Stars Behind The Stars: A Tale of Two Tauruses
BY Robbie Armstrong, November 25, 2019
Stars Behind The Stars is a bi-weekly series featuring theatre makers behind the scenes. This week we sat down with Playwriting students Greg Nanni and Ciara Ni Chuirc and discussed their upcoming play, Séance.
Nanni is a Taurus whose plays include Loneliness, Angst, and The Bear is Here. He is a member of Witherspoon Circle, Passage Play Lab, a former PDC Playwright in Residence at Plays & Players, the Literary Manager of the Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium, and the former Marketing Manager of Plays & Players Theatre. He is the Co-Founder of the PDC Playwrights’ Happy Hour. He is the Co-Writer of the Youtube Series Bar-N-Tavern. He is one of the Co-Leaders of the Witherspoon Circle, and is the co-producer of the New Feathers Reading Series program. He was the cofounder and editor of The Rome Review, a printed literary magazine. Nanni’s One Act plays have been featured in Festivals and Readings throughout the Greater Philadelphia Area, and have been produced nation-wide. He is a graduate of the George Washington University.
Ni Chuirc is also a Taurus whose plays include Ferns, Self:Same, and Down On My Knees. She is an Irish writer and a member of Elephant Run District theatre company. Her work has been performed in the Samuel Beckett Theatre and Project Arts Centre (Dublin); Theatre Exile (Philadelphia); The Kennedy Center (Washington, DC); and The Tank, Irish Arts Center, and the Studio Theater (NYC). She was selected as an emerging playwright by the Stewart Parker Trust and by Play On (Dublin Theatre Festival). Her most recent play, Ferns, was a finalist for the 2018 National Playwrights Conference at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center.
Tell me about your first time being involved in Theatre.
Greg Nanni: I got into theatre through set construction. My dad never taught me how to use power tools and I thought it was a useful skill. I found out the only opportunity to learn that at my high school was the theatre club. Theatre and set building was always just a hobby back then.
Ciara Ni Chuirc: I wrote a play for my drama group in Dublin when I was sixteen; it was a murder mystery about two rival detectives. (My first first theatre experience was in preschool when I was three and insisted on playing a caterpillar that changed into a butterfly in a play where everyone else was cast as either a tree or a flower).
How does being a Taurus appear in your work as a Playwright?
GN: Well, I was literally fuming on the way here about an actor’s absence. I’m currently writing Séance with Ciara and it’s been nice to work with another Taurus because we work seriously and hard.
CNC: My first impulse was to say "It doesn't," but then I consulted with my sisters and they said that Tauruses are stubborn, materialistic, and they like food. There are definitely a lot of stubborn characters in my plays so I suppose it ties in there.
What do you find unique about working on Séance?
GN: This one has been relatively easy. Ciara and I have very similar comedic mindsets and similar narrative tendencies. We wrote the play side by side without too much talking. That’s strange because usually when I sit down with an artist to write, we spend a lot of time talking about feelings. This has been a fun project and due to the comic nature of the piece, we didn’t have to think too much about a serious message. We thought about how to have a good fun time.
CNC: Working with Greg is a unique experience. He is very driven and sets a lot of goals, so it was a very easy process writing Séance. We enjoy writing together so it felt very straightforward, and neither of us are precious about our writing so we were happy to let one another edit our parts of the play.
What type of art do you like to write most?
GN: My work is a cross section between Chris Durang, Sam Shephard, Sheila Callahan. It’s mostly abstract comedy laced with passionate emotional storytelling.
CNC: I love Tom Stoppard, and there's a line in his play Arcadia that I always think of when I write: "we shed as we pick up, like travelers who must carry everything in their arms, and what we let fall will be picked up by those behind. The procession is very long and life is very short. We die on the march. But there is nothing outside the march so nothing can be lost to it." I like to write plays that speak to both my Irish culture and my new culture in America, about these things we've let fall and what we've picked up. I also love writing about religion - I grew up in the Catholic Church and I find the performativity of religion interesting to write about.
What is new or different about your work on Séance? What new things have you tried and what new roles have you played?
GN: We’re splitting up the audience so that each group experiences a different version of the story. The three ghosts in the play, tell each group a different story. We’re also working with the audience to feel like they’re a part of the story. The three characters were at a shocking event and each one has a different perspective of what happened, but it’s possible that some of them are lying. We’re trying to create horror in the theatre and that’s really hard. For example, if you have a knife murder on stage, it always looks fake due to the need for actor safety and proper stage combat regulations. Horror is so linked to comedy so having this piece start as a comedy and turn into a horror is hard to do but integral to the piece.
CNC: This is the first time I've collaborated with Greg! So that's new. We also chose the venue [Riverside Church] before writing the play, so this is also the first time I've been writing for such a specific venue and tried to think about the ways in which we could utilize the room and the building in the Séance experience.
How has your Columbia education prepared you for Séance?
GN: I never would have tried horror if I didn’t have to for class. I wrote a weird piece about a bear committing arson for a class taught by Lynn Nottage. All he does is talk about humanity ruining everything and somehow that turned into a full length play called The Bear is Here.
CNC: Our collaboration class has prepared me in terms of getting used to working with a lot of different people and managing different personalities. The playwrights have a class called American Spectacle where we go to non-traditional theatrical experiences (like a burlesque show, a megachurch, a wrestling match) so that prepared us to write a show like this because we got used to thinking about the theatrical elements in events that are not traditional proscenium theatre.
If you could be any famous child, which one would you be?
GN: The daughter of Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman. They’re really cool people and their kid is a really talented actress.
CNC: I'd like to be Olivia Jade because I'd like someone to have paid for me to go to college.
What’s your favorite play/musical?
GN: The Bald Soprano.
CNC: My favorite plays at the moment are Heroes of the Fourth Turning and Equus. My favourite musical is Jesus Christ Superstar My favorite play I've ever seen in performance, however, is The Hairy Ape, which is not a play I liked on the page but I saw a really incredible production of it at the Park Ave Armory.
What’s your next project?
GN: I’ll be staging my play Loneliness for the 2nd Year Playwright’s Project in January. It’s a one woman show with two supporting characters.
CNC: I'm working on a full length play called Juggernaut. It's about a woman who believes she's been called by God to be a UFC fighter. It goes up February 14-16 in the Schapiro Theatre!
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