Tuesday, 11 July 2017

The Portable Dramaturgy: Dorothy Parker @ Edfringe 2017

Edinburgh Fringe 2017
Grove Goddess Productions and Fringe Management


Gilded Balloon Rose Street - Studio
Wed 2 – Mon 28 Aug., 16:00 (17:20)

THE PORTABLE DOROTHY PARKER has been developed over the past few years by playwright Annie Lux, director Lee Costello, and actress Margot Avery, and has been workshopped at Ensemble Studio Theatre in New York City and presented at the Piccolo Spoleto Festival in Charleston, South Carolina, the New York International Fringe Festival, the Hollywood Fringe Festival & theatres throughout the United States.

What was the inspiration for this performance?

Dorothy Parker has always been a favorite of all three of us. But the project itself sprang from an idea from our director, Lee Costello. She had always thought that actress Margot Avery would be perfect as Dorothy Parker and that her “fantasy pick” for playwright would be Annie Lux, with whom she’d worked many years earlier. By happy chance, the three came together in Margot’s living room and the project was launched.

Is performance still a good space for the public discussion of ideas? 

Absolutely! Storytelling of all kinds has always and continues to be a great way further understanding and debate ideas. With theatre, there are so many elements to play with: the situation in which the characters find themselves; the different ideas and personalities of the characters and their dialogue allow rich opportunities for exploring ideas in a personal and interpersonal way. 

In addition to dialogue between characters on the stage, a good performance can spark discourse on ideas among audience members long after the curtain has come down.
In our show, Dorothy Parker talks openly about her activism—marching for Sacco and Vanzetti, cofounding the Screen Writers Guild and chairing the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League. (Mrs. Parker would later leave her estate to Martin Luther King, Jr., a man she had never met but greatly admired.) 

In addition to these more overt things, Mrs. Parker herself provides an example of a woman who made a career for herself in what was then still very much a man’s world; who was not afraid to stand up for herself and, especially, for others; who lived her life according to her own rules; and who proved that a woman could be smart and sharp and critical and not always nice—yet still be loved and admired.

How did you become interested in making performance?

Margot is a third generation actress, so performance was a natural means of expression for her. Her father, Val Avery, was a character actor with a long career in movies and television. Her mother, Margot Stevenson, was a stage actress who originated the role of Alice Sycamore in Kaufman & Hart’s You Can’t Take It With You on Broadway. Margot’s parents were married in London while her mother played the West End in Sweet Peril and The Seven Year Itch. 
Annie has been writing since she can remember, but in a small town in western Pennsylvania where theater was limited to high school performances. A television production of Thornton Wilder’s Our Towncaptured her imagination, and a playwright was born. She went on to study playwriting at New York University and Columbia University in New York City.
For Lee, directing has been a calling since she was a teenager and directed for Auburn Children’s Theatre in upstate New York. Initiating original theatre pieces has been at the forefront of much of her directing career, beginning with her work with The Protean Theatre in Hartford, Connecticut, and continuing on once she moved to New York City and joined The Circle Rep Lab, Ensemble Studio Theatre, and The West Bank Theatre Bar.

Is there any particular approach to the making of the show?

The title The Portable Dorothy Parker refers not just to the Viking Press book that’s being assembled during the play, but also to the production itself: the show itself is indeed portable (and it’s been “ported” all over the USA as well as to Edinburgh!), since the set and production requirements are very simple. 

This works not just on a practical level, but also allows the focus to be on the title character: her words, ideas, and emotional journey.

Does the show fit with your usual productions?

A one-person show is a departure for all three company members. For Margot, it’s meant carrying the show alone, with no other actors to play off, not to mention memorizing all those lines! For Annie and Lee, the challenge was to create not just a one-person show, but a play: to tell a story with a distinct arc—a beginning, middle, and end—using only one character. This show, more than most, is truly also truly a collaboration and ongoing process between playwright, director, and actor.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

We hope that the audience will not only enjoy Dorothy Parker’s wit and writing, but will also come away with a greater sense of the woman—her strengths, vulnerability, pain, and resilience—behind the sharp tongue and poison pen. We’re been fortunate that our feedback from audiences so far has confirmed that we are achieving that goal.

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?

We open the show with Mrs. Parker at her venomous best, tongue sharpened to a point, which the audience loves. We also used Mrs. Parker’s most famous lines as the first of her works to be quoted: “Men seldom make passes/At girls who wear glasses.” 

This puts the audience on firm ground and allows them to stay with her—and root for her—as she softens and reveals herself more as the play goes on. Of course, we’ve included many of Mrs. Parker’s own lines and poems, so the audience gets a real overview of this woman’s amazing life and career.

Margot Avery (Performer) is a third generation actress and an artist/member of the renowned Ensemble Studio Theatre in New York City with numerous stage credits in New York and beyond.  Her several prior appearances in Edinburgh include her role as Phebe in Arlene Hutton’s As It Is in Heaven, which was shortlisted for The Stage Award for Ensemble Acting Excellence.  Annie Lux (Playwright) holds degrees in playwriting from New York University and Columbia University.  Her plays include Natural Disasters, Lives of Saints, and Grimm Reality, which was performed in the Benchwarmers Festival at the Santa Fe (New Mexico) Playhouse. Lee Costello (Director) is also a member of Ensemble Studio Theatre, in both New York and Los Angeles.  She has directed theatre throughout the United States, including at Lincoln Center and La Mama in New York and at The Second City and REDCAT at the Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles.  
 New York City, 1943.  Dorothy Parker—member of the legendary Algonquin Round Table, famous for her razor wit – reluctantly entertains a young woman editor from Viking Press.   Mrs. Parker reminisces about her life: her famous friends (Lillian Hellman, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway), the wits of the Round Table (Alexander Woollcott, Robert Benchley, George S. Kaufman), the founding of The New Yorker magazine, her Hollywood screenwriting days and her many loves and heartbreaks as she sorts through her poems and short stories, for Viking’s new collection: THE PORTABLE DOROTHY PARKER.

Fringe Management (Producer) has produced over 40 shows at the Fringe since 2001, including the Fringe First winner runt, and several productions featuring The Pajama Men.

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