Rogue Theatre Festival founder and Artistic Director, Allison Hohman, interviews Playwright Serena Norr and her team about their upcoming production this Saturday, December 12th at 2:00pm.
In this story, Villa is put to sleep at Morning Ritual, a seemingly peaceful retreat to help those who have undergone trauma. However, she wakes before she completes the transgressive period - causing her counselors (Lucie and Beam) to question her and everything they thought they knew about the science at the Ritual. With pandering and back and forth questioning, Lucie and Beam try to understand what caused Villa to wake up while doing their best to conceal the truth that Villa starts to reveal.
Serena Norr is interviewed by Allison Hohman.
Allison Hohman: Where did you get the inspiration for writing your piece? Serena Norr: year ago, I was given a prompt with a picture of someone sleeping. I had to write the play overnight and used that image as a tool to create this world. Having no time helped me to not overthink it and just use the mysteriousness of sleep as the focus.
Allison Hohman: What is your writing process? When inspiration strikes? One hour a day? Serena Norr: Recently, I’ve been waking up at 5am (gulp!) to write a screenplay. My routine sort of ebbs and flows though, depending on what I’m working on. When I’m not writing a long piece, I try to write in some way every day. Sometimes that’s an hour, sometimes it’s 20 minutes.
Allison Hohman: How did you first get involved with theater and becoming a playwright? Serena Norr: I didn’t really have access to theater as a child and didn’t know being a playwright actually was a thing. I loved movies, though, and was obsessed with characters and dialogue and would write little scenes and make plays (as gifts to my mom) with my sister. I was a Theater minor in college and really loved the Playwriting class. I constantly read plays and learned about playwrights. I’ve been writing plays, and creating my own worlds ever since.
Allison Hohman: What do you love about this piece and what will others love about it? Serena Norr: I love that it’s a little weird (ha!). I realized that there is a pattern in my work --that’s slightly mysterious and odd and I like that this piece enompases all of that. Also, I’m a huge Twilight Zone fan and I love how Michael and the cast captured that feel.
Allison Hohman: How important do you think it is for theatre festivals to offer opportunities for new or up and coming playwrights? Serena Norr: It’s so important! It’s the best way to keep the cycle of creation open and foster new ideas. There are so many creative/amazing voices out there and festivals are really one of the tools to get work out there, connect and grow as an artist.
Allison Hohman: Have you participated in theater festivals before? What was that experience like? What has your experience with Rogue Theater Festival been? Serena Norr: I have been in a few festivals. This experience with Rogue was incredible This was the very time I was able to film and be in person with a cast post-COVID! Everything was super professional, organized, and hopeful. I can’t wait to see how it all comes out.
Allison Hohman: How has the rehearsal and performance process differed now in Covid times vs. regular times? Serena Norr: We are all adapting the best we can to Zoom and its limitations. However, Zoom can be draining, presents some tech issues and does not play into the organic moments (human emotions) that happen on the stage.
Allison Hohman: If you weren’t a playwright, what would you be doing? Serena Norr: I don’t want to be anything else BUT if I had to do it would be something with travel. Maybe traveling around the world, meeting people, eating amazing food, learning about other cultures. Or maybe I can do both!
Allison Hohman: Any advice for aspiring playwrights? Serena Norr: Keep at it! That’s what I tell myself, too. The road can be murky and long, so try to be consistent and find your flow in your own stories. Also, get that first draft (writing dump) down on the page as soon as the idea strikes. Then, chip away at it and find the rhythm of the world you’re creating. Start small - give yourself at least 20 (uninterrupted) minutes for your writing. Also, we are living in strange and weird times but theaters from around the world are still producing. Use this time to share your work with people/theaters you would never have the opportunity to meet in the ole’ days. There hasn’t been a better opportunity to connect while we are so disconnected.
Serena Norr: Allison Hohman: What’s up next for you? I have a new play in the Omaha Fringe Festival (online) and I would like to finish the screenplay by the end of the year. Who knows what 2021 will bring??
Here, Allison talks to Director Michael Ortiz
Allison Hohman: When were you first inspired to be a director? Michael Ortiz: I fell in love with theater and film at a young age. My dad introduced me to the classic Universal Monsters and Abbott & Costello when I was in elementary school, and my parents would take me to see a Broadway Show every year when we visited family in the city. I was hooked. I knew I wanted to be a part of it.
Allison Hohman: What is your preparation process before going into rehearsals? Michael Ortiz: World building is essential for me. Figuring out when/where our characters are, and how the given circumstances of the world affect our characters and their relationships is the first step. I like to enter rehearsals with a question for each actor regarding how their character fits into the world at large, that way we can continually dig into the nuance of the role throughout the process.
Allison Hohman: Q: How did you get involved with theater and directing? Michael Ortiz: I started doing theater in middle school, but basically throughout my entire childhood prior to that I loved to act out entire scenes from my favorite movies for my parents where I would play all the parts (I was a very cool kid). While I had been interested in directing for a long time, I actually didn’t start until I was in undergrad. The first show I directed was a production of Shakespeare (Abridged) my junior year, which turned out to be a hit (yaaaaay)! I kept directing through the rest of undergrad and a little bit postgrad, doing Drunk Shakespeare as an apprentice at Williamstown Theatre Festival. I took a short break from directing when I moved to NYC to pursue acting, but ironically enough, the influx of virtual theater during this pandemic has thrusted me back into the director’s seat.
Allison Hohman: What has been most exciting about bringing this script to life? Most challenging? Michael Ortiz: The world of this play is just so intriguing and the characters all have such specific relationships to the work that’s going on in the script. Serena has really given us so many rich nuggets of subtext and still left so many lingering questions for audiences that will make them want to revisit the piece. It really lent itself to the stylized direction in which I wanted to take it. This is our second time working together and it was such a pleasure getting to collaborate again.
The biggest challenge was definitely just having to deal with rehearsing the show, which we knew we were going to perform in-person, almost entirely via Zoom.
Allison Hohman: What did you love most about directing this piece and what will others love about it? Michael Ortiz: I loved getting to play with light and sound in this piece. I really wanted to immerse the audience in this futuristic-feeling sleep lab and create an atmosphere that’s supposed to feel serene, but that just can’t help but have an increasingly sinister air to it. I was genuinely shocked and thrilled with the outcome.
Allison Hohman: What are some things this rehearsal and performance process has taught you? Michael Ortiz: This process has definitely shown me that there’s absolutely still a future for theater in the wake of this pandemic. I think more theaters should adapt this model of filming live performances to broadcast online - I think it’s so simple and yet so effective.
Allison Hohman: How has the rehearsal and performance process differed now in Covid times vs. regular times? Michael Ortiz: This process was definitely unique. We had to prep for a stage performance almost entirely on Zoom. The majority of our rehearsals were done online as if we were prepping for a simple reading, and we only had two short in-person rehearsals before we filmed.
Allison Hohman: If you weren’t a director, what would you be doing? Michael Ortiz: I would want to be on the creative team of a gaming company like Wizards of the Coast. That would be a dream.
Allison Hohman: Any advice for aspiring directors? Michael Ortiz: Just go for it, dude. Even if you don’t think you’re qualified or skilled enough to do it. Nobody is Steven Spielberg or Greta Gerwig their first time around the block. Just do the thing, enjoy it, learn from it. Take that risk that’s going to separate you from the rest, and if you fail in the process, fail epically.
Allison Hohman: What’s up next for you? Michael Ortiz: I’m a resident actor with a company called Breaking & Entering that has an ongoing play reading series, so I’m usually working on something with them in some capacity. I’ve also got
another potential festival project in the works. And I’m currently in the process of writing a scripted paranormal comedy podcast.
Allison Hohman Talks to Karen Mulanda (Playing Beam).
Allison Hohman: When were you first inspired to be an actor? Karen Mulanda: I was first inspired to be an actor after sitting onstage during a performance of the National Tour of Spring Awakening in 2010. I had already been performing by that point but I hadn’t felt the inspiration and drive to take acting seriously. I was drawn to the fierce presence and incredible work from the entire cast. Seeing them work that close up made me realize “holy shit. I need to do this for the rest of my life.”
Allison Hohman: What is your preparation process before going into rehearsals? Karen Mulanda: Before going into rehearsals I read the material several times. I make notes of any questions I may have regarding my character and the play itself. I start brainstorming ideas of what kind of person this character is, what kind of person does the character think they are and how does that affect the world of the play.
Allison Hohman: How did you get involved with theater and acting? Karen Mulanda: I was cast in the ensemble of Mulan Jr. at my school when I was in the 7th grade. It was my first audition and my worst audition to this day. I also first learned a lot about theater in the 7th grade because I would sit in on rehearsals for my sister’s high school drama club after school. She was my ride home.
Allison Hohman: What do you love about your character and what will others love about it? Karen Mulanda: I love Beam’s optimism. I adore how she looks at things with fresh eyes and a positive attitude. I think others will love how easily excitable she is and how easily distracted she becomes when she latches onto a nugget of joy.
Allison Hohman: What has been most exciting about bringing this script to life? Most challenging? Karen Mulanda: It was exciting to bring these complicated relationships to life. These three women are written with such beautiful specificity and their given circumstances are so mysterious. The most challenging aspect was getting out of my own head. I felt moments of imposter syndrome and self doubt creeping up because it had been so long since I had acted in something in person. I had to step back and release those thoughts that didn’t serve me in order to better collaborate and do the work.
Allison Hohman: What are some things this rehearsal and performance process has taught you? Karen Mulanda: This entire process taught me to slow down and enjoy the work. The more time I took to prepare mentally and physically, the more grounded and joyful I felt. The rehearsal process reignited my passion and excitement toward the future of theatre.
Allison Hohman: How has the rehearsal and performance process differed now in Covid times vs. regular times? Karen Mulanda: This process began as several Zoom rehearsals. We met for two, fully masked in person rehearsals and then had two unmasked recordings. The time we had to explore physicality and blocking was limited but I believe it also forced us to make bold choices in a short amount of time.
Allison Hohman: If you weren’t an actor, what would you be doing? Karen Mulanda: If I wasn’t an actor, I would be a personal trainer and/or yoga instructor.
Allison Hohman: Any advice for aspiring actors? Karen Mulanda: If you’re going to fail, fail big. Make big choices and don’t stifle what makes you uniquely you. Also-unlock your knees.
Allison Hohman: What’s up next for you? Karen Mulanda: I’ll be working as a Simulation Specialist with Mursion and making time to finally write a play or two.
Actor Ashley Morton, playing the role of Lucie, talks to Allison Hohman
Allison Hohman: When were you first inspired to be an actor? Ashley Morton: I knew I wanted to act ever since I was in grade school, but I was overjoyed when I knew I could make a career out of it. Making yearly trips to New York with my mom really solidified the need to be like those professionals on stage that made me laugh, cry, sweat and swoon. It was what spring training was for baseball nerds, but for a theatre geek with too many showtunes in her head.
Allison Hohman: What is your preparation process before going into rehearsals? Ashley Morton: Quietly run my lines on the subway hoping no one hears me. Have a snack, drink some water, enjoy a lovely voice/body warmup.
Allison Hohman: How did you get involved with theater and acting? Ashley Morton: I’ve been acting since I was just a kiddo! Pretty classic tale of girl likes attention, girl meets stage, stage offers many opportunities for attention...ta da! But in all seriousness, acting in the afterschool plays was how I found my people. It’s felt like home ever since.
Allison Hohman: What do you love about your character and what will others love about it? Ashley Morton: I’m not too confident others will love my character! Or they may love her for being so unlike themselves (hopefully). I love Lucie (ha!) because she’s extremely smart and knows how to get what she wants. Her means are questionable – if not despicable – but her intentions are very earnest.
Allison Hohman: What has been most exciting about bringing this script to life? Most challenging? Ashley Morton: It’s been very exciting to interpret a new work. Serena offers so much to work with in her writing, and a lot of room for exploration. The most challenging bit was trying to connect ideas over zoom in the early goings of rehearsal. Gathering together for the first time to work on it in person was a dream come true!
Allison Hohman: What are some things this rehearsal and performance process has taught you? Ashley Morton: 1) I should really know my lines better. 2) Don’t take a single opportunity to perform for granted. 3) Your fellow theatre folks are always going to be there for you.
Allison Hohman: How has the rehearsal and performance process differed now in Covid times vs. regular times? Ashley Morton: It definitely felt more precious. You can’t really treat it with any sort of abandon, whether that’s improvising a movement (gotta be careful when coming into contact with others) or take for granted the time you’re given to work. If I didn’t already feel lucky getting to be a part of this community before COVID, I sure as heck do now.
Allison Hohman: If you weren’t an actor, what would you be doing? Ashley Morton: If I weren’t an actor I’d be a chef! Or a psychiatrist.
Allison Hohman: Any advice for aspiring actors? Ashley Morton: Don’t stop.
Allison Hohman: What’s up next for you? Ashley Morton: Listening to Christmas music too early and making lots of pumpkin bread!
Pearl Shin, playing the role of Villa, interviewed by Allison Hohman
Allison Hohman: When were you first inspired to be an actor? Pearl Shin: I have no idea, but my first live performance was when I danced on top of our TV when I was two. I got rave reviews.
Allison Hohman: What is your preparation process before going into rehearsals? Pearl Shin: When we were still taking trains to physical rehearsal spaces, I would review my lines, director's notes, questions I'd been asked to answer to further explore my character...sometimes I'd also listen to music that my character would listen to.
Allison Hohman: How did you get involved with theater and acting? Pearl Shin: I'm a bit of a latecomer to the acting scene but in middle school and high school I loved going to drama and film camp. My parents wouldn't let me be a theater major, but I still took some theater classes in college (Patricia Riggin and Luke Jorgensen really shaped my time there). It wasn't until a few years after college where I tried to get involved in the theater scene (I started out in Boston and then moved to New York City 5 years ago to further pursue acting).
Allison Hohman: What do you love about your character and what will others love about it? Pearl Shin: I love that Villa has an intense creative energy that comes out in her dreams, and also an incredibly deep spiritual connection with her family and her son in particular. I think a mother's intuition is one of the most powerful tools she has. And because she's a mom, she's also just tired, which gives her very human and humorous moments that I think the audience will appreciate, too.
Allison Hohman: What has been most exciting about bringing this script to life? Most challenging? Pearl Shin: I've never played a character that's immediately entered the scene not knowing who or where she was. And pretending to sleep is kind of amazing. But really, having to sort of self-actualize in real time during the course of the show and exploring the nature of dreams and sleep was such an exciting acting challenge that I'd never encountered before. The most challenging may have been getting the hang of Zoom call rehearsals (but even that had its own pros!).
Allison Hohman: What are some things this rehearsal and performance process has taught you? Pearl Shin: We can make theater work! I think the team behind the Rogue Theater Festival did such an amazing job making sure everyone was safe while slowly re-introducing theater back into our lives in a post-COVID New York City. Michael (director) and Serena (writer) have also been so diligent and communicative so that we're all informed and prepared to do the work in a way that keeps everyone healthy and COVID-free. All that to say, in spite of my doubts, theater CAN be done and I have a lot of hope for the future!!
Allison Hohman: How has the rehearsal and performance process differed now in Covid times vs. regular times? Pearl Shin: The entire cast got tested for COVID before we did in-person rehearsals, and we also wore our masks. We got tested again before we went into tech and taped the show. So there was a bit more outside work we had to do on our end, but definitely worth it to ensure the safety of everyone. While the Zoom rehearsals provided their own unique challenges (delays, mic issues, not being able to marry much movement with the words), I think we made the best of what we had.
Allison Hohman: If you weren’t an actor, what would you be doing? Pearl Shin: I would've been copywriting for 10 years then decided I wanted to be a painter instead.
Allison Hohman: Any advice for aspiring actors? Pearl Shin: Find a friend that encourages you, supports you, loves the same art as you, and is on the same creative journey. Just having one makes a world of difference and can help you get through the beauty and absolutely absurdity of this industry.
Allison Hohman: What’s up next for you? Pearl Shin: I'm currently in-between projects, but I'm working through The Artist's Way (I know, it's a little froo-froo but I'm into it), which is a whole endeavor in and of itself.
Morning Ritual plays Saturday, December 12th, at 2:00pm
Buy Tickets: https://www.showtix4u.com/event-details/40492
More about the Playwright.
Serena Norr is a writer, editor and playwright who has been writing plays since 2003. Most recently, her play “Run for Cover” was accepted into the Omaha Fringe Festival. In the age of zoom, her play “The Dividing Demons” was performed with Primary Stages, "The Bookstore" was performed in the Westchester CollaborativeTheater online festival and “Zoom Like No One is Watching” was performed with Sister Shakes for the Show Must Go Online Play festival and B Street Theatre's New Play Brunch!
Her monologues "It's the Michelle Jennings Show," "Waiting and Wanting, "Mama, Can You Hear Me? "Deep in Night Thoughts," "Behind the Bars" and Zoom-A-Ference 2022" was recently performed with Vintage Soul Productions. Her short "Secrets & Lies" was a a part of The Queans Theatre REPRESENT festival and her full-length "The Demise of Baby Johnson" was showcased through the Dramatists Guild's DG Footlights Series. She is thrilled to be back in the theater with Rogue Theater Festival to showcase and film, "Morning Ritual." She is also a member of the Dramatists Guild and Westchester Collaborative Theater.