Rising Tides: Zac Delventhal

You might recognize Zac Delventhal’s name from Parhelion; he was the genius who choreographed our stage fights. Genius is not used lightly – he managed to have a bench thrown safely in a very small space.  You might recognize his face; he’s been on stages all over the Twin Cities from Six Elements to the Flower Shop Project.   He’s a regular renaissance man: writer, actor, fight choreographer, lobbyist.  He’s teamed up with his wife, Laura (who has directed at TEASE since 2012) to create a new youtube channel, Cinescrubs.
Zac and laura

Zac and Laura, creators of CineScrubs

These two are wonderful supporters of new work all over town and lend their time and talent to the stage. Now, they’ve turned their gaze toward film in an effort to help promote diversity.  Youtube is more than a place for cat videos – it is a wonderful platform to for important dialogue like those the Delventhals are starting with Cinescrubs.
Can you give the Cinescrubs elevator speech for us? 
CineScrubs is a data-driven time machine examining the history of cinema and comparing it to today. Both Laura and I have noticed how almost every story in every medium stars a white guy, with white guy supporting roles, and white guy villains. Women and people of color are typically marginalized as token characters with little control over their own destiny: the princess to be rescued, the encouraging mother, the tragic victim who motivates the (white male) hero to do great things. There are exceptions of course, but they are vanishingly rare.
We started to wonder, has it always been like this? Have stories always been so homogenous? The common refrain from Hollywood is that only movies about white guys make money, but thinking back to classic films like the Wizard of Oz, there were a ton of female characters that drove the plot forward and it was a huge success. So was there a time when things were less refined, when a movie about women, or people of color, could get made without fear of losing profits? This is a question we are very interested in answering, but I quickly discovered there is no data on the subject. Studies about diversity in film don’t go further back than the last decade or so. So CineScrubs tries to find that data, and in doing so maybe answer some questions about how we tell stories in general.
You and Laura addressed that you noticed the “samey white dudes” syndrome over time – was there a specific incident/moment that made you think “we should study this?”

Well, it’s something that’s pretty obvious just looking at what’s playing at the box office, but the big realization came after watching Oz The Great and Powerful. We talk about this in the first episode of CineScrubs a bit, but that movie just floored me. It’s the prequel to a film full of powerful women, but the plot centers around how these three witches are completely helpless since their dad died and need a man to come and set things right. Not only that, Oz is a promiscuous cad who sleeps with everyone, something represented as endearing, but the women who sleep with him are shown as dirty, undesirable, tainted, and idiots for believing his lies. The Witch of the West is literally turned permanently evil and ugly because she was a slut. I walked away of that movie amazed and disgusted. Not only did they go with yet another white male hero, they built their entire plot around some of the worst sexist elements of our culture. Laura and I talked a lot about that movie, and it was during those conversations that we started asking, “Was it always this bad?”
What do you hope watchers of Cinescrubs will walk away with?  What kind of conversations do you think are going to happen going forward? 
Well first, I hope viewers are entertained, we are trying to create a show here. But after that, what I really want folks to walk away with is good data. I find it very hard to talk about issues without having the numbers, so hopefully I can provide that for other people’s discussions. Obviously I have a bit of a pro-diversity axe to grind myself, and I’m not trying to hide that, but as much as possible I want to step back and let people draw their own conclusions.
How do you envision the google doc being used?
Well, there are a few layers to it. I imagine most people will just take a peek at the breakdown, look at some graphs, and get a gist of where the data is falling. We’ll cover a lot of that information in the episodes as well, so if that’s as far as most viewers go, that’s great. It’s really important to us to make the raw data available too though. We want to compile something robust and complete enough that folks smarter than us can use it to draw interesting conclusions we would never have thought of.
Is there a movie/decade you’re looking forward to reviewing and why?
I’m not going to lie, a big part of this is just having an excuse to watch a lot of old movies. So far I’ve already seen most of the films we’ve watched, but I’m looking forward to getting back to the “Golden Age” of Hollywood, which is a period I basically know nothing about. I’m very curious to find out what it’s like.
Since you both come from a theatre background why did you choose movies versus plays/stage work?
Ultimately we hope to reveal something about how we tell stories and our culture in general. Since I’m not sure on a good way to systematically look at all stories, Hollywood seemed like a decent canary in the coal mine. It’s been the most popular form of storytelling for almost a century, so I think it can reveal a lot about our tastes in general. Plus it’s something most people can readily identify with, unlike theatre which has become pretty esoteric for the population at large.
Who would you say does a great job at integrating diversity in casting/storytelling around town? (local filmmakers, theatres, arts organization, etc)
Well, I definitely want to shout out groups like Theatre Unbound, Mixed Blood, Penumbra, Mu. Not only is diversity a part of their mission statement, but they are out there doing good work, proving you don’t need a white guy in the lead to be successful. In a way though, these groups really illustrate the larger problem too. You shouldn’t need to have a specific focus on diversity to have a non-white non-male show every so often. I’m not saying every show or anything, I still want to get cast sometimes, but you look around at most theatre in the Twin Cities (and elsewhere) and as much as they’ll pay lip service to diversity, time and time again casts get filled with white men.
What is your favorite movie?  Is it on your list of movies to include?
Such a tough question. I love movies, and it is very hard to pick favorites. American Beauty and Big Fish are both films that I love which have had a huge impact on me artistically. Pacific Rim had me on the edge of my seat the whole time, an absolutely spectacular action flick. Gone Girl floored me and may be the best film I’ve seen in years. I don’t think any of those were top grossing films, so we won’t be analyzing them anytime soon, but it’s possible we’ll look at Best Picture winners later, so that would put American Beauty in there. So far though we’ve gotten to watch Toy Story, Back to the Future and Jaws, which are all pretty great, so our initial sample is not without gems.
What have you seen in the past year that’s inspired you?  (seen on stage, screen, read etc)
Gone Girl, which I mentioned, was just fantastically written, directed, and acted, top to bottom. Some of the twists it took . . . like I said, I was floored. Similarly, I absolutely love the dialogue from the TV show The Blacklist. I’ve been working on my own writing a lot lately, and both have really inspired me to do better. I still write very on-the-nose, without a lot of subtext, but characters in The Blacklist can have an entire conversations where both of them are lying to each other, and they both know it, but they both have to keep up the charade anyway . . . I love it every time.
What is the question I didn’t ask you but should have? 
I guess you could have asked why diversity in storytelling is important to me.
What is the answer to that question?
Well, since you asked, I obviously have an interest in basic fairness, like most people, but I think in the end it comes down to entirely selfish reasons. I want better, less paint-by-numbers films and I also want to be able to share the stories I love with my wife and with the daughters I may have someday. There are some video games, for example, that have had a huge influence on me and I can’t wait to share them with my children, but what if I have a daughter and she can’t get into them because there is no characters she can identify with? Maybe that is a little forward thinking, but it’s honestly something I worry about.
If you were stuck in a lifeboat, what would you need to have with you? (you’ve got food and water)
A pad and pen. I’m very easily distracted, but I’m always trying to get more ideas on the page. Being stranded in a lifeboat might be a great opportunity to get some work done.
You can follow the Cinescrubs channel on YouTube to hear more from Zac and Laura.

Rising Tides: Elohim Peña

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.

Elohim Peña

 

What drew you to theatre? 
I auditioned for one acts on a whim my senior year of high school, I had a great time, then did the spring play that same year. Then I drifted for a bit through my first couple of years until I took an elective acting class with Kurt Schweickhardt and I fell in love with acting. I started looking for schools and ended training at The William Esper Studio in New York. That was the first time in my life I felt like I was where I was supposed to be.
Love and Information has a really interesting structure from a script stand point – there are no delineated characters etc.  How was the process to create a story (or not create a story) from the text been?
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.
Were there common themes the cast kept coming back to? 
We talked a BUNCH about the play trying to figure out if there were threads within each section, eventually we ended up deciding as a group what each sections theme was.
What has been the biggest challenge of Love and Information?
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.
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Elohim flashing a smile at the initial read through. Photo courtesy of Frank Theatre.

What have you found inspiring lately?  What have you seen/heard/read that made you want to go out and create art?
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.

What prompts you to audition for someone/something?
To be honest just auditioning to audition is something I find really important. The truth about being an actor is that auditioning is the job. I mean I still look for projects that I feel would have a part for me, but as an actor you have so little control over what you’re cast in that you have to put yourself out there constantly. Look at Chris Hemsworth; this guy is Thor, but he had to go out and actively seek Ron Howard to audition for Rush. There are very few actors that have the luxury of waiting for the work to come them.  For this project I was lucky enough that Joy reached out to me and through her I reached out to Wendy to audition for this play. I was just happy that someone thought I could be part of this.
What do you hate most about the (audition, rehearsal) process?
Callbacks
What do you like the most about (audition, rehearsal) process?
Callbacks
Where do you want to be a fly on the wall? 
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? 
Someone to spend the time with, preferably someone I can discuss time travel paradoxes with.
Performances of Love and Information are January 30 – February 22, Thurs-Sat at 8:00 PM and Sundays at 2:00 PM. There is one matinee on Wednesday, Feb 11 at noon. Tickets are $22-25 and can be purchased now at www.franktheatre.org or (612) 724 3760.

Rising Tides: Erin Denman

ErinDenman

Erin Denman Photo Credit: Dani Werner

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?

skull

Photo Credit Mathieu Lindquist

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)

Oars.
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.

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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

Rising Tides: Playwright Claudia Inglis Haas

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.

Haas headshot

Claudia Inglis Haas

 

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.