Brooke Berman is a playwright, screenwriter and filmmaker who has had plays presented or produced by well-known organizations Steppenwolf, The Second Stage, Primary Stages, WET, The Play Company and Theater 7 Chicago and developed by The Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, Williamstown Theater Festival, The Jewish Plays Project, New Dramatists, The Playwrights Center, The Womens Project, The Royal Court Theatre, and the Royal National Theatre Studio. She’s written films for Natalie Portman, The Mark Gordon Company, Vox Films and Red Crown. Her memoir “NO PLACE LIKE HOME” was published by Random House in 2010 and called “Highbrow” and “Brilliant” by New York Magazine’s Approval Matrix. She will be presenting a work in progress of a new work “HURRICANE” at LABAlive MOTHER: Martyr on April 24, 2014 at the Theater at The 14th Street Y. Brooke very honestly told us about her new work and her experiences with LABA.
Q: What is your primary medium?
A: I write plays and films. I just directed my first short film and I’ve written a memoir that was published in 2010. I’m looking to do more prose writing, but I love the immediacy and sensuality of writing for performance. I think the theater is my real home.
Q: Your writing is so full and complex, what influences you?
A: Overheard conversations, found imagery, deeply felt conversations, yearning…. the relationship between personal experience and political experience… art exhibits, music, film, my child…. all of it!
Q: Describe your process.
A: Each play is different, but for the most part I write and write and write until I have something worth listening to. Then I bring actors in to read it to me and ask questions. Actors ask fantastic questions. Through hearing bits of text aloud and receiving it back, I am able to understand more accurately what is being said. I build from there, like a collage. With a film, I outline first. In many ways, plot is the least interesting part of storytelling to me. I’m much more interested in how a character feels and/or how they oscillate between states of being. Films are, by and large, about what happens. So I force myself to be very diligent about plot. I think one of my teachers said there’s three parts plot to one part mood-ratio to hit.
Q: How has being a LABA fellow informed you and your writing?
A: I love the formal study sessions, and I love reading these ancient texts! This kind of process is best when it’s a slow-burn. Meaning we study now, and we digest. Later, the work comes.
Q: What are LABA Sessions like?
A: I love meeting all of these fantastic and truly diverse artists! I love the cross-talk, literally across the table, and I love hearing all the Hebrew spoken (and read), listening to texts read in the original language.
Q: How has “MOTHER” influenced you throughout this whole process?
A: It’s been interesting to me that the mothers we study take their own role as mother, whether or not they can actually bear children, as a fait accompli. They live in a world in which motherhood ensures a place in the community and for them, motherhood confirms social status. To give birth is to legitimize oneself. In our world, this isn’t the case and i’m very very interested in that. Plus, in our world, motherhood is often a choice, but these canonical mothers needed to have children to ensure the fate of the Jewish people and their own fate!
Q: How long does it take for you to conceptualize, create, and get to the presentation stage of your work?
A: It’s different for every play. This one, the one I’m sharing on April 24th, is unfinished. It’s been a very slow and uncomfortable birthing process, and I still don’t know when I’ll have time and space to focus on a complete first draft, but my last play, “Absolution” was fast. I wrote it in a month and did a reading of the first draft shortly thereafter. My play “1300 Lafayette East,” which I developed with David Winitsky and the Jewish Plays Project changed IMMENSELY through workshops and discussions with the director of the first production. Sometimes I just live with a play for a while until it’s ready to take shape.
Q: Tell us something about a recent project?
My short film “Uggs For Gaza,” based on a short story by Gordon Haber, recently premiered at the Aspen International Shorts Fest.
See Brooke’s new work in progress “HURRICANE” at LABAlive MOTHER: Martyr on April 24th at the Theater at The 14th Street Y. Click Here for Tickets and Information.