A Note From the Dramaturg of Locked House by Samantha Chanse

LOCKED HOUSE: a tragicomic fairytale of indeterminate nature


“You have to kill your gods to go somewhere. You have to kill your
ancestors! Because they’re imaginary! Ha Ha! I don’t have any
ancestors! I just have me! See that?”

So proclaims Lawton Locke, the larger-than-life patriarchal figure of Samantha Chanse’s new play, LOCKED HOUSE – opening this weekend at Columbia University’s Schapiro Studio Theatre. Lawton’s ideas of how one should forge his own path and define for himself who he is and who he is not, may sound extreme to the uninitiated, but this is one of the fundamental questions pursued in Samantha Chanse’s latest play: namely, what is it that defines us? And can any of us, no matter where we have come from or how far removed we are from our place of origin, ever truly transcend history’s writing upon our body? Can any of us escape the proof of who we are,  so forcefully written upon our face?  Each of the characters in LOCKED HOUSE, ultimately, must discover for themselves what is the one true thing in their lives – what it is that defines them. But they better hold on tight, for shimmering on the horizon is a familial battle where imaginary ancestors abound,  and where come the morning after, this locked house may never be the same.

See you at the theatre!
— Jay Jaski, Dramaturg

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next up in VIP series: locked house

Hello. Hi. Thanks for visiting.

We hereby announce the next installment of Theaterly Activity in the 2010-2011 Very Important Plays Series. Huzzah!

March 4-6, 2011, you are invited to a workshop production of

Locked House:
a tragicomic fairytale of indeterminate nature

written by Samantha Chanse | directed by Lisa Szolovits | dramaturgy by Jay Jaski
sound design by Greg Mailloux | projection/graphic design by Derek Chung | light design by Ryan Seelig


Sahr Ali*
Gail Behrens*
Katie Lee Hill
David Shih*
Bonna Tek

Show Information & Reservations:

Location: Columbia University, Schapiro Studio, 605 W. 115th Street, between Broadway and Riverside (NYC).

Show Dates/Times:
Friday, March 4 @ 8 PM
Saturday, March 5 @ 2 PM
Saturday, March 5 @ 8 PM
Sunday, March 6 @ 2PM

Cost/Reservations: ADMISSION IS FREE.
To reserve tickets, email VeryImportantPlays@gmail.com

For artist bios and more information please click here.

* Actors appear courtesy of Actors’ Equity Association.

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5 questions for playwright Caroline Prugh, author of ESTATE

1.  Estate is, in your words, a  “Variety Show.”  What appeals to you about that form?  How does it relate to the story of your play?

Thinking about variety shows gave me an initial way into this material, particularly as a way to explore using music.  Once I got further along I was able to pull out the convention and shape what remained more organically.  It’s in the DNA of the play, but to describe it as such is now a bit of a misdirection.

A creative spark for me from this form was how an audience would come to identify with the performers, like Carol Burnett for instance; then when she was in a skit they would see both her and the character she was playing simultaneously.  These layers fascinate me in their inherent theatrically, their relationship to the audience and because they speak to the different roles we find ourselves cast in life: sister, brother, mother, father, best friend, co-worker, etc.

2.  Does Estate mark or point to a development in you as a dramatic writer?  If so, can you talk about the changes?

Like many playwrights, for me each play marks a point of development, a fresh opportunity to find one’s own way to tell a particular story.  I like to think I know very little when I set out, it keeps me continually curious and engaged with the play itself.

I’m a habitually slow playwright.  I like periods of intense concentration, followed by time away to then return.  This play however was written towards a production slot, when I set out last April I knew that it would be performed the following February in Shapiro Studio.  So time became a very active factor, it kept me at my desk pounding away.

Also, for this particular play, I began each draft back at a blank page. If I wanted anything from a previous draft, I had to retype it.  Three consecutive “do overs.”  By the fourth draft, I knew what the play wanted to be and could concentrate on internal strengthening and clarification.  By this time, we had our amazing cast, so I was dreaming them into their parts.

3.  The action of Estate centers itself around a family, the touchstone of  American (possibly all) drama.  What responsibility does a playwright have, if any, when writing about the family, given its high profile in American drama?

Golly, there’s a question.  I think because I began this play with a variety show in mind, I kept myself safely away from the notion I was writing an American family drama and all the responsibility that might entail.

4.   Estate is a play that contains songs that you wrote, a phenomenon that appears regularly in your work.  How does music function for you, both in your writing process as well as the theatrical experience?

I don’t think of myself as a composer per se, music comes out of the world of my play from the characters themselves.  It exists to serve the play (even if it’s being performed during intermission).  Estate is my most completely realized play with music and it’s the first time I’ve had the absolute luxury of a music department.  One of the many reasons I was gunning to work with dramaturge Jay Jaski was I knew he knew far more than me about music and musical theater.  Since the complexities of this play require a full time dramaturge, Jay brought on music supervisor Aaron Gandy. Aaron separated my music out away from the play (I had thought of them as inseparable) and asked me insightful questions, helping to shape my musical impulses and ideas.  Then Aaron brought on Eli Zoller.  Eli took my melodies and transformed them into richly colored music, lending his own talents as a musician (he’s far and away a better guitarist than me and is able to add uke and banjo to the mix).

I wrote many of the lyrics for these songs before taking Deborah Breevort’s Lyric Writing class this past fall.  Her class gave me a formal approach to lyric writing which I was able to apply in my rewriting process. I began to think about how to fully integrate my songs into dramatic action.

I feel I’m ending this process with many more musical tools at my disposal.  All that remains is to see how all these new (to me) musical ideas function for an audience.

5.  What have you learned about Estate in its move from the page to the stage?

Estate was in many ways a really, really hard, complicated, painful play to write.  It’s uncomfortable working outside of one’s comfort zone.  Lots of tears of frustration were shed on the pages of this venture as I sat alone at my desk.  I felt for much of the time while writing as if I were running down a sandy beach on a pitch-black night with some immense terror close on my heels, always about to swallow me.  Such fun.

However, the rehearsal process, in stark contrast, was nothing but joy. I feel the play passed safely out of my hands and now belongs wholly to the stage where the talents of my extraordinary and heroically dedicated cast, musicians, crew and the genius that is Jimmy Maize give it a life richer than my wildest dreams.

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ESTATE by Caroline Prugh: A Note From The Dramaturg

At some point in each of our lives, there will come a time when those we love most will leave us. It is inevitable – flesh, no matter how loved, cannot remain. But often what does remain are an abundance of cherished possessions: personal items, family artifacts, and perhaps, something more than we ever thought possible. ESTATE, a new play with original music and lyrics by Caroline Prugh, follows the journey of a brother and sister as they attempt to awaken childhood imaginations in order to help their family divide their beloved grandmother’s estate. But as is soon discovered, the passing of this family’s matriarch has left behind not just a dangerous divide, but also something quite extraordinary – whose fate only one has the power to decide.

– Jay Jaski, MFA Candidate 2012 -Dramaturgy

Caroline Prugh’s ESTATE opens this Friday, February 4th in the Schapiro Studio Theater.  Tickets are selling out!  You mustn’t miss it!


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Both. Sides. Now: Q&A with playwright Tatiana Rivera

Both. Sides. Now. Or Buttermilk Pancakes: Q&A with playwright Tatiana Rivera

VIP Playwright Tatiana Rivera, whose play Both. Sides. Now. Or Buttermilk Pancakes opens tomorrow, November 19th, 2010, at Schapiro Studio, took a quick breather to answer some questions from fellow VIP playwright David Rosar Stearns.

STEARNS: Where did the inspiration for this play come from?
RIVERA: Machiavelli. Joni Mitchell. Dead babies. Oh, and butter.

What is the play about?
Absolutely nothing. And love, I guess. Same thing, innit?

But really, it’s an abstract retelling of a time in my life that had more of an impact than I ever thought it could. I thought getting it started was the hardest thing in the world, but finishing was the hardest thing I had to do.

I know that you are also Directing your play, how has that experience been, being both writer and director?
Torture. I will never argue with a Director or Actor who is frustrated with my plays ever again. But that’s probably a lie.

Why the two titles?
Originally, the play was titled simply Buttermilk Pancakes. But no matter how hard I tried, i always fucked up making pancakes. I never got better. Many people tried to teach me, but it never stuck and so I stopped.

Also, Joni Mitchell was the reason I was able to chug through the play because her song “Both Sides Now” really seemed to free me. And really evokes the overall feeling of the play and the sense of duality/two sides of everything.

So, the two titles just sort of stuck.

Do you have a favorite recipe for pancakes?
I don’t know how to make pancakes. I eat waffles or french toast instead. Pancakes make me depressed.

How does it feel to have your play finish off the first half of the VIP season?
It feels windy. And wet. Though that may just be the product of the weather outside and my open window.

What was the best part of this process for you?
Learning to hand over something so personal and learning to let it go. Motherhood is a hard thing. But, my baby had to grow up sometime, right?

What was the hardest?
Answering questions about my play. Why can’t everyone just jump into my head and figure out the answers for themselves?

How does it feel to see your work go from page to stage?
The characters in my head act everything out with a lot less emotion than the actors do on stage. So. It’s weird to see humanity in the characters rather than them just being robots.

Any advice for the newest playwrights at Columbia?

Both. Sides. Now. or buttermilk pancakes runs November 19-21, 2010, at Schapiro Studio. Click here for VIP information and schedule.

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The Three Bears by Simone Marie Martelle

On November 12th – 14th, the third VIP play of the season, ‘The Three Bears’, opens at Schapiro Studio at Columbia University.

Set in a forgettable town in rural Southern France, ‘The Three Bears’ follows the banal yet brutally painful daily interactions of an ex-patriot American family. Told through a series of memories, the play dramatically explores two questions: Is it really better to ‘stick it out for the kids’?  And can we ever escape the shadows of our past?

‘The Three Bears’ is by far the most personal play I have ever written.  For years, I was afraid to write a play inspired by events from my own life, and frankly, didn’t really see a reason to do so.  I was far more comfortable writing about things that I could keep at a safe-distance.  But after years of writing about such universal tragedies as rape, murder, war and death, I realized one important question kept rising to the surface: Why do so many of us get trapped in endless cycles of making each other miserable?

This play is the story of a traditional family that supposedly did everything right, according to the norms that society upholds.  They fell in love, they got pregnant, they married, and when severe marital issues arose, they chose to stay together, and thus condemned themselves to a life of never ending misery.

— Simone Marie Martelle

November 12-14: Friday @ 8PM, Saturday @ 2 PM and 8 PM, Sunday @ 2 PM, at Columbia University’s Schapiro Studio (605 W. 115 St. betw. Broadway and Riverside)
Admission is free! RSVP at VeryImportantPlays@gmail.com

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Notes from “The Three Bears” Dramaturgs

If home is where the heart is, then what happens when your home is a war zone? What are the consequences of growing up in a family where such banal questions as, “What’s for dinner?” are nothing short of fighting words? In The Three Bears, we are all voyeurs, witnessing the dark and domestic deterioration of a fine American family, uprooted to a foreign land. To some extent, as dramaturgs, we are always intentional voyeurs of a play’s developmental process – a part of the journey, but forever striving to retain an objective eye. And in fact, one could argue that Marie herself is a dramaturg, painfully observing the regular assaults on her younger self, while also living out her own, now fractured life. The Three Bears powerfully conflates past and present – examining the effects of our most basic everyday actions… living with our family.

– Jay Jaski & Ellen Joffred

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