Grading on a Curve follows a bored artist with intense feelings of ennui. This leads her to embark on an epic hunger strike, complete with delusions, observations and yearnings- especially for nacho cheese.
About the Playwright
|Writer and artist A.V. Phibes|
A.V. Phibes is a mostly self-taught illustrator/designer based in Brooklyn, who has been working professionally in New York for nearly a decade.
As a freelance Illustrator, Phibes has done work for plays, events, catalogs, websites, party clowns and fire-eaters. She's also done illustrations for books published by Little-Brown, Penguin and Andrews McMeel. She's worked on staff in the design departments of Steve Madden, Acme Tees, Neu Industries and now-defunct teen website Sweet16.com.
Through her own company, Evilkid Productions, she has been producing original artwork and designs in her trademark cartoon style. Evilkid designs have been licensed for a wide array of products which have occasionally turned up in such places as Target, Urban Outfitters, Hot Topic and Spencer Gifts.
Phibes has shown her artwork in shows at Trinity Gallery in Philedelphia and Blue Ruin Gallery in Pittsburgh. She has also had art featured in the annual Dirty Detroit Show and the Seattle Erotic Art Festival.
For more information on A. V. Phibes click here.
An interview with the ladies of GRADING ON A CURVE
On January 31, 2008 Audacity Theatre Lab sent director Ruth Ann Engel and actress Jamie Marchi to Austin, Texas to present A.V. Phibes' one-person show at the Hyde Park Theatre's FronteraFest. FronteraFest is an annual 5-week, multi-venue "fringe" festival presenting over 800 theatre artists/companies from around the nation. Named "Best Theatrical Event" by the Austin Critics' Table, FronteraFest has garnered audience praise and critical acclaim. It remains the largest fringe theatre festival in the Southwestern United States. What follows is an interview with the ladies that put on this show, conducted by ATL's Artistic Director Brad McEntire.
AUDACITY THEATRE LAB: Ruth, Alia and Jamie - Thanks for agreeing to this informal interview. Alia, let's start with you. GRADING ON A CURVE was not originally a one-woman theatre piece. When and for what did you originally write GRADING ON A CURVE?
AV PHIBES: I wrote GOAC back in 1999 not long after I moved to New York and still had designs on being a fiction writer. Amazon.com was sponsoring a short fiction contest with a $10,000 prize and I wrote the story with the intent of winning that contest, which, obviously I didn't. It's a testament to my youthful naivete and blind overconfidence that I actually thought I was going to win.
ATL: What has surprised you most about the stage life of GRADING ON A CURVE?
AVP: What surprises me most is that it has a stage life at all. Since, outside the support of Audacity Productions [and now Audacity Theatre Lab], the story was met with pretty much no response at all, I assumed that the story was just going to be another dead-in-the-water endeavor. But thanks to Audacity, it's managed to have a whole new life and get some positive feedback, which I appreciate.
ATL: Ms. Engel, how did you come across the script to GRADING ON A CURVE and what drew you to it as a director?
RUTH ANN ENGEL: I had seen the script in an earlier staging when Audacity [Productions] used it as the opening act for THE LAST CASTRATO. I thought it was just a brilliant script. I love the dry wit and rapid pace of the piece, not to mention the language. This script is ripe with so many possibilities and is so tightly written. It's just great fun to work on.
ATL: Alia, you are actually known more as a graphic artist more than a playwright. In fact, you've worn many artistic hats over the years. Cartoonist. Filmmaker. Sideshow performer. Illustrator. Cat Owner. How does being a playwright fit in with your many guises?
AVP: I'd say I've pretty much lived a life of obsessive dilettantism. Of being extremely focused on what I'm doing at any given time and then almost immediately thereafter losing interest and moving on to something else. This has produced a life full of half-assery, unfinished projects and existential malaise. Although if I may have a moment of megalomaniacal self-congratulation, I have been more successful being half-assed than many people using their entire asses! Still, I live in constant remorse that I am not living up to the potential of my full ass. I suppose I've found that the beauty of playwriting (or my paltry facsimile thereof), is that other people pick up the slack. There are producers and directors and actors to make something complete in a way that I probably could never execute of my own accord.
ATL: Ms. Marchi, in GRADING ON A CURVE, you play the protagonist, an artist, perhaps with touches of dilettantism, who develops cannibalistic tendancies arising from an intense ennui. Has boredom ever led you to do something extreme?
JAMIE MARCHI: Well, I've never been so bored I needed to do something as drastic as quit eating and/or chew on my fingers. However, I have spent my fair share of too much time online as well as watched a few too many television programs that only have commercials for the army and vo-techs.
ATL: You and director Ruth Engel worked on the piece over a few weeks before taking it to Austin's Frontera Fest. One-person pieces are difficult usually because the production team is so small, therefore the concentration on progress must be a little more heightened. A level of focus is higher comparatively with the rehearsals of a traditional play with a large cast, full crew and the like. How was the working relationship between you and Ruth?
JM: Awful. That Ruth Engel; I tell you.... It was great! Anyone who knows Ruth will tell you she's great to work with. It helps that we're both friends. Ruth took a lot of time putting me into the right space for the character, and she was a terrific director. More importantly, we are very popular in Irish bars.
ATL: Ms. Engel, same sort of question. How was your experience working on a one-woman piece in general and how was it working with Ms. Marchi in particular?
RAE: It is a challenge but I truly enjoy it. I like the intimate rehearsals and the ability to have a very narrow focus, giving all my attention to just one person. However, it does add the element to my part to help the actor keep the story going through creative blocking, props, and set pieces. It keeps me on my toes and constantly looking for new approaches. As for working with Ms. Marchi, she is a gem. She is smart, talented, beautiful and she brings so much to the piece. She takes directions beautifully, is tremendously playful and up for anything. Not to mention she does not back away from throwing out her suggestions. This is immensely helpful for me when I am the only one in the room watching. For me, collaboration in a production is a must.
ATL: Ms. Marchi, you've performed GRADING ON A CURVE before, though not with Ms. Engel as the director. How is it returning to something like this? Has your take on it changed?
JM: I first performed GRADING ON A CURVE about four years ago. I've had quite the four years myself since then, so it's interesting for me to follow my process of personal growth and how it translates into this performance. The changes from the original performance are pretty significant. I think I love performing this monologue so much due to my narcissistic need to follow my emotional growth. That and the spotlight. I don't have to share it with ANYONE!....I am an actor after all.
ATL: Ms. Engel, you also have experience with the piece. You originally directed GRADING ON A CURVE in Hong Kong last year? How has your take on the piece changed?
RAE: The first time I directed it I was more focused on the audience and entertaining them as opposed to just telling a story. I focused a lot on the mechanicals of the piece. And due to circumstances I tried to fit the piece into a peg that I wasn't as happy with (i.e. a waitress in a diner). This time around, I tried to let the story and character tell me what it wanted to be and where it wanted to go.
ATL: Ms. Marchi, how did you originally get interested in theatre and acting?
JM: When you have no particular set of skills, there are only a few things you can do. I like to talk and have people listen, so acting was a no-brainer. You know, I really hate this question. So many people have these great "moments" that called them to acting like God calls preachers to the church. God didn't call me to acting. I just have always thought it was fun. That's my great lame story. I think it's fun. How boring is that?!
ATL: And Ms. Engel, same question. What drew to the theatre?
RAE: Well my journey was a long one. I've always loved the stage but never thought of it as a career. I remember in the 2nd grade my class did a comic staging of Columbus receiving his commission to find the New World and I played Queen Isabella. But that was where I saw theatre for me, as a hobby and nothing more, that is until after I had taken some PhD classes in English Literature and decided that wasn't what I wanted. I knew my schooling wasn't over yet and my brother suggested theatre. So I enrolled in theatre classes at TWU [Texas Woman's University] and told myself I'd give it a semester. I was there for four years and I've never looked back. I couldn't be happier now!
ATL: Alia, now that you've had this experience with GRADING ON A CURVE, how's your take on playwriting? Do you plan to write more for the stage?
AVP: I would like to say "Yes! Definitely!" but when it comes to artistic projects, I'm a slippery eel who can't be trusted. I could tell you to your face that I am going to sit down today and write a three-act play about two suicides whose ghosts are haunting the same apartment that's like "Beetlejuice" meets "Before Sunrise," but then I'll go play nintendo wii and watch youtube videos all day instead. Or maybe I'll just come up with "high concept pitches" all day. It's like "Serpico" meets "All Dogs Go To Heaven!" It's like "Kramer vs. Kramer" in space!
ATL: Ladies, thanks so much for your time. One last question before we sign off. Artistically, what is next up for you?
JM: You can currently hear my voice on IFC in Witchblade as well as other anime on The Cartoon Network. I've been doing voices for anime for almost 6 years now, and I'm getting more immersed into that market. I've got more acting plans on the horizon, but I'm really, really lazy, so we'll see if anything happens.
REA: Well currently I'm trying to learn the producing side of things with the Undermain Theatre in Dallas for their show GREENDALE. As for independent projects, I am working with two playwrights developing two different scripts that I hope to get up on their feet by summer.
AVP: My goal this year is to get a book or two published. I'm trying to come up with ideas dumb enough to sell a zillion copies and make me rich. Something like "The Get Rich Quick Diet: Life Lessons I Learned From My Dog while Surviving Cancer." Oprah is going to eat that up! But in all seriousness, see above [answer regarding me as a] slippery eel.