BWW Interview: Playwright Nicole Pandolfo and BRICK CITY at Premiere Stages
Premiere Stages at Kean University will present Nicole Pandolfo's Brick City from September 6 to September 23. The play was originally commissioned over a two-year cycle through the NJPAC Stage Exchange and now receiving its first professional production. Directed by Jessi D. Hill, Brick City will feature actors Rafael Benoit, Jacqueline Correa, Madison Ferris and Chris Grant.
Worlds collide in Ms. Pandolfo's topical and compelling new play when Jessie, a combative high school senior with a disability, and Darnell, the star player of the high school basketball team, find themselves together in extended study hall during the most important marking period of their lives. As Darnell inches dangerously close to throwing away a lucrative college scholarship and Jessie a potential career as an artist, both discover things aren't always as simple as they may seem.
Pandolfo was a 2017 Dramatists Guild Foundation Fellow and her work has been developed at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center as a Playwright Observer, at Tofte Lake as a Jerome Foundation Fellow, and at The Actors Studio, NJ Rep, and the Lark among others. She was a finalist for the Edward Albee Foundation Fellowship, SPACE on Ryder Farm, and the Leah Ryan Fund for Emerging Women Writers. She is a member of The Actors Studio in the Playwright/Director Unit and received her MFA at Hunter College.
Broadwayworld.com NJ had the opportunity to interview Nicole Pandolfo about her writing career and Brick City.
We'd love to know about some of the people who have encouraged your work.
I'm grateful to many people who have encouraged my career. I have to mention the incomparable Tina Howe who was my advisor in my MFA program at Hunter College. Not only is she a groundbreaking female playwright, but her career and commitment to the craft is something to aspire to. She's become a dear friend and has this way of making everyone around her feel like the most special person in the world (when really it's her). Other people who have done so much to encourage me are Diana Son, Sheri Wilner, and the whole crew at the Dramatist Guild Foundation, John Wooten and Premiere Stages, Larry Harbison, Eva Minemar and Lyle Kessler at The Actors Studio, and of course my mother Adele.
Do you have any advice for people wishing to have a writing career?
I'm the child of a single mother from South Jersey and had no network or even a vague understanding of how to step into navigating a career in the arts. I don't have a trust fund or financial cushion to pad this dream and because of that I've had to keep a full-time job my entire working career, which means I don't get a lot of sleep. Like anyone, I sometimes become despondent about the business of the business. The things that have helped me not lose my mind while pursuing this career are having really great friends who I can be honest with and who will remind me that, no, I really wouldn't have been a great accountant. The other thing that is helpful is to just show up and do the work. Like literally just sit at the computer and start typing. I've written my last two plays, a screenplay, and the beginnings of a pilot in 20-minute increments on the train. When I'm not doing my regular writing practice I get antsy and prone to bouts of despair, but then if I can get myself back to the work of just showing up, the feelings dissipate. It's a great reminder to just commit yourself to even a bit of time on a regular basis and if you do you'll become a better writer and get shit done. I believe it's Elizabeth Gilbert in "Big Magic" who says something along the lines of "the next great novel is being written one page at a time on someone's lunch break."
What was your inspiration for Brick City?
A few things inspired me to write Brick City. I've been very interested in the Newark school system since the big 100 million dollar donation that Mark Zuckerberg announced on Oprah in 2010. Anyone who is interested in learning more about how that donation played out, which for a variety of reasons fell far short of its goals, should read Dale Russakoff's stunning book "The Prize." I went to an under-resourced public high school that struggled in many of the ways the school in my play struggles. Education in this country is a right and that so many people, myself included, for a variety of reasons having often to do with race and class, are denied an adequate education is infuriating. The teachers and administrators who fight so hard in these environments to give kids the most that they can are true heroes.
Tell us about working with Premiere Stages.
Working with Premiere Stages, who are so committed to the development of new plays, has been a dream come true. John, Courtney, Heather, and Nick are so amazing and supportive and at every turn in this process they've never hesitated to give me or the play what we needed to do our best work.
Can you share some of your future plans?
I just finished my first screenplay which is a mafia movie called The Dons Giordano. It's about a guy who becomes an unwitting criminal when his estranged Mafioso father is released from prison and needs his help. It's a modern indie mafia family drama in the vein of The Godfather meets The Wrestler that asks the question "Can a father and son make up for lost time?"
I'm also working on a comedy pilot about a woman who finds out she has a long-lost 12-year-old sister from Ukraine when she shows up on her doorstep one day needing a legal guardian.
For More information on Nicole Pandolfo, visit her web site at http://nicolepandolfo.com/. Follow Nicole on Instagram @nicole_pandolfo
Premiere Stages at Kean University's Bauer Boucher Theatre Center is located at Vaughn Eames Hall, 1000 Morris Avenue, Union, N.J. Brick City runs September 6-23. Performances take place Thursdays and Fridays at 8:00 pm, Saturdays at 3:00 pm and 8:00 pm, and Sundays at 3:00 pm. Tickets are $30 standard, $20 for senior citizens and Kean alumni and staff, and $15 for students and patrons with disabilities. Significant discounts for groups of 8 or more apply. To make reservations or to order a season brochure, please call the box office at 908-737-7469 or visit Premiere Stages online at http://www.premierestagesatkean.com/.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Nicole Pandolfo