Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Megan Kate Ward: The Form of New Work - The David Mamet School for Boys

August 2009
Interview by Followspot
**Photo credit: Sara Gray Photography**

from PCS to The Bullet Round

Followspot – How long ago and why did you get involved in
Portland Center Stage?

Megan Kate Ward - I interned for PCS in-between my junior and senior years in college. I was at Goldsmith College, University of London, in London, England, and I had come home and was interning with them, helped out with JAW [PCS's annual playwright's festival] a little bit and then the following year, my senior year, I got an email from Rose [Riordan] saying, “Hey, are you coming back to Portland?” And I said, “Yeah, in fact I’ll be home in two weeks.” She’s like, “Great. Come in and interview for a position.” I just graduated from college with a degree in theatre and I’m coming home to interview for a position at a regional theater. How lucky is that? And she invited me in and I interviewed for the Company Manager position. Dawn Sorgnard got the job and I did not, but Rose was like, “You’re pretty cool. Why don’t you intern again this year with me and you can help with JAW and stuff.” I did that as well, and after JAW some grant money became available to hire me part-time as the Artistic and Literary Assistant to assist both Mead [Hunter] and Rose with casting and scripts, organizing both databases and positions, etcetera, etcetera. So that’s how I started and then right before my third season I was hired full-time for a couple months before I was let go. I just started as an intern and then kept interning, and finally got hired.

FS – When you got your degree in Theatre, what direction had you been hoping to go into?

MW – I always wanted to direct, but this position came along and it was appealing because I got to work with Rose. I loved interning with her and was excited about interning for her again. She’s a female director and she is an Associate Artistic Director of a major theatre and I wanted to learn more about what that entailed and how she got there. I enjoyed working on JAW and learning about the casting side because I always thought I might enjoy that as well; and having that opportunity with her really showed me that I did. I love working with actors.

And then, through staying there longer and also being Mead’s assistant, I fell in love with the literary side of things. He was a huge mentor in teaching me a lot about dramaturgy and scripts and what makes a good script; and it was just really lovely to work with him as well. I was very lucky in my position because I got both sides of the coin. I grew a deep respect for playwrights because playwriting is hard. You really can tell in the first 12 pages where [the playwright’s] going with the script and whether or not it’s something that is right for your theatre. And that was something I learned from Mead - I might like a script but you have to think about whether or not it’s correct for your theatre. You have to think about what your theatre’s mission is and how that script relates to it.

I learned a lot from both of them and I [feel] very fortunate for my time there and, as sad as I was to leave, I also believe that it happened for a reason. It was time for me to work on me. I met a lot of actors in town from being the casting assistant, I met a lot of playwrights through being Mead’s [assistant] and through working on JAW, and it was just time for me work on the directing thing that I really wanted to do. And so it was good timing because I don’t think I would have been able to balance doing JAW and producing Bullet Round and working part-time for something else.

FS – That segues into your current company, The David Mamet School for Boys. I found a blurb that says your mission is “To produce work that challenges conventional playwriting, take bold risks, and expose audience to new ideas.” Does that sound right for your mission?

MW – I find writing missions really hard to articulate. I am interested in the different ways the stories are told. Because I had to read a lot of scripts for JAW, I became very familiar with many playwright’s voices and, ultimately, at the end of the day, a playwright that really has command of their voice is more interesting to read, and I think that’s something that Paula Vogel [has] really taught her students [how to do]. I don’t know what she teaches or what her classes are like, I just know that the scripts I read mess a little bit with form, but they are still true to their voice. I just hear a very distinct voice in all the different playwrights that come out of that program.

FS – Can you give me some examples of playwrights you’re thinking of?

MW – Well, for example, Jordan Harrison and Dan LeFranc both came out of that program. Jordan Harrison did Act a Lady, which [PCS] did, and Dan LeFranc did Bruise Easy for JAW a couple years ago. Completely different styles of writing, very interesting playwrights, but unique to their voice.

FS – How do the two plays you produced recently with your company fit into this mold?

MW – Dutchman and The Bullet Round come from two different eras, and Dutchman is more poetic because [LeRoi Jones] came from a poetry background but [the play is] also very charged because it was something that he was wrestling with, whereas Steven [Drukman]’s also has a message and is very funny, but the form is referencing La Ronde. It’s an homage to that form. It’s a cyclical play and its aim is to always keep us guessing and questioning what we think we know.

FS –What excites you about that? I’m curious why this playing with form interests you versus maybe something older like Arthur Miller or Ibsen.

MW - It’s so interesting because before I started working at PCS I didn’t fully grasp what new playwriting meant, I was like, “Why? There are already all these great plays.” But [new playwriting] is important to support because there are a lot of talented playwrights that are talking about relevant things. I mean there are all those plays that withstand history and still are relevant but there are also plays now that speak more to us and this era. Miller and Ibsen were new playwrights of their day doing completely different styles of playwriting.

FS – How does something like Bullet Round speak to us today?

MW – Well, Bullet Round for example deals a lot with karma and violence and gun violence and whether or not we are part of that or we create it. Whether we’re passive or whether we’re active participants in this violent world. But yet the play is funny and approachable. It has a message but it’s a good story. It’s interesting to watch and you’re vested in these characters and what they have to stay and the world they’re living in.

FS – I also noticed for your first two plays with your theatre company you happened to choose plays dealt with the idea of racial identity. Is that a coincidence or is that something you’re interested in?

MW – Yeah, it might just be a coincidence. I’m interested in it but I can’t say that all of David Mamet’s are going to be focused around the issue. Somebody else brought that up too and I see the connection but I don’t know that I made a conscious decision.

FS – Why was it important to bring those two plays to Portland audiences?

MW – I think they elevate consciousness on two levels. With Bullet Round, there is obviously the violence issue, also our assumptions – a lot of people were shocked at the graveyard scene when he was not his gay lover.

FS – I totally thought that.

MW – Everyone did. And that’s clever. Steven’s a bright playwright because he totally leads you there. And, also, with LeRoi Jones, I wanted to bring [The Dutchman] to life again now because, even though it’s a jewel of that era and we have all studied it within context, it also, still, sadly, has relevance, and [we produced it] before Obama got elected and it brings to light how far we’ve come since the 60’s …. And it’s now 2009.

FS – What’s with the name of your theatre company?

MW – Everybody asks. Well, what do you think? What comes to mind when you think of David Mamet?

FS – Actually, my knowledge of David Mamet is pretty weak, so I tend to think of his style of short, choppy sentences, a lot of swearing, very aggressive and with sharp edges. As you can tell my conception is rather nebulous. So what do you think it means?

MW – I actually think of ideas very similar to what you think. How the name came about is I was talking with my boyfriend [Kristan Seemel] about the plays that I like, and he goes, “That sounds like The David Mamet School for Boys.” And also because I am interested in swearing and getting in your face. I was like, “That is brilliant.” Because you automatically make the draw between a playwright who is known for his dialogue - he tends to focus on how people actually speak - and also, the [artistry] of their speech, like the swearing and all that stuff too. And then if you’re not a theatre person, there’s an in with him with his screenwriting and the movies. Most people think of State and Main and, possibly, Glengarry Glen Ross. I just thought, “What a person to have as an immediate association.” This is the theatre that’s going to do this type of work. Some of the people that asked about it have said, “You should make your website” [Note: This domain is already taken.] And then I have a sailor’s mouth.

FS – What interpretations have you gotten from your name?

MW – I did have somebody call in and say, “Is this the David ‘Mam-ay’ theatre company?” And I said, “This is The David Mamet School for Boys.” And then the follow up question was, “Well, who comes see these shows because I had a hard time finding information about it.” And was I like, “Well, the general public.” She said, “Is it just the parents of the boys in the school.” And some people have asked, “Who’s David Mamet?” Immediately, they google him.

FS – So it’s kind of like an indirect educational tool. Have these people come after you’ve explained what your company is?

MW – I don’t know. They’re on the list but I don’t know if they came to the show. It’s very interesting. I realized that [the name] was a little misleading. But they’ll catch on. I’m not worried about it.

FS – Will you ever do a play by David Mamet?

MW – For now, no.

FS – What is your next project?

MW – That’s my next question to myself. I’m working on Fool for Love [CoHo Productions] and then the focus is back to David Mamet School for Boys, and you know, creating a website, maybe doing a fundraiser. I’d really like to bring out or workshop a play or do another show. I missed the grant deadline for RACC [Regional Arts and Culture Council] so I guess I’ll have to figure out another way. I could go several other ways but I have a lot of ideas for The David Mamet School for Boys. And sometimes I get ahead of myself so I’m trying to scale it back and ask myself, “But what’s next?”

FS – What will The David Mamet School for Boys bring to Portland that’s currently missing?

MW – I would like to bring back new work. I think there are a lot of really good playwrights in this town. There’s a lot of good support for readings, and I think Fertile Ground [Portland's 10-day new play festival] is doing a great job of continuing that and JAW does a great job, but I think there also needs to be someone that takes up [full productions] again. I don’t think it necessarily needs to be world premieres; I think that sometimes gets tricky. I mean it’s perfectly acceptable to do second runs and sometimes plays are dead in the water after they have their world premiere somewhere at a regional and then nobody wants to pick it up. Not always, but often people think, “Well, we didn’t get the world premiere credit,” so they lose interest. Technically, The Bullet Round was a world premiere but you better believe if a regional picks it up and wants to call it a world premiere, they’re going to get that privilege. And that’s fine with me, I understand. I’m just pleased we were able to bring Steven out and he was happy with the production. I want to focus more on playwrights.

FS – Do you have a dream project you’d like to do for David Mamet?

MW – Yes, but I’m going to tell you because I don’t anyone to take it. I’ve given away too many scripts and…. No.

FS – Is there a way people can keep abreast of what’s going on?

MW – Usually my blog,

Next up: Megan talks Fool for Love, Regional Theatre, and the Female Director

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