Portfolio

Here are a few images from selected performance works I have written and/or directed, starting with a couple of current projects:

backwards BFW pub shot

Backwards from Winter

I wrote the libretto for composer Douglas Knehans’ monodrama for soprano, electric cello, video and computer, scheduled to premiere in Hobart, Australia, in June 2018, directed by Konstantin Koukias.

A woman traces her memory from a cold winter’s grief after losing her beloved, back to his death in an autumn storm, through the heat of their passion in summer, to the heart-opening birth of their love in spring.

 

PatchReading
photo by Robert Wang

Little Patch of Ground

I wrote the words and music for this play with songs, and Tom Shade and I co-directed a staged reading at Baltimore’s Single Carrot Theater in 2016, as part of my Rubys Artist Project Grant.

Set in the reimagined aftermath of Shakespeare’s Hamlet where an overburdened  planet is rejecting the buried dead, a gravedigger and her brother meet up with a newly re-surfaced Ophelia and Laertes, creating new implications for the question whether “to be or not to be.”

 

The following are some pieces I both wrote and directed:

worldisround03
photo by Igleu Glickman

The World is Round

A chamber opera for 5 singers and 14-piece orchestra, composed by James Sellars, I adapted the libretto from Gertrude Stein’s gorgeous children’s book. While serving as Artistic Director of Hartford, CT’s Company One Theater, I directed the premiere production in 1993 at The Wadsworth Athenaeum’s historic Avery Theatre, where Stein and Virgil Thompson’s Four Saints in Three Acts premiered, six decades earlier.

The World is Round traces the journey of a girl named Rose (is a rose is a rose) who is as full of questions as her cousin Willie is full of answers.

 

CaveInTheSky2

A Cave in the Sky

A play with songs, puppets and video, I wrote the play and lyrics and directed the production at The Culture Project in NYC as part of the Artists at St. Ann’s Puppetlab in 2001. Daniel Nelson led the puppet design and Chas Marsh created the video and music.

The play follows Alexandra, a 19th century French explorateuse meditating in a cave in the Himalayas, and Zöe, a 21st century computer programmer in her darkened “coding cave” atop a city skyscraper.

 

Between Trains 0014
photo by Jay Herzog

Between Trains

A play with songs, with music by Chas Marsh, I wrote the play and lyrics, and directed a production in 2014 at Towson University. The production allowed me to create a final rewrite of the script, scheduled for publication by Blue Moon Plays in January 2018.

In Between Trains, a woman wakes up in a train station between Maybe and Nowhere – everyone she meets is waiting for something or going somewhere, but she’s just looking for a way out.

 

BETWEEN TRAINS
photo by Bill Cain

The professional premiere of Between Trains was directed by Lisa Jo Epstein for Philadelphia’s Gas & Electric Arts in 2010.

 

The following works were commissioned by specific companies:

TheCircle

The Circle

I wrote this audioplay for banished? productions site-specific guided alternative art audio-walk as part of The Capital Fringe, 2012 & 2014, directed by Carmen Wong.

A woman takes us back in time from our future to our past, as we listen in on the musings of a couple of restless teens hanging out in DC’s Dupont Circle neighborhood of the 1970s.

 

lunarpantoum

Pathways Project/Waterwalk: Surface and Depth, Lunar Pantoum        

Nancy Romita and Moving Company commissioned the gamelan opera Waterwalk: Surface and Depth for the 2001 inauguration of a stone labyrinth built for healing on the grounds of Hopkins Bayview Hospital. I wrote the libretto, Robert Macht composed the music, and Nancy Romita directed the work for soprano, gamelan orchestra, narrator and 5 dancers.

Lunar Pantoum was a dance piece created by Nancy Romita and Moving Company later that year, set to a poem I wrote about the Atomic Bomb and the Cherry Hill, NJ, water tower.

 

GilgameshPoster

Immortal: The Gilgamesh Variations

I wrote Tablet One: Stones and Stories for this multi-author adaptation of the eleven tablets that are our only modern access to the ancient Sumerian epic of Gilgamesh. The Forge’s production of Immortal was directed by Gabriel Shanks, and premiered at The Bushwick Starr in 2011.

 

broken
photo by Interrobang Theatre

Broken

I wrote Broken as part of an evening of plays commissioned by Baltimore’s Interrobang Theatre, including the words and music for the song “Sharing a Table,” that closes the play. Broken was directed by Katie Hileman and premiered in 2015 at The Strand, in Baltimore.

Her world and her family are moving targets of misperception for a woman in her eighties who has had a stroke. But the right recipe might hold all the answers.

 

And here are images from a few of the many plays I’ve directed, over the years:

SomeoneWhoWatch2
photo by Stan Barouh

Frank McGuinness’ Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me at Everyman Theatre. The production was named one of Baltimore City Paper’s Top Ten Productions of 2006.

 

MadBreed1
photo by Ian Armstrong

The premiere production of Jacqueline K. Lawton’s Mad Breed at DC’s Active Cultures in 2008.

 

24 7 365

The premiere production of Jennifer Nelson’s 24, 7, 365 at Theatre of the First Amendment, Atlas Theatre, Washington DC, 2011.

 

RedDeath1

Lisa d’Amour’s Red Death at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, 2008.

 

sunspotsA
photo by Igleu Glickman

The premiere production of Charles Borkhuis’ Sunspots at Company One Theater, in 1993.

 

DustCommander

The professional premiere of Suzan-Lori Parks’ Betting on the Dust Commander at Company One, in 1990.

 

Josepine Facehead Remembers James Sellars, 1940-2017

 

 

I recently learned that James Sellars died this past February. James was an incomparable composer, thinker and force of nature and I can’t quite imagine that he’s gone. James used to call me Josepine ( which he pronounced “who’s-a-peen”) Facehead, for reasons of his own. I think he meant it affectionately, but who knows.

 

When I heard the news, I was sitting in a bar in Salzburg with composer Douglas Knehans, discussing plans for our second opera. We’d just seen Alban Berg’s Wozzeck, directed by the South African artist William Kentridge, and were deep in discussion. James came up in conversation and I was thinking that I really wanted to reconnect with him again. I wanted to find out how he was doing, what he was working on, talk with him about Wozzeck, ask him what he was listening to these days. We hadn’t spoken face to face since we’d worked together in Hartford, almost 25 years ago. I had no idea he’d been ill – he’d seemed equal parts monumental and fragile to me, even in those days.

 

I probably wouldn’t have been in that bar in Salzburg if I hadn’t had the great privilege of knowing James – as well as laughing, eating, arguing and working with him. This was in the early 1990s, when I was Artistic Director of Hartford’s Company One Theater, and I spent as much time as I could in the legendary Hog River Family living room (and dining room, when I was especially lucky). So I must also say that Gary Knoble, Robert Black, and Finn Byrhard – as well as the whole brilliant Hog River Gestalt that vibrated around them – were part and parcel of this education for me.

 

Another Sellars, the director Peter (no relation, as I recall), preceded James as my first opera mentor. I saw every production of his that I could, and then got to observe the rehearsal and production process of his Marriage of Figaro in the late eighties. So one of the great delights of my professional life was directing James’ monodrama Chanson Dada in São Paulo, BR, knowing that Peter had directed its premiere at the Monadnock Festival. Douglas and I are preparing for the premiere of a monodrama of our own, Backwards from Winter, so James had come to mind more than once during the process of writing it, but I never followed through on my impulse to get in touch with him.

 

The real crucible of my opera education with James was writing my first libretto (adapted from Gertrude Stein) for his opera The World is Round, then directing the production for Company One in 1993 at The Wadsworth Atheneum, in the same theatre where Stein and Virgil Thompson premiered their Four Saints in Three Acts, 60 years earlier. The two other opera libretti I’ve written since, and the new one I’m beginning now, along with the dozens of lyrics for various plays with songs, have all been influenced by that experience, in one way or another. The World is Round was the first full length work of any kind that I’d written for the stage since undergraduate school, so that was the project that really started me on the path of thinking of myself as a writer, as well as a director.

 

One day we were working in his sweet little composing studio at Hog River, crammed as it was with instruments of every stripe, going over structural questions about the libretto and its interaction with the music. I muttered something about wishing I’d really studied music composition, learned more music theory, stuck with piano lessons longer – so I could write music. I remember him saying something like this: “Can you make up a tune and hum it? Can you clap a beat with your hands? Then you can compose music.” At the time, I thought he was being a bit disingenuous, or perhaps just uncharacteristically modest. After all, this is a man who composed in his sleep, spinning tunes out of his dreams, humming away in his bed. But the echoes of that conversation come to mind when I think about my decision to start writing songs for my own plays, starting with Broken and Little Patch of Ground.

 

I don’t call myself a composer. But I am today accorded the great joy of making up tunes and clapping out beats as I work on writing the songs for Splitting Atoms with a Butter Knife, my new play with songs about the Atomic Bomb. Immersed in that history, I’m thinking about impermanence even more than usual. Our parting had been complicated, as they say, but James and I exchanged friendly letters a few years ago, and I’d always thought that I’d see him again someday, preferably during a second production of our opera.

 

The Hog River house had a truly extraordinary collection of flora, thanks to the brilliant green thumb of James’ partner Gary. There was one particularly spectacular plant, I think it was a Night-Blooming Cereus, that only blooms one night a year. So for one night each year, the giant yet delicate alien blooms emerge for a few hours, smelling like sex in heaven, giving the household an excellent reason for cocktails, company and celebration. I have one of these beauties next to my meditation cushion, although it’s a puny thing compared to the magnificent one at Hog River. It didn’t bloom this year, but I’m going to try to coax a blossom or two from it next year.