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  • Writer's pictureMolly Adea

Check out Lily Padilla's interview with the San Diego Union Tribune about How to Defend Yourself

Photo by Jim Carmody

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The 2018 edition of the Wagner New Play Festival — the annual showcase for student artists in the University of California San Diego’s graduate theater program — is now under way. (Check out our preview piece on the festival.)

And among the playwrights in the spotlight is Lily Padilla, whose piece “How to Defend Yourself” begins performances Friday.

We caught up with Padilla for a quick Q&A on the fest and her experiences in the nationally renowned MFA program:

Q: What’s the experience of having a piece in the Wagner Festival like for a writer, in terms of collaboration and play development?

A: The Wagner New Play Festival is an incredible opportunity for us to see our ideas from inception to production. We start with a pitch or a chunk of new pages. In my process, new pages are always a bundle of impulses — trying to throw things at the wall to see what I'm really trying to make and say.

Our program is intimate (five to seven writers form a cohort at any given time) — they read work and offer feedback (and) help you pull the threads of what your idea might be.

Then, the New Play Workshop is an opportunity to hear fresh pages aloud with actors, directors and playwriting faculty. It's always thrilling and totally terrifying. It's like, “Will the copy machine work?" “Are my pages good enough?" "Am I doing what I'm trying do?” And "What am I trying to do?" So, we can bring our WNPF plays into the New Play Workshop to be read aloud and receive people's reactions and questions.

Then, we have a workshop in the winter quarter — about 3 months before we begin production It's three nights of rehearsal where you're basically trying to learn as much as you can about the play, trying out new scenes which leads up to a public reading.

One beautiful aspect of UCSD is that the actors get really invested in play development. I consider them incredibly important collaborators — they know more about the character's journey than I do because they're living the play on their bodies. I ask for a lot of feedback and collaboration from them — I think of the character as sort of an outline, and when I get in the room with the folks who will be playing the characters, there's a mutual listening and trying that helps me tailor the character into something which fits that unique actor.

Q: I understand you trained for a long time as an actor before turning to playwriting. How do you feel the UCSD MFA program has served that passion and pursuit?

A: Yes! I was an actor basically from 6 years old on — I went to North Carolina School of the Arts and New York University before coming here. I've often acted in my classmates’ work when we are doing table reads, which is a blast. Mostly, I've realized a desire to direct during my time here.

The directors I've worked with on WNPF — Dylan Key, Kim Rubinstein and Kim Walsh — have all been highly collaborative and encouraged my ideas on staging, tempo, intention. These collaborations have revealed my instincts as a director in exciting ways. I've taken directing classes here at school — we're allowed to audit whatever our schedule and energy allows.

One beautiful reclaiming here at graduate school is my voice. I was a classical singer most of my life until going to college. I've taken voice lessons with the incredible Linda Vickerman, which have been a personal revelation and profoundly connected to writing — what is it to free your voice into a room of people, to let them listen to you? To feel you can't control it anymore.

Amazingly, it's that place where you feel your voice is outside of your body, free in the room, where it is really at its best and fullest sound.

Q: What has it been like to develop and rehearse “How to Defend Yourself” for this year’s festival – have there been particular challenges or revelations?

A: It has been beautiful, tough, delicate, terrifying, cozy, lonely, full — a full range of emotions. The play is about how we relate to our bodies, desires and belonging inside of a misogynist, violent world. The characters are in and of rape culture. They are full human beings who feel and cause pain. They're 17-21 years old. They're figuring it out. The play is intentionally messy and confused.

So our challenge has been, where do we find stability? How do we go into these moments of trauma and really feel it? And how do we come out of that so we can function and be healthy?

We started the process with a visit from Allison Johnson and Jenna Jones — therapists from the Center for Community Solutions, San Diego's Rape Crisis Center, who helped us learn some grounding techniques. Kim Rubinstein (the director) has continued to hold this work and often we will ground together as a cast — looking out the window and simply naming what we see.

She encourages the cast to walk together and keep naming, to stand on their feet, to be present to their bodies in this exact moment. The cast is incredibly invested, talented and smart. Kim is an amazing director for this piece — she wants to touch the interior of these people's beings. The play oscillates between what we feel and what we show.

Q: It seems as though you’ve done a wide range of work, including co-creating a piece in La Jolla Playhouse’s WoW Festival last year. Do you feel as though the MFA program and the festival encourage you to push boundaries?

A: Certainly. WNPF is an enormous, beautiful challenge each year. It's a fast process of workshop to tech in what feels like minutes. It's given me the opportunity to forge new, powerful, lifelong collaborations and discover new aspects of myself.

The opportunity and pressure of production has pushed my writing to another level of speed and directness — what do I really need the audience to know and experience? Particularly with this play, which is highly physical — we're in a self-defense workshop — having the play produced teaches me much more about how it needs to work than a reading.

I get to learn about its physical metabolism, its sound metabolism. It becomes much more a full piece of theater — with its music and its sculpture and its movement — than a piece of literature.

(Taken from the San Diego Union Tribune website)

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