New Plays Festival Interview: Ed Wasserman '18 and Nora Sørena Casey '18

April 6, 2018

The Playwrights 2018 New Plays Festival consists of the 2018 MFA Playwriting Class Thesis Projects and will run from April 4th through May 12th in two locations: the Flexible Performance Space at Lenfest Center for the Arts and the Ford Foundation Studio at Pershing Square Signature Center.


Opening in two weeks are Ed Wasserman’s Between Fire and Smoke and Nora Sørena Casey’s The Nature Room. We talked with these playwrights to find out more about their plays and the process of producing.


Tell us more about your play. What inspired you?


Ed (Between Fire and Smoke ): In January 2016, a group of armed militants seized the headquarters of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Eastern Oregon and began what would become a weeks long occupation. The story touched on, for me, several themes and ideas I had been looking to address in my work - ideas of ownership, land, radicalization, the internet, and how some seek to make manifest their notions of "America." The action of Between Fire and Smoke begins after Edom Donovan has returned home from taking part in such an occupation. As he goes about explaining what happened to him out in the wilderness, his family is left to disentangle fact from fiction and forced to reexamine the pieces of their shattered past. I wanted to look at the stories that we tell about ourselves, both personal and political, and the ways in which we use these narratives to make sense of the world around us.


Nora (The Nature Room): When thinking about what I wanted my next play to be, I realized that I had been dealing a lot with themes of illness, death, and family, and so it seemed that the time was right for a comedy. I became interested in a story that looked at both dysfunctional and functional forms of love, and that celebrated both romantic love and friendship. I also love to work from space. A few years ago while hiking in Yosemite I saw a small museum down at the base of one of the trails there. It was closed at the time, but peeking through the window I saw some fake trees and a stuffed fox. The room seemed so bizarre that it instantly captured my imagination, and became the jumping off point for The Nature Room.

Why do you think the Festival is an important initiative?


Ed: It’s one thing to write a play and quite another thing to produce it. For me, once I have actors in a room, inhabiting the world, I’m able to examine the play in ways I can’t when it’s just words on a page. Collaborating with a team and a cast to realize the vision of a play is an invaluable experience and, in my opinion, a critical component of any theater education. 


Nora: Writing plays cannot be done only at a computer. It’s essential—and wonderful—to work with actors, directors, designers, and, most of all, an audience to truly understand what the play is! 



Is there a specific faculty member or peer that especially inspired you while at the School of the Arts? If so, who and how?


Ed: Lynn Nottage’s course, American Spectacle, gave me a way to articulate an artistic mission and offered a blueprint for executing what I believe theater ought to be doing in our world. I was lucky enough to spend last summer working with Lynn on her multimedia performance art project called This Is Reading, where I got to witness firsthand the ways in which she is revolutionizing the form and taking the lead in a much-needed discussion about what a theater audience can be. The opportunity to study with her has fundamentally changed my writing and my understanding of what it means to be an artist.


Nora: For this project, I had the incredible opportunity to work with Rebecca Taichman, who Lynn Nottage initially suggested I consider as a potential mentor. As ever, Lynn was right. I’ve loved Rebecca’s work from afar for many years, and she was an amazing resource throughout the process! We’ve been in touch since August, and she’s really encouraged me to hone in and clarify what’s at the heart of the story. Over dinner, coffee, text and phone calls, she’s offered provocative questions, insight, and encouragement.



If you could change one thing about theatre, what would it be?


Ed: It seems to me that theater is losing ground to television as the platform for starting conversations on a national level. I’d like to see more initiatives like the New Play Network’s Rolling World Premiere Program working on a national scope to engage a wide range of communities in the development of new plays


Nora: More people would go! 



Check the full Festival schedule here and more info about each show below. 


by Ed Wasserman
Apr 18, 2:30pm
Apr 20, 8:00pm
Apr 21, 2:30 pm

After leaving his home and family to join a militant occupation in faraway Carthage National Park, Edom Donovan has finally returned to Eastern Falls.


by Nora Sørena Casey
Apr 19, 8:00pm
Apr 20, 2:30pm
Apr 21, 7:30pm

High in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, in the middle of a majestic natural park, sits a small Natural History Museum and Gift Shop decorated to look like the forest outside. From within, Lee is trying to stop the development of the land.