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Leigh Fondakowski, Playwright, 2008-2014; Sarah Lambert and Reeva Wortel, January 2012

Leigh Fondakowski is an Emmy nominated co-screenwriter for the adaptation of The Laramie Project for HBO. Her play, The People’s Temple, has been performed under her direction at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Perseverance Theater, and The Guthrie Theater, and received the Glickman Award for best new play in 2005. Another original play, I Think I Like Girls, premiered at Encore Theater in San Francisco under her direction and was voted one of the top 10 plays of 2002 by The Advocate. Fondakowski was an Imagine Fund Distinguished Visiting Chair at the University of Minnesota during the spring of 2010 when she spoke about her play Casa Cushman. She spoke again in 2011 and 2014 about her work on the play Spill, based on interviews with the people of the south coast of Louisiana and accompanied by a visual installation of life-sized portraits, which explores both the human and scientific impact of the BP oil drilling disaster of 2010.

2/16/08 Leigh Fondakowski: Ethics of Representation
Fondakowski considers some ethical questions that arise when writing plays based on real events using oral history interviews with real people.

Download: audio, small video, or original.

4/18/10 Leigh Fondakowski: The Laramie Project
Fondakowski talks about her play, The Laramie Project, conceived for the tenth anniversary of the killing of Matthew Shepard, and the oral history research behind it.

Download: audio, small video, or original.

12/1/11 Leigh Fondakowski: Casa Cushman, The People’s Temple, Spill
Fondakowski compares her plays, including Casa Cushman and The People’s Temple, talking about some differing approaches to oral history research, and offers her thoughts on the beginning of writing her play Spill.

Download: audio, small video, or original.

Sarah Lambert is a set designer and dramaturg. Previous collaborations with Fondakowski and/or Tectonic Theater Project include: set design/dramaturgy for The People’s Temple, dramaturgy for The Laramie Project, set design for Gross Indecency (productions in New York, London, Toronto, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Caracas, Venezuela) and dramaturgy/set design for work-in-progress Casa Cushman. Other design credits include Spectators at an Event (Susan Marshall & Co, BAM Next Wave), Fly, (LCI and Crossroads) and over 150 other pieces produced in New York City and regionally. She has taught design at Cornell University, Hunter and Queens Colleges (CUNY), and has been a visiting artist at Naropa University. She holds a BA from Cornell and an MFA from Yale.

1/30/12 Sarah Lambert
Lambert talks about her work as a set designer in collaboration with Fondakowsi on Spill.

Download: audio, small video, or original.

Reeva Wortel worked with Fondakowski to gather numerous interviews from a broad sampling of members of the Louisiana community and the surrounding affected area in order to create The Big Spill. Wortel, whose prior work includes “American Portrait Project,” captures the image of thirty interviewees through life size figurative paintings which will be part of a large-scale installation. Driven by a commitment to develop the technique of portraiture beyond its traditional limits, Reeva Wortel has worked in communities as a social justice advocate and artist honing a technique to narrate the individual stories of our time through her portraiture work, a process that involves in-depth interviewing, photography, painting and installation. Wortel has been the recipent of several grants as a muralist, choreograper, and installation artist. She has exhibited her work in Oregon, California, Colorado, New York, Amsterdam and New Zealand.

1/30/12 Reeva Wortel
Wortel talks about her work painting portraits in collaboration with Fondakowski on Spill.

Download: audio, small video, or original.

5/7/14 Leigh Fondakowski
Fondakowski talks about her upcoming work on a TV miniseries based on the research that went into her prior play, The People’s Temple, about the Jonestown massacre. She stresses faithfulness to history, the public domain, and interviews, and her direct involvement as screenwriter. She considers how to work with the medium of television to communicate dramatic narrative, and compares the faculties of theater and TV for this purpose. She considers the relevance of the Jonestown story to current American political culture and relates aspects of the history which need repopularizing. She reflects on her recently completed play Spill and how its intense “physicality” and adjoining portrait gallery engaged its audiences. She considers the prevalence of themes of loss and tragedy in her work, opposite those of love and art in Casa Cushman. She considers how large-scale human-made disasters can be acknowledged but ignored, and identifies a calling in her work for ordinary people’s ownership of ethically charged actions.

Download: audio, small video, or original.

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