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Welcome to OpenForum.  We love plays that start a good conversation and there are many ways and places to have that conversation! This is your one-stop place to join in on the discussions going on about all the shows at Forum.

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OpenForum Blog:

An Interview with PLUTO playwright Steve Yockey

Posted on February 6, 2014 in Season 10
An Interview with Pluto playwright Steve Yockey (@SleepyPanda76)
By Hannah Hessel Ratner (@hanvnah), Production Dramaturg
 
 
Working on a play like Pluto makes artists hungry for conversations. This play is multidimensional. It explores primal animalistic needs while exploring mythology, astronomy and theoretical physics. It presents a universe at once overwhelmingly large and intimately miniature. It’s impossible to be engaged in this material and not be bursting with curiosity about the play’s creator. 
 
Pluto is part of the National New Play Network’s Continued Life of New Plays Fund. Over the course of this theater season, it will be performed as a Rolling World Premiere at theater’s all over the country. This unique opportunity allows the playwright to continue to develop the play as it goes in front of audiences and is explored by a new group of artists. 
 
 
 
Playwright Steve Yockey took some time out of his busy writing schedule to indulge our curiosity. 
 
Hannah: What was the generative idea for Pluto?
 
Steve: It started out by cracking into the very common, unremarkable way we hold a fixed idea of someone in our minds. We meet them and decide who they are and then that’s how we think of them, done deal. It’s especially ingrained with loved ones. We have difficulty allowing our idea of them to evolve even when the actual person changes, grows or, becomes something different right in front of us. So it was taking that idea and exploring it with scale, from the intimate (a mother and son) to the epic (Pluto’s reclassification in 2006). And a tangential idea, in my mind at least, of what happens when we don’t talk about things, about changes. Do they go away or do they just scream louder? Then I stumbled onto my own personal symbology for the cherry tree, which I won’t ruin here, and everything started to roll.
 
H: Has writing this play changed how you see the universe? 
 
S: Most of my work takes place in a world where everyday life rubs up against some larger, unseen working that confounds or challenges the way we explain things around us. These stories are how I process events or ideas I don’t understand. In that respect, I suppose completing the play does change my perspective. Or sometimes clarifies it.
 
H: There is something Aristotelian about the structure of the play, it seemingly maintains his idea of unities. Do you see Pluto as being a tragedy?
 
S: Yes. And I believe Elizabeth is a kind of tragic hero; struggling with the best of intentions against terrible odds towards a noble goal, but unintentionally creating more sorrow in the process. Also, structure is so important when you’re asking an audience to go on an odd or difficult journey. They have to feel the framework of the play is there underneath holding everything up, quietly reassuring, as the wilder aspects unfold. It manifests as a feeling of, “This is going somewhere, stay on board.” I really strive for that. 
 
Steve Yockey
H: Does your experiences with the rolling premiere’s change how you write? How do you view the rolling process? Is each production a continuation of the one before or have you found each production to be different? 
 
S: Every production is its own animal. They differ greatly from city to city, theatre to theatre, not just because of the varied artists involved, but also the vastly different expectations of audiences. I’m exceptionally lucky to have been through the rolling world premiere process a few times now and the script definitely continues to evolve. It’s a wonderful developmental tool. Considering the limited rehearsal time available to most theatres now, multiple rehearsal periods also allows the play extra time to grow and change before it starts hitting literary desks around the country. 
 
H: How has the play transformed since you started working on it? Did those changes surprise you? 
 
S: Structurally, the play now is very similar to the first draft. The largest changes during the development process involved moving around different iterations of Elizabeth’s story about her husband in the middle of the play. This came as a wild, last minute try right before the National Institute of Dramatic Arts reading in Sydney during the NNPN International Playwrights Exchange. It was a recommendation of director Lee Lewis and really helped solidify the “middle corridor” of the script. We were lucky enough to have another reading in Perth later the same week, so I got to see in short order how the change played for an audience. Definitely a keeper.
 
H: Do you anticipate any differences in audience reactions across the country? 
 
S: The reaction to the themes has been overwhelmingly positive so far. It feels strange to describe it that way because the play is an emotionally jarring experience for audiences. But “positive” is close enough. The reaction to the form the play takes, the way it moves across the stage, has been all over the place. Which is fun. Some of that is the particular conversation an artistic community is having with its audiences, the ongoing deal theatres and audiences make about what we expect from each other in the dark. I don’t consider the play particularly unconventional, but I’m also potentially the very, very worst judge of that. Luckily, there is a huge amount of new American work in front of audiences right now across the landscape of DC theatre, so folks will be more primed for the unusual.
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Parents’ Dreams, Kids’ Dreams

Posted on January 16, 2014 in Season 10
 
 
Jodi Kanter, OpenForum Fascilitator
 
A great intergenerational Meena's Dream OpenForum discussion last night got me thinking about parents’ dreams for their children and children’s dreams for their parents (and for themselves).  
 
Meena wants, of course, to be the President of the United Federation of the World.  But for now, she’ll settle for being PUFW’s Secretary of State, traveling to far away places and reporting back for the good of the galaxy.  Secretaries of State don’t have little brothers or mocking classmates or recess monitors.  They don’t have comprehensive exams, precomprehensive exams, or five minute passing periods in the hallways.  Secretaries of State can take their sweet time getting around the universe and back again.  And, should a Secretary of State find herself, for example, trapped deep in the belly of a snake, she can make from her worry and tears a powerful tsunami that will push her out of the vortex back into safe, free water.  
 
Meena also wants her mom to get better.  Her mom is the President of the United Federation of Meena’s World.  Without her mother, who would make her samosas or tell her bedtime stories?  Who would really love her?  So Meena demands some answers.  If she has special powers, she rages one evening to Krishna, why can’t she get her mother the medicine she needs?  More to the point, why can’t she clear her mother’s lungs?  If she has special powers, why does she keep feeling like one small, powerless person?  If she has special powers, then why aren’t they working? 
 
Meena’s mother’s dreams mirror her own.  She wants her daughter to become President—not so much of the Federation of the World as of the Federation of Meena’s Imagination.  This is the power she most seeks for her daughter; the power to dream.   
 
Yet Meena’s mother has a parallel conversation with Krishna:  What good does it do to loving cultivation a daughter’s hunger for adventure in a world where there isn’t enough food?  What good does it do to teach your child to dwell in a place of wonder if she is ultimately to be evicted?     
 
All of these questions are familiar to those of us who dedicate some portion of our lives to the theater. And, if we continue to believe in the theater, we will continue to answer them in the affirmative:  Yes, in a world where suffering is real, it is still valuable to practice the art of dreaming.  Yes, each of us is only one small person, but (as particularly a good one person show can help us to feel) we have mothers and daughters, gods and serpents inside of us.  And yes, if you listen carefully to an ending, you can hear a thousand places to begin.  
 
Meena's Dream continues through January 18th. OpenForums will be held after the Thursday night, Friday night, and Saturday matiee performances.
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Artists and Gentrification

Posted on November 14, 2013 in Season 10
By Season 10 Artistic Intern and playwright, Teri Gillmor
 
Working with Forum Theatre has challenged me to think about community - our theatre community in particular, but the broader DC community as well. What place does art have in this city? And 
how do we, as theatre artists, use the stage to communicate with the world around 
us?
 
Writing a piece for the upcoming (Re)Acts has allowed me to contemplate these questions from a creative point of view in addition to the academic and administrative perspectives I’ve encountered so far as an Artistic Intern at Forum. (Re)Acts, as I learned a few months ago, is a one-night performance event featuring short pieces by local artists responding to a prompt. Past (Re)Acts have addressed themes like gender, faith, and revolution. This time, I’m on board to tackle the subject of gentrification. 
 
Here’s how (Re)Acts works. Each artist or group of artists (participating groups include dog & pony dc and From Block2Block) received a piece of recent journalism about gentrification in Maryland, Virginia, or DC, and used this article as a jumping-off point for an original piece that contributes to the conversation about growth and change in our city. The resulting pieces (roughly ten minutes each) range from live podcasts to interactive games, as well as some traditional short plays. All of these creative works explore themes of identity, ownership, belonging, and change - hence the title of this (Re)Acts, Changing Neighborhoods.
 
There are two things about this process that have been especially meaningful to me as an artist. The first is the way that (Re)Acts participates so directly in the cultural conversation, and allows artists to engage questions and ideas that are relevant to our communities. How do we define ourselves by the places we live? What does our community mean to us? To our identity? In developing my contribution to Changing Neighborhoods, I’ve taken the time to learn more about my own neighborhoods, and I’ve been able to reflect on what it means for me to create art within this community.
 
There’s a strong community of artists involved in (Re)Acts as well - and that’s the second thing I’ve taken away from this process. (Re)Acts is a place for artists to get to know each other, and to work with new collaborators on new ideas. It’s also a safe space for experimentation - and that’s why, as a more traditional playwright (write a script, give it to a director, who casts actors in the roles, etc.), I’ve decided to use (Re)Acts as an opportunity to explore solo performance. In supporting each other’s risks, Forum creates a valuable community of its own. 
 
Changing Neighborhoods will feature six short pieces by different local artists; tickets are Pay What You Want at the door. Join the community - and the conversation - on Monday, November 18 at 7:30pm at Round House Silver Spring, or online @forumtheatre, #ForumReActs. I’ll be there - will you?
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Forum Twitter Conversation ahead of Diversity and Inclusion Town Hall

Posted on September 19, 2013 in OpenForum

This Friday, Sept 20th from 2-3pm EST, we will be having a conversation with our national and global community about diversity and inclusion ahead of this Saturday's Town Hall at the theatre.

Artistic Director Michael Dove will moderate the conversation and all are invited. This open-access discussion will focus on what efforts are being done in the theatre field to promote audience/artist/aesthetic diversity, the ways we are making our theatres more inclusive, and ways that we can measure that progress.

The twitter conversation will help provide broad context to the town hall event on Saturday which will focus on Forum's specific local community and actions moving ahead.

To join the conversation, search for #ForumTH on twitter and be sure to include #ForumTH in your messages and responses.

 

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Finding the Busker in AGNES

Posted on September 3, 2013 in Agnes Under the Big Top
 
By Jon Jon Johnson (@DCJonJon) who plays the BUSKER in Agnes Under the Big Top.
 
 
For the past few days, I've taken my violin and gone busking in Silver Spring, fairly close to the theater. I’ve gotten a little spare change here and there, but the experience has been invaluable in finding a deeper understanding of the “Busker” character from Agnes Under the Big Top
 
On my first day, I was shooed away from the Metro station, despite my protests: "I'm 20 feet from the entrance!” “There's no bus stop nearby!” “I'm over 10 feet away from an ATM!” “I'm not panhandling, I don't have a sign." 
 
I wandered around, not sure where to go. I finally settled on a little bench just outside Baja Fresh. Whole Foods wasn't too far away. There was a guy selling roasted nuts. I figured foot traffic would be good. I set up shop on the bench. My case was open, with the planted "seed dollar" to make it look like someone had already donated. 
 
I played for an hour - anything that came to mind. Often, I would just improvise and play around. I would repeat pieces when I felt like it, because the audience changes constantly; no one really knows if you repeat. (Well, I suppose the guy selling roasted nuts knew.) I played gypsy pieces, jazz pieces, klezmer pieces, tangos, flamencos, classical excerpts, etudes I remembered from college, Beatles songs, Adele songs...anything that I felt like playing.
 
My haul? 15 dollars, a bottle cap, a button, an iced coffee from Starbucks, and a phone number. Most people, however, ignored me entirely. Some looked and smiled. A few even took out their earphones, which pleased me greatly. I got a few nods of appreciation here and there. Some people even stopped to listen, visibly moved by the music. (They were the ones who usually left a dollar.) But the thing I got the most? Judgmental stares. 
 
That last bit was where I found the Busker. 
 
As I met the eyes of the passersby, I couldn't help but notice their disdain. In my mind, I was suddenly nothing more than a homeless beggar. 
 
"I actually have a job," I felt myself wanting to say. "I have a home. I'm an artist." The need to defend myself grew in intensity as more and more people stared. I couldn't help but feel rejected. Here I was, offering my violin music to the otherwise urban soundscape, and I was treated with resentment, rather than being thanked for making music. I had been spurned. To them, I didn't have a name; I was just a busker.
 
If I had been playing on stage or in a concert hall, people would be paying money for tickets and applauding afterwards. But because I was on the street with my case open, I was no better than a man shaking a cup of coins. The disparity bugged me greatly, and I felt myself growing bitter. Even if they didn't toss a little money in my case, they could at the very least appreciate the fact that there was music in the air.
 
But my hope was restored by the people who listened, whether they gave money or not. For a moment, they were transported. I saw their eyes glaze over as they listened, diving back into their minds as they hunted down memories. That's exactly what the Busker in Agnes does, except a bit more theatrically. 
 
The violin is a truly evocative instrument. A dear friend of mine has described my violin playing as “taking the sadness and tragedy in your life and turning it into something beautiful." The people who listened heard something. There might not have been anything familiar in the exact notes that I was playing, but the sensation, the evocation, or the vibration resonated within them. They were reminded. They remembered. 
 
Such is the Busker's ability to move freely through time and space, and this experience reminded me that I'm capable of doing the same thing. To the majority of people, he and I are nothing more than buskers - and outcasts. Yet, when someone who walks by opens their heart for a moment, we can work our busker magic and take them someplace beautiful.
 
 
Agnes runs Sept 5-28, 2013.
 
 
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