Summer Shorts has taken over 59E59 Theaters for its 12th season of one-act plays from playwrights both new and established. The festival kicked off July 20 and continues through September 1.
This season's lineup features six short plays by Robert O’Hara, Abby Rosebrock, Neil LaBute, Eric Lane, Claire Zajdel, and novelist Chris Bohjalian (Midwives, The Sandcastle Girls, and The Guest Room) making his playwriting debut.
We asked Bohjalian, Rosebrock, and Zajdel—who are all participating in Summer Shorts for the first time—what it's like to be a part of the festival, what their plays are about, and why you should come and see them.
Chris Bohjalian (Playwright of Grounded)
My play is about… A young flight attendant with a fear of flying working her first transatlantic trip. When a veteran co-worker tries to help her through the turbulent crossing, she discovers that a fear of flying is the least of the young woman's secrets.
Being part of Summer Shorts this year means… The chance to work with [director] Alexander Dinelaris and to work with my daughter, [actor] Grace Experience. After working with Alex, she observed that for the two of us it was like she was getting her MFA in acting and I was getting one in playwriting. It has been such a blessing and such a gift. I’ve written 20 novels, but the amount I learned this summer has been breathtaking.
Come see this show if you are into… Having your heart broken a little bit. I mean that. I love stories that destroy me. I would have killed Harry Potter at the end of book seven.
I continue to write one acts because… They’re like short stories or beautiful essays. There’s a real magic to being transported so quickly to a new world—and then brought back.
In short, I am a playwright because… Let’s be clear, I'm an apprentice playwright. I’m a novelist who happened to write a play. But I have a lot to learn—and I will. I am already well into a new play. I love theatre and I love the community and I love the process.
Abby Rosebrock (Playwright of Kenny’s Tavern)
My play is about... A young teacher and the principal of a North Carolina magnet school who escape to the backyard of their favorite dive bar a few nights before the 2016 election. Their waitress is a teenage delinquent from hell. It's a play about three people mired in personal dysfunction at a moment when the world could really use their talents.
Being part of Summer Shorts this year means... The chance to work with a community of really top-notch, generous artists dedicated to shorter-form work, and the chance to revisit old material I'd resigned myself to forgetting about. I wrote this play right after the 2016 election and submitted it for last year's festival, but at the time everything I was writing felt very personal, overwrought, reactive—I thought maybe I was just navel-gazing. Then all of a sudden, everyone was talking about the relationship between toxic romantic entanglements and larger structures of power; turns out we really do need to heal how we fall in love if we are to heal the political and economic systems we've inherited. When I heard from the producers this year, I wasn't sure I wanted to deal with this story again, but I felt like I needed to, and I'm glad I did. The cast and creative team and I have all been able to work on it with a level of awareness, understanding, and empathy we might not have brought to it a year ago.
Come see this show if you are into…Themes of cognitive dissonance, psychic frustration and personal/political responsibility. I noticed that a few of the plays in Summer Shorts feature at least one female-identified character coming up against her relationship to broader collective issues. She is living out the tension between a longing for independence, privacy or boundaries, and her inevitable connectedness to broader narratives. Regardless of your gender, if you're dealing with that tension in your own life, these plays might give you a lot to think about.
I continue to write one-acts because... Every play demands its own form and length; Kenny's Tavern just wanted to be about a half hour or less.
In short, I am a playwright because... I love working with conversational speech as a medium, and how the tiniest subtleties in the way someone speaks can reflect the deepest, gnarliest, and most awe-inspiring aspects of a person's character. Even someone who uses a lot of canned or imitative diction infuses their own unique habits of mind and personal history into whatever comes out. So I like to get extremely specific and detailed at the level of language—to prioritize language as the vehicle for creating characters and telling stories—and playwriting gives you the space to do that.
Claire Zajdel (Playwright of The Plot)
My play is about... Two siblings confronting their own mortality after an uncomfortable morning outing suggested by their mother leads them to her grave. Their mother's bizarre breakdown forces them to examine not only what they fear about death, but what they fear in life.
Being part of Summer Shorts this year… Has been a joy. It has been such a tremendous learning experience to work with so many talented artists. Everyone on our wonderful team has done great work and has made the process a blast.
Come see this show if you are into… Quippy banter. Stories about family. Sarcasm. Contemplating the afterlife. Something almost resembling tenderness. Cocktail weenies.
I continue to write one acts because… One acts remind me that writing is allowed to be, well, fun. I'm often really hard on myself and take my writing and storytelling very seriously, but at the end of the day, writing is one of the things I love the most. It's easy for me to forget to enjoy the process, but one acts allow me to focus on the joy of storytelling and remind me to set the ego and expectation aside that often accompany longer pieces.
In short, I am a playwright because… Theatre is able to capture many of the best things about our lives. Like all forms of storytelling, theatre allows us to empathize with flawed characters on journeys great and small, but the physical intimacy and ephemeral nature of theatre allow us to experience a story as if it is truly alive. I love how theatre inevitably brings you into a community; whether you are a member of the audience or a member of the production, you are not alone.
Summer Shorts is divided into two series, A and B, each featuring three short plays and presented as separate evenings of theatre, running in repertory at 59E59 Theaters. Summer Shorts is presented by Throughline Artists. To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or visit 59e59.org.