Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Who Is Neil LaBute?

Neil LaBute was born in Detroit, MI, on March 19, 1963. When LaBute was a child, his family moved to Spokane, WA, and during his high school days in the Pacific Northwest he developed an interest in both writing and theater. After graduating from high school, LaBute received a scholarship from Brigham Young University, a college in Provo, UT, which was founded and is still overseen by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. LaBute received a degree in Theater and Film at B.Y.U., and converted to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints while a student. LaBute went on to do graduate work at the University of Kansas and New York University, and participated in a writing workshop at London's Royal Court Theatre, as well as attending the Sundance Institute's Playwright's Lab at N.Y.U. 

LaBute first began writing and staging original plays while studying at Brigham Young, and in 1993 he returned to B.Y.U. to premier his drama, In the Company of Men, a startling and controversial tale of two businessmen who conspire to emotionally destroy a receptionist at their firm. In 1997, LaBute decided to adapt In the Company of Men for the screen, and on a budget of only 25,000 dollars, shot the film in two weeks in and around Fort Wayne, IN, with a friend from his college days, Aaron Eckhart, who played Chad, one of the businessmen. In the Company of Men was accepted at the 1997 Sundance Film Festival, and to LaBute's surprise, it won the Filmmaker's Trophy as Best Dramatic Feature; the film was picked up for national distribution, and went on to gross 2.9 million dollars. 

LaBute next wrote and directed Your Friends & Neighbors, an examination of the sexual and emotional failings and frailties of three couples; it was also based on one of LaBute's earlier plays, entitled Lepers. Shot on a relatively lavish five-million-dollar budget, Your Friends & Neighbors received solid reviews and confirmed his status as an exciting new talent in filmmaking. LaBute was also one of several new filmmakers chronicled in the documentary Independent's Day. In 2000, LaBute refocused his attentions to the stage with Bash: Latterday Plays, a collection of three short plays. Bash, starring Calista Flockhart and Paul Rudd, proved to be a hot ticket in its New York off-Broadway run, and a performance of the play was taped for later broadcast on the Showtime premium cable network. Incidentally, because of the subject matter of Bash, LaBute was disfellowshiped from the church and has since left it for good. That same year, LaBute released his third feature film, which was also his first film which he did not write -- Nurse Betty, a dark but sweet comedy about a slightly touched woman chasing her dreams after the murder of her husband, while being followed by the gunmen who did in her spouse. Nurse Betty proved LaBute could work with a lighter touch, and became a respectable box-office success. LaBute's next project, Possession (2002), was another departure for him, in that it focused mainly on romance and elements of period drama. After that, he returned to the themes of his earlier films, writing and directing The Shape of Things (2003), which he had originated as a play in London. In perhaps his most substantial departure to date, LaBute confounded fans and critics by taking a stab at the horror genre by serving as writer and director of the 2006 remake, The Wicker Man. Though many of LaBute's previous efforts could well have been considered horror films in the sense that they portrayed man as the ultimate emotional monster, The Wicker Man marked the first time the director had entered the genre proper. 

In 2013 LaBute made a film version of Some Girl(s) that went to Sundance and into limited release. It featured Adam Brody, Kristen Bell, Zoe Kazan, Mia Maestro, Jennifer Morrison, and Emily Watson. 

LaBute's works are often tinged with misogyny and misanthropy and are populated with terrible characters. They're often hard to watch because people say horribly cruel things to each other, but most of his works fall into the category of dark comedy. His works are always well written with sharp dialogue and a kinda of nasty poetry. Like David Mamet, LaBute's plays are just crammed full of language and repartee and really challenge the audience to pay attention or risk missing something.

Listening to LaBute talk about his work is always interesting. Some interviews that are telling:

Love him or hate him, Neil LaBute at the very least always provokes a reaction and always inspires people to think and talk about his works. 

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Setting the 2nd Stage: An Interview With Jeffrey Lo

Since the 2nd Stages series is designed a an opportunity for Bay Area artists to explore personal projects and grow as theatre producers, we will be asking each producer to answer a couple of questions about their production and their growth. To kick it off, here's what producer/director Jeffrey Lo had to say about his 2nd Stages project, Some Girl(s) by Neil LaBute.

1. With 2nd Stages you had the opportunity to select any work you wanted. What drew you to Some Girl(s)

Some Girl(s) is a play I've wanted to direct for years. Since college, really. I'm also a playwright and being discovering this play really opened my eyes to ways that contemporary stories and relationships can be told on stage. I was really drawn to how minimal and real the dialogue felt. It felt like I was spying on four pairs of exes trying to navigate what their lives have become since they were together and that really excited me.

2. How did you first encounter Some Girl(s)

 I can't remember why I decided to pick Some Girl(s) up but I do know that I got it at the Langson Library back at UC Irvine. That library has a wonderful collection of plays and before Winter break I went over to pick up every play I could find by Neil LaBute, Tracy Letts and Stephen Adly Gurguis. At the time I wasn't familiar with any of them but a professor of mine who read my writing recommended I take a look at those three and see how it would effect my writing. The first thing I read that winter was Some GIrl(s). I honestly think it was because I liked the cover of the book. Lucky for me a great script was sitting between the covers.

3. They say that half of being a good director is good casting. Have you found this to be true with Some Girl(s)

Absolutely. My day job is as the casting assistant at TheatreWorks so I have a deep knowledge of how important casting a show is. If you cast the show wrong, there is only so much a director can do. Theatre is a collaborative form of storytelling and, in the end, you need the right actors to carry out your vision. We have an absolutely phenomenal cast for Some Girl(s). Each of our women capture these unique characters in really nuanced and heartbreaking ways and Evan is doing a great job playing our Everyman. By nature of the play, Guy is going to be a challenging role. He is meeting up with four women who - he acknowledges - he's hurt in some way. You have to work really hard to keep him as charming as possible. We have to know why these women fell so hard for him or else we lose the audience right away.

4. With this off your bucket list, are there other shows that you’d love to direct in the future? 

My two favorite plays are Julia Cho's The Language Archive and Chekhov's Uncle Vanya. I've worked on The Language Archive in different roles a number of times and will be the dramaturg for the City Lights production coming in May but I can't wait to get my directorial hands on that beautiful poem of a play. I think I'm at least a decade away from being ready to touch Uncle Vanya but hopefully there's a point in my career where I can do that play and do it right. The lonely, frustrated and good hearted Vanya is a character that has always stuck with me and one of these days I'll get the opportunity to explore him.

5. What advice would you give aspiring young playwrights or directors? 

Keep learning. It's easy, as a director or a writer, to feel like you have to know everything but don't fall into that trap. So much goes into putting on a production that no one will ever see but taking on all of these duties will help you realize how special and humbling our work is. There is something to learn from every person and every opportunity coming your way. Make sure you are open and ready to catch them as they come.

Monday, March 3, 2014

The Importance of 2nd Stages

Jason Collins and Michael Sam have been in the news lately, not because they're great athletes, which they are, but because they've recently come out as gay. This got me to thinking about the play, Take Me Out, which will run in our 2nd Stages series later this summer, and that got me to thinking about why I'm personally so excited about this new effort by Dragon Productions Theatre.

This new series will give local theatre makers the opportunity to fully produce their passion projects with the support of an established theatre company.  Making dreams a reality by sharing our experience and support – that’s the purpose of the 2nd Stages series. 

Meredith Hagedorn, Founder and Executive Artistic director has this to say about 2nd Stages:

“I founded Dragon Productions as an actress wanting to create more theatre opportunities. I had performed on many stages across the country, but I didn’t know the first thing about producing theatre when I began. I did, however, know my passion projects, and I was determined to make my dreams come true. This series is for those artists, who, like me, want to see their passion theatre project come to life, but who might not have the opportunity, the money, or the know-how to make it happen. If we can give others the same opportunities then I’ll feel as if all our hard work has really been worthwhile.  What good is a dream if you can’t share it with others? That is all I want to do with Dragon’s 2nd Stages program.”

For me, though, 2nd Stages is an opportunity to tell a different set of stories. Stories that, for whatever reason, aren't a good fit with Dragon's Main Season. Stories that might be a little more controversial, a little more difficult to watch, or new works that are still growing. Stories that some local artist feels incredibly strongly about and hasn't been able to produce it elsewhere. 

For the inaugural season we’ve chosen the following four productions for the 2nd Stages series at Dragon Productions: 
Some Girl(s)
 by Neil LaBute

produced and directed by Jeffrey Lo

March 7 - March 16, 2014

Picture this: you’re an up and coming writer with a blossoming career and a beautiful fiancée who loves you dearly. What would you do in this situation? In this dark comedy by Neil LaBute (In the Company of Men, The Shape of Things) you’d have a life crisis and go on a cross-country tour to visit your ex-girlfriends. LaBute’s play is a portrait of an artist who steps back to look at past mistakes—and figure out what to do with the scars that still linger.

Kim says: This show excites me because LaBute is a challenging, nasty man. The show is incredibly funny in a "I can't believe s/he just SAID that" kind of way. It's also an excellent showcase for some very talented actors, with meaty parts for a group of women. 

The Birthday Party 
by Harold Pinter

produced and directed by Jenny Hollingworth
June 6 - June 15, 2014

Highly controversial when it opened in 1958 and now considered a classic, The Birthday Party is one of Pinter’s least subtle plays. Set in a seaside boarding house, it is part black comedy and part whodunit, with the central action literally happening in the dark. Like all great literature, it asks timeless questions: How can we be sure that anyone is who he says he is? Is it ever possible to pin down the truth of the past? And can we ever escape our deepest fears?

Kim says: The Birthday Party is one of those plays I was familiar with but had never read. I've never been a huge Pinter fan (sorry Pinterites), but I tore through the script in one sitting because it was such a compelling read. I can't wait to see this story play out on stage. 

Take Me Out
 by Richard Greenberg

produced by Dale Albright
July 11 - July 20, 2014

Darren has it all. He’s one of the biggest baseball stars on the planet. Millions of adoring fans. Endorsements. And then he decides to come out of the closet. This winner of the 2003 Tony Award for Best New Play and Pulitzer Prize finalist tackles homophobia and racism amidst America’s most traditional pastime.

Kim says: I was so excited when I heard Dragon was going to produce this. There are a number of technical challenges to doing this show, but the script is so incredibly powerful. It's kind of depressing to realize that this show opened in 2003 and 11 years later is still very relevant to current events. 

Arc:hive presents: A Moment (Un)Bound: Or, The Unreal Past

an original new work produced by Lessa Bouchard

September 19 - September 28, 2014

A new work exploring the tension between what we hold onto and what we let go of: how do we know which is which? The emerging whimsical text and themes are inspired by the notes and clippings left behind in the books donated to Friends of the Library in Palo Alto. More details about the team building this production and workshop performances can be found online at

Kim says: Lessa, Susie, and Evan premiered a few minutes of this piece at Dragon's Sneak Peek in 2013 and I was just fascinated. It's part theatre, part performance art, embraces technology, and is entirely whimsical. I've been enjoying watching the evolution of this piece and can't wait to see the "finished" product later this year. 

That's why *I* am excited about 2nd Stages. How about you? Got anything on the above list that you're excited to come see? If you're an aspiring producer, we'll have information sometime mid-2014 about applying for 2nd Stages 2015 so keep posted for more details on how to get YOUR passion project produced! 

--Kim Wadycki, Managing Director