Upcoming Production of The Feminism of a Soft Merlot or (How the Donkey Got Punched)
An Interview with Micheline Auger

Indie Theater Now asked Micheline Auger a few questions about her play Donkey Punch.

What has been the development process for this play? How many drafts? Has the play changed incrementally, bit by bit, through collaboration/rehearsal/workshops – or do you write a draft, mount it, and then go away and rewrite?

I started writing this play in a class taught by Julie McKee at HB Studio. She encouraged us to ask questions about the goals we were striving to achieve as opposed to being a passive playwright receiving whatever feedback the room has to offer. Her students were also good actors and great writers and I learned a lot from her and them. From there, I worked on the first scene with director Kel Haney and actors Erin Roberts and Julian LaVinka for a workshopped public reading at the HB Playwrights Theater. After that, I decided to move to Jackson Hole, WY for the summer and got to know Macey Mott, the artistic director of the kick-ass and fearless Riot Act Theatre Company. She included the first scene in a night of ten minute plays (featuring her and actor Caryn Flanagan) and I was curious to see how the sexually explicit material would go over in such a different community. The theater even included a special sign at the door warning that the play included "sexually offensive" material which I asked to be changed to "sexually explicit" ha ha. The run was sold out and people loved it. I continued to flesh out the scene into a full-length play and came back to NYC and started taking classes at ESPA at Primary Stages and worked on the play in Rogelio Martinez' class. Rogelio is a great teacher and very supportive and I find that overall, ESPA is top-notch in terms of its community and the types of theater artists it attracts. The play became a finalist in ESPA's EspaDrill New Play Festival produced at 59E59th Street Theater, where I worked with Tessa LaNeve, who gave super insightful feedback, and, once again, with director Kel Haney in preparation for a staged reading. We had phenomenal actors (listed under the play information page). So the initial scene was written in 2007/8 and now it's being fully produced in 2014. During that process, I wrote a bunch of other plays, had productions and started

What do you as a playwright learn from collaborators, such as actors, directors, designers, and stage managers? What do you learn from reviewers and critics?

I learn something from everybody. I like a well-directed table discussion where we talk about the themes of the play and how the actors/director identify (or not) with them. Actors who ask the right questions are helpful because in answering them I realize I know more than I thought I did which then helps flesh out a rewrite, or, that I don't know enough, and need further exploration! What have I learned from reviewers and critics? With my play American River, one of the critics called the character, Liz, a skank and I learned that he was operating under a very limited and gender-biased world view. Another critic said the harsh realism of American River could have been tempered by some poetic metaphor (or something like that) and I thought, perhaps she's right, and I mused on it for a minute. There were also reviews that were super positive and that was groovy but ultimately, I have learned to trust my own instincts because at the end of the day, that's all you have (and craft and all that other good stuff). Of course, I also learn a ton from the audience. And I love that.

Are readings helpful? If this production is a staged reading—what do you hope to get from the process? If this is a full production, has the play had staged readings, and if so, were they beneficial (and how)?

Readings can be helpful but if I had to choose between the two, I prefer actors moving around. It helps me see if the action is clear enough and just helps dimensionalize the whole thing. When actors are in their bodies and not sitting at a table, they do and say things that are tremendously helpful and spontaneous and magical. In this current full production of Soft Merlot/Donkey Punch by Ivy Theatre, director Audrey Alford likes to work the same way so she has been quick to put the actors on their feet (after a preliminary and brief read-through and discussion) and I'm loving that. We're having a lot of fun and it's serving the production in a very exciting way. (That being said, the EspaDrills staged reading was extremely helpful because the actors and the whole ESPA team were so invested and generous, and Kel Haney is brilliant at leading a great, provocative, safe and rewarding table discussion that reminds me that we are creating more than just an 1 and 1/2 or whatever of theater.)

What has been the biggest change in this script since you started writing it?

Probably developing the male characters. I feel very comfortable writing male characters and tend to write very difficult female characters. In beginning Soft Merlot/Donkey Punch, I wanted to explore a relationship between two women, so the men were not on the forefront of my mind. Later, I turned my focus on them and fleshing that out has been helped by the talents of Daniel Pearce, Kieran Campion, Tim McGeever and our current dudes, Patrick Daniel Smith and Justin Anselmi.

Do you ever hate any of the characters you write? Is that a good thing or a bad thing? What do you do about it when it happens?

I have not hated any of my characters. I don't know if I could adequately write a character that I hated. But there's a first for everything and whatever gets the job done.

posted April 30, 2014