For an emerging playwright there’s nothing like getting your work published on Indie Theater Now, run by the amazing Martin Denton who single-handedly does so much for the New York Theatre scene – championing plays and playwrights alike. But how about getting three of your plays published on Indie Theater Now in just one month?
Meet Natalie Menna, an award-winning playwright and actress who is celebrating the fact that three of her plays were just published and are now available for purchase. All different in scope, length, and subject they still all have Natalie’s signature brand of insight and humor:Zen A.M.: In the wake of 9/11, Bruno abandons his lucrative Wall Street career to pursue his lifelong dream of becoming a painter. After years of struggling, he finally books a once in a lifetime project, only to develop major misgivings about completing his painting. Can a marriage-minded girlfriend, greedy guru, financial folly, and one bitchy boss change Bruno’s mind? i-POD: An artist posing as an environmentalist struggles to survive two months on an Eco-Barge in order to compete for a Guggenheim grant and come to terms with her father’s legacy. Roberta!: At the corner of hope and delusion, meet Roberta. Join her on her journey from reality to unreality to projected reality and back again. There’s no end to Roberta’s fantasies and rants. Scary that there’s a little bit of Roberta in all of us!
Natalie chatted with me about where her comedic voice comes from, how she handles each milestone of success, and puts to rest the question of ever meeting a poor vegan.
Natalie! February was a terrific month for you! You had 3 of your plays published on Indie Theater Now. Amazing! So, first of all, congratulations.
Natalie Menna: Thanks, Karen!
Secondly—what does it feel like to now have your work out there officially? Is there a feeling of “I’ve arrived”?
Natalie: If I ever feel that way, please tie my hands to the bedpost. And not in the good way. Seriously, if I feel that way ever they’ll be no need to write anymore. I write precisely BECAUSE I’ve never thought of myself as arriving, arrived, about to arrive, or on the way to arriving. Departing, maybe, on a sinking ship …
Of course, publication isn’t the only way to ‘arrive’ right? All three of your plays have gotten acclaim by winning awards. What goes through your head when you find out that something you’ve created is not only being celebrated with a nomination, but then championed with an actual award win?
Natalie: I do like awards! Momentarily, I feel like I’m not on that sinking ship. But then I’m right back on it. Hours. Sometime minutes later. And then I keep writing.
In Roberta, I-Pod, and Zen A.M. you’ve shown you have a knack for writing, if not comedy per-se, then extremely comedic characters. When you conceive of a concept for a play do you set out for it to be funny, or is that just a part of your personality that shines through?
Natalie: This is a tough question. Requires me to analyze myself, which I hate. I only like analyzing others. Let’s see — a lot of people say this, and I wholeheartedly agree — “There’s comedy in everything.” EVERYTHING! That’s the way I’ve survived my life so far. The way we all do. I don’t think I consciously set out to write a comedy. I can be writing about a serious topic, for example, my play Committed, which deals with the last two days of Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh‘s life before his murder. A regular laugh/riot, no? Believe it or not, audiences for the reading of that play were laughing steadily throughout. Humor is the ultimate coping tool, even under the worst of circumstances.
I’m also of the Larry David school of comedy – that anyone, anything, or any circumstance can be used for comedy. I think sometimes this clashes with the aesthetic of the current climate in theatre today, but I won’t let this affect my work. Comedy is life, and there’s comedy in everyone and everything on the planet.
I’ll be blunt: your main characters are very fun and interesting on the page, but they definitely come with a lot of issues! Frankly, I think if I was friends with Roberta, let’s say, I’d want to pull my hair out. And yet the play is fantastic. What’s the key to making a character likable on the stage even as you know that in person they’d be unlikable?
Natalie: Really? I feel like all of my friends, including myself, have BEEN Roberta (well maybe not to that degree!). But sure, at one point or another … I think maybe it’s about heightening the reality — I seriously have never gotten this obsession with ‘likable’ characters — sort of like what David Mamet says about the ‘polemic’ play – BORING! (Despite disagreeing with him politically, I LOVE his writing).
I love creating characters who are deeply flawed, bad examples, crazy, self-involved, etc. That’s why it’s theatre! When I am in an audience and a play has a character who ‘represents’ goodness, morality, nobility, etc. I feel so bored I want to slash my wrists. (Okay –that’s a tad dramatic– I just want to go to the restroom and never return.) Bring on the crazy! That’s entertainment. That’s theatre!
And on that note, (and this may seem obvious but you’d be surprised) just because my character is saying something does not mean I agree with it. As an example, in my solo show i-POD, the character at one point says “No coincidence I’ve never met a poor vegan”. A playwright approached me after the show and informed me that he was offended and knew many poor vegans. But of course! It’s this character’s view!
I think I may have digressed. Back to your question. I think people are responding to the uncensored truth. I try to create characters that are always speaking from their truth. Unpleasant or not. I try to avoid ‘flowery’ dialogue intended to make the character look like ‘a good person’. And I think people crave the truth. The truth of that particular character and their life.
You make a good point, Natalie. Flawed characters are speaking from a place of their own truth – and letting the audience go along for the ride means bringing them on a specific journey. Getting inside the head of someone who thinks a particular way is what innovative and audacious theatre is all about!
Now that you’ve got three published works and they can be accessed by other people, what would be your biggest dream for these shows?
Natalie: To have audience members say “That hit me. That made me laugh. That made me think differently“. That’s all. That’s nirvana.
Well, Natalie, based on what I’ve read, you’re well on your way to nirvana already! Here’s to more truth, more flaws and more productions!
For information on how to purchase any (or all!) of these plays by Natalie Menna, simply click here for more information.
NATALIE MENNA is an award-winning playwright and actress living in downtown Brooklyn. A native New Yorker, she recently won Outstanding Overall Production of a Play and Best Actor for her full-length drama Committed at Planet Connections Theatre Festivity 2015. Committed, produced by Ego Actus, received six nominations, including Outstanding Production of a Staged Reading, Outstanding Playwright For A New Play in a Reading, Best Director, Best Actress, and Two Nominations for Best Actor.
She was nominated for Outstanding Writer for her full-length comedy Zen A.M. in Planet Connections Theatre Festivity 2014. Her solo show Roberta! was featured in United Solo Theatre Festival, Theatre Row, in November 2014. Select previous awards include The Nettie Award for Best Solo Show for her play I-pod in the Network One-Act Festival, and Best Actress for I-pod in The Midtown International Theatre Festival. Her play Hiroshi-Me, Me, Me was a finalist in both The Strawberry Festival and The Network One-Act Festival, with two nominations for Best Actress and Winner for Best Supporting Actress.
INDIE THEATRE NOW is an engine for discovering new American drama — one that enables teachers, students, actors, directors, producers, and artists of every stripe, as well as those not involved in the theater, to experience the brilliance of contemporary indie theater as close to first-hand as possible.