Talking with Michael Perlman
On New Work, Young Playwrights, and the GLAAD Awards
There are few joys as great as watching one of our writers grow from alumnus to professional artist and colleague. We’d like you to meet one of them!
We first met Michael Perlman in 2000, when he took part in our Urban Retreat program. Since then, Michael has focused on directing, and is a graduate of Brown/Trinity Rep’s MFA Program. Recently he has returned to Young Playwrights Inc., putting his directing skills to use for new plays in our Young Playwrights Conference and Urban Retreat! Michael has also continued writing, and his work includes the play From White Plains.
From White Plains was produced by Fault Line Theatre and premiered at La Tea Theatre in 2012. That production received a nomination for GLAAD’s prestigious Media Award for Outstanding New York Theater.
To get started, tell me a little bit about who you are as an artist:
How is this the hardest question to answer? There was an article about a year ago about how theater is the means for teaching empathy to children, and I think it perfectly captured what I love about theater. It’s a chance to see the world from other perspectives. I’ve loved the theater from a very young age – I really used it as a chance to work through some medical issues. I actually began as a writer – I did a young playwrights summer program through The Playwrights’ Center in Minneapolis, and also did Young Playwrights Inc.’s Urban Retreat! As I got older, though, I felt more and more of a pull towards directing. I ended up going to graduate school for directing at Brown/Trinity Rep’s MFA Programs, and that has been what I’ve focused on. From White Plains has been a great chance to bring the writing experience of my youth back to my work.
How did your experience with Young Playwrights Inc. influence you as a young theater artist?
In so many ways. The things I know I took away from my Urban Retreat was the wonder of the rehearsal room and the rigor of rewrites. I think it was honestly watching the director work on my play as part of our final presentation that helped me realize that that’s what I wanted to be doing. That I wanted to be collaborating with actors, and having those discussions, and keeping an eye on the whole picture, not just the words. I also remember how, even though we were spending the week just throwing lots of things at the wall and seeing what sticks, what we learned was that that is how inspiration starts, but it’s the rigor of rewriting and revising and refining that truly creates art. And that it’s not easy.
What is the history of From White Plains? What inspired you to write it, and where has it taken you?
Well, Aaron, Craig and Tristan – the co-founders of Fault Line Theatre – approached me about directing a new play for them, but as we were discussing what exactly we wanted to do, I was struck with the very simple premise: what would happen if someone very publicly called out a former bully for his behavior years after the fact. I brought this idea to them, and to Karl and Jimmy, who joined the cast, and we began conversations. From those conversations, I began to write and before we knew it, it was opening night.
What went through your mind when you heard From White Plains was nominated for a GLAAD Award?
It happened to be perfect timing. It was our first full day of rehearsal for this current production, and I checked my email on our first break and found out. I was truly elated, but even more than that – it felt like a perfect encouragement from the universe to keep trying to tell this story and get audiences to see it. We did this on a shoestring budget just because we really wanted to, and so to get that recognition is just a reminder that if we stayed focus on the art and the work and the storytelling, we can move people.
What’s it like going into rehearsals for a play you’ve already seen produced?
It has actually been a real gift. Not only in terms of the chance to revisit the script, but we’re really able to revisit moments and characters in a way that we didn’t have time to the first time around because we were rewriting until we opened. But as much as you can learn in rehearsals, you learn the most from a production in front of an audience, so the lessons we learned from that first run have been invaluable in each step we take forward.
What has it been like to get involved with Young Playwrights Inc. now that you’ve begun your professional career?
It’s been incredibly gratifying and inspiring. Getting to collaborate with these playwrights that are just starting out, and helping them see not only the possibilities in their own work, but the possibilities of what collaborators – actors, dramaturgs, directors, designers – can bring to a play is, I think, showing them the real meaning of what it means to be a playwright rather than a novelist or essayist. We get to make plays together, and that is such a special and unique gift – and working with Young Playwrights Inc. is a great way to remind myself not to take it for granted.
If you could offer any advice or encouragement to writers who are just starting out, what would it be?
I often feel as though I am just starting out. But the advice I offer myself is to just keep being a part of work that excites me – whether I’m creating it, in the room to witness it, helping to produce it, or watching it. And to keep remembering that there’s no rush. Success in the theater comes from being able to create it over many years, not from one hit.
Fault Line Theatre is currently producing From White Plains again, opening on February 8th at the Studio Theater at the Pershing Square Signature Center.
February 8 through March 9, Studio Theater at the Pershing Square Signature Center
“Just because it gets better doesn’t mean it didn’t happen..”
After a shocking announcement on international television, 30 year old Ethan Rice is forced to take responsibility for who he was and what he did as a teenager. Our adult lives can’t erase our high school experiences. How do those who were bullied find it in them to get better, and how do those who were bullies look back on those years?
Wednesday, Thursday, Friday 8 pm
Saturday 3 pm & 7:30 pm
Sunday 3 pm
Running Time 90 min
Discount tickets are now on sale for the first week of performances of From White Plains!!
Use code FWP20 at Ticket Central for $20 tickets, for Feb 8th – Feb 15th (Feb 9th at 7:30pm is already sold out).
Concieved & Directed by: Michael Perlman
Craig Wesley Divino*
Set Design by: Tristan Jeffers
Costume Design by: Jessica Shay
Lighting Design by: John Eckert
Sound Design by: Chad Raines
Stage Managed by: Brooke Redler*
Assistant Directed by: John Bezark
*Appears Courtesy of Actors Equity Association
“This gripping and full-blooded drama…is so full of insight about prejudice, empathy and the limits of forgiveness that it ought to be required viewing.”