Award winning playwright, producer and Mistress-of-all-Trades Micheline Auger sits down with us to talk about Write Out Front: A Playwright Happening, the Off-Broadway transfer of her new play Donkey Punch and how you can be a part of all of it.
This month you and over one hundred twenty five other playwrights will sit in the big window at the Drama Bookshop in Times Square and with laptops plugged into a giant monitor, publicly display their process to passers by. Tell me a little bit about Write Out Front: A Playwright Happening. What was the genesis of this project? Great idea, or greatest idea?
I had heard about the Chashama window project where artists can apply for unused storefront window space to exhibit their work and since theater artists are always looking for free or affordable space to work in this was particularly interesting to me. I started thinking about what I would want to do there and as the idea was chrystallizing, I was going to the Drama Book Shop and saw their amazing window and decided to go in and pitch the idea to them and they were game. I am also very inspired by how artists work and their workspaces, performance art, community, and the belief that art and the creative instinct can and does save and redeem lives in small and large ways every day.
Sitting in front of that giant window can be intimidating. Have you had any playwrights or passersby react to it unexpectedly? What’s the craziest synergy you’ve seen at the window?
The other day Roland Tec was writing in the window and captured the attention of a young man who ended up staying at the window for over an hour, maybe two. Roland started writing at the man and the man reacted, participated (looking around to see what Roland was describing) laughed, gave him a thumbs up and was completely enthralled. It was a show in and of itself. A couple times actors who have come to Drama Book Shop to buy a play, came out, started reading the play that was being written and started acting it out. Many people have come by and asked how to participate. Some people have brought the playwrights food and candy. A homeless woman said she was going to come Saturday and write which I thought was cool and she seemed super happy about it. On the first day, a man was reading and watching for a while and I started talking to him. He was a writer who started writing in prison and just got out and was still writing and finishing his book. He talked about the difficulty of transitioning from the inside to the outside “normal” life. The one thing that was continuous was his writing and he was very inspired by Write Out Front. That’s what I love about the arts and writers and putting this process on display; it encourages engagement not isolation, and underscores that anyone can do it. You hold the power as the creator. You can do it anywhere and you don’t need permission or a lot of money. It’s always in your hands and no one can take it away from you.
As producer of Write Out Front you wear many hats. You have played publicist, mentor, match-maker, hostess and for one unlucky playwright who shall remain nameless, (okay, me) 24 hour computer tech-support. Many producers endure all manner of unpredictable circumstances because they are invested in a product. The return-on-investment is pretty measurable. What’s the return-on-investment for a community event like WOF?
The personal return on investment is that it feels good. No matter what is going on in my day, when I’m at the bookstore with the writers it always makes me happy. They show up raring to go. I mean you can feel their engines running. They just want to get going, and the Drama Book Shop and I love giving them a space to write and support them in this way. The writers always get a lot done in the window because they feel accountable, that they matter and they have the luxury of no distractions from home. I also get to meet a lot of people. I know maybe half of the writers going in, so the rest I get to meet and I love that everyone is from different backgrounds, different ages, do a lot of different things but we all connect around the simple and not so simple act of writing. Write Out Front also supports new work as over 125 different new plays are worked on and will continue to be worked on and developed and produced; it builds community in that playwrights that didn’t know each other, get to know each other as they meet in the window before and after their writing session and take pictures and post them on social media.It also supports the Drama Book Shop by celebrating the creative meeting place that it is and that it’s one of the few remaining independently and locally owned bookstores that offers more to its customers than a point and click shopping experience, devoid of any human interaction. The people that work at the Drama Book Shop are amazing and I get to eavesdrop on their conversations on occasion and they are extremely knowledgeable, generous, supportive, talented and a heck of a lot of fun to be around.
I want to talk a little bit about your writing now. As a playwright you’ve been produced at the festival level, at the regional level and recently with the transfer of Donkey Punch to Soho Playhouse, Off-Broadway as well. Did you always want to be a Playwright? How did you find playwriting? Or maybe a better way of asking the question is how did playwriting find you?
I always wrote but never thought I was a writer, or creative, for that matter. I wished I was. I did lots of creative things like play the piano, dance, acting class, choir etc (not a great drawer though!) but just had a different picture of what a creative person was like, I guess. When I was a kid I wanted to be an actor or anything I saw on TV – tennis player, lawyer, doctor – but really an actor – so after a million years in college, I decided when I got out to pursue what I really wanted so I started studying improv, acting and interning at Propoganda Films thinking that exploring producing would give me more creative control. I moved to NYC to study acting and then started writing a solo show called POOP – A TRUE STORY about my experience being hired as an art object in a NYC Gallery. I loved the experience of writing it more than acting in it so wrote it into a play that was done in the NY Fringe and won an audience Favorite Award. From then on I was pretty hooked but needed to develop confidence, craft and an understanding of who I am and what I care about. Playwriting definitely found me and I’m very grateful for it and the journey that I took to get here.
Rising Phoenix described The Untitled Degradation Play as “Girl wants boy. Girl gets boy. Girl turns into a pig.” Your play Girlfriend Repair was set in a world where women were literally replaced sex robots. Likewise, Donkey Punch, explores Feminists and Feminism through sexual objectification. These Hagelian pairings are, to say the least, unexpected. Does the framework precede the theme, vice versa or do you just have an instinct for juxtaposition? What’s the process? What moves you to write about these things?
Untitled Degradation Play was my response to trying to read 50 Shades of Crap, I mean Grey and the media response to it. Girlfriend Repair was influenced by She Comes First: the Thinking Man’s Guide to Pleasuring a Woman by sexologist Ian Kerner. Donkey Punch was in response to the Elliot Spitzer Affair and it’s media coverage, reading Female Chauvenist Pigs by Ariel Levy and conversations and experiences shared with me at that time. It’s the way I process the world and dialogue with it and I find it deeply fulfilling as others join the conversation by participating in the play from the director, the actors, the creative team to the audience.
This fall I have two plays in development. One is called Carson City about a punk rock family and the two kids that are trying to save it (along with a questionable messenger from God); and the other is taking Untitled Degradation Play to the next cray-cray-town level. You can following me on Twitter (@michelineauger) and my website http://www.michelineauger.com, follow Theaterspeak (@writeoutfront) and Theaterspeak Facebook for more Write Out Front events and interviews.
Interview by Timothy Huang