Fertile Ground Portland

A Festival of New Works Blog

Ellen Chamberlin + More Foreplay at the Someday: Sequence of Action January 17, 2010

Sex sells.  It’s funny, awkward, lovely, and The Nameless Playwrights Group is here to reassure you that, contrary to pop culture, it still happens when you’re past your 40s, even without plastic surgery.  Nearly all of More Foreplay at the Someday’s playwrights are over 60, and in these 10-minute sex-themed playlets, they’re writing characters they know.  So instead of fussing about acne, the characters are worrying about how to explain their dialysis equipment to a potential lover.  Talk about heightened stakes.
Ellen Chamberlin (nom de plume “West”), the show’s producer and author of the short piece Hal, is herself in her late 70s and has been writing and producing for most of her life.   Based upon the success of last year’s Foreplay at the Someday, she began putting together this kinda-sorta sequel over six months ago, booking the Someday Lounge, securing stage manager Bonnie Toon Sweeney and director Jane Fellows, who has a background in play development, and pushing her writing group to create plays.  
Ellen Chamberlin – Jane is treating this– ‘cause they’re all new scripts – as development.  In December she had a long three-hour rehearsal for each play – and they’re only ten minutes.  She blocked it and said to the actors, “You gotta come back with it memorized.”  And, for the most part, so far, everybody has been pretty much off book, [which means that] Jane really able to get to some of the nitty gritty.
theresa – Have the playwrights done rewrites?  
EC – If necessary.  One of the actors suggested some little things, and most of [the playwrights] have had some production experience.   Usually, if [the production’s] not local, you don’t get to work with all the rehearsals, and I think it’s so important.
th – Getting the opportunity to work with script?
EC – Yeah, when you actually hear actors.  For me it happens when they’re off book and I can hear when it doesn’t work.  Or, you can see the actors groping for what the play means.  One of the plays rehearsed yesterday has a moment, and none of us knew what it was about except the actor, she had really really thought about it.  So she had decided and it really just made the play come alive.  It’s in line with what Jane said, “Yeah, sure try it.”  It seemed like a little thing but it wasn’t.  It really just made the whole end of it work. 
As a writer, I don’t necessarily know what actors need.  From my experience with Bump in the Road – I wrote stuff for them – I learned that you can trust actors, because most [playwrights], I think, in the beginning overwrite and give too many words – for us it’s about the words.  But someone once told me a long time ago it’s not about the words; it’s about the sequence of actions.   I heard Jane yesterday – she said to the actors, “Think of the verb.” “What’s your intention here?”  And if it isn’t in the script, then they have to make it up. 
th – Can you tell me a little bit about each of the plays?
EC – [The evening opens with] the dirtiest poem I’ve ever heard.  Sharon Wood Wortman wrote Engineered for her husband and the first time I heard it he was standing here trying to pretend he didn’t exist, like, ‘I’m not here, I don’t know this woman.’  She used all engineering terms, but it sounds really filthy. 
Hot Dish, by John Donnelly’s got Milo King and Bonnie Ross.  They’re a trailer park couple, mis-matched.  Then How Nice of You to Ask, which is by Rich Rubin, and it’s about a young man interviewing like a Kinsey Report of this old woman.  It’s hilarious.  He’s New York funny.
Then the second act opens with Snafu, by Gretchen O’Halloran and we’ve got Corey Brunish and Kim Bogus, who actually are a couple, but in the play they’re an adulterous couple getting ready to tell their spouses that they’re going to leave them and run off together.  And [Corey’s] this total commando Army person.
The Lust Factor is by Molly Best Tinsley.  It’s a little complicated for a ten minute play but it’s about a young couple and he does not want to be hooked up to the electrodes and have sex with his wife in this laboratory situation. 
th – I don’t blame him.
EC – That would be a little daunting.  And mine is Hal; and for a year I’ve been on dialysis and – this is a pure fantasy – I started thinking, how would I, if I had a boyfriend, manage?  I have a catheter hanging out of me and a machine I hook up to every night.  And that turned out to be really funny.  Well, the actuality isn’t funny.  I just thought I would have a really difficult time talking about it with somebody.   And I’m using [the actress] Dalene Young… and she really gets it, about being older and vulnerable, when you still have all your juices, which I do. 
And then it ends with Derya Ruggles’ piece, Goddess.  It’s definitely a fast piece.  It’s a woman, dreaming of her dream man and then her grandmother appears and there’s a sort of reality check. 
th – What excites you about the project and/or Fertile Ground? 
EC – I love the idea of giving the opportunity [for production] to people who don’t normally have opportunities and supporting them.  The more the merrier.  I think it’s good for audiences, too.  I think Portlanders like fairs, you know. 


The success of last year’s two performance run pushed Ellen to take a risk and book More Foreplay for four nights.  It runs January 24 @ 5pm, January 25 – 27 @ 7pm.  The Someday Lounge, 125 NW 5th, an awesome bar with vegan food.  Buy tickets here.


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