San Diego Playwrights recently talked with playwright Michael Vegas Mussman and director Samantha Goldstein about their San Diego Fringe show “Backstage Drama”.
Tell us about yourselves.
Michael Vegas Mussman: I’ve been playing around with art of improvisation for a couple years. When I started taking classes and performing at local improv theatres, I discovered this funky little community of improvisers. We improv people are so funny. To me, we seem like a bunch of grownup kids who loved doing theatre in high school and never wanted to quit, so we just keep running up on stage – even well into middle-age. And we do it for free! So I decided to write about these weirdos and all the drama we get into. This is my second show at SD Fringe. Last year I wrote a one-act called “Kidnapping Lola” that was produced by Actors Alliance.
Samantha Goldstein: I’ve been acting and directing in San Diego community theater for about eight years now. It’s just a labor of love for me. In the past year, I’ve directed two shows at Patio Playhouse in Escondido and have a third coming up. I’m also currently acting in “Clybourne Park” at that theater. I joined up with the “Backstage Drama” crew through a recommendation from Ronnell, who plays Angela. She and I met doing a 24 Hour Theater Festival and she liked my style. I’m very grateful because this is an amazingly talented and enthusiastic bunch of people, and Michael’s play is hilarious and fun.
Tell us about your play.
Michael Vegas Mussman: “Backstage Drama” is a comedy about an improv trio called Fruit Hole. The script calls for every other scene to be improvised. So it’s a hybrid of scripted dialogue with scenes that are made up on the spot. No two shows will be the same. I like to think of it as my love letter to the improv community. So I added a bunch of inside jokes for the improv people in the audience.
Samantha Goldstein: “Backstage Drama,” as Michael explained it to me, has some similarities to the great British play “Noises Off,” in the sense that the inner workings (and soft underbelly) of a theater performance are exposed by literally turning the show backwards. The audience gets to see both the improv performance, in which the participants are confident, seasoned and skilled, and the shenanigans backstage, where jealousies, insecurities and missed emotional connections are revealed.
What are your challenges? What are your successes?
Michael Vegas Mussman: It wasn’t enough for me to write a script; I’m also producing my own show. The challenges are always the same – coming up with money, booking rehearsal space, figuring out everyone’s schedule, all those boring logistics. But the biggest success is finding six people who are willing to put on a play. All I did was ask, “Hey you want to be in my play?” I was shocked at how quickly these artists volunteered. Their enthusiasm has made it all worthwhile.
Samantha Goldstein: So far, the challenge is just getting all the people in one place at the same time. Everyone is busy with work and other projects, so scheduling the rehearsals has been a bit of a challenge. Luckily, I’m shielded from a lot of that by Michael’s tireless efforts. The success is seeing how “game” everyone is to try stuff. Sometimes when I’m directing, actors recoil from my goofier ideas because they worry about looking silly. This bunch is not concerned. 😉
What is your next step?
Michael Vegas Mussman: Next we’ve got to promote, promote, promote and sell some tickets! After the Fringe Festival, I’m going to take a long nap. Then I’m going to concentrate on writing longer works for the theatre. Eventually I’ll move away from the little comedies and do more experimentation.
Samantha Goldstein: More rehearsals, with everyone there! The more we practice, the better it’s all going to look. I’m feeling very confident about the show being both hysterical and full of heart. Oh, and next step for me? Like Michael said, a long nap. I’ve done back-to-back shows for a year now, and will still be producing another show and moving into another house this summer, so I have to calm down for at least a few weeks! (I say this with mock-frustration—the fact is, I’m like Tinkerbell, and can’t exist without applause. Which means whatever break I take must be mercifully brief.)
Thanks for talking with us Michael and Samantha! Break a leg with “Backstage Drama”!
Fri June 24 @ 4pm
Sun June 26 @ 1pm
Mon June 27 @ 6pm
Wed June 29 @ 8pm
Sat July 2 @ 9pm
For more information visit sdfringe.org.