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

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