17-year-old twins Nicole (Stuyvesant honor student / control freak) and Natasha (rebellious artist / actual freak) precariously co-exist. Then Natasha jumps from their roof. Can Nicole find a place in a world where her identity and her heart are torn in half?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Not to leave you all hanging...

A quick note: This is my second shot at this blog post, since my computer graciously lied to me about saving my previous draft. If the writing quality is rather terrible, that is why.

I believe that life is like a novel, and every event or period in one's life is like a chapter. Chapters can be as long or as frequent as one wishes, but there comes a time when a chapter must end. It's the only way another one can begin.
This is that time in our novels for 22 Stories. As disappointing as it is, and as much as I hate to see this happen to every show I fall in love with and take part in, that's theater. That's how theater remains contemporary and relevant. New shows have to replace the old ones, and people have to find new projects. I myself am swept up in the frenzy of school and the college application process, and as a result, my hair is even more patchy and uneven. (To any admissions officer who might be reading this post, hello!) The stage manager, director, producer and cast are all doing quite well with their lives, and as a whole, eyes are cast toward the future. Which is precisely what this blog is about. It's a way to put a frame on 22 Stories and clear the wall for more memories.

The response to the show was overwhelmingly positive. I almost feel guilty saying this. I don't telling other people about feedback I have received. I don't like receiving feedback in general, except when the feedback comes with the intent to help me improve my work. I refused to read any reviews that came my way, and when I did have to glance at some of them to forward some publicity quotes, I was ashamed of myself. It even feels strange talking about them on this post. But I will say this: the only thing better than reading a positive comment about your work is having lots of people give them in person.

That being said, I was somewhat disappointed with the turnout. This is another thing that I feel horrible for saying. There was a decent number of seats filled at every show, and the people who did come were very enthusiastic in their reactions. Besides, filling a house is a matter full of extraneous variables, such as hurricanes (ahem) and the fact that few people actually go to see plays out of interest alone. When I go to the theater, I go to support or accompany my friends, or because a show is pretty well known to begin with. But other shows fared excellently. Urinetown got discovered due to the Fringe. I guess I was expecting too much.

The life of a playwright is a hard one, and setbacks and disappointments are going to be the norm. Yet 22 Stories has affirmed one thing for me: I love writing plays, and I want to write plays for a living. (We all can have our dreams, right?) So I am going to write more plays, and send them more places. Yet getting them produced will be a hassle, and getting people to show up will be even more a hassle. Yet next time, the novelty of a 17-year-old playwright will be gone, and I will have to do much more on my own. It's all quite intimidating, if you want to know the truth.

I guess all I can do now at this point is write. Write and develop a thick skin. Which, is exactly what I am going to do now.

Sofia Johnson

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Our Team!

Here's a shot of the 22 STORIES cast and crew.  Starting at the upper left and moving counter-clockwise:  Rachel Murdy (MOM / PRINCIPAL), Lauren Marcus (MADDIE), Frank Williams (DARIUS), Alexandra Jennings (NICOLE), Anna Foss Wilson (our Director), Sofia Johnson (our Playwright), and  Juliette Monaco (NATASHA).

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Good Reviews!

Hurricane Irene closed our show prematurely, but you can still share our pride in Sofia, Anna, Alexandra, Juliette, Rachel, Lauren, and Frank.  Just follow these links.

This review from Backstage was a Critic's Pick:  http://www.backstage.com/bso/reviews-ny-theatre-off-off-broadway/22-stories-1005322782.story.

This review comes from nytheatre.comhttp://www.nytheatre.com/showpage.aspx?s=22st12903.

Here is an interview with Sofia:  http://www.high5review.org/2011/08/09/fringehigh-sofia-johnson/.

This blog features Sofia:  http://girlsinthehall.blogspot.com/.

And here's a review from Theatre Is Easyhttp://www.theasy.com/Reviews/FringeFestival/2011/22stories.php.

Friday, August 12, 2011

A Picture's Worth A Thousand Words

Natasha, if a bed was an essence.
 Since as we all know, I can't describe everything that happens in the (insert adjective here) process that is rehearsal, I decided to post some photos to give you a better idea. Of course, since the show opens today, you guys are all going to see the set and such sooner or later, but here's a heads up of what you are (hopefully) going to see.
Nicole, if a bed was an essence.

In the beginning

These rehearsals can get pretty long and tumultuous.

Hope this piques your interest.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Nitpicking and Stress and Magic

This is the time where things start to get complete. And stressful. This is the time when the run-throughs start, and you start to get outside notes. This is the time where  all the props and costumes show themselves. (Kudos to Jane Kelley for making, among other things, these amazing lunchboxes.) It's supposed to be a time of magic, where everything comes together, and all of the great parts of the play show their colors. They do. Unfortunately, so do the sub-par ones.

There are many parts of the play that work out absolutely magnificently. The very end of the play always makes my heat skip a beat, and Natasha's unrestrained rage in the middle is beautiful. Watching Darius and Maddie converse on the side meanwhile, continues to make me smile. Gotta love friends. Gotta love emotion.

The  thing is though, the best scenes are also the hardest to act, simply because they require so much emotion. The actors are so very enthusiastic already though, and it's hard to bring yourself to such an extreme point once, let alone repeatedly through rehearsals and six shows. Such a thing needs to be completely genuine in order to work. (Secret to great theater: drive your actors crazy.)

Direction certainly helps. Ideally, direction provides actors the  tools and guidelines they need to get themselves to that point. This is especially essential in a play like this, where (apparently) understanding a single character is a group activity.
Let me put it out there that I am very possessive of 22 Stories. It's a natural side effect of my writing process. In order for me to finish something, I have to thoroughly  immerse myself in its world and know all the characters like family. And while I try to be open for interpretation/etc, I know my pet peeve in staging: when people switch around sequences of events. This happens because this happens because this happens and on and on and on. If that gets scrambled, I get sour, no matter how much I may love you. Heads up to whoever works with me in the future.

Which is why talk between the playwright and the director is a Certified Good Thing. It's crucial that the two are on the same page for a play to make sense What's more, they are a lot of the time without realizing it. It helped a load for me to get to sit down and talk with Anna. I felt more at ease, and I got to see the rehearsal process through a different light altogether. People, your director has a really hard job. Treat her/him nicely. These talks also need to happen early, and frequently. Like cancer tests, so any  problems are dealt with before they can get worse.

This doesn't mean, however, that these talks solve everything,. During the most recent run-through, there were still plenty  of issues, as spectators so wonderfully pointed  out. While it was good  to have some of my views backed up, it was also time for me to follow my own advice and get lost in the play. While the directions help, and actor loses her/his soul if he/she spends too much time paying attention to what the director wants, the role is going to look stale. We've all seen performances like this. Good theater comes from within, regardless of all the  nitpicky details. If the director pays attention to the details, he/she becomes a dictator. If a playwright does such, If I only focus on what's wrong, I forget to appreciate the play as a whole, and how far we've come.

This doesn't mean I can't make my voice heard, however. It is my play, after all. It just means that I have to pick and choose my battles. (Addendum: IT WORKED.) We do, after all, open in less than a weeks.

Speaking of which, have you bought your tickets yet? If not, you should! I can assure you, you're in for a great piece of theater.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

A Perfect Script?

Oh, the joys of rewriting.

It's a common proverb among writers of any genre that any written work needs to be rewritten over and over and over. I am no stranger to such proverbs, as 22 Stories was merely a (very long) piece of short prose. It took me almost a year to write, and was too long for most competitions or teen publications. So it sat in the back of the ethereal fibers of the interweb until someone came up with the idea that I should turn a previously-written short story into a play for the 2011 NYC International Fringe Festival. A perfect match. Eight straight hours at a Starbucks on 43rd and 8th in Midtown and a lots of coffee later, the conversion was practically done, and with some minor revisions, 22 Stories was mailed at the last possible minute.

Even before I was emailed about the Fringe, though, I was rewriting. I wanted to submit 22 Stories to the Estrogenius Festival at the Manhattan Theater Source, a place where I've worked since... 2004? They're looking to show 10-minute plays, and 22 Stories stood at over twice that. So some serious slicing and dicing was in order. On top of that, it was also going to be excerpted for Writopia Lab's Best Playwright's Festival. As a result, one section of the play got a figurative face lift. I had completely forgotten about the Fringe. By the time Elena informed me I was in, the play looked much different. It looks even more different today. Characters were expanded and dropped. 22 Stories was originally a one-woman show in essence, observing from the outside her past self's interactions with past Natasha. Most of the other dialogue came from offstage adult voices including a now-nonexistent security guard.

Rewriting is harder than it looks. At each rehearsal, I still can't help but cringe when a certain line of dialogue gets said in a certain way, or when a pause is too long or too short or even just the right length. This is not the fault of the actors or the direction: I don't know of anyone who isn't somewhat insecure about the words they conjured from their imaginations and put  them on paper. When you're rewriting, you know how the final product is supposed to feel, but you don't know how to get there.

Thankfully, some outside voices *cough* told me I didn't have much work to do. Which means the final laps should be easy and fun, right? Wrong. I have mainly focused on the  parts that are easy  to fix, and let the harder ones fester until they either start to smell or cause a large bump in the road. I  skimmed over entire characters, without giving them the justice or the voices they  deserve, or figuring out exactly who they were.
I'm talking about small parts here. But even then, no how small a part a character has, he or she is a person, just in a different part of the frame. They have to have stories as well.

So I had to backtrack and think of the parents, and give Natasha's friends struggles of their own. I even had to give the  principal a personality. Needless to say, it  was incredibly difficult. I ended up pulling Nicoles quite often, and ordering myself to focus.

The hardest part of rewriting at all, though, is knowing when to stop the train. How much rewriting is enough? When can I freeze the script and feel confident at showing my work to complete strangers? A piece of literature or drama is rarely sufficiently finished. Yet there definitely is a certain point in which rewrites do more harm than good. I felt myself teetering on that point many a time. Does that mean I know where it now is? No. If you can locate that point, congratulations. You're a good writer. Now tell me if this stopping spot on this blog post is a good enough one. 

Tuesday, July 26, 2011


Alexandra Jennings (NICOLE) was recently seen as Emily Webb in The Theatre Company at Hubbard Hall’s production of Our Town and as The Queen in ATA’s Richard II. A graduate of Circle in the Square Theatre School, she has played Adela in The House of Bernarda Alba, Viola in Twelfth Night, and Hope in Urinetown: The Musical.
Juliette Monaco (NATASHA) is freshly out of N.Y.U.-Tisch where she trained with the Atlantic Theater Company. Born and raised in New York, she enjoys hanging out with her amazing, loud family and her dog. She enjoys gardening, Carravaggio, reruns of The Sopranos, and black-and-white movies. She is very excited to be working on 22 Stories with such a stunning team of people.
Rachel Murdy (MOTHER / PRINCIPAL) created the role Oberon/Mia in The Donkey Show, directed by Diane Paulus.  A member of Project 400 Theater Group for 10 years, she appeared in productions at the Vineyard Theater, Experimental Theater at A.R.T., and the New York International Fringe Festival.  She earned an MFA in Acting from the Columbia University School of Arts in 1997.
Lauren Marcus (MADDIE) has appeared in Rewrite (at Urban Stages); The Improvised Musical (at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival); Hams on the Lam (at the West Village Musical Theatre Festival, Best Actress Award 2011); and The Plant That Ate Dirty Socks (at the Lucille Lortel Theater).
Frank Williams (DARIUS) is a recent WMU graduate. He received an Irene Ryan nomination for his portrayal of Creon in Oedipus and became a regional finalist at the American College Theatre Festival.  Other credits include: Our Lady of 121st Street (Rooftop), The Life: The Musical (JoJo), and Hair (Hud).