Actor-writer Melissa Osborne can’t seem to get away from love. Her 2006 play, …categories (a simple play), which premiered at the 2006 New York International Fringe Festival, dealt with unrequited love. Her latest offering, The Date Play, a series of four shorts by both her and Lee Gundersheimer (now playing at Center Stage NY until February 10th), covers a spectrum of topics concerning dating and relationships. Melissa stopped by the ol’ blog to talk more about the production and her interest in connection and affairs of the heart. Here’s what she had to say:
The Date Play is actually made up of four different short plays. Tell us a little bit more about each of them.
The first play, “Can’t Dance,” was written by our director Lee Gundersheimer. It’s a comedy about dating set in a disco in the 80’s Hamptons. The 80’s were funny, and so is the show. “Number Twelve” is a one-man monologue about a statistician on his twelfth speed date. His parents have recently divorced, he just got out of something, and he’s trying to process how much of his relationships are controlled and learned. “The V-Card” explores emotional and sexual intimacy as an unsuspecting guy thinks he’s going to get lucky with a girl he met in a bar, only to find out she’s a 26-year old virgin. Finally “Pen Pal” asks if it’s possible to be in love wih someone you’ve never met, and whether in an age of MySpace, and Facebook, do we know more about each other or less?
What was the impetus for this project and how did it come to fruition?
I usually write because people make me. Plays seem to happen by accident. “The V-Card” was written because my friend Quincy dared me to write a play for him. I got really mad at him and did. “Pen Pal” was commissioned by a friend for a festival in Florida this summer, and was written on a train ride home from Philly. Lee is a friend and former teacher of mine. He mentioned that Tracey [Toomey, co-star of The Date Play] was producing his show “Can’t Dance” and they were looking for companion pieces on relationships. I sent him “V-Card” and “Pen Pal,” he believed in them, sent them to Tracey. We met, and it just felt right. She’s a writer in her own right, having published two books, so it was just this connection of someone getting that you’re multifaceted. Plus she understood the work, she didn’t call it “cute” or “sweet,” she saw that there was more there. Both she and Lee did. So they asked me to write a companion monologue for “Pen Pal” to balance out the evening and a weekend later we had “Number Twelve.”
Your previously play, …categories (a simple play), dealt with the unfulfilled romantic yearnings between a pair of old friends. Now you’ve written a trio of short plays about dating and relationships. Do I detect a thematic thread emerging in your writing?
It’s funny: a friend of mine said that my writing is a series of “love letters to boys I’ve never met.” Which is true. Some of it does become/has become this self-fulfilling prophecy. Maybe I’m a cerebrial romantic, a product of divorce, I need to date more, I don’t know. Obviously the nature of this evening asks for pieces on love and relationships. But I’m interested in the things that keep us from connection, whether it be technology, the past, our fears, or ourselves. I think we are a medicated generation, we’ve grown up with a lot of distractions and our attempts at real communication fascinate me. In “Number Twelve,” Matt [Walter]’s character says “show me a story that’s not about love” and I think that’s pretty accurate. Whether you love money, your family, your career,your friend, your boyfriend, your dog, your blog, whatever, it all boils down to the want for something.
How is it having the director serve as one of the writers, as well?
I think having a director who is also a writer gives you an unwritten support system> He knows what I’m going through, because he’s going through it too. Lee understands what it’s like to give a piece to someone and trust them with it because he’s been there. He also was amazing letting me sit in on rehearsals whenever I wanted (which is unheard of). It was really important to him that I saw and agreed with the process. As a director I know he was really flexible with the actors in “Can’t Dance” (as am I) to question his language and fix the play together.
What are the advantages and/or challenges (if any at all) to acting in something you’ve also written?
I’m an actor first. That’s my training, so I think it definitely informs my writing because I write for them. I’m an accidental writer. I’m horrible with stage directions as a writer because I hate telling actors what to do. I write when there are stories I can’t tell as an actor. They are both parts of me, both feed my imagination. Being a writer makes me a better actor, and being an actor makes me a better writer.
I think the hardest part of acting, in general, is staying out of your head and your own way. Forgetting the piece needs to be a certain thing, or go in a certain direction. Letting go of the idea of the piece. So you just have to forget you wrote it and let the piece be whatever it wants to be, just play.
With “V-Card,” we’ve done it twice, I’ve seen an audience respsonse, so I don’t really need that. Its almost like it was written by someone else. It’s become something else. It’s funny, in “V-Card” there are moments for Jane [the character Melissa plays] I just don’t get. I hate them. I hate me for writing them. Or someone in rehearsal will ask about a certain beat, it’s meaning, and I’ll have no fucking clue. My brain’s just not there when I’m acting.
How do you go about writing a part you know you’re going to play as opposed to one you know someone else is going to do?
I don’t usually set out to write roles for myself. Obviously my voice creeps in from time to time, but it’s never like “God this one will really show them what I can do’. With Jane in “V-Card,” she was written with someone else in mind, and subsequently workshopped by two other amazing actresses (Chrisy Pusz and Mary Cavvett) in over a year and a half. So by the time this opportunity came along she was no longer mine, and far enough from me that I felt ready to play her.
I do find it helpful to write with someone else’s voice in mind, I guess eventually it becomes an amalgamation of me, and people I know, or hope to know. I steal a lot, fall in love with bits of people, take them, which my friends love. I also love tailoring to actors. Amazingly, two of the roles in The Date Play were written for the actors playing them, which strangely gives them this freedom to be something entirely different. I love that, because it becomes theirs, not mine.
What can we expect to see from you next, either as a writer or an actor?
Currently as an actor I am praying daily for the writers strike to end so I can go back to auditioning. As a writer I have no clue. Maybe I’ll try not to write about love. I have a series of monologues floating around, I guess I just have to wait till someone gives me a good reason to write.