Monday, May 9, 2016

Q-and-A with Vincent Mraz

Vincent Mraz in THE ESCAPE PLAN

Vincent "Vinny" Mraz is a multidisplinary artist and educator based in Yonkers, New York. October 1st of last year he launched the sometimes soulful/sometimes funny/ always fascinating "100 Letters 100 Days" project. You can check it out at: 

He will be performing his solo show "The Escape Plan" at the 2016 Dallas Solo Fest. TSP got him to answer a few questions.

Here we go...

Q: Please give us a brief bio, where you are from and how you started in theatre/performance?

A: I grew up in Milford, CT about 15 minutes away from New Haven and 90 minutes from New York City. I started theater when I was in middle school after I saw my sister perform as one of the cards in "Alice in Wonderland" at the high school. I thought, "I want to do that..." I did the middle school drama club and then in high school went to the Educational Center for the Arts in New Haven which is an arts magnet high school. I was a part of the theater program there and was exposed to so many incredible artists and work that really started to form me as a serious theater maker. Being so close to Yale I was able to see a lot of theater coming out of their school and the rep company (I took it all for granted...only recently did I realize how lucky that was) as well as the Long Wharf Theater and Broadway shows in the city. It all got me into this world pretty quickly. A crash course in the theater. 

Q: What event or desire brought you specifically into the world of solo performance?

A: I never wanted to be a solo performer. When I started my graduate program at Sarah Lawrence I was dedicated to writing and directing and didn't think much about performing. Part of the program is to generate a capstone project which at the time was open to anything you wanted. I thought about writing a play but that was my focus throughout and I thought a solo would be a great challenge for myself, to both write and perform. It was really the necessity of needing to come up with a project for myself in addition to the desire to challenge myself in a new way that led me to the solo performance arena. 

Q: Could you tell us about some of your particular kind of of solo work?

A: That's hard to describe because I am always reinventing the wheel. Truthfully I'm always boring myself so when I sit down to write something new or begin a new project I think, "Ok, what can I do now that I haven't done before?" It's not exactly a sustainable model but at this point I want to explore my options, to try something brand new and in the process discover my own limitations and tendencies. If I have to describe my work I would say it's a mix of autobiography and comedy, monologues and rants, stream of conscious and neurotic thought patterns. Language and text based, but again I'm finding that's a usual place to go and I want to find a new little corner in which to dwell. 

Q: What is your favorite thing about doing this work?

A: It's terrifying. It takes ever fiber of myself to get into the room and do it. I feel like...ok well maybe I can get away with not doing it today...I'll spend some time on it tomorrow. I have to hold myself accountable. It makes for a real pressure cooker of a situation where you just have to work with the ideas you have in the room. If you try too hard to make it something you think it "should" be you spend a lot of time feeling frustrated. Instead it's a very intuitive process, following a thread until you pick up a new one. It's you facing yourself, pushing yourself, investigating your own humanity a bit more. It can be egotistical navel-gazing, but I try to always focus on the universals in the work, the things that keep me out in the world, relating myself to others. 

Q: What inspires you to keep going and how do you keep yourself motivated?

A: Usually the deadline inspires me. I will either have something to show for myself or I wont. 

Q: What is your approach to the development process when putting together a new project? 
Do you create a lot on stage, improvising? More on paper? Tape or video record? Hold readings? Go to a mountain top?

A: I tend to write a lot at first. Then once I'm on my feet I try out the words in my mouth because they don't always fit what I heard in my brain when I first wrote it. So I edit on my feet, try to make things sound more natural, less heady. Once I have some kind of a structure then I go back and try to identify the major elements that exist in the piece, isolate those elements and begin to play around with an order and a structure. 

Q: Who are some of your influences or people that inspire you, be they solo performers or just in general as an artist?

A: Spalding Gray, Nicole Eisenmann Richard Maxwell, Erik Ehn, Sibyl Kempson, Annie Baker, Clare Barron, Gertrude Stein, Robert Irwin, James Baldwin, I could keep listing...

Q: Any advice for some aspiring artist just starting out in solo performance?

A: I myself feel like I'm just starting out in this would say just keep working. If this is a mode of expression that you feel you must pursue then you have to show up and do it. Don't wait for someone else to tell you what to do next. I heard the phrase "hold on tightly, let go lightly" I don't remember where but I think it rings true for this work. Don't talk yourself out of your own ideas before you even try them. Give these impulses the room to breath and grow and experience them fully and then make the decision if they stay or go. I threw out about 80% of the original work I generated with "The Escape Plan" at first because at the time it seemed like the right thread to follow and then eventually after working with my friend/collaborator CB Goodman she helped me realize that I was all over the place and needed to focus the piece. So experiment, test hypothesis, try everything, and then focus. Don't judge yourself. Let go lightly. 

Q: What do you see for the future of solo performance and for you personally as an artist?

A: The solo will live on. There will be good solo and bad solo as there has always been. But what keeps me (and maybe everyone else) coming back is the ability to connect with someone on a deeply personal level. I've seen a couple of stand-up/story-telling shows recently (Mike Birbiglia and Neal Brennan) and they were a mix of stand-up and theater. It was powerful and funny and moving. So that keeps me coming back. As for myself, I'm looking for new ways into the form. I'm looking for new ways of story-telling, of taking autobiography and moving it past confessions and monologues and into a place of poetry and metaphor. I'm trying to get down to the essentials and see how little I can get away with without boring everyone. 

Q: Shout outs or links?

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