Monday, March 19, 2012

Spotlight On...Bella Poynton

Name: Bella Poynton

Hometown: Buffalo, NY

Education: BFA in Acting, Boston University, Working on an MFA in Playwriting from the Iowa Playwright's Workshop.

Select Credits: Pope Joan (New World Stages, InCite Arts Festival), Unpopular Devotion (New Perspectives Theatre Company), A House Full of Dust (Wings Theatre), Hey Mary (Midtown International Theatre Festival), Fat Actress/Ugly Model and Other Destructive Labels for Women (WriteAct Eastside Repertory), Yellowknife (The TANK), Advanced Programs System (The American Globe Theatre and A Festival Of Fools), Who Is Dan Schiller? (LookingGlass Theatre), The Age and The Experiment (The Barrow Group FAB Project), The Angel Play (LookingGlass Theatre)

Why theater?: I get the sense that I am part of something larger when I see or create theater. Theater is healthy for communities. The ancient Greeks used to go to the theater in order to see themselves—to learn more about the society they lived in, and I wish we did more of that today.  I also have a deep spiritual connection to the theater. It’s very clear in a number of my plays.  I know I’m meant to be working in the theater because it’s the only thing that fills my spirit with joy.

Tell us about The Angel Play: Well I’ve always been interested in faith in our culture—particularly now, as we try to rediscover our spiritual identity after the Bush era. The Angel Play is really a hybrid of a number of different faith constructions. It explores the idea of the ancient zodiac eon (a period of 2000 years), and how that plays into the Judeo-Christian tradition. The Virgin Mary was having her baby at a very interesting time in history—the zodiac system was shifting from Aries into Pieces, and interestingly, now, just over 2000 years later, we are moving again from Pieces into Aquarius. So in a way, the play is a mirror image of our own time. I wanted to write a play about this young girl, moving from girlhood into adulthood,  from being a frightened bystander,  into a powerful prophetess-- all while the world was teetering on the brink of a brand new era.

What inspired you to write The Angel Play?: Western spirituality has always been fascinating to me. It’s so dramatic! I also don’t think people write about the Virgin Mary enough. I mean, there’s a lot about her son, but not so much about her. She is such an important image of female power and beauty! If you look closely at the image of Our Lady of Grace (the one with Mary in blue and white), she is actually stepping on the head of the serpent—the lady is a warrior!  She’s not messing around.  I’ve always liked this idea of the powerful spiritual woman— wrestling with her identity in relationship to both men and God. We need more stories about powerful women. It’s high time.

What kind of theater speaks to you?
What or who inspires you as an artist?: Anything new and fresh. Old stories told in new ways are always a treat. Take risks. Be bold. I like plays that scream this message out loud. There is a company in Chicago called StrangeTree, focusing on supernatural and paranormal themes that sound fantastic.  Timeline Theatre Company, also in Chicago, are doing incredible work, as well as pretty much anything anything given a reading the LARK, or done at the Women's Project or Youngblood at Ensemble Studio Theatre. Oh gosh, so many things inspire me! New plays that really push the envelope inspire me. I’m going to the Humana Festival next week—my friend Idris Goodwin’s play How We Got On is happening there, and I’m so excited to see it in production. Right now, I’m pretty much obsessed with anything science fiction or steam punk. It’s a whole genre focused on taking old stories, and revamping and retelling them in new ways.  I can’t think of anything more inspirational than that.

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: I think every playwrights dream is to work with the amazing artists at New Dramatists. I would love to take a class with Naomi Wallace. I’d probably faint first, though. Someday, I want to write a part for Benedict Cumberbatch—he’s pretty much the hottest thing over in Britain right now (not to mention disgustingly talented), and I’d absolutely die happy if a show of mine was directed by Mary Zimmerman. I love her sensibility for spectacle—big sweeping stories. I love that stuff. I wish it was done more often.

What show have you recommended to your friends?:
I’ve been in Iowa City at the Playwrights Workshop all year, so I haven’t seen much New York Theater as of late, but I did see two really cool new plays here over Christmastime: Samuel & Alasdair: A Personal History of the Robot War, presented by the New Ohio Theatre, and Chimera, a one woman show created by Suli Holum and Deborah Stein that was being performed as part of The Public Theatre’s Under the Radar Festival. They were both really thought provoking pieces. I like seeing smaller, more obscure shows. They always surprise me and I love being surprised, so I would suggest going to see something small; a new play somewhere downtown that you wouldn’t usually go to. Surprise yourself. That’s my recommendation.

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: Hmmm… Carrie Fisher. But when she was a young woman. Circa 1980-ish. She has this amazing crassness about her. Funny and bold and unapologetic.  I think that’s an accurate self description. Maybe it would be called something like “Red Lipstick and Diet Coke”!

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: Oooh, that’s easy—"Doctor Who". It’s a campy British Science fiction television show on the BBC. If you don’t know it yet, go watch right now!  I’m legitimately obsessed. No, really, I have a problem. I’ve actually considered travelling to Cardiff, England to crash the set and get autographs.

If you weren’t working in theater, you would be______: I’d probably be writing terrible science fiction novels. You know; the kind that all us nerdy girls (and boys!) read when we were like 12? Yeah… or maybe I would have gone to medical school. Yes!—Doctor Poynton. I like the sound of that!

What’s up next?: Well, I literally have 4 full length plays ready and awaiting world production, so if you are looking for new material, please drop me an email! This April, I have a staged reading in the annual New Play Festival at the University of Iowa, a play being published later this year, and I’m also working on a commission for an experimental Shakespeare Company called The Dark Lady Players. I like to keep busy!

For more on Bella, visit