Monday, July 10, 2017

Representation Off-Broadway: TREFFPUNKT by Emerging Teen Playwright Natalie Lifson

By Natalie Lifson



     When I was initially accepted into the Strawberry Festival for my new play Treffpunkt, a post-WWII piece modeled after the writing styles of Salinger and Hemingway, I was honored and excited. I’ve been aware of the festival's existence for a long time, but this was my first time submitting. As a then 17-year-old, I had been certain it was a long shot. Not only is The Strawberry Festival an excellent opportunity for me to showcase some of my best work and hone my producing skills, but it is an opportunity to share a message that I hold close to my heart: representation. 


My work represents my desire to live in a world in which people of all races, genders, and sexual orientations are treated equally. It’s definitely optimistic given the current state of our country, but a lot of the stories I write take place in societies that don’t prioritize any one race over another, universes that are not heteronormative, and worlds in which gender is a non-issue (for women, trans people, and non-binary people alike). For example, last summer I wrote and produced a show called Furniture: The Musical in which the characters were pieces of furniture and did not inherently have genders so were cast as such. Additionally, in November I wrote and produced a musical called Mescaline about superheroes; many of the characters are queer but their sexual identities are never questioned and are accepted without a second thought.    


        With the same goal of representation but with a more direct approach, this past summer I began to write Crisis Shelter, my most ambitious project yet. Crisis Shelter is a full-length rock opera about the teenagers living in a crisis shelter for runaway youth. To prepare, I spent months researching the demographics of individuals in teen crisis shelters and found that a large percentage are queer and/or suffer from mental illness. Before I began to write about my characters' experiences, I interviewed friends and acquaintances and asked questions such as “what would you like other people to know about your situation that is not common knowledge?” As I continued to research and immerse myself in these authentic stories, I became more aware of how much common media portrayals of mental illnesses are actually incorrect. My next work evolved from this disturbing realization. 


      I initially wrote Treffpunkt (meaning “meeting place” in German) because I was frustrated with the sensationalism of mental illness in pop culture, specifically post traumatic stress disorder. I noticed that PTSD consistently popped up as a plot device rather than as an accurate portrayal that promoted understanding to the general public. In order to do my part to combat this bias, I decided to write my own narrative about a person who suffers from PTSD. To achieve accurate representation, I spent months interviewing people who suffer from this illness before I began to write. I continued to consult them throughout the writing and editing process. I placed Treffpunkt in 1940s Switzerland because I love history, enjoy research, and was tired of writing narratives about people my age living in New York. It was time to challenge myself and write about an experience entirely separate from my own, from age to gender to even country and time period. 

My goal in writing is to simultaneously make a difference by promoting understanding and acceptance and to entertain. I'm an artist. And despite what many might say, it is not my place to keep my mouth shut and merely entertain people, but to use my art to make a statement, to do everything I can to make a difference. Regardless of whether or not I win, I am proud of this incredible opportunity to share my mission. As I fight for what I believe in through art, I will continue to do my best to give voices to the voiceless. 

     Come see Treffpunkt off-Broadway at the Theatre at St. Clement’s (423 West 46th Street, NYC Between 9th & 10th Avenue) on the following dates!  

TREFFPUNKT By Natalie Lifson

Richard, a WWII veteran struggling with PTSD, discovers that the future may not be so dim after all when he meets Henry, a WWI veteran, and his daughter Cathy.
Friday, July 14th at 9pm
Monday, July 17th at 9pm
Saturday, July 22nd at 5pm
Wednesday, July 26th at 9pm
Tickets: $25 Online, $27 at the Box Office
Premium Seats: $30 Online, $35 at the Box Office
At the Theatre at St. Clement's
423 West 46th Street, NYC
Between 9th & 10th Avenue

For tickets click here

Never Speak Ill of the Dead: From Shakespeare to Harry Potter to THE LATE GORDON KAPLAN

By Natalie Lifson

           It is an unwritten rule in life that, when someone dies, your negative feelings towards them disappear. Or, at least, you pretend they do. But is this rule really unwritten? “Do not speak ill of the dead” is, in fact, rooted in a long historical and literary tradition.  
The Latin phrase “De mortise nil nisi bonum” directly translates to “Of the dead, nothing unless good.” The phrase was published for the first time in a 4th century Latin book called Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers and was attributed to one of the Seven Sages of Greece in 600 B.C., Chilon of Sparta.  
Since then, variations of the phrase have appeared in literature, poetry, philosophy, cinema, and theatre. Of the dozens of famous forms of media that reference this idiom, some of the most well known include Sigmund Freud’s Thoughts of the Times on War and Death (1915), the movie Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Julius Caesar (1599) by William Shakespeare, Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain, Harry Potter by JK Rowling, and Percy Jackson by Rick Riordan.  
In Thoughts for the Times on War and Death, Freud philosophies that people are likely to avoid the truth and ignore a dead person’s wrongdoings throughout life in order to heap praise on them and honor them. "We assume a special attitude towards the dead, something almost like admiration for one who has accomplished a very difficult feat,” Freud states. "We suspend criticism of him, overlooking whatever wrongs he may have done, and issue the command, De mortuis nil nisi bene: we act as if we were justified in singing his praises at the funeral oration, and inscribe only what is to his advantage on the tombstone. This consideration for the dead, which he really no longer needs, is more important to us than the truth, and, to most of us, certainly, it is more important than consideration for the living.” In Laurence of Arabia, when T.E. Laurence dies, a clergyman gazes upon a bust of his head and cautiously asks, after stating “nil nisi bonum..." if Laurence truly deserves to have a funeral held in the Cathedral, he receives nothing but silence from Colonel Brighton in return.   



      Another example of people suddenly admiring an individual after death is Tom Sawyer. When townspeople assume that Tom Sawyer is dead, they cry and talk about how good of a kid he was when only days earlier they had been calling him a devil child.  
In Julius Caesar, however, Mark Antony rejects the phrase and instead insists that “the evil that men do lives after them.” In a more modern example of a subversion of this trope, in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows Dumbledore’s past misdeeds are not revealed until his death. Similarly, in Percy Jackson and the Olympians, a half-blood who works for the Titans is thought of as evil in life but in death is viewed as a misguided hero.  



            The Late Gordon Kaplan by Robin Anne Joseph, which will premiere at the Strawberry One Act Theatre Festival on 7/13, 7/15, 7/16, and 7/18 follows a woman who, like Mark Antony, does not follow the advice of the Latin phrase “De mortise nil nisi bonum.” Come watch Robin Anne Joseph, who has been working in theatre for over 35 years, subvert the famous trope in The Late Gordon Kaplan. 

NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, was formed in October 1, 1958. In the late 1950s, scientific discovery in the United States was less influenced by curiosity and more influenced by competition with the Soviet Union. By the time NASA formed, the United States was deep in the Space Race, a subset of the Cold War and a contest in which the US and the USSR fought to reach the moon first and subsequently establish themselves as the superior nation. Both nations wanted to prove to the other not only that they were superior, but that they had the technology and scientific advancements necessary to obliterate the other nation if push came to shove during the Cold War.  



       During the first 20 years of NASA’s operation alone, they launched several significant programs and achieved what had previously been thought of as impossible. First, they established human space flight initiatives in which they investigated whether or not humans could potentially survive in space. These initiatives included Protect Gemini (1965­-1966) in which they launched two astronauts into space to perfect the usage of a spacecraft for purposes of transport safety, reliability, and efficiency, and Project Apollo (1968­-1972) in which they explored the moon. They also accomplished multiple robotic missions to far­off planets such as Venus and Mars. They continued to study hypersonic flight, lifting body flight research, avionics and electronics studies, propulsion technologies, structures research, aerodynamics investigations, among others, and made many significant technological advancements. NASA also created satellites that could gather information from Earth and transmit said information, the same technology that is used for Google Maps, for example, today. Other satellites that were similarly sent into Earth’s orbit were used to monitor the weather.  



            After years of fierce competition, NASA developed into America’s pride and joy separate from the Cold War; NASA’s discoveries opened doors to a whole new realm of possibilities. Space was a vast expanse just waiting to be explored and there were so many unanswered questions.  
NASA’s accomplishments were so impressive not only because of the large scale of them, but because of the attention to detail and expertise necessary to make any one of the above accomplishments happen. Any one mistake would have caused the entire operation to fail, so perfection was paramount.  
In The Wiggle Room by George D. Morgan, which will premiere at the Strawberry One Act Festival on 7/15, 7/17, 7/20, 7/22, Morgan explores the importance of perfection in space exploration in this fictionalized account of the events preceding the NASA Challenger disaster. 



THE LATE GORDON KAPLAN By Robin Anne Joseph
At her husband’s funeral, and at odds with her daughter and her rabbi, a grieving widow makes a bold decision about how her husband should be eulogized. In doing so, she grapples with the complexity of her feelings for him, for his death, and for his constant disappearances. Humorous and poignant, "The Late Gordon Kaplan" shines a light on life, death, and how we navigate our relationships along the way.
 
Thursday, July 13th at 9pmSaturday, July 15th at 5pm
Sunday, July 16th at 5pm
Tuesday, July 18th at 9pm

Tickets: $25 Online, $27 at the Box Office
Premium Seats: $30 Online, $35 at the Box Office
 
At the Theatre at St. Clement's
423 West 46th Street, NYC
Between 9th & 10th Avenue

For tickets click here.

The Definition of a F@#kboy

By Natalie Lifson


According to Google Trends, the term “f@#kboy” began its ascent into popularity in late 2014/early 2015. The term hit its peak in December of 2015 and its usage continues to this day. So what, exactly, is a f@#kboy? Slate.com describes it as “the worst kind of guy, or at least one who represents the worst trends of the present moment.” According to onlineslangdictionary.com, a f@#kboy is “a male who tries to be something that he knows nothing about” or “a male who oppresses women.” Collegestudent101 on Urban Dictionary defines f@#kboys as "mostly heterosexual young men who use sexist language, throw around homophobic slurs, and think all girls are either sluts or objects. They think rape jokes are funny, believe the friendzone is real, are usually quite misogynistic, and embody ignorance on every level.” According to betches.com, f@#kboys will lead you on and pretend to want a relationship but actually just want sex. So many definitions of the word exist, but they all somehow manage to describe the same type of person. A “f@#kboy” is not any one specific type of boy, but rather the sort of male who is entitled and manipulative. Kiritokun on Urban Dictionary describes it best: “Fuckboys come in all shapes and sizes and results may vary, but when he a f@#kboy, he a f@#kboy… and [you] will know." 

 In addition to the above internet definitions, I asked some comedians to give me their own personal definitions of the word “f@#kboy”:  

       "I am actually not 100% sure what a f@#kboy is- I recently moved back to the country from South America and heard people using the term. I'm guessing it's a man someone is having sex with just for fun- like a "boy toy." In Argentina there was something called a "taxi boy" which is basically a male prostitute you could order over the phone like a taxi service. Maybe "f@#kboy" is like that?”  
-Abby Feldman 

       "Fuckboy: The dude who brags about having sex with anyone who'll give it to him while also hitting on you at the same time. Fuckboys only own pajamas, basketball shorts, and sandals. Even in the winter. No one means to hook up with a f@#kboy. It's always a regret the next day.”  
-Camille Theobald 

       "Fuccbois the type to tell you afterwards they'll make breakfast in the morning but when you wake up they're gone and there's a bowl of cereal on your nightstand.”  
-Alec Collins 

     “Sad boi masquerading as his more cocksure alter ego; think a hermit crab changing shells or a snake shedding its skin over a barn door frame. New skin! New boi!” 
-Jessie McLaughlin 

     “I'm not sure of the definition and I don't want to look it up because I'm afraid it might describe me.” 
-Nat Townsen 

     "F@#kboy: a skinny-fat, beady-eyed goon with baggy jeans, tacky shoes, and a flat-top hat. Typically travels in packs with other f@#kbois. Wears a Make America Great Again hat but knows nothing about politics. Thinks he's really clever because he figured out how to juul in school.” 
-Anonymous  

       "A f@#kboy is a dude who is a complete fraud. He makes himself seem dope af but really is an insecure prick. You spot these dudes on Instagram taking selfies with their shirts off. They constantly brag about being in the gym and yelling "beast mode." They'll slide in your DMs with inappropriate dick pics you never ask for. They'll call you a bitch when you won't date them for being a so-called “feminist."” 
 -Gregory W. Hall 

        “The Fuckboy is today's douchebag, dickhead, scumbagskell, shithead, f@#ktard, bastard, cheat, womanizer, man whore and a real son of a bitch. It's hard to really pin down the real meaning of a f@#k boy because it’s a catch all for all generalized shitty behavior. A f@#kboy is manipulating and narcissistic. A f@#k boy will be sleeping with multiple women in various stages of a relationship making each one think they are the only one. He will screenshot your snapchat and show his friends your nudes. He will take nude pics or video of you having sex without your knowledge. A f@#kboy also can have multiple kids by multiple women and is not taking care of any of them. In short, a f@#kboy is trifling AF.” 
-Maryssa Smith