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  • Linda McLean’s Every Five Minutes, A New World Premiere At Magic!

    Beloved Magic playwright Linda McLean’s newest masterpiece EVERY FIVE MINUTES  is about to make its world premiere on the Magic stage! We are thrilled to have Linda back at Magic, after the critically acclaimed world premiere of ANY GIVEN DAY .

    little-man-5-black-300x290“McLean is a gritty, fiercely empathetic realist of great skill. She elevates the ordinary, creating instantly recognizable people in spare but penetrating dialogue” 

    Robert Hurwitt of the San Francisco Chronicle exclaimed in his Leaping Man review of the show,

     and we couldn’t agree more.


    Previews begin this Wednesday, March 26 until we open on April 3rd!

    (don’t miss it! BuyButtonorrange here:)



    Yesterday Linda McLean came with us to our monthly visit to Laney College’s theater class in Oakland where we have created a very exciting partnership. Each play we premiere on the Magic stage is incorporated into Laney College’s theater class curriculum.  Students from Laney are involved in each production, from our first day of rehearsal to closing night.

    “Bringing the Magic to Oakland is just that – magic.” said Michael Torres, Chair of the Laney College Theater Department,”The magical power of storytelling and how it informs an audience can actually aid in the healing of a community. Oakland is not often exposed to quality professional theatre. We believe our partnership with Magic Theatre will do just that.”

    Yesterday’s theater class was ALL about EVERY FIVE MINUTES!


    After studying EVERY FIVE MINUTES in their classroom and coming to our first day reading, the students at Laney had LOTS of great questions for Linda. Linda also had many questions for them!photo-40

    We spoke about the many ways that a playwright can tell a story. We spoke about the writer’s process. The students spoke at length about their different processes as writers.

    It was fascinating to hear all of the people in the room share their experiences and questions.

    We are ALL artists here.


    <<So! Calling all OAKLAND folks>>

    Next up we will be performing EVERY FIVE MINUTES at Laney College FOR FREE

     [April 19. 3pm. ]

    Don’t miss it



    See you at the Theatre!


    ‘Hir’ review: Comedy at Magic takes on

    gender ambiguity

    Robert Hurwitt   Published 9:52 am, Wednesday, February 5, 2014
    Paige (Nancy Opel, right) gets into her son Max's (Jax Jackson) shifting gender identity in Taylor Mac's "Hir" at Magic Theatre Photo: Jennifer Reiley

    Paige (Nancy Opel, right) gets into her son Max’s (Jax Jackson) shifting gender identity in Taylor Mac’s “Hir” at Magic Theatre Photo: Jennifer Reiley

    Gender isn’t the only mutable element in Taylor Mac’s hilarious and unsettling “Hir” at the Magic Theatre. Everything from family dynamics to theatrical genres, not to mention the Central Valley ground beneath the family’s home, is shifting in the world premiere that opened Tuesday.

    Written in a form Mac calls “absurd realism,” “Hir” challenges expectations on every level except that of providing engrossing entertainment, which it does to a remarkable degree. But be warned. The outrageous comedy and pointed satire in this battle of gender roles contains a tragic undertow with its own ambiguity about audience preconceptions in the end.

    A family-in-crisis play, “Hir” is Mac working in a very different mode from such large-cast, multifarious extravaganzas as his previous Magic outing with the five-hour “The Lily’s Revenge” carnival-play in 2011. As staged by Niegel Smith, “Hir” is more like a Sam Shepard drama of the “Buried Child” era put through a commedia wringer and gone creatively berserk.

    Seen one way, it’s the story of Paige, an ebulliently liberated suburban housewife, freed from the tyranny of an abusive husband and glorying in the gender ambiguity of her teenage child Max – formerly Maxine. As embodied by a radiantly playful Nancy Opel, Paige is a ditzy-progressive but surprisingly resourceful delight with a serious ferocity when cornered.

    But “Hir” is also the story of Paige’s older child Isaac (a solid, firmly focused Ben Euphrat). A Marine returning from Afghanistan with a dishonorable discharge (for reasons you probably won’t see coming), Isaac is in desperate need of the familiarity of his old home and the kind of male-dominated order to which he’s accustomed. He won’t find it in “Hir.”

    The opening tableau sets up the conflicts to come. The kitchen and every other room of the household – seen through the open wood-frame walls of Alexis Distler’s comically precise set – is a disaster zone of general household clutter. Peer carefully at the childish alphabet magnets on the refrigerator and you can make out the gender-neutral pronouns “ze” and “hir,” as well as the new-to-me acronym “LGBTTSQQIAA.”

    Isaac is no more prepared for this chaos than he is for the helpless post-stroke state of his once macho-dominant father – now kept dressed in frilly nightgowns and clown makeup by Paige and played with brilliant semi-intelligibility and a festering mean streak by Mark Anderson Phillips.

    Jax Jackson’s serious young Max is engagingly proud of hir emerging gay masculinity as ze glories in hir mother’s attention, and quick to construe almost anything as a comment on hir gender odyssey. That seems an apt adolescent trait at first, but it doesn’t take long to see how such self-centeredness permeates all these characters, and how deeply it resonates through the comedy and tragedy of Mac’s tantalizing view of contemporary American life.

     Hir: Comic drama. By Taylor Mac. Directed by Niegel Smith. Through Feb. 23. Magic Theatre, Building D, Fort Mason Center, S.F. Two hours. $20-$60. (415) 441-8822.

    Robert Hurwitt is The San Francisco Chronicle’s theater critic. E-mail:rhurwitt@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @RobertHurwitt

    To be redirected to the original article click here.

    To buy tickets to HIR click here.

    Taylor Mac comes to Laney College!

    Taylor Mac is back! Playwright Taylor Mac is a visionary queer artist and activist whose last piece we produced, THE LILY’S REVENGE, addressed the challenges of marriage equality and proposition 8 back in 2011. HIR is a complex and hilarious meditation on family, identity and love in the world we live in today

    Today we met with the acting students Laney College for a class with Taylor !

    photo-22 photo-24

    Taylor spoke with the students about playwriting, from the page to the stage.

    photo-26 photo-25

    The students asked some really thoughtful and inspiring questions. Thank you for a great day, Laney College! We will be performing HIR for free at  Laney College in Oakland on February 15th 2:30pm. The show is open to the public, so please tell your friends!  more info: http://magictheatre.org/about/oakland


    Tuesday Welcomed the First Day of Rehearsals for HIR by Taylor Mac!

    We were all thrilled to begin the week with rehearsals of Taylor Mac’s new play HIR, directed by Niegel  Smith, with dramaturgy by Shirley Fishman.  Tuesday marked the beginning of our rehearsal project for the new play with our First Day celebration!1510569_10152167978672958_1678386205_n

    The day began with Taylor Mac and Niegel Smith presenting about the play, and their visions for the production.


    We were all excited to have so many students from Laney College there in the room with us.


    1504127_10152167978732958_389882400_nStage Manager Kevin Johnson and Production Assistant Christina Hogan

    Then we got to hear from our designers…


    Alexis Distler presented her scenic design, and spoke about the aesthetics of the show.


     Christine Crook followed with a presentation  of her Costume Design, Mike Inwood presented his Lighting Design ideas, and Sara Huddleston spoke about her Sound Design.

    After a quick break we gathered together again and heard the play read out loud for the very first time.

    There was much excitement in the room as a whole new journey unfolded!



    HIR Assistant Director Sydney Painter, Dramaturge Shirely Fishman, Magic’s Producing Artistic Director Loretta Greco, playwright Taylor Mac and director Niegel Smith discuss the reading1510792_10152167978977958_108734945_n

    Interested in Coming to the Show?

    Find our more about the play here on our website:



    That night the creative team of HIR and the Magic Staff all broke bread together at the beautiful home of  HIR’s Adopt-A-Play parents, Donna and Corky LaVallee! Thank you Donna and Corky! It was a lovely and fun night that brought the board, staff, cast and crew together. We are so grateful to all that you do for all of us here Magic!


    CONGRATULATIONS to our dear friend Linda McLean

    CONGRATULATIONS to our dear friend Linda McLean for her upcoming production of Strangers Babies at the Steep Theatre Company in Chicago. We are so thrilled for you Linda, and cannot wait to have you here at Magic Theatre in March for the world premiere of Every Five Minutes!

    STRANGERS, BABIES by Linda McLean
    January 23 – March 1
    Steep Theatre Company, Chicago Info/tix

    One by one we see into each of her relationships, apparently existing in separate worlds. There’s Dan, the ever-patient husband; Duncan, the dying and irascible father; Roy, the internet date; Denis, the estranged brother; and Abel, the Child Protection Officer. May’s journey through these moments in their lives mirrors her desperate attempt at a future worth living. STRANGERS, BABIES received its US premiere with Shotgun Players in Berkeley, CA in November 2013.

    Linda McLean is one of the most inventive and important Scottish playwrights.  Her work has been commissioned and produced by the Traverse Theater, the National Theater of Scotland and by theatres across the UK and Europe.  Her play ANY GIVEN DAY received its US premiere at the Magic Theater in SF, which will world premiere her play EVERY FIVE MINUTES this coming spring.

    “…curiously compelling…[McLean] excels in an easy realism that offers up full-bodied portraits of people so familiar we might take them for granted, then proceeds to expose unexpected layers of comedy and dark tragedy beneath their surfaces.”  - SF Gate

    pen/man/ship: workshopping a revolutionary new play


    Yesterday we gathered in the Lounge of Hotel Rex, a cozy Hotel Bar in Union Square,  with fresh scripts in hand. Across the title page read “pen/man/ship” by Christina Anderson, November 2013 draft.  This was a new draft of the play commissioned by Magic Theatre after Christina’s residency in 2011.It is a play we have been looking forward to with excitement and anticipation.

    The play takes place in 1896, a few months after the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the Jim Crow “separate but equal” laws as constitutional. Aboard a whaling ship on the Atlantic Ocean, a father and son head for Africa on a mysterious mission with an opinionated young woman. On the open sea, an unexpected detour resurrects family secrets and reveals true intentions, fundamentally changing the course of their journey and their lives forever. We are delighted to celebrate the return of playwright Christina Anderson, “whose work will be transforming America’s Stages for decades to come” (American Theatre Magazine) after her season as Magic’s 2011 Playwright in Residence.

    Christina Anderson‘s plays include: DripHollow RootsBlacktop SkyInked Baby, and Man in Love. Her work has been produced by or developed with Steppenwolf Theater, Playwrights Horizon, Crowded Fire, A.C.T., About Face, The Public Theater, Penumbra and other theaters all over the country. Awards and honors include ASCAP Cole Porter Prize (Yale School of Drama), Schwarzman Legacy Scholarship awarded by Paula Vogel, Susan Smith Blackburn nomination, Lorraine Hansberry Award (American College Theater Festival), Van Lier Playwriting Fellowship (New Dramatists), Wasserstein Prize nomination (Dramatists Guild), Lucille Lortel Fellowship (Brown University), Core Writer (Playwrights’ Center). American Theatre Magazine selected Anderson as one of fifteen up-and-coming artists “whose work will be transforming America’s stages for decades to come.” Born and raised in Kansas City, KS, she obtained her B.A. from Brown University and an M.F.A. from the Yale School of Drama’s Playwriting Program.

    The workshop at Hotel Rex was the second in a series of development workshops that the Magic is producing before the play premieres at Magic in May 2014, directed by Magic Associate Director Ryan Guzzo Purcell. (Find out more  about the production here!) The first workshop was this past October at Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s Black Swan Lab in Ashland, Oregon. The draft we read last night came directly out of that workshop, and will be further shaped for its next workshop at The Minneapolis Playwrights Center in February.

    A round of applause to our sensational cast of local actors, L. Peter Callender, Rotimi Agbabiaka, Brit Frazier and David Moore.


    Ryan Guzzo Purcell, David Moore and Rotimi Agbabiaka

    EXCLUSIVE: Interview with ARLINGTON Composer, Polly Pen


    Interview with ARLINGTON Composer, Polly Pen


    An Interview with Producing Artistic Director Loretta Greco

    and ARLINGTON composer Polly Pen

    LG: I’m so happy to have you here. I have talked nonstop about this to anyone who will listen. I’m so interested in first impulses and this blind date. What was it that made you say “I want to work with Victor Lodato?”

    PP: I had just read his novel, Mathilda Savitch, and I cannot stop reading ever, so I will read everything. And the novel had been recommended to me and immediately, because it was character-driven – not all novels are – but it led from the heart. It was shamelessly heartfelt, and shamelessly comic as well, as people are, and there was something in the blend of his voice, which is both merry and scary; that is how I’ve always thought of it. And it reminded me of me, with a difference. I don’t want to work with somebody who thinks the same way I do. I think the fun of a collaboration is not only that you love things in each other, but you also can fight. And we have, which is great. You grapple with things. And I knew from reading the book. I had no idea that he was a playwright.


    LG: Really? So it wasn’t recommended as “This playwright’s written a novel.”

    PP: No. And I didn’t know that he was a poet as well. But, the other thing I felt, and I can only say, I don’t know how to describe it, but there’s something in me that says “I can set this to music.” This prose. You know, it’s not lyrics.

    LG: When you read the book!

    PP: When I read the book. I said this person has an ear for sound. And many great great writers don’t have it.

    LG: Right it’s the poetry. The rhythm.

    PP: Just the sheer rhythm and the sounds of it felt musical to me. And without that, I can’t write music. I mean, I can; I can sit and I can probably set the phone book to music, and it would be a good exercise, and I may try it some day.


    LG: But you’re saying it just caught you, it excited you, it ignited something.


    PP: Exactly, even without it being in song form, I knew that there were rhythms here and sounds, and a character behind them that felt right to me. And I have to say that I had written a show a while ago that was through-composed, all music, and I said to myself it is the hardest thing in the world to do, and I said I’m never doing that again. And I’ve always loved the texture of spoken to music. And then, the minute I realized this is all going to be music I went “Oh my god,” but in fact, I think you find the great joy is always from something that’s difficult, and I won’t pretend that this has not been hard. It’s been hard, but in the most enjoyable way. Where you go “Oh my god, am I ever going to be able to do this?” And then you go “Oh my god, I just did it!”, and it was easy, and it was fun.


    LG: Well, I’m wondering about the blind date. So you see all of this potential, and you feel yourself being fueled by this writer that you don’t know. So what happened?


    PP: We discovered each other. It was sort of a little smarmy, like being on the web.


    LG: That’s what I mean, what did you do?


    PP:  He said “Okay Polly, you can find my plays and stuff, and poems, and all. Go to New Dramatists; they have all my stuff.” And then I sent him my music. So here we are, on separate coasts, and I’m listening to his plays, and he’s listening to my music, and we start to go “We’re interested in some of the same things. “ And I think the biggest thing is we were both interested in the human heart. And not being afraid of it, and not being afraid to be emotional. But also to understand the reasons why people are cold. I think there are just so many things we had a common interest in. And also I think we both are subversive enough to want to do things differently to want to do things differently. I like working with somebody who’s never done a musical. That excites me. I don’t want to feel that I’m going to need to do some things that…


    LG: Be obligated to do something for the sake of…


    PP: I’m never going to want to do that.


    LG: What happened when you actually started? How did you respond to each others’ work? I’m assuming that the vocabulary originated in writing.


    PP: We wrote each other love letters. And we’re both effusive. I mean, you know, Victor will go on and on; it’s just over the top, it’s wonderful. He is an eloquent and rich writer. I’m a little more terse. I save that for the music, you know?


    LG: Yeah, yeah, there’s a reserve.

    PP: I am more reserved, I think, in certain ways, but it goes into the music.


    LG: What was it like, sitting with him in person for the first time?


    PP: We laughed; we had a jolly jolly time. He came to visit me, and I have a house in the country, and you know, you’re having a guest in your home, and you have no idea, oh my god…


    LG: This could go very well or very badly.


    PP: But it was beautiful. There we were in the country; we were able to take some walks, and we clearly both loved food. This is always a good thing, we had good meals. And we also love to laugh. And also we loved comparing books; we love to talk about things we’ve read, things we appreciate. It was a joy.


    LG: How did you go back and forth with the material?

    PP: What was interesting, and sometimes frustrating, Victor is not as comfortable, I think, on the phone. I’m a phone person. The phone is quick; I like to pick up the phone, and talk, and Victor and I found that we could really do our best work via email. So more measured responses, not as immediate. And it’s a time-sucker, email, especially if you’re a writer, because then you’re very careful on email.


    LG: Because then you’re revising, you’re creating.


    PP: Exactly. But it also may have protected us in some ways. It may have given us a space where we are truly considering what we’re saying. Instead of what happens on the phone sometimes, and then you “Oh my god, I’m sorry I said that. I didn’t mean to say ‘Oh my god, that part you wrote, that was just really horrible.’” You know, you can say those things on the phone sometimes; you don’t mean to. So maybe it was wise, even though it was hard.


    LG: A mindful vocabulary that was being forged.


    PP: Perhaps more respectful in a strange way, and more formal, so that even though we were growing to be friends we were also figuring out how to negotiate. Also it’s tricky because a musical, it’s not just words and music. They become entwined, so that both people are sharing.


    LG: Well, I think that’s what’s so fascinating, especially in this piece in a way. I am very hard-pressed to think of another that is like this. It really is one-of-a-kind. Am I crazy?


    PP: No, you’re not at all.

    LG: I mean, it is such a hybrid!


    PP: It is, in a way. I kind of felt it as – such a hybird. And this is the image. And actually, the guy who plays the lead, Jeff Pew, said “Polly, what was it like to write this?” I have my answer. Here’s my image: I felt like a centaur. The Greek mythological character. Is there a female centaur? There may be. But I felt like a centaur in the sense that I’m at the piano, and half of me is like a horse. My hooves are on the pedals, and they’re pushing. It’s a physical act at the piano. And the top half of me is human, and is a heart, and hands, and a brain. And there’s these two things. As I was composing it, I knew I didn’t want this to be this rarified, artsy kind of thing. I wanted it to be like this is a woman who’s making it up in the spot.


    LG: One moment at a time.


    PP: And if she feels like holding a note a really long time, she’ll do it, and if she doesn’t… and sometimes she’s talking, and sometimes she’s singing, and she’s not even sure which it is, after a while. But there was something about that animal-human image for me, and the sheer act of what you have to do to play. And because it’s largely one character, I would be alone in my music studio late at night, playing, putting on the costume of Sara Jane. You have to be her, to compose this. You can’t not. You can’t do it.


    LG: That’s so funny, because that was my next question. How much of Sara Jane is you?

    PP: I think I’m very different from Sara Jane. But I had to find my own Sara Jane, which will be nothing like what Analisa does, nor would I want it to be. But in order to write it, I had to reach into my gut. That character, there are things that are similar, but there are things that are very different too, and I have to understand her as intimately as possible in order to find what that is. And I can tell when I’m wrong, too. I heard her do some things that I go, “Ah. She knows that for her this word was more important,” Whereas when I wrote it, it was something else.


    LG: The operative was something else.

    PP: I watch those things, that I can address.


    LG: What was First Day like for you? And I’ve already prefaced it with Victor; we heard very little of the music. It was like a skeleton in some ways. But, what were some of the things that were rushing though your head that opening day?


    PP: One kind of jolly thing after another that opening day. I meant what I said, this is one of the most deliciously wonderful first rehearsals. You’re always nervous, and you’re always self-conscious, but there was something about the sense of community in that room. It was kind of terrifying; there were so many people, and all these students. But there was something that just felt like a big hug. And I think everybody felt it. And also, this lovely, clear reading by those two performers. Not trying to feel anything that they’re not ready to. It was just an honest, lovely reading.


    LG: I thought it was so available.

    PP: And I also felt I heard it. I didn’t feel like I was trying to hide, which can happen, I felt like “Gee, I want to be in the audience.”


    LG: You were in the moment.

    PP: Yeah, and I wanted to know what happened next. And I think that’s the best thing to try to… The first day is when I begin to forget that I wrote it, and to practice being in the audience, making it new.


    LG: This is granular, and I’m sure the most boring question, but I’m so curious. So, Victor sends you text and you compose? You send him some composition? How does that ebb and flow?

    PP: For me, because so much of my music comes from my love of words, I do not write music first. I believe, I am inspired by words. That’s how I work.


    LG: You want the narrative. Not that what you’re doing isn’t narrative, but.

    PP: So he would send me a section; we would then discuss it. I would say “I’m not comfortable with this; what do you think about this;” we’d question things. We’d go back and forth. But also sometimes I wasn’t sure of something, and I thought “Let me try it.” That would happen sometimes, Victor would say “Polly, I’m sure of this,” and I would try it and I would go “Gee, he’s right.” And I just hate this, but I have to admit that Victor is, ninety-nine percent of the time, he’s right. I hate to admit it. But there are also times when I think we forget, sometimes you don’t need to say things. Music tells us something. If you say it, you’re doubling it. And I think if we ever did learn some things it was that music can sometimes emotionally take your further, in places where you don’t have to say something.


    LG: So you can say less.


    PP: Right, exactly. So, there are people who do work from, you know, write the music and then the lyric writer will put in the text. It works. I know people who do it, I have students who do it, that’s just not how I feel it.

    LG: How do you perceive moving forward into this place? I love what you said about First Day as being the beginning of trying to have fresh eyes and think as the receiver of this. And that rings true to me in a bunch of different ways. I’m curious how you and your new, very intimate partner, how you’re going to learn and revise. I feel like it’s so specific, and so fragile, so how will you negotiate?

    PP: You have to be brave. You have to be able to, as many people in this business say, have the courage to kill your babies. And I once wrote a thirty-two page song that I was so in love with, in a show, and it was probably my best work. And got into the production, and the singer was amazing, she sang it beautifully. And we had to cut it; we cut it. And I knew we had to. It was too revealing. And it was hard, but you have to be able to, you have to be able to cut off that limb that is sticking out. And I think both Victor and I… You know, it’s funny, when we met here, we had this glorious three days, from being alone, on separate coasts we met for like three days. It was almost embarrassing; it was like a love-fest. And I was so worried, I thought “Oh my god, he’s going to drive me crazy, it’s going to be… help.” And most of the time we just talked about how much we just loved each others’ work. (Laughter) It was embarrassing! But then we also – I think we’re as likely to do that as we are to challenge each other, and I think that that’s what has worked here. We can be hard with each other. I’m much more evil by nature. Poor Victor is a very dear and sensitive soul, and I’m an old character woman. Comedienne.


    LG: (Laughs) I need to send you back; I want to ask you one quick thing. There is one movement in this piece that is entirely non-textual, and yet is packed with emotional information and an emotional exchange. How often have you done something like that, and what was the springboard for it, and did it all come at once?


    PP: It’s a good question. It’s not something I have done a lot of. Just to deal with the piano as an expressive means, and in this case two pianos, who are having a conversation. I had to reach into places in myself that – because I’m used to writing song, with voice.


    LG: And it’s not a song, it’s a scene. It’s a big scene!


    PP: It’s not; it’s scene. And it’s a scene where there’s no literal meaning. It is pure instinct, and some of it is truly – there is a song in the show called “Voracious” – it is voracious in its physicality at the piano. There are places where I have one of the people who’s playing just hits the piano. Most of it is very melodic, and then occasionally he just – you can’t figure out what chord you’re going to play, you just swat at the piano. Because you don’t know what else to do. There are things that I didn’t expect from it. I also could never really hear it, because I can’t play two pianos at the same time, and I didn’t have a convenient way of hearing it. So until I hear what they’re doing, I won’t really know what it’s really like. I mean, I’ll have it. I kind of have it in my ears.


    LG: I have to ask one more thing about this. Was it your most male self at one point, being Jerry, and your most…

    PP: You know, there is a gender thing about it. I mean, gee, do women play the piano differently than men? There’s a lot of talk about that. But it does figure into it. Look at the piano, it’s black and white, it’s contrasts.

    LG: But it’s also these two people trying to define and wrestle.


    PP: And so that goes back to my idea of being a centaur, somebody who’s two different people in a weird way, who’s maybe part animal, who’s fighting, and the other is doing something beautiful, also wants to make something beautiful. So one person wants this world to be glowing, and the other person is in pain. The pleasure/pain principle is what I think makes theatre glow. And that’s what I’m always looking for here.




    Don’t miss ARLINGTON,

    Only 4 performances left!

    You can find tickets at our  box office: (415) 441-8822 

    or online at http://magictheatre.org/


    EXCLUSIVE: Interview with ARLINGTON Playwright, Victor Lodato

    An Interview with Producing Artistic Director Loretta Greco

    and ARLINGTON playwright Victor Lodato


    LG: I’m going to talk to you about your first impulse. I think what’s unusual is the source material, and we don’t have to go into specifics so that people feel like they have a preconceived notion about what this is.

    So. When did the seed of all of this start for you?

    VL: You mean for Sara Jane?

    LG: Yes, for Sara Jane.


    VL: A long time ago.  Arlington and the character of Sara Jane have been with me for a long time, notes in a suitcase and a voice in my head that have travelled with me for years… probably longer than any other character or idea. She’s come back in many incarnations. The story started from a photograph someone gave me of a woman, a soldier’s wife at home. At first I ignored the photo; I’m usually not shopping for ideas from other people, so I didn’t like the idea that someone else had gotten me started on it. “Wouldn’t this be a good idea for a play?” this person had said to me, and I was like…

    LG: (laughing) No!

    VL: Exactly! Because I like to think that I make everything up myself, that it all comes from me. So I put the photo away but then took it out again – I think during the Gulf War – and wrote a ten-minute version of Sara Jane’s story. (I just knew her name was Sara Jane.) Later, during conflicts in Iraq, Sara Jane came to mind again, and I wrote a full-length play that Magic, at the time, had gotten NEA funds to support. Did you know that?

    LG: I didn’t know that!

    VL: So I wrote a full-length version, which then had a reading here, that Arwen Anderson…

    LG: I didn’t know this!

    VL: Arwen did the reading here!

    LG: I didn’t know this! This is the first time… the reading that I saw that Marin Ireland did, that was commissioned by the Magic?

    VL: I don’t know if it was technically commissioned. It was… I guess there’s an NEA grant for theatres to commission new work? Is there?

    LG: Maybe, at that point.

    VL: Anyway, so I got some money from the Magic to write it, and they never actually produced it but they did the reading. So, a full-length version was written. And then, Polly will tell you more about this; Polly was the one who brought us together because she contacted me, knowing my novel not my playwriting work. But then I had her look at this play of mine, with Sara Jane in it, and she was really drawn to it. It was a really exciting collaboration because my first impulse in writing was as a poet, so working with music allowed me to refine and reduce the text to something much more spare, muscular, and essential.

    VL: Sara Jane’s voice was very alive in my head. I didn’t question it. I wouldn’t call myself a deeply intellectual writer; it’s totally intuitive. I don’t like to think about story too much while I’m writing because, whatever comes up, I want to feel like I’m the first audience. I’ve written one novel, and it was the same thing for me: there’s a point half way through the novel when you realize “Oh shit, everything that we thought is wrong; the character has been lying to us.”

    LG: Those unreliable narrators.

    VL: Exactly. But the funny thing is that she was lying to me, too, while I was writing. Once I understood what was really going on with the character and the story, I thought, well, I could go back to the beginning and clarify, or I could allow the novel to keep that sense of the unknown that I had while writing. I try to do that in all my plays, as well. My plays usually have a series of revelations, and it’s because that’s how I work, discovering things as I follow the characters’ voices. I want to preserve that sense of discovery for the audience. In some ways, the drama onstage becomes a recapitulation of the writing process. That’s why theatre is so exciting to me after writing fiction for a while. One could say that the medium of fiction is memory, while the medium of theatre is fate. There’s a sense, especially in Arlington, of watching someone who’s figuring out her life in this very moment, while she’s talking to us. She’s getting to things, or thinking about things, or saying things that she’s never said out loud before, saying them for the first time in front of these strangers. It’s dangerous, exciting.

    LG: It’s so perfectly attuned to the acting process, right, because you’re always looking for what’s the moment, what’s the first, and it’s a whole sequence of firsts.

    VL: Right, right.

    LG: I’m curious about this blind date between you and Polly. When she sat down with me and said “I’ve worked with somebody I’ve never worked with before,” I wasn’t expecting her to say Victor Lodato. And when she did, I thought, that is the most absurd and the most perfect pairing. What was it like the first time you guys sat in a room together? What was the blind date like? Did you have a first impression? Do you remember your first impression?

    VL: Well, you know we worked for a while electronically before we actually met.

     LG: Before you sat in a room together.

    VL: We were introduced to each others’ work by a producer. I had, of course, heard of Polly’s work, but then I listened to more of it. She checked out my plays, including the one on which I based Arlington. She loved the source material – and then I wrote the whole book and lyrics before we were actually in a room together. And then, many months later, I met her in New York.

    LG: So everything before that was electronic? All email?

    VL: Electronic, and we talked on the phone a bit. And then, as I said, we had lunch in New York. (I live in Arizona and Oregon.) The first time I saw Polly, she didn’t look at all like I thought she was going to look. It’s this weird thing because her music has such a strong effect on me that, still, every time I see her, it’s like “Oh!” She’s smaller than I think she should be. There’s so much power in her work that I always forget that she’s – well, sort of diminutive.

    LG: While being so fierce.

    VL: Exactly. I always expect her to take up more space in a room.

    LG: This is your first musical. This is the first time that you and Polly have collaborated. Did you set out some guidelines as to what the process would be like, or what the give and take would be? How did you know how to actually proceed, sharing that act of creation, which is so personal, with this newfound colleague?

    VL: For a first-time collaboration it was kind of effortless. We didn’t really set up any ground rules. I think I said I had some feelings about how to distill the source material into something, so I just went for it. And then I wrote something that I think Polly really responded to it. It was interesting because there were a few places where I constructed things maybe too much in a traditional lyric sense, and some of that stayed and worked really well, but Polly encouraged me to go for a little more plain-speak at times. She’s so wonderful at building music that can be amazingly beautiful, with wonderful melodic structure, but that still feels like speech. I was a little suspicious at the beginning because there’s a lot of humor in my play on which this musical is based, and I thought “Oh God, it’s going to become so pious with music.” But actually, it’s funnier. This is a character I’ve been writing for a long time, and I feel like now, with Polly, this is the best version of her.

    LG: There’s something quintessentially musical about Sara Jane.

    VL: Sara Jane has really found her voice here. Not just because she’s singing. The character hovers about naturalism – the whole world of the piece does – and with music the emotional journey just crystalized.

    LG: It heightens it in just the right way. I know what you’re saying. But I also think, in many composers’ hands, it would have done the opposite, and become very sacred and pious.

     VL: If there was a more traditional kind of Broadway show sound to this, it would have been completely wrong. But what I love about the music, and working with Polly, is that we share the creation of Sara Jane, because the music isn’t simply decoration. The music, the piano, the melodies, are one with the character. The music is her mind, her heart. It’s very intimate. The music is her very soul. Sara Jane’s pulse and neuroses and joy and the quicksilver nature of her mind: it’s all there in the music.

    LG: You know, I love what you said about your novel, about being a good portion of the way in and then making an authentic discovery that your narrator wasn’t as reliable as you thought he was. Did you have any discovery like that in the course of this process, where suddenly Sara Jane revealed herself?

    VL: Oh, yeah, I honestly felt like I never knew what Sara Jane was going to say next. It’s like child’s play, writing. It’s really like putting on a voice and pretending that you’re this other person. It’s a kind of insanity. You sit in a room, and you just don’t know what you’re going to say next. I never map it out. Later, of course, I go back and clean it up; I clean up the structure. But for as long as possible, I try to just say “I don’t know” and let the character’s voice guide me. One of my favorite Polish poets, Wislawa Szymborska, when she won the Nobel Prize, said that the three most important words for any artist or writer are “I don’t know.” And for me, that’s not just for any writer but for any human. The humility and the excitement of just not knowing. I always try to remember that you can say, when someone asks you a question, “I don’t know.” To give yourself that freedom, that sense that you are still learning the language of your own heart. There’s so much in that “I don’t know.” Opinions can be prisons. I don’t want to always have an opinion; I want to be, to understand. That’s why writing is so liberating for me. Not to be New Age-y about it, or imply that it’s a spiritual exercise, but for me it’s really a profound experience, to spend so much time in the minds and hearts of other people. It’s a very civilizing thing, to practice embodying “the other.” Living inside another person without judging them. Sara Jane’s a person who is very compassionate, but for a liberal audience she might have views that people might perceive as quite racist, or quite Republican, and when I’m in there, inside her, I totally understand how she arrived there. That’s what you hope we can all get to, as humans.

    LG: It’s like Jerry as well. It’s easy to make somebody the criminal; it’s black and white. But life isn’t black and white. Not in an interesting light, anyway.

    VL: We were talking about a song today, and I said sort of jokingly that in this song what we have to find is where racism meets compassion. Sara Jane is trying to understand these foreigners, and at the same time she’s being racist. It’s all mixed up in the same moment. There’s a lot of things about the play that I only understand at a very emotional, gut level, because there’s a lot of tangled stuff in this piece. And not only for this character. You, Loretta, talk about this season at Magic being the American season, and there’s a lot of tangled history that we all need to face as a country. I wouldn’t call Arlington an issue play, because it’s really about this one woman in this particular situation, but, at some level, it addresses larger issues that we do have do deal with as a country.

    LG: But politics are personal.

    VL: And she’s not a political person, Sara Jane.

    LG: No, and I would say, and neither are you. I would also say though, the beauty of this is you didn’t sit down with a manifesto and say “now I’m going to write a play about it,” you know. There’s so much mystery in the play, so much discovery in the play. And it’s a beautiful thing I think, because, unlike you, I enter things as an audience member, and I think about how are they going to experience it, and the moment to moment wrestling with truths and new things that are revealed, it’s quite beautiful the personal conundrum. And then the larger piece, the larger questions can reveal themselves.

    I’m curious what it was like to listen to the first day, if you have adjective to describe the first day of rehearsal, sitting in that room with Polly and Analisa and Jeffery. What was going through your head, listening to the whole of it?

    VL: I’m always terrified, first day of rehearsal. I feel really vulnerable. And of course, with Arlington, it’s impossible to separate the words from the music – and when the piece was simply read the first day, I felt really naked. I kept wanting to say “It’s a lot better with music!” When Analisa and Jeff sang, it was such a relief! The piece came alive. Our two actors are extraordinary. It almost doesn’t make sense for Sara Jane to be speaking these things; she has to sing. And the singing is not simply like she’s singing a song; the singing comes from another psychic space. It just makes more sense when it’s sung, emotional sense. Also, sitting there on the first day of rehearsal, I thought “Wow, what kind, generous people. This is the world in which I want to work.”

    LG: Safe, hopefully. Safe, rigorous place for you.

    VL: Safe, yes, and inspiring.

    LG: I’ve got one last question. It’s interesting, I always love this moment, because I know solo work is hard; it’s hard writing. And then suddenly you bring your baby in there with twenty new collaborators, with the whole team. My question is really about the rigor of the process of what happens once you’re in the rehearsal hall and with these new collaborators. In this way, primarily Analisa and Jeffery and Jackson. As you make discoveries and you want to make revisions, how different is this? Suddenly, you have a partner. Like you said, you felt naked without Polly. What is the lens like in looking at the next passage of work on this with Polly, because it is different from going back to your room and saying a little less of this, I want to elaborate here, or a new discovery hit, here’s a new monologue. What is it like having a partner to experience and view and bounce discoveries off of? In a regular process, it would just be you saying I want to go back and investigate this. How are you and Polly checking in with each other and thinking about this next passage of work?

     VL: Well, I think we’re still in the process. You should probably check in with us again, because we’re still discovering things. I don’t know yet exactly what this is going to be. What’s interesting is that, even though, like I said, this character’s become one thing, words and music, Polly and I have been in our separate arenas. And now we’re really going to see, in the flesh, how those two things meet in a room, in someone else’s body. So I’ll be learning, perhaps, what isn’t necessary, where Polly and I might have overstepped some things. Now that it’s in bodies outside of us, in Analisa’s and Jeff’s bodies, and we can watch the drama unfold, we may see that certain things are clear and that we don’t need to reiterate them. What I’m interested in now is just being able to step back from it, maybe be a little bit more of an audience member, so that I can just fine-tune the language and the emotional journey. What I’m curious about is how exactly to calibrate the dramatic arc, how to hold that tension musically. There’s still some things that Polly and I disagree on a little bit, so I know we’re both waiting to see how it plays out, to see who’s going to win that wrestling match. For instance, in rehearsal, Jeff noticed that there were some differences between the score and the script, because Analisa was reading the script and Jeff was reading the score, and Polly said “Well, some of those may be errors, and some of them might be subversive.” So now I’m thinking, “Okay, did Polly change some things?” She’s very faithful; she always tells me. But occasionally she’ll drop a little line here, and she’ll say “Oh, did I forget to put that in the score?” (Laughter) But, really, we’re usually on the same page. It’s kind of scary, actually, how much we agree about things. That being said, I tend to be a detail-oriented person, so when Polly sent me .mp3s throughout the writing process, even when I loved the music, I still always had lots of notes. So she’s used to getting really long emails from me with lots of suggestions. We’ve worked through so much together that now I don’t think we’ll be wrestling that much. We’ve done a lot of wrestling already (Laughter). Now, the stakes are much higher, and we have to work as a team. And to be really rigorous. Maybe there are a few darlings that we will need to kill.

    LG: Babies that you need to kill off.

    VL: Yeah, but I think we’re in good shape. It’s just, there’s that big unknown: I don’t know how this piece lives in space, and it’s still new to me how musical storytelling works. And having Jeffery at the piano, singing with Analisa, I don’t know just yet how to make that relationship work. This isn’t a very good answer to your question.

    LG: No, it’s a really good answer. Because this is such an interesting… you know, I anticipate that I’m going to check back in before you leave the first time, and I’m going to check back in when you’re seeing it visually, because then Jackson is going to provide a whole, you know, what does the visual staging teach you? And I loved what you said about music providing so much subtext that sometimes you have to sculpt in print. It’s like, what do learn, does that also begin to add in interesting ways? So I think this is going to be like a Part I, and then we’ll keep talking. But for the program, it’s fascinating because it’s such a hybrid, and listening to you, the way that the story is being told, to say it’s a musical doesn’t quite serve it either. There’s something so special about it. I mean that.

     VL: Let’s call it a musical so that people buy tickets, though. People like singing.

    LG: Right, right, we won’t say an opera, we won’t say a sung-through…yes.

    VL: A musical theatre experiment. I keep quoting that line from David Lynch’s Eraserhead, when someone says of the newborn baby: “We’re still not sure it is a baby!” We’re still not sure it is a musical. But our team is so fantastic, I really feel it’s going to be amazing.



    There is one more week of ARLINGTON left! Don’t miss it!


    box office: (415) 441-8822 

    see you at the theatre!  xo


    ARLINGTON goes to Laney!

    On Saturday, we took Arlington to Laney College for a special free performance! It was a great turn out, thank you to the Oakland community for joining hands with Magic for another great Laney show! 



    In addition to many college students, we were thrilled to welcome so many community members into the theatre!




    It was so interesting to see Arlington performed on Laney College’s proscenium stage


    After the show, three of Laney’s fabulous theater students facilitated a talkback with the actors! They did a fantastic job. Thank you Laney College!!!


    Welcoming Laney Artists to the Magic Table

    The Next Generation of

    Theater Artists:


    The Students of Laney College



    [The History of Our Relationship]

    The idea for the series came about in 2010 when people filled the Laney Theatre to see Magic’s free performance of Tarell Alvin Mc Craney’s The Brothers Size. “We knew we were on to something and wanted to share more,” said Loretta Greco, Magic Theatre’s Producing Artistic Director. “It was such a big hit and an incredibly rich experience for everyone involved that we decided it was something we should continue. We are thrilled to be working in collaboration with Laney College Theater Arts Department and Oakland Community Producer, Awele Makeba, to present this full season of Magic plays. Last year we had some of the most fruitful dialogue from our Oakland audiences and we look forward to more.”


    Michael Torres, Chair of the Laney College Theater Department, said, “Bringing the Magic to Oakland is just that – magic. The magical power of storytelling and how it informs an audience can actually aid in the healing of a community. Oakland is not often exposed to quality professional theatre. We believe our partnership with Magic Theatre will do just that.”


    Read more about Michael Torres here: http://oldweb.peralta.edu/marketing/1_stories_07/laney_mtorres.html


    Community Producer for the Magic Oakland series  is Awele Makeba, an award winning, internationally recognized recording artist, storyteller, educator and community activist.

    She was instrumental in the success of Magic’s Oakland performance of McCraney’s The Brothers Size.

    “Our hope is to bring quality professional theatre to Oakland that can transform Laney College Theater into a cultural center for community engagement. This is a good start,” Awele said.

    Learn more about Awele Makeba’s work at http://www.awele.com/

    [Where We Are Now]

    After sitting alongside Laney theater students at our legacy revival of Buried Child,  both at Magic and at the Laney Campus, we are thrilled to include the students at Laney in our upcoming four world premieres.


    Laney Students getting ready to see the Opening Night performance of Buried Child

    [Our First day of Arlington, with Laney!]




    It was a special treat to have the theater students at Laney present for our first day of Arlington rehearsal.  It was the first time in Magic history that we’ve had anyone outside of the creative team and Magic staff in the first day rehearsal room, and once the Laney students arrived you could feel the energy skyrocket. It is exhilarating to have so many young artists present as we launch the premiere rehearsal of a brand new play. You can feel it: these young people are going to change the world.

    The next day we couldn’t have been more thrilled to receive these reflections from the students:

    “Honestly, the fact that I was chosen to be in the room listening to their first reading was an honor for me. I felt nervous but at the same time I was excited; I guess I was nervously-excited ! When we were listening to the preview of the first couple pages, I was immediately drawn to how different it was, I guess mainly because it’s kinda opera-y. Something tells me this is gonna be a hit, & I really CANNOT WAIT to see it !”


    14“Being in that room a lot of things became clear for me. As an actor I felt the responsibility of being that portal between fiction and reality and letting go of emotional boundaries in order to make that connection possible. As a writer I was extremely encouraged and realized that I need to let my ideas develop and that fiction should be reflective and not critical. As a person I learned that I need to nourish my obsessions and persevere with my trade because creating is what is most fulfilling. It just takes time and honesty. And I have great respect for magic theater and for the opportunity to take a peek into my potential future.”



    Analisa Leaming and Jeff Pew, who together make up the cast of Arlington,
    perform the very first read through of the play

    “As an aspiring actor it was amazing to be in the environment they created. To watch them manifest a vision, and live in that reality; it was amazing!”


    “I’m interested in the dynamic between Sara Jane and the pianist and how that will get to play out both with the music and the interaction.  And the mix of singing and speaking is really exciting.”



    Eric Flatmo presented his set design for the production


    And Antonia Gunnarson presented her costume design


    [How Students At Laney

     Are Involved In

    The Coming Season]

    This year we have started a special program with Laney to incorporate them into our process making a piece of theater, from the page to the stage.

    1. They have joined us for our First Day of Rehearsal

    2. And have since been studying the play with a script analysis class on Mondays from 3pm to 6pm with Professor Michael Torres. As the Magic season continues, the playwright of each Magic show along with a member of the creative team will go visit Laney students at their campus, answer questions about the play’s development and help them with their analysis of the script. 

    Yesterday, we brought Arlington playwright, Victor Lodato, to Laney College’s script analysis class to talk about the play and answer their questions. They have been studying Arlington this semester with Professor Torres and had some remarkable things to say.


       12                Everyone had so many questions and insights about the play, sparking some truly a terrific conversation!


    Michael Torres reads from a selection of essays that the Laney students wrote about Arlington .




    3. Laney students are also invited to the Tuesday tech rehearsal for the production where they will witness the play being made ready for audiences and gain a great deal from observing the creative team and designers during this final stage of production preparation. 

    4. Laney students will have 10 to 15 seats reserved for opening night of the production where they will join our esteemed guests, press, family and friends as we celebrate the play coming to fruition. They are all invited to stay and break bread with us during the after party.

    5. Laney students will also come to the closing performance of the play and join in our celebratory potluck to follow!

    6. The program culminates in the free performance at Laney College itself where the students get to see the stripped down version of the play and gain an understanding of its growth over the course of the run. They will have the opportunity to analyze the differences between the elements of the production on our stage with all the bells and whistles versus on theirs without many props or scenic elements. Additionally, 2 students who have participated in the process from start to finish will be given the opportunity to help moderate the post-show discussion with the actors, sharing their experience with the play as it developed and adding to the conversation with the audience.


    The audience waiting to enter the Laney Theater for Magic’s Oakland 2010 performance of The Brothers Size.



    The 2013-2014 season of 

    Magic Theatre at Laney College 


    Buried Child

    Saturday, September 28, 2013 @ 2:30pm 


    Saturday, November 30, 2013 @ 2:30pm 


    Saturday, February 15, 2014 @ 2:30pm 

    Every Five Minutes

    Saturday, April 19, 2013 @ 2:30pm 


    Saturday, June 7, 2014 @ 2:30pm


    We would love to see you at these performances! Spread the word to  your East Bay friends and join us at Laney. This is an exciting opportunity to four world premieres for free! 

    photo-9       Odell-Johnson-script-used-for-laney-college-sign

    More: http://magictheatre.org/about/oakland