Maria Striar helped found Clubbed Thumb in 1996, and is the company's Producing Artistic Director. She has directed and performed in many of the company’s shows, and still performs upon occasion with other downtown companies, most recently Erin Courtney's Obie Award winning play "A Map of Virtue." Maria conceived and edited 2007’s Funny, Strange, Provocative: Seven Plays from Clubbed Thumb. She received her B.A. from Brown University and her M.F.A. from the University of California, San Diego.

Clubbed Thumb commissions, develops, and produces funny, strange, and provocative new plays by living American writers. Since its founding in 1996, the company has earned four OBIES and presented plays in every form of development, including over 75 full productions.

Clubbed Thumb is presenting SUMMERWORKS, their annual season of new plays featuring productions of three new plays – TAKARAZUKA!!! by Susan Soon He Stanton, directed by Lear deBessonet; LUTHER by Ethan Lipton, directed by Ken Rus Schmoll; and MOTEL CHERRY by Peggy Stafford, directed by Meghan Finn – SUMMERWORKS 2012 will offer longer runs for each production, with each show playing nine performances, up from six in past SUMMERWORKS.

TAKARAZUKA!!! May 26-June 4

Previews begin May 24, press opening May 29, closes June 4

Written by Susan Soon He Stanton, directed by Lear deBessonet

Part ghost story, part love story, TAKARAZUKA!!!  tracks the career sunset of Yuko, the star of a Japanese theater that stages all-female Western style musical extravaganzas. But when you take away her partner, her fans, and her tux, who will she be?

LUTHER  June 8-17

Previews begin June 8, press opening June 11, closes June 17

Written by Ethan Lipton, directed by Ken Rus Schmoll

LUTHER is a tense comedy of the city, concerning unusual families, war-damaged veterans and the high price of everything, including dancing and convictions. Marjorie and Walter love Luther so much, even though he’s tricky. But should they have brought him to the office party?

MOTEL CHERRY June 21-30

Previews begin June 21, press opening June 24, closes June 30

Written by Peggy Stafford, directed by Meghan Finn

A Co-Production with New Georges

MOTEL CHERRY unfolds in the eight rooms of a roadside motel deep in the woods of the Olympic Peninsula, as the guests and their fantasies collide over the course of one charged night. Local calls, ice and the little soaps are free. But careful, walls are thin, and your secrets might seethe through.

SUMMERWORKS will run from May 26-June 30 at HERE Arts Center in NYC (145 6th Avenue). Click here for tickets!

1. Who or what inspired you to become a performer? When I was little I was extremely happy in any kind on play-acting situation and would hang on for dear life to whatever scenario I’d concocted. The first time I performed a play in front of any kind of public was in the 2nd grade: "The Trial of Mother Goose," in which "Old King Cole" tries to censor "MG," whom I played (we interpolated and performed television commercials during it). I already liked living in my imagination; add a responsive audience…I was hooked.

2. Who haven't you worked with that you would like to? I recently subbed in on a Jenny Schwartz play that I’d helped develop, in lieu of Kate Mulgrew, who had been working on it but wasn’t available for this workshop. I had been wowed by the writing and by Kate’s interpretation of it, and I had a blast doing my interpretation of hers (which was wildly different of course—I’m nothing like her, and too young for the part) as well as grappling with Jenny’s hilarious, heartbreaking play and that amazing language. I’d love to settle into one of her plays for a little longer some day.

3. In addition to being an actress, you are the producing artistic director of Clubbed Thumb. What made you want to take on this role? What do you get from being an artistic director that you do not get from performing? I like acting, and I can be quite good at it, but I stink at being an actor. It’s a brutal life, I think, and a pretty bad match for my personality. I have a knee-jerk impulse to challenge authority, I have certain opinions about the presentation of women, and I have…um…off-beat sensibilities. There were not a lot of roles I felt excited to inhabit, and, especially as a young woman, not a lot of roles people thought I was right for (I was told on my first day of graduate school that I was very talented but would not work until I was 40). The first time I produced something, I was so delighted by the agency I felt. I find much of my job -- building a vocabulary of plays and an aesthetic, helping build careers and artistic relationships, and helping to hone both particular projects and artists’ craft — very rewarding. It can also be an overwhelming responsibility. When I act now, I enjoy the freedom from all that, whereas once I just felt powerless. In turn, acting and being direct engagement as an artist makes me a better Producing Artistic Director as well.

4. Clubbed Thumb commissions, develops, and produces funny, strange, and provocative new plays by living American writers and has won four OBIE awards since opening its doors in 1996. How did you decide this would be the foundation of Clubbed Thumb's mission? What do you like about presenting new plays over interpreting already produced plays? Our mission is totally organic —it just describes what we’ve done. We came up with it after our first productions, and whenever we added a new step, we added language describing it into the mission.

I often feel, when I am seeing a play with which I am already familiar, that I engage comparatively and referentially, that the work in front of me is competing with some extant idea in my head. A new play gets to set its own terms, and I feel more creatively engaged, maybe more creatively empowered by the discovery of these terms, whether I am in the audience or I am the producer. I suppose I especially like a lot of formally alternative work for the same reasons.

5. Clubbed Thumb produces one of NYC's summer play festivals, "Summerworks." What made you want to produce a festival? What made you want to design the festival as producing 3 new plays in 5 weeks? Summerworks started because we rented a theater for a month  to put on a play but the play was short and we could only do 16 performances. We didn’t want the opportunity to go to waste, so we asked friends what they were working on, and ended up booking as many as 3 different shows a night. Some of the stuff we produced ourselves, some we co-produced, some we just gave a home to for the night. Over time things have become far more curated and produced, and we don’t present work that we haven’t put together and fully supported. It isn’t really a festival, rather a very short, dense season. I’ve tried popularizing the term mini-season but it hasn’t gained traction. Yet!

6. With all the submissions you get, how do you decide which plays are worthy of production? Oh, it’s not about what’s worthy, it’s what’s right for us. I like—well, funny strange and provocative plays, I like plays that include women as fully as they do men in the story telling, I like unusual stories unusually told—and I like plays that require significant engagement from the creative team. If I read a play that I feel I totally understand the logic of, and I think I can imagine its perfect production, that might be a fantastic play, but it probably isn’t a Clubbed Thumb play. Most of ours plays are a bit of a self-dare.

7. When you are not playing the role of producing artistic producer, you have an acting career of your own. You recently appeared in 13P's acclaimed production of Erin Courtney's "A Map of Virtue." What attracted you to this show? They asked me! Erin and Ken are artists with whom I have along, rich history, independently and together, as an artist and as a producer. I knew it would be rewarding, but it was ever more that I expected. And I didn’t totally understand the play, or if it worked, which made it an exciting challenge, and ultimately, a beautiful discovery.

8. What have you learned about yourself from being a performer/producing artistic director? In their optimal form, both allow for a creative collaboration that’s really inspirational, especially on new work when you just have no idea if its going to work out and what it supposed to look like. There’s just this collective, optimistic…reaching that’s very encouraging to be a part of, everyone at their best, trying to be better, together. So I guess that for all of my crabbing and carping, I am an idealism junkie, because I spend my life in pursuit of, essentially, this fleeting feeling.

9. What's the best advice you've ever received? Don’t be afraid to do something different.

It’s easy to feel trapped by one’s choices. When I feel able to name for myself the terms by which I am willing to do something, and brave enough to say that I can walk away if they aren’t met, it is extremely clarifying and empowering. Not always so easy, though.

10. If you could dream about anyone while you sleep, who would it be? Dreams are a tangled version of what we’ve taken in—have I absorbed enough to invoke my parents as young people, independent of me? Old me now would like that. Teenage me would like a long, torrid night of Keith Richards circa 1966 (which, for the record, is well before my birth).

BONUS QUESTIONS:

11. Favorite way to spend your day off? When I need to a mental break, like, to pop my head off, wash it and let it dry in the sun, and if I have a real, whole day off: A jigsaw puzzle. The whole thing, without looking at the picture, preferably a good reproduction of an interesting work of art.

12. Favorite skin care product? Sleep. Don’t get me wrong, I buy a lot of different crap. Sleep is the only thing that I know works.

13. If you could have any super power, which one would you choose? Oh flying, for sure. Every decade or so I have a flying dream. Amazing.

Stephen Sorrentino

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