Thank you!

A big thank you to everyone involved in the In Her Name Festival for your bold, courageous, and inspiring work. It was an honor to be a part of this project!

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If you missed this incredible, moving event, you still have the chance to be a part of changing the story on women’s representation in theatre. Go see HERSTORY April 29th and 30th at 8pm, at the Silk Road Art Gallery in New Haven CT. Learn more.

Another Interview with Shellen Lubin

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NOplays welcomes back Shellen Lubin to talk about the In Her Name Festival. You can see her work this weekend at the 13th Street Repertory Theatre. Click here for tickets.

Q: You have two plays in this festival, White Cotton and After the Thin Man. How have these scripts evolved since the first 365 Women a Year cycle?

A: ​After the Thin Man has had two sets of revisions over two readings of the play, bringing it stronger, tighter, and eliminating some lines which over-stated the intentions. White Cotton has had a reading and a production, but hasn’t seemed to need as much revision. I think it was tighter to start.

​Q: What drew you to each of the women featured in these plays?

A: ​I studied with Stella Adler, but was always haunted by this statement Sylvia Gassell made about Stella when she was in a musical of mine, that Stella had told her not to let them make her a character actress in Hollywood–and when Sylvia had said that was what she wanted to be, Stella had told her then she’d never work. I knew that Stella had come back from Hollywood destroyed in some way, and then went full time into teaching, and so constructed this imaginary encounter between the two of them that also addresses the conflicts she had with Lee Strasberg and the kind of teacher she became.

Fannie Lou Hamer to me is everything 365 W…a…Y… is about–women who did extraordinary things who have essentially been written out of our history. Fannie Lou s was an extremely important civil rights activist and voting rights activist from a family of sharecroppers, and she even testified before congress about the brutal beatings and illegal jailings she received, but because she wasn’t a man, and, maybe even more, because she wasn’t a male preacher, her story is almost forgotten.

Q: Can you walk me through the process of creating both of these plays in the same 365 Women a Year cycle? How did the writing of one play influence the writing of the other?

A: ​These plays influenced and were influenced by other plays I am and was writing, but not so much each other. And I wanted them to be two unique, individual stories. I loved them for their differences, as I love Sylvia and Stella for their differences. ​

Q: You wrote two new pieces for 365 Women a Year in 2015. Has your experience in the first year influenced your writing the second time around? 

A: ​Absolutely! I am feeling even less of a need to tell anyone’s story, and more inspired to just write a play that is about a moment in their lives, a dramatic, pivotal moment in their lives. For example, the piece I wrote about Zilphia Horton is a fight with her father in her early 20s that determined the rest of her life, but you need to then go read about what it was she did with the rest of her life.

Q: In addition to writing this play, you’re also one of the producer for the In Her Name Festival. What are some of the challenges of working as both writer and producer? What are some of the rewards?

​A: The challenge is just the amount of work–I love shifting perspective and letting other people do their jobs for each individual piece. The rewards are so many–the women (and men) I’m working with, the energy and creativity and passion of all involved, and the education! So much history I didn’t know. I love to learn, and 365 Women a Year is a perpetual learning adventure.​

Q: What are you most excited about for the reading this weekend? What are you most nervous about? What are you hoping to accomplish with your play specifically? 

A: ​I’m most excited about the opportunities it is creating for all involved to connect, to be heard, to hopefully have new connections that might lead to productions and other opportunities (including for myself and my work).​

I am most nervous about our coordinating the number of people involved and not neglecting anyone or having anyone feel they were not treated fairly. ​

Q: This is the second In Her Name Festival. Is there anything you want to see in this years festival that wasn’t there last year? What are your hopes for In Her Name 2016? 

​A: This year I hope we are better paced. We had so many plays in one night last year, it was overwhelming. More plays this year, but we’re also more spread out. I’m hopeful that that will allow the whole festival–and all of us involved–to breathe better. Breathing is good.

Shellen Lubin‘s plays and musicals have been performed in productions and staged readings at the Public Theatre, Henry St. Settlement, MCC, AJT, and many other venues. She is currently working on a new play about Sarah Bernhardt, and a musical based on Elsa Rael’s award-winning children’s books with Elsa Rael (book) and Matthew Gandolfo (music). She and her songs have been featured in cabaret (most recently the Metropolitan Room in NYC and Stage 773 in Chicago), on radio (Woody’s Children on WQXR-FM and a one-hour special on WBAI-FM), cable television, and in Milos Forman’s 1st American film, TAKING OFF. Shellen has directed numerous plays, musicals, and cabaret acts in productions, workshops, and readings, most recently DOOR OPENS WALK THRU by Susan Merson at the 13th Street Repertory Theatre; the 28th-31st Annual Bistro Awards for Sherry Eaker; and Lainie Kazan in a concert reading of BELLE BARTH: IF I EMBARRASS YOU, TELL YOUR FRIENDS by Koch/Levinson/Kalt at the Falcon Theatre in Burbank, CA. She coaches voice and acting privately and at a number of colleges and professional and private schools. Her philosophical musings on artistry as a means of understanding ourselves and living more deeply, truly, and meaningfully have been read by thousands in six cover pieces for Backstage, the Performing Arts Weekly. She also writes a weekly think piece called the “Monday Morning Quote” (www.mondaymorningquote.com). As an advocate for women in the arts, she is the Co-President of the Women in the Arts & Media Coalition and VP of Programming for the League of Professional Theatre Women, She is a member of most unions and guilds in our industry, and an elected member of the National Theatre Conference.

An Interview With Susan Merson

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Susan Merson is a playwright, producer, and the Artistic Director of 13th Street Repertory Theatre. Her play In the Evening will be featured at the In Her Name Festival, Saturday, April 16th, at 6:30pm at the 13th Street Repertory Theatre.

Q: This play is based on your relationship with your mother, can you walk me through the process of creating autobiographical/biographical work? What were some of the challenges? What parts really clicked together? 

A: I think that in some ways all work is autobiographical, as we dip into the imprinted experiences that drive us as people and as artists. The personal frame is without value if it does not have a universal appeal. There is a universal understanding of the love between a mother and daughter. My particular life has had its share of drama so rather than play coy, I write based on my own experience and then continue to expand the stories and their resonance to make sure that they are a story that is larger than my personal experience. This play is the story of love and its obstacle. This theme is one I explore often.

There are rhythms that affect me as a writer and in this piece the rhythm of my mothers nightly trek up and down the stairs and round the tri level house to try to find some peace with her illness, drew me in. My challenge in this piece is trying to keep it grounded as I am increasingly aware that we, as humans, exist in a much larger energetic field than our everyday life. So, the balance between now and then, here and there and inner and outer experience is something that I play with, and one that I look forward to exploring with my terrific director, Elizabeth Hess, and my very able actresses and wonderful friends, Julie Fitzpatrick and Carolyn Mignini.

Q: Are there any playwrights who inspired you while you were writing this piece, or who inspire you in general? 

A: There are so many writers that I admire. Leah Kornfeld Friedman has a fierce personal voice that has inspired me as a woman, writer and actress and she has been a big influence in my work.

And the many many plays I have read over the years as I have worked with playwrights as they develop their own work. Nuggets of bravery and truth affect me. Fireworks rarely does. Chekov, Arthur Miller and Shakespeare are my favorites.

Q: In the beginning of the play, there’s a quote from T.S. Eliot, “I said to my soul, be still and wait without hope, for hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love, for love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith, but the faith and the love are all in the waiting. Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought: So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.” Lines from this poem make there way into your script as well. What about this piece, and about T.S. Eliot in general, draws your interest? 

 A: Affliction is a mystery. Why and how folks suffer and to what end is a mystery. And as we observe, participate and engage with “what is” one must have faith that there is some reason for it that we struggle to digest . Solving mysteries is not the reason we are here… but rather to learn faith, trust and being in the present moment. Not so easy. TS Eliot speaks to that eloquently.

Q: In addition to writing this play, you’re also one of the producer for the In Her Name Festival. What are some of the challenges of working as both writer and producer? What are some of the rewards?

A: To survive in the theatre one wears many hats. Each hat trains the wearer for the complementary one, I believe. And part of my job as an artist is to get my work into the world… so it makes sense for me to make sure it happens.

I learned this lesson from my friend Curt Dempster, the founder of EST, who often railed at actors and writers for complaining that no one else was supporting their work,… when they were doing nothing but waiting for someone else to make them famous.

Q: What are you most excited about for the reading in April? What are you most nervous about? What are you hoping to accomplish with your play specifically? 

A: I look forward to mining the material with my talented friends. Carolyn, Julie and Elizabeth are all committed to expanding the world that I have outlined. The excitement is watching a few words on a page grow, expand and find its life.

Q: Do you have any advice for playwrights who might be interested in biographical work such as this? 

A: Biographical work is not the issue. True work is the issue.

Write true, write beautifully and with fierceness and you will find gold.

You can get tickets to see In The Evening and other plays in the In Her Name Festival here.

Susan has a long history of supporting and developing new plays and playwrights as the Founder/Producing Artistic Director of New York Theatre Intensives (NYTI) and through her work at such theatres as New Dramatists, Manhattan Theatre Club, Lion Theatre (which she co founded) and the O’Neill Theatre Center. Her mentoring skills have been polished through significant time on Broadway, in regional theatre and in the Off-Off Broadway developmental world. Appearing as an actress in the Broadway productions of Zefirelli’s SATURDAY SUNDAY MONDAY and CHILDREN OF A LESSER GOD, she also co created and appeared in the original production of VANITIES, Off Broadway, in which she performed over 800 times. Recent television appearances on SCANDAL and in the upcoming Ellen Page/Julianne Moore film, FREEHELD. She is often seen on the stage of the Ensemble Studio Theatre in the Youngblood brunches and ASKING FOR TROUBLE series.Her first play REFLECTIONS OF A CHINA DOLL was produced Off Broadway at the Ensemble Studio Theatre which seeded her ongoing relationship as an active artist and board member of EST on both coasts. In Los Angeles, Susan co-founded and served as moderator for the Los Angeles Writers Bloc with colleague Jane Anderson, which has supported the work of such writers as Donald Margulies,(Pulitzer), Noni White and Bob Tzudiker(Tony for Newsies), Irene Mecchi (Lion King), Janet Fitch (White Oleanders) and countless others since the 1980’s. She has served as Artistic Director of the Streisand Festival for New Plays, Associate Producer at the Fountain and Mark Taper Forum, Resident Playwright for the Jewish Women’s Theatre Project, Literary Manager of the Ensemble Studio Theatre/ LA and has worked as a reader for Fogwood Films, TNT, and Polygram and many others. She is currently Managing Artistic Director of the 13th Street Repertory Theatre in NYC. Her many plays have been seen at theatres across the US and Canada. In the last couple of years:DAMN EVERYTHING BUT THE CIRCUS: 2 short plays About the Circus  at the FOUNTAIN THEATRE in Los Angeles and Ensemble Studio Theatre/NYC in readings and a selection of the Sam French New Play festival 2014. BETWEEN PRETTY PLACES, a play with music written by Shellen Lubin, premiered at the Pacific Resident Theatre in Los Angeles and as part of the HERE ARTS Sublet Series in Manhattan in 2013. NYC has also seen WHITE BIRCHES at the Avant Garde Arts Festival, CARLA TELLS US WHAT HAPPENED IN THE BLUE BEDROOM at Berkshire Playwrights Lab, I BELIEVE IN MARRIAGE at the League of Professional Theatre Women’s One Act Festival and WHEN THEY GO AND YOU DO NOT at both the EstroGenius Festival and EST/6th Floor/NY and the Fountain Theatre in LA. HAIR: A REMINISCENCE a Heideman Award finalist at Louisville; and BOUNTY OF LACE, a 2008 Religion and Theatre Award recipient — will be included in a published collection in 2013. Screenplay nods have gone to SWIMMING UPSTREAM and DEATH IN VIENNA, both developed with Jimola Productions. As a fiction writer, her work has appeared in various journals and anthologies. Her novel DREAMING IN DAYLIGHT and a recent collection of plays and memoir WHEN THEY GO AND YOU DO NOT: Writing on Transition are available on Amazon along with her book on solo performance, YOUR NAME HERE: An Actor Writers Guide to Solo Performance. She currently leads the programs of New York Theatre Intensives in association with the artists of Ensemble Studio Theatre, of which she is a member and the13th Street Repertory Theatre (Managing Artistic Director). She is an active member of the League of Professional Theatre Women, Actors Equity and Screen Actors Guild. Check out the website at www.susanmerson.com

In Her Name

NOplays, as an associate producer, presents:

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IN HER NAME: A WEEKEND OF WOMEN’S STORIES

With 365 WOMEN A YEAR: A Playwriting Project

A festival of new plays

Friday night, April 15  

OPENING FUND RAISING EVENT

Saturday, April 16

READINGS OF NEW WORK 11-2, 330 – 6 and 730- 10

Sunday April 17    

10- 1 PM Life Stories Workshop with Artistic Director Susan Merson

3 PM CLOSING PANEL and reading of workshop material

Join us for a weekend celebration of women’s voices in the theatre including a Friday night event in honor or the 100th year of Founding Artistic Director Edith O’ Hara of the 13th Street Rep featuring Dael Orlandersmith, Leah Friedman, Shola, Shellen Lubin, Susan Merson and special guests.

Tickets:  

50 dollars for the weekend., all three days

25 dollars for all day Saturday only

15 dollars Tickets at the door for individual programs

Donations welcome for Fund Raiser Friday Night

Produced by:

New York Theatre Intensives and 365 Women a Year: A Playwrighting Project

In association with:

NOplays is a New England based theatre organization who’s mission is to support and produce works from underrepresented voices in the American Stage, with a special interest in emerging female writers. We want the wild, fun, epic, and imaginative stories told by these individuals to be heard!

At 13th Street Repertory Theatre

50 w 13th Street.

You can also support this event, and other NOplays events, by making a donation.