New York, NY.
Interview: James Passarelli
The following interview took place in August of 2012.

tavanaferrets

“Fuck me, fuck me, fuck me,” screams Carson to her lover in Bedspread’s opening line at the 2012 Strawberry One-Act Festival, a sure sign that no one’s holding back.  Exit two youths who, like me, had no idea what to expect.

This play-going novice can only think to compare Bedspread’s winding verse to Shakespeare, but with jaw dropped and eyes wide open, I completely miss the Beatles references littered throughout.  The one-act mixes tragedy (in the Greek sense) and comedy (in the modern sense) in a pulsating, back-and-forth verbal barrage between its four characters—one part poem, one part play, one part “what did I just witness?”

“Everything is heightened,” says Yonotan Gebeyehu, who plays Theo.  “The language is heightened, the emotions are heightened.  People say what they feel, people say what they mean.  And we don’t live in that kind of world today.”

The playwright is Daria Tavana, the co-founder of True False Theatre, a non-profit New York play production company she started with Anni Weisband in the spring of 2011.  Bad news for those who use time or school as an excuse for starting a personal dream project, artistic or entrepreneurial: Weisband and Tavana started their company in one month, while juniors in college.  The two met at Governor School for the Arts, a summer program in New Jersey, and stayed in touch while Weisband attended NYU and Tavana went to Fordham University.  In March, the decision was made to form the company.  In the following weeks, they found a fiscal sponsor in Fractured Atlas.  In April, True False became a reality.

“Anni and I realized that if there was ever a time to create a theatre company, it would have to be now,” Tavana said. “I don’t think I could have come back in ten years and expect all the resources I had spent four years creating in college to be there.  So we had to strike while the iron was hot, and once we struck, it continued…It sounds funny and so immediate.  I guess it comes with the intensity of our spirit, and we expect and value that kind of intensity in all of our members.  I laugh at the fact that we hit the ground running since the second we started, but it actually makes perfect sense to me now.”

Even after several different productions, Bedspread is still a work-in-progress, and Tavana lets both audiences and actors contribute to its transformation.  Reshaping her work, she says, is her favorite part of the writing process.

“My background is in poetry.  I wrote mostly poetry in high school, and I also wrote music as well.  And I think what turned me on to theatre most was the revision process, this notion of having to share what you write with other people, and it needing to make sense, and allowing your audience to unpack metaphors that you write.”

What at first was a jumble of elegant phrases and complex ideas has become a tighter and more cohesive—if still, at times, puzzling—narrative, as Tavana has matured as a playwright.  “You can tell the experience level of a writer,” she says, “by how many things they are trying to shove into one play.”

“The play is basically a big giant poem, and I think the first draft read a lot more like a poem.  The through-line wasn’t as clear, and my voice was clearly still developing as a playwright.  So with all these productions that I’ve had, needing to take this play to the table, and listen to actors ask questions, needing to work hard core one-on-one with the director, who’s trying to make sense of this crazy play just as much as I am, inevitably lots of questions come up.  A lot of it comes from the philosophy of Fordham that a piece is never done.  With that philosophy, combined with the need to communicate these crazy ideas to these actors, I felt very liberated by doing these re-writes.  I would say from the time it was first produced to now, about 75% has changed.  The emotions were always there, and the plot points haven’t changed at all, but the ways in which the characters choose to communicate with one another—believe it or not!—has become more clear.  Some might argue that it still doesn’t make any fucking sense, but, you know, we tried.

“And I love that.  That’s what every writer can only ever ask for: to have a community of people who are interested in the nitty gritty, every word, every piece of punctuation, every line break.  Who are interested in what you have to say, and in adding to it.  I like revisions more than I like the first draft.  A blank page horrifies me.  But I put five letters on a page, and suddenly it becomes a lot more doable.”

But writing plays is just a fraction of the responsibility.  Almost every artist in True False’s growing team has non-artistic duties as well.

“We’ve all come together to engage in a different side of our love for theatre, which is the administrative side.  Our marketing director, our publicity director, our fundraising manager—they’re all theatre artists who have internships and who have been part of other companies.  We all have this grassroots, ‘stake our claim in something’ attitude.  We’re all definitely starters, people who feel more comfortable taking control and trying things that aren’t just artistic.”

In the wake of its second birthday, True False is modest in size, but not in scope or aim.  Whether it be “exposing the vital truths that live inside false, imagined aspects of theatre” or probing “complex social conflicts while distorting the barrier between performer and spectator” (as their website states), the company looks to leave a deep impression on New York theatre, and to help foster individuals acting, writing, and producing talents.

“We decided pretty early on that we weren’t going to be just a production company.  We were going to really try to engage new artists in the community and give them a home.  Kind of like the home I had at Fordham when I was a student.  I really wanted to extend that home for myself, but also to get others involved.

“What I’m looking forward to doing most, in addition to producing more, is creating new residency programs.  We had a writing residency program last fall [2011] called the Polygraph Test.  It was for new plays.  Essentially what we did was solicit plays from all around the world.  We got over a hundred applications in a pretty small window of time.  We selected three plays, and we were able to give these writers the time, the space, and the tools they needed to develop their play.

“We are currently in the midst of another residency program.  We selected ten actors and one director to rehearse a couple times a month.  The idea is to take the play Hamlet and experiment with it, and rehearse it without any plans to produce it or show it to an audience.  It’s a residency that originated at the Moscow Art Theatre.  It was [Russian theater director Constantin] Stanislavski’s secret recipe for success, I guess.  But the idea was to remove all the pressure of a production.”

When asked if it is a full-time job, Tavana confidently replies, “One day it will be.  It’s a blessing and a curse…It’s a challenge getting everyone in the same place, and in turn, a challenge getting everyone on the same page.  But our email addresses are our offices.”

In the meantime, True False plans to continue producing plays, as well as serving as a platform for playwrights to develop theirs.  Day jobs have yet to stand in the way of the storm of True False creativity, or the giant splash it has made in the mecca of theater.

For information on True False residency programs here, and see the company’s upcoming and past productions here.


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