Supporting creative work by women
Micheline Auger is a force of nature in the best possible way. A playwright and producer, Micheline has cooked up one of the most fabulous events to happen to the New York theatre community in ages. Starting August 13th, Write Out Front: A Playwright Happening will take over the larger window of the Drama Book Shop on West 40th Street in Manhattan. Over the next three weeks, more than 70 playwrights will spend two hours each in the window writing on their laptops. The screen shot is displayed on a 40″ monitor facing the street making their process visible to anyone who passes on the street. New Yorkers will be able to be thisclose to the writing process. How exhilarating.
Micheline spoke to Works by Women about where creativity can be found, what she hopes Write Out Front: A Playwright Happening will bring to New Yorkers and blind submissions at institutional theatres that receive public funding.
WORKS BY WOMEN: Write Out Front is a brilliant idea. What was your first impulse to do it? What was the inspiration?
MICHELINE AUGER: It’s a combination of things. I’ve always been interested in the artist’s process. I made a mini-documentary about the painter Shawn Dulaney with my friend Rob Lyons of Wheelhouse Creative where we visited her in her studio in DUMBO and interviewed her and filmed her creating a new body of work. She and her work and workspace are inspiring. I love people’s workspaces. (You can find the documentary called W.O.W – Women at Work at my website www.MichelineAuger.com) and she shows at the Sears-Peyton Gallery here in NYC. We follow her from the blank canvas to her opening, and I loved it because I think it demystifies the process without taking away the beauty of it. Then I heard about the chashama Window Grants and I was excited by the idea of free space. Every theater artist is into free space so for about a year I was mulling on what I wanted to do there. So I think it was the confluence of those two interests. I also am influenced by performance art and like to play with that edge a bit.
WBW: What do you hope the playwrights get out of the experience? How do you think the ‘playwright writing as performance’ will change what/how playwrights write?
MICHELINE: Well, we’ll find out! I think it takes a bit of courage in a way. And fierceness. To own your process. But the obstacles are never outside you anyway. They aren’t the people staring at you from the sidewalk, they are inside your head. So it’s a practice of intention and concentration and also having fun because we’re not saving lives here – actually I’ll amend that to some extent. For me, I knew that art would save my life, and it has and continues to. Many years ago, I was feeling really down. Depressed. A horrible feeling. And I had to go to work, but I knew I just couldn’t go to work with where I was at. So I raced up to the Whitney and saw the Alice Peele exhibit there for like twenty minutes. That’s all I had. It took me longer to get there and back than I had to see the whole thing but the minute I saw her portraits I just breathed a big sigh of relief. Because they were truthful. There were real people’s lives and when I looked at that, my life made sense. I made sense. And my humanity was just wonderful in a really mundane gorgeous way. It helped me see not only myself differently but the world differently. And that’s when I knew that art would save my life. But for a long time I didn’t think I was creative even though I did a bunch of creative stuff. But I think everyone is creative. That’s why I’m very interested in people exploring and enjoying their creative impulses and not allowing other people to dictate to them how they should live, or what an artist is or isn’t or any of that fear-mongering. It’s creative to paint, it’s creative to write, It’s creative to have a family, solve the financial crisis (if you really want to), it’s creative to have a conversation, to interact with another human being, and it’s part of the creative process to stare at a blank page or screen. (Brenda Euland who wrote If You Want to Write said that, and that helped me get my ass in the chair and stay there and not to worry because it will come). So I really want to empower people to own their process and their creativity whatever that looks like because I feel that if we had a nation of people that were fed by that, it would be really exciting. I absolutely believe in our unlimited potential. I mean look around us. This world is amazing. All the different types of flowers and animals and people, the creative force is astounding. That creative force is a part of us as well and we can learn to work with it or against it. And it’s not about being famous (although if that’s what gets you started, Brava!). It’s about being nourished and living a rich and uniquely yours kinda life.
WBW: What is your hope for the general public in terms of seeing playwriting up close and personal?
MICHELINE: I hope they find it interesting, and I hope that if they are a frustrated or closeted writer or artist, that they are inspired to create something. And I hope that if the person is not an artist per se, that maybe they’ll appreciate the courage it takes to do something like that, and do something that maybe pushed them outside their comfort zone too. I mean, that’s when life gets interesting and wakes up and says Hello!
WBW: You are a playwright and producer. What’s it like doing both? Difficulties? Exhilaration?
MICHELINE: It’s effin awesome! I am really glad that I have organizational ability and creative instincts. If I was only organizational and hadn’t found or followed the creative thing, I think I would have turned into a total horror. I probably would have died or accidentally killed someone. Like not dramatically or anything, but just in a real sad like whoops kind of way. So the creativity and the organizational thing go nicely together. Actually the more creative I got, the less I wanted or needed to have a baby which was sort of interesting to witness.
WBW: What’s one thing you’d like to change about indie theatre?
MICHELINE: I mean there are so many cool people that are making indie theatre despite the odds and they work together and pay it forward so perhaps the obstacles are actually (you and I were talking about this the other day) making a more vital community. Obstacles determine character, right? How the person deals with the obstacles presented to her determines her character (and creates it). But I do like the direction that the LIT Fund is going in. I think it’s a great idea. At the same time, back in the 70’s the artists just did their own thing and were so into it and didn’t care who was watching and then everyone else eventually caught on. But the difference is that back then the real estate was cheaper so places like Club 57, Club Mudd and CBGB’s could exist so it would be nice to have more affordable spaces and places to live but artists are still gonna do it, the question is are they going to continue to do it here.
WBW: What are the challenges facing women in American theater?
MICHELINE: Women are still having a heck of a time getting produced in the same numbers as men so I think there needs to be a lot more done to change the way theaters (especially theaters that receive funding) choose their material. Just like how some symphonies and orchestras have blind auditions (because of the same problem), there should be blind submissions. Also, I thought it was really interesting what Mariah MacCarthy said about how difficult it is to be a theater artist and a mom – especially if you decide to be a single mom. I think there is more we can do as a country to support women, children and families and if people are talking about family values, that’s what they should be talking about.
WBW: What gives you hope for women in American theater?
MICHELINE: So many women and friends too numerous to mention but for a start look in the mirror.
If you’re in New York, check out Write Out Front: A Playwright Happening in the Drama Book Shop storefront window August 13th through September 1st. For additional details, visit its website.