Logistical Challenges, Creative Surprises, and the Human Condition

Editor’s Note: This is the third in a series of interviews with creative decision makers and artistic directors at all of Tucson’s theatres as we look forward to the 2019-2020 season.

Exploring the human condition with Winding Road Theater Ensemble’s co-artistic director Maria Caprile.

by Leigh Moyer
Winding Road Logo

Winding Road Theater Ensemble aims to produce plays that are entertaining but outside of the box, and always speak to the human condition. The way co-artistic director of Winding Road Maria Caprile says “the human condition”, it sounds like an illness. Not one we need to get over, but one that we all share, and one that we can manage better by experiencing it together. This season at Winding Road explores life’s harder decisions, funny moments, challenges, morals, coping with loss, family dinners, and simply surviving.

This season is comprised of three mainstage productions plus the return of Eight 10s in Tucson, Winding Road’s short play festival, and three Winding Reads staged readings.

Caprile, along with co-artistic director Glen Coffman, doesn’t have a list of possible plays they want to produce in a particular season, but they do have stacks (and stacks) of plays waiting for the right time or the right cast. Sometimes everything falls perfectly into place, like with The Little Foxes. The first show of the season, opening Labor Day weekend in the Scoundrel & Scamp theater, it was too exciting an opportunity to pass up. Getting the rights to a Tony award-winning play, the chance for Coffman to direct a play he’s wanted to direct for a long time, and having the space to fully stage the production was more than reason enough to add it as the season opener. In addition to artistic direction, directing, and acting, Caprile is an extremely talented costume designer. “I’m doing the period costuming, which is always a fun challenge,” she added with excitement.

Like The Little Foxes, often they choose shows they’ve wanted to do for a while, but just as often, they’ll see something new and want to do it immediately, or think a play needs a revival in Tucson. Some of these plays get into this season, some next, some never. In her second season as co-artistic director, Caprile has gotten to know Winding Road, and, as a result, which scripts are in the spirit of Winding Road and which plays, even good plays, don’t fit the theater’s personality.

The Fantasticks

Kelly Coates, Tony Caprile, Elena Lucia Quach, Jerry James and Damian Garcia in The Fantasticks. Photo courtesy of Winding Road Theatre.

“I like those plays where the audience can look over your shoulder and into the play,” Caprile explained. “I like to blur those lines between play and audience.”
They also choose plays that not only are suitable for their ensemble cast, but that help them grow or give them opportunities they might not easily find elsewhere. Caprile explained that they have an obligation to the ensemble, as well as to talented people with whom Winding Road wants to work, so they look at a script and ask, “Do we have something for this actor or a directing opportunity for someone interested in getting into that?”. They are a community working together to bring interesting and thought-provoking theatre to Tucson and to encourage and teach newer talent skills that will help them succeed down their own winding road.

Nowhere is this more evident than in Eight 10s in Tucson. Modeled off Santa Cruz Actors’ Theater’s 8 Tens festival, Eight 10s in Tucson gives playwrights and aspiring playwrights the chance to have their story cast, directed, and brought to life on stage. It is also the chance for actors to try new roles and untested directors to wet their feet. After a huge response last year, this year, Winding Road is only accepting scripts during the month of August 2019, and only until they reach 300 total. From there, a team of volunteer readers and the artistic team at Winding Road pare down the applicants to the best and most Winding-Road-esque scripts until they’ve chosen the eight best short pieces of never-before-seen theatre to present to Tucson audiences.

Eight 10s

Morgan Smith and Maggie Geertsen in Eight 10s in Tucson. Photo courtesy of Winding Road Theatre.

And if producing eighty minutes of brand-new theatre in ten minute snapshots isn’t logistically challenging enough, this season Winding Road is all over the map. Not so much in theme — Caprile described this season as well-rounded, perhaps with an emphasis on family if you were looking for a particular connective thread — but literally. They don’t have a home stage, giving them the opportunity to put on shows not just downtown, but all over Tucson, and not just on traditional stages. “Angels Fall is a play about disparate people who all end up in a little chapel so we’re doing it in a little chapel,” Caprile explained, sounding equal parts thrilled and daunted by the challenge. “We have the chapel, but a chapel is not a theatre, so we’ll just have to figure out how to do it. It’s exciting. Those creative surprises are part of the joy of theatre. And you make it work.”

This isn’t the only production staged to challenge the director. Caprile is directing The Big Meal. Without giving too much away, this is the story of how a couple meet, simply enough, at a restaurant. It is told, however, by an ensemble of actors playing the five generations of one family it takes to tell their story. Caprile is keeping all the actors on stage. In the round. There might be a bit of madness in artistic genius.

If she had to choose one show that audiences not miss, it isn’t the trip to the chapel or the family dinner the actors aren’t excused from (not to say those aren’t well worth seeing, obviously); rather, the one she felt we all need to see is a staged reading of The Women of Lockerbie as part of the Winding Read series. Shown in the style of a Greek tragedy, this play revisits the explosion of PanAm 103 over Lockerbie in 1988. “That was so long ago and so much has happened, is this going to resonate?” Caprile said, wondering if it would be a good fit for modern audiences. “But it isn’t about the incident. It is about grief. And how this keeps happening. And how we deal with it. You can’t just ignore it. It isn’t about PanAm 103, it’s about public grief.”

In this day and age, and maybe in every age, grief is one part of the human condition that we need each other more than any other to understand, process, and, with time, overcome.

Tickets are available at WindingRoadTheater.org, $28.00 for mainstage productions (discounts may apply) and $15.00 for Winding Reads. Or you can purchase one of four season combination packages ranging from $35.00 to $125.00. Winding Road’s Box Office can be reached via email at windingroadte@gmail.com or by calling (520) 401-3626. The whole season is listed online and below.

Winding Road Theater’s 2019 – 2020 Season:

The Little Foxes by Lillian Hellman
August 29 – September 15, 2019
An American classic first staged at the National Theatre in New York. Directed by the Ensemble’s Co-Artistic Director Glen Coffman, this morality drama about corruption and greed within a wealthy, early 20th century Southern family has been revived more than half a dozen times on Broadway since its premiere in 1939.

The Big Meal by Dan LeFranc
December 5 – December 22, 2019
A hilarious, expansive tale that traverses five generations of an ordinary modern family in 90 minutes. Written by Dan LeFranc, The Big Meal won the 2010 New York Times Outstanding Playwright Award and received a 2012 Lucille Lortel Award nomination for Outstanding Play. This production is directed by Co-Artistic Director Maria Caprile.

Angels Fall by Lanford Wilson
February 13 – March 1, 2020
Set in a remote part of New Mexico, six people find themselves in a small mission church, brought together by the closing of a highway due to a possible accident at a nearby nuclear facility. Brightly humorous and deeply affecting, Angels Fall becomes a parable of vocation and survival which, in exploring the lives of its characters, illuminates the human condition. This production is directed by Molly Lyons.

Eight 10s in Tucson
April 16 – April 26, 2020
Winding Road presents the second annual Eight 10s in Tucson 10-minute play festival. Eight scripts, submitted by playwrights from around the country, selected and combined to make for a unique evening of entertainment – full of comedy, drama and everything in between. “…it’s a reminder of the prodigious playwriting talent out there, the accomplished actors and directors we have here, and it exposes Tucsonans to new and exciting works.” (Kathy Allen, Arizona Daily Star)

Winding Reads:

The Wrong People Have Money by Reed McColm
Popular York University professor Martin Delancey is challenged by a wealthy consortium of investors to conduct a serious study into the feasibility of an “impossible” endeavor. The funniest play ever written about moving Greenland South.

Christmas Break by Monica Bauer
When daughter Lilly comes home from college with newfound passion, the McNally family has a big decision to make: invest in Lilly’s scheme to end world hunger or pay for life saving treatment for the family pet. Add a teenaged son and a retired monk and you’ve got all the ingredients needed for a Christmas to remember.

The Women of Lockerbie by Deborah Brevoort
A grieving mother from New Jersey roams the hills of Lockerbie, Scotland, looking for her son, lost in the crash of Pan Am 103. Loosely inspired by a true story and written in the structure of a Greek tragedy, it is a poetic drama about the triumph of love over hate.

Parity or Better, but Usually Better

Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series of interviews with creative decision makers and artistic directors at all of Tucson’s theatres as we look forward to the 2019-2020 season. 

Coffee, representation on the stage, and really good plays with Something Something Theatre Company’s founding artistic director Joan O’Dwyer and founding director Whitney Morton Woodcock.

by Leigh Moyer

Something Something LogoSomething Something Theatre brands itself as theatre by women for everyone. Their mission is “Parity or better,” founding Director Whitney Morton Woodcock explained over coffee. “So fifty percent or better, but we usually have more than fifty percent of our season written by female playwrights.”

This mindset started with their first season – not as a fluke, but also not exactly on purpose – driven instead by feminism and the realization that there was a lot of good work that was too often overlooked. It started when three fierce women, Joan O’Dwyer, Whitney Morton Woodcock, and Esther Almazán, saw a gap in the Tucson theatre community that became their niche. “There are just so many plays written by women, and women are really finding their voice right now. And they’re young women and they’re brilliant,” Joan O’Dwyer gushed, “And they’re not just writing about homely things, they’re writing about war and injustices to women and women in different countries and their experiences which nobody has ever heard before and I just love that.”

I have to say, I agree with her. But that doesn’t make doing theatre by women easy. While it was a woman who was the most-produced playwright in the United States in the 2017-2018 season and second most-produced in 2018-2019, this is a distinctly modern phenomenon. (That playwright is Lauren Gunderson, playwright of Something Something’s first production of the season, The Revolutionists.) Historical restrictions limited women’s opportunities to write and kept women’s work from the stage for a long time, which means staging women’s plays now is often a choice to focus on contemporary work rather than well-known classics. It doesn’t faze the women of Something Something, but producing a significant amount of new or unknown writers is a risk. Women may be finding their voice now and using it to tell amazing stories, but we have ground to make up.

But boy, are we. O’Dwyer and Morton Woodcock are faced with the best kind of problem when selecting plays: there are almost too many great plays by women. Selecting the next (and next, and next) season is a process of narrowing down the choices, and then amending that list as new plays are written and produced. And if they do a play by someone of the male persuasion? “Well,” Joan quipped, “if the play is written by a man, it has to be a really good play. They have to work five times as hard if they want to get in– for half as much pay!”

Oh, how the tables have turned. And while it is important to the Something Something artistic team to have representation, like all theatres, the point isn’t that the play was written by a woman, but rather that the play is meaningful, inspiring, challenging, or simply entertaining. (The point, I would add, is that women playwrights are writing great theatre prolifically, not in isolated cases of genius.)

Morton Woodcock explains, “It is more about the story and how we think the audience will feel. What it comes down to is that it is a good story and there are good roles. And liking the characters. Like in The Aliens, those guys are so… they’re so incompetent sometimes, but they’re also so funny. They are likable.”

“They’re sexist,” O’Dwyer interrupted.

This didn’t slow Morton Woodcock down for a beat, “But likable.” And so goes theatre. So goes storytelling. You don’t always want to be friends with the characters in a good show. She continued, “We pick plays about humans, humans who should be represented on the stage, but also humans who are flawed. We choose scripts that address those flaws, call out the bad behavior, but sometimes you just have to let the characters be the characters. I wouldn’t do a play that portrayed someone who was really horrible in a positive light and of course we aren’t going to do plays that endorse problematic people.”

“You have to feel empathy for these people,” O’Dwyer added. “But it is going to have to be handled delicately.” That is, after all, what good theatre is: showing people new perspectives and challenging them to reflect and take new perspectives out of the theater and into the real world. A lot of characters are morally gray.

While some plays this season present characters that force the audience to consider a new view point, others take on issues that are often overlooked or downplayed in a male dominated culture, like the decision to become a mother, go back to work, breastfeed in public, or seek help for postpartum depression. Cry It Out focuses on women connected by the experience of new motherhood and the challenges that come with it, something that struck close to home for Morton Woodcock as a new mother. She is also the director of Cry It Out and can relate to the women. “It isn’t sexy or fun to discuss,” she admitted, “Like, maternity leave, ohhh. But it has to be discussed. They talk in the play about how people judge the choices you make, about deciding to have a baby at all. Everyone, other moms included, has an opinion and everyone feels like they are right and if you do it differently, you are a monster. I cried when I read the script.”

I asked both if they had a show they were most excited about. Without hesitation O’Dwyer answered, “I’m really excited about Cry It Out. It has something we don’t often see on stage: new mothers and they are all different.” Cry It Out goes beyond the stereotypes of never getting enough sleep or complaining about changing diapers.

Woodcock Morton also has a favorite: “The one I think is important for people to see it Martie’s play Transformations. This topic, the concept of transgender and gender fluidity, is something that has been growing in the public eye in terms of celebrities and media and people talking about it more but a lot of people still don’t understand. Martie is not giving a lecture or sharing what can be googled; she is sharing people. She is funny and it is well written and she gives each character she plays their own persona that you can relate to. I’m not sure that people realize that representation matters. The types of stories you see, the types of characters you see, impacts your world view. We consume stories to explain our lives, or who we are, but it also normalizes new or different perspectives.”

The 2019-2020 season, Something Something’s fifth, brings five plays, all written by women, to the stage. And Joan has a point, they aren’t just writing about homely things, they are writing about revolution, being human, pride and pain, motherhood, and even boys being boys.

This season is a lot about people you think you know, but are presented in a different way that makes you question yourself and those notions. Confront what you think you know at Something Something Theatre. The season is listed online and below. You can become a season ticket holder now and catch all five performances for $75.00 or purchase single tickets for $25.00 each by calling their box office at (520) 468-6111.

Something Something 2019-2020

Something Something Theatre’s 2019 – 2020 Season:

The Revolutionists by Lauren Gunderson
September 12 – 29, 2019
Set during the height of the French Revolution, four women – a playwright, an assassin, a spy and an empress – bond to tell the story of their turbulent times for future generations. It’s a comedy. Guillotines may be involved. 

TransFormations by Martie van der Voort
October 31 – November 17, 2019
Local actor and playwright van der Voort performs all twelve transgender characters, their close relatives and significant others at a group therapy session. TransFormations’ has been performed to acclaim in Tucson and in cities around the nation, but this will be its first full run!

Apples in Winter by Jennifer Fawcett
November 27 – December 15, 2019
We are with a woman baking a small pie in a kitchen not her own. The room is bare, institutional. There are no chairs, and a knife is attached to the work table with a wire.  This is the story of a mother’s deepest love and most grievous pain.

Cry It Out by Molly Smith Metzler
February 13 – March 1, 2020
Metzler’s sympathetic yet brutally honest play brings characters to the stage not normally seen. Three women, diverse in all ways… except hat they have all recently given birth and are coping with everything that comes with being the main caretaker. Funny and uniquely insightful, written by a young mother.

The Aliens by Annie Baker
March 26 – April 12, 2020
Something Something Theatre produced Body Awareness, another of Baker’s ‘Shirley, Vermont plays’ in our second season. Dramatists Play Service describes The Aliens so darn well that we’re simply forced to run their synopsis here: “Two angry young men sit behind a Vermont coffee shop and discuss music and Bukowski. When a lonely high-school student arrives on the scene, they decide to teach him everything they know. A play with music.” – Dramatists Play Service