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Keeping Her Balls In The Air – Monica Bauer Tells Us How She Does It

by Karen Tortora-Lee on September 4, 2010

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If you weren’t one of the lucky ones who was able to get to Planet Connections to experience Made For Each Other- take heart!  It’s coming around again as part of an evening of theatre entitle BALLS: the Testosterone Plays of Monica Bauer.  In order to be able to get this production off the ground some very talented, inspirational writers are gathering on Saturday, September 11th for a one-night-only fundraiser entitled “WOMEN WITH BALLS” short plays by women about men.

This news makes me very happy becuase 1)  Made for Each Other is a terrific show which I’m excited to have a chance to see again  2) this gives me an opportunity to interview playwright Monica Bauer - a talented, funny, smart woman.  Monica took some time out of her really busy schedule to tell me a little bit about the great women who will be sharing the bill with her on 9/11,  how she convincingly channeled the spirit of  war veterans, and what it means to be a woman with balls . . .

Monica! First of all – I love the title of your fundraiser Women With Balls . . . how were you able to gather all these strong-voiced female playwrights together?

Monica Bauer

Monica Bauer

I’ve been lucky enough to meet and work with several of these terrific playwrights in other places. Robin Rice Lichtig became my Internet pal as we both posted on the International Centre for Women Playwright’s site. Turns out that Robin and I both had plays in an evening titled Women for Women at the HERE Arts Center in 2004, which is where I first saw her powerful monologue Stand Strong, which we are featuring on September 11th! We didn’t know each other then, but realized this after she submitted Stand Strong to Women With Balls! It’s a very small playwriting world off-off Broadway! Robin sent a call for scripts to a list of women playwrights in New York, so Robin is responsible for some of these great women being on board.

Richey Nash as journalist Michael Apres and Jeremy Gabriel as photojournalist Jack Velazquez in the world premiere production of HEADS -- written by EM Lewis, directed by Darin Anthony, and produced at the Blank Theater in Hollywood, CA. Photo by Rick Baumgartner

Richey Nash as journalist Michael Apres and Jeremy Gabriel as photojournalist Jack Velazquez in the world premiere production of HEADS -- written by EM Lewis, directed by Darin Anthony, and produced at the Blank Theater in Hollywood, CA. Photo by Rick Baumgartner

EM Lewis is bringing a scene from her multiple award winning Iraq war play, Heads, which premiered in Los Angeles two years ago. I first saw Heads in 2007 at the Great Plains Theater Conference. Ellen Lewis and I had become friends on another Internet list for playwrights, called the Binge (which is not about binge eating, it’s about binge-submitting, sending plays all over the country). That’s how we realized we had both been accepted at the same Conference. So we split the cost of a hotel room, and have been referring to each other as” roomies” ever since.
One of our Honorary Co-Chairs is Kathleen Warnock, whose great work is seen all over the place, and is active in gay and lesbian theater at TOSOS II. She approached folks she knew whowere good writers. And the rest came to us from a call for scripts passed around at a meeting of “50/50 in 2020”!

The first half of  your event is devoted to plays that center around 9/11 as this will fall on the Anniversary of 9/11. I’ve seen two 9/11 plays in the past year – one was based in magical realism, one was more about conspiracy theory and politics. Where do the
Women With Balls plays fall on the spectrum?

Heads is a realistic suspense story with twists and turns, about three Americans and a Brit who are waiting to die in an insurgent dungeon during the worst of the Iraqi insurgency.  Stand Strong is the story of a young elementary school teacher whose students get too close a view of the attack; it has a strong poetic streak and some magical realism. The other two 9/11 plays are mine. Two Men Walked Into a Bar has been produced in Boston and New York, and it uses a lot of black humor to tell the story of an Iraq war vet’s meeting a Vietnam war vet at 3 a.m. in a seedy Alabama bar. It’s so realistic in its portrayal of Marines, I’ve attended talk-backs where audiences were shocked to discover a woman wrote it, even though my name was right there on the playbill! The Most Important Thing was a hit at the Boston Theater Marathon in 2004, and it’s a two-hander, a character study of a man who comes to a video dating service two weeks after 9/11, desperate to find the love of his life as fast as possible.

What they all have in common is a focus on character, not politics. I find a lot of overtly political 9/11 plays don’t interest me, because I know the story, and they just preach to the choir. If I want to learn about the politics of 9/11, I read books.

As a female – and proclaimed Feminist – playwright you’re bringing home the point that women can write theatre for, and about men just as well as a man can. Because, of course, for years men have been giving us our most treasured (as well as reviled) female characters. So, turning the tables a little –  what are some themes that men write about women that you feel they get right, and what do you think they get completely wrong?

I’m not comfortable calling any playwright’s work “wrong.” I think any playwright who pays attention to human behavior will get characters of any gender “right.” There used to be controversy in the 1940’s and 50’s about gay men writing plays, at a time when gay men could not write openly about relationships between men, that perhaps plawrights such as Tennessee Williams were really writing about gay men disguised as women. Williams thought that was ridiculous, and I agree.

This is where I part company with some feminists, who feel that we need women’s voices in the theater, because only women writers can write about strong women, or women’s issues, and get it “right.” What I do find interesting, is the kinds of prejudices we bring unconsciously to our work. Often, if a man writes a character who is an executive, the default position is male, and a woman is only an executive if they want to write specifically about the issue of “women executives.” The same problem happens in terms of race.

This fundraiser is for 2 of your shows – one which I saw – and loved – Made For Each Other . . . and the other is Two Men Walked Into A Bar. Tell our readers a little about each show – and why these are the two you’ve decided to showcase in an evening together.

 John Fico, star of "Made for Each Other". Mr. Fico's photo was taken by Ellis Gaskell

John Fico, star of "Made for Each Other" (Photo by Ellis Gaskell)

In Made for Each Other, I’ve written a play that goes so close to the bone for gay men of a certain age, that one gay friend asked me if I had been eavesdropping on the last ten years of his life! It’s a play about a relationship between an older and a somewhat younger man, and the generation gap makes a difference. It begins with humor and ends somewhere else; it’s important to me to take an audience somewhere they aren’t expecting to go.

In Two Men Walked Into a Bar, I’ve also got a young man and an older man, in a high-stakes situation. I’ve had military men who just couldn’t figure out how I could get it so “right”, in terms of the code of honor in the Marine Corps. It helps that I served in the National Guard many years ago, and I’ve had a family friend who was (and always will be, in some way) a Marine.  We liberals don’t often get the military “right,” so it’s important to me that I give these two Marines the respect they deserve. But I also deliver an unexpected shift, and a surprise at the end.  That’s one more thing these two plays they have in common, but if I told you, it would spoil the surprise; and it’s not what you think!

You’re active in the 50-50 in 2020 movement, dedicated to increasing the production of women playwrights. I’d love to know a little more about that movement and also how people who are interested can help the cause.

Please come to the Facebook page, “Female Playwrights”, where you can click on a link to a fuller description of how this group first became organized. Here’s a link to the New York Times story last year about the disparity between productions of male and female playwrights. This study, and the controversy that followed in terms of interpreting the data, kicked this movement into high gear last year.

Okay last question – bonus question . . . the point where you can tell me anything you want. Leave us with a joke, a secret, tell a favorite story from the past, give me your favorite quote . . . fill me in on anything I might have missed. The mic is yours . . .

I was recently attending a reading at a bookstore in New Haven, Connecticut, home to Yale and the most over-educated group of bookstore-browsers on the planet. A friend of mine was reading her short fiction. We were chatting afterwards with a bunch of writers, and a man I had not met before asked me what kind of writing I did. I told him. Then he asked if I had a play that he could attend, and I told him I had a play about two Marines coming up on September 11th. He smiled and said, “Wow, a play about lady Marines! I bet that’s interesting!” ‘Nuff said!
‘Nuff Said indeed!  Well, I’m grateful that Monica Bauer could give us so many tantalizing bits of what we can expect – not only from the event on September 11th “WOMEN WITH BALLS” short plays by women about men but also the actual plays which will be showcased in BALLS: the Testosterone Plays of Monica Bauer.

If you can’t attend the fundraiser but wish to contribute to helping the production play you may make a tax-deductible donation in support of Women With Balls by clicking this link to Monica Bauer’s account as a Sponsored Artist of Fractured Atlas.

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