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Ilkhom Playwriting Workshop + Readings of ARCHIPELAGO & WORSE THAN TIGERS

May 20, 2014

Playwriting Workshop

As part of my residency at the Ilkhom Theatre of Mark Weil in Tashkent, I offered a workshop on Playwriting in the 21st century as well as Playwriting in the U.S..  I prepared to talk about many things, and then the evening before realized that, “What I want to talk to people about might now be what they want to learn about.”  I prepped my thoughts, put them into a presentation on my laptop, figuring photos would help cross the language barrier, and knew that tomorrow when I sat down with the Ilkhom’s students and community that I would let them ask me questions and if any of their questions and my prepared ideas crossed, then we could have an interesting conversation AND visual aids.


As Irina (our host at the Ilkhom and translator!) and I greeted the audience of 20 or so people, I told them a bit about myself and my work as a playwright and with WordBRIDGE.  I then opened the floor up to questions:

“Where do you get your ideas for plays?”

This was a long-winded answer that I’d rather not recount here, but suffice it to say that the answer touched on three of my favorite playwriting tools and inspirations:

 John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme,

John Coltrane's score for "A Love Supreme."

John Coltrane’s score for “A Love Supreme.”

Gustav Klimt’s use of molecular structures in his paintings,


And The Price is Right (the Bob Barker years), from which I adopted the structure for a play.



And after that, we talked for the next 90 minutes about writing, life, and how we turn our writing into work for others to interpret.


Some of the questions included:

“What to do if your writing doesn’t get the response you desire?”

-Keep writing.  The only way to know what different responses you can get is to keep writing and getting different responses.

“Do you have a special diet when you write?”

-Anything quick.  If I take time to cook, I stop thinking.  If I write all night I must continue to eat or I cannot keep working.

“Do you ever try out your stories on the people you know, creating conflict to bring into your work?”

-That’s tough.  With my early plays there’s definitely things that were drawn from conflicts I was acting out, but I learned pretty quick that creating conflict to put in my writing was a good way to lose my friends.

“Do we even need scripts, or fixed scripts, can’t actors or ensembles work without them?

-Sure they can work without a script, in many cases very well, but I’d like to think that there’s still some artists that would like to create within a structure and engage with some shared ideas, because if these artists aren’t out there, then I’ve got nowhere for my art to go; so I try and write differently each time to keep myself on my toes and hopefully collaborators trying new ideas right alongside me.

The audience asked good questions, personal questions that probed my routines, my ideas, and my relationships, as well as my work.  I can only hope that a few of those in attendance discovered an idea or two in what I was saying.

I’m also very grateful to Irina for bravely translating my crazy ideas, looking at me with a cocked eyebrow when I became to ephemeral or specific in my jargon.  Somehow I love thinking this way, figuring out clear, direct ways to discuss elusive, nuanced concepts.

So now that my workshop was over, I jumped back into the final tech hours before the presentation of Dance on Bones.

The Festival of American Culture Part II (Improvisations of Archipelago and Worse Than Tigers)

The Reading of Dance on Bones was bookended by the presentations of two other new plays by playwrights from the U.S.: Caridad Svich’s Archipelago and Mark Chrisler’s Worse Than Tigers.  As discussed in my previous post (and Gavin of the Seagull Project points out on their blog), these presentations do not resemble readings in the U.S. any way other than the actors have scripts in hand.  For this particular trio of plays the decision was made to present Archipelago in Russian, Worse Than Tigers in Russian and English, and Dance On Bones in English.

The improvisation of Archipelago was helmed by Boris, Ilkhom’s Artistic Director, and featured two actors that are part of the Ilkhom’s company.  As with all of the improvisations the design focused on one major theatrical accent, in this case a dusty, plexiglass wall that separated the space (and that the actors could draw on).

Photo from Improvisation of Caridad Svich's Archipelago.  Photo by Ilkhom Theatre.

Photo from Improvisation of Caridad Svich’s Archipelago. Photo by Ilkhom Theatre.

This was an intense presentation from the actors, punctuated by gravely rock ‘n roll and video projections of revolutions, battles, and departure announcements for distant lands.  The actors played these nuanced scenes off of each other finding their moments of connection and disconnection during their brief moments together.  I read the script before seeing the reading in Russian, but I also enjoyed the distance another language put on this play, no less poetic but my moments of investment lay solely with the actors finding their moments of investment and not on my understanding of their words over-riding the connection these actors found with this text and Svich’s ideas.

A few nights later, we saw the reading of Mark Chrisler’s Worse Than Tigers presented bi-lingually between American and Uzbek actors from the Ilkhom’s company.  Tyler (one of the directors of Dance On Bones) was featured in this reading as the uber-American-macho-cop, performing his role in English, while our upper-class couple performed their roles in Russian (stage directions were also divided bi-lingually).  This dynamic added an interesting outsider-invader/insider feel to the already potent script about the empty lives of the top 1%.

It really is remarkable what these artists (director, actors, designers) are able to accomplish and pull out of a script in such a short period of time.  This also wouldn’t be possible without the work of John Freedman connecting the Ilkhom to American playwrights.

The third improvisation featured was Dance On Bones, which I will get to in the next post…I hope it’s worth the wait.

Travel Tip Bonus

During dinner break on tech day, Rebecca and I caught a cab from the Shodlik Palace Hotel to Cafe Shashara, a restaurant recommended by the woman at the front desk.  The 5-minute ride cost 5000 SOM (about $2) and when the driver turned off the main street onto a dirt road we wondered where we were headed.


As the driver stopped at the gate, we began our descent by the waterfall and realized two things: 1.  This was a beautiful, cool outdoor restaurant 2.  This was a restaurant that would probably be very expensive to the locals (it felt a bit touristy) and would not be serving the more down-home cuisine.


The waiters didn’t speak much (any) English, but with my few words of Russian (and photos on the menu) we ordered an elegant dinner of Lagman (soup), Bread, Pickle Salad, Lamb Kabobs (from the ribs), and Sarbast beer.  The lamb was so tender, I can’t remember ever having better.  The dinner and atmosphere was lovely, with waiters in crisp shirts and bow ties running entrees from the kitchen to the tables, but the bill for two was about $45, extravagant for an evening in Tashkent (where we regularly ate very well for around $5 per person), but in our minds well worth it for the experience.  Our waiter called us a taxi back to the Shodlik and a few minutes later we were back at the hotel and I’m back in tech, but this would not be our last visit to Shashara.

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