The World's A Stage
Drama doctoral candidate Meron Langsner is one of three playwrights in the country to have earned an extraordinary residency.
Medford/Somerville, Mass. [02.25.08] When it comes to getting a Ph.D. in drama, Meron Langsner says that Tufts graduates are the "Navy SEALs" of theater history.
"Tufts is known for having one of the hardest comprehensive exams in the field," says the doctoral candidate who has completed his exams and is in the process of starting his disseration.
But Langsner is clearly up to the challenge, having been chosen as one of three playwrights in the country to receive the National New Play Network's inaugural emerging playwright residency. His residency will run for 10 months, or the entire theater season, which began in September and will end in May, at the New Repertory Theatre in Watertown, Mass.
According to New Rep's Producing Artistic Director Rick Lombardo, the program, intended for recent MFA degree recipients, is designed to take writers away from their desks and connect them to the rest of the producing world.
"Writing is a very solitary act, so most playwrights are trapped in their apartments and not connected on the producing end," says Lombardo. "This is an opportunity for them to make these connections that will help them further along in life."
As theaters began vying for the few coveted residency grants, a series of fate-filled coincidences began to unfold, eventually leading to Langsner's selection for the spot. At the time, New Rep was in the process of planning "Their Voices Will Be Heard," a production that portrays artists' responses to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Being of Israeli descent, Langsner-who received his MFA from Brandeis prior to coming to Tufts-decided on a whim to send along a play he thought might fit the bill. But as time passed, he figured his play had not been selected.
Meanwhile, Lombardo was doing some writing of his own, submitting a proposal for the residency grant that revolved solely around the idea that Langsner would fill the spot.
"Given the project we were undertaking with 'Their Voices Will Be Heard,' the nature of his work was a wonderful fit," says Lombardo.
"I got the call a day before my birthday, and I immediately started looking around for the reality TV cameras," Langsner recalls. "You don't get calls like this, they just don't happen. There is no shortage of MFA playwrights in Boston, so I am pretty lucky."
According to Langsner, his residency consists of two parallel projects. One project is continuing his script writing work, which includes writing, setting up readings of his work and receiving feedback. The second is working as a staff member at New Rep, which includes the major task of co-curating "Their Voices Will Be Heard."
As co-curator, Langsner has helped put together the many aspects of the program, which will be running throughout March. The full list of events includes panel discussions with scholars and artists-including Tufts Drama Department Chair Barbara Grossman and Tufts/School of the Museum of Fine Arts lecturer Noit Banai-readings, film screenings and the two centerpiece plays, "My Name is Rachel Corrie" and "Pieces."
The play that earned Langsner the residency, "B'Shalom" ("In Peace"), will be directed by Danny Girdron, with a cast of three Boston actors. The play revolves around the friendship of an Israeli immigrant and a Palestinian American in New York City the summer after Sept. 11. The reading is scheduled for Mar. 10.
"It details the friendship and how it goes into crisis from both overseas pressures and local prejudices," explains Langsner.
Langsner says that New Rep has been very supportive of commitment to the Tufts Ph.D. program, placing his studies above all else. Looking at the overall curriculum, Langsner is happy with the amount of freedom of expression the Tufts program allows him.
"I came to Tufts because the Ph.D. program, while very scholarly, also respects production practice," Langsner says. "There is no question in the way they deal with us that we are here as scholars, but they give a certain respect and freedom to our artistic work, giving me the freedom to do my artistic work parallel to all my scholarly work. So if my dissertation reflects some of my artistic work, that's a pretty cool thing."
Productions Langsner has worked on at Tufts include "Tonya and Nancy: The Opera,""Big Love" and the upcoming production of "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead."
Langner's dissertation covers representations of the martial arts on the American stage, tying into his 20-year background in martial arts and fight choreography.
Looking ahead, Langsner hopes to find a tenured faculty position "teaching stuff I really enjoy to people who really want to learn it." He also plans to continue developing his artistic career, which has already seen his plays produced in dozens of places across the globe including New York, Chicago and England. His residency with New Rep ranks high on his all-time achievements list.
"New Rep is very brave in what they put up," Langsner says. "They are not afraid of controversial material. They are friendly and professional and have a lot of respect for all the people they work with, which is fantastic. They are very much about nurturing the quality of the work."
Profile written by Kaitlin Melanson, Web Communications