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A World Premiere “Idea Worth Spreading” — Can We Stop the Violence Against Gays with a “Pulse?”

Maybe we can. He might not be a TED Speaker, but this playwright has his own idea worth spreading. As a two-time TEDx Speaker, I would say that this guy’s my own personal nomination! 

Meet Thom Fogarty of THE PULSE PROJECT and his idea that definitely needs to be spread.

By Amy Oestreicher published for BroadwayWorld.  (See Amy’s articles as a staff reviewer for BroadwayWorld here.)

“Complete the Circle” is a powerful call to action from the New York based 360 Rep Co. with their latest play, The Pulse Project, opening this Sunday, June 11th. Here in New York City, an innovative, groundbreaking theatre company is creating theatre with a powerful mission. In their words,

“We believe when the playwright’s words, the actors’ emotional and physical embodiment, the director’s all-around vision, and the audience’s collective psyche all come together — it forms a complete circle.”

And they are doing more than completing the circle, with The PULSE Project, a full length play by Sherry Bokser, Thom Fogarty, Alyson Mead, and Amy Merrill. I was fortunate enough to sit down with Thom Fogarty about this incredible new work, and a benefit for Gays Against Guns.

Amy: How did your company start?

Thom: It was originally to produce work with me as Director and my daughter, Lulu Fogarty [Actor + Playwright] acting and continuing to find ourselves artistically and make socially and politically engaging theatre. But with my stripped down sense of production, if it is absolutely not needed — it can go, people really resonated with the staged readings that we were doing. I realized then that that should become our mission — the minimalistic presentation of the WORDS in their purest form.

My mission for 360repco is to provide a safe space to create a performance that moves an audience. For me it always comes back to the words and illuminating the writer’s vision, by finding actors who know their craft and have a propensity to share and learn through the rehearsal and performance process. I like to work fast, as I feel it keeps everyone alive and present to constantly changing possibilities. It is always about trust. My process is to have several informal read throughs where we just discuss what is glean with each new visit. Then we start ‘mapping’ out the space and place of the work. I encourage the performer to do — to try -new things and approaches constantly. I have an overall vision of the piece that I allow the performer to work their way into, as opposed to merely proscribing directives. This process forges a trust and a sense of ownership by the performer that supersedes merely dictating my vision. I am always interested in the audience using their imaginations, to be active participants in the performance. My work, usually based in movement, has always dealt with the vastness of human conditions as told through the observance of small everyday gestures and their meanings. This movement vocabulary, which includes traditional miming, allows me to be both profane and profound at the same time, constantly creating a duality that acknowledges the yin and yang in daily life.

How did you meet Alyson? What inspired you to take on this project ?

We met on the morning of the Pulse massacre. The four of us signed in that day for a week long Kenyon Playwriting Conference. I had been there the year before and met Sherry Bokser, and new to this conference and to me were Alyson Mead and Amy Merrill. Needless to say the event had put a pall on the festivities for that day as the 100+ playwrights were reeling from the news of the senseless atrocity.

What is unique about your process?

I had experienced dance — movement and choreography — and it fed me and allowed me to grow and to become an artist. Movement was the language — however I did not learn it all at once or abstractly. You of course studied different styles — I took ballet and three different styles of modern dance. But you also had to read, to experiment, to explore, to live and then you could begin to piece it together without words, just the body and the movement telling the story — your statement, your dance. I think this is why I seek scripts that have no excess, that like the average dancer’s body are lean and taut, and these have now become the canvas on which I base the journey for theatre.

I have a vision of what the play should look, sound and feel like. It is not for me to dictate this, but to allow the actors to find their way to it. It is so much more rewarding for all. I love seeing how and when they each arrive at that moment where IT becomes the home base from which all the other exploration can begin.

What was the most difficult part of putting this together?

In the case of THE PULSE PROJECT, it was my first collaboration as a playwright with other playwrights. And surprisingly the most difficult part was and remains just the logistics of getting us all on the same page at the same time. We each picked people from the tragedy and created archetypes around them and wrote — independently. It then came time to piece it all together. Alyson Mead took the first swing at it and we could see we had a PLAY. After a conference call — the first time we had all spoken since that second week of June 2016, we agreed to let Sherry Bokser run with an idea she posed and then it really began to sing from the pages. So the working together has been amazing. I think it is just having four strong people who, in this business you become so entrenched in taking care of everything yourself, that to learn not everyone is on the same timeline — because we all have two, three, eight other projects going at the same time — that for me was the hardest — just learning to give over the process and to trust and know that it would not die without my controlling the situation. LEARNING.

What about the process surprised you?

How little actual tweaking it took for it to feel like it was indeed of ONE VOICE. And I think the main key to this is that we each chose to write in monologue still and as a result, with the 15 monologues, and the voice of THE DJ who weaves it together, those 16 singular voices became ONE COHESIVE SEAMLESS PLAY.

What do you hope audience members will come away with?

I hope that audiences will never forget that which is uncomfortable, painful, hard to reflect upon — for that is what I feel gives us empathy and the ability to become the agents of change. We want them to see these beautiful, ordinary, everyday people, in their most vulnerable and private places and realize that we all need to stop being SHADY. We need to stop our ignorance of others and become more excepting.

What new things did you learn in developing this project?

One of the most interesting to me was what developed as a result of our pairing with what seemed the four of us like the most natural fit in the world — and that is to present the play ROYALTY FREE with the proviso that any money brought in, either from ticket sales or donations at readings, was to go the support the work of GAYS AGAINST GUNS (GAG). Well, as we began to send it out to regional and community theaters for their consideration, one of the LGBTQ theater companies we sent it to pushed back on the association with GAG. It never occurred to any of us that of course there are gun carrying LGBTQ people, who live and work in open carry states and see it as not just a right, but a means of protection. So no matter how many bases you think you covering in your attempt to do the PC thing, there is always someone that will just make you HMMM.

Describe what the play is about in a few sentences.

For me it is about giving voice to the tragedy. Giving voice to the dead. Making sure people never forget. Showing why we need to stay vigilant and protective of the rights of others, for one day they may come after our rights and we need to be as together and strong as possible to resist.

How do you get along as an ensemble? What is each of your roles in the creative team?

Great because no matter how different we are as individuals, our cause was common and deeply felt by all.

What would you compare this play most to ?

THE VAGINA MONOLOGUES by Eve Ensler.

How did you respond personally when you first heard about the Pulse tragedy?

I cried. I spend a lot of time in Orlando and know what a small LGBTQ community there is in Orlando proper. But places like Pulse attract people from as far away as 90–120 miles, because there are no GAY BARS OR CLUBS WHERE THEY LIVE.

And then I cried some more. I was heavy into finishing my newest play at the time, PATIENT LOVER FRIEND, about living, loving and dying during the first wave of the AIDS pandemic in NYC, and could see anything else until I finished. When Alyson contacted us as well as many other playwrights (who did not take her up the offer) it was a given that I WAS ALL IN.

Do you feel that primarily your company is drawn toward social justice initiatives? What role does Trauma play in our society today and what is theatre’s job in light of current events ?

I have a long and rich history of fighting against social injustices, from civil rights to Gay rights, to LGBTQA rights, to the AIDS epidemic, and now immigrant’s rights. Our theater is about doing work that pushes buttons and makes people think. We have had readings in the last year of three very powerfully works about the marginalization of others and trauma that comes with that. In Larry Powell’s REALNESS, the story about a young artist in search of authenticity but torn between the celebrated world of an Acting Conservatory (read Juilliard) and the appropriated underworld of the Vogue Ballroom Scene in Harlem , shown a light the infighting and class struggle that can go within race and gender. In Alyson Mead’s THE QUALITY OF MERCY, written as her response to the racial unrest in Ferguson, Mo., it was immediate, topical and an incendiary look as not just the RACE DIVIDE in this country, but within actual families, making it much more immediate. This we presented as a fundraiser for the families of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. We also staged a reading of Sherry Bokser’s THE BEST OF INTENTIONS about incest, real or imagined, and the implications that will tear the family apart. I believe that is trauma running through all of these narratives. And I strongly believe, that to quote a line from Stew’s PASSING STRANGE, “Life is the mistake that only art can correct.”

I believe it is the theatre artists’ duty to create a culture of relief. That by writing, directing and producing works that bear witness to the violence, terror, injustice and political malfeasance that is leveled at those not in power, we provide a safe place for the traumatized to see themselves and just maybe begin to heal. To heal and to be able to fight back. To become whole, possibly for the first time and truly take ownership of their own destiny and lives. To be the movement of: #BlackLivesMatter #SayTheirNames #StayWoke #Resist #ACTUP #FIGHTBACK

Who would be your dream collaborator ?

The Director in me would love to work with a new Stephen Adly Guirgis, Paula Vogel, Anna Devere Smith or Mfoniso Udofia (whose THE SOJOURNERS and HER PORTMANTEAU are two of the most glorious and thoughtful ruminations on race to be seen this season).

The Playwright would love to work with Anne Kaufmann or John Doyle for that minimalist’ vein.

What are you hoping for in terms of the Project’s life after the performance?

I think we went into it with the thought that it could become THE VAGINA MONOLOGUES for the LGBTQ community. That it could be read the same day each year, possibly the anniversary of the tragedy, or to coincide with Pride festivities, but to become a once year fundraising and awareness event. The fact that it has ended up in the hands of some heavy hitters who might be looking at for theatrical runs — is beyond icing on the cake. We just want people to REMEMBER.

And this is a play you won’t forget. Don’t miss this premiere, June 11th.

 

Catch THE PULSE PROJECT : A BENEFIT FOR GAYS AGAINST GUNS

Judson Memorial Church Assembly Hall, 239 Thompson Street, NYC

Sunday, June 11th, 2017 @ 5PM

Suggested Donation $10 Learn more at http://www.360repco.org/now-playing

About the Author: Amy Oestreicher is a multidisciplinary performance artist, TEDx speaker, PTSD Specialist, author, actress and playwright. Learn about her plays, or catch her touring Gutless & Grateful, her one-woman autobiographical musical. More at www.amyoes.com.

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