Supporting creative work by women
The New York International Fringe Festival celebrates its 20th anniversary this August. Members of the creative team behind #BLESSED–a play “about faith, rape culture, and what it means to be a young woman today, created by young women”–were either babies or not born when FringeNYC celebrated its first season. That’s right. The play’s artists are all 21-years-old or younger.
Semicolon Theatre Company (Producer, Alexa Derman) presents this thought-provoking play, written by Zoe Kamil (pictured left; Young Playwrights Inc.–NYC, 2014 National Competition Winner) and directed by Miranda Cornell (pictured right), who has apprenticed with directors Liz Carlson and Michael Greif at NYSAF.
Works by Women spoke with Zoe and Miranda about how they developed #BLESSED, what it means to be part of FringeNYC, and what’s next for them.
WORKS BY WOMEN: How was #BLESSED developed?
ZOE KAMIL: The play has existed in some form or another for almost three years now. In the past year and a half, there have been a few casual readings and organized discussions – all of which have been incredibly valuable.
MIRANDA CORNELL: I’ve known about this play since my junior year of high school. Zoe sent me the first few pages back in 2013 when we were living on opposite coasts. Zoe organized a reading in February of 2015 that I went in to observe, but the script is vastly different now even from that draft. It has really grown up with Zoe and me as we both finished high school and began college.
WBW: How can theater address societal issues such as rape culture? What’s its power and obligation?
ZK: Wow, what a question. I don’t think it’s ever a good idea for an artist to say, “I’m going to create a profound piece of art about *insert social issue here*.” I think that socially conscious art is vital, but it has to come from socially conscious artists. I do my best to be an engaged, educated, empathetic citizen and I’m slowly learning to trust that these qualities will come through in my work.
MC: If “Hamilton” is any proof, theater can have a tremendous social impact. I am personally moved by theatrical performances because they are happening right in front of me, like many societal issues. I find that theater can force people to question and examine their relationships to these issues, which is incredibly powerful.
WBW: Tell me about the process of working with the cast of 12.
ZK: Creatively, it’s a privilege to get to work with 12 brilliant actors. Logistically, it can be difficult – I don’t envy the scheduling work that our stage manager has to do. The truth is that there have always been people who have read the play and said, “this will never be producible” due to the size of the cast. I think we’re proving them wrong.
MC: It’s really unlike anything I’ve ever done. It’s very daunting and I give so much credit to our stage management team for scheduling rehearsals, tracking every entrance and exit, and holding it all together. It has also really challenged my view of leadership for the better.
WBW: What does it mean to have #BLESSED in FringeNYC?
ZK: I think I speak for everyone involved with this production when I say that we’re excited to share this play, which in some ways is very specifically “young,” with the diverse array of people who attend FringeNYC. I’m incredibly excited to discover what the audience will bring to the production and also what they’ll take away from it.
MC: This play has lived with many of us on this team in one way or another. Having #Blessed in the New York International Fringe Festival means being able to introduce a story that means so much to so many of us to an incredibly diverse audience. While the creation process is certainly rewarding in its own right, having an audience can reveal so much more about the play as well.
#BLESSED team: Sabine Decator (Stage Manager), Miranda Cornell (Director), Zoe Kamil (Playwright) & Alexa Derman (Producer)
WBW: What other FringeNYC shows excite you?
ZK: There are some really incredible shows happening at this year’s festival. I’m especially excited for “Johnny Darlin: In the Closet,” a multimedia cabaret performance that explores sexuality and coming of age. Also, “Cuntagious,” a one woman show about the experiences of a young woman who does sex work by choice.
MC: I’m really into “Happy Lucky Golden Tofu Panda Dragon Good Time Fun Fun Show!” from Slanty Eyed Mama. As a Japanese-American woman, a theatrical piece that uses theatrical storytelling, humor, and music to frankly discuss being an Asian-American woman is pretty important to me.
WBW: Why theater? When did you know that you wanted to work in this art form?
ZK: I did a lot of youth theatre growing up. I really loved the rituals and the sense of community that came along with being part of a production. For a while, I was very sure that I wanted to be a Broadway star. I also shone the most academically as a writer and was a big bookworm as a kid. I wrote poems and short stories and was the recipient of a few creative writing awards as a tween. The two passions combined naturally when I had the opportunity to take a fantastic playwriting class in high school. The rest is history.
MC: In my eyes, there is no other way of storytelling that quite measures up to theater. It is immediate, personal, and brutally honest. I’ve known that I wanted to work in theater since I was about seven years old, as my mom had a background in it and took me to see shows. From second grade onward, I don’t think there has ever been a time when I haven’t been involved with some theatrical event, from after-school programs to school plays, from summer performing arts camp to training programs. It’s been a lifelong discovery, I’d say.
WBW:Your company features artists 21 and younger. How do we keep theater relevant for the upcoming generations?
ZK: It’s all about shedding the elitism that many people associate with the theatre community. We’ve got to show that theatre can be an art form for EVERYONE by continuing to expand our collective notions of what kind of stories theatre can tell and how best to tell them.
MC: We have to let them tell their stories. We also can’t treat theater as something that only those with years and years of experience and numerous degrees can do. That creates a notion of elitism that does not foster a place where young people feel like their voices and stories matter.
WBW: What is next for you?
ZK: Finishing my college degree! I’m also in the process of completing first drafts of two new plays, one about ghosts and the other about birthdays and mental illness. I’m excited to start organizing some initial readings of those.
MC: Going back to school! We close #Blessed at FringeNYC and I have around 38 hours to pack up my life and head back up for my sophomore year. Along with classes, I’ll be working on a few shows doing some dramaturgical work as well as directing.
Performances of #BLESSED are Thursday, August 18 at 7:15pm, Sunday, August 21 at 12pm, Wednesday, August 24 at 9:45pm, and Thursday, August 25 at 7pm at Teatro SEA (107 Suffolk Street). Tickets ($18) are available online at www.blessedplay.com.