Wayne L. Firestone's play, Rise Esperanto opens the Rogue Theatre Festival's final day of its 2020 festival. In this short play, members of a reconstituted Lower East Side Esperanto Society meet after the 2016 Presidential election and debate whether this is the moment in history for a borderless, international language. Millennial activist Esperanza mistakenly attends the meeting. She learns about the optimism of the Esperanto inventor in his 1900 Warsaw ophthalmologist office with his skeptical Yiddish speaking patient. Esperanza explores the language through a new app that transports her to speak directly with the characters from the prior century. Esperanza’s journey is about her own hidden identity and unlikely claim to the leadership of a predominantly white male European legacy movement.
Theatre Festival Artistic Director Allison Hohman spoke to both the playwright, Wayne L. Firestone, and actor Scott Raven about their production and festival experiences. Here is their interview.
Wayne L. Firestone, Playwright
Allison Hohman: Where did you get the inspiration for writing your piece? Wayne L. Firestone: I am surrounded by empowered young women and girls including my own kids who I think will rock the world in a positive way one day. Many marginalized communities were deflated and anxious by the 2016 Presidential results and the Puerto Rican community felt a particular abandonment after Hurricane Maria. This play was an attempt to give voice to “hope” from an unlikely source—an international language dusted off by some geeks to help rise above the present chaos.
Allison Hohman: What is your writing process? When inspiration strikes? One hour a day? Wayne L. Firestone: Reimagine. Retreat. Reflect. Research. Write. Listen. Rewrite. Although it is not always in that order. No doubt that hearing it out loud and discussing the piece with other creative artists is the most fun and invigorating part.
Allison Hohman: How did you first get involved with theater and becoming a playwright? Wayne L. Firestone: I wrote a play as a college student and then only picked it up thirty years later after kids and a career elsewhere. Who said an old dog can’t conjure up a few new tricks?
Allison Hohman: What do you love about this piece and what will others love about it? Wayne L. Firestone: I loved hearing the cast immerse themselves in the multiple languages and accents that are peppered throughout the script.
Allison Hohman: How important do you think it is for theatre festivals to offer opportunities for new or up and coming playwrights? Wayne L. Firestone: Right now creative and performing artists --like everyone else are in various stages of quarantine and confinement. What are they doing? Creating. New voices will be emerging and festivals should embrace the opportunity to diversify the narratives that people can encounter now—even at home.
Allison Hohman: Have you participated in theater festivals before? What was that experience like? What has your experience with Rogue Theater Festival been? Wayne L. Firestone: This summer, one festival (and theatre) folded; one went to written scripts only, and only Rogue gave an option for live performance in person or via zoom.
Allison Hohman: How has the rehearsal and performance process differed now in Covid times vs. regular times? Wayne L. Firestone: It is tough and challenging for all the reasons we know. We had one cast member get sick last month and need to drop out just prior to the dress rehearsal. I consider the cast and directors heroes for their efforts to keep the spirit of theatre alive.
Allison Hohman: If you weren’t a playwright, what would you be doing? Wayne L. Firestone: Watching someone else’s play.
Allison Hohman: Any advice for aspiring playwrights? Wayne L. Firestone: Try comedy, sci-fi, musical, etc. Great way to get outside of the box
Allison Hohman: What’s up next for you? Wayne L. Firestone: Act 2 for this play. I started writing it the moment I heard the cast read Act 1 at a zoom table reading.
Conversation with actor Scott Raven
Allison Hohman: When were you first inspired to be an actor? Scott Raven: Making my mother laugh with Weird Al song parody renditions and silly SNL inspired VHS tapes with friends, it wasn’t until I had a theater teacher in high school who recognized something in me before I recognized it in myself. Soon enough, I felt more confident and alive on stage than any where else.
Allison Hohman: What is your preparation process before going into rehearsals? Scott Raven: I like to research the world of the play with supplemental books, movies or shows to wake up my mind, then (healthily) get my body/appearance into the shape of the character I’ll be portraying.
Allison Hohman: How did you get involved with theater and acting? Scott Raven: I participated in summer camp musicals, cast in fun, meaty roles - even though I couldn’t sing a lick and would voraciously read and watch plays before having a chance to be in them. Following a sports injury I was unable to physically compete at the high level I once had, set against a period of time my mom was very sick, I found theater and acting classes to be a most supportive and nurturing environment. The arts became a most positive way of stimulating my own creative and intellectual curiosities while learning to engage with the emotional lives of others in a way that athletics did not provide.
Allison Hohman: What do you love about your character and what will others love about it? Scott Raven: In the play, Rise Esperanto, I was able to play two characters from two different time periods who were both language lovers (like myself). “Mike,” a passionate, liberally minded history professor was educational and hopeful during a difficult moment in our nation’s story. I have also throughly enjoyed getting to play a doctor during a time where medical workers have been put center stage for their involvement with the pandemic.
Allison Hohman: What has been most exciting about bringing this script to life? Most challenging? Scott Raven: Learning some of the new words in Esperanto was difficult at first, but invigorating once they started sinking in, especially learning how the speaking of it was a form of activism and protest. It was also challenging to develop a comfort level and chemistry with cast mates I had never met in person, but thankfully we all gelled extremely well on our first in person meeting and many anxieties were put to rest.
Allison Hohman: What are some things this rehearsal and performance process has taught you? Scott Raven: Because I had not met some of the cast in person it was important for me to spend some time getting to know them outside of their characters, even for an hour. Trust is so important on stage and that needs to be built and I learned it can be built quickly with the right people. Rehearsing on zoom changes the natural speaking rhythms, so our cast found it helpful to record each other’s lines to practice along with at home. I was also surprised to learn that even without a crowd, there were still such pre-show jitters and a building excitement to take the stage!
Allison Hohman: How has the rehearsal/performance process differed in Covid times vs. regular times? Scott Raven: Rehearsing with masks, although necessary was challenging, but helped force us to use better listening skills. Rehearsing on zoom allowed for people to be in different locations and still connect, but made it difficult to get the part into one’s body since most rehearsals were done from a couch or chair.
Allison Hohman: If you weren’t an actor, what would you be doing? Scott Raven: I also perform with a spoken word poetry trio (Mayhem Poets) which has been considerably sidelined due to the pandemic as well, so if I wasn’t a performer/poet in any capacity, I don’t know what I’d do. I enjoy teaching, writing sonnets, surrealism and traveling but would probably take up avante-gardening.
About the Playwright
Wayne L. Firestone was a member of the 2019 and 2020 John F. Kennedy Center Immersive Playwriting Workshop in Washington, DC, where he studied with Gary Garrison, Jacqueline Goldfinger, Mark Bly, and a cohort of empowering playwrights from around the country. Among his recent plays selected for production: Rogue Theatre Festival “Esperanto Rises,” One-Act, December 2020; Urban Stages Acronym Plays, “JLS,” August 2020; Take Ten Festival-Between Us Productions at the Secret Theatre “Madame Magician,” April 2020 (postponed) and Queans Theatre Festival (digital) August 2020 and Fifth Avenue Theatre Festival (December 2020) Monologue, “Shana the She-Pirate.” He is a Member of the Dramatists Guild of America.
Saturday, December 13th at 1:00pm