Artist Statement

I’m working on a new artist statement for playwriting. This is it so far. Lemme know what you think.

ARTIST STATEMENT

For nearly twenty years, I have created theatre in the Triangle-area of North Carolina as a playwright, actor, director, and producer. My primary focus is developing new work collaboratively and premiering original theatre in unusual spaces.

I  wear my heart on my sleeve and my beliefs on my t-shirts:

Boys will be good humans.

Nevertheless she persisted.

Create consent culture.

These same beliefs are threaded through my plays as I question gender norms, interrogate the way we care for each other, and shine a light on contemporary America. My plays question assumptions about deeply imprinted roles and societal relationships.

I keep writing about:

  • The tension between putting down roots and soaring free
  • Strong women sucking the marrow from life
  • Home

I am committed to:

  • Gender parity
  • Updating traditional plays of the (white, male) canon
  • Seeking new ways to connect audiences and artists
  • Disrupting classic modes of making theatre
  • Incorporating multi-disciplinary elements

I lead with the questions, ‘why’, and ‘what if’.

I intend my audience leave with ‘how’ and ‘what’s next’.

I believe in the power of generous, collaborative making.

My children have me running full tilt, so I focus on creating efficiently and effectively with ego firmly in check. I’m a mama, playwright, actor, podcaster, teacher who aims to create the world I’d like to see, and speak what needs to be heard.

 

RESPECT THE WORK on July 8

Respect the WorkFriends,

I have an event on Sunday at Shadowbox Studio in Durham, NC. See the publicity blurb below, and below that some of the notes that I’m making for the opening remarks. Tickets are still available and if you are local, I’d love to see you there and get your input!

Thanks, t

PUBLICITY BLURB:

For artists and artist-supporters, this is an opportunity to come together in conversation about what it means to RESPECT THE WORK that we and other artists make. What does that respect look like, feel like, sound like? What more can we do? What kind of respect are we seeking as artists?

Tamara Kissane, the host of the Artist Soapbox podcast, will lead a conversation around the topic of respecting our work as she tries out material for Part Two of her podcast series WHAT I LEARNED FROM 40 YEARS OF NOT BEING FAMOUS. She’ll also gather the thoughts, words, and voices of the people in the room to include in that podcast episode.

Tickets are free for the patrons of ASBX via Patreon.com/artistsoapbox. All others are asked to make a small $5 donation at the door to off-set costs.

Give your input. Challenge yourself to identify roadblocks, devise solutions, and get inspired with a spirit of generosity toward yourself and other creators in our community. See you at Shadowbox Studio at 7pm on July 8.

There will be snacks. :)

www.artistsoapbox.org

NOTES FOR OPENING REMARKS:

As people in the artistic community, I think we want to extend respect and we want to receive respect   — respect feels good, we like the sound of the word and the feelings it inspires — when I bring up the importance of RESPECTING THE WORK most people are like YEAH, YEAH OF COURSE. But I’m wondering about the second layer of that — what it actually means and looks like and sounds like and why it’s important and I’m thinking perhaps we need to be more intentional about our approach. As artists, it is difficult to ask for something if you can’t articulate (even to yourself) what you want or what your expectations are, and in our very fast moving world, it’s easy to assume that we are contributing in ways that perhaps we are not. I don’t know…these are wonderings….

My goals tonight are to get a sense of what people ARE experiencing (a lay of the land of and what is). Based on that and the conversation we have, I’d like us to consider what COULD BE or what we’d like to be. Ultimately, here’s what I’m looking to answer: If we want to promote a culture or a practice of RESPECTING THE WORK what responsibilities do we need to take  — or could we take — as audience members and as artists? What do we need to do in each of these roles to create a culture and practice of RESPECTING THE WORK of artists in our community?

 

The exposure of a solo episode on success

“I’m afraid I can’t explain myself, sir. Because I am not myself, you see?”
― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

NOT YET, anyway.  I’m working on it. I’m preparing a solo podcast episode that will launch on Monday and it’s scaring the shit out of me.

Episode 029 of Artist Soapbox will begin with “I’m scared!” It’s not me speaking, but the sentiment is absolutely mine.

The title of the episode is WHAT I LEARNED FROM FORTY YEARS OF NOT BEING FAMOUS: PART ONE and it’s based on a lil’ talk I gave in April for Honest Pint‘s HOME BREW. Home Brew was a wonderful opportunity to try out material and capture the words of audience members in their own voices. Big thank yous to George, David, Beth, Carissa, Will, Megan, Brian, and Susannah for adding their voices and their thoughts about defining success. (You’ll hear all 8 of them speaking in the podcast episode.)

In PART ONE, using a bit of my own story, I throw a flag on our culture’s messed-up definition of success, our preoccupation with ‘getting famous’, and how local artists are marginalized as a result. It’s me and my voice, insecurities, flawed thinking, aspirations, missteps and…words. I don’t know if that’s ok or if it’s weirdly narcissistic or me being artsy-fartsy or the start to a conversation that I really want to have. Maybe all of those things. All I know is that this solo episode was really really scary to write, to present, to record, and it’s scary to release. And gosh, I’m doing it anyway.

Will you take a listen on Monday and let me know what you think? I have more episodes planned that will dig into this topic. I’d love to know if those might resonate with you.

Stay tuned for Episode 029 going live on www.artistsoapbox.org Monday morning and in Apple podcasts/iTunes.

How do you define success? 

Refining and defining success: my first talk!

[Scroll down to read an actual excerpt from the talk I’m planning to give]

I’m speaking live on April 13 at 9:00 pm, after HONEST PINT’S performance of THE ABSOLUTE BRIGHTNESS OF LEONARD PELKEY!

THE PRESS & INFO:

Tamara Kissane is presenting for HOME BREW, “a series featuring NC artists, writers, musicians, and actors sharing stories and works in an intimate, social atmosphere. The goal is to showcase the incredible local talent in our area and provide an opportunity to hear what’s brewing in the NC arts scene.” HOME BREW is free and open to the public. See the show at 7:30pm and stay for the HOME BREWed conversation. Info and tickets for THE ABSOLUTE BRIGHTNESS OF LEONARD PELKEY.

WHAT I LEARNED FROM 40 YEARS OF NOT BEING FAMOUS: PART ONE is the first installment of a multi-part series planned for the Artist Soapbox podcast. In this 30 minute podcast-like conversation, Tamara considers how we might love the artists we are and support the artists we love even when….especially when….we feel like we’re falling short. PART ONE is a shot in the arm for people who are trying to craft a life of creativity and art-making and feeling like WTF.

In PART ONE, using a bit of her own story, Tamara throws a flag on our culture’s messed-up definition of success, our preoccupation with ‘getting famous’, and how local artists are marginalized as a result. What might our lives look like if our community reimagined success and then affirmed and cherished our local art-makers? What might our lives look like if each individual artist loved their own creative gifts? What can arts supporters do to help?

****

AN EXCERPT FROM THE TALK TO WET YOUR WHISTLE

Here’s a problem:  in our society, we have some real mixed-up attitudes about fame and success —  giant hurdles that artists must overcome in getting to genuine and long-lasting satisfaction.

So, let’s take a moment for some thinking. Think in your mind about the answers to these questions: What are two or three words that come to mind when you think of someone successful in their career (any career)? How would you finish this sentence, A successful artist…? What would an artist need to accomplish at a local level to be successful (in your opinion)? Hmmmm.

Here’s WHAT I LEARNED FROM 40 YEARS OF NOT BEING FAMOUS — #1 Each artist  needs to define success on their own terms and figure out if fame is what they’re really aiming for. #2 We can help reframe success for local artists by helping those artists feel valued, appreciated and resourced.

Here’s a secret: I have been a very unhappy artist for most of my adult life, which is a pretty long time. And much of my unhappiness has been in response to feeling like I have failed by not being more famous and not achieving more as an artist. This is ridiculous and embarrassing to admit, but there you go.”

***
[Note: THE ABSOLUTE BRIGHTNESS OF LEONARD PELKEY opens April 6. If you can’t get to the performance on April 13, then please go see it another night. It’s going to knock your socks off.]

Serious thanks

Friends,

My adaptation of Ibsen’s classic play, MASTER BUILDER, opens this week. Here’s hoping the snow stays out of North Carolina and doesn’t derail our schedule!

The incredibly endearing Mara Thomas interviewed me about the writing process for Master Builder, the Artist Soapbox podcast, and various other life topics. I’m grateful for the conversation with Mara and for the opportunity to reflect on this process. Take a listen, and let me know what you think. Also, Mara is rad.

Compared to my experience adapting Chekhov’s THE SEAGULL, this production experience was different for me. I wasn’t able to attend more than one MASTER BUILDER rehearsal, I wasn’t able to reflect much, and I wasn’t able savor it in quite the same way. Holidays + life + other project commitments = a time crunch. That’s how it goes. The excitement is still there though and the gratitude and so many big emotions — those are all still there sitting in my chest like so many birds.

Podcast interview guests always tell me that they think of “things they should’ve said” during their drive home after interviewing on Artist Soapbox. My experience was no different.

Missing from my podcast interview is the long list of thanks that I wish I would have included. Thanks to Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern for producing my play, which is a gift that I cannot find the words to describe. Thanks to the actors, designers, director, crew, and the LGP team for the support. And most importantly, the biggest one: THANKS to everyone who took this play SERIOUSLY…even when I didn’t or couldn’t or down-played it. It’s such a gift to be taken seriously as an artist because the Imposter Syndrome looms large. It’s a beast. When other people interact with me as though I am an ACTUAL playwright, it’s weird. It makes me feel super weird and super hopeful. That attitude is a warm and gentle invitation for me to become better at my art-making and take creative risks…which are goals I strive for every day.

I’m thrilled and grateful. Thank you for sharing in my excitement. Sending you love.

***

Master Builder is showing January 18 – February 3 at Mystery Brewery (437 Dimmock’s Mill Rd, Hillsborough). GET TICKETS!

Project: Mother of the Year

If you live in the Triangle Area of North Carolina and you identify yourself as a mother, then I have a request for you.

I’m gathering creative fodder for a new project, and I’d love to have your contributions. This project, tentatively titled MOTHER OF THE YEAR, has no shape or performance date, or anything at all specific. Like most artistic endeavors, it’s a creative trust exercise in the spirit of “let’s see what happens”!

Below, you’ll see the details (such as they are) as well as the caveats. If you’re game, send me something by the deadline. If this isn’t your cup of tea or you don’t have the brain-space at the moment, then that’s totally cool too.

DETAILS:

I’m looking for writing in any style and of any length based on your own experience. As much or as little as you’d like to send.

The focus: Your experience of being a mother right now. What are you going through/involved in/wrestling with/enjoying/struggling against/embracing/striving for/questioning/etc right now? What’s top of mind? What’s in your heart?

It could be profound or trivial. Focused broadly or minutely, globally or locally, politically or artistically or domestically, or personally or publicly or bodily or spiritually. Light, heavy, serious, comedic….of any emotional tone. It could be a poem, a conversation, a song, a speech, a monologue, a jingle, a list, a letter, a sentence, a stand up routine, a paragraph, a journal entry —whatever— pour your experience into a document and send it.

Deadline: Wednesday, Feb. 1. I’m setting this first deadline to assess interest. If I get zero contributions, then I’ll reassess the project and take a different tack. If I get a pile of emails, then I’ll rejoice, set a course for development and probably put a call out for more text!

Feel free to share with people in the Triangle Area (NC) who identify as mothers. For now, I’m limiting the geographic area to our smallish corner of the world.

CAVEATS:

I don’t know what I’m going to do with the writing that I receive. It could be broken up, combined, or used solely as inspiration. Your writing could be completely unrecognizable to you in the finished piece or it might be used word for word. If you send me something, please release it with the understanding that you are giving it away to be used TBD.

Everything that you send to me will be anonymous. If the project goes public, then your name will be listed as a contributor (unless you don’t want that), but no one will know what text is ‘yours’.

WHY AM I INITIATING THIS?

This project won’t let me go, so I’m giving into it. I don’t know what it will be or if it will be, but I hear the call to use the actual words of those who mother as the foundation and springboard for a piece of art. An exploration of contemporary motherhood, as told through local voices….perhaps….?

AND FINALLY

If you are like me, sometimes you need a ‘reason’ to write — I’m hoping that this will be a good reason for you, and an opportunity to voice some of the mothering-related thoughts that you’re carrying around in your heart and your head. Send me questions if you have them. No pressure. No judgment. Love. Love. Love.

With deep appreciation for all you do…

And Happy New Year and hugs,

Tamara

tamara_kissane@yahoo.com

A mom who…

FullSizeRender

Gratuitous photo of darling baby toes. Taken by his big sister.

There are a lot of gifts that accompany a show opening. Everything has come together and is soaring. It’s a celebratory time. The New Colossus has opened! The cast, the direction, the design, the stage management are all amazing. Hurrah!

For me, one of the gifts of TNC‘s opening weekend, is a more personal one. And I feel a little embarrassed admitting it. The opening of the play has given me the opportunity to talk about more than just my kids. It’s strange, but that’s a real gift for me. Like, I’ve got other things going on that make me a multi-dimensional person and that feels really nice.

I’m so much a MOM these days. I’m MOM-ing constantly and vigorously. Leading up to the opening of TNC, I was on antibiotics for mastitis (Again. Sigh.) Most nights, I was pulling ice packs out of my bra before entering rehearsal. And my usually chilled out baby had major sleep issues. He. Would. Not. Stay. Asleep. Argh. So I was even more sleep-deprived than usual. At the end of rehearsal (and now, after the show), I rushed home to get friendly with my breast pump. No one wants engorgement, nope. Then there’s the end of school year chaos and piano lessons, swim lessons, etc. etc. Anyway, you get the picture. I felt my MOM-ness very much, even though I had sweet pockets of time when I was in rehearsal and felt my creative-self assert herself, and my mom-self take a little rest. My mom-self needs a rest sometimes, you know?

Please don’t get me wrong, I am crazy-grateful for my family. I love my kids, and I love to talk about them. Go ahead, ask me, you won’t be twisting my arm. It’s easy and often necessary at this time in their lives to make them my everything. It’s very special to witness the growth of such wonderful spirits.  So, I’m in love with my life, but there’s not much space for me in it right now. I’m MOM before anything else. I’m a “A mom who….” — A mom who writes, A mom who works, A mom who acts, A mom who makes theatre, A mom who is always mom-ing.

But now! But now, the show is out there in the wider world and people are coming to see it and wonderfully, amazingly, they are talking about it. And this past weekend, for a few days anyway, I really felt like a writer first, an artist, “A writer who moms….” And it was cool to have that experience, and I’m grateful for it too. Honestly, I think it was a damn f-ing miracle that I was able to write TNC while I was pregnant and then continue to work on it with an infant. I’m really, really hoping for another miracle as I start work on the next project too. (Writing with a toddler and an 8-year old — hold onto your hats!) Since I don’t know if I’ll get that next miracle, I’m enjoying the ever-loving sh!t out of this one. I really am. I don’t feel my usual murky mix of anxiety and awkwardness about my art. I just feel grateful and present and happy.

Please come see The New Colossus if you can. I’d like to talk with you about it. After that, I’ll tell you a funny story about my kids. Hee.

*Speaking of children, this Thursday, May 26, is Red Nose Day for TNC. Come support this worthy cause and get yourself a ticket discount. If you attend wearing a red nose, pay just $6 (half-off regular price). Good for door sales only the night of the show. Read more about Red Nose Day.

**This post is the third in a short series of posts about TNC. Here’s the first one. Here’s the second one.

 

 

On the brink of taking flight

TNCThis is the second of a short series of posts about my upcoming play, The New Colossus. (Here’s the first.) In the spirit of gratitude and reflection,  I’m considering some of what it took to stage this sucker (from a playwright’s perspective). We open this week!

Generally, plays require an enormous amount of collaborative and collective work to put up — way more than you would guess unless you do it on a regular basis. As a world premiere, The New Colossus required an even larger than usual dollop of investment, commitment, and risk-taking from everyone involved. It’s a brand new beast.

The New Colossus (TNC) would not be opening this week without a theatre company willing to take the risk to cultivate the script over the last two years, then put in the time/money/energy to mount a production. Thank you, Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern. Thank you, Manbites Dog Theater, for access to the venue and support thru the Other Voices Series.

It often requires years of preparation to bring a new play to the stage. This was the case for TNC. Research, several drafts, then readings, rounds of feedback, and more drafts, and then more drafts after that. It’s a long-game approach. It was a gift to have a producing company, like Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern, that invested in TNC before we even entered the rehearsal room.

Even a script based on a beloved classic, like this one, is still untested. It’s untried and probably still a little unfinished. By the time most plays really pick up steam geographically, they’ve been workshopped and produced multiple times, so the first production is really the infant phase for a new play. And you know it takes a village to raise a child….

Dana Marks, the director of TNC, has been a superb detective, problem-solver and imagineer — reading the text closely, discovering moments I didn’t know were there, conducting the pacing, arc and emotional tone of the production, as well as folding in all the crazy technical elements written into the script. (Yikes, videos and live feed!) Dana, Jenn Evans and Erin Bell, our stage managers, and the cast have been upbeat, flexible and supportive as I made numerous script edits throughout the rehearsal process. We’ve been able to collaborate and brainstorm solutions for moments that didn’t quite work once we got the script “on its feet.” Bless the amazing cast who jumped in enthusiastically, and tried to make even the most awkward lines work.  They breathed life and dimension into their characters in surprising and wonderful ways. Together with the stellar designers, all of these folks created a world that I never anticipated.

And of course, in order for TNC to happen, I needed lots of support from my friends and family (hi, honey!) — from the people who read and discussed drafts with me, and the people who’ve worked with me in the past. Kevin Ewert and Jaybird O’Berski were crucial readers and script advisors. My friend, Cheryl Chamblee, and I wrote and produced a dozen plays together in the last 20 years; without those experience with her, I wouldn’t have been able to bring this play to life. Same thing goes for my work with Rachel Klem in Summer Sisters, and lots of other experiences with folks who have built new work in the theatre.

As a theatre-maker, new works are my jam. I love creating them. I love experiencing them. Happily, this community is rich with theatre companies who are commissioning and growing new work. Support them! Love them! They are laboring hard against the odds to bring you new art.  Here are a few examples: Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern, StreetSigns, Archipelago, Common Wealth Endeavors, The Performance Collective, DIDA, Haymaker, Manbites Dog Theater, Duke University Theater Studies,  The ArtsCenter Carrboro, Paperhand Puppet Intervention, Common Ground Theatre, and more.

As an audience member, I’m thrilled by world premieres. Watching a never-seen-before-play is a special treat. It’s a secret discovery that no one else has access to yet. It’s opening up a surprise package. It’s watching theatre being born. I hope you feel that way too.

The New Colossus runs for three weekends. It’s about 90 minutes with no intermission. Rated R, so not for the kids. Get your tickets.

 

 

 

What’s the deal with the seagull?

PrintThis is the first of a few posts that I’m writing about my upcoming play, The New Colossus. Opening on May 19th!

A tiny bit about The Seagull:

Anton Chekhov wrote The Seagull in 1895, and it was performed a year later in Petersburg. In 1909, the play was translated from Russian to English. During the past 100+ years, there have been dozens of additional translations and adaptations, and countless productions of The Seagull. It’s one of those plays that continues to capture people’s imaginations. Wikipedia can tell you more.

I first read The Seagull in college (eep, 20 years ago!), and I remember thinking that it was an amazing but odd little play where not much happened. Mostly, people sat around and talked about….I don’t know….life…whatever….? And I totally didn’t get the whacky obsession with the dead seagull (Weird metaphor alert!). At that point in my theatre-making life, I was most excited by Shakespeare’s style of overthrowing kings and brandishing swords and epic drama and chest-pounding. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still into that, but these days I really dig the subtle dramas of everyday life and the undercurrent of emotion that bubbles below the surface of our interactions. Our days are thick with feelings, dreams, aspirations, and disappointments. Maybe those interest me most because that’s what I have in my life right now. Not much epic drama or brandishing swords, thank goodness.

SparkNotes describes Chekhov’s writing this way:

His plays marked a new movement in the theatre with their use of subtext, intimacy, colloquialisms and realism. His comedy-tragedies were unlike any plays that audiences had seen before because they made drama out of everyday circumstances, such as love and longing, instead of portraying the grand gestures of heroes and heroines of earlier plays.

Two years ago, I was re-introduced to The Seagull in a Chekhov class taught by Jaybird O’Berski. The play blew my socks off. The themes and conversations felt remarkably fresh and contemporary. The characters were damn deep. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I read different translations and adaptations and various essays and reviews. Then I got the zany idea to write a new play inspired by Chekhov’s Seagull. It’s an homage, really, because I’m so fond of the original.*

I wrote an adaptation with the help and support from a whole lot of people. (More on that in another post.) Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern, of which I am a longtime ensemble member, was kind enough to produce it. In less than two weeks, The New Colossus, produced by Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern, will open at Manbites Dog Theatre in downtown Durham. I’m weak with excitement and gratitude.

This is the teaser description:

A family of frustrated, attention-starved artists flocks to the seashore. One of them has a gun…what could possibly go wrong? A darkly comic reboot of Chekhov’s classic, this rollicking tale examines the pitfalls of making art and making love in modern day America.

Hopefully, people who don’t know The Seagull will enjoy The New Colossus as a stand alone play and be inspired to read the original. Hopefully, longtime Chekhov fans will enjoy the ways we’ve reimagined this work.  The basic story elements remain — they are the reasons I fell in love with the play in the first place. However, I did make some noteworthy changes. Some examples: one character never comes on-stage, two characters merged into one, the scene order is different, music and dance and video are more pervasive, and there are several new and transformed scenes. In particular, I added two new scenes so the female characters can talk to one another. (Those interactions were missing from the original and I was curious to consider them.) Most surprising to me, setting the play in 2016 had the biggest ripple effect on the entire project. It seemed pretty straightforward at first — just dress the characters in modern day clothing and sprinkle in some modern words! — but the ways in which we interact with art, fame, community, family, technology, health, and success seem different than they were for Chekhov’s Russian characters in 1895. The tools are different. The love and the longing are still there, but we manage them differently today, I think.

I’ll be curious to hear what you think.

And there’s still the dead seagull. What’s up with that?

THE NEW COLOSSUS opens May 19 and plays for 3 weekends in Durham, NC. Get some tickets.

*Regarding the use of the word ‘original’: I didn’t read The Seagull as it was first written in Russian. I’m sure that limits my understanding of the play in some important ways.