Friday, January 30, 2015
Spotlight On...Danny Mitarotondo
Hometown: Bridgewater, New Jersey
Education: BA, Gallatin at NYU; MFA, Playwriting at Columbia University
Favorite Credits: All of them.
Why theater?: Theater is the only thing in the universe that makes me feel like I am making my own universe in a universe larger than myself. It’s balanced; it’s generous. It’s gorgeous.
Tell us about Sun and Room: Sun and Room is about three college students hanging out on a Friday night, from sundown to sunup. The goal of being present and with each other takes the characters and audience on a journey through layers of connection, vulnerability, pain, and triumph.
What inspired you to write Sun and Room?: I was teaching playwriting at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado – a small liberal arts school on top of a mountain in Southwest Colorado. The department commissioned me to write a play for its students. As a professor I saw students doing Durang, Kauffman and Hart, Chekhov – work that was good for them to play with, but in performance, looked almost comical because they were too young. Not by their own fault: those plays weren’t written for their age group – there aren’t many plays written for their age group. I realized that the contemporary plays about early 20s students are old now – they were written in the 90s. And anything new seems to treat college students like they are struggling through an abyss of social problems: abortions, drug overdoses, drunk driving – like college students need morality plays instead of honest, realistic plays with gravitas. Am I so conditioned to think that theater is white 40s and 50s adults Virginia Woolf-ing it up in a room that I’d forgotten to write for my own tribe? So I wrote for my own tribe. Together with Dr. Ginny Davis (who directed the Fort Lewis College production of Sun and Room), I auditioned thirty students and chose three: Leah Brewer, Matthew Socci and Zoë Pike. I interviewed these actors and studied their voices. I wanted to write dialogue that sounded accurate to their speech, the speech of early 20s adults. I wanted to study how iPhones change our language. I wanted to write around physical behavior – unfinished sentences, overlapping and competitive text. I was inspired by Edward Hopper’s paintings and so I tried to write with the way he treats perspective, subject, light, and shadow. I started to experiment using a playwriting technique called the Score, which I created with Shannon Fillion. In the Score text is written horizontally, like sheet music. The Score allowed me to orchestrate the onstage relationships with precision – create dialogue that overlaps and competes. I was fortunate to work with the actors in the room as I was writing, and so I was able to write around their behavior in tandem with the choices of my director. Guided by the tenants that the play was about the present, not the past; that the play’s design was inspired by the realism of Edward Hopper, which is not totally realism; and that characters should at all times sound like Leah, Matt and Zoë, not me – together, my team and I slowly built the story of Sun and Room: a play about three college students hanging out on a Friday night. Last year, Sun and Room had a production at Fort Lewis College and then another production in LA at the Region VIII Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival.Now, our story and team are in New York City. Under Shannon Fillion’s direction, we have crafted a specific and fully realized version of my original impulse in collaboration with the Colorado actors, designers, and crewwho created it with me. I couldn’t be more excited. We have something very special.
What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: At the moment, I am drawn to theater that keeps me in the moment – whatever style. I believe that is my job: to give people the permission to be in the moment; to give an audience the choice to let go and be carried into a new experience, with care. I’ve only seen two plays in my life that have carried me into the moment: David Cromer’s production of Our Town and Anya Saffir’s production of The Happy Journey to Trenton and Camden.
If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: David Cromer. I saw his production of Our Town five times. I think I went into debt because of that production. Thornton Wilder might be my favorite playwright and Cromer’s production blew me away. David, if you are reading this … come see Sun and Room.
What show have you recommended to your friends?: Aside from the two plays mentioned above, I’ve only recommended Circle Mirror Transformation. I saw Circle in previews and was shocked and delighted. The audience could feel that Annie Baker was a writer to be excited about. It was an amazing show.
Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: Hopefully someone attractive in "Hopefully Someone Attractive". It’s a romantic comedy.
If you could go back in time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?: The original production of Edward Bond’s Saved.
What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: Sitcoms.
If you weren’t working in theater, you would be _____?: Writing sitcoms. Or working in a cemetery.
What’s up next?: I wrote the libretto for an opera, with music by Rachel DeVore Fogarty, directed by my dear friend and collaborator Mo Zhou. It is an adaptation of Maupassant’s The Necklace. Also, Shannon Fillion and I will start working toward Brontosaurus Haircut Productions’ 2016 production of my play Manmade Mistakes. This is going to be a good, good year.