Productions

PANGAEA (2019) / Above the Stag Theatre / Announcement by Erik Champney

Oh, Pangaea. What a long life of development it’s had. Starting with its initial 2010 workshop and university production at Centenary College of Louisiana, directed by Ryan Williams, leading to director Jake Smith’s 2016 workshop of it at Abingdon Theatre Company in New York, which pushed it to become a staged reading in 2017, directed by Shaun Peknic for the Planet Connections Theatre Festivity, finally stopping off in London for a 2018 rehearsed reading at Above the Stag Theatre. All major steps forward.

Now, this.

In October of 2018, my agent, Elaine Devlin, and I met with Above the Stag’s Artistic Director, Peter Bull, in Greenwich Village. It went very well. Peter wanted to produce Pangaea and asked what I thought about Jake Smith as director. Since he led that 2016 workshop, Jake was very eager to take on the production. He and I had been wanting to get it onstage professionally for three years. Suddenly, here we are.

In June, the contract was signed. All I had to do then was wait for Above the Stag to announce it. (Waiting is agony for me.) Announce it they did. Tickets are on sale now!

The long and the short of it is Pangaea will have its official world premiere in London, performances starting October 23. It will be presented by a renowned company in their gorgeous facility. It will be directed by one of the UK’s rising stars.

I’m counting my blessings, guys. Have no fear. I’m counting my blessings.

And if you’re planning to be in London this autumn, you can get your tickets here.

Pangaea , a world premiere play by Erik Champney. Key art designed by  Jon Bradfield .

Pangaea, a world premiere play by Erik Champney. Key art designed by Jon Bradfield.

DEAD BRAINS (2018) / Planet Connections Theatre Festivity by Erik Champney

Dead Brains was originally a product of the American College Theatre Festival. The Kennedy Center awarded it the National AIDS Fund/CFDA-Vogue Initiative Award for Playwriting. Yep, THE National AIDS Fund and THE Vogue Magazine. Crazy, right? To top it all off, the deciding judge was THE Craig Lucas! This resulted in a fully staged reading at the Bay Area Playwrights Festival, presented by The Kennedy Center, The National AIDS Fund, The Council of Fashion Designers of America, and the Vogue Initiative. It was directed by John Morace and featured Brian Erlich as Henry, Stacey Jackson as Philly, and Kenny Shults as Corey.

In 2002, Dead Brains took its first bow at the Seattle Fringe Festival. Directed by Megan Carter, the original cast was David Hogan as Henry, Emily Vise McBride as Philly, and Eric Stevens as Corey. Seattle Fringe honored it with their Sold Out Award. It was a very successful run.

Fast forward to 2018 and a completely gutted and rewritten script (making it practically a new play), under the guidance of Jake Smith’s sensational dramaturgy. I made the decision to resurrect the play at the Planet Connections Theatre Festivity. The quirky, wonderfully sedate Adam Chisnall came on board to direct, and we put together a cast that included Richard Wingert as Henry, Ellie Gossage as Philly, and Matt Maretz as Corey. If ever a cast looked like these characters, it was this one. There was no denying it.

During our crowdfunding campaign (something I hate doing but it was simply necessary), Jim Kierstead assumed the role of our lead producer, matching the funds we’d accumulated. He was our angel and quite a prominent name to have associated with the production. At the time, he had two Tonys, an Olivier, and an Emmy (he would win his third Tony for Hadestown). Not to mention he was already my producer on Sparkler, a play we’d been developing for a couple years. He’s also a wonderfully generous and loving human being, and there’s a lot to be said for that.

Dead Brains was dark to begin with. Lots of humor as well, but it was ten times more grim in New York than it was in Seattle. The rehearsal process was arduous. To be fair, the play was asking the actors to take on a great deal, psychologically, emotionally, and physically. It’s a parable about the manipulation of art to, essentially, seduce, destroy, and reinvent people. These characters were a lot to shoulder, but they powered through it and totally delivered.

Something that deserves special mention is Matt Maretz’s performance of an extremely complicated, heartbreaking monologue, which he had already begun to conquer during his first reading, only to grow it into an extraordinary moment that was as beautiful as it was painful.

The production was simply staged, to its benefit, and lit masterfully by the one and only Gilbert “Lucky” Pearto. Alongside us all was our stage manager, Richard Sommerfield, who was invaluable in every way imaginable. He’s pretty much the one who kept me sane throughout the process.

The new Dead Brains received two Planet Connections Awards that season: Outstanding Overall Production and Outstanding Playwriting. Richard Wingert was also nominated for Outstanding Performance by a Leading Actor, and Matt Maretz was nominated for Outstanding Performance by a Supporting Actor. I was so proud to see everybody shine.

It was a tough summer, but we did it. And I think we did it right. Dead Brains lives again!

Matt Maretz (L) as Corey, Richard Wingert as Henry, and Ellie Gossage as Philly. Photo by Bryan Cash; design by Erik Champney.

Matt Maretz (L) as Corey, Richard Wingert as Henry, and Ellie Gossage as Philly. Photo by Bryan Cash; design by Erik Champney.

BLANKETS AND BEDTIME: 3 RESTLESS PLAYS (2016) / Planet Connections Theatre Festivity by Erik Champney

In the summer of 2016, my first fully mounted show in New York City. Blankets and Bedtime: 3 Restless Plays was an anthology of one-acts, presented in 80 minutes, at the Planet Connections Theatre Festivity. I co-produced the production with Janet Bentley, who directed. We were both wearing too many hats, but we survived. An Indiegogo campaign successfully funded us, thanks to the many incredible people out there who believed and wanted to help. A series of intensive auditions delivered a dynamite cast. Janet brought in the designers. Off we went.

The first play, Sparkler, was like catching lightning in a bottle. The high tensions in a Hollywood marriage between a gay movie star and an ambitious young actress in 1964. It was eloquent, bitchy, hilarious, and violent. Those 35 minutes felt like they were part of something bigger, and I was constantly being asked if I was going to expand it.

The second play, The Screens, had already been produced multiple times in short play festivals across the country. What was accomplished here was extremely strong, although there was an important difference from productions past. They played the ending from the start. This is a valid choice and it actually works. I prefer the play being a gradual peeling back of the layers, so the play the audience is watching at the end is not the play they thought they were watching at the beginning. But I also don’t want every production of my work to be a carbon copy. Janet wanted to take it into uncharted territory and I gave her my blessing.

Saitama was the grand finale. This was a one-act I’d been working on for years. A very personal interaction between a Japanese soldier and a Chinese Comfort Woman that jerks from calm to brutal to psychological warfare, and I knew everything about it had to be exactly right. The historical accuracies and nuances, hand in hand with my decision to force the audience to endure watching the hell those girls went through. My good friend, Jeremy Tiang, was my savior as I worked on it. He kept me honest and was never afraid to challenge anything he doubted. To finally see it on its feet. Jesus Christ, that play is a nightmare to watch. I’m proud of it. It does what I wanted it to do. But it’s vicious.

After the final performance, a friend introduced me to a producer, who had fallen in love with Sparkler. We hit it off right away and a collaboration to expand the play into a full-length began.

Blankets and Bedtime: 3 Restless Plays went on to win an Outstanding Actor award for Max Meyers, who was part of Sparkler, an Outstanding Director award for Janet Bentley, which was specific to her work on Sparkler, and the show was awarded Outstanding Overall Production of an Evening of One-Acts.

Originally, one actor representing each of the 3 “restless” plays would be showcased in  Blankets and Bedtime ’s marketing. A scheduling mishap called for a quick replacement for our photo shoot, which did away with the desired concept. Max Meyers (L) and Chad Ryan (R) were co-stars in one piece but neither ever shared the stage with Meggy Hai-Trang.

Originally, one actor representing each of the 3 “restless” plays would be showcased in Blankets and Bedtime’s marketing. A scheduling mishap called for a quick replacement for our photo shoot, which did away with the desired concept. Max Meyers (L) and Chad Ryan (R) were co-stars in one piece but neither ever shared the stage with Meggy Hai-Trang.