence as a weapon. In this harsh power struggle, one character would always speak, while the other would remain silent throughout.
In addition to the peculiar disproportion in the dialogue, the final text provided a fascinating directorial challenge: how to stage a piece in which, due to the extreme violence described in detail in the text, what occurs can hardly be shown on stage in a realistic fashion? With the freedom we were given to explore by the playwright, the actors and I discovered an uncanny territory of ambiguity between the heightened language of the piece and an everyday situation around a tea table.