Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: The play, Paper Trails, is appearing as part of the Hollywood Fringe Festival. What inspired you and the other playwrights to tell this collection of stories, and how would you describe your creative process in bringing them to life?
CJ Hoke: The other playwrights and I were inspired by each other, to be honest - we’d all been writing our own shorts, and realized at some point that many of them were thematically connected - from there, a collection of those connected plays seemed like the perfect way to put our work out into the world, and the Fringe Festival happened along at exactly the right time to support that.
My creative process tends to be fairly collaborative. Once the play’s written, I think of the script as a blueprint, where it’s up to the director and actors to fully build the piece from it. Snow has a fun balance of quick patter and quiet moments - Nate [Myers, the director of Snow] and I had a number of conversations about what the rhythms and silences looked like, and how the humor and meaning in the piece can exist and thrive between the lines.
We’ve also had to collaborate with the other playwrights and directors given the limitations of the space and our time slot - it’s hard to do three full plays in thirty minutes! We found that we had to make creative choices not just for our own show, but for the good of all the shows in the collection. At one point, Nate and I had wanted to use a projector in Snow, but quickly realized it wasn’t feasible - the projector would have needed to be on through the other two plays, and it proved too distracting in the background. That’s the exciting part of this process, though - since we couldn’t use the projector without disruption, we needed another way to get information across, and that led us to finding the opening monologue Chrissie [the actress playing Lacey in Snow] now delivers so well. That monologue wound up being such a gift - it sets up the world of our play much better than the projection would have, and lets people know that even though our subject matter is bleak, they’re allowed (and encouraged) to laugh.
BD: What can you tell us about the process of working with the cast and crew of the shorts?
CJH: It’s been exciting, exacting, and educational! I was already friends with the other playwrights, producers, and directors, so a lot of the process was learning to work with them in a professional capacity as well. We spent a lot of time figuring out each other’s strengths - but mostly, our schedules! It was more challenging than we anticipated to produce three plays on top of our full-time jobs - but the results have been all the more rewarding for it.
Paper Trails has the best cast we could hope for, honestly - Helen Burak and Audra Leffingwell in Dear Diary are hysterical and break my heart every performance playing two versions of the same young woman, while Amanda Noriko Newman absolutely captivates in Eguchi, not only with her storytelling abilities, but with the precision of her object work and use of the space. In terms of Snow, Nate and I have been so lucky to work with Christine Weatherup since the play’s inception last summer. Chrissie was the first actress to read for Lacey at The Sandbox (a directors’ collective in Hollywood), and we just fell in love with her interpretation of the character. Tim came along specifically for Fringe, and we’re so grateful - we auditioned several people for the role of Glenn, but Tim came in with such a deep understanding of the material and such an immediate connection with Chrissie onstage, the choice was obvious. I’ve sat in on a few rehearsals, and honestly could not be more impressed with the way they work together and with Nate - their comedic timing, their connections, the precision of their movements… Seriously, they’re both terrific, and any casting director reading this should hire them right away.
BD: What do you hope that audiences will take away from the show?
CJH: Each play is about legacy - personal, familial, or national - and the ways in which it informs our actions. I hope the audience takes away a feeling of hope and of progress - that by looking to our pasts, we can better understand our futures and ourselves. From Snow particularly, I hope they take a feeling of civic responsibility - call your reps! Our President’s actions are not normal, nor should they be!
BD: What makes the Hollywood Fringe Festival an ideal venue for Paper Trails?
CJH: There’s an openness to Fringe that has made it the ideal space - people are willing to give shorter plays a chance, and to open themselves up to all the possibilities of the theatrical form. The Fringe Community has been hugely supportive of new artists and new work, too - we’ve gotten great encouragement and word-of-mouth from fellow Fringe participants, which has helped us sell out every performance of our run. Fringe shows also feel fairly flexible - we’ve been able to adjust our scripts, lighting, and performances from show to show in ways we might not have been able to in a larger venue at a different time, and that workshopping has helped make our show even stronger as it’s progressed.
BD: The show will be appearing at Studio C through June 29th, 2019. Will you continue the production at other venues following this run?
CJH: Our production won the Encore Producers' Award, and we'll have another performance on July 27th at 5 p.m. at Studio C! Tickets should go on sale in the next day or so.
BD: Are there any upcoming projects that you would care to share with our readers?
CJH: Off the Page Productions is currently developing some new stage work for production later this year, so keep your eyes peeled! On my own, I’ve been finishing a collection of comedic short plays and am currently planning a live-read of a half-hour pilot I wrote earlier this year.
BD: Lastly, what would you like to tell readers who want to learn more about and purchase tickets for Paper Trails?
CJH: If you’d like to learn more about our production, check us out on the HFF site. We’re also all over social media, as well (@papertrailsplay). Find us there!
written by Helen Burak
directed by Molly Shalgos and Helen Burak
starring Audra Leffingwell and Helen Burak
written by Isabelle Moreau
directed by Joanna Cross
starring Amanda Noriko Newman
written by CJ Hoke
directed by Nate Myers
starring Christine Weatherup and Tim Dvorak
produced by Jillian Profeta
6448 Santa Monica Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90038
June 29th @ 9:30pm
$7 at http://hff19.org/6198