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BWW Interview: Nancy Hower Talks the Virtual Premiere of Standing On My Head

BWW Interview: Nancy Hower Talks the Virtual Premiere of Standing On My Head

Nancy Hower is jack of all trades: actress, screenwriter, producer, and director. She is known for creating television comedies, including "10 Items or Less" on TBS and "Let It Ride," for Comedy Central, and no stranger to the online realm with web series like "Jailbait" for Sony's Crackle Channel. It's fitting Hower has a brand new virtual play, STANDING ON MY HEAD, in partnership with UC Santa Barbara Department of Theater and Dance's SPOTLIGHT PROJECT that premieres this Saturday, June 13 at 6pm PST. I spoke with Hower about her new play, the pandemic, and her hope for the new graduates of 2020.

Tell us a little bit about your new play, STANDING ON MY HEAD. When did the idea spark during the pandemic and what were you looking to achieve?

Annie is an old friend of mine from our days at Juilliard. When she called to ask me if I would write something for her students, it reminded me of our final days at school together. And I felt extremely sad, thinking that their final months of school would be spent apart. That was the impetus.

And at the same time, I was having these extraordinary experiences on Zoom myself. My step-mother was rushed to the hospital in the middle of the night and my father (who has some dementia) Facetimed me in the middle of the night asking for help. We hadn't spoken in a very long time. Now we speak every day. My niece had a baby on her bathroom floor while talking to her doctor on her apple watch.

So many of these scenes happened in some form or other, and the rest came to me after being inspired by the students.

STANDING ON MY HEAD is an extremely relevant play as it focuses on coping with the pandemic and its many negative impacts. But the interesting thing here is how it resolves around college students who graduated, something I can personally relate to as I graduated with my MFA this year. Why were you interested in the lives of college students during the pandemic?

First off...congratulations!

Thank you!

You know, the idea came organically as I spoke with Annie and met the students. She told me I could write about anything. But again, I remembered my days auditioning for agents and managers and sifting through material that might work. I wanted these students to be able to show off their talents. I wanted something they would find relevant. And I wanted to keep it lighthearted.

As the industry started to shut down in March, I started wondering what was going to happen. What would theatre and film look like? When would production start back up? So much fear about the future.

I wanted to write something hopeful that would give them a feeling that they are more than prepared for this. And more importantly, they are the future. They are the change. I cried as I wrote it because I feel strongly that this generation particularly has been a catalyst for change already (climate change, gun control). I want them to feel that pride of what they have already contributed and a purpose for the future.

This performance is quite a bit different than others in the past, as it is held over Zoom rather than in-person. How did you take that into consideration when creating this play? What did that feel like?

The sound is the most challenging. Any overlap and the sound goes out. I wanted it to be live but there are still technical challenges that I pray can be solved.

For example, I was going to write music but it's impossible to have two voices sing together. I have a laundry list of issues that Annie (as director) is having to work through. And I have a lot of technical challenges, like a face time in a Zoom. And people moving around the house and outside. Fingers are crossed!

Can you talk to us about working with UC Santa Barbara Department of Theater and Dance's SPOTLIGHT PROJECT virtual showcase? How has this partnership been different than others you've had in the past?

This was a lot of fun. Dealing with the students and writing for them is a first. Usually I will write something and then cast it. I enjoyed that. And sitting in on the process and talking through changes with the actors. Annie is a genius and I was so grateful to have her direct this so I'm excited to see what she's going to do.

What are you most excited about for the showing of STANDING ON MY HEAD with the SPOTLIGHT PROJECT? What do you hope the audience will take away?

I want the students and audience to feel hopeful about their future. To feel excited about being part of the change that is happening and not a victim of it.

What have been the biggest struggles and challenges when creating a play or anything at all during a pandemic? Any positive elements you found along the way?

Frankly I've had a lot of personal challenges. My step-mother passed away after writing this play. That was hard.

Condolences on your loss.

Also, the world has changed so rapidly that I had to rewrite the ending to match what had happened because it was already dated. And it also felt important. To write anything at all during this time is challenging. I'm proud to have finished it.

What do you think avid theatre lovers can do during this time, when large in-person gatherings are not possible, in order to help keep the performing arts thriving?

Watch readings and plays on Zoom. Support your local theatres so they do not go away and frankly get involved. If you love a play or a theatre, call them up and ask what they're doing and how you can help. I have a friend writing two Broadway shows right now and she hasn't slowed down. We will rise again. We always do!

STANDING ON MY HEAD premieres on Saturday, June 13 at 6pm PST. Watch it here for free.

(Photo courtesy of DARR Publicity)

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