"Call Me Adam" chats with playwright Laura Pedersen about her new play This Will All Be Yours, about the silent decline of America's farming community, which runs in the 2014 Midtown International Theatre Festival (MITF) from July 17-August 7 at the The Barrow Group Theatre (312 West 36th Street, 3rd Floor, between 8th & 9th Avenue). Click here for tickets!
1. What made you want to write This Will All Be Yours? It's a story that happened all around me while I was growing up in Western New York, locally and throughout the country. An entire way of life disappeared and the result was a great deal of displacement, uncertainty and unhappiness. Despite the size and scope of this shift, the disappearance of the family farm doesn't seem to have merited much artistic attention. I'm not sure that someone currently in their twenties would even know that it had happened.
2. What excites about having this show in the Midtown International Theatre Festival? The MITF is professionally operated. Therefore it's pleasant to attend since you don't have to step over actors changing in hallways or worry about the weather (we're indoors) or finding a restroom. It's a terrific workshop environment leading up to the performances in that we have the time and space to experiment with different ideas. And it's a fantastic showcase if you'd like to take your piece to the next level. I think it's also a wonderful way for all these talented actors, directors, and musicians to be seen by agents, producers, press, other writers, etc.
3. How do you feel MITF will foster this show in a way another festival would not? I can speak from experience as I've had previous shows in the MITF which went on to future incarnations. It also gave me a way to work out some spots I wasn't completely happy with before finalizing the scripts. Additionally, John Chatterton has so much experience in every aspect of the theater that he creates a terrific working environment for us while bringing in the public, press, scouts, and even potential investors. He fills an important niche in Manhattan because it's incredibly difficult and expensive to mount a show these days.
4. What do you hope audiences come away with after seeing This Will All Be Yours? As a storyteller my number one hope is for people to be entertained. I think the best stories are where you see a bit of yourself or someone you know in one or more of the characters. This show is about dealing with change and I think that's rather universal so I hope people will relate and consider how they've experienced major shifts in their lives. I'm interested in food and nutrition and maybe at some level people will consider where their meals come from, but many New Yorkers (and people in general) are already very knowledgeable in this area. They care about what they put in their bodies, how land is used, how animals are treated, and how workers are compensated.
5. Since This Will All Be Yours is about the vanishing of America's farming community, how have you been affected by this disappearance? I watched it happen in my own backyard. I remember eating delicious locally grown fruit when I was young and then moving to Manhattan at age 18 and buying fruit in the supermarket that I expected would be like what I ate growing up. It certainly looked beautiful (and was expensive) but there wasn't any flavor. Where had the flavor gone? Why would people rather eat fruit that had been picked green and shipped from South America if it was going to taste like wet socks. Someone also decided to take the seeds out of watermelon so it'd be easier to eat. And the flavor went out right along with the seeds. (Plus some of the best moments of my childhood were watermelon seed spitting contests).
6. What are you looking forward to about having this cast bring your show to life? This cast is made up of terrific actors but they are professional singers as well. I think the original songs performed for the first time by this cast are going to amaze people. Unlike a Broadway show where you usually have a lot of glitz and busyness, these songs will be more like intimate cabaret performances and that will be wonderful. In fact, I'm almost certain that at least one star is going to be born on July 17th.
7. Who or what inspired you to become a playwright? I've always loved stories. After I work out an idea I decide how it best presents -- as a newspaper column, magazine article, short story, novel, play, etc. I think I've written a little of everything except for acrostics and shadow puppetry. There was no question from the start that This Will All Be Yours was meant to be for the stage and have music, told in a simple way a la The Fantasticks.
8. Who haven't you worked with that you would like to? As a writer I spend most of my time alone. But as far as directors and editors go I enjoy working with people who love what they do and are in general enthusiastic about the importance of the arts in all of our lives. Ludovica Villar-Hauser has directed several of my plays and I love her energy and creativity. She's able to provide that along with organization and diplomacy, which is a real trick in my experience.
9. What's the best advice you've ever received? The best advice I ever received was from a woman working the airline counter at JFK airport during the blackout of 2003. She said, "I've learned that the only thing I can control is my own behavior." However, I believe the philosopher William James may have been thinking of New York when he wrote, "Wisdom is learning what to overlook."
10. What have you learned about yourself from being a performer? I've never performed with a group of actors on a stage. I've given sermons and lectures and done stand-up comedy. I've learned that it's harder than it looks and so I have the greatest admiration for all those who trust a piece of work enough to give themselves over to an audience. How lucky we are!
11. If you could have any super power, which one would you choose? Is declining chocolate a super power? If not, it should be. I'm just a girl who can't say no.
12. What do you want to be remembered most for? In the Prayer of St. Francis it says, "Where there is sadness let me sow joy." I would love to go on my journey having made a few people laugh. I know I made my high school principal laugh because he said so when he suspended me for sneaking jokes into the school anthology.
Laura Pedersen is an author, humorist, and playwright. She was also the youngest person at age 20 to have a seat on the American Stock Exchange, while earning a finance degree at New York University’s Stern School of Business. She wrote about that experience in her first book, Play Money, which received rave reviews and became a bestseller. At age 25, she was the youngest columnist for The New York Times.
Glamour magazine named Laura one of ten "Outstanding Young Working Women" in 1990. In 1994 President Clinton honored her as one of Ten Outstanding Young Americans. Laura has appeared on national television outlets such as CNN, Oprah, Good Morning America, CBS This Morning, Today, Primetime Live, and Late Night with David Letterman. She has also performed stand-up comedy at The Improv, among other clubs, and writes material for several well-known comedians. She has an honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters from Canisius College.
Laura’s books have won many awards and honors, including the Three Oaks Prize for Fiction, a B&N "Discover New Voices" selection, and a Borders "Original Voices" selection. Her fiction includes Going Away Party, the Hallie Palmer series (Beginner’s Luck; Heart’s Desire; The Big Shuffle; and Best Bet), the romantic comedies Last Call and Fool's Mate, and a collection of short stories called The Sweetest Hours.
Buffalo Gal, a humorous memoir about growing up in the economically devastated Rust Belt during the 1970s, was named best autobiography by ForeWord magazine, received an honorable mention from The Eric Hoffer Book Award, and an honorable mention at the New York Book Festival. Buffalo Unbound, humorous essays about the current revitalization of Laura’s hometown and the Western New York area, won the Indie Book Award in the Humor/Comedy category and was an International Book Award finalist in the categories of Travel Essay and Humor. Other nonfiction books include Trains, Planes, and Auto-Rickshaws and Life in New York: How I Learned to Love Squeegee Men, Token Suckers, Trash Twisters, and Subway Sharks.
Laura’s first children’s book, Unplugged: Ella Gets Her Family Back, was a Mom’s Choice Awards Gold recipient and won several other awards for its message about families and technology. Unplugged received a Skipping Stones magazine Honor Award for respecting multicultural and ecological awareness in children's literature, was selected by the United Methodist Women's Reading Program Committee for their children's book list, and won a bronze for best picture book for children of all ages in the Moonbeam Children's Book Awards.
Laura’s latest children's book, Ava's Adventure, is about the power of the imagination to entertain, and also features a multicultural family. Her children’s stories are developed around young people creating solutions for their problems without adult intervention.
Laura’s award-winning plays have been performed in festivals and Off-Broadway. Her full-length musical This Will All Be Yours (lyrics and music by Charles Bloom) premieres at the Midtown International Theatre Festival July 17-August 7, and her award-winning full-length play, The Brightness of Heaven, opens at New York’s Off-Broadway Cherry Lane Theatre in October of 2014.
Laura is also an ordained minister who occasionally gives sermons at Unitarian Universalist churches and fellowships around the country and in Canada. She belongs to the Authors Guild, the international literary association P.E.N. and is an honorary member of the Twentieth Century Club.