JS&P 2009-10: A Gulag Mouse

You do what you have to – to survive.

Rather than focusing on an already-created image for our third round, the Babes turned to Chicago artist Kristine Borcz, who provided us with a charcoal sketch entitled “Film Noir.”

Film Noir Kristine BorczOnce again the Babes and Woolley requested full-lengths, and received 17.

The winning play, Los Angeleno Arthur M. Jolly’s A Gulag Mouse, was directed by Brian Plocharczyk, with Violence Design by David Woolley.  It opened 3/29/10 at the Trap Door Theatre, and ran through 5/1/10.  Mr. Jolly received the Margaret W. Martin Award, which carried with it a $1000 stipend.

postcardFront_CMYK_toPrintCAST: Delia Ford* (Svetlana), Amy E. Harmon* (Masha), Gillian N. Humiston* (Anastasia), Stephanie Repin* (Prushka), Dustin Spence (Evgeny/Ivanov), and Kathrynne Wolf* (Lubov). Danielle Defassio understudied.

STAFF: Leigh Barrett* (Lighting Design), Libby Beyreis* (Assistant Violence Design), Kristine Borcz (Scenic Painter), Jeff Lisse (Set Design), Kjerstine McHugh* (Stage Manager), Morgan Manasa* (Production Manager), Ruth Meridjen (Assistant Stage Manager), Jessica Pribble (Costume Design), and Adam Smith (Sound Design). Props by Sans N E Sleep Cooperative.

Graphic Design by grumpy monkey graphics & design.

* denotes BWBTC ensemble member


How/when did you hear about Babes With Blades Theatre Company?
I have a vague memory of someone discussing a new theatre company they’d heard of – the Babes With Blades – at the SAFD National Stage Combat Workshop, back when it was in Las Vegas… but this would have been in 1998, so it would have been in the very early days of BWB. Perhaps I disremember, and it was a later workshop, quite likely while learning sword tricks from David Woolley!

Spence Humiston 2 JK 6510 loresHow/when did you hear about Joining Sword & Pen?
For me, the competition was an online discovery while searching for opportunities for my first play – the mother/daughter drama Past Curfew. I was looking for theatre companies that were excited about presenting plays about women and ran across the Joining Sword & Pen competition.

What made you decide to enter the competition?
As a playwright with a background in stage combat and a tendency to gravitate towards female-centric storylines, it seemed like the perfect opportunity! I was taken by the inspirational image for the competition – a very “film noir” look of a woman in a fur coat concealing a dagger as she meets a mysterious figure at a train station.

The key for me with A Gulag Mouse was the setting. I knew I wanted to write something dramatic – so I needed a situation where violence could break out amongst any and all of the women in the play without it feeling forced, comedic or unusual. I realized that a prison setting would allow that side of them to come out freely – but I also wanted some of the mysterious, dark qualities of the image to sustain throughout the play. Setting it in a different time and country – a Russian Gulag in 1945 – made it more symbolic than Humiston Harmon JK 6627 loresrepresentational which, if you see or read the play, is a large part of what’s happening. This is not a historical play, but a metaphorical one.

I set aside a month to write the play, leading up to the midnight deadline – and two personal tragedies happened, simultaneously, at the beginning of the month: my wife and I lost a pregnancy – our third miscarriage – and with it came a painful acceptance that, for us, parenthood was all but impossible; and my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent an emergency mastectomy. The two women closest to me were faced with losing something inextricably linked to the experience of being a woman, and I was utterly powerless to help. Writing was obviously put on hold while I tried to be there for both of them, traveling to the UK to see my mother.

Right before the end of the month, I had a chance to get back to my computer, and everything flooded out. I wrote the play in a feverish four days flat in a desperate attempt to recognize their experiences and deal with my own emotional anguish. I wrote “LIGHTS OUT. END OF PLAY” at nine pm on the last day, and took a break to grab a cup of tea and clear my head before going back to polish it before the midnight deadline… whereupon I realized Chicago was two hours ahead of LA. With barely forty minutes to go, I sent that first draft in unread, typos and all. Fortunately the play won, so I was given a wonderful Ford Wolf Repin JK 6339 loresopportunity to refine it, fix an atrocious title, get some of the language straight, and catch more than a few typos.

What did you think when you won the competition?
Winning the competition was a huge step for me. This was only my second full length play, and until a couple of months before it opened, I had not yet had a production of my first.

Do you have a favorite memory from the development/rehearsal/production process?
Hearing the Babes’ initial table read of the play was amazing, even though it it was on a DVD with a warbling tone on the sound track – I was so excited, I listened to it all anyway. (They did send me clean copy a few days later!)

What’s happened to your script since (readings, productions, publications, etc.)?
Since the premiere in 2010, the play has done well. It not only won the Margaret W. Martin Award, it would go on to win the Off Broadway Playwrights Competition and make it as a finalist for the inaugural Woodward/Newman Drama Award. As well as Chicago, it has been produced in Anchorage, Seattle, London, at the Last Frontier Theatre Conference in Valdez, and most recently in Los Angeles. It is published by Next Stage Press, and after rewriting the ending for the Los Angeles production, it is now out as a second edition.

Repin Wolf JK 6401 loresIt took some perspective to be able to revisit the work – but the intervening years have softened the pain of that tumultuous time, and my experience and craft as a writer have grown. The LA production was directed by my wife, director Danielle Ozymandias, and while my mother passed away two years ago, we had to work the rehearsal schedule around our beautiful son who was, and is, an unexpected miracle.

What are you working on right now?
Currently, I’m preparing for the premiere of my latest play about four 1950’s faculty wives who meet for their monthly play reading knowing one of them has betrayed another’s husband to the House UnAmerican Activities Committee… and this is the evening they’ve chosen to read Medea. It’s a wonderful mixture of drama and humor. The A.D. keeps claiming it is a dramedy, I call it “a tragedy – with funny bits.” There are no fight scenes in it, although there is a mishap with a pot of coffee. The Ithaca Ladies Read Medea opens on September 23rd in Los Angeles at the Little Fish Theatre.

Where can people learn more about you and your work?
All the details on plays and productions are at my website: www.arthurjolly.com.

Wolf JK 6387Harmon Humiston JK 6748Spence Humiston JK 6252 lores

This entry was posted in Blog Posts, Joining Sword & Pen, Productions and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *