BWW Interview: John Perovich of Now and Then Creative Company

BWW Interview:  John Perovich of Now and Then Creative Company
John Perovich

John Perovich is a playwright, educator and all around theatre maker in Phoenix, AZ. He completed his Master of Fine Arts in Dramatic Writing at Arizona State University in 2016. Perovich's playwriting credits include, shallow grave (Arizona State University 2014),poseidon's regret (Brelby Theatre Company 2015), missing grace (Brelby Theatre Company 2015), and on display (Arizona State University 2016). His newest play, unexpected, premieres this May at Brelby Theatre Company. John currently serves as the Education Director at Brelby Theatre Company, planning and instructing various courses, including Brelby's Write Club-a free and open group for playwrights that meets monthly to share and develop new plays. He is the Department Head for the Performing Arts at Metropolitan Arts Institute, instructing theatre and film courses to high school students.Perovich has instructed various courses at Stockton University, Arizona State University, and Chandler-Gilbert Community College. He holds a Master of Arts from New York University in Educational Theatre for Colleges and Communities and a Bachelor of Arts in Communications: Radio/Television/Film from Rowan University in Glassboro, NJ. He is a member of the Dramatists Guild of America, Inc.

I interviewed John recently, when he was preparing for a new works event with his students at the Metropolitan Arts Institute downtown. Now, he's got a brand new company in the works.

Your new company sounds fabulous. Now and Then is the name of it - can you unpack that?

I'd love to! Now & Then Creative Company is a culmination of perceived needs in the valley, coupled with opportunities for learning and growth with students at Metropolitan Arts Institute. The 'now' focuses on new play development and film production--working with local artists on the development of plays, screenplays, workshop productions, and film productions. The 'then' produces theatre classics that speak to our present time--plays that tackle large issues to provoke conversation around social concerns. Further, I imagine the classics to be interpreted with a strong vision from directors. We are interested in producing classics with strong concepts--we are not interested in producing classics in ways that feel familiar. More to that point...sometimes classics begin to feel like museum pieces--once you've seen them, you've seen them. We want to nurture an exciting, vibrant, and meaningful approach to the classics.

That description gives me goosebumps - "exciting, vibrant and meaningful." When you use the term, "classics," what do you mean? The ancient works up through Shakespeare and the Jacobeans to the Edwardians, or do you include our more recent 20th century "classics" Wilder, Inge, O'Neill, Miller, Chekov, Hellman - ?

BWW Interview:  John Perovich of Now and Then Creative Company
Cotton Muses Rehearsal

That is a wonderful question, isn't it? What makes a classic? Right now we are exploring scripts from the 20th and 19th centuries and older scripts (Jacobean and Greek). I hesitate to definitively say what a classic is because I'm afraid we'll limit ourselves, but...I also imagine that people may say, "That's not a classic! It's modern!" And...they will be right, of course...but I'd like for us to use "classic" as an over arching, general term. So, yes, we are looking at more canonical texts that have survived and thrived in social discourse for long periods of time. The word "canonical" does make me a bit uncomfortable because what makes something achieve that status? What sorts of texts from what cultures, playwrights, and philosophies are described to be canonical? All in all, I do enjoy how the question of "canonical" makes me uncomfortable...I think that's important to recognize...I digress. What we are looking for is how these selected plays speak to today--that is what I'm most interested in exploring with artists and with our community. When it comes to selecting the "then" plays for Now & Then, we'll keep our focus on finding the best play to speak to today's concerns--we will attempt to be as specific as possible with our selections for our audiences.

Do you have a season planned, or how will you be moving forward?

Yes, we are planning a season. It will be minimal at first, and we are looking to grow over time. You can expect an announcement from us this summer. We recently completed our first development workshop of Ilana Lydia's Cotton Muses. This was a week long process that focused on the play's development, ending with a staged reading. A staged reading is a performance with rough staging and scripts in hand--it's very bare bones...the focus is on the script and the story. The process for development is similar to the approach taken at the National Playwrights Conference at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center. Ilana was with us through the entire process, providing new pages and rewrites throughout our time together. As the director, I worked with the actors and with Ilana to investigate the play, explore its questions, and support Ilana's vision for her work. At the conclusion of the week, we had a performance of the staged reading with an audience, followed by a brief discussion. During the discussion, the audience provided feedback based on questions that Ilana and I prepared, and focused on areas of the play that were of most interest to its future development. The process went very well! We are currently planning our next development workshop.

The O'Neill Center's program is really the gold standard for new play development, isn't it? Are you doing this work during the day in the classroom, or is it an after school thing?

BWW Interview:  John Perovich of Now and Then Creative Company
Cotton Muses Staged Reading

Yes, the O'Neill Center has an excellent approach. I was fortunate to work with Bill Partlan at ASU, who had worked with the O'Neill Center for quite some time. It was excellent to work with Bill, to experience his expertise, and learn how the O'Neill's approach can benefit writers. It's also a similar approach to how Phoenix Theatre facilitates the Caleb Reese Festival of New Plays and Musicals. I was fortunate to dramaturg for that festival while in graduate school. Phoenix Theatre does a wonderful job in coordinating the festival and supporting the artists throughout the process.

We are currently facilitating new play development in the evenings. There may be opportunities for this to change in the future, but it seems to be the best option for now. I have worked on playwriting and new play development with my students as a part of their curriculum. Perhaps in the future there will be more opportunity for Now & Then's workshops to find their way into the classroom.

In the future, we will create a submission process for Arizona writers to submit their scripts for development. I believe this sort of immersive and intense development process is crucial for playwrights. I've worked with many playwrights in the valley, and I'm consistently working with more playwrights. I'm hoping to provide playwrights with a meaningful process that may lead to productions on valley stages and beyond!

I appreciate your repeated use of the word "meaningful." I hate to sound cynical, but I think there is a lot of new play "development" that isn't development at all, but simply stagings of new scripts. It can be frustratingly meaningless. Will you be presenting full blown productions of some of the new works you help to develop?

BWW Interview:  John Perovich of Now and Then Creative Company
Cotton Muses Staged Reading

That is absolutely something that we're interested in-we're also interested in advocating for these plays and playwrights for other theatres in the valley. For instance, we are going to work to invite Artistic Directors to workshops. We will provide them with a brief summary of the play's process, info on the playwright, a synopsis...anything that we can do to encourage them to come check out plays and playwrights that they might be interested in working with. We're not trying to encroach on other theatre's processes, but we understand that it's a great deal of risk to include a new play into a season--we completely understand that; however, we're going to work on development, something that many theatres don't have time to do. Our hope is that we'll be able to assist a playwright in getting their piece to a place where it's production ready. Further, the goal is for these plays to have a staged reading, so Artistic Directors will be able to see a play up on its feet, even if it is with script in hand. Hopefully this will be a helpful process to aid ArizOna Playwrights in getting produced in AZ. If not, I'm confident that the development process with help playwrights get selected for other production opportunities and festivals beyond Arizona.

Will you be opening up for interviews and auditions, or do you have a core group you'll work with, at the outset?

We will be opening up auditions and creative team opportunities to everyone in the artistic community. Perhaps in the future, a core company could best serve the mission of the organization, but I think it's too early to anticipate that particular need. At this exciting point in our journey, we are seeking to work with as many artists as possible.

I bet you're going to be inundated. That's what we call a "quality problem" (meaning a problem of the highest caliber - exciting to have too many people who want to work on your new endeavor!). How are you structuring your new company? I assume you're the Artistic Director?

I am the Artistic Director and my Associate Artistic Director is Allison Bauer. In regards to the future structure of the company, Allison and I are speaking about what will best serve the mission of the organization. We are also engaged in seeking out mentors with the anticipation of building our first board of directors.

I understand you'll be in residence at the school where you're a teaching artist - the Metropolitan Arts Institute. How will that work, logistically? Will your students have apprenticeship opportunities?

My goal is for Metro students to have as many opportunities as possible to work with Now & Then Creative Company. As we finalize our season, we're sensitive to potential roles students can audition for and creative team opportunities students can shadow with to grow as artists. We're hoping to nurture a professional and educational environment. So, yes, there will be apprenticeship opportunities for students--they will not be required to participate, but I trust we'll have many who will want to work with us. Additionally, I've begun working with local filmmakers to get Metro students involved in acting and production roles. We're hoping to produce our first film short this month!

Terrific! Do you have a script?

We are currently in the planning process for Brian Maticic's Depend On Me for a new play development workshop and we are working with filmmaker Fernando Perez on a short called falling.

My hope is that students will choose to get involved and return to Now & Then Creative Company as alumni. Moreover, I'm hoping students will meet valley artists, network, and get involved with other organizations and projects. It's exciting!

Your commitment to nourishing local artists and the theatre community here is encouraging. I have the sense you've got some deep roots here. What made you decide to settle in this region?

I'm originally from New Jersey and came to Arizona for graduate school in 2013. When it came time to stay or go, I thought about all of the connections that I had made here in the valley, especially with Brelby Theatre Company and ASU. I also thought about a concern that I kept hearing from Phoenix artists that I admired: why does everyone leave? Ron May and Louis Farber of Stray Cat Theatre often voice this concern. It seems like Phoenix is a rather transient area for artists. I thought...why not give it a shot? Phoenix has been very kind to me as an artist, and I wanted to have more time here to make art before deciding to move on--it wasn't the right time to leave. Although I don't have deep roots here, I do have important roots--connections with other artists that share my passions and interests. There are also artists that I look up to in the valley--Phoenix energizes and inspires me. I'm very fortunate to be in Arizona and I plan on staying here for quite some time.

Full disclosure: I'm designing lights for your show, unexpected, which opens at Brelby next month. It's quite a fun challenge to light, since it's magical realism and the settings are wildly disparate in tone and atmosphere. I'm wondering how you came to appreciate the genre - and did you read One Hundred Years of Solitude in high school?

Wow...what a great question! No one has ever asked me that question before. I think the genre found me before I even knew that the genre existed. Honestly, the first time I truly remember digging into the genre was in graduate school. I know that sounds weird! But I didn't seriously study the genre or purposefully explore its roots until graduate school. I was extremely fortunate to have a class with Alberto Ríos at ASU in magical realism, Arizona's poet laureate...and one hell of an amazing teacher! It was a life changing class. Essentially, I was beginning to write plays that approached the genre of magical realism and my program director, Guillermo Reyes, encouraged me to take Ríos' class. I'm so glad I did! We studied many authors--Kafka, Borges, Rulfo, Allende, and (of course) Márquez. Reading this literature in graduate school...it really shaped my understandings of time and narrative...how to show time...manipulate time...also, that what happens in a story--what characters say and do--none of it is so important and none of it is at all unimportant. The rhythms of the magical realist writers...they are often surprising and shocking with quick turns and dynamic emotions...it's like a roller coaster...it's life...magical...yet real. I think much of the magical realism in my writing (like magical realism itself) also has ties to Russian formalism and surrealism...but that's a completely different conversation. :-)

Your original question was how I came to appreciate the genre, and that started when I was very young. In fact, I think I was always surrounded by it through film and television. My Dad loved Ray Harryhausen films--those old stop motion pictures with monsters and skeletons. I remember watching them with him as a kid and they had a big impact on me and my interests in storytelling. Further, I was obsessed with Tim Burton while growing up, and some of his films played around with the magical and with the real. I also loved Greek mythology as a child, often watching, again, films and television with my Dad (Hercules: The Legendary Journeys was one of our favorites). So, this idea of magical realism sort of grew inside me through my interests, but I didn't really understand what it was until I was older. The last piece of inspiration, I'd say, would have to be the theatre. In my mind, I cannot separate magical realism and theatre! The theatre is both magical and real-I believe it is the perfect example of magical realism, whether it is attempting to be magically real or not...for me, it cannot escape the genre. Theatre is always simultaneously magical (we know what we are watching is not really real), while also being real (we feel the experiences of theatre to be real emotional experiences). I do believe some playwrights approach magical realism with more purpose, and they are some of my favorite writers--Fornés, Ruhl, Svich, Rivera, and Cruz (to name a few). There's also Shakespeare, of course...particularly the Romances.

To sum it up...even though I am a lover of magical realism, it all comes down to telling the best possible story. I'm most influenced by my characters, their world, and their journeys throughout the play. I try not to think too much about genre (if at all) while writing. For unexpected, my hope is that audiences will feel that the story is, well...unexpected! Magical realism, of course, is a wonderful genre to assist in creating surprises.

Our rehearsals recently began and we had our first read through--it was wonderful. I'm very excited to share this story with audiences!

Thank you for taking the time to talk to me today, John. One last question - is Now & Then a non-profit, and how can people learn more about the new company?

Yes, we're incorporated with the state as a non-profit and we are working on our 501(c)3 status. Our website is nowandthencc.com. It's currently under construction, and we hope to have information up there soon. If anyone would like to contact me regarding information about Now & Then Creative Company, I can be reached at john@nowandthencc.com.

Fabulous.

The world premiere of John Perovich's unexpected opens May 19th and runs through June 4th. Learn more, and get your tickets at Brelby.com.


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