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The Journey Beyond Theatre Festivals: Stephen Bracco

Left to right: Patrick Horn, Elyse Knight*, Peter McCabe*, Nancy Kimball, Stephen Bracco, Alyssa Simon*, Noel MacDuffie (Director) *Member of Actors' Equity Association

(The original cast of Simius, l.-r.: Patrick Horn, Elyse Knight*, Peter McCabe*, Nancy Kimball, Stephen Bracco, Alyssa Simon*, Noel MacDuffie (Director) *Member of Actors' Equity Association)


Stephen Bracco is excited. It's a few weeks before the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival opens in late July, and his new play, Simius, which is scheduled to open the festival’s 2019 Summer season, has a director, an Actors Equity Showcase status, and even a famous tv star’s daughter an accomplished actor in her own right, playing one of the leads. About the only thing he really doesn’t have is a set because one of the requirements of the festival is that the production has to have a minimalist approach, focusing more on the on the story itself.

It’s going to be fast-paced, intense, stressful, and enhanced by three live performances in one of the most exciting venues New York has to offer, Theatre Row. Adding to the pressure is that Simius will be the festival opener. He hasn’t even begun to think about what is next…the festival is everything at the moment, and this playwright has suddenly been propelled in the producing spotlight. There is no turning back. For Stephen, the next few weeks will be a frenzy of holding on to a day job, on-the-fly rewrites, scheduling a slew of rehearsal, hiring the rest of the team, and basically not sleeping.

Jump forward to the present day and you would think this “producing playwright” has gone off on a long vacation, lugging along some memories and an empty checkbook. But it’s not called The Broadway Bound Theatre Festival for nothing. For Bracco and playwrights like him, the hardest part of the work of being a writer is to see their vision make it to the stage. Stephen Bracco is still working on Simius. The festival is long gone, but the real journey is about to begin. We sat down with Mr. Bracco to look at what the future may hold, and some exciting new things are indeed in the horizon. Your production of SIMIUS debuted at the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival. How was that experience and what did you learn in terms of the play? Most importantly, what's next for SIMIUS?

Bracco: The festival's initial critique of SIMIUS called the play "hilarious and appalling," which I loved--especially "appalling." That word gave me confidence in the play's power, and I found myself more open to feedback and revisions as we rehearsed. Now, post-festival, I'm revising the play feeling more secure about it, thanks to that one word. The story is the same--a monkey puppet takes over a family--but the characters' dysfunctions have grown more pronounced in this comedy about family dysfunction. So the lesson is, always tell playwrights what we want to hear about our work, it gives us courage! The festival process is fast and tight. Given more time, what would you like to do with the story, how would you change it if money were no object, and you had more time to produce it?

Bracco: I wish I'd had more time to explore the family dynamic at the center of the story, specifically the love that must have been there in the beginning. Production-wise I would have liked the set to look as I imagined when I wrote the play--especially the library with its dark oak shelves filled with dusty psychiatry books, and with a couple of leather armchairs--to really get a greater sense of this family's wealth and power.

Dream sequences! This Freudian/Oedipal dark comedy really begs for some bizarre dream sequences--dancing bananas, dancing cigars? Are there giant Freud puppets out there? Dream sequences really go perfectly with the weird puppet vibe of this play. Thinking really far ahead (and why not?), other than the stage, where else would you see the story going? How would you envision it?

Bracco: I feel this story is most powerful before a live audience, due to its puppetry, as well as the Oedipal ritual the characters are playing out in real time. A production staged in the round would be great--to enhance the sense of these characters being trapped in this Freudian/Oedipal ritual--it would suggest a circus ring, a sacrificial arena, or even the coliseum where Christians were killed by wild animals (urban myth but still). Speaking of fantasy sequences, the love scene between mother and monkey puppet would soar, literally, if they were both flying, like Peter Pan, over the audience, buoyed by their brave and unique love. There's so much that's bizarre this play allows, since its foundation is primal human desire, that almost any fantastical goings-on would work. In the short term, what's in the works for other words, what's next?

Bracco: SIMIUS the Musical is next. I've been writing lyrics, talking with a few musicians, and we'll see if I come up with anything a composer can actually work with. Rewriting the play itself with songs in mind, I'm discovering that lyrics really expose the characters and energize their stories in theatrical ways unavailable to a non-musical. And in the new version, I'm enhancing the puppetry--Simius starts off as a small hand puppet and grows into larger puppets as he grows in power and influence. Perhaps Simius even pulls a Pinocchio--that sounds a bit Freudian--and in the end becomes a real monkey!

Bracco (continuing): I’m very eager to have a reading with songs to get an idea of what rough beast we have here. I've self-produced my plays in the past, but entering into this new and larger phase of the SIMIUS story is going beyond my reach. If I can get SIMIUS the musical in front of people interested in supporting a unique production, or show it to a theatre group that wants to be the next platform for this play's evolution, I think they'd be intrigued, like most people who saw the play at the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival. So that's my goal for this "hilarious and appalling" story--to send it flying and singing into the world, confident that folks will fall in love with Simius--even in a Freudian way, if you're into that kind of thing.





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