NAME: Stephen Foglia
HOMETOWN, COUNTRY: St. Louis, USA
NAME OF THESIS PROJECT: Outer Banks
MENTOR: Sharr White
Can you provide me with a brief synopsis about your play or project that you are presenting as part of your thesis?
One sunny afternoon on a North Carolina beach, Junie’s twin sister disappeared without a trace. Two years later, no sign of the missing woman has surfaced, and Junie’s family has decided it is time to say goodbye. But Junie may not be ready. She begins to receive mysterious messages that might just be coming from her sister. By the brackish waters of the Neuse River, the borders between worlds grow porous, and death’s door opens.
Can you tell me a little bit about the origin of this play? Where did the idea come from? Did you work on it in class?
The seed of the play was an event I was sort of a proximate witness to when I was maybe eleven or twelve. A drowning that occurred near my summer camp. If I ever actually knew any concrete information about what happened, I promise you it has been long overwritten. But the tragedy left a pretty heavy impression, and the version that’s come down in my mind was that a young mother had her two little kids at the beach with her and next thing she knew they were gone. The idea – or I guess, you know, the reality – of sudden, accidental death was very disturbing to me then, and it is frankly no less disturbing to me now. Unless you have a pretty strong religious faith, death is a matter totally without redemption. So I can say that lingered for, what, almost twenty years until one day I was walking along the beach in North Carolina, and I realized I wanted to write about it.
I did not work on the play in class, though in the spring I brought some pages in to Chuck Mee’s class. The stuff I brought in was actually a first-person prose version of the story as I then understood it. I was hoping to find the voice that way and maybe lay my plot ideas out flat where I could see them. I’d learned that when my classmates were so open with their own writing, I needed to honor that by sharing what I was working on once in a while, even if there wasn’t anything there to talk about yet.
Who is your mentor? Why did you want them as your mentor?
Sharr White is a wonderful playwright and television writer. Alix Sobler actually passed me one of his plays, and that sent me down the rabbit hole. I’ll just paraphrase the letter I wrote him because it’s a pretty concise expression of what I love about his work: Sharr combines rich, lived-in detail (like the regional and biographical specificity of Annapurna) with precisely wrought structure, and rather than arriving at a play that locks itself in, his shows kick open a door into powerful emotional space. If you look at a play like The Other Place, it’s got the ingenious craftsmanship you expect in a thriller, but it’s this intimate drama about a woman losing her grasp on herself, what it’s like to have the tools she’s relied on her entire life, tools she actually identifies as central to who she is, stop working. By the end you feel like you’ve been run over. You’re crying like a baby. All his plays do that to me. The other thing is David works with Sharr on The Affair and told me that Sharr’s an incredibly kind, generous person, which has turned out to be true.
Is there a question that your play is asking, or that you were seeking to answer when you started writing this play?
I’ll dodge that question a bit and say part of what interests me in the story is probing how this extreme state the main character is in sort of shreds reality at the edges for her. That’s something I came across a lot in my research, and it intersects with who I am as a storyteller and the kinds of theatricality I find exciting.
What has been most challenging about this process?
Excavating early drafts is work, obviously. And some parts of this one have been really tough. But we haven’t started rehearsals and the rewriting that goes with that, so the real challenge hasn’t even arrived.
What would you like to be doing in 10 years?
Hiking with a dog in the mountains of Wyoming. But I sense you mean professionally? I hope I’m writing with ever more curiosity and commitment and with, to paraphrase How The Grinch Stole Christmas, a heart that’s two sizes larger than the one I have now. As someone who’s absolutely movie-mad, it would delight me to think I might be working on a film, among other projects.
Stephen Foglia uses diverse theatre forms to approach the intimacy of other lives and search out the magic lurking in the cracks of our experiences. In 2015, he wrote and directed a dance-theatre piece inspired by NASA’s Voyager program (Voyager) and an immersive detective story about mental illness (Mistress Of The House). Prior to arriving in New York, he adapted Ulysses and The 1,001 Nights for performance at the Dallas Museum Of Art. His play The Woodking’s Daughter was workshopped at Dixon Place. September Gurls, a time-skipping exploration of first best-friendship, debuted in 2016 at Columbia. Stephen is a member of Lincoln Center Directors Lab.