We first met Elohim when he signed up to participate in TEASE 2014. In less than a year, we’ve seen him on stages all over the Twin Cities – from Freshwater Theatre and Candid to Coup D’Etat and Forgotten Goddess. We’re pretty sure with his talent and captivating personality, it will only be a matter of time before you can’t swing a stick in this town without hitting Elohim. This time he’s working with Frank Theatre on Love and Information. You can catch his performance at the Ritz Theatre in Northeast Minneapolis now through February 22nd.
Working on Love and Information has been an interesting project to say the least. At the audition – which I got thanks Joy Dolo – I was asked to do scenes with really funky, fun, and crazy direction. I was asked to do some scenes as a preacher, or a cheerleader, I walked out of the room feeling like I made a total fool of myself, which is always a good thing. Then when we started the rehearsal process we basically spent the first week at the table essentially re-auditioning. We read through it many times playing different scenes, or reversing scene rolls, then Wendy Knox our slick director began to incorporate circumstances and relationships and then we played around with those until we hit something that felt right for each scene.
The technical part of this show has been the biggest challenge; because of costume changes, scene changes, and the brevity of the scenes we as actors have to be ready to go at the top of the scene. It’s also challenging to have to prepare for your “moment before” when you have seconds between changing costume and getting back out on stage.
I saw Rehearsing Failure at the Southern Theatre and I was taken aback at how amazing non-traditional theatre can be. The cast was incredibly talented, mixing, live music, performance art, with theatre. That performance really made me want to go out and make something.
At the pentagon or in the oval office, I want to know all of America’s dirty laundry.
If you were stuck in a Lifeboat what would you need to have with you?
We’re delighted to highlight Erin Denman. Not only has she been a driving force behind many of our artistic endeavors, but she’s currently working on a show with nimbus theatre. While rehearsing for several weeks with nimbus, she has also done so many Lifeboat activities – reading new scripts, baking delicious cannoli cupcakes and building a website to name a few. We seriously wonder when she has time to do all of these things.
This isn’t Erin’s first time with nimbus; she has previously worked with them on Emerald and the Love Song of the Dead Fisherman, The Balcony and The Golden Ass. The Balcony was the first show nimbus had in their space on Central Ave, which has since become a staple in the theatre community. Over the years, nimbus has tackled story telling from many different perspectives; company created devised pieces, published scripts, new translations of classics, and new works. We’re excited to see them tackle the intersection of art, expression, pre-history and storytelling in the devised work In the Age of Paint and Bone.
What drew you to acting (What’s your origin story)?
When I was in high school, I’d been doing tech for shows and I got recruited for the speech team by a teacher. Suddenly, I found myself onstage. I got to run off crying as the kid who doesn’t get into Fame in one show (FAME, obviously) and play a magical rhyming pirate in another. One of my first shows, Susan Lori-Parks’ Venus, exposed me to what theatre could do for me and how I could change an audience. I’ve never stopped seeking that feeling. Fun fact: Tim Daly, a fellow actor in In the Age of Paint and Bone, was also in FAME and Venus with me at DeLaSalle. Go Islanders?
This is the second devised piece you’ve worked on with nimbus and Liz Neerland. How has the process changed from the first one to the second piece?
This show involves a focus on movement that is entirely different from what we did for The Golden Ass. That show was riffing on tales similar to Aesop’s fables that form the basis of fairy tales we all know. In the Age of Paint and Bone features historical moments as well as speculation about why prehistoric people created art- the basis for the wordless movement pieces. It’s been a very different but rewarding process. The tech is going to be incredible. Brian Hesser deserves a lot of props for creating such integral character in the cave itself.
What gets you excited about creating devised work?
I love playing with other actors and discovering a story rather than being handed the story. There is a sense of comfort and danger about it: you take risks knowing that you’ve built a support structure with the artists you’re working with. You really get the chance to explore what interests the group before settling on a finished product.
What have you seen/read in the past year (or so) that’s inspired you?
I’ve been particularly artistically inspired by not theatrey things this year. Books, mostly. I’ve been reading a lot of feminist memoirs. Caitlin Moran inspires me quite a bit. Aimee Bender’s short stories. A book called Ask Me Why I Hurt about providing medical care to homeless youth. Julianne Moore in Still Alice and the National Theatre Live’s broadcast of Coriolanus both shook me. The Dick Van Dyke Show. Seriously. It’s on Netflix, watch it. The actors are so committed to the absurd happenings that it is all entirely grounded. It’s sort of a joy to watch.
After In the Age of Paint and Bone, is there anything you’ve got lined up?
Little Lifeboats business. TEASE takes up a good chunk of my spring. I’m excited to really get to work. This is the time of year I get ideas, so watch out Lifeboats! I may have some tricks up my sleeve yet!
What role have you been particularly proud of over the years?
That’s a difficult question. Each show/role teaches you so much about yourself and your art. There are a couple more I’d like another crack at though. I’d like to play Evelyn in The Shape of Things by Neil LaBute again. I was proud of what I did there, but I think I was too young to really do it justice. I’d love to play Titania and Emelia again. I’m pretty happy any time I get to do new work. How’s that for a non-answer?
Not a role, but I’m very proud of TEASE. I’m happy that a little idea became something people enjoy doing and that helps artists connect.
What question should I have asked you but didn’t?
Ahhh…. I don’t know. My favorite beverage is unsweetened ice tea. But not iced green tea. Because that’s super gross.
If you were stuck in a Lifeboat what do you need to have? (you’ve got water and food)
My kindle loaded with books (new overly complicated fiction to take up a lot of time, poetry, autobiographies of comedians, and dumb fantasy novels) and a solar powered charger. And an unlimited supply of sunscreen.
Performances of In the Age of Paint and Bone will be at the nimbus space (1517 Central Ave) February 7th, 2015- March 1 2015. Matinees at 3pm, Weekend evening at 8pm weeknight evening at 7:30pm. tickets and more information at www.nimbustheatre.com
Welcome to our Rising Tides series! Here, we will take the opportunity to interview some of our favorite collaborators about what makes them tick, what they are up to, and where to catch them next.
On January 18th, 2015, we hosted a reading of the play The Caruso Sisters by Claudia Inglis Haas at the Phoenix Theater in Minneapolis. We first met Claudia through TEASE – The Easy Access Script Experience, our event that takes local playwrights and gets excerpts from their work in front of local theatre companies. Over the years, TEASE has lead to several full productions as well as readings for the writers. For the past two years, we’ve asked the audience to vote on their favorite scene of the evening; TEASE 2014 selected The Caruso Sisters as their favorite. The feedback from the audience at this reading was phenomenal, proving once again that women’s stories are as powerful and moving as the men’s stories we so often see on stage. In this interview, we find out more about the woman behind the words.
Looking back over your work do you find there is a theme in your writing?
I go through stages. In the last five years, I’ve been playing a lot with magical realism. I have had a lot of losses during the last few years so exploring the world through different lenses has been a way of coping. It’s also a jumping off point into the unknown – and I look at ways to solve the unknown. I never will which keeps me on my toes.
You’ve mentioned you’re a native of NY – but have lived in MN for many years. What keeps you here artistically?
My plan – many decades ago – was to stop here, mooch off of my parents (father moved here for a job at Ecolab) and continue to California. I stopped here – and lo and behold – found a thriving theatre community. It was a wee bit kinder than New York and in many ways took more chances with programming. What’s not to like? I acted, directed, taught and wrote plays. Then, I went and met my husband and had kids. They are all determined to stay here despite the polar vortexes so I’m not going anywhere.
What have you seen on stage in the past year that was inspiring?
Steerage Song by Theater Latte Da kept me riveted. I’ve always wanted to write about the immigrant experience. I have so many stories from my grandmother’s past that would work on the stage. I haven’t figured out how to make it a cohesive experience – yet.
After Life by Brandon Taitt at the Fringe left me and my family with much discussion – which is good theatre. And it’s a discussion I entered into (and will continue to discuss in other plays) with And the Universe Didn’t Blink. Brandon’s exploration is very close to my exploration – of the universe, of the after life, of the unknown and I realized after seeing it that I was not close to being done with that theme. Of course, it’s a huge theme! One is never done.
Panties on My Head by Kari Steinbach at the Fringe introduced me to the world of Roller Derby and turned over my preconceived notions – always a good thing. I did one play based on the dialogue/commentary of others (By Candlelight) and love docu-drama. It had me revisiting my play Riders of the Orphan Storm about the Orphan Train Movement.
What kind of challenges do you think a playwright starting out today has versus when you started writing?
The MFA has become more important. The debate as to whether or not to go into debt to go into a field that does not earn a viable living is discussed everywhere. There are theatres that will not look at a playwright without an MFA. So the discussion continues.
As someone who writes predominantly for youth theatre, “the gate-keepers” have intensified. Subjects that I could write freely about 10-15 years ago – are scrutinized. I did have a commission for a middle school – so yes, more tender than older teens. I knew the language had to be G-rated but I was told by the principal to avoid: (of course) sex, drugs, rock and roll, drugs, drinking and also: cutting, any mention of being or discovering one was gay, out-of-wedlock pregnancy, politics, religion – in short – just about anything a 13-year-old would be curious about. And probably already knows. I did sneak a few of those subjects through the back door….
If you could give young you (or a new young writer) one piece of advice, what would it be?
I’m going to go with the obvious: read. Read widely, read everything – just read. I cannot tell you how many wonderful plays are out there because a playwright saw a blurb in a newspaper and said, “Wait! I want to know more.” Plays start from moments in history, a line in a poem, a photograph, a signpost, a fairy tale, a look at the night sky. If you observe and read – you will always have something to write about.
A lot of your work features a female actors and plays for youth, what draws you to these stories?
I wrote The Caruso Sisters for two reasons: absolute love for my slightly nutso (maybe full-blown nutso) Italian family that had a huge hand in shaping my being. And to address the “disappearance” of actresses over forty – indeed actresses over fifty and sixty who are at the peak of their powers but lacking in available roles.
My stories are all personal – they’re not necessarily true but they come from an inner part of me that includes a truth and a question.
Writing for young audiences sings! Whether you’re onstage with nothing but a cardboard moon or surrounded by imagination-on-steroids, a riveted young audience will still your heart. There is an openness with young audiences. Respect them and they will follow you anywhere.
What’s next for you? Any upcoming projects/readings/productions? Did you submit for fringe again?
I did Fringe twice and had a wonderful experience both times. The summer of 2014 was my first summer in 23 years where I didn’t have a play in production and I found I liked my summer – spent in the garden and writing.
I have two shorts coming up in Spokane, WA and Mankato, MN in February 2015. I am also a “semi” at three places that I won’t go into because I am superstitious (it’s an Italian thing). The Caruso Sisters is being considered elsewhere.** As is And the Universe Didn’t Blink (both showcased at TEASE). There’s a 6 month to one year waiting time after a script is sent and/or requested.
I am included in an anthology for plays for young people due out in 2015 and have a new publication coming out with YouthPLAYS in 2015. It’s all gratifying.
If you were trapped in a lifeboat on the ocean what would you most like to have with you? (basic provisions are provided- water/food)
I will assume basic provisions include cheese, chocolate and suntan lotion.
I would need a never-ending pile of page-turning books. I love the ocean but the scenery stays the same for a long time. Trips into other worlds would be good for my morale. As I look back, books have always been my lifeline.
** Since this interview it has become known that The Caruso Sisters was selected for a staged reading at the Houston Family Arts Center on Jan 22nd.