Member Spotlight: Donna Hoke
by Debbie Miller
Donna Hoke lives in Buffalo, New York. She’s the Western New York representative for the Dramatists Guild. Her website is at DonnaHoke.com and she also writes a blog.
Q: Did you start out as a journalist and then branch out into children's pieces and then to playwriting? Or, was it in a different order? Also, how did you "come to" playwriting?
A: I didn't really do creative writing until college. I enjoyed it, but I went down the journalism road. I've only written the one official children's book and that was shortly before I wrote my first play. It may even be what got me back to fiction, because I don’t think I realized I wanted to be a playwright as much as I thought, “I should write a play,” and the impetus for that came from Road Less Traveled Productions.
When I moved back to Buffalo, I started going to a lot more theater because it was affordable and there was easy parking. I bought a subscription to Road Less Traveled Productions, whose mission was to present world premiere plays by Western New York playwrights. They offered the Emanuel Fried New Play Workshop, and, at the time, that was the vehicle through which they developed plays for production. Since they produced everything, I thought it might be cool to see a play on stage, so I wrote one, and writing it was such a revelation, like "Ah! Why did I ever waste my time on poetry and short stories? This is what I should be doing." I never realized I could write a ninety-page anything. I was hooked.
I sent a play to the workshop but that same year, they not only changed their mission so that they didn’t exclusively do world premieres, but they also had more applicants than they'd ever had, which raised the bar. I got in and they didn’t produce my play, but by the following year I had written two more and they did produce one of them. And that’s what started the ball rolling.
Q: Can you tell me about being an ensemble playwright at Road Less Traveled Productions? Do you work with actors there, for example, in developing your plays?
A: The development process at Road Less Traveled Productions is undergoing some changes right now, but yes, there is development. For example, my play, “Safe,” which will get its world premiere in March 2016 has benefited from multiple readings, work with the ensemble dramaturg, and early casting so that we can do scene workshops with the director.
Q: Do you prefer writing full-length plays or one-acts? Ten-minute plays? Monologues?
A: I don't have any one-acts; I find that a very difficult length. That thirty to forty-five minute length is elusive for me. I do, however, have a few dozen ten-minute plays and while I prefer digging into a full-length, the ten-minutes really did wonders for my self-confidence when I started writing them because I got productions, which made me believe I was doing something right. They also paved the way to some full-length productions, so I'm a big believer in them.
Q: Do you write mainly comedy, drama, or a combination of the two?
A: I don't think of myself as a comedy writer, but I wrote two ten-minute plays that were comedies and I expanded them both into full-length plays. The rest of my plays you'd put in the drama category but none of them are without humor.
Q: Can you tell me about a character that you enjoyed writing?
A: It's actually a group of characters. After I wrote the first scene of “On the Roof,” which was originally going to be about the owner of a 1950s New York City gay bar, I realized that I was going to have to populate this bar. In the final draft, there are five guys who are regulars at Mitzi's and I fell in love with them all, but most particularly with Cruz, the macho Puerto Rican bartender, and Levi, the Jewish musical theater composer. I really missed those characters when I was done writing it, because I was so proud of them all. When we did the reading, I was able to cast them all with some of my favorite Buffalo actors.
Welcome New Members
Arlette Thomas-Fletcher, Maryland, USA
Arlette Thomas- Fletcher is a visionary and brings energy and enthusiasm to everything she does. Currently Arlette is the only African American female director, writer, producer to produce a feature length western film in the mid Atlantic region. She is an author, writer, screenwriter, playwright, actor, singer/songwriter, director and producer. She has been in the entertainment industry for more than twenty years as she began acting at a very young age. Arlette is the prolific writer/playwright of more than 15 plays 9 of which are full length. The play “Two Sisters” was selected to be in the One Act Battle at the Dc Black Theater Festival at Busboys and Poets. Her play “Daddy Where Are You?” sold out at the Dc Black Theater Festival. Arlette’s plays did so well at the Dc Black Theater Festival that she was featured one year for both her plays “Daddy Where Are You?” and “A Form of Godliness .
Arlette has received awards for scriptwriting and directing from Accolade Awards, TIVA awards, Silver Telly Award, and many others. Some of her credits include performing in productions such as “A Raisin in the Sun”, Me Nobody Knows, and A Form of Godliness, The Mystery Date, and You’re Not Alone, The Day The Aces Got Trumped, Milgram and The Fast Walkers. Now her achievements include several award winning short films such as“Assault In Brooklyn and “The Mystery Date”.”The Remodel Zone” , and “Blessing In A Storm. “ Also among her credits are award winning music videos called “You’re Not Alone,” “God Has My Back”, “Like A Star”, “Let Me Go” and many others.Her music videos have won many awards such as the Global Music Awards, Communicator Awards, Accolade Awards, and Beat 100 Award. She is also an author of Poetry for The Soul an inspirational poetry book. She has two feature length indie films in post production “The Lonesome Trial”, “Where’s Daddy?”.
Arlette is a graduate of Johns Hopkins University with a Masters Degree in Business program. She also holds a Bachelors degree in Christian Education from Family Bible Ministries Institute, College, and Seminary.www.fruitsofthespiritproductions.com www.shiningbrightproductions.com
Francesca Rizzo, New Jersey, USA
Francesca Rizzo is an award-winning East Coast writer, director and actress working in theater and film. A New Jersey State Council on the Arts Distinguished Artist Fellow, her theatrical work includes two solo plays, Dames Like Her and The Cherry Sisters: True Stories From the Kitchen Table, both garnering critical acclaim in NJ and NY. Earlier NYC productions include Good in Bed, True Tales of Seduction, Hold That Tiger and The Return of Jonesy. She developed and directed Fia Perera’s Neurotic in New York and Lori Kaye’s The Girls Room and was co-founder of The Perfectly Frank Writers Theatre, a downtown performance venue that brought 32 new works by emerging performance artists to the NY stage.
During this time, she freelanced as a writer-producer for Nickeodeon, MTV and PBS/WGBH, eventually writing and starring in the Nick At Nite ‘s award-winning satirical video, How to Be Donna Reed. She entered the filmmaking world by adapting her stage play, Sullivan’s Last Call into a sexy little film about celibacy that went on to win awards at festivals here and abroad.
She continued making films and went on to become president of the non-profit, CineWomenNY, a contributing writer for Guerrilla Filmmaker magazine and the curator of The World According to Girls, Beyond the Babe and Cinema-Femina, unique independent film screening series in the New York/NJ area.
Her current project is adapting her solo play, Dames Like Her into Dames Like Us, a hilarious ensemble comedy for actresses over 50 that crushes stereotypes and proves that one should never underestimate women of a certain age. www.francescarizzo.com www.dameslikeher.com
Delta Donohue, USA
Lorraine Midanik, California, USA Lorraine Midanik is a Bay Area playwright who has had several of her short plays produced in including Branding (San Francisco Theater Pub, Pint Sized Plays 2015); Are We There Yet? (Playwrights Center of San Francisco’s 24-hour Fest 2015); Misunderstandings and Lack Thereof (Fringe of Marin Spring Festival 2015); and, The Revolution (PianoFight’s Shortlived Festival 2015). In 2014, two of her one minute plays were produced by Gone in 60 seconds (GI60) in the US (The Park) and in the UK (Death by Any Other Name). The Siege and Love Letters were showcased at Stagebridge in 2014 and 2013. In December 2015, her play Sparse Pubic Hair, will be produced at Playwright’s Center of San Francisco’s Sheherezade’s Final Tales Festival in San Francisco. She is a member of Theatre Bay Area where she is currently a participant in the 2015 ATLAS (Advanced Training Leading Artists to Success) Playwriting Program, a member of the Playwright’s Center of San Francisco, the Dramatists Guild, the International Centre for Women Playwrights, and Stagebridge, where she serves on the board of directors. She was a member of Playground (2014-2015), and has been a student of Anthony Clarvoe at Stagebridge since 2012.
Theatre Reward Members*
Tessa Hart, The Bread & Roses Theatre, UK
Nathan Motta, Dobama Theatre, USA
James Sweitzer, Cherry Lane Theatre, USA
*50/50 Applause Award Recipients receive a free 6-month organization membership
Messages from Members
“Notes and Quotes: The D.C. Women’s Voices Festival”
by Laura Shamas
The travel gods smiled on me this fall, and I’ve been able to catch several new plays that are part of the historic D.C. Women’s Voices Festival, currently running in the U.S. capital. The Festival’s mission is one that I support: “To highlight the scope of new plays being written by women, and the range of professional theater being produced in the nation’s capital,” as part of “the largest collaboration of theater companies working simultaneously to produce original works by female writers in history.”
About fifty-two world premieres of female-authored plays and musicals are being produced by 48 D.C. area theaters, a mix of large and small companies (Equity and non-Equity); the launch party was on September 8, and the last show closes on Nov. 22, 2015. ICWP’s Patricia Connelly is one of the playwrights included.
I am unable to see even 1/10th of the shows being offered, so I don’t consider myself an expert about the Festival in any way – just a lucky pop-in attendee. Here are some of my informal impressions, with quotes from some of the amazing artists involved in the Festival.
1) WITCHES VANISH by Claudia Barnett
The first play I got to see in the Festival was Witches Vanish by Claudia Barnett, directed by Deborah Randall at Venus Theatre. This play features The Weird Sisters from Shakespeare’s Macbeth as a metaphoric theatrical entity who witness (or sometimes cause?) vanishing women, in real life and in literature. As playwright, Barnett asks: “Why do women vanish?” With elements of puppetry, dance and fascinating vignettes, Barnett’s script interweaves scenes about “lost” women; it runs 90 minutes without an intermission. I admired the all-female cast.
I asked Barnett for her thoughts about her play and the Festival: “Witches Vanish gives voices to women who’ve disappeared throughout time—both by telling their (fictionalized) stories and by explicitly naming them in a series of chants between scenes. Given the common theme, it fit the Festival perfectly.” Claudia Barnett is the author of No. 731 Degraw-street, Brooklyn, or Emily Dickinson’s Sister: A Play in Two Acts, published in October by Carnegie Mellon University Press.
2) CHIMERICA by Lucy Kirkwood
The next play I saw related to the Festival was Chimerica by British playwright Lucy Kirkwood. Although it was not an official part of it, it was scheduled to “coincide” with the Festival. This is Chimerica’s U.S. premiere. The title refers to the domination of the U.S. and China in modern geopolitics, covering a span of twenty years. A photographer’s iconic photo taken in Tiananmen Square becomes a catalyst for a mystery that spans generations and cultures. The two-act play, masterfully directed by David Muse, at the Studio Theatre, is ambitious, powerful and quite moving. Kirkwood’s approach was cinematic in style and epic in scope; I find myself still reflecting about Chimerica more than a month after seeing it.
3) IRONBOUND by Martyna Majok
Ironbound by Martyna Majok, directed by Daniella Topol, at Round House Theatre was the next show I caught in the Festival. Majok, who was born in Poland, is an award-winning playwright on the rise (New Play Network Smith Prize, David Calicchio Emerging American Playwright Prize, among others). Majok was inspired to tell the story of Darja, a Polish immigrant who works as a caretaker and factory-laborer, because “poor women” are misrepresented in our theatres; Majok commented in an interview: “I wanted to see my own story on stage.” With a cast of four, Ironbound is a 90-minute tour-de-force that takes place mostly at an urban bus stop. We learn in real time and flashbacks about the key points of Darja’s life and relationships, from 1992 - 2006. It’s ultimately about the bond between mother and son, and the meaning of love.
Ironbound will open next in New York in March 2016, again directed by talented Topol.
4) INHERITANCE CANYON by Liz Maestri
Playwright Liz Maestri’s play Inheritance Canyon, directed by Lise Bruneau, and produced by Taffety Punk Theatre Company, was the next play I saw.
Inheritance Canyon is a zany, thought-provoking look at a scientific experiment and the meaning of life. It takes place in a canyon near a desert, and involves three friends: Shell (Esther Williamson), Sal (Teresa Castracane) and Gary (James Flanagan). They witness a mysterious explosion, and then are put under medical surveillance, a sort of limbo-quarantine, for the rest of the play. The show, in two acts, runs about two hours, with an intermission.
And speaking of intermission, the character switch that happens (during it?) between the first Shell and the other Shell (Gwen Gastorf) was theatrically fun at the top of Act Two. One of the meta-themes in Maestri's play was "performance" in modern life: if we "perform" a function (or pretend to), does that mean we become it, Maestri wonders?
I asked Maestri for her thoughts on the Festival: “The Festival is churning things up, causing trouble, changing lives, starting conversations, and catapulting new art into the world. I'm proud to be part of it.”
5) QUEENS GIRL IN THE WORLD by Caleen Sinnette Jennings
Playwright Caleen Sinnette Jennings has two plays in the D.C. Women’s Voices Festival. Jennings’ one-person show Queens Girl in the World, directed by Eleanor Holdridge and produced by Theater J, is the last piece that I saw.
Dawn Ursula plays every character in the piece. Queens Girls in the World depicts, in two acts, what it was like for a studious, bright African-American girl to grow up in the Civil Rights era, and to live through its violent days. By the end of the play, Jackie’s parents are so fed up with life in America that they move to Nigeria. Everything about the production is top-notch, and the super-talented Dawn Ursula is unforgettable.
One thing I’ve been tracking is the number of excellent female directors working in the Festival. I asked Eleanor Holdridge, the head of the MFA Directing Program at Catholic University, about this: “It's a thrilling bi-product of the festival that so many women directors are being brought along for the ride. For my female directing and playwriting students, I find the season a wonderful inspiration for what enriching strength that women theatre artists can bring to the art form in America.”
6) MORE, PLEASE:
I tweeted an inquiry several days ago, to ask if the D.C. Women’s Voices Festival might become an annual event. They responded: “Great question. At this point it's still too soon to say. We'll keep you posted on any updates.” In Holly L. Derr’s recent Howl Round post about the Festival, Nan Barnett mentions plans for a post-Festival handbook that could be used as a guide by other cities to mount their own versions of this kind of festival. Yes, please!
Martha Richards, Founder and Executive Director of Women Arts, attended the first industry weekend in the Women’s Voices Festival, and was part of a panel on October 4th. Richards notes the Festival’s significance: “Gender parity activists have been looking for ways to reach our goal of 50/50 by 2020, and large-scale festivals like this provide a perfect mechanism to push our numbers up quickly. I predict that the Washington role model will inspire theatre women all over the world to create similar festivals.”
D.C. Women’s Voices Festival – womensvoicestheaterfestival.org
“Women’s Voices Theater Festival: Getting a Piece of Real Estate” by Jami Brandli - http://lafpi.com/2015/09/womens-voices-theater-festival-getting-a-piece-of-real-estate/
“Something is Afoot in Washington, D.C.” by Holly L. Derr -
The Women’s Voices Festival Weekend Recap by Holly L. Derr -
“Women’s Voices Theater Festival in Washington is An Energizing Showcase” by Charles Isherwood, New York Times http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/08/theater/womens-voices-theater-festival-in-washington-is-an-energizing-showcase.html
“Putting Women in the Spotlight” by Nelson Pressley, Washington Post https://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/theater_dance/a-stage-of-their-own/2015/08/26/b6ac7886-4a94-11e5-846d-02792f854297_story.html
Also read member Aphra Behn's 3-part article in Howlround about the Women's Playwright's International's Conference in South Africa. ICWP President, Karen Jeynes, is a resident of South Africa and helped host the conference.
Articles of Interest
Strong Roles for Women
Much ado was raised when Mags McSeveney posted a link to this Independent article about strong females roles make audiences uncomfortable.www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/theatre-dance/strong-female-roles-make-audiences-uncomfortable-says-leading-director-a6674276.html
"In the 25th year of CSC's Women Playwright Series, the Centenary Stage Equity main-stage season now boasts 70% of its primary theatre season penned by women authors. A member of the National New Play Network, CSC subscribes to the 50/50 in 2020 movement.."
Yours for engaging, innovation, and equitable theater,