Saturday, June 29, 2013

The World Premiere of "True Story" will be at Passage Theater in NJ this Fall!

I'm so pleased that Passage Theater is going to be producing the world premiere of my new play "True Story" this fall.  I've been part of the Passage Play Lab since arriving in Princeton three years ago, and it's been a wonderful writing home for me, here in New Jersey.

"True Story" is about grieving mystery writer Hal Walker, who is hired to ghostwrite the "story of the century" -- the truth about what happened between Donnie Lawrence and his wife.  Donnie has been acquitted in a court of law -- but everyone believes he killed her.  And if he did, Hal begins to wonder where justice comes into it.

The production will be directed by Philadelphian Damon Bonetti.  Casting has already begun.

Watch this website for details!

"If I Did This" becomes "True Story" at the Arkansas New Play Festival

I try to calculate the experiences of my life in gifts and friends and opportunities.  The ten days I spent at the Arkansas New Play Festival was full of all three.

I met the Artistic Director of TheatreSquared, Bob Ford, and his Associate Artistic Director (and wife) Amy Herzberg a few months ago, when I was responding to student work at the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region 6 Finals down in Shreveport, Louisiana.  They both teach at the University of Arkansas, in addition to running the theater and writing, directing, producing and acting in plays, and they were at the KCACTF event to support one of their students.  They invited me to share some of my work with them, which I did.  And soon after, Bob called to invite me to come down to Fayetteville and workshop my new play in the Arkansas New Play Festival.  The play will be having its premiere this fall, so the timing couldn't have been better -- I welcome the opportunity to take one more good look at the script before bringing it to the stage.  And y'all know I always like a theater adventure!

From June 6 - 16, I worked on "If I Did This" (now "True Story") in Fayetteville.  The TheatreSquared team took such good care of all of us!  Morgan Hicks picked me up at the airport, and she and I chattered all the way into town.  Then I had lunch and a fantastic, far-reaching dramaturgical conversation with Bob.  He'd just returned from workshopping his own play, "The Spiritualist," at New Harmony, so of course I wanted to hear about that.  He had read my play carefully, listened closely to my plans for revisions, and offered some wonderful suggestions and thoughts.  After lunch, he took me to Anne's house -- Anne is a wonderfully kind friend of the theater who was my host.  (I did a whole lot of rewriting in her lovely back yard, sitting under a tree, and in her kitchen.

Over the next few days, I met the rest of the ANPF participants.  The three other playwrights were local writer/teacher Les Wade (with his play "Raw Vision"), Susan Felder from Chicago ("Swimming with Van Gogh"), and Juan Francisco Villa from New York, now living in Chicago ("Don Chipotle").

Local Morgan Hicks directed Juan's piece, which was in the early stages of development -- about two boys and their poetic, dark journey through New York City on a Don Quixotesque quest.  Kevin Christopher Fox from Chicago directed Susan's play, about a painter trying to find her vision and inspiration again in mid-life.  Chicago director Andrea Dymond directed Les' play, which is about art and appropriation in rural Louisiana.  And I worked with New York director Shana Gold on my play, which is about a grieving mystery writer who grapples with issues of justice when he's hired to ghostwrite the story of an acquitted murderer who everyone thinks is guilty.

I loved working with Shana, and we had a fabulous cast, anchored by New York actor Sean Patrick Reilly, who played the lead, my troubled mystery writer, Hal Walker.

The entire company of writers, directors, actors and tech folk had dinner together every evening, at the theater.  The food was provided by the theater's board members and other supporters.  We had four hours of rehearsal every day, and when we weren't working together in the theater, we playwrights were writing and rewriting our plays.  The week culminated in readings of all of the plays, followed by discussion with the audience.

I emerged with a stronger draft of my play, a new title for my play, and a whole bunch of new friends.  I hope I get to work with Bob and Amy and their TheatreSquared family again soon.  They know how to foster and support the development of new work.
"True Story" by EM Lewis, directed by Shana Gold, at the 2013 Arkansas New Play Festival. 
The cast of "True Story" by EM Lewis at the 2013 Arkansas New Play Festival.  John T. Smith at Donnie Lawrence, Bryce Kemph as Brett Martin, Sean Patrick Reilly as Hal Walker, Kevin Christopher Fox as Hayden Quinn, and Alyx Claus as Miriam Lawrence.
Hal and Miriam.
Hal defends himself from Detective Hayden Quinn.
Afterwards, director Shana Gold and I had a conversation with the audience, moderated by Bob Ford.

"Reading to Vegetables" debuts at University of Washington in Seattle

Just after "True Story" premieres at Passage Theater in New Jersey, and simultaneous with The REP's production of "Heads" in Pittsburgh, my play "Reading to Vegetables" is going to have its debut at University of Washington in Seattle, directed by Tina Polzin.

I'm in excellent company in this season of plays, which includes one of my favorites -- "The Fifth of July" by Lanford Wilson.
  • “The Real Inspector Hound” by Tom Stoppard (Oct. 16-27), directed by Desdemona Chiang
  • “The Fifth of July” by Lanford Wilson (Nov. 13-24), directed by Valerie Curtis-Newton
  • “Reading to Vegetables” by EM Lewis (Jan. 29-Feb. 9, 2014) directed by Tina Polzin
  • “Arabian Nights” by Mary Zimmerman (Feb. 26-March 9), directed by Leah Adcock-Starr
  • “The Beggar’s Opera” adapted by Vaclav Havel and translated by Paul Wilson (April 23-May 4), directed by R. Hamilton Wright
  • “The Workroom” by Jean-Claude Grumberg (May 28-June 8), directed by Mark Jenkins
A big thank you to Tina for taking this play on!  

"Reading to Vegetables" is about a pre-med college student who signs up for an internship at a local hospital for a summer job.  The psychological experiment she takes part in drags her deep into questions of morality and ethics she doesn't know how to answer.  The play is inspired, in part, by Stanley Milgram's "Obedience" experiments in the early 1960's.

Feature article in the Seattle Times about UW's upcoming season can be found here.

To visit the UW Drama Department webpage and buy tickets, go here.

A 5th Production for "Heads" -- at The REP in Pittsburgh

Robert A. Miller returns to The REP, Point Park University's professional theater company, as the school's Conservatory of Performing Arts Distinguished Master Artist-in-Residence for the 2013-14 season, to direct "All My Sons." The season-opening play by his father, Arthur Miller, launches four works at the Pittsburgh Playhouse in Oakland and includes a world premiere by award-winning Pittsburgh playwright Tammy Ryan and the Pittsburgh premiere of EM Lewis' "Heads." The season will conclude with Lynn Nottage's play "By the Way, Meet Vera Stark."
I'm delighted to be in such distinguished company in The REP's season (including that of my friend Tammy!), to be having my first production in Pittsburgh, and to have another production of "Heads." This play is about four civilian westerners who are taken hostage in the early days of the war in Iraq -- an American engineer, a British embassy worker, a journalist, and a photojournalist.

More information about this production from the Post-Gazette feature article can be found here.

Visit the Pittsburgh Playhouse website here for tickets.

Time Magazine mentions The Car Plays!

Time Magazine did a lovely feature on immersive theater, and mentioned Moving Arts' The Car Plays, created by Paul Stein and written, directed, acted and produced for the last six or seven years by our company in Los Angeles, at the Radar Festival, at festival in San Diego and Costa Mesa.  Such a delightful project!  Nice to get a mention in the national magazine.

Article can be found here.

The Rise and Fall of the English Major

An article in the New York Times caught my eye the other day.  Written by someone with the unlikely name of Verlyn Klinkenborg.

The Rise and Fall of the English Major

It was a timely article for me to encounter.  I was an English major.  Three years ago, I left my steady, practical day job in tech support, that I'd held for nine years, when I received a playwriting fellowship at Princeton University, and I have been happily, happily writing full time ever since.  But playwriting isn't quite paying the bills.  (It's paying -- just not enough.)  And I haven't been able to find another job.  I've decided to move back home to the farm in Oregon for a while, as I continue to write and continue my search for a fellowship, commission, or teaching job somewhere.


How do we study art and literature and philosophy when we aren't sure how we're going to keep a roof over our heads?  (Remember Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs from that psychology class.)  But I place such great value on my education.  I couldn't write the plays I've written, the plays that I'm writing now, without the broad scope of the liberal arts education I received.

My teachers gave me books to read that I've come to understand are the common language for interpreting our experience of being human.  They gave me the tools I needed to decipher the world I live in -- not just take it apart, but put it back together again with words and understanding.  The English classes, yes (because I love stories most of all), but also the science classes (scientific principle), the psychology classes, history, religion, languages, and even (yes, I'll admit it) math.  Who gave me these gifts?  Mom, who took us to the library in town, buying the $40 out-of-town country-bumpkin family card, though that was expensive for us then, because it was important.  Dad, who read The Hobbit and the entire Trilogy of the Ring out loud to me (with the voices!) and took me fishing with him in the woods.  Mrs. Berrum, who helped me write my first poem (when I was in 4th grade at Monitor Elementary School) and pinned it up on the board.  The nuns who taught bible stories and catechism to me on Wednesday evenings.  In high school...  Mr. Brueckner, who loved chemistry and storytelling in equal measure, and was kind of irresistible, even though I didn't like chemistry at all.  Mr. Clute, acting out Shakespeare scenes in the front of the class, making us work out poems together (the meaning of parts), and nudging us chapter by chapter though Moby Dick.  Dr. Reid (art history) and Mr. Mock (creative writing) and that really cute Italian guy whose name I don't remember (philosophy) at Chemeketa Community College.  Professors Lord and Bothun and Michel at Willamette University (English).  My writing teachers in the MPW program at USC -- Ben Masselink, Lee Wochner...

These people all affected my life and the lives of so many others with their generosity of spirit, intellectual rigor, and joy in what they were doing, that they weren't afraid to share.

In difficult times, our world contracts to the necessities.  Understandably.  Reasonably.  But we can't lose the things that make even the poorest life rich -- music and theater and books and art and philosophy and scientific inquiry and study of history and broad thinking -- because if we do, we might be losing just the tools that will help us find our way out of this woods again...

I don't know.  I'll report back if and when I make it out.