Every two years, WP Theater opens its doors for the Pipeline Festival, a five-week showcase of new works written, directed, and produced by graduating Lab artists. The Lab, WP's flagship program, is a two-year residency for women+ playwrights, directors and producers, that has served over served over 350 artists since its founding; among them, Pulitzer Prize winner Martyna Majok, Broadway producers Rachel Sussman and Sally Cade Holmes, and Colt Coeur Artistic Director Adrienne Campbell-Holt.
Featuring five new plays, the third biennial Pipeline was set to kick off March 26 with Bryna Turner's Phases of the Moon and conclude April 25 with a run of Sukari Jones' My Baby. With the 2020 festival canceled due to coronavirus outbreak, we're highlighting each production with short Q&A's with the Lab members, as well as an excerpt from each play.
Learn more about each production below (in the order they were scheduled to run). You can also follow WP's #PipelineOnline here.
PHASES OF THE MOON
Before she mastered the art of losing, the poet Elizabeth Bishop was a socialist vegetarian in a peacoat at Vassar College during the Great Depression. Following "Bishie" and her friends over a single lunar cycle during their senior year, Phases of the Moon begins with a ritual gone awry and asks us to consider what's real under all the pretending. Read a snippet from the play here.
Playwright: Bryna Turner
The thing that got me started on this play was: About three years ago, I became really obsessed with the poet Elizabeth Bishop. She was a queer writer who wasn’t prolific, she was a known perfectionist, an alcoholic, a serial monogamist, and the self-proclaimed “loneliest person who ever lived”—my dream character. I was originally drawn to the end of her life, but had trouble finding the voice of a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet in her sixties who had suffered so much loss. I turned to the earlier part of her life instead.
This is a play that will make you: Yearn.
A favorite moment in the play is: There’s a moment in the play when Louise and “Bishie” don’t want to talk, so Louise picks up a guitar and inexplicably plays a Tegan and Sara song even though it’s supposed to be 1933. I don’t know why I’m so drawn to the idea of disrupting the distance between us and our history. But angsty, longing queers—we’re eternal.
A question I hope audiences walk away with is: What if we said what we meant?
Director: Rebecca Martinez
Phases of the Moon speaks to me personally because: What I love about this play is how Bryna captures those human moments that are born out of loss and isolation and how delightfully (and painfully) awkward those interactions are. Bryna is such an observant and thoughtful person, but she’s also smart and funny as hell, and all of that comes through in her writing.
The most challenging aspect of directing this piece is: Finding the right tone, there’s angst and self-deprecation, innocence and overconfidence, moments of painful silence and isolation surrounded by youthful exuberance and hedonism—all with a sense of playfulness.
Three words that describe the kind of theatre that excites me: I’m cheating but here are three ideas… 1) Joy juxtaposed with pathos 2) Bittersweet 3) Intimate spectacle. Oh...and a fourth…4) Funny.
Producer: Stephanie Rolland
Why this story now? As adults moving at the speed of light we are all searching for that pause that undergraduate life gave us to freely, dramatically, and messily grapple with issues, emotions, the universe; shake our fists generically upward, and start all over in the morning. This story gives us that freedom, that pause. It invites us into ourselves and implores us to explore.
Bryna excites me as a writer because: She blurs the lines of history, asking us what does it mean to be “us” right now? She brings to life full human beings who we love, who make us mad, and who we cannot get enough of. In this time of global closeness, oneness, she asks us to ponder the intimate details of what it is that makes us all human.
The WP Lab experience, for me, has: Given me an alternate space, an aside, where it is safe to hone my skills, whet my appetite, and define my voice. Separate from the world but within the context of the world. We can show up as we are and we are accepted, challenged, and buoyed by the cohort, the fifteen.
Angela and Odessa are struggling for survival in a dark present that’s being overtaken by an epidemic affecting only black women. A fabulous wellness celebrity emerges as one who could guide them—if only they trust her and follow her into the shifting sands. Will they find a cure? Can a cure even be found? sandblasted is by turns poetic and absurd; a story of waiting and hoping, and of the meaning of touch. Read a snippet from the play here.
Playwright: Charly Evon Simpson
The thing that got me started on this play was: Feeling the need to render a mostly invisible experience, visible.
This is a play that will: I hope it makes you think. I hope it makes you feel. I hope it makes you laugh. And I hope it makes some feel seen and others feel like they should do a lot more listening.
A favorite moment in the play is: When the characters of Angela and Odessa hug because in the world of the play, it is a dangerous moment of connection and as well as a soothing balm for them.
A question I hope audiences walk away with is: How do we better support black women?
Director: Victoria Collado
Sandblasted speaks to me personally because: It’s all the questions I’m asking myself at the moment: What is preservation? And what does it mean to self-preserve?
The most challenging aspect of directing this piece is: Making sure it keeps its accessibility and magic while putting it on stage. Charly’s language is fun, witty, and poetic. The subject is one that can quickly be dramatized, but the magic—I think—is in honoring that charm in the language so that audiences can automatically connect with these characters, in this world that is a little out there. Also, the million dollar question: How do you make an arm fall off?
Three words that describe the kind of theatre that excites me: Innovative, provocative, and personal.
Producer: Ilana Becker
Why this story now? Like all of Charly's plays, this one feels like a matter of survival and necessity.
Charly excites me as a writer because: She writes in big questions from her core; they ripple through each play, driving vocabulary and form, all while staying aloft with a sense of playfulness and humor and room for surprise. She lets the internal rhythms of her characters and their underlying needs drive the music of the play. And she's a true collaborator, which is why it's been so exciting to see her paired with Vicky! Vicky approaches plays with an open heart and a voracious curiosity. She dreams up big and magical possibilities, and then she grounds them deeply and intimately in the text.
The WP Lab experience, for me: Has been about our cohort. We've been surrounded by such a dynamic, smart group of risk-taking, boundary-pushing women.
TOBIAS: A NOVEL IN PERFORMANCE
Tobias was a real person; far more than just a footnote in one of North America's earliest-known scandals. TOBIAS: A Novel in Performance is a hybrid theatrical experience, melding the forms of narrative-fiction and playwriting to explore a distinct connection across three backgrounds: Mohawk, African, and Dutch. Tobias, as narrator, leads the audience though a gripping examination of the often-complicated lines between power, sex, and love: both then and now. Read a snippet from the play here.
The thing that got me started on this play was: A visit to the Weeksville Heritage Center in Brooklyn, an interdisciplinary museum and historical site dedicated to one of America’s first free black communities, sent me down a Google rabbit hole. From there, I uncovered an article about “The ‘Bad Fate’ of Harmen Meyndertsz van den Bogaert”, and then I got angry. While it’s no surprise that van den Bogaert, a Dutch settler, is the central point of the historical narrative, I longed to know Tobias, to hear him. And then I couldn’t get him out of my head.
This is a play that will make you: There’s a popular quote often attributed to Mark Twain: “History does not repeat itself, but it often rhymes.” Ultimately, TOBIAS is a piece that echoes. You’ll feel its reverberations. You’ll reflect upon the land we live on. You’ll interrogate power dynamics. You’ll consider the cross section of peoples that New York City is, and has been, since before it was New York. Most of all, you’ll touch Tobias’ strength and deep well of humanity—then and now.
A favorite moment in the play is: There’s a monologue near the end of the play that repeats the phrase “what if” six times. For me, this section is the purest embodiment of Tobias’ authority. Here he compels us to question all of our histories through his own; how they lived versus how they are written. Here we see true vulnerability—his anger and heartbreak in equal parts—and therein his power.
A question I hope audiences walk away with is: How can I honor those who have walked before me, even and especially those I may never know?
Director: Arpita Mukherjee
Tobias: A Novel in Performance speaks to me personally because: It’s a work that not only tells the story of a person who history doesn’t remember—and therefore, gives voice to those who have been historically marginalized—but it does so by using various forms of storytelling. The novel-in-performance urges the audience/listener/reader to consider not just whose stories have been left out but how modes of storytelling actually enforce privilege and systems of oppression.
The most challenging aspect of directing this piece is: Curating the audience’s experience in a unique and exciting way, unbound by expectations of traditional theatre. Because of the openness of the form, for me, the vast possibilities of what a production might look and sound and feel like—and the opportunity to combine the experiences of a reader, listener and audience member—has been both the most challenging and the most exciting part of working on this deeply complex and moving work by CQ.
Three words that describe the kind of theatre that excites me: Subversive, joyful, and form-defying.
Producer: Marie Cisco
Why this story now? We are forever as a human race wrestling with the idea of how our past informs our present and future. This piece effortlessly weaves in those two worlds, creating a story that is timeless and relevant through the decades.
CQ excites me as a writer because: She is unafraid to tackle difficult and sometimes triggering subject matter which makes her work necessary and poignant.
The WP Lab experience, for me: Has helped me gain a better understanding of how my personal approach to work as a producer intersects with the greater community.
GRACE, SPONSORED BY MONTEVERDE
Catherine is searching for something authentic. Frustrated by her life's direction and haunted by her annoying ex-husband, she embarks with her f*ckbuddy, Lewis, on a Lewis-and-Clark-esque trip across America sponsored by Monteverde Moonshine. But as Catherine travels the country, posting photos and interviews of people she meets—an immigrant worker, a wayward nun, a queer homeschooled teen—she inadvertently raises more questions than answers: about "the real America," about her own identity, and about what "authenticity" even means anymore. #ManifestYourDestiny #GraceSponsoredByMonteverde #DrinkandRideResponsibly. Read an excerpt from the play here.
Playwright: Vanessa Garcia
The thing that got me started on this play: A while back, around 2008, Horace Engdahl, the permanent secretary of the Nobel prize jury said that the U.S. wasn’t creating any good literature anymore. It annoyed me because I realized that it wasn’t that the U.S. wasn’t creating good writers, it was more that those writers just weren’t getting published by the houses that put them out in the world in the right way. I wanted to get at the root of this and also rebut Mr. Engdahl, so I created a proposal: I wanted to go around the fifty states and interview people, and discover where we were in the United States today. This project was called STATEMENTS. It was a very cool proposal, but no one would fund it... So, I started writing a play about a person that got to do it. Several years later, I’m still writing that play, and it changes as the world changes.
This is a play that will make you: Follow the hashtag. And then ask yourself why you did it.
A favorite moment in the play is: A scene between Catherine, our protagonist, and Blake, who is sixteen. Blake is going through a hard time, trying to figure out who they are, and Catherine tries to console her with a story about how she once asked her mom: “How do you know if you’re a lesbian?” And the mom just looks at her and says: “Catherine, you’re not a lesbian.” And she keeps on vacuuming. Catherine thought: well, I guess I’m not a lesbian… It’s a moment that puts into question all the puzzle pieces that actually make up our identity.
A question I hope audiences walk away with is: What’s true human connection, really—What’s it made of? What is agency and choice?
Director: Sarah Hughes
Grace, Sponsored by Monteverde speaks to me personally because: As a theatermaker (and a person) I'm most interested in investigating the space between what we perceive to be "real" and what actually gets at a deeper truth. We're in a moment culturally, politically, and socially where the concept of authenticity, of "real identity", of truth itself is constantly shifting—and this play leans into that instability in the most exciting ways.
The most challenging aspect of directing this piece is: The play's journey follows a social media hashtag, and the text itself is written almost as a collage, with Instagram-post-like "Frames", conversational zoomed-in "Pixels", and monologic moments of "Light", that can be arranged in any order. The transitions between these need not (should not!) always be seamless—we're interested in pointing at the many layers that exist behind what we think we see as "the real story"—but weaving together these tonally different moments into something cohesive is a challenge I'm excited to figure out.
Three words that describe the kind of theatre that excites me: Unexpected, sustainable, and formally-challenging
Producer: Alyssa Simmons
Why this story now? In this moment where it seems like we’re all searching for something to anchor us and feel defined as solid and real, this play is so timely. Each character is searching for their definition of truth and realness, and I feel like all of us are right now. Plus, it’s a play about social media which is the primary means of communication between individuals right now.
Vanessa excited me as a writer because: She creates such evocative images with her language, and that’s really exciting to figure out how to accomplish that. I think the way she thinks of storytelling too, is unique—the structure of the play is designed so that each director or producer who encounters it can mix and match the contents of the script as they see fit.
Sarah is a director who thinks about the physical world of a play and the tangible bodies of the actors as further realms to create new images and concepts. She has such a thoughtful eye to what is possible physically and pairing her with Vanessa who writes so visually was brilliant.
The WP Lab Experience, for me: Has gifted me with a whole cohort of tremendously talented artists who I now call collaborators and friends. I am so proud of the artistic ideas we have developed and put out as a cohort.
Estelle discovers she cannot be a bone marrow donor for her mother Gladys, who has been diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. Meanwhile, Tinesha is tirelessly searching the universe for her stolen baby. A complicated family drama about mothers, daughters, and the cosmic quests we undertake for the ones we love. Read a snippet from the play here.
Playwright: Sukari Jones
The thing that got me started on this play was: What makes me love my mother so much, and could anything challenge that?
This is a play that will make you: Reckon with what it means to be family.
A favorite moment in the play is: The death scene of the mom because it takes the wind out of me.
A question I hope audiences walk away with is: What does a woman suddenly understand, the minute she becomes a mother?
Director: Candis C. Jones
My Baby speaks to me personally because: I love working on plays by and about Black women and having conversations about Black mothers and daughters.
The most challenging aspect of directing this piece: Was considering the best way to communicate the style and tone of this story within a workshop structure.
Three words that describe the kind of theatre that excites me: Urgent, intimate, and “Too Big” (IMPOSSIBLEbutwowEpic!).
Producer: Lucy Jackson
Why this story now? My Baby grapples with the identities we are given by others and the ones we create for ourselves, the narratives we tell and fall into, and the relativity of truth. It’s populated exclusively by Black Femmes navigating all this in their own space. Its complexity and depth of thought and feeling will stealth its audiences and resonate for a long time.
Sukari excites me as a writer because: She doesn’t shy away from difficult or uncomfortable conversations in her work. Her writing is by turns poetic, hilarious and incisive. She writes for the audience she wants to see, and for herself in that audience, and doesn’t pull punches. She is fearless in taking on and experimenting with form and style. The same can be said for Candis as a director—what an awesome team!
The WP Lab experience, for me: Has introduced to me a group of exceptionally talented new colleagues, and given me a host of entirely fresh and exciting perspectives on life, the universe and everything.
Learn more about WP Theater's Lab by visiting WPTheater.org/lab.