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HUMANS OF THE O'NEILL Eugene O'Neill Theater Center

Welcome to #HumansoftheONeill, a series of interviews shining light on the diverse group of staff, faculty, students, and artists who make up the O'Neill!

Meet Molly Burdick, NTI Apprentice and Theatermakers & Moscow Art Theatre Semester alumna!

What do you do here at the O'Neill?

I’m an NTI Apprentice--there’s four of us. For NTI students, we are the liaison between them, the staff, and faculty. I’m the person who makes the student groups for each class. I ensure every student is scheduled in each session, that they have the scene or song partner they need, and the sessions are the right sizes for the teachers to work effectively. This semester we have three programs and sometimes we have four classes running at once in a single program!

How did you get involved with NTI?

While I was at Skidmore College, I went to NTI’s Moscow Art Theatre Semester. At Skidmore, there’s always about four students that go to MATS. So I just heard about it from them. At first I didn’t think I wanted to go. I wanted to go to London or Ireland for my semester abroad and I was like “Oh I would never want to go to Russia.” But the more people came back from it and I saw what they were doing, I thought “Maybe that could be something for me.” So then I came here and we did a few days here at the O’Neill before going to Russia. And I really liked the campus. And then I was looking for programs after that during the summer and I saw Theatermakers. I applied and I was one of the 24 people here, one of 16 actors. After coming here twice it felt like home for me. Then I was applying for post-grad jobs, I applied to a lot of different things. I knew I didn’t want to move to a city right away, I felt I needed something laid out for me for a year. I applied to a lot of internships. When I heard about the NTI Apprenticeship I thought it was perfect because I wanted to go back to NTI.

What was your favorite part of your semester in Moscow?

The food is so good and cheap! But I loved the movement, it’s a very movement-based program there. What I gained the most from it was pushing myself past those physical boundaries. I was afraid to stand on my head or be upside down or stand on someone else because I was afraid I would hurt them. And I didn’t ever want to do these physical things, I was very held back and I felt in my acting I was awkward and didn’t know what to do with my body. So going to the Moscow Art Theatre Semester and having to do all of these physical things, I took away that if I can push past this physical barrier I can push back any barrier. They say if you can get past the point of the movement that’s hard for you and work through that part, you can do the whole thing. I think it’s similar to all of theatre and life. One day I couldn’t do a somersault backwards, so I decided to come in and do it until I could do it. And then I felt like I had freed myself to do a whole bunch of other things. I also felt like I overcame a lot of my fears while training there. One of the movements is you stand like a star and your partner picks you up and flips you in the air and you land back on your feet. Being upside was a big fear of mine and now I can do that. Now I don’t feel awkward on stage and I’m more into physical comedy now because I can do all these weird things and I feel like I can play more characters.

Tell us more about the training at MATS!

MATS focuses heavily on devising. You start out with etudes, which is Stanislavski and it’s acting. An etude is like “I’m a book” and someone flips through me and then I fall over. There’s an event and you’re changed by the end. We start out with those individually, coming back each day with a new etude. Then we’re an animal, then a person, then we get a Chekhov play. Then we start making etudes with everyone that were little stories, not based on anything. With the Chekhov plays we would devise pieces based on Chekhov plays. Our play was Three Sisters and we would make a scene based on the scenes in it. That was our acting class. After we came back from Thanksgiving our teacher told us to take the etudes we made for Three Sisters and put them together, take out the parts you don’t like, and tell the story of Three Sisters. And that was our Final - it wasn’t Chekhov’s Three Sisters, but it told the story of Three Sisters. We had a design class, but we would go to different places and talk to designers rather than a project. We had Singing, Ballet and Russian Movement, Droznin, and Dance like NTI students have. We had all those things, but we didn’t have playwriting and directing classes, because they were taught to us through the etudes. At MATS, every year, we do a final based on The Lion King. We take different songs from The Lion King and put together these movement pieces based on them. Each class devises eight pieces based on The Lion King then puts them all together in a show. It was so fun!

What was your favorite part of #ONeillSummer?

Getting to meet all the people! The pub being operational during the summer is such a good environment to socialize with these people who you wouldn’t normally get to meet. Becoming friends with the people in their writing residency, writing a musical or play. I got to know writers Imani Uzuri and Matt Schatz at the pub and we could talk about their play, what they thought about their play, and ask how the process was going. And seeing all the shows, obviously. Getting to discover how I feel about different kinds of theater. I’m a very open person, I usually like everything, generally when I go into a play, I really like it. When we talk about it afterwards and realizing what I would change or what specifically I liked or didn’t like about something, made me a better theater artists. I like it when it’s hopping here, when there’s people everywhere. I like seeing all of the people from the community coming together to see the new work.

What are you doing outside of your Apprenticeship?

I just started writing a play and we’re going to do a showing of the Apprentice work next week. I’ve been trying to write a play in my playwriting class last year, a cow play, about a cow, but he’s a human. It’s hard to explain because I didn’t have a clear concept. But I was trying to write about a modern Holocaust through a cow. I was in the car with Adam Secor the other day taking him to the train station and we were talking about veganism and I realized the play I had been trying to write all along wasn’t about the Holocaust, but it was about veganism. I’ve been writing a play about what would happen if we used humans instead of cows for milk.

What makes the O’Neill special?

Well, first of all there’s the beach and I think it’s super important to have somewhere that’s an escape and breathe in salt water and sometimes watch the sunrise or sunset. It’s rejuvenating. Also, knowing we’re standing on the ground of all these plays that have been created here and generations of art that has been piled up. Having a place that the only thing that happens here is theater. It creates this environment of electricity where people come together to create sparks. Seeing the work that the students do is like seeing the future.

Meet Scott Murphy, NMTI Associate!

What is your role here at the O'Neill?

I am the Associate for the National Music Theater Institute, a faculty member, and an alumnus of the National Music Theater Conference.

How did you get involved with music and theater?

In junior high I was playing in rock bands, guitar was my first instrument. I realized, playing in these bands, that I loved writing the songs and I particularly liked writing songs from the point of view of other people. I would even interview my bandmates and write songs from their perspectives. So what I realized was what I might be doing actually is writing theater. And I went to an acting camp called Stagedoor Manor in Loch Sheldrake, New York. We unfortunately just lost a great mentor of Stagedoor Manor named Michael Larsen. Having never been in a musical, never listened to a musical, I didn’t have any of the language. All the other kids there had grown up going to this camp. They knew all the deals. As soon as I walked on campus this girl got in my face and started singing The Witch’s Rap from Into the Woods. No idea where I was or had gotten myself into and I’m from Texas, so there was a culture shock being in the Catskill Mountains too. All of it. But it was wonderful. Michael Larsen was directing Sunday in the Park with George and cast me. I had never heard of Sunday in the Park with George, I had never heard of Sondheim. Those three weeks taught me what musical theater was. I came back to high school with a real fire to write musicals. I started studying composers: music theater composers but also Stravinsky,Prokofiev, Shostakovich, as well Debussy and Ravel.

What was your path to the O'Neill?

I went to Bennington College and studied composition and to the NYU Musical Theater Writing Program that was transformative too. All of a sudden composers like Michael John La Chuisa and Bill Finn were my teachers. I was Bill’s assistant on The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee and I had no idea, but he sent some of my songs to James Lapine, who then sent them to Sondheim. So I woke up one morning with a voicemail from Sondheim on my cell phone saying “Hey I got your work, I love it. Do you want to come talk?” I had this amazing opportunity to go over to Sondheim’s house and we spent eight hours talking about musical theater, and movies, and everything. He was so exuberant and youthful. That was a really beautiful experience, partially because it was his Sunday in the Park with George that made me want to do musical theater that conversation it meant so much to me and still does. At NYU, I wrote a musical called Broadcast with my friend Nathan and it was about the history of radio. It was a kaleidoscopic look at all the different inventions that contributed to what radio was, starting with Morse Code and all the way up through FM and mass production. What they have in common is the technology, that’s actually the main character of the piece that goes through it. That was the idea anyway and it was an interesting structural idea, maybe a flawed one too. But we won the Richard Rodgers award for it and did our reading at Playwrights Horizons. Then I worked on other musicals with Nathan. We wrote an adaptation of The Giver by Lois Lowry, that we did for TheaterWorks as a commission. And a few other pieces too, but while we were doing that, Broadcast would get productions here and there, and then we decided to put it in a drawer, for a year or two. And then we decided “No, we want to work on this.” So we went to the Rhinebeck Writers Retreat and spent a week rewriting Broadcast. And then we came to the 2013 National Music Theater Conference. I think the second time we submitted it we got in. So I came up here and we spent two weeks working on it and I fell in love with everything this place is, fell in love with NMTC, with the grounds, with the soil here, the beehive of activity that’s all creative, all making new work.

Scott and the creative team of BROADCAST at NMTC '13.

What was your favorite part about being here for NMTC?

It’s pretty amazing for an organization to say come here, and live, and sleep, and eat, on us, so you can just write and hear your work, but the format of NMTC is what makes it so unique. To have presentations and then time to rewrite in response and then to be able to do it again and again is unique and trendsetting. It was done here first, and remains a fantasy camp for aspiring theatremakers.

How did you start working with the National Theater Institute?

During my semester with NMTC, Rachel Jett invited me first to theater for the Theatermakers program. And then I started teaching classes during the year for NTI. When NMTI began, my hope was that I could be involved in the program and actually come up here and live and spend some time living in this area because it seemed like something that my mind, my spirit, my body needed. So now we’re here. My wife, Melissa and I got married on campus, David Chandler performed the ceremony, and Rachel brought the flowers. She was our witness. That was our four-person thing, last winter. We have a four-month old son named Jackson and the three of us live eight minutes away.

Tell us about your classes.

The NTI semester students’ Composing for the Non-Composer is designed for people who have never composed, and maybe don’t even have any musical language. So we can start with all those little Italian phrases that pop up in sheet music, and why, and how they help us with storytelling. NTI just finished a three-part rhythmic composition where they take a two-sentence horror story and underscore that with rhythmic gestures. We get together as a class and play them. Then they’re moving on - everyone is learning piano in my class and composing their next piece on behalf of a character, who is lost in the wilderness. For the NMTI students I do a more advanced composition class where we get to more dramatic compositions, so we create characters off of photographs and we find the music that matches those characters. Not just the music you want to write, but the music that actually captures the psychology of the person in the picture.

Scott working with NMTI Fall '17 students.

Who are some of the people you are working with on NMTI theater Labs?

We’re working with Michael John LaChiusa this week on his musical Hello Again. Michael John is someone whose work is very important to me as I was learning what musical theater was in the late nineties because he was simply doing the most interesting, galvanizing work. When it’s time to figure out who should the students meet with, who should they be in conversation with, who should they be challenged by, Michael John for me is always on the list. We did a Fun Home lab last NMTI semester with Alexander Gemignani because he actually played Bruce at the Sundance workshop. Last week we did it again with Judy Kuhn. The students loved getting to meet with her. We worked with Erato Kremmyda who came up to do music for the Trojan Women lab. We had Michael Berresse, an actor, dancer, choreographer, director, who came up and did A Light in the Piazza lab, as he was in the original Broadway company.

Any other highlights this semester?

We met Michael Starobin who did the orchestrations for Sunday in the Park with George and Spelling Bee. He also is the orchestrator for NMTC. He showed the students a sketch of “Color and Light” before he orchestrated it and then after. We listened to the songs and after the class, the students were like “Wait, I thought you had to have a doctorate in music to look at this kind of stuff and understand orchestration!” They were blown away. AnnMarie Milazzo is a vocal designer, creating the sound of shows like Spring Awakening and Next to Normal. She was at NMTC this past summer with Superhero. Her vocal design work is influencing musicals. There’s a sound that she does that all of a sudden everybody wants. She doesn’t use any musical terminology. She doesn’t read music, she doesn’t write it down. This past semester she met with the students and they looked at vocal designs she’s doing for the current revival of Once on this Island. She’s co-orchestrating with Michael Starobin. The students sang music she was working on designing/vocally orchestrating. It was amazing. The only people who have sung those vocal orchestrations with her are the people who are opening it on Broadway right now and our students.

What makes the O’Neill special?

I think one of the draws for all these really wonderful artists that come up here and spend time with our students and at our conferences is the geography of it. It’s a really special place with cool history and a beautiful field and water. The philosophy of it makes it very special because it’s a place that’s entirely devoted to new work. So for someone like me who is still composing and that’s still a driving force for me is the making of new work, is that I can teach in an academic setting, but what’s different about this is that it doesn’t stagnate here because we have new artists coming in all the time who are reminding us that new work is being made and it needs to be. It’s not just about teaching the stuff that we learned about eight years ago, we have to constantly revise, change, refresh, we have to learn from the students and we have to learn from the guest artists who come in and inspire us. It’s a beehive of activity particularly during the summer, where you go into the pub and you’re meeting all of these artists who are doing such amazing work.

Meet Maegan Clearwood and Lexy Leuszler, who make up the O'Neill's year-round Literary staff!

What do you do here at the O’Neill?

Lexy: I am the Literary Manager at the O’Neill. I supervise all of the application processes for National Playwrights Conference, National Music Theater Conference, all of our summer conferences essentially. I also serve as a liaison between the Literary Office and our residencies, so to help support our artists who are here in our non-summer months, who are trying to work on developmental pieces and use the O’Neill as a springboard. We provide them dramaturgical feedback, copy support, and make sure they feel supported as artists developing a new work. During the summer months, the Lit Office grows to include our script coordinator and a team of interns, in addition to Maegan and I. Together, we provide dramaturgical support to playwrights, composers and all our artists, as well as tracking and distributing all script changes throughout the summer. We are also responsible for some of the professional development programs such as the Visiting Professionals and the Playwright Observers.

Maegan: I’m the Literary Associate here at the O’Neill. I support the various applicants who come through our Submission Processes. I help lead the Literary Office during our summer months and I assist the artists in a variety of capacities while they’re on campus.

What is unique about the O’Neill's literary department?

Lexy: The O’Neill was one of the first places that decided the text was going to be first and foremost what was going to be developed on stage. Prior to our development was this idea that you would take the entire production - lights, sounds, tech, artists and tour them around and see how audiences react to that. The O’Neill—and George White and Lloyd Richards—really said that first, we need to make sure that the writers who are birthing these new pieces feel like there is enough attention being paid to their text and to their words. Literary at the end of the day means to me a hyperfocus or magnifying glass on the words that come through the text of the play.

Maegan: We support the text in so many capacities. We support the text from its very early stages in terms of actually getting it through the door and making sure that it’s processed for all of our thousand plus applications, making sure that our applicants feel like they have all of the support they need in those early stages. We support our writers dramaturgically. The O’Neill is the birthplace of new play dramaturgy, so that’s a major part of what we do. We support them throughout the developmental process when it comes to all of the script changes that happens during the summer in the rehearsal room. So it’s really a holistic approach to supporting the text, which I think makes us pretty special.

How did you get involved in theater and then find your way to the O’Neill?

Maegan: I came to the O’Neill in Fall 2014, when my position was an apprenticeship. I just came out of a dramaturgy apprenticeship at the Olney Theater Center, where I did a lot of production dramaturgy and I was looking for additional mentorship and I was looking for an opportunity to learn about Literary Management and new play support. The O’Neill is pretty much the best at that. So I came over here. I was interested in dramaturgy and new play development ever since college when I discovered what dramaturgy was. I was here for a year and then my position became a full-time position and I returned

Lexy: There’s not a lot of theater in Kansas, where I’m from. And the performing arts weren’t a primary focus of my education at that time. But I got involved my senior year of high school and read OUR TOWN for the first time. So I started with the classics. I went into theater when I went to Grinnell College in Iowa and saw a poster in the basement for NTI. It was a picture of the students doing Droznin and they were upside down, on top of each other, and I saw the tagline “Actor. Writer. Director” underneath it. At that point I thought you could only study to be an actor, so there was a choice whether to go and make theater at the National Theater Institute or the other study abroad option was I could go and watch theater and write papers on it in London. I decided I wanted to make it at that time. So I went to NTI as a student in Fall 2010. I went in as an actor and they really taught me I could be a playwright and that I could shape and morph the text in other ways outside of saying it. That I could have a hand in shaping the things that were coming out of actors’ mouths on stage was revolutionary to my brain at the time. When I was a student I was the head writer on our final project, which meant I was the one that had to collate and condense, and then distribute all the writings we had created for our final project. Then I became a Literary Intern in the following summer with and trained under the Literary team at that time, Martin Kettling and Anne G. Morgan. I later returned a few summers to support NTI’s Theatermakers program as an assistant in 2013 and Associate Artistic Director in 2014-2015. My interests are in both education and new play development and how those worlds collide. Finally, I was at Actors Theater of Louisville and their Education Department, but also supporting their Literary Department. I have also held positions at Steppenwolf and Cort Theatre in Chicago, before coming here in August. It’s very humbling to feel like I can come back and support the O’Neill in a capacity that I held with such reverence when I was a student.

How do you work specifically in supporting our open submission processes for the National Playwrights Conference and the National Music Theater Conference?

Maegan: We do a lot of outreach. We touch base with former writers who have been here with finalists, writer groups, dramaturgs with anyone who might be a touchstone in the new play world. We’re one of the only theaters in the United States to still have an open submission process, so you don’t have to have an agent in order to submit. We’re really proud of that. We try to call as many diverse writers as possible and get them through that first step. On my end, I’m the first point of contact for most of the applicants. So any kinds of questions they have come through me. We take a lot of pride in how personable and transparent our process is. We try to make the submission process really smooth from beginning to end.

Lexy: For NMTC, this year in particular is very invigorating for our brains to think about what a conference looks like under a new artistic director, Alexander Gemignani. We’re really trying to reach into the musical theater world to address needs for racial and gender parity in that field and to think of a form that is quite expensive to support and how we can best encourage those young writers as they start to enter this form. It’s another outreach tactic of trying to reach all our friends in the musical theater community and say “Hey, send your young writers this way. We have an awesome developmental opportunity for them and a very exciting artistic director.”

What advice do you have to NPC and NMTC applicants?

Maegan: My biggest tip is to think critically about why you are submitting to the O’Neill specifically. There is an opportunity in each application to write out your statement of objectives. We keep that definition super broad so that people can interpret statement of objectives however they deem fit. But, I think it’s important for writers to think really critically about what the O’Neill has to offer and how they can take advantage of that. Make that super clear to us, so that we can determine how to best support them through every step of the process.

Lexy: I think three quick phrases come to mind—be specific, be the expert of your own work, and be playful. What I mean by that in terms of “being specific” is similar to what Maegan is talking about. Be very specific about what you want from us at the O’Neill, what we can give you in that week process, and what your development goals are. Being the expert of your own work, you’re the only one who knows where your play is at and you’re the one that needs to take ownership over your work. We get a lot of questions from writers — “Can I submit an unfinished draft? I don’t know where this is going.” Yes, but you do know the baseline of your play. This is your living, breathing thing that you’ve been working on for years, the thing that you’re crafting, so tell us what’s exciting about this piece to you, and why it should be exciting to us. Tell us how you want to see it grow and how we can help you grow. Tell us why we’re good for you and what you want out of us. And “be playful” means be malleable and come to us a piece that you’re ready to dive into and get messy with, and that you’re willing to take those actors, awesome directors we will pair you with, and the literary and dramaturgical support to really let this piece grow in areas that you didn’t expect that it would. Be ready for it to take a shape that you never imagined it could take.

Besides being passionate about new plays, everyone at the O’Neill knows that you are passionate about your pets.

Maegan: Yes! I have one pet. His name is Badger and he’s a hedgehog. He hates everybody and that’s part of his charm. I think because I spent my first two years out of college in apprenticeships with communal housing in a part of life where you’re supposed to be super independent, as soon as I got out of that communal housing, I decided I needed a pet. I couldn’t get a cat at the time, so I got Badger and he has an identity crisis. He doesn’t know what species he is. It’s really cute. When we finally get a cat, his name will be Otter. That’s our goal.

Lexy: My special somebody’s name is Jeff and he is very large and cross-eyed, and everything you could ever want in an animal or something soft and squishy to squeeze. I got him after volunteering at an animal shelter. He was the cat that the other cats beat up for eating their food. So, he’s always preferred humans to other cats. My favorite thing about Jeff, particularly if I’m doing a lot of script reading at home, when I put a page down, he likes to sit on top of it. He is always there, especially if I’m reading a difficult script, I can reach down and find him sitting on top of the other pages of the script, I can always grab him.

What is your favorite part about #ONeillSummer?

Maegan: Young Playwrights Festival and the National Puppetry Conference have a special place in my heart. Young Playwrights Festival (YPF) isn’t technically part of our summer season, but it’s like mini-NPC. We bring in Middle School and High School-aged playwrights and we develop their work in a weekend workshop, similar to our National Playwrights Conference. It’s the last program right before summer kicks off, so it’s a fun warm up. It’s useful for me as a dramaturg and critical thinker to dig back into Playwriting and Dramaturgy 101 with young kids. There’s a real sense of joy and excitement throughout that process. It’s exciting to see kids who may or may not have a lot of experience in writing or theater, but don’t have the fears that a lot of adult playwrights come into the room with. They’re willing to try things and experiment and play, which is invigorating. And then we go straight into the summer and the National Puppetry Conference, which I really love for similar reasons to YPF. It’s all about imagination, breaking rules, taking risks, collaboration, and all of those wonderful components, so it’s really exciting to start with that and take that energy into the rest of the summe

Lexy: I also love the Puppetry. My first dramaturgy experience was when I came back as a literary intern in the summer of 2011 and I was the dramaturg for WAKE UP, YOU’RE WEIRD with Leslie Carrara-Rudolph. I didn’t realize that I would so deeply considering the dramaturgy of joy and just how to make people laugh, because we were going to an audience of seven year olds. I think the dramaturgy of puppetry is really fascinating and stretches the brain to many limits because you’re thinking of a three dimensional world and all the ways it communicates to your audiences.

What makes the O’Neill special?

Lexy: For me, what continually draws me to the O’Neill as a creator, as an employee, as a supporter, is that is says “yes” to every artist, no matter where they are in their education or on their path. Yes, we’re going to take you in, we’re going to find you a tribe here at the O’Neill, we’re going to help you grow, we’re going to sit here and hold the tool box for you as you find the tools that will make you the artist that you are. I love that. I love saying yes to literally everything. I love the juxtaposition of these historical buildings that seem immovable and filled with history, but there is still new history created every single day and so many new beginnings starting on such an old fixed campus. The idea that everyone who comes through is now part of our family, and we are always going to welcome you back.

Maegan: Our history is so exciting, because there are always new nuggets of our past that you can discover. These revelations that this actor was here in this year and you never knew it until you dug into some random archive and it popped out at you, or going to the Monte Cristo Cottage and actually getting to hold UNCOMMON WOMEN AND OTHERS. There are little magic moments where the past creeps through in this invigorating developmental environment that feels really special.

Meet Madison DeCoske, the Production Stage Manager for the Cabaret & Performance Conference!

What do you do here at the O'Neill?

I am the Production Stage Manager of the Cabaret and Performance Conference. We do 10 different shows; a new show every night. It’s my responsibility to figure out from our first production meeting in May what our technical needs and artist needs are. And then literally from May to right before I get here, I’m creating schedules. I have this rainbow schedule that fills up every space; it lays out each rehearsal and everything else. And then once I’m here, we call the shows. I’m normally always in the office in the morning, taking care of things like that, while my interns are in the rehearsal spaces. Everyday I’m in tech from 1:45 to 5:30, whether I’m calling the show or not because the show is ultimately my responsibility. I make sure every single Junior Fellows and Adult Fellows rehearsals are running smoothly. It’s kind of crazy to be in charge of four or five spaces at one time but I love making sure things are rolling along and everyone’s happy.

How did you get into stage management?

My senior year of high school I wanted to be a director. I actually interviewed at a couple colleges to be a director. My high school musical theater teachers said “You could be my student director with me.” About halfway through our rehearsal process, we brought in a professional lighting designer. And he was like “hey, I’m going to teach you how the real world of theater works. Since you know the show very well, you’re going to be sitting out in the house with me and I’m going to tell you light cues, and you have to say ‘Go’ when you want the light cue to go.” And so I was like, “Oh, this is cool.” Then for colleges I decided to interview for stage management programs. I ended up going to Point Park University for stage management because the woman who interviewed me said I would be working very closely with directors. So it was the best of both worlds. And then slowly, but surely I just stuck closer to stage management. It’s kind of weird. I didn’t know anything about it and then all of a sudden it became my career.

How did you get involved with The O’Neill?

I love my little O’Neill success story. After my junior year of college, I wanted to do an internship. My close friend had done the stage management internship at the O’Neill the summer before and had an amazing time. So, I applied, and eventually got it. Bob Bennett, the Production Stage Manager of the National Music Theater Conference, and the Assistant Stage Manager Jereme Kyle Lewis hired me. I started out as an intern in the summer of 2012. I was here for the National Music Theater Conference, Gala, and Cabaret. The following summer, Bob Bennett wanted me to come back for NMTC and then Kurt Van Raden, the former Production Stage Manager for the National Playwrights Conference and Cabaret, asked if I would stay on as the Assistant Stage Manager for Cabaret. I said yes and that was John McDaniel’s, the Artistic Director of the Cabaret & Performance Conference, first year here. One thing led to another, I got super close with John, and we developed this great relationship and when Kurt couldn’t return, John trusted me to come back the next year as Production Stage Manager for Cabaret. Now this is my fourth summer doing Cabaret, but my sixth summer at the O’Neill. It’s kind of crazy, I started at the bottom, now I’m here. I always tell the interns: you come here, you can be an intern, and you always come back. And the people I met here are honestly the only reason I have a Broadway career now, especially because of Jereme. I first met him that first year and we are now best friends. Stuck together like glue. But he is the reason I got my first Broadway show and my career has launched since. It’s a lot of responsibility, but I love it. I couldn’t imagine not being here and doing this.

What do you do the rest of the year?

I’m based out of New York City and work on Broadway shows. I am a sub stage manager for both Wicked and The Lion King. I’ve been at both for a little over a year and a half

What does being a sub stage manager mean?

It’s almost like a swing. I go in whenever one of the stage managers is either sick or taking a vacation or leave of absence. Sometimes it is scheduled in advance or sometimes I’m getting calls literally an hour before curtain. Once they hire you at Wicked they train you to run the entire show on the deck. There’s two tracks in a week. Eventually they teach you for two weeks how to call the show. At The Lion King I got a week to learn everything and then they throw you in there and they say “you’re running the show.” It’s a very quick, fast-paced kind of learning, but it’s so much fun and so exciting, especially at two of the largest shows on Broadway. I feel very blessed to have opportunities. My first Broadway show was Sylvia at the Cort Theater with Annaleigh Ashford, Matthew Broderick, Julie White, and Robert Sella. That’s the first show I worked on with Jeremy. I was on the entire run. It was after that I got onto Wicked and The Lion King. And intermixed there, I love doing readings. Jimmy Buffett has this new musical called Escape to Margaritaville coming to Broadway next year that I was lucky to work on. This past fall I worked on Manhattan Theatre Club’s Heisenberg, with Mary Louise Parker and Denis Arndt. I was able to be on that whole run since it was limited. And then this season’s play Present Laughter, which just closed at the beginning of July. And on that show I became a full-time ASM with Jeremy. Present Laughter has a lot of O’Neill connections, not only Jereme and I, but Kevin Kline and Kristine Nielsen have been up here many-a-times, and there were a few others in the cast who have been a part of NPC. It is always fun to make that connection, like “Oh, you were at the O’Neill?”

What show has been your favorite?

Present Laughter, I have to say, was a lot of fun. It was quite an experience. With Wicked and The Lion King, I go in and those people are great and those are great shows. But I wasn’t in the rehearsal process. And people were changing constantly. But for Present Laughter I was there from the beginning, the very first rehearsal. There were eleven people in the cast plus four understudies. Everyone had a different personality, but meshed somehow so well together. It was like we were all a part of each other. Kevin Kline is honestly one of my favorite people. We got pretty close during the process. Such a generous man and also a master teacher. Phenomenal. Obviously. since he won the Tony, but he really deserved it. Present Laughter will be broadcast on PBS November 9, so everyone can watch it. I have on my desk this pink leopard that I took from the set to remember the experience. They give away basically everything on the set., so don’t worry, it wasn’t stolen. I’m a very colorful and a glitter-is-my-life type of person. When we walked onto the gorgeous set for the first time, I saw this little baby was hidden, tucked away on a bookcase. On the set there were bookcases everywhere and he was sitting there. It’s gold. It’s a leopard. And it’s a pink leopard. It’s just kind of the perfect little trinket. And I went “I need that.” Last day of the show, I snatched it. I made sure that that was the first thing I grabbed before I left. It’s just very me.

What makes the O’Neill special?

I try to always explain to people what it’s like, coming up here every summer. I have to say it’s magical. There’s something about the history of this place, knowing that some of the most famous playwrights and famous performers now have come through here or got their start here. There’s all this rich history literally everywhere you go. And then to know when you come here everyone is so supportive of you and wants everything you do to succeed. One reason I love new work is knowing it can come to a place like this and fully develop and become something great later. And that you’re on the beach. How could you go wrong? It’s magical, this place. It’s very hard for me to describe that. It’s like a breath of fresh air up here.

Meet Martyna Majok, one of our playwrights at the 2017 National Playwrights Conference. Martyna is one of eight playwrights in residence and is currently developing her play QUEENS.

What made you want to come to the O'Neill's National Playwrights Conference?

I love Eugene O’Neill. Aside from his plays, I find the mythos of who he was as a theater artist - his biography and being this father of American theater - fascinating. So I’ve always wanted to come here. When I was in grad school at Yale School of Drama and feeling lost in writer’s block, I would come up to the Monte Cristo Cottage and just sit there with the ghosts. I’ve been on the O’Neill campus twice before - both while I was at YSD. John Baker (who ended up being my dramaturg for queens) hosted a weekend-long MFA Playwrights Convening here in 2009. And I taught a weekend intensive for high school students from New Haven in, I think, 2011. I’ve always wanted to be here as a playwright in the conference. This place is American theater history for me.

What was the application process like?

I had applied before but always with plays that were done - at least in the sense that I was able to write “end of play” versus “to be continued.” This was the first time I applied with an unfinished play. I suspected there was probably no way I would be accepted but figured I should give it a shot. I was completely thrown to learn that I got to the semi-finalists. What I had submit was the first act of queens, which was 80 pages. By the time I got word I was a finalist, I had the second act - about 150 pages total. But the play was still unfinished - it’s a 3-act. So I sent in those 150 pages but again I was sure I wouldn’t get it. By then, I learned I had gotten into the Ground Floor program at Berkeley Rep, also to work on queens. Since it’s a big play, I tried to line up a lot of out of town chances to work on it. And you never know what program you’ll get accepted into, if any. The timing would have slightly conflicted with the National Playwrights Conference, so I reached out to Anne Morgan (the O’Neill’s Literary Manager) and asked if queens was still being considered, which is when I found out I had got it. And I was able to make both opportunities work. I was a finalist last year for Cost of Living, but I wouldn’t have been able to come because they were producing it at Williamstown Theatre Festival at the same time as the O’Neill residency dates. I kept wondering “will it ever happen.” But it worked out this year with queens in a really unexpected way.

What has your experience been working at the O’Neill?

I came about a week late because I was at Berkeley Rep. I love to work on a play out of town. When I’m in New York and writing a play, it feels like I’m on one of those old game shows where you’re in a tube and they’re blowing air at you, and you have to catch the money flying around you. That’s my year in New York: in that tube trying to survive and catch money, and get from point A to point B - both in playwriting and life - as fast and efficiently as I can. When I got to Berkeley Rep, it was like someone turned that air off and everything that was flying in a rush around me was able to settle down to the floor and I could really see what I had. I had been having trouble moving forward in the play and when I got to Berkeley, I had this minor breakdown - an incredibly productive one that ended with clarity about a new direction. So I made changes to the script and when I got to the O’Neill a week later, I was able to immediately implement those changes and this new direction. We presented the first two newly-rewritten acts here. And that workshop launched me into writing the final act. The wonderful actors we had up here were inspiring and integral to that. Now they’re all gone and I’ve been in the library almost every day, reading and writing with a new perspective. I’m grateful for the way it’s all worked out, for the perspective and space here at the O’Neill.

How does the O’Neill compare to other play development programs?

They’re all different. I’ve never been at a development place for this long. I’ll be here for almost a month. Usually I go some place for a week or two, which is enough to establish a rhythm. So three weeks or a month can change your routine in a significant way. And I got to peek into other playwrights’ processes and their different paths of development. I realized since coming here that when I’m in this vulnerable creative place, I become sensitive to other playwrights’ plays and skills and everything they’re putting of themselves into their work. My first day here, I saw Stephen Belber’s play, We Are Among Us, and I was so in awe of his ability to plot. I was in awe of all the plays really - and the act of these other playwrights creating them - in one way or another. It’s a rare thing for playwrights to get to closely witness their peers’ processes.

How did you get involved in theater and decide you wanted to be a playwright?

I didn’t really grow up with theater. I was born in Poland and when my mom and I came to the states, we didn’t have much money. We lived close to NYC so I would see ads for shows and walk through Times Square, but theater felt like a different world to me. Not for me, in a way. In high school, I worked for this after-school adult literacy program intended to help immigrant parents and their preschool-aged children learn English together. We would write skits in English, Spanish, and Polish that demonstrated exchanges they might have in the day to day - like going to the bank, or to the cafe, things like that. It provided sort of muscle memory language for when they would be in those situations. I wrote some of those skits. And they became more elaborate over time. There was a murder heist at the bank, things like that. I didn’t really think of it as playwriting. I didn’t really know what playwriting was. My first theater experience was when I was 17 or 18 years old. One day I made $45 playing pool - it was one of my part-time jobs in high school. I’d never won that much so I figured I should use the money for something I would never use it for had I come about it legally. My mom came home from cleaning houses one day and -- sometimes the people she cleaned for would leave magazines they were going to have recycled, and my mom would bring them home for us to read -- so she comes home one day with this pamphlet for something called Cabaret. She had no idea what it was and neither did I. But John Stamos was in it. She was like “Uncle Jessie’s in New York.” And discounted tickets were $45. So I show up one night to Studio 54 and it changed the direction of my life. It was the first time I had seen theater. The first time being in a space where people were singing and filling the walls with this dark, hilarious, and beautiful story. Me and my family’s life wasn’t especially easy growing up, and to see what most people would call a “dark, depressing story” being told with light -- being beautiful, sexy, and funny -- I felt validated and I felt the magic and power of being in that theater with those voices. When I got to college, I was eventually pulled to theater - I stayed away my first year because I thought I’d be rejected, like they would know I didn’t belong. I started as an actor and pretty soon after, I began writing plays to understand where I had come from and some of the things that had happened to me growing up. I would collect dialogue from events and actions I didn’t understand. How did we get here? How could somebody do something like this? I would trace it back from conversations that had happened to get to that event. Those were the seeds.

QUEENS had its public readings early on in the conference. How was that and how has it informed the rest of your time here?

It helps in moving forward. I’m able to hear those actors’ voices in my head as I write. I get a lot from actors and the rehearsal room. I don’t love the lonely process of writing - being alone in a room and digging up demons to then process into an arc with humor. It’s a kind of agony. But I love the rehearsal room more than any place in the world. I feel more happy and at home when I’m with actors working on a play than I do most anywhere else. It’s motivating me to finish the third act so I could be with the actors again, working together.

What makes the O’Neill special?

For me, it’s the same reason why I applied: the history. Some of the plays that have grown here have gone on to shape the American Theater. When I had my pinning ceremony, I gave the big picture of O’Neill a little sip of my wine. Like, “thanks for letting me be here.”

The National Playwrights Conference concludes this week with Inda Craig-Galván's BLACK SUPER HERO MAGIC MAMA and Michael Tucker's ASSISTED LIVING. Tickets available at theoneill.org.

Meet Raquel Davis, one of our Lighting Designers for the National Playwrights Conference!

What do you do at the O'Neill?

I’m one of two Lighting Designers for the National Playwrights Conference. I would say the primary role for all designers on campus is to be part of a team of visual dramaturgs that invest themselves in the script and dream about what it might look like in production. And we have this really rare opportunity to sit with the playwright and have a conversation about that world and make sure we’re on the right track, tease more information out of them, open their eyes to new possibilities that might influence the writing, or just clarify things about location, character, and motives. Eventually, when we get to the readings, we are there to help establish some tiny aspect of the world. Sound can do a lot more than lighting can because we’re always working in a rep plot, but we can help with the rhythms in the play which is, as a time-based art, that’s really important to be able to show how transitions might work and the rhythm of scenes.

Which plays are you working on this summer?

I will be doing the two plays in the Edith, We Are Among Us by Stephen Belber and queens by Martyna Majok. And then I move to the indoor space, the Dina Merrill Theater for The One ATM in Antarctica by Adam Esquenazi Douglas and Assisted Living by Michael Tucker.

See Raquel's work onstage this summer! Click here for tickets to the National Playwrights Conference.

How long have you been coming to the O’Neill?

This is my 14th summer. I started in 2004, just as I was going into grad school. In 2000, I met Jane Cox who was the lighting designer here, when I was one of the Kennedy Center Fellows in D.C. and she asked me if I wanted to join her for the summer. Unfortunately, I already had commitments, but that was the first time the O’Neill registered for me and I looked into it. About four years later, when I was starting grad school, I reached back out to Jane, mostly because she went to one of the schools I was looking at and I wanted to talk to her about the program. But she said, “What about now? Do you think you’re ready to spend a summer at the O’Neill. I can’t go back this year and maybe you can be the Associate Designer?” And I said “That sounds fantastic.” The O’Neill was as much a part of my graduate school education as NYU, because they were done in tandem and it gave me a chance to practice--rapid-fire--the things I was learning in grad school about script analysis and dreaming big about design work. And then it gave me a chance to teach, because I have this core of five or six interns each summer. I was teaching what I was learning and that always helps ingrain that. For me, the O’Neill has been essential to my development as an artist and my career.

How did you get into lighting design?

I was a math and engineering major in undergrad, that just came so easy to me in high school. I loved being certain that I was right. You can solve something, it’s a binary relationship, there’s right and wrong. And there’s a process and I loved moving through the process, but when I got to undergrad and started taking those classes, I didn’t find it fulfilling. I took one elective course, it was called Visual Creativity for the Stage. I had some artistic background, my mom was a ceramicist. I was in a girl’s choir and I danced. Modern, Tap, Jazz, Ballet. I was used to expressing myself in rhythms. This is how it plays into lighting: I was not scared off by the technology, I was not scared off by computer programming. I liked expressing myself in nonverbal ways. So I got a job after the first semester, working on those shows, setting up the lighting, focusing it, that was all really fun to me and working with technology. And then I started working for them and started assisting designers and it was just so very natural to express oneself through a little bit of technology, a little bit of painting. Essentially, painting with light. And a lot of practice. I got good at it. I actually started off more in scenery, but I quickly found that it didn’t give me the flexibility to change when I was wrong. Lighting was easier to make a mess and then change it. When I finished undergrad, I didn’t have any idea what I would do and so I applied for an internship back in my hometown. I had no idea how important the Seattle Repertory Theater was at that point. I knew it was a good theater, but I didn’t know what it’s role in history was and the kind of context I would get by being at that theater. Still getting to live at home and parents support me. So, that was such a blessing. And then from there I happened to be in New York on September 11th. And I got stuck there. No planes took off for quite awhile. They delayed my flight for about a month which forced me to ask for help. For me, it’s easier to ask for help than to ask for a job. Once I was stranded there and had no means, it was very easy to say “Hey can I crash with you for awhile?” or “Hey, do you have anything that’s going on?” and people were so giving. Former graduates from Middlebury College, where I went to school were working in the city. And then reach out to the designers that had come through the Seattle Repertory Theater the year before, who had always said “Oh, if you’re ever in New York, give me a call!” And I never would have had the guts to pick up the phone or email them and I did. I just said “Hey, I’m here. I happen to be in town because I got stranded and I have nothing to do so if you’re working on something, I’d love to just shadow.” And it turned out to be like “Don’t just shadow, why not do what you did at the Seattle Rep and just be my assistant? I can’t pay much, but I can buy you meals.” And that just immersed me in the theater world and I had no problem finding work and in fact, when a month later, I got a flight back to Seattle, I did not want to go. I got back home and I just said “Mom, Dad, I need to move to New York.” And I got in my car and drove. I think I was home for maybe two weeks, packing up stuff, and then went back to New York. Just wanted to get back there so quickly because that was a time where everyone was holding doors for one another and smiling and making eye contact and thanking all of the volunteer workers that were helping clear out Ground Zero. So, all of a sudden it felt like this utopian society and it was very very easy to move there. I don’t know if I would have had the guts of everyone else I see going “I want to move to New York.” I would have said “I want to stay in Seattle.” At any point I could have given up, but literally the universe was pushing me.

How has it changed in the 14 years you’ve been coming here?

Well, the process has stayed remarkably the same in such a good way. Our dream designs have very similar format even though completely different people are sitting in that conversation. I would say there’s a little more freedom now, we’re not locked into using only the mods and we aren’t locked into all the battleship-grey props. If there is something that needs to be in color such as the detention center jumpsuit for the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, in Stephen Belber’s We Are Among Us it is. This jumpsuit came up in the Dream Design meeting that the first time that we see that aggressive orange or yellow jumpsuit should be shocking to us. So it’s a prop costume and that would never have flown before. I do agree with Artistic Director Wendy C. Goldberg’s take on “Not every prop is essential.” But if there is one, we’re happy to break outside the grey box, that we were in before. There’s also something about Wendy’s leadership that just allows us to be a little more fluid in general. It was a crazy year, 2004. It was a time without technology. If you can imagine on campus, there were, clearly no smartphones, so we didn’t have any way of emailing or texting each other. There was no cell service out here and nobody had landlines in their offices, so it was just this weird game of walkie-talkies and everybody had them and they were constantly running out of batteries. Everything moved slower. Every morning at 8 or 8:15 we all met in the pub, like everybody. Every department with all of their interns packed in there. But we did know each other in a way, because of that experience that we don’t now. It was kind of great that we all checked in every morning to see what people needed. If Scenery needed 10 extra bodies to do something, we’d just pull them from some other area. It was an interesting for those first three or four years and then technology caught up to the O’Neill. We move more efficiently now. There’s no stress now.

What do you do the rest of the year?

The rest of the year I’m a freelance lighting designer, based out of Boise, Idaho, where I teach in the Boise State University's Theatre Arts Department. I teach Lighting Design, Set Design, Drafting, sometimes technical theater, and I mentor the students through the design process. Whenever a student is ready, I’m there teaching them through the process.

What are you looking forward to after the summer?

I go straight back into teaching the second week of August. But in October I will be going to Arkansas to TheatreSquared in Fayetteville to do a production of The Champion, which is directed by Reg Douglas, who was just up here for the National Theater Institute. We actually met on the Edith stage for Josh Wilder’s Leftovers during NPC 2015.

What makes the O’Neill special?

Well you’ve all heard about the magic that’s in the air up here. There’s just something about this place, the energy. I tap into it every summer, it’s the one place where I consistently can practice yoga and tune myself back into mother nature and the world, which I think as an artist we have to do that. We get stuck inside our studios and stuck inside our classrooms and the theater and we are distant from what makes us whole and is a huge part of our community. For me, as much as it is about developing plays, it’s about recharging one’s creative battery and everyone else’s energy on campus helps with that for me. Certainly these conversations with playwrights in the room is extraordinarily unique. Most of the time, in my work outside of the O’Neill, we’re going through the director, back to the playwright, or the playwright is dead and we have no ability to help shape the story on paper. At the O’Neill, lighting designers get to help shape the story onstage - that’s pretty unique and special. I also love the amount of people that you get to have contact with. Every week we’re getting a new cast, new directors, new dramaturgs, from all over the country and sometimes the world. What better networking opportunity -- well, more than networking. It’s plugging you back into that creative web that spans the entire globe. Especially now that I’ve left New York and based myself in somewhere as rural as Idaho. That’s pretty important to me.

Meet EmJ Nelson and Leila Teitelman, Theatermakers Associates, and Adam Lee Secor, NTI Apprentice, who all help run Theatermakers, the National Theater Institute's summer program!

What do you do for the Theatermakers?

Leila: We work closely with Artistic Director Rachel Jett. She creates the Theatermakers curriculum and we help put it into place as well as identifying what can make it a holistic experience and make sure everything is rounded out. The three of us do a lot of the tasks in realizing her vision, getting the people here, and putting everything on it’s feet. The days are full--classes 7:30am to 10pm---with playwriting, acting, and directing tracks, so there are a lot of logistics to make that all come together.

EmJ: We’re the on-the-ground people at all times. We’re here 24/7 to ensure that everything runs smoothly. We’re liaisons between faculty and students and the O’Neill and make sure that everything stays together and is a good experience for the students. We are in communication with lots of departments and faculty to make sure it happens.

How did you all get to the O’Neill and NTI?

Leila: Spring 2014 as the last semester of the O’Neill that did not include music theater and did not include the new buildings. So, none of the cottages. We were the last old-school class, which was great. I was a student here, I discovered my interest in playwriting while I was here and then I went back to school and did a thesis on playwriting. So, I credit the O’Neill and Donna Di Novelli with most of my artistic endeavors since. I didn’t realize how much of an artistic home NTI was for me and how supported I felt until I was back at my alma mater and realized different environments yield different things for people. This environment yielded a lot of positive creative things for me. I decided to come back as an apprentice, then intern for a year and had a challenging, but rewarding experience doing that and am interested in what theater education means on a broader scope and thus wanted to experience a little more responsibility in that field. I came back last summer and now I’m back this summer and I’ll see where it takes me afterward.

EmJ: I was NTI Fall 2014. I was a student and I was incredibly enamored by this place and the creative notions that it exposed in me and really loved it and decided I wanted to graduate college early, so I could keep exploring this theatrical world as a professional. After my semester at NTI, I decided to graduate. Then I realized I had no money and no job and that was a rash decision. So, I came back to the O’Neill and asked for a home for a year and they gave it to me, so that’s how I became an apprentice. And it was, like Leila said, incredibly rewarding, incredibly challenging, but it was a great way to be involved in the theater, while still being taken care of financially and being outside of your educational environment. And that’s where I met Leila, my work wife. And we both applied to be the Theatermakers Associates for the summer and Adam was one of our students, so I’ll throw it over to him.

Adam: I was an NTI-Advanced Director in Fall 2015. There were four other people in my program, 34 of us all together in my class. The O’Neill was a shock to me because I kind of understood what it meant to take a semester abroad and train in theater. And they warn you about the rigor before you come, but it was like jumping into an ice-cold pool. It’s just an experience you’re never quite prepared for. I navigated it with the help of Leila and EmJ. The faculty was lovely. It’s kind of like a Theater Disneyland when you’re here, which if you really are passionate about theater you eat up. Then I felt like I wanted more O’Neill and more theater magic. During my semester I had a walk-and-talk with Rachel Jett about how I wanted to be back here during one of the summers, specifically to work with the Theatermakers in some capacity. I came back for a second year because I had a lot of fun. The O’Neill during the summer is a crazy experience, with how many people come in and out and the pulsing creative energy that is over all of this campus.

What is everyone’s favorite part of the summer here?

Leila: I get really excited to see all the new work. I’m really invested in the idea of new theater and I think that you get that as a student here, but it’s on a different level because mostly you’re doing works that have been produced at some point, even if they're within the last five years, even if they’re contemporary pieces. These pieces are grand-spanking new. As someone who’s interested in playwriting and new play development, to see how much a piece can get out of a staged reading and exposing it to an audience for the first time and seeing the reactions of the audience is really eye-opening. Also getting to meet the writers of those pieces and discuss with them their process and what they’ve learned and what being a writer is to them. I feel like that’s what this whole summer is about.

EmJ: As an actor it’s great for me to meet all these people coming in because there are hundreds of people on campus. It’s really exciting for me to meet professional artists in the field, whether they are directors, or playwrights, or actors. Coming from Minnesota and the Midwest, it’s really hard to find solid ground on the east coast when you don’t grow up with that. So it’s great to have the O’Neill as this anchor, so you can find your people in the professional theater world, where you want to be, because I want to be in New York. This is my segue into that and I’m super appreciative of that because I don’t feel like I’ll be flailing. I mean, I’ll still flail when I go to New York, but at least I have some cushions, some lifeboats to hang on to because I’ve met so many people here. The faculty, the artists coming in, the writers, and all of that is just a pool of creative people and it’s really lovely.

Adam: I have to say my favorite part is the opportunity to lose yourself in the creative energy that is here. There are a lot of spaces on campus and a lot of beautiful nature and a lot of incredible inspiring artists that are here. I just find myself so grateful that I have time here during the summer to work on my own things that are directly inspired by what I’m seeing all day long. It feeds me in a really nourishing way.

What do you do the rest of the year? What are your next plans?

Adam: I am assistant directing two pieces. I’m working on Hamlet and I’m also assistant directing a one-woman show with Leta Tremblay (NTI Fall 2005) and that’s going to be in the city. So I have to somehow make my way into the city. And then hopefully land in the city. I might bounce in the city then bounce somewhere else, but fingers crossed.

Leila: I’ve been in the city. I don’t really know what I’m going to do because I’m just trying to find something in theater and I feel like the nature of working in theater a lot of times - it’s not a steady stream of jobs necessarily. I hopefully have created relationships that will help me find things here and there, but I do live in New York and I also get really excited because I consistently work with my two best friends who have created a theater company and all three of us went to NTI together. It’s called The Hearth, it tells stories of women written by women and starring women, so that is their mission. It helps that we’re all in the same place and all met at The O’Neill because we understand how to communicate with each other creatively in a way that’s like “we can do this with very few means and very little time and we can still make it happen because we want to.” I was the Literary Intern at Manhattan Theatre Club, which is run by Barry Grove (NTI 1970) who credits the O’Neill with a lot of his success. He came here for the summer, during college, and he said his first three jobs in theater were just people from The O’Neill calling him up saying “Hey, do you remember me from the summer? Do you want to come stage manage this thing?” He talked about the O’Neill a lot when he talked to the interns.

EmJ: I’m moving to New York in October. And I’ll start auditioning. I’m pursuing an acting career and I’ll start auditioning for people, calling people up, asking if they need an actor to read their lovely work. I’ll always call Leila because I love reading her plays. I’m just going to start doing the thing! Finding odd jobs on the side. Before I came here, I spent the last 10 months as an au pair in Paris, France. It was really eye-opening and exciting to be in Europe for a year and learn lots of things. So, now I’m transitioning back into the United States, back into English, and then hopefully into my career. I didn’t do much with theater in Paris, I was just au pairing and nannying. Now, I’m really hungry for it and I feel ready to dive in and pursue my acting career and just audition, audition, audition.

What makes the O’Neill special?

Leila: I think what makes the O’Neill special and I see this only at the O’Neill and nowhere else, is it’s attitude of “We can do it no matter what it is.” We can make anything happen in theater because theater is magic and we recognize that magic in the creative process. Obviously the O’Neill works with logistics because it has to, but I think it’s very seldom that you’ll get something and the O’Neill says “No, we can’t do that, we don’t have the means to do that.” Instead they’ll make space and time and energy into theater.

Adam: While you’re on this campus, you are just an artist in a sea of artists. Yes, some artists happen to have Tony Awards or happen to have written plays that tons of people know and some have been artists for six months and are just finding out what it means. There is no sense of competition here. Everyone is working on something special to them and you’re simply sharing with a lot of other artists, which is beautiful. Especially because I think the industry has a tendency to be comparative or competitive -- where pieces are put against each other. So it’s nice to take that away and just all live in a bubble of theater together.

EmJ: My favorite part is that it’s constantly changing and progressing and reacting. It’s just so refreshing that here, every year, you have brand new works, you have this whole panel, and you never heard of any of them and we still fill the houses. These plays that we’re choosing from these artists are always new and relevant, so we’re not stuck in some theme from the 1990’s. It’s all living breathing, progressing text. Whatever you see onstage is going to be relevant to what’s happening in the world because I think the O’Neill strives to be a voice for the things that are happening in the world. And that’s really refreshing to me because that’s the theater that I relate to, the theater I crave, the theater I want to be a part of. The fact that we have a whole summer dedicated to those kinds of works is incredible to me because I think we have plenty of those other theaters that do summer stock, that focus on the sales and the house. This is one of the few places in the US where they don’t base their season on what they think will sell the best. That’s really exciting to me.

Meet Carrie Chapter, one of our Dramaturgs this summer for the National Music Theater Conference and the National Playwrights Conference!

What do you do here at the O’Neill?

I am the Dramaturg for the National Music Theater Conference (working on Home Street Home and Superhero). Also, dramaturging one of the plays for National Playwrights Conference (Black Super Hero Magic Mama).

Can you tell us what the dramaturg does specifically?

Well, this is really fascinating because there are several theater professionals who believe that the origins of American dramaturgy began here at the O’Neill - began with the idea of American dramaturgs taking a role in new play development. So, what I try to do while I’m here is to continue that tradition of being a sounding board for artists in the middle of their process (and sometimes at the launch of their process) and to be able to offer notes or guidance, but really to be there to listen ensure that their intentions are being met throughout every beat of their process, that I am there with them. And that they feel supported.

You’re working on Home Street Home which starts performances this weekend. How is that going?

Home Street Home has been absolutely fascinating. I was new to the project and already I am finding so much in what these writers have imagined in these characters, in this landscape, that I feel is totally fresh and totally innovative in what we understand to be the musical theater tradition. The score has changed so dramatically just over the last two days here. That’s the O’Neill for you, though: a lot of change in a short amount of time.I love that it also maintains a punk rock aesthetic, because the punk rock world really does fit so well with these characters. The music works hand-in-hand; it complements the journeys of these characters so well. I can not think of another genre of music that could do a better job in really expressing what is the torment? What is the anguish? What is the struggle? But also what is the right to identity? And the right to live? The first reading is Saturday, I think audiences are going to love it!

How long have you been coming to the O’Neill? How did you start and get to this point?

In 2008, I was a Fellow with the National Critics Institute and during my time I just spoke to a lot of different people. I got to know a lot of people in the Literary Office and throughout the grounds here and I was just asked “What are you doing for the rest of the year?” And I had just finished my Master’s degree and I had been putting out a lot of feelers. I said, “Well, I’m just waiting and seeing.” And they were like, “Well, how would you like to be here as our year-long Literary Associate?” So, I said “Yes!” And I packed up and I was back again in August. So, from August 2008 to August 2009 I was the Literary Associate here and after that, because of the connections I made at the O’Neill, I was able to freelance for about a year. In 2011, Paulette Haupt asked me to come and be a mentor for the National Music Theater Conference. So, I arrived and I did the morning meetings with the artists and gave them feedback. And then after doing that for a year, it was decided that perhaps I could come back and be a dramaturg, as well as a mentor for some of the sessions as well. And that has been what I’ve done now, for the last, well, officially, in total, eight years with the O’Neill, and then working either as a dramaturg or as a mentor for seven years.

What’s one of your most notable projects?

The fact that I got to work twice with Daniel Zaitchik was really important. His was my first project here as a Lit Associate which was Picnic at Hanging Rock (NMTC ‘09). And then last summer to have him back for Darling Grenadine (NMTC ‘16) and to work with him as a dramaturg it felt like the completion of a cycle. That he was with me at the launch of my career as a dramaturg and here we were meeting again - seven years later - It just felt like a homecoming between the two of us. We didn’t have to learn a new language as collaborators, it was just something that we innately had in sitting down together and talking about the world of the play, and talking about what he wanted to accomplish as both writer and composer.

What do you do outside of the O’Neill?

I am based in Philadelphia. I’m the Literary Manager and Dramaturg at Philadelphia Theatre Company and also, and I am very happy about this, a professor at Temple University in Philadelphia. But I’ve always kept my summer open for the possibility of the O’Neill!

What makes the O’Neill special?

What I love about the O’Neill is the freedom it gives artists, but also, the idea that artists are coming in without the stress of a prescribed agenda. The pressure about trying to keep things under budget for a set, for lights, for sound, and so many of the other things in this business that come with putting up a tangible production do not exist here. Instead, the emphasis is placed on what do you want to do, what do you see, what do you envision, and go for it. Yes, we’re going to ask people to really apply their imagination for recreating the world that you are putting out there. But at the end of the day, you are still being given that liberty to go forward and this is also a safe place. The idea that we don’t allow critics in to basically write any kind of snide remarks that are going to chase people off of their muse, that are going to cause them to perhaps get scared of what is inspiring them or what is holding them back. The floodgates should open for people here creatively. There’s a kind of fearlessness instilled in the artists.

Meet Fred Thompson, National Puppetry Conference Faculty Member and long-time O'Neill friend!

How did you first come to the O’Neill?

I’ve been coming here for almost as long as anybody. If you want the real skinny, I started here in 1965 building the Amphitheater. I’ve been part of the O’Neill since it started.

So, you must have known Michael Douglas?

Oh yes, I did. And Danny DeVito and a few other people. There used to be a mast out at the Amphitheater, I’ll call it a “crows nest.” Michael Douglas was the guy they put in the boatswain’s chair and hauled up to the top because nobody else chose to, to start rigging lights. What’s neat about the O’Neill is I got to rub elbows with some of the great playwrights. Before they modified the Mansion and put in the dining area, there used to be a tiny little theater, where John Guare produced House of the Blue Leaves. Langford Wilson was here, a few other people, but they were just beginning then. It was exciting to be rubbing elbows with these people, nobody knew how far they’d go. Michael Douglas, Danny DeVito, they’ve done okay for themselves!

What did you work on in those early days?

I did scenery for the first few National Playwrights Conferences, when they used to do scenery, instead of just the staged readings. I did an exhibit for Sally Pavetti, who curated an exhibit on playwright Eugene O’Neill, and we mounted it in the Lyman Allyn Museum in New London. We built the whole thing in what’s the Facilities Shop right now. Then I went and had a life. But I’ve always been a part of this.

How did you first get involved in puppetry? What is your brand of puppetry?

I do marionettes. I tried hand puppets for awhile and did a hand puppet show, but I didn’t like the limitations. Part of the limitations thing comes from laziness, you really have to explore the possibilities of the figure and make it happen and that wasn’t enough for me. Marionettes provide a real challenge and it’s more to my liking. I began with puppetry in 1947, when I saw Rufus and Margo Rose in my school in Groton, Connecticut. I don’t know what it is, I still can’t explain it, but I was immediately struck by that art form. Although then I didn’t know it was an art form, I just thought it was puppets and I loved them. And then I’ve been doing it ever since on and off. My body of work is in regional theater and ballet doing props, masks, and some administrative, either stage managing or tech directing. So it’s always been theater. I tried a few “civilian jobs.” And they were okay, I learned a lot, but it wasn’t the kind of people mix. In 1996, the opportunity to come back here presented itself and I’ve been here ever since.

How did you become involved in the National Puppetry Conference?

From the start -- long before the Conference was formalized--Margo and Rufus Rose were coming here to teach marionettes, I asked if I could be a part of that somehow and Jim said “Sure, come on.” I just wanted to sweep the floor just so I could listen to what they were going to teach, but he insisted I help him teach right away. I worked with Margo and Rufus on films and toured with them and have come back nearly every year for the Conference. I keep exploring, I’m curious about everything, I spend an awful lot of time on YouTube, which I shouldn’t. I love how things work, the process, and I’m still learning. I share what I can share.

What’s one of your favorite memories here at the O’Neill?

It’s interesting that a lot of my memories are wonderful, especially meeting people who respect you, who find you interesting, because I grew up not knowing what that was. I have to say the most rewarding, yet it was a bittersweet kind of thing, was when I performed at the Saturday Night Opening Performance. It seemed to go okay. I got a standing ovation. I didn’t know it, the lights were in my eyes and I wanted to get off that stage. I felt the audience was supportive. Months later, I looked at the video of it and I decided it was everything I hated in a marionette performance, but as someone else pointed out to me, you’re just looking at through your own very critical eyes. You have 120 other people who thought it was great. I have no illusions about how good I am or anything like that, because I think you can always be better. I think about that, I just want to be good and have something new to share. I seem to be well-liked here and, I have to say, it’s not false modesty, but I don’t get it. I just do what I do, I have a good sense of humor I think. I think I’m not a particularly nice guy, depending on the situation. So many others have said, I must be doing something right. And Pam keeps asking me back, which I don’t understand at all. I have a great time here. I’m well-regarded here, which is nice.

What makes the O’Neill special?

It’s the idea that George White began with, that it’s an extremely safe, nurturing environment for people who want to create new works, whether it’s puppetry, theater, musical theater, cabaret and the whole philosophy is supportive. I’ve never had to ask twice for anything. There are dozens of people who have gone on from this place on to great things, feeling like they can do it. And it’s magical. It’s a very special place. It’s not in the water, it’s something in the air. It’s the people that make up the mix. Some years it’s okay, and some years it’s incredible and you can feel it. But just the idea that that possibility exists is pretty amazing to me. So I have a real connection to this place, I absolutely love it. I want my ashes here if that’s legal. I guess that’s one of the few things I know I want.

Meet Chandler Smith, Company Manager!

What do you do here at the O’Neill?

I’m the Company Manager. That means that for all of the summer guests that come in, I am one of their first points of contact. I help arrange travel and housing and make their stay enjoyable. We help them figure out local attractions they want to go to, make sure the kitchen is prepared for any dietary restrictions they have, and support the art that needs to happen.

How did you get involved in theater and get to the O'Neill?

I started doing theater when I was six years old and then at some point I realized that I didn’t need to be an actor. But I really wanted to continue to be involved and see how I could support the art. I love being around people, so I tried Company Management last year at Actors Theatre of Louisville. I fell in love with the job and the interpersonal relationships that were built. It was a new way of supporting the artists that I hadn’t discovered before. And I always wanted to work at the O’Neill because I love new work and I’m really attracted to the idea of work that’s being created now.

What are you looking forward to this summer?

I am looking forward to everyone getting here. Everyday gets more and more exciting. And I could tell from the moment I got to campus that this is a place where magic happens because everyone’s excitement level continues to rise. I’m excited to see that happen. And excited to see what changes through the summer, what the different conference dynamics are, and how people respond to being here. I don’t think I’m ever going to get over how beautiful it is here and I can just tell that’s another reason why people come back. I’m excited to get to see people in this element that’s different than the typical theater world of being in a big city with lots of traffic and cars. This is not that. This is the opposite. So I’m excited for that. And I’m excited to see the shows. I’m really excited about the people we have coming this year. And I just can’t wait for #ONeillSummer.

Why do you want to be in Company Management?

I really like Company Management because I think that when we’re really little, everyone is really receptive to the fact that we’re really vulnerable when we leave home. Kids go to camp for the first time and everyone understands that they’re going to get homesick and everyone makes them cookies and sends them care packages, but we forget that adults are also really vulnerable. When we ask people to create art, they’re even more vulnerable because we’re asking them to show a different side to themselves. I think Company Management is the department that allows people to be homesick and allows people to be not fully comfortable in their settings. We’re here to make sure people are able to still be human, which I think is really important because the best art is created when we are just being ourselves.

What are you hoping to learn from your time here?

I am hoping to learn how to be, in general, how to be a better company manager. I’m hoping to learn how I can better support the artists and better support the art. I’m hoping to learn how to avoid ticks. I’m hoping to learn to be the better version of myself and this position and I can’t wait for the O’Neill to support me while I do it!

What do you like to do in your free time?

I love to be outdoors. I like to ride my bike and run and be in nature. I love to go on really long walks. And reading, top of the list. I also love a good thrift store. I could thrift for days. And I love to watch movies. Be with people, hang out, do yoga. I’m doing a 30 day yoga challenge right now. I’m on Day 7. I fell off about Day 4 but I’m back on the wagon. And I would like to become a yoga instructor, but I have a ways to go since I can’t quite get through the 30 day challenge yet.

What makes the O’Neill special?

I think there’s lots of things. The history behind the O’Neill is incredible and incomparable. I think people’s passion for the O’Neill puts it one step above other theaters. For something to really be special and important people have to love it and I don’t know if I have seen an organization where people, actors, directors, playwrights, designers alike love it as much as they love this place. I think the love people dedicate to this is one of the things that makes it really important to the theater community and the theater world. And I also think at the end of the day what really is important is the fact that this is the work that’s being done here. It’s a place that people are able to try their new ideas and new voices and it’s adding to the theater canon every year, which makes it important in another way. So there’s three layers to it, the tradition, the love and the work that’s happening, that all make the O’Neill what it is and why it continues to prosper every year.

What do you hope to be doing in the future?

I would like to stay in Company Management right now. I’m really enjoying it. I’d like to see how my company management path can lead toward an artistic producing path and how I can continue to relate the two of those because I think they go hand-in-hand. I’m not exactly sure what’s going to be next for me after this summer at the O’Neill, but I can’t wait to find out.

This week, alumni of the National Theater Institute (NTI) returned to the O'Neill for our 12th Annual Young Playwrights Festival (YPF), a weekend where they get to work on bringing the plays of Middle School and High School playwrights to life as actors, directors, and dramaturgs! We caught up with a few of them, as they reflected on the weekend and their time at the O'Neill.

When did everyone attend NTI, and what is your role this weekend at YPF?

Violeta Picayo: I was here at NTI in the Fall of 2011. This is my second year doing YPF, both times as an actor.

Cliff Campbell: I attended NTI in Fall 2002. I went to Dartmouth College then came here for a semester. This is my fifth YPF. I’m an actor in an amazing play, A Timepiece of Mind, by Clark Lane Middle School student, Amanda Rowe.

Natalia Lopresti: I was in Theatermakers 2013 and NTI Spring 2014. This is my third year doing YPF as an actor.

Micah Greenleaf: I just graduated from NTI, Spring 2017 in the Advanced Playwrights program. Seven years ago today, I came to YPF as a playwright, after a semester at NTI, I’m back full circle as an actor.

Alex Constas: I came to NTI in Fall 2012 and then came back as an NTI Apprentice in 2014-15. The Summer after my apprenticeship, I came back with Company Management. I’ve been at YPF for the past three years, now as the YPF Associate.

Alex, what do you do as the YPF Associate?

Alex Constas: I created scene breakdowns and casting breakdowns for all the guest playwrights plays. All the guest playwrights come here to observe the rehearsal room and have cold reads. I coordinate those in the room and make sure they have actors for their roles, then figure out who needs to read what role and make sure it all happens in a fluid fashion. I assist Sophia to make sure everything is running smoothly and getting directors and actors what they need in their personal rooms for the rest of YPF.

What is everyone's favorite part of YPF?

Cliff Campbell: My favorite part is the cold read. Sitting in the circle with 40 or 50 faces, some of them you know, some of them you don’t know. There’s a lot of excitement in the room because you’re hearing these plays for the first time. It’s inspiring because you’re going from nothing to having something beautiful and two days later you’ve created something more with it.

Micah Greenleaf: I just love how these young playwrights, some of whom have never been in a theater setting, have never been told what they were writing was wrong, so they just did whatever they like - whatever they were excited about. And in the room, the writers are making changes right there. It’s amazing to see somebody with their entire life ahead of them, but right now they’re just having fun with it and getting this really unique experience.

What is everyone’s favorite part about coming back to the O’Neill?

Micah Greenleaf: I’m always amazed by all the old faces and new faces - it’s the O’Neill family. Even though it’s new people, everyone has that “NTI ethos” with the energy and generosity that they bring to the room. It’s a key O’Neill factor: everyone comes into the room excited to be there and offers so much.

Natalia Lopresti: Coming back to the O'Neill feels like coming home.

Alex Constas: NTI for me was a very formative experience in a number of ways, but it taught me how to be an artist in the world, so for me it’s about coming back and being reminded of that and seeing my past teachers and seeing old friends and making new friends. I feel like in the “real world” it can be very tough to stay connected to what drives you as an artists, but when I come back here it feels like everything makes sense again. And I feel reoriented in a productive way.

What is one of everyone's favorite NTI memories?

Natalia Lopresti: All of my favorite memories are also my hardest memories of times when I wasn’t getting it and my professors could see that I was frustrated. They would just sort of lay it out in front of me and tell me that I could either push through and make something truly magical happen, or I could give up.. It was all so hard, but it gave me no other choice other than to give everything I have. In New York where I live now, you’re so scattered and doing a million different things, that sometimes you forget that pure focus and dedication on that one thing. That’s what makes NTI so special.

Violeta Picayo: It was the second week when everyone takes a turn directing the compositions and the directors would all meet in the conference room. I was early and just sitting there and Paula Vogel just walks in. We were doing How I Learned to Drive that week, but no one had told us she was coming. She just walked in with this big smile on her face and said “Hi, I’m Paula!” The people who come through here, whether you have heard of them or not, are so committed to this place. And then to come back and see the Young Playwrights, some of them who are meeting this place for the first time, is really magical.

Natalia, you did NTI’s Theatermakers summer program. What was your favorite part of your summer at the O’Neill?

Natalia Lopresti: My favorite part of spending a summer here was being surrounded by the people participating in the conferences and truly feeling like I was a part of this community. I had lunch with David Auburn one day. He probably doesn’t remember who I am, but it was so amazing to sit across from a working professional who had an understanding of what kind of training I was getting and to be viewed as someone who was also working in their craft. Not necessarily as an equal, but I was treated as a member of the industry and that was my favorite part: feeling that I was among working artists.

What has everyone been doing since post-NTI?

Violeta Picayo: After I graduated NTI, I went back to Vassar and finished up there. I was introduced to the SITI Company’s work while I was here at NTI, so right after college, I did the inaugural year of their conservatory program. Immediately after that, I started working with a New York-based theater company called Bedlam. I also keep making new work with people from NTI ensemble, and people from Vassar and SITI Company as primarily an actor, but also as a mover and a theatermaker, and all those sorts of things that I think NTI really encourages you to be.

Cliff Campbell: I spent five or six years primarily as an actor and formed a theater company with my NTI class. Then I made the transition into teaching, realized there was more that I wanted to do. I was a high school theater teacher for six years. Now I’m a high school administrator in Brooklyn, but soon I’m going back to becoming a high school theater teacher. So much of what I learned here fuels my decision making and my trajectory, so I’m really excited to continue to teach theater.

Alex Constas: I came back as an NTI Apprentice 2 years after I finished the program. It was really valuable for me to see theater-making and the process that happens here in a whole new light. Then I moved to New York after spending a summer at the O’Neill as the Assistant Company Manager. In New York, I’ve been working at an Arts Education non-profit called Leap. We work with schools throughout the five boroughs and bring arts-integrated student-centered programs to students in under served areas. Outside of Leap, I just finished assisting Leta Tremblay, another NTI alum, on her play that she just directed called Porcupine. I’ve also been writing a lot and taking some more classes. There’s a Chehkov quote that says something like “If you want to work on your art, work on your life,” and I’m really into that right now. I’ve been trying to find my footing as an artist through finding my footing in my life.

Meet Daniel Brown, Development Apprentice!

What do you do here at the O’Neill?

I am the Development Apprentice. That means I help the development team with events and fundraising, and I also facilitate our membership program. Everyone should go ahead and get their memberships now, so they can order tickets as early as May 17, which is far before the box office opens on June 7th. It’s such a wonderful way to take advantage of all the things O’Neill summers have to offer.

How did you get to the O’Neill?

I have always loved theater. My mom was a performer and so she was always very supportive of me doing the arts and actually pushed me into the arts, which I appreciate. I went to Catawba College in North Carolina for musical theater and dance. While in college the professors were really proponents of having a job outside of performance. So while we’re starving actors and actresses, when looking for non-performing jobs, we have something marketable to continue to have income and still be in the arts. My way of doing that was by learning house management. Since freshman year of college, I have always had a summer job. Last summer, I was looking for a job and saw a job posting for the Box Office manager position here at the O’Neill. I applied and after a month of interviews, I got the position! I loved the place so much, that I asked to stay past when the Box Office position ended, and got accepted into my current position as the Development Apprentice.

How did you like being the box office manager?

It was insanity, but I loved it. I loved being able to communicate with all our patrons and just be able to talk about what I’m passionate about. Being able to explain all the plays, having the first-hand experience with what the O’Neill is, and being able to translate that to the patrons and getting them motivated and excited to come here. It’s always just nice to see an event or show run smoothly and knowing you’re responsible for calling the shots. I was lucky enough to have three amazing interns, and I know for a fact that I would not have been able to do it without them. And one of them is going to be the box office manager this summer!

What was your favorite part of last summer?

Being able to talk to the artists-in-residence, playwrights and actors, being able to hear from people who “this is their passion and this is their job,” because that’s where I want to be. I want to forever be making a living for myself by doing theater and its just great to have tips and tricks from people who are in the business and doing what I want to do. It’s really nice to have a stress-free environment to be able to talk to people like Norm Lewis and get tips on how to audition, or talk to dozens of other really cool people who are big names in the industry, but are at the O’Neill almost for a vacation.

What are you looking forward to this summer?

I’m looking forward to experiencing more events. I’ll be at membership events, and I’ll go to the Monte Cristo Award, the Fisher’s Island Golf Tournament, and the Summer Gala. Those were things I experienced from afar last year, and now I get to experience them firsthand. This summer, I will also be the choreographer for the Junior Fellows program at our Cabaret and Performance Conference. They are doing the music of the Bee Gees! Isn’t that the coolest? I love it! I am so excited. There’s a lot of really talented kids coming in and it will be a really great show.

What do you do outside the O’Neill?

I teach dance at Broadway Kids & Company, in the next town over. I have hip hop classes, lyrical contemporary class, and a jazz class. I also teach lessons for the girls who compete in dance competitions

What makes the O’Neill special?

So many things make the O’Neill special. There are few other places where you work and live all in the same place. I wake up, get ready, and walk ten steps to my office from my bedroom, which is pretty cool. It makes the O’Neill more of a family environment because everyone is so close knit. This place is so much more than a workplace for most of us and I really appreciate that. Most of the relationships that I’ve made here I’m positive will continue even after I’m no longer here.

What has been one of the highlights of working at the O’Neill?

I have actually had a lot of opportunities to perform and be involved on the creative side of things, which is amazing that everyone realizes that everyone here is not just one thing. I’ve been able to perform in or assist with multiple National Theater Institute performances, but my favorite thing was being involved in a reading of Lilies Bloom by Josh Wilder. Josh Wilder was here a few years ago for the 2015 National Playwrights Conference with Leftovers. Lilies Bloom is actually Part 3 in a trilogy, with Leftovers being Part 2. The play explored a different point in these same characters’ lives. It was amazing to see the “O’Neill process” in action and be a part of that. It’s really cool to know that as this play grows and moves on, I was a part of it being what it was, and changing it to what it is now, and what it will be in the future. I’m excited to see where that goes.

Meet Isaak Berliner, Media Apprentice!

What do you do here at the O’Neill?

I am the Media Apprentice - the first media apprentice the O’Neill has ever had! My role is to create photography and video to help document everything that happens at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center. Anything that happens on this campus, I’m there with my camera ready to photograph it and, hopefully, these photos will be looked at many years in the future, but for now they are shared on all of our social media - Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Youtube. If you see any of our photos or videos online, it’s pretty likely I made it.

How did you get to the O’Neill?

I studied theater in college, not photography, and I thought that I wanted to work in theater as an actor, performer, or director. I realized pretty late in my college career that I wasn’t enjoying performance as much anymore. I wasn’t getting a creative thrill out of being on stage. After I left college, I worked in film production for a while as a set dresser, basically being the person who puts out the furniture, paints the walls, and dresses the set. I was on a couple of short films - usually film school films and a lot of unpaid work - trying to explore other areas of performance. During that time - around 2014 - I bought a camera, mainly as a way to have a fun hobby and learn how to take photos. I told myself to take a photo every day. But, there was still some part of me that wanted to do theater, even if it wasn’t performance or directing. I thought since I had a camera and knew how to use it, let’s try marketing. Winter of 2015, I was looking through Playbill.com for any kind of marketing internship or job, and I found this job listing! I’ve been here since March 2016. I’m coming up on my second summer with the O’Neill, and I’m loving every second of it.

What is your favorite part of the “academic year” with the National Theater Institute?

I love Theater Labs. Friday mornings between 9-12 is my time with the students. I like seeing what the students can make with a scene from a play or musical and how they can produce it in an unorthodox space like the stairwell in the Barn. Or a closet in the Lopez Studio. The students get to work with some amazing mentors -- sometimes the writer or original director of the piece they’re working on! I always wonder if the students are internally freaking out that they get this kind of insider’s look. Honestly, the students make my job so easy, because the work is so good. They set up the picture. I just take it.

What is your favorite part of the summer?

I love that it’s warm in the summer. I love that it’s greener. O’Neill summer is really one of those things where unless you’ve been here for a summer, you can’t understand because even describing it to people, it sounds ridiculous. There’s hundreds of people here. They’re all walking around. They’re all being creative and theater-y. It’s a little overwhelming because there’s so many things to take photos of, I don’t know where to go. Blue Genes Pub is wonderful. After the shows, there’s this mass exodus of people that go to the pub. It’s like a big theater party with all these artists, directors, writers, patrons, and creative people together and it’s very inspiring. Or, if it’s an open-mic night, cheering on your co-workers as they sing their heart out. The Barn in performance is magical - it truly transforms. We bring curtains, risers, and chairs in the space as well as video monitors so the actors can see the music director. It becomes a beautiful theater. Also, just meeting so many people everyday. Everyone is so nice. I’ve never felt like I didn’t belong here. Whenever I walked into a room to take photos, I often got very nervous that they might think I’m distracting or in the way, but they immediately see me and welcome me to the space.

What’s your favorite photograph you’ve taken here?

Part of my job as Media Apprentice is unlocking and locking the campus buildings for our NTI students. One morning, at 7am, as I was doing the morning unlock routine, we had this brilliant sunrise. The sun rises up the coast here (I’m from California, so it’s baffling to me). And there is a split second of good light on the O’Neill before it rises too high and we lose the shadows and angles. Luckily, I had my camera. The sky was this crazy spectrum of blues and purples and oranges and yellows. The tree still had leaves, and the grass had it’s morning dew. So everything was glowing. AND I GOT IT. And this is why I don’t leave my room without my camera.

What makes the O’Neill special?

At every performance opening, our Executive Director, Preston, always says “this is the launchpad of the American theater,” and I truly believe that. This place has launched the careers of so many people. Before this, I was an unpaid set dresser, and now I can say I have re-shaped content creation for the O’Neill. I have photographed a lot of new work, new plays, and new musicals. And just last month, I was able to photograph a show we did on Broadway - Tales of the City: A Concert. I don’t know how many people are able to say that at 25, so I’m really lucky to be at the O’Neill. I also like when Preston says “The O’Neill says yes. We say yes to you.” Because they do. The O’Neill helps people further their careers. I think all of us share in the belief that, because of the O’Neill, we’ve gone beyond what we thought we could do.

Who took your photo for Humans of the O’Neill?

My lovely girlfriend Allie. She does marketing for the Girl Scouts of Connecticut, but she is also a phenomenal concert photographer and is breaking into wedding photography. You should check out her work at alliedeariephotography.com. She’s about to have a series of film developed from our road trip across the southern US States. Actually, this might be the first official photo taken of me on campus.

Meet Mary Reagan, Executive Assistant & Rentals Coordinator!

What do you do here at the O'Neill?

I am the Executive Assistant and Rentals Coordinator. That means I am Preston Whiteway’s assistant, our Executive Director. I manage his schedule and anything to do with our Board of Trustees - organizing board reports for meetings, any kind of daily administrative work, as well as a lot of archival work. I also give tours of O’Neill spaces to potential renters, whether they want to rent the spaces for weddings, or other events, and then I handle the contract and coordination with any of their vendors, and then hopefully help them put on a really fun event. I also handle the archiving of photos, scripts, and other documents critical to the organization’s historical memory. It’s a part of my job that has educated me about how the O’Neill was formed and how it has grown. Another aspect of my job is being, quite often, the first face or voice people come into contact with upon their first interaction with the O’Neill. Whether it’s answering the phone, organizing tours, or greeting people as they arrive in the Mansion, I try to make everyone feel welcome and as excited about this place as I am.

How did you get to the O'Neill?

I’m from Waterford. I grew up basically 10 minutes away from here. I grew up doing musicals with a local company called Broadway Kids. I would do a musical every year. I loved performing - I danced, I sung, I acted. Then when I was in high school, my first summer job was working at the gatehouse for Waterford Beach, which is right near the top of the O’Neill’s driveway, and you can see the whole campus. I had only been to the O’Neill one time before that to see a show, and I didn’t fully understand what the O’Neill did. I knew that obviously it was a theater and there were actors and writers and other artists here, but I didn’t fully understand the scope of what the O’Neill did until later. I kind of watched from afar people rehearsing in the Edith Oliver Theater, which was really cool, and I actually referred to that in my college essay. I talked about a typical day in the life at my summer job, which was actually pretty boring, but I got to observe a lot of things. Then I volunteered to usher at the O’Neill a couple of times throughout college. I graduated from Providence College in 2015. I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do from there, so I looked into the internships available at the O’Neill. I ended up interning here during summer of 2015 as the Library and Archives Intern. I gave tours of the Monte Cristo Cottage, Eugene O’Neill’s childhood home, worked at the front desk twice a week, and also worked on various archival projects. After that, my supervisor that summer who had the position I am in now was leaving. I applied for her job and very quickly I was offered this position. I have been in this position now for almost two years. It was really a whirlwind of a time where all of a sudden I had this awesome job and I got to work at a place that I used to admire from afar and not really understand that well. But now that I’ve been here for two years, I get it. It’s funny how the perspective has changed a lot.

What do you do outside of the O'Neill?

I teach at Broadway Kids in Niantic, the company where I grew up doing musicals, one to two times a week. I teach tap and acting to students between the ages of 7 and 12. It’s totally different than anything we do here because they’re so young, but it’s great to see them get excited about theater and dance at such a young age, and to try and help them understand the disciplines better. I love doing that - it’s very fun and fulfilling. I love to travel, even if it’s just to New York or Boston. I love to see new cities. I also have this obsession with people who create videos for Youtube, so I created my own Youtube channel. I make videos and vlogs about basically anything. I love to edit the video and audio, and to write.

What is one of your favorite memories at the O’Neill?

Summer Gala last year is probably one of my favorite memories. It was a beautiful day in July. We were all here really early setting things up and getting ready. It was stressful, but really exciting because Bobby and Kristen Lopez were being honored. It was the first Gala where I really had a big role helping our Special Events Manager and Preston with whatever they needed. Working throughout the day and then being able to sit, enjoy, and take it all in, I really got to see the magnitude of the O’Neill. And that goes for the Monte Cristo Award as well, which was just a few months earlier, in May. The big events really make you realize the extent to which the O’Neill touches people’s lives and how it can really affect people’s careers and help them go to the next level. It’s very inspiring to be at those events. Even if I’m just setting up a table with auction items. It feels like such a small task, but at the end of the day it’s crucial to the whole success of the event and to the success of the O’Neill. I appreciate any kind of event like that because it’s important when you get into the tedium of everyday office life to remember what the mission of the O’Neill is and how everything you are doing is supporting that mission.

What makes the O’Neill special?

I think it’s the people that make it special, which is sort of a general answer, but it’s more the fact that I can be a very weird, strange person. I like to sing in the hallway, I like to dance around, I like to be silly. Nobody thinks twice about it because everybody is very accepting of everyone’s quirks and personality traits. It’s a place where everybody can laugh everyday and just feel good about what their doing.

Meet Harvey Lee Jones, Head Chef at the O'Neill!

What do you do here at the O'Neill?

I am the head chef at the O’Neill. I’ve been the head chef at the O’Neill for about three years. Prior to that, I was the assistant chef. I’ve been at the O’Neill since 2011.

Tell us about how you came to the O’Neill.

It’s a long story, but I’ve been cooking for the last 25 years. In September 2011, I needed a part-time job to keep busy. At that particular time, I saw an ad in the paper for the O’Neill, and that began our relationship.

We know you are a classically trained chef. Where have you trained?

I’ve recently taken a course at Cornell University, but the Culinary Institute is where I actually trained. My favorite style of cooking is bistro cooking. Bistro Cooking is a style of cooking where you have smoked meats in a small, intimate setting. Just think of a setting where there’s a bottle of Chianti in the basket with a candle in the empty bottle, and that type of food, which would be a nice ragu, smoked meat, charcuterie, and other food like that.

What is your favorite part of this job?

Interacting with the NTI students and artists and seeing when they like a dish. When they come back, you know that they like it. Not that they don’t like a dish when they don’t come back, but you can tell when they truly like something. I’ve been cooking for so long, it’s not necessarily my favorite part anymore, so I really enjoy interacting and getting to know all the students and artists who come through.

But, I do enjoy cooking things in a different matter. Most of my spice blends now, I do myself now instead of ordering them over the counter. I do like being creative in that fashion. It’s fun to take an old thing and make it new.

What makes the O’Neill special?

The cornucopia of people that come through here. We have so many different personalities and nationalities - this week we have teachers from both Russian and Ireland with us. When we look at America, we look at the O’Neill. It’s just a melting pot of people with no hostilities. I have yet to see any people not molding or bonding together at the O’Neill.

What is one of your favorite memories at the O’Neill?

Some of my favorite memories will always be the Gala. We always have a party for all the staff that can’t get under the tent. A couple of years ago, we had a chocolate fountain. They enjoyed the food that was prepared here in the cafeteria more so than the food that was prepared under the tent. I find that when the gala hits, the summer is almost over. It’s one of the last times that we really get together to socialize. I think that that really brings it all to a close. A few weeks after that, everyone heads back home.

Meet Sarah Crake, National Theater Institute Apprentice at the O'Neill and National Theater Institute!

What do you do here at the O'Neill?

I am one of four NTI Apprentices. I help to run the day-to-day life of the National Theater Institute programs.

How did you get to the O'Neill?

I went to school at Albright College in Redding, Pennsylvania and my mentor there, Jeff Lentz, is an alumnus of NTI. In my sophomore year I wanted to go to NTI because Jeff did, and because Albright was a liberal arts school and I wanted more of a conservatory setting - I wanted to just do theater for a semester. I applied, got in, and I came! I did some work-study, so I worked as a housekeeper over the summer after my semester. Soon after, I was invited to apply for the apprenticeship, and here I am!

What is your favorite part of your job?

I’m really enjoying taking class, after having already taken them when I was a student. I just get more out of them. For instance, going to London and studying with Complicite for a second, and then a third time, meant that I could take really copious notes and pay closer attention. Which is something I couldn’t necessarily do when I was a student. Now, I’ll go to Droznin class with Artistic Director Rachel Jett and I’ll be able to show an example of a move, rather than learning it for the first time. It’s really neat to see my own progression, and to reconnect with those experiences.

Tell us about what you do outside of NTI and the O'Neill.

Outside of this job, I volunteer at a rabbit rescue called Every Bunny Counts in Bristol, Connecticut. I have two rabbits of my own. They belong to my mom and dad, and I’m very fond with them. It’s kind of like going to therapy. I help take care of these rabbits. I clean and hold them, and feed them bananas. I also do a lot of Yoga. That’s what I do in my off time when I’m not drinking coffee or sleeping.

What are some projects you are working on now?

I am kind of the spirit behind the “Green Eugene” movement, our initiative to be more eco-friendly at the O’Neill. It’s a really well-supported program by the rest of the O’Neill, but I’m the person who took the initiative to spearhead this project. I have researched how to recycle better in Connecticut and ways to waste a little less. We also have signs all over campus with reminders to recycle, to throw away only what need be thrown away, and to use a hand towel instead of a paper towel. By no means do I have a degree or anything, I’m just an enthusiast of the Earth.

What is your favorite student interactions that you have had as an apprentice?

There is a very funny thing I have started doing with my family. My father has terrible eyesight and when we’re at the beach he takes his glasses off and he can’t see us, so we’ll raise both of our hands straight in the air to signal where we are, and he’ll respond with his arms straight in the air if sees us, and we know that we’re both safe and we both know where we are. This is something I took to London last semester and the students loved. They thought it was the silliest thing, but also a good way for us to know where each other was. In one of their exercises, they all put their hands straight up in the air, just like how I do it. It was very flattering and very sweet. I hope that’s something that might carry on!

What made you want to come back after your semester as an NTI student?

I thought that I had something to add to the program with my energy and from my own experience as a student. I thought there were things that I could take and feed forward. I wanted to feed into the future of the program and as a student as a housekeeper. I thought I had something unique to bring, and I thought I could offer that up.

What makes the O’Neill and NTI special?

The O’Neill, just like theater, is ephemeral. Every semester is its own little time capsule, and no two semesters are alike. I’m only in my third - my own, and my two semesters as an apprentice. And I think that’s especially unique. That these X number of individuals come together and work for fourteen weeks with any variety of professors, and then they go. And maybe they’ll come back, or maybe they won’t, and then next semester we start again with another X number of students and X number of faculty and X kind of experiences. I think that’s something that’s very unique. The O’Neill’s program is very representative of the values I have in theater as a piece of art. It’s an equation that lets you live your life in this specific and unique way for fourteen weeks, and that’s the only structure. You have class everyday at 7:30am and you’ll be done at 10pm, and that’s it. Overall, the O’Neill and NTI are great. Everyone is committed to the students. The students and the faculty are tops. It’s really neat to be in service. I sometimes feel like I’m paying my dues a little bit, but it’s a really happy way to pay my dues. NTI is hard, but it’s completely worth it. The further I get from the starting point I was at, the more I realize what I have learned and gained from it.

Meet Aanika Allen, Schedule & Production Manager for the National Theater Institute and the O'Neill!

What do you do here at the O’Neill?

I’m the Schedule and Production Manager. For the National Theater Institute, I schedule all the classes in partnership with Rachel Jett, our Artistic Director. Right now we have four programs running each with classes from 7:30am-10pm every day. In the summer time, I’m more of a production manager with making sure everything goes smoothly for our summer conferences.

How did you get to the O’Neill?

I’m originally from Wilmington, Delaware. I found a posting for the job on Playbill and I applied. I didn’t think about Connecticut ever. I always wanted to be in New York City, but I thought maybe I can take a step to go to Connecticut first and prepare myself for New York City. So, that was my plan. When I came up for the interview, I immediately fell in love. It’s so beautiful here, I don’t want to leave. Even after the interview, I was like “This is my job. I’m getting this job.” I loved it so much.

How did you get involved in theater?

In high school, my drama teacher Mr. Costello was amazing. I was in a production of “All Falls Down.” But then I realized acting wasn’t for me, so I started doing more stage management and crew. That’s when I learned I really liked the behind-the-scenes of everything.

What is your favorite part of your job?

When I meet with the students Thursday mornings to talk about production needs for their theater labs. In those meetings, we mostly brainstorm about what props we do and don’t have for them to use. They are so creative. I like those thirty minutes because they get to see my personality and how I am, and I get to see theirs. It helps me get to know them and to build a better relationship to support them. So, I always enjoy those Thursday mornings.

What makes the O’Neill special?

A lot of things. Where we are is special. The location - our scenery - is special. Just the people here are special. You really do feel like you’re in a family and people genuinely care about you. Also, Rachel Jett makes it special for me. She’s amazing! Love that lady.

Meet Sgott Mackenzie, Facilities and Grounds Assistant!

How did you get into the O’Neill?

I am originally from Livonia, Michigan and I am in Connecticut because I came to visit a friend who was a blacksmith here. I was enamored by it, so I came back here to be a blacksmith. I work a lot. I work at the Garde Arts Center as well, loading in shows. I have also worked at Fiddleheads - a food co-op - and coffee shops. I like to work at places that are nice for people to go to or are doing good things, so that’s why there was a pull to the O’Neill. I wasn’t sure I wanted to facilities – I also do sound – but I just wanted to be here. I started almost a year ago. But with all the different phases and things we do here, it feels like I have been here much longer.

What is your favorite phase?

The summer is obviously pretty fun. There is a lot of different groups coming on and off campus. It’s fun because there’s so many people, it’s interesting to see the different feels for the different groups. Puppetry has a lot of needs because they have to build puppets. They take over the basement and spread out. They have tools and need this and that. While cabaret is singing in every square inch of the building and every piano is being used, but they don’t need facilities as much. It’s interesting that way. I like it all. It’s fun when it gets busy and seeing all of the programs.

What makes the O’Neill special?

Probably the people. The staff is pretty neat. They come and they go. It’s interesting because each new hire is described as the new person who was formerly in that position. It’s funny because even when you’re gone, your ghost still continues to hang around. So, I think it’s the people – the people that work here, and recruit, and get money together, and just create interest – I think that’s what also brings the other people in. So it’s people bringing in people. I think that's what’s special.

Meet Bonnie Kramm, General Manager!

What do you do here at the O'Neill?

I’m the General Manager, responsible for the departments of Facilities, Kitchen, Business Office, and IT departments. Also, I oversee the Pub when it’s in business during June, July, and August.

How did you come to work here?

I am an accountant and a financial person, and through a networking experience, my college roommate told me about this job opening. Frankly, I had no experience in theater except as an avid audience member. The truth is, not long before I learned about this position, I was sitting in a Broadway audience and I said to myself “How can I work in a theater and enjoy this all the time?”

Tell us about your new office, because we know you’re very proud of it.

I am! I feel fortunate to work in this beautiful building. Our Founder, George White, saved this mansion from death by fire exercise approximately 53 years ago. To me, it’s the most beautiful place, located on the most beautiful piece of land, overlooking the Atlantic ocean, and it seemed natural to add some original art that my father-in-law painted of local scenery. Also I’ve added a couple of other touches that are simple, but make my office a very comfortable place to spend a lot of my time.

What is your favorite memory here at the O'Neill?

I like to say that every performance I see here is my favorite memory of the O’Neill.

What makes the O’Neill special?

I think that there are many reasons why our campus is such a unique and special place, even magical, as many people say. There is magic in this campus being re-purposed for the development of new theater, away from a commercial environment. We are fortunate to attract talented people to come here in the pursuit of new theater and leave with their own O’Neill Center story of the magic and who they worked with and what they developed.

Meet Violet Saylor, Program Representative & Teaching Artist for the National Theater Institute!

What do you do here at the O'Neill?

I am a Program Representative & Teaching Artist for the National Theater Institute. I travel and teach workshops, and lately I’ve been going to several American College Theater Festivals.

What is your favorite part of this job?

Teaching classes and working with students is by far my favorite part of this job. I love when a student does something that they didn’t know they could do. In my Droznin workshops, I do this one move where you stand back to back with your partner and one person bends forward and they lift the other person on their back. And the person on their back is supposed to have their arms up and just be like *sigh* totally at peace, and it stretches out your spine, and it’s a kind of trust exercise. And every time when someone is going up and maybe their partner is a little bit smaller than them, or they’re just like “I’m afraid” because everyone’s afraid to be lifted if they haven’t been before. When they come down, their face is always like “Oh my god! That was so great! I did something I never thought I could do!” and that is my favorite moment because that’s the moment I can see them be like “Oh! NTI might be a place like that." When I was an NTI student, I did a Droznin workshop, and then when I came here, every day was that feeling. Every day was like “Oh my god, I didn’t know I could that.” You kind of get addicted to that feeling. It’s an opening, it’s like breathing something new in. Especially introducing people to a place like NTI where they could feel like that every single day, that’s the moment where I’m like “Yes! You could be into this” and I’m going to pull you in. And that’s so fun for me as an educator and as an artist to be like “me too!” It’s kind of a moment of recognition of “You saw that in yourself, I saw it in you too. Let’s go. Come be on my team.”

How did you first come to the O'Neill?

I went to Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. We had someone in the very first class in 1970, which I’m very proud of, and then we’ve had a couple of students come almost every year since. I came because one of my upperclassmen friends did NTI in the fall of his senior year, and he came back and literally didn’t even say hello. He just put his hands on my shoulders and was like “Violet, you have to go to NTI.” I had seen him in a show the previous year, and then to see him in the show that we did together, I saw that he was a much better actor. He was always a great actor, but he was so strong and just so fun to work with. Every chance we could be on stage together, I was like “Yeah! I want to be on stage with you!” He was so good, and that was really fun. So I came because he was like “you have to go.” And I applied to the directing program, but I got accepted into the NTI Semester. Which actually was a blessing because my degree is in directing and I love it and want to keep doing it, but NTI totally turned me into a writer and I never would have discovered that if I did the directing program. Thank you, Rachel Jett! Rachel and Donna turned us all into writers. You can’t meet them and not be like “well maybe I’ll write a play today.” That’s just what they give. So I did my semester, which was life-changing – every alum says that to the point where its cliché, but its true!

What makes the O'Neill special?

That’s such a good question and I have so many answers. The O’Neill is my home. Every time I come back here, I’m like *sigh* “I’m coming home.” I’m coming to the place where I actively see every day that everyone is being included and accepted. That’s something that I try to further in my job doing outreach to schools with more students of color, or by doing the LGBTQ+ workshop, or bringing in new texts, or with our faculty of color and having those tough discussions, this is the first time I have found that anywhere. When I came here from my school, the people in my ensemble at NTI were mostly women and more than half of the people in the ensemble were queer. And I was like “What? I’ve never been in a group like this. It’s amazing!” As a queer woman, it’s nice to be in a place where I’m not the minority in a group of people. This is a place where I genuinely feel like I’m always accepted and always encouraged to be myself, to be the best version of myself, and that’s more than in my school and in my family, who are great and I love them, but this is a place that not only allows it, but encourages it.

Credits:

Photos: Isaak Berliner

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