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Burning the Rules
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Burning the Rules

An informal collective of young writers, “Joyce Cho” emerged in 2006 offering an imaginative response to the century of director’s theatre and to the growing trend of devised performance. Scott Adkins, Kelly Copper, Rob Erickson, Karinne Keithley Syers, Sibyl Kempson, and Amber Reed organized to produce their own work and protect it from conventional staging strategies by doing private readings and by performing and directing their own plays. In 2006, 2008, and 2010 they were presented at the Martin E. Segal Theatre Center’s Prelude Festival at The CUNY Graduate Center, which offers “trailers” of productions from the innovative and experimental New York scene. The fourth annual Cho-Chiqq theatre event is planned for spring 2011 in a picturesque Brooklyn backyard. Their plays are published in Joyce Cho Plays. This conversation took place in October 2010 after the Prelude Festival in which Joyce Cho held a presentational workshop on their writing process. Amber Reed and Kelly Copper did not participate in the conversation.

ROGOŠIĆ:

How does Joyce Cho function?

KEITHLEY SYERS:

Joyce Cho has no formal structure, so it has functioned differently at different times, according to the energy and availability of the various Chos. Right now, it’s barely functioning, except as a form of mutual admiration, because people are dispersed: Amber is in Japan, I’m in California, Kelly and Sibyl are often out on tour, Rob and Scott both have kids . . . I can’t tell if it’s hibernating or slowly fading away, or preparing to turn into some other kind of association. The Prelude event was organized by e-mail. I begged the Chos to send mp3 writing instructions, [or I] recorded what they’d written in e-mails if they didn’t send anything, and compiled it the night before. I like the idea of becoming an mp3-based instructional society. But as there are no rules, I feel like it can just sit there as an abstract love until our mutual conversation becomes useful, or not.

When we formed, we were cohorts in the same MFA Program in playwriting with Mac Wellman at Brooklyn College. I instigated the formation because I finished the program a semester or so earlier than the others and was lonely. The original idea was to try to produce each other’s plays, and in particular Amber Reed’s play Scenes with Joyce Cho, but what emerged in the first few meetings and projects was more [End Page 72] of a think-tank type resource for each other. We were all writing plays that were or were likely to be ruined by conventional kinds of acting and directing, so we had a desire to be protective of each other’s work, to prevent the inertia of feeling-based staging from destroying these plays. So from the beginning, I’d say that Joyce Cho has always been motivated, on the one hand, by a total joy in each other’s work, and, on the other, by a kind of antagonistic rejection of the existing theatre, especially in relation to the way that play development functioned, as opposed to ensemble theatres that have been the site of experimentation and development in performance, or writer-directors like Young Jean Lee and to a certain extent Rich Maxwell—I say to a certain extent because the ensemble has been key in his research from the beginning—who save their own plays from wrong direction.

At first we just chose a Cho, let them pick the play they wanted to do, and went about figuring out how to stage it. We did three of these projects. With each there was only a limited degree of production. The idea was to propose staging solutions—to put into the communal discussion some alternative ways to approach getting these plays on their feet. The writing of scenarios for Amber’s Scenes with Joyce Cho was a similar exercise, though we never actually tried staging that. My play ASTRS was, for example, done as a live-action mural being drawn alongside a pre-recorded radio version of the piece. I always felt that the piece filled...