Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Spotlight On...Vanda

Name: Hi, my name is Vanda. I only use my first name, which seems to really upset some people. One director informed me that he would never work with a playwright who only had one name. Still, I do have my fans. Edward Albee calls me “the playwright with one name.”

Hometown: I guess you must mean the place where I was born and grew up.  After decades of living her, New York City is home to me. But I grew up in Huntington Station, right next to Huntington where four of my characters in the novel and show Juliana come from.

Education: A doctorate in psychology.

Favorite credits:  "Juliana", the novel, Juliana, the show based on the novel, which is performed at the Duplex Cabaret every second Tuesday of the month.  Edward Albee Fellowship. National Lambda Literary Award finalist in Drama. First place winner in “Best new LGBT play” at Celebration Theater, Los Angeles, CA (where Naked Boys Singing got its start)
Why theater?: I saw my first play when I was 12. It was Oklahoma. As a working class kid I had no idea that grown-ups could actually get up on stage and play parts and sing and dance.  I was staggered and went straight home to start rewriting (stealing) Oklahoma. In eighth grade I wrote my first novel. My English teacher noted that I had a flair for dialogue.  I didn’t know what to do with that “flair” until after I graduated with my doctorate. It wasn’t a month after I was freed from my boring dissertation that I was hit with a desperate need to write a play. Why? I don’t know.

Tell us about Juliana: Juliana began first as a novel, which will be released this February and is available for pre-order now from all the on-line sellers in both print and e-copy.  Juliana is the story of dreams, the dreams of two women who randomly, inevitably cross paths, of stage stardom and soulful songs amid the deceptions required in a prewar 1941 New York City, where love was presumed to be straight, and destiny was supposed to be written in the stars. Alice “Al” Huffman comes from the potato fields of Long Island with her beau, her best girlfriend and her girlfriend’s beau to make it on the Broadway stage only to find she has no talent. On the kids’ first day in New York City, they meet Maxwell P. Hartwell III, a failed nightclub owner and Broadway producer, who, according to Al, looks a little like Clark Gable. He invites them to a nightclub where Al hears Juliana, the glamorous, perpetually-on-the-brink-of stardom nightclub singer, sing for the first time. Al is instantly drawn to her and seeks her out. Juliana, a sexual risk-taker, easily reels in the mesmerized Al. Al is increasingly pulled into a secret gay underworld of men who wear dresses and women who smoke cigars, while her childhood friends continue in their “normal” lives.  Al glides easily between the two worlds until these worlds begin to collide.  Before Juliana was slated to be published, back in December, 2104 I found an actor who had been working with me on other projects and asked him if he would direct a few chapters from my novel for the stage. That’s how Ray Fritz became my director. He is such a marvelous talent. Other directors wouldn’t take on the project because it wasn’t a play in the traditional sense, but Ray is always up for a challenge. We gathered some exceptional actors and began performing chapters from the novel beginning with chapter 1 at the Duplex Cabaret on Christopher Street. Over the months we’ve developed a following of repeat audience who come to the Duplex each month to find out what happens next. We’ve expanded how we perform these chapters by including singing and dancing from the time period. Our show is part radio program, part novel, part nightclub entertainment and part play.

What inspired you to write Juliana?: From an intellectual perspective Juliana tells the story of LGBT history as the characters live it.  I felt a need to 1. Know more about this history myself and 2. To share this fascinating history with others. From an emotional level there is always the magic that grabs you by the throat and says, “You must write this piece.”  This magic took me over one afternoon when I was walking down Waverly Street, about to step off the curb at Fifth Avenue. Coming toward me from the other side of Fifth I saw a woman in a salmon colored cardigan sweater walking toward me.  I didn’t see much of the rest of her. My eyes focused on the shape and color of her neck and how the pearl necklace sat on her d├ęcolletage. In that moment Juliana was born.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: I have a wide range of theatrical tastes.  I can enjoy a traditional toe-tapping musical and I can enjoy a thoughtful in depth piece that explores character.

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with who would it be?: Meryl Streep. I am a lover of truly great acting.  In the US we focus everything on celebrity rather than acting, but when I see good acting—and I more often see this in non-celebrities, like the actors in my cast for Juliana—I am totally enthralled and excited. Meryl Streep is one of the few celebrities who insists that she be allowed to act and not simply pose. I would love to hear my words coming out of her mouth.

What show have you recommended to your friends?: Arthur Miller’s Incident at Vichy. Breath-taking!

If you could go back in time and could see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?: I could never pick just one. For musicals I would go back to the 1941 version of Lady in the Dark, for straight plays I would want to see the original 1945 production of Glass Menagerie. How exciting it must have been to experience Laurette Taylor as Amanda Wingfield.  And I would have loved being at the original Broadway production of Eugene O’Neill’s masterpiece Long Day’s Journey Into Night in 1956.

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: Since I don’t feel guilty about my pleasures I don’t know how to answer your question.

If you weren’t working in theater what would you be ____?: A psychotherapist.

What’s up next?: Juliana has been extended to December 2016!  In March we will finish Volume 1 (1941-1944) Then in April we’ll do a short recap of the early chapters of the novel to catch people up who haven’t seen the show from the beginning. In May we begin Juliana, Volume 2: Post War Years—1945-1955.