Monica Bauer’s award-winning My Occasion of Sin opens in previews this Friday at NYC’s Urban Stages. This off-Broadway production – which as already been extended(!) – represents the most recent leg of an adventure we have followed here. Tickets are available through SmartTix; Dramatists Guild members can use the discount code DRAMAP for $15 tickets during previews, and DRAMA1 for $24 tickets during the March 23-April 15 run.
And, of course, this kind of event means I had to torture Monica with some questions. Thanks for being a sport during such a busy time, Monica, and congratulations!
KAM: You’ve been working hard for this moment in your playwriting life – your Off-Broadway debut – for a long time, toiling in the off-off and Fringe worlds. What’s been the most exciting part about preparing for the Urban Stages production of My Occasion of Sin so far?
MEB: Casting is so crucial. It helps when there is agreement in the room, when the callbacks are over and decisions have to be made. I’ve been very lucky here, in that my director, Frances Hill, and my producer, Peter Napolitano, have agreed with me on every role. The day the cast is announced to the press is a special day; it’s the official kick-off to the production. So when the press release went out, I was able to see it go up on Broadway World and TheaterMania, and see the announcement of our cast and creative team bounce around the interwebs, and around various Facebook pages as actors announced to their friends, that was a moment when I really felt that we were on our way, on a good journey.
And, for the first time, my actors and designers are getting paid real money! Not Broadway money, but real money. In off-off Broadway, actors work literally for subway fare, and the creative team often gets a big $100 per person. When you can offer talented folks at least something close to what they deserve, it’s terribly exciting.
And, speaking of money and excitement, I am getting paid, too. It’s not much, but I am so used to getting nothing at all, that this seems like a huge step up.
KAM: My Occasion of Sin had its world premiere in 2011 at Omaha’s Shelterbelt Theatre. I’m always interested in the ways scripts evolve over time. Has the script been put to bed since that production, or is there always some degree of tweaking going on?
MEB: It’s a tremendous vote of confidence when an off-Broadway theater takes your work without asking for major changes. The artistic director was impressed with the journey of My Occasion of Sin, where I’d had so many opportunities to develop the script at Nebraska Rep. Theater, Penguin Rep., the Great Plains Theater Conference, the full non-professional production at Shelterbelt, and the work I did with Beth Henley at the Sewanee Writer’s Conference: all those steps made her more confident taking my play “as is.”
That said, I am always interested in making a good script better, because my goal is to make it great. After the first table read with the cast, I noticed there were still a couple of beats missing in a scene close to the play’s climax, and I needed to raise the stakes very specifically and provide motivation for characters that was not yet present in the script. After discussing this with my director, who agreed with my observations, I added two pages to that scene.
Also, some times you take out a section during revisions and find you miss it! That happened with a scene between Helen and George early in the play, and after discussing this with the director, I put back almost an entire page that had been cut.
Now we are at the stage where I need to do minor changes to accommodate things like this particular set, or particular props. These are often just a change of a single word here and there, but these changes help the designers and the actors.
KAM: This is obviously an incredible moment for you professionally, but I always think about these achievements as accomplishments for the people behind the artist too – the ones who contribute to our health/well-being/sanity, etc., so that we can continue doing the things we do, year after year, through thick and thin. How’s your family?
MEB: I’ve been self-producing off-off Broadway since I finished the BU program in 2005. It’s the only way to see your work on its feet early in your career, and I believe strongly that the best way to learn how to write plays is to see what works and what doesn’t work, in front of an actual paying audience. But this has been tough on the family budget, especially since I have not been working (other than writing) full-time since 2002.
Although some playwrights are able to juggle a full-time job with their writing, I found I could not do it. I’m middle-aged, and when I was trying to juggle all of it I ruined my health. So I went from being a full-time professor to an adjunct professor nine years ago, and without the support of my husband Neil, I would not have been able to do this. Not every playwright is lucky enough to have this level of spousal support.
However, after nearly six years of spending money on self-production, something had to give. Last year, we made an agreement which meant I had to stop self-producing my work. My only hope would be getting real theaters to produce my plays. After reading the book Outrageous Fortune, I became convinced that I would never get produced by a real theater company, because I am:
A) too old
B) not a graduate of Julliard, Brown, or Yale
C) not interested in writing what the non-profits are shopping for these days
So, to stay married but continue writing, I decided I’d write novels! Lots of adjunct English professors write novels. You don’t need to spend ten grand to find out if the novel works! Almost immediately after I wrote my first novel (which has been rejected by 22 agents in a row), I heard from Urban Stages about a staged reading of a script I had forgotten that I had sent them.
My husband is thrilled that my work is now being recognized with an off-Broadway production. He gets it, that this increases the chances I will get other productions of this play, and of other plays. It is not a guarantee that I will start making money as a playwright, but the possibility now exists. He’s also seen My Occasion of Sin produced, and seen the effect it has on audiences. He’s my biggest fan, but he’s also happy we won’t be continually going into debt so I can see my work on stage.
Work and home life is always a dance, isn’t it? Those of us lucky enough to have partners have to figure out how this goes, and there’s no blueprint out there. We all do what we have to do.
KAM: What is your current state of mind?
MEB: I cling to these truisms:
A) No matter where you are in your development as an artist, there is always somebody not as good as you are, and somebody who is better. Best to focus on the work itself, not my ranking in the Playwright Universe.
B) Success, whether large or small, does not ever mean an end to problems. It just leads to a better set of problems.
C) I get by with a little help from my friends. These are the folks who are with you when the reviews come out. We may write alone in our rooms, but we need each other to make plays, and to survive life in the theater. I try to help other playwrights, and am very grateful when they help me.
KAM: What else are you working on, and what is next for you? What is Monica Bauer’s next act?
MEB: I’m very excited to be taking a play to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this August! We are raising money (look for an Indiegogo page soon!) for this by doing an evening of my short plays at Urban Stages during a dark night in the run of My Occasion of Sin. On Monday, April 2nd, at 7 pm, we are doing an evening titled Monica’s Shorts. Lots of actors and directors will be involved, putting up staged readings of ten of my short plays. No tickets, just show up and pay what you can. And there will be a fundraising raffle, too!
We’ll do plays that have been in the Boston Theater Marathon, my Heideman Finalist play Answering which has just been published by Heuer, and lots of others. I don’t expect folks from Boston to troop down on a Monday night, but alert your New York City peeps! This and other events will end up on my Web site, www.monicabauer.com.
The play we’re taking to Edinburgh is my gay marriage/Alzheimer’s disease play, Made for Each Other. It was very successful at the Planet Connections Theater Festivity in 2010, and I have since revised the ending completely! Made for Each Other was just accepted at the East to Edinburgh Festival at the 59E59 theater, another off-Broadway venue. Four performances this July, a tune-up before we fly to Scotland.
In Massachusetts news, Image Theater is doing my very latest ten minute play, House Broken, to be performed March 30th and 31st up in Lowell for their Festival of Women Playwrights. And my early play, The Diet Monologues, published by JAC, is getting produced by the Medway Players in April. And I finished a brand new full-length play called Porter’s Will, and sent it to Kate Snodgrass. Hint…hint…