Christopher Ashley on the "DNA New Work Series"
In late January the La Jolla Playhouse presents their new play development initiative, the "DNA New Work Series". The project includes six-weeks of workshop productions and readings of new plays and musicals. The idea is to allow playwrights and directors the opportunity to develop a script by providing rehearsal time, space and resources, culminating in a workshop production or public reading. Helping a writer elevate his or her words off the page, that process of creation and evolution, is a true passion of La Jolla Playhouse Artistic Director Christopher Ashley.
Tell me about your vision in creating the "DNA New Work Series."
I hope this will be an explosion of new work at the La Jolla Playhouse. The idea of new work is very much embedded in our Mission Statement; we are all about the new. This January through February series is really an opportunity to explore a huge variety of emerging and established voices, a very first look at new plays and new musicals. We are giving a start to playwrights, who have in them a major American play. "DNA" includes everything from first time readings with scripts in hand, to workshop productions that have one set piece and three of the costumes. Imagine being there the first time a play is heard. This will be an extraordinary process, to get to be a Yenta, a matchmaker of audiences and plays, to peek behind the curtain and see how a play gets made. We hope over the course of a year or two audiences will see how the show develops. They’ll come back to see the full mounted production and see how a character got split into two or how a play that was confusing, with a mix of funny and sad elements changed when the playwright made a commitment to make it funny.
What excites you most about theatre?
I’ve been a director for 25 years in New York and around the country. When I got out of college I focused on new plays and new musicals. It is fascinating, what the writer puts on a blank page. Before putting that piece of paper in the typewriter, or using a word processor, nothing existed before, creating a story out of your mind is magic. Storytelling is extraordinarily important for playwrights, actors and audiences. I love to investigate new stories. It is high-stakes and nurturing for artists and audiences to be part of raw, active creation. This is why I am in theatre, it’s really exciting to be part of something being born, newly created.
Tell me about directing Chasing the Song.
It has the same writing team that created Memphis, Joe DiPietro (book and lyrics) and David Bryan (music and lyrics). The show really reflects the DNA theme. It showcases song- writers creating amazing music in the early 1960s in New York’s legendary Brill Building, active creation is happening in four different writing rooms. They create melodies, pitch ideas, some are top hit singles; some never see the light of day. Then their whole world is changed by the so called "British Invasion," creativity just blossoms. A young woman ar- rives at this music publishing company, so the play also is a nod to women breaking the glass ceiling; she runs her own company and writes her own songs. It has a nod to Carol King. It’s no longer songs like "I Will Follow Him" but songs that express the female voice, her own personality as a writer/singer.
Give us a teaser for a few of the other shows.