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BWW Interview: Members of Company One Theatre's VOLT LAB

Musings from the emerging playwrights in C1's education program

BWW Interview: Members of Company One Theatre's VOLT LAB

"This particular group has an appetite for learning, cultivating their voices, growing their voices, and being genuinely expansive artists," explains Company One's HowlRound/ Mellon Foundation Artist in Residence, Kirsten Greenidge of the current Volt Lab. Officially, this group of artists is delineated by Company One as, "a cohort of early career playwrights who meet monthly in a supportive lab-style setting." However, as Greenidge and Director of New Work, Ilana M. Brownstein, explain to me over Zoom, a curiosity about plays and a "genuine spark about writing" in any medium may make a stronger candidate for the program than a strict adherence to a career as a playwright in its early stages. Brownstein sustains that, "the most important piece of the puzzle is voice. Does this writer have something to talk about? Do they have something to say? We can't include all of the amazing people who apply each year, but we prioritize a chemistry among the participants and a diversity of approaches." Greenidge expatiates, "A lot of these people are into pushing the form, so the form they work in- plays, poems, or screenplays- is not as important."

Together with Elena Morris and Jessica Scout Malone, Greenidge and Brownstein facilitate the lab, adapting the syllabus each year with receptivity to the specific needs of that cohort's writers. Though the group has normally been limited to those who could attend meetings in Boston, virtual meetings have allowed the contingent to include writers from across the country. "The work we do remains relevant to the communities around us," reasons Greenidge. "What is happening geo-politically and socio-politically means that the community needs us to be virtual right now, but it's not a stagnant program. It's responsive." She acknowledges the broadened access the virtual platform has brought to the programming, which includes for the first time two writers who primarily identify as Indigenous and a writer who openly centers their neuro-divergence in their identity, but remains open to possibilities of how the lab will function in the future.

Quentin Nguyen-duy, a playwright, actor, and mystery-lover in this year's Volt Lab, though happy with the connections he has made through the program, is eager to be able to work in a physical space with collaborators again. "Not to be defeatist," he explains, "but the physical community and excitement of human connection were the two most prominent reasons for me being in the theatre. It worries me when I hear people state that they are '...perfectly happy staying home,' or that they '... enjoy Zoom over talking to 'real' people.' One; because only vastly privileged people can afford to stay home right now, and two; because I believe humans are social creatures in a way that exceeds the means available to us via iPhone and laptop." He ultimately fears the toll the pandemic has taken on theatre as an art form will outweigh the potential it has to reinvent itself.

Robin Berl, a Colorado-based "writer of fictions and truths large and small" who is a member of this year's Volt Lab has positive associations with virtual interaction. She ruminates, "I think I've always been a person who believes in the ability to make connections virtually. I have grown up watching people build their found family virtually, finally connecting to people with shared lived experience virtually, falling in love virtually. Virtual connection for me has always fundamentally equated to 'you are not alone'." Another member of the lab, Maru Colbert, brings her experiences as an engineer and published technical author to the conversation, expounding, "My communication is accompanied by personal nuances and expressiveness- in person and in the digital space. At times I use other forms/types of media to heighten my digital 'presence' with people. I use compelling thoughts and language, engage in topics of general interest, insert relevant graphics and try to be as responsive as possible when I interact in 'e-space'."

Following this line of thinking, she perfectly illustrates the form-defying inquisitions Greenidge and Brownstein foretold for this cohort. "Fifty years from now I think storytelling will be enhanced by ways of 'knowing' we haven't even encountered yet. There may be some form of 'digital telepathy' or recognition wherein thoughts recorded on paper can be transcribed as code or digitized. This procedure can supplant or enhance storytelling. Just as we have 3D glasses there may be ways to 'see' and 'be' stories- just as wearing the glasses augments or brings another dimension to lived experiences. I am excited about the ways holography, for instance, can and does amplify storytelling. This technique can be used now and more in the future to magnify storytelling."

Similarly, Greenidge is "cautiously optimistic" about the future of theatrical work. "I don't think the whole world is sinking. Some writers continue to do racial reckoning work, and some entities are really hard at work figuring out what is about to come. There are organizations who are new to this (racial equity) work and they can be struggling, but some who have been doing this work are moving forward."

Another member of the lab, Texas-based playwright, Alicia Margarita Olivo shares, "The past year has forced me to realize that if I do not wholly dedicate myself to writing complex and fully-fleshed people who hate and love, commit harm and comfort, rage and scream and cry, then I will have failed in trying to encapsulate any sense of what it means to be alive in this moment in time."

As the workflow of new works in regional theaters has been disturbed, it is uplifting to know that Company One has a lineup of thinkers and creators who are ready to engage with the uncertain terrain of the next steps for the industry.

Read more about the Volt Lab and the other components of C1's PlayLab Circuit here.

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