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Mrs. Mayfield's Fifth-Grade Class of '93 20-year Reunion

nytheatre.com q&a preview by Mariah MacCarthy
May 8, 2013

What is your job on this show?
Playwright.

What is your show about?
Part play, part party, in which a group of former classmates (now all pushing thirty) battle for affection, power, and ownership of memories...while jamming to the greatest hits of the nineties.

What type of theater do you like most to work on?
I really only like to do theater that's fun. I don't mean that it has to be a comedy, or that I'll only work with my friends. But if the actual process of rehearsal and performance isn't joyful, I don't see the point. I suppose you could have a dry, all-business creative process and end up with a fantastic product, but imagine how much more fantastic it could be if there was love in the room and people felt that much more invested in the product because they'd invested in each other. I also don't know that I'll ever write a full-length play that's purely comedy and whose purpose is only to delight its audience. Not that I judge those who do write from that place. I love to delight people, but I have agendas, damn it. And the smiles in my plays are generally covering up some kind of darkness. Also, comedy is hard.

Who is more important in the theater: the actor, the playwright, or the director?
The person who leaves their ego at the door in the name of making great art.

Why did you want to write/direct/produce/act in/work on this show?
I've had the idea for a "party play" for awhile, with the audience as fellow guests at the party, and to do it in a real, actual apartment. But I didn't know whose party it was, or who these people were, what kind of party it was, what would happen. I just wanted a party. Eventually I decided, rather than wait around for inspiration to strike, I would assemble some kickass actors that I love and start to create the piece collaboratively, based on what kind of characters they were interested in playing and what they brought to the table. Somewhere along the way I was listening to Arcade Fire and thinking about how Arcade Fire's music sounds like childhood. But not in a happy way or a twee way. In a way that calls to mind regret and pain and the loss of innocence. And I started thinking about those moments in childhood when we lose our innocence. It seems to start around fifth grade, doesn't it? Well, it did for me. So I proposed the idea of an elementary school reunion to my director Leta Tremblay, and she loved it, and we ran with it. We started the rehearsal process with no script. We had some very loose character ideas, some plot points in mind, but other than that we were mystified. We gave the actors some prompts for guided improvs, and I watched them, and some real, weird, lovable characters started emerging. Then I went away for two weeks and wrote like a maniac. The piece is still VERY much in flux. I imagine that some of it will still have to be improvised, because so much of it is simultaneous and I'm not sure we can get it all to time out perfectly (with the limited rehearsal time we have) if we script every single second. But I dig a combination of scripted and improvised action--we had some of that with my last collaboration with Leta, THE FOREPLAY PLAY (another play that takes place in a real apartment), and I think it's fun for the actors and for the audience. Oh, and if you're allergic to audience interaction, never fear...the piece is only as interactive as you want it to be. If you don't want actors talking to you, you get a red nametag. If you do, you get a green nametag. I think audience participation should be safe, sane, and consensual.

Which famous person would you most like to get a fan letter from: Denzel Washington, Maggie Smith, Ang Lee, Jennifer Lawrence?
Jennifer Lawrence, unquestionably. Maggie Smith is a VERY close second, but...yeah, Jennifer Lawrence. I'd really like to spoon with her. Maybe if she liked me enough to send me a fan letter she'd let me spoon her.

Can theater bring about societal change? Why or why not?
Yes. It can. It does. Maybe in smaller ways than we'd like, but it does. RUINED brought attention to rape in the DRC. THE VAGINA MONOLOGUES got people to confront women's sexuality and violence against women in a new, very active way that has yielded real results and actually made the world safer. And THE AGONY AND THE ECSTASY OF STEVE JOBS played a huge role in getting people to pay attention to labor conditions overseas. But you don't have to be Lynn Nottage or Eve Ensler or Mike Daisey to be making a difference (and none of them were born with the platforms they have now, by the way). Even if your show only plays for twelve performances in a fifty-seat theater, that's 600 people whose minds and hearts you can reach and touch. If you get those people to think about whatever is important to you, then yes, you can change those people, and that's how you change society. In fact, you not only can, you should. That doesn't mean every play should be "political," but remember that having an audience is a gift and a unique opportunity to shift the world in whatever direction you'd like.