New Collection: Padraic Lillis’ 5 Indie Plays That Changed My Life

There’s a new collection of plays on ITN curated by Padraic Lillis. Yes, he’s that all around Indie guy: — director, playwright, teacher, solo performer, award winner and founder of the Farm Report (learn more about the latter on this very blog).  In talking with Padraic about the Indie world, he noted how certain plays make a real difference to a person.  So, how about a collection of plays that had just that effect on him, we asked.  And now Padraic’s Five Indie Plays That Changed My Life is a collection available on Indie Theater Now. Below is Padraic’s thoughts on this collection.  Enjoy

Thank you Indie Theater Now for inviting me to curate this collection of the five most important Indie Theater Plays in my career. The plays that I selected each came to mind immediately. There was no hesitation. Each represents significant moments in my career. However, when I thought of the plays I did not think about them in relationship to my career, my professional and artistic growth. I thought of the lifelong friends I worked with on each production. The five plays are THE FOUL STENCH OF DEATH by Jonas Oppenheim, THE DIRTY TALK by Michael Puzzo, TWO THIRDS HOME by Padraic Lillis, HOW TO WRITE A ONE PERSON SHOW by Kelly Kinsella and Padraic Lillis, and THE RISE AND FALL OF A TEENAGE CYBERQUEEN by Lindsay Joy. Each is important for their individual reasons.

THE FOUL STENCH OF DEATH

I met Jonas when I was a director for the Department of Dramatic Writing at NYU. His play was selected for the New Play Festival and I was paired to direct his play. This play is some of the most imaginative, hilarious, and highly theatrical writing I have ever experienced. Jonas is courageous in his approach to the work. THE FOUL STENCH OF DEATH originally was a one act. It was a theatrical combination of The Maltese Falcon and Airplane. The wit is sharp and constant. I brought in two actors that had been friends of mine for years, Dennis McNitt and Kevin Cristaldi who is my favorite actor to work with on all projects. The rest of the cast Jordan Meadows, Patrick Burch, Jeff Berchfield, and Melinda Kuhn (aka ‘Monkey Nipples’) were each new to me. The experience of putting on the play was a like working at a highly disciplined circus.  Probably not a coincidence that the next play of Jonas’ I directed was The Clown Family Murders.

The production was a hilarious success. It was also the first time I sought out, and found, opportunities to remount a production. My friend Damon Kiely worked at the Ontological Theater and invited us to do the play there as part of a late night event. After that run, Mahlon Stewart, saw it and was inspired to help produce the play. This led to an Off-Broadway production and the creation of THE FOUL STENCH OF DEATH Part II ‘the one about the severed hand that kills people’. Kevin Cristaldi played the Severed Hand – one of the most complete performances I have seen to date.

This play taught me that an audience will tell you if a play needs to live on and that it is your responsibility to make sure it does.

I directed four of Jonas’ plays. I worked with everyone in that play multiple times. I am most grateful that I continue to call each of them friends – and it is a bond that connects us all.

Also, it is over fifteen years since working on the play and I continue to quote it.

“I had money once, we had our differences, and parted ways.” – this quote exemplifies my very proud Indie Theater career.

Also, this play is the first time I was reviewed by Martin Denton. A true honor I have come to appreciate more and more every day.

THE DIRTY TALK

My relationship to this play was born out of my connection to Labyrinth Theater. I met Michael Puzzo at my first Intensive. I directed a reading of his play Lyric is Waiting. I met two designers, Sarah Sidman and Betsy Rhodes, who spent hours helping us create a special atmosphere for the reading. I directed three readings of plays of Michael’s at Intensives. We realized that we needed to produce a play for his work to reach the next level. I committed to doing this with any play he thought needed to be produced. He brought me The Dirty Talk.

The Dirty Talk brings two people together that connected online. The weather conspires to trap them both in the woods – just as one man, Mitch, learns that the other person, Lino, is not a woman as he had said online.  The play is a hilarious and beautiful exploration of our need to connect.

The production was a family affair. Labyrinth introduced Michael and I to the actor Sid Williams and again I brought Kevin Cristaldi to the project. The designers were amazing -. Andrea Ciannavei, a Labyrinth Member, produced the play at the Fringe. Abby Marcus, the former Company Manager of Labyrinth, General Managed the production at Center Stage – the former home of Labyrinth Theater Company.

The remounting of that production from the New York International Fringe Festival came about because of a year – long conversation with Mike Batelli, who I met when he was a student in the Master Class with Labyrinth. In order to produce the play Mike formed Spare Change Productions. Eight years after that production, when I was ready to launch my own company – Mike Batelli applied for a name change for Spare Change Productions and The Farm Theater was born.

TWO THIRDS HOME

This is the first play I ever wrote. Like most plays it is inspired by biography. As I like to say, ‘everything in this play is true and none of it actually happened.’ Two Thirds Home explores the ways in which sharing secrets can both create and destroy intimacy.

I started writing this play when I was a high school student at New York State Summer School of the Arts. I don’t know why I never finished it. After my first summer Intensive with Labyrinth Theater I was inspired to try again to tell this story.  I am grateful for everyone that contributed to its development.

I remember getting the call from Drew DeCorleto, the Artistic Director of Broken Watch Theatre, to tell me they wanted to produce the play. He began to give me the details and I had to tell him I’d call him back because I couldn’t hear him. I was so overwhelmed that I was unable to process what he was telling me. I am grateful to Broken Watch for that opportunity. Again, everyone who worked on that play became like family – and they were in a sense creating my family. One of the aspects of that production I am most appreciative of is that my friend Aaron Weiner played Paul – the role closest to myself. I am thrilled that he was part of the entire journey from first reading to full production.

The production of this play felt like the culmination of my entire purpose for creating in the theater. I was a little worried that once I got this story out I might not need to do theater anymore. Not the case. It did give me. though, a greater understanding and appreciation for the vulnerability and generosity of writers who share their stories with us.

HOW TO DO A ONE PERSON SHOW 

I have directed over twenty solo shows. Through the collaboration of bringing these stories to life we have formed life long friendships. Working with solo artists such as Cindy Keiter, Adina Taubman, and Lee Kaplan I have become invested in them as artists, people, and their causes. I was also inspired to write and perform my own solo show, How To Survive Crack Addiction. One of the great gifts of developing solo shows is that it reconnected it with my college friend Kelly Kinsella.

Kelly is a gifted writer, an incredibly skilled and courageous performer, and a celebrated solo show artist. I am grateful that we were finally able to work together again on her show When Thoughts Attack. We collaborated on that show for the SOLOnova Festival. It went well and Kelly was invited back to perform anything she wanted. She decided she would perform a new show. When we got together for our first meeting to work on the show, she announced that she had a date for the show but she didn’t have a script or an idea. Instead of getting nervous, or thinking this was not going to work out, we began immediately talking about creating a show from scratch in front of an audience. Throughout our joyful exploration of what the show could be we identified core beliefs we each held for what a one-person show required. It became an exploration of our work on solo shows, a guide for them, and a celebration of collaboration.

This play is one of my greatest joys in collaboration.

THE RISE AND FALL OF A TEENAGE CYBERQUEEN

I met Lindsay Joy ten years earlier when she participated in the Labyrinth’s master class. She also was a participant in my first independent play development workshop. The LabRats Theater Company that produced the play was formed from students of The Labyrinth Theater’s first Intensive Ensemble. As someone who helped create and oversaw the Labyrinth’s education program I have been very proud of this company’s development and commitment to excellence. It was a thrill to have the relationship with the company and playwright shift from mentor to collaborator.

The play beautifully and imaginatively explores our need for connection – and how when that need gets out of balance very damaging things can happen.

The cast was made up of a mix of new friends (Jacob Perkins, Kathryn Wilson, and Casey Craig), members of the LabRats (Perry Lewis, Daniela Mastropietro), and my fellow Labyrinth Member Jinn S. Kim. Everyone involved worked as hard as they could and brought their best to every aspect of the production. Before our first performance, we all gathered in a circle and Jinn S. Kim looked around and said to the company, “You only get, maybe, a handful of experiences like this in your entire career. If you’re lucky. This is special. Remember this.”

I will always remember this production. It was awarded two NY Innovative Theater Awards, Outstanding Director and Outstanding Premiere Production of a New Play. But mostly we were awarded with friendship and a connection that will last forever.