Meet the young playwright Lillian Mottern. She's written and is now staging “Finding P.H. Wolstone” at Young Actors Studio February 8 and 9.
(NoHo's official motto really should be: "NoHo is only as great as its people.")
What is “Finding P.H. Wolstone” about?
“Finding P.H. Wolstone” is a play about strangers, specifically what happens when people who don’t know each other somehow, by circumstance and chance, find each other. It is also about the marvelous absurdity of being a human being. I think in real life we are taught to put up barriers around ourselves; to squeeze ourselves tightly into the worlds we are expected to dwell within. So this play really looks at what would happen if several really specific worlds collided. It’s also a really humorous show, we’ve got a lot of laughs. I’d summarize the plot like this: P.H. Wolstone was a somewhat popular found-objects artist, known for his remarkable and often questionably acquired art pieces. Then, he disappeared. Fast forward thirty years and ten New Yorkers find their lives remarkably intertwined in the course of a single day in November. While the outcomes are different and often strange, their lives will be irreversibly altered. Featuring a walrus, an existential crisis, a spatula, and an elusive artist with a sordid past, Finding P.H. Wolstone is a play about the peculiarities of being human and the strange ways our stories collide.
What are the run dates/times/ticketing?
Our performance dates are Friday, February 8th & Saturday, February 9th, both at 8:00 pm at the NoHo Actor's Studio, 5215 Lankershim Blvd, North Hollywood, CA. Tickets are available for purchase at https://fphw.brownpapertickets.com/. We also have a Facebook event: https://www.facebook.com/events/2035909919858322/.
Rehearsal shot - Amanda Elosseini, Alex Goodale, Evie Nootenboom - Photo: Zaphir Adams
When did you realize you wanted to be a playwright?
I actually started writing plays when I was really little. In second grade I wrote an epic drama about a kid named Violet who’d run into some trouble with a witch...yes that was the premise. I wrote it all out by hand with a pen in a pink notebook I had and I cast all my best friends in the lead roles. Pro tip: casting people in plays is a good way to get a cult following as an eight-year-old. I started writing theatre seriously when I was fifteen and became interested in writing for musical theatre. My one act musical “Lavender Nicholson Is Not Okay” premiered last May at Pasadena City College and went on the win The Foundation for New American Musicals’ 2018 Show Search competition. It’s a musical about the complicated relationships between mothers and daughters and sisters and follows Lavender Nicholson, a young woman dealing with the aftermath of her older sister’s death. I often find myself writing about female characters. I think that stories about women and their experiences are really underrepresented in the theater but really important to tell. As a female playwright, I think I have a remarkable ability in that I am able to write about a side of life that has, in my opinion, been incorrectly portrayed for years in all artistic mediums, including theatre. Female characters continue to be bland and I recently saw a play at the Mark Taper downtown that disappointed me terribly with its portrayal of the female characters. And this was at the Taper! The female experience is often very specific and this makes it very interesting. And interesting things make for good theatre! After winning Show Search I became interested in writing straight plays. I’ve always loved reading plays — my favorite playwrights are Edward Albee and Lillian Hellman — and if you really, really, love something I think you just want to start making it too. Like, if you love cake, then maybe you start baking your own cake. Writing plays is the same thing except with a lot more stress and a lot fewer chances of burning things, except maybe your mouth on your seventh cup of coffee. Right now I’m writing a new play that I’m really excited about. The plan is to keep writing and continue putting up my shows and working on other people’s shows to gain experience. Eventually, I’m going to move out to New York to pursue theatre there. Los Angeles is great but New York can’t be beaten and when I visit New York City know I belong there.
Have you taken writing classes?
I was involved in a musical theatre writing workshop at the Wallis Annenberg Centre for the Performing Arts two years ago. I learned a lot about writing musical theatre in the workshop but branched out into straight plays on my own. I read a lot of plays and that helps me understand how to structure things, but other than that I just write what I think is interesting. I think there’s definitely something to be said for taking writing classes but just putting up your own productions as I’m doing with “Finding P.H. Wolstone” is, in my opinion, the best way to learn. It goes beyond theatre, I’ve learned so much about myself as a person from working with people on shows. It’s a lot of work but it’s extremely fun. As a writer, I also observe and record things I see and hear in various notebooks which I then sometimes scour for interesting tidbits to write about. I think everyone is different, but for me, the best way to learn how to do something is to just go do it. I’m also directing “P.H. Wolstone”, making this show the seventh I’ve directed. I enjoy directing very much and hope to continue directing my own shows and other people’s shows as well. Honestly, I love every aspect of theatre except moving set pieces, but I still do that anyway.
Rehearsal shot (l-r) Saer Black, Zaphir Adams, Alex Goodale - Photo: Vance Redmon
What are your college plans?
Right now I’m a sophomore at Pasadena City College and will be transferring to a university this fall. I’m applying to a lot of schools on the East Coast because I want to be close to New York. My top choices are NYU, Barnard, Columbia, and The New School. I love Los Angeles and there is definitely a lot of room to experiment in the theatre here, but I’m aiming for Broadway, man!
What's your affiliation with the fine folks at Young Actors Studio?
I got involved in Andrew Shafer’s young adult playwriting lab at the Young Actor’s Studio last summer. It’s a great place. We drink a lot of coffee and talk about plays and every week we read scenes from new pieces by young writers. In my head I refer to the lab as “the teenage Bloomsbury Group” but I’ve yet to share this title with anyone else. Except now, you, Lisa. Andrew Shafer is the epitome of awesome -- he is incredibly encouraging and his notes are gold. He is also extremely intelligent and he wears really nice cardigans which is all a person needs ultimately.
Most of the cast (l-r) Jules Eng, Saer Black, Esteban Espuny, Jack Ventimilia, Arielle Davalos - Photo: Vance Redmon
Tell us some more about the cast and crew.
I’m madly in love with them all! We have a fantastic cast. I held auditions but ended up casting most of the show with people I had worked with before or seen perform in other plays. That said, I found some fantastic new faces through the audition process. One of my favorite things in the world is finding new actors to work with. It is truly magical to see someone you don’t know perform in a show and to whisper to yourself in the dark of the theatre “I simply MUST cast this person” and then go and cast them. This particular cast especially is one I’m very proud of putting together. They are each spectacular on their own and as an ensemble they are magic.
The crew is the greatest. Most of us are under the age of twenty-two and everyone is devastatingly committed to the theatre. We really live and breathe it. You have to understand, the theatre has a glittering history, filled with rogues and fabulosity and as theatre people, we truly stand on the shoulders of those who came before us -- great writers, directors, and actors like Carol Channing, Lillian Hellman, and Margaret Webster. But a person can’t do this fully without understanding that striving for true theatricality is what it’s all about. In other words, drink coffee, wear /stoles/turtlenecks/men's shoes/fur coats, call some people darling, work really hard, kiss some people on the cheek in greeting, and love theatre so much you think you are going to die, which, admittedly, is an unfortunate image, but one that about sums it up. My crew is made up of people who seem to me to be attempting to live their lives theatrically, and thus, they are the perfect team. Also: they are all freakishly hard workers. No one’s gettin’ paid, either, so this is even more impressive. Also, side note, most of the crew is female, which I think is awesome! I didn't set out with the intention to create a female-driven crew but that’s just sort of how it came about. Women in theatre bring more women into the theatre and that’s so fantastic. And my crew is incredibly dedicated. Another interesting note about the production team is that we’re doing this show with a production company my friends started, called Grubby Pumpkin Productions. Our executive producer Arielle Davalos is the driving force behind Grubby Pumpkin Productions and has been instrumental in finding and connecting a lot of the production team. My AD, Evie Nootenboom is an old friend and we used to do community theatre together when we were ten! We often speak fondly of the iconic director of our community theatre shows, a woman who really inspired us both to go into theatre. A former Broadway actress, she directed every one of her shows like it was going’ to Broadway, but the thing is, every show she put on turned out incredibly great. I learned a lot from her; specifically, that a person must always create with the intention of creating something great. Broadway-worthy.
The crew (l-r) Evie Nootenboom (assistant director), Lillian Mottern (writer & director), Arielle Davalos (producer), Nicole Sotis (stage manager) - Photo: Vance Redmon
Is there something you'd like to highlight?
I’d like to highlight that I think it’s really freaking cool that such young people are putting up a full production, with the intention of making something really awesome! We’re not just fooling around in a black box, we’re throwing ourselves into creating a professional piece of theatre that means something. I’m super lucky to have such a great group of people to create theatre with. It’s my opinion that my generation, Generation Z, will do especially amazing stuff just because we’ve seen a lot and had to figure a lot out for ourselves. I don’t think young people have ever been more involved in the politics of our country than they are today and with people like Emma Gonzalez who has such a large presence in our current political climate, voicing their opinions and igniting change, it’s my hope that my generation will change a lot of things and make our country as inclusive and beautiful as it was meant to be. And theatre is just a part of this change. The stories we tell onstage have the power to influence people. Theatre also has the ability to show us humanity for what it is; the worst sides, the best sides, and the just human sides, which honestly, are equally terrible and beautiful. And humanity, shown in its rawest form, can give people hope and remind us that we’re all very similar. That’s what I meant about the absurdity of humanity earlier. People are absurd. They make no sense. They are never one thing. They are confusing and pathetic and funny and beautiful and marvelous. That’s why I love writing about them so much. I love people. Also, it seems, I often write about aquatic animals. Alex Goodale who plays art enthusiast Patricia Pringle in the show has pointed this out to me several times and she’s right. Most of my plays feature some kind of aquatic animal. “P.H. Wolstone” has walruses and turtles. A different play had a goldfish named Fred. In any case, if you’re inclined towards hilarious jokes about walruses, you’ve got to be at our show. You must see what we’ve been doing. It’s extraordinarily thrilling, darling!
Rehearsal shot - Jeff Alan-Lee and Jules Eng - Photo: Vance Redmon
About Young Actors Studio
The Young Actor’s Studio is an acting school dedicated to developing the young actor’s craft through classes, workshops, and productions. Our founder/current artistic director, Jeff Alan-Lee, was a child actor who subsequently taught and directed at various private/public schools and youth shelters, as well as teaching/directing at The Lee Strasberg Institute in both New York and Los Angeles. Founded in 1996, The Young Actor’s Studio was created as a supportive and nurturing environment for young actors to develop their craft. While the school has grown a lot since the initial ten students, we are still committed to excellent teaching in a supportive and close-knit environment.
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