TALE AS OLD AS TIME: Meet the Modern Verse Playwrights!

This Monday, for one night only, TURN TO FLESH PRODUCTIONS presents an evening of performances and readings of Shakespeare and modern verse scenes and soliloquies called Tale As Old As Time(TICKETS HERE)  For example, you'll see:

Hamlet vs. The Merry Widows of WindsorBy William Shakespeare and Emily C. A. Snyder
Directed by Emily C. A. Snyder
Featuring Alexandra Cremer, Starr Kirkland, Susannah Melone and Joseph Knipper

  • Examining the fun of the existential angst of living after someone you love has died.
Measure for Measure vs. Our Own Odyssey
By William Shakespeare and Chris Rivera 
Directed by Emily C. A. Snyder
Featuring Joe Ottavi-Perez and Chris Rivera
  • Examining roles for men then and now, as well as the danger of "nice guys"
 The Merchant of Venice vs. In Flight
By William Shakespeare and Jenny Lyn Bader
Directed by Aliza Shane
Featuring Isabel Kruse and Daryl Lauren
  • Examining roles for women then and now - especially how we start passing the Bechdel test!
A Midsummer Night's Dream vs. The Table RoundBy William Shakespeare and Emily C. A. Snyder
Directed by Susannah Melone
Featuring Lynnsey Ooten
  • Examining the agency and ambition of lovelorn girls with independent minds
Tartuffe vs. Dear Little Butterface
By Jean-Baptiste Molière and Duncan Pflaster
Directed by Brian Gillespie
Featuring Nora Lempriere, Evelyn Peralta and Clinton Powell
  • Examining the dangers of treating women like objects...la plus ça change, oui?
Romeo and Juliet vs. Cupid and Psyche
By William Shakespeare and Emily C. A. Snyder
Directed by Chris Rivera
Featuring Andrew Barrett and Abby Wilde

But who are these modern verse playwrights?  What do they think of their own work?  Let us introduce you!

  • What inspired you to write your play?  Can you tell us a little bit more about the play your scene is from?
Jenny Lyn Bader (In Flight): I worked as an editor at Let’s Go, the best-selling budget travel guide book series, and I found the world of travel writing to be full of comedic moments — that inspired me to invent the fictional universe of Omega Traveler, a high-end in-flight magazine for the world's largest airline.  This imaginary in-flight magazine becomes a battlefield for clashes between art and business. This particular scene occurs after the CEO of Omega Airlines starts interfering with the magazine, first firing one of the editor’s favorite employees and then pressuring the editor to hire her son. 

Duncan Pflaster (Dear Little Butterface): Dear Little Butterface is a Moliere-styled comedy that is about Butterface, a young ugly serving woman to the beautiful Lady Margerina; the dissolute Count Oleo is after Margerina for her money in marriage (and she after him, he’s unaware she’s broke upon the recent death of her father), but he most of all prizes virginity, so he’s also after Butterface for sex. Later in the play there is a masked ball where everyone’s identities are hidden (including the virtuous Viscount Toastpoint), and confusion leads to revelation of everyone’s true motives. 

Chris Rivera (Our Own Odyssey): Our Own Odyssey tells the story of a queer Latinx youth kicked out by their parents and searching for a new home. I was struck by what an epic journey it is to survive as a queer person of color in this world when just being yourself can often isolate you from your own family and community. Queer homeless youths face dangers and obstacles as Epic as Odysseus. In the play, every scene is inspired by the journey of the original Odyssey. In the Odyssey, the Cyclops section is about Odysseus expecting hospitality but finding himself trapped by a creature that wishes to devour him. In my Cyclops scene, that is re-imagined as something more familiar and therefore I feel even more terrifying.

Emily C. A. Snyder (The Merry Widows of Windsor, The Table Round, Cupid and Psyche): Merry Widows was a direct call for plays in conversation with Shakespeare's works from the American Shakespeare Center.  To be honest, the title presented itself first, but as I dug deeper, I realized that this was a story of living after death, and newfound autonomy.  You know: a farce!  This particular scene is about all the widows confronting whether they're ready to live as their own person, separate from their identity as a wife - and whether that's helpful or harmful to each woman.

The Table Round is a work-in-progress drawing on Arthurian legend.  In this soliloquy, Elaine - whom some may know as the Lady of Shalott - has been sent to await Guinevere's arrival to marry with King Arthur.  While alone, Elaine contemplates what she would do if she were allowed to follow her own ambitions, rather than being shunted to the side because she's a woman.

And Cupid and Psyche was written because my friend wanted to direct something and I wanted to write something and as you may have noticed, I like drawing from old stories!  In this scene, the "Heaven scene," Cupid and Psyche are finally married.  But although the physical aspect is great, there are emotional intimacy problems - because sex and love are different, folks.
  •  What draws you to writing in verse?
Rivera:  My minor was in English, and I focused that on poetry. Instead of Shakespeare or Moliere my work is more inspired by Ann Carson, Larry Levis, and Naomi Izuka. I've always written dialogue for characters with a firm sense of rhythm. Marrying that to my love of poetry turned out to be surprisingly natural.

Pflaster: I love the inherent theatricality of it; my typical style tends toward elevated language anyway, and verse adds another layer of playful artifice.

Snyder: I've always been drawn to poetry and theatre, so the combination of the two moves me.  In verse, you have the room and the scope to deal with really big emotions, just like musicals.  Also, verse drama has soliloquies, so you don't just see what a person does, but you go inside their mind to experience how they think.  That's exciting.
  • What themes do you find yourself returning to time and again as a playwright?
Pflaster: Masks and playacting revealing one’s true face tends to pop up a lot.

Bader: My recurring themes include the relationship between art and science, intuition and logic, the ways in which we must give ourselves over to that which does not necessarily make rational sense to us, and the ways people we think we know are not always who they appear to be.

Snyder: The push and pull between autonomy, and the demands of romantic love.  Yes, I'm single.  Why do you ask?
  •  Many of these plays are shows that have received development through one of our four programs: the open workshop of MUSE, the private readings of The Proteus Project, inclusion in our Staged Reading Series, and even full productions.  What was your experience like developing your show through TTF?
Snyder: If it hadn't been for an open workshop that was the inspiration for MUSE, I would have never finished revising Cupid and Psyche to begin with.  The opportunity to bring a scene in, work on it with intelligent actors who were willing to throw the scene on its feet, even in a cold reading, and give feedback about their experience inside is absolutely invaluable.

Rivera: I brought a scene from Our Own Odyssey into MUSE that I was unsure of. MUSE feedback let me know what I should cut, and after such powerfully affirming feedback, I was even more motivated to complete my work. That scene I brought in became the favorite of many, and even received applause mid-show at the Proteus Project reading!  The Proteus Project reading gained me a lot of support, as well as helping me learn what worked and what didn't, what scenes to tighten and what jokes would land.  Thanks to the development, I feel Odyssey is my strongest work as a playwright, and one of my favorite productions in all my life in the theatre.

Pflaster: It was great to see these whimsical characters from Dear Little Butterface live and breathe, and to have actors delve into them, I found myself writing significant amounts of new material during the rehearsal process for the Staged Reading in response to what the actors and director discovered.

Bader (In Flight): All of the readings in the world can’t summon what it’s like to see a full production of your verse play. Since actors can’t easily paraphrase in this context, and since there are underlying rhythms and cadences, an amazing state of flow can occur when all of the parts come together in the physical world.
  • How do you feel your scene relates to the play it's paired with?
Rivera: Both the Cy(clops) scene from Odyssey and the Angelo/Isabella scene from Measure for Measure have villains that are men who are willing to take advantage of people in terrible situations for their own sexual gratification.

Snyder: Hamlet and Merry Widows is the pairing the tickles me the most.  We've got the most famous soliloquy ever written, contemplating shuffling off this mortal coil, next to some pretty silly stuff, contemplating how to define yourself away from the man who's off soliloquizing.  Helena from Midsummer's next to the Lady of Shalott in Table Round is fun, because one lovelorn woman decides to put all her energies into getting "her man" back again, while the other - rather than throwing herself in a lake from lack of love - acknowledges her pain but also looks towards the future on her own.  And pairing some star-crossed lovers in R&G and C&P - one who knows the mask of night is on their face, the other who refuse to look at each other in Heaven - seems pretty straightforward!

Bader: Merchant of Venice and In Flight both explore the limits of material aspiration, reminding us that all that glitters is not gold and seeking spiritual things that glitter instead. Both of these scenes involve a woman who has some options placed before her for a crucial choice but doesn’t quite have the power to make the final decision. In both plays these women have to go beyond their comfort zone to acquire more power so they can start calling the shots. 

(Thanks for asking — when you sent the scenes I wondered why you paired them together but now thinking about it there are tons of parallels…too many to list here…folks will have to see for themselves on Monday!)
  • Jenny Lyn, your play surpasses the Bechdel Test!  Can you talk a little bit more about creating roles for women?
Bader: I’m committed to creating strong roles for women and have been for some time, regardless of whether the women are discussing men or discussing other things and passing the Bechdel Test. Women have so much complexity, but too often get oversimplified in stories, which leads to dangerous stereotyping. Female characters who possess more than one trait at a time are at the forefront of combating those stereotypes. 
  • Duncan, your play deals with the way we treat women based on their looks, as well as how some men and women treat sex as a game - and how that hasn't changed in all these years!  Can you talk a little more about that?
Pflaster: I was very inspired by Les Liaisons Dangereuses when writing the play (though mine is a more farcical treatment of the theme); that epistolary novel was purportedly written as a warning to young impressionable children, that they might learn of the wicked ways of the world; it still has a lot to offer.
  • Chris, in Shakespeare's time, they could only talk about largely white and heteronormative experiences.  Can you talk about why it's important to write from a place of diversity?
When you grow up watching TV, Theater, and Film, and the main character don't reflect the way you present in the world, you develop a feeling you're never going to be the hero of even your own story. Inclusion is not enough. We need queer brown heroes of legend. 
  •  Emily, you're passionate about writing soliloquies for women.  Why is this so important to you?
The beautiful thing about verse is that you can literally get into another person's head.  We know how Hamlet thinks.  We know it's different from Macbeth.  But we don't really have a lot of soliloquies for women.  We have monologues - which is talking to another person.  But the way a woman talks to someone, and the way she thinks before she talks is very different.  I was just down in VA teaching Shakespeare, and performed one of my soliloquies for a bunch of eighth grade students.  What was fascinating - and unfortunately, not uncommon - was that the men all said: "Oh, this female character is crazy.  Look how she keeps changing her mind!"  While all the women listened and would give incredibly detailed feedback: "Yes, I know this experience.  This woman is contemplating what course of action she should take.  Yes, these are my thoughts."  It's important, it's so important in this day and age for us to really listen to each other's inner monologues - to empathize.  Verse gives us a method of doing that.
  • Any advice for playwrights who'd like to work with TTF?
Rivera: If you're in NYC we certainly have several opportunities for us to try out your work in a classroom or workshop setting!

Pflaster: This is an enthusiastic group, who are usually happy to jump right in, both in acting and in giving intelligent feedback; bring your difficult work!

Bader: Embrace classical forms, approach the page with joy and mischief, and read the submission guidelines with special care. They take words seriously here. I highly recommend working with TTF. They are excellent people. Plus: who else pairs you with Shakespeare at an event and asks you to compare your play to one of his in an interview? Great stuff.

See all TTF events here.
Buy tickets for Tale As Old As Time here, or purchase at the door!

Jenny Lyn Bader is delighted to be back at Turn to Flesh, which produced In Flight. Her other plays include Manhattan Casanova (Hudson Stage) — winner of the Edith Oliver Award (O’Neill Center) — and None of the Above (New Georges). For This Is Not a Theatre Company, Jenny Lyn co-authored Café Play and wrote The International Local, an audio play set on the 7 train and available on the Subway Plays app.  Recently her work has been seen at the New York Society Library, Museum of Jewish Heritage, and Urban Stages. A Harvard graduate, she belongs to the Dramatists Guild and LPTW. www.jennylynbader.com

Duncan Pflaster's first film Strapped for Danger, is now available on Vimeo on Demand. Awards won: The Underpants Godot, Messin’ With the Kid, 1460 Sketches of Your Left Hand, The Empress of Sex, The Taint of Equality, Prince Trevor Amongst the Elephants, The Thyme of the Season, The Starship Astrov, The Wastes of Time, and The Tragedy of Dandelion. Vampire musical The Inside of His Severed Head coming to PCTF in August, and The Douchegirl Play (Better Name Pending), coming to The Secret Theatre this Summer. Thanks to Turn to Flesh for including my work!  www.duncanpflaster.com 

 Chris Rivera is a NYC based director, actor, and playwright. With TTF, Chris has been a long-standing member of the MUSE program that helped develop his original play, The Curse of Cassandra.  Chris also directed Dear Little Butterface for the 2016 Reading Series, and played the part of Laertes in May Violets Springby James Parenti and directed by Emily C. A. Snyder. As a writer he had the great privilege of learning from and working with the late Lanford Wilson, who produced Chris' first full length play 15 Hours in the Green World at the Edward Albee Playwriting festival. Rivera cowrote Uncivil Unions, an artist response to the gay marriage debate for Unhinged Productions. His one act plays The BodyQuick Visits, and Cash Comfort Sex have been produced by the Secret Theater, Midtown International Festival, and Manhattan Rep. Last year his one act play Sisters of Semele was produced  by What Dreams May Co. and Queens Shakespeare in rep with The Bacchae as a prequel to the classic Greek play.

Emily C.A. Snyder is an internationally produced and published playwright, whose work has been seen from Dublin, Ireland to Christchurch, New Zealand.  She is the Co-Founder and Artistic Director of TURN TO FLESH PRODUCTIONS, as well as the premiere international scholar on writing and performing new verse.  Her Shakespeare-inspired homages, The Merry Widows of Windsor is part of this year's Sheen Center Theater Festival, while her Comedy of Heirors was a semi-finalist with the American Shakespeare Society, and listed as one of the Top 15 NYC shows of 2017.  Her Cupid and Psyche was a semi-finalist with the Princess Grace Awards, and played to sold-out audiences in its New York City premiere.  Emily trained with members of the Royal Shakespeare Company in London and Stratford-upon-Avon, where her Rosalind from As You Like It was compared to a young Maggie Smith.  For more: emilycasnyder.info


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