While the world has been on lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, five artists have used the turbulent times to find inspiration and hone their crafts, efforts that have been rewarded by being selected for the Eugene O’Neill Foundation's prestigious Travis Bogard Artist in Residence Program.
From a nationwide pool of applicants, the program gives selected theater scholars, playwrights and critics an unparalleled opportunity to create in famed American playwright Eugene O'Neill's former Danville home, the Tao House.
The foundation selected five individuals for the fellowship, who organizers say are working on projects that run the gamut, but predominantly are focused around the theme of how to create art in the middle of a pandemic.
A Nobel laureate in literature, O’Neill was the first artist in residence at Tao House, where he lived from 1937 to 1944 and created some of his most famous plays such as "Long Day's Journey into Night" and "A Moon for the Misbegotten," among other works.
The five winners chosen for this year's program are:
* A professor at Reed College, Kate Bredeson plans to spend her time with the program working on her forthcoming book, "A Lifetime of Resistance, the Diaries of Judith Malina."
Foundation staff say Bredeson contends that the contributions Malina -- a German-born American actress and co-founder of New York’s Living Theatre -- has made toward theatre history have largely been overlooked.
“She outlined her passion and vision in her diary entries. My project is to edit these entries into a book for students, theatre historians, artists, and general readers,” Bredeson said.
* Mime and novice playwright, Foundation officials say Bill Bowers intends to use his time at the Tao House developing his new play "Between Us."
Inspired by his experience of contracting COVID and living for months in quarantine, Bowers said that during that time he ended up becoming a "Zoom maven."
“What do we gain and lose as we exist in this pandemic,” Bowers asked, adding that he intends to try and answer these questions through the program. “How do we find community, and how does isolation bring us together in a shared experience?”
* A founding member of improvisational and interactive theatre company RePlay, Chuck Goodin has spent the last decade with theatrical nonprofits working with underserved youth.
For his time at O'Neill's former place of inspiration, Goodin plans to develop their new work "Fort Hope," a three-act play that tells the story of Andy Tallman, a young man who must find a way to excuse himself from burdensome family obligations
“I began this endeavor by attending the Eugene O’Neill Festival in New Ross, Ireland,” Goodin said. “I have been a fan of O’Neill’s work since my college days.”
* Playwright Jennifer Maisel says she will be working on a piece inspired by another famed writer, that she calls "Yellow Wallpaper 2020."
“When shelter-in-place was instituted last year my mind kept returning to Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s 1892 feminist short story, 'The Yellow Wallpaper,'” Maisel said. “My project, 'Yellow Wallpaper 2020,' will explore a female professor trying to write a paper on Gilman and her story when the COVID crisis forces the professor into isolation.”
"Yellow Wallpaper 2020" tells the tale of a woman confined to her room by her physician husband, who has diagnosed her with hysteria, a tale that some aspects will undoubtedly be familiar to many who have lived through the pandemic.
* The final recipient of the Travis Bogard Artist in Residence Program Minghao Tu plans to work on "A Silkworm Play," while at Tao House, which will focus on another type of quarantine, that of two silkworms in a shoebox.
Tu remembers being fascinated by these animals as a child in China and that memory will play a key role in their work, as Foundation officials say it did in some of O'Neill's work created at Tao House.
“My play will reimagine that childhood memory from the silkworms’ point of view,” Tu said.