J. MICHAEL DEANGELIS is a writer, actor and director. In addition to Drop, he has written or co-written the plays Reunion Special, Reverie and Death in the Saloon. He is one of the authors of and co-conceived Accidents Happen, which won the 2009 NJACT Perry Award for Outstanding Production of an Original Play. He starred in and co-wrote the short film Tails Between Their Legs, which was a winner of the National Film Chal-lenge. And God Spoke…, a comedy pilot he wrote and directed, aired on SETV in Pennsylvania. He is the Managing Director of the Porch Room, a collaborative theater and film production company, where he has written and performed in An Evening on the Porch, Accidents Happen and the short film, Early Morning in the Tenement. A proud graduate of Muhlenberg College, Michael is an active performer-director with The Underground Shakespeare Company in Philadelphia, where he currently resides.
J. Michael DeAngelis (JMD): As they say in the commercials: “I’m going to Disney World!” At least, that is where I have the pleasure of writing you from today. As you can see, the fame and fortune of being an OOB Fest winner has paid off. I forget how this works – do I send Sam French my travel receipts for reimbursement? If my next play is set in EPCOT, I can write this off as a work expense, right?
Seriously though, it has been an amazing year for me. Immediately after the OOB Fest, my co-author Pete and I shared the 2009 NJACT Perry Award for Outstanding Production of an Original Play for a collection of our one acts called Accidents Happen. I also had a very busy year as an actor, doing Twelfth Night and The Taming of the Shrew with my group The Underground Shakespeare Company in Philadelphia and then a production of Speed-the-Plow. It can be tricky balancing my acting work and my writing time wise, but I love doing both. Being part of a production company helps, because one of us is always working on something for the group, which gives others of us time to work on outside acting or directing projects.
OOB: Last year, your winning play DROP featured both you and co-writer Pete Barry as actors in the festival performance. Can you talk a bit about acting in your own piece? How does your participation in the play as an actor inform the way in which the show is written, or does it inform it at all?
JMD: That’s a great question. Pete and I have always considered ourselves “all-in-one” theater artists. One of the reasons our company exists is because we were both actors who wanted great parts and writers that wanted to showcase our material.
Acting in Drop at the OOB Festival was a great experience. Pete and I read the script out loud several times during the writing process, to get a sense of what was working, something that we do with almost everything we write. I find that to be an incredibly useful step in the process. That way, when we hand the script over to a director, we already have a certain amount of faith that it works.
Once we decided that we would perform it ourselves in the festival, the rehearsal process was very easy. In part, this was because we’d performed it before, and we had taken good notes about what worked and what needed revision. Acting in the piece instantly let us know if dialogue didn’t feel natural. I can’t tell you how many times we tried to revise the line “I think a two hundred foot fall…” because I just couldn’t make it come out right as an actor. It looked great on the page, but we went through maybe a half dozen iterations.
In the case of Drop, I think that having Pete and I in the cast was a real advantage, because we have such a great chemistry in real life as friends and that translates well onto the stage in both our writing and our performances. I would say that if you are a writer who also performs, you should definitely consider acting in your own work – assuming there’s a part that fits. It really made the OOB Festival extra special for us, getting that complete experience onstage and backstage.
OOB: As most people may know, most of your work has been with your production company, The Porch Room. Recently, The Porch Room made a very bold decision to open up their library of scripts to theatres in exchange for at-will donations. Can you elaborate a bit more about the decision to do this and how it has affected your company?
JMD: This was a decision was directly a result of our being a part of the OOB Fest. Right before the festival, The Porch Room officially incorporated as an LLC and we were toying with several different business plans for the company. One of the ideas that passed over the table was this pay-what-you-can licensing agreements. Between myself, Pete and our other cohort John Dowgin, we were sitting a nice stack of plays that had been produced successfully, but were unpublished. We really wanted to see these getting performed. We went back and forth about the best way to do this until we heard Israel Horowitz speak at the opening night of the OOB Fest. He said he had recently put some short plays on his website for free and encouraged us to do the same as a way to get noticed. Pete and I turned to each other and said “let’s do it!”
We’ve created a system were we’ve put unprintable copies of our plays and screenplays on our website. Everybody is free to read and enjoy them. If you are interested in performing one of the scripts, all you have to do is fill out our online form and we’ll send you printable copies along with a licensing agreement. All we ask is that you give the writers proper credit and you use our company logo on your programs and posters. If you are doing the play in an educational setting (like a directing class) or you don’t charge for admission, you don’t have to pay us a thing. If you make a profit of the show, we ask for a small donation – say 10% of your total profit.
I think it’s a great deal, especially for students and small theater companies looking for something different. It’s really brand new, but we’re excited that this might get our plays seen. I hope everybody checks it out.
OOB: The Porch Room has been around for a while now; the company formed when you and Pete were still students at Muhlenberg College. Can you talk a little about some of the changes and development that has happened to the group over the course of the years? What are some of the most important lessons you have learned in terms of producing plays? Any advice for potential writers/producers?
JMD: The Porch Room was founded while I was still a junior at Muhlenberg. Pete, John and Adam had all been out of college for a bit and came up with the idea of banding together some of our very talented friends and start producing our own work. Originally, a very wide net was cast – The Porch Room was interested in everything: theater, dance, film, photography, poetry, spoken word, magic, mime, erotic basket weaving… Really, if it could be put on stage or captured on film, it was Porch Room ready. While I was still in school, the group produced two very successful shows in New York, but then we kind of hit a wall. I moved to New York with Pete in September of 2001, which obviously was a very difficult time to be launching a theater group. Everyone was just reeling from what had happened and struggling to get by.
Because this was around the same time as the launch of things like YouTube and TriggerStreet, we turned our attentions to making short films, which became our main creative outlet for a while. Even then, it was hard to have continual output. The one thing that remained constant throughout that time was that we all kept writing. After a few years, we had a really decent stockpile of short plays and we realized we could pretty easily assemble them into full length evenings of theater. We were very lucky to form a partnership with Circle Players Theater in New Jersey, where we were able to launch plays like Drop and Pete’s Nine Point Eight Meters Per Second Per Second, both of which made it to the finals at the OOB Fest.
If you are interested in producing your own work at the OOB Fest, or anywhere, the most important thing you can do is find people that you can rely on and that you like working with. There are going to be a lot of challenges when you are your own producer, so having a company that works well together and enjoys being around each other will make all the difference in the world. You also have to be extremely resourceful. The Porch Room doesn’t have a stash of props and set pieces like a working theater might, so we had to come up with everything on our own – which meant figuring out how to represent a roller coaster on stage. Maintaining strong connections with other theater companies is a big plus too. For example, we were able to use the stage at Circle Players to rehearse for the OOB Fest, which was a huge help to us. Being nice and being responsible goes a long way.
JMD: I sure do! First, Pete and I are really excited to be doing a reading and signing of Drop next week in Philadelphia. We’ll be talking about our collaborative process, our experience at the OOB Fest and we’ve got a trio of great actors who will be reading a few excerpts from the play. That will be taking place at the Barnes & Noble on 36th & Walnut Streets in Philadelphia on Monday, May 3rd at 6:30pm. We hope some OOB Fest blog readers will come out – we’d love to meet you and talk about our festival experience.
After that, the next major project for The Porch Room is putting together a new full length play to premiere at the Philadelphia Fringe Festival in September. Pete and I are writing the script now and I’m handling the production end of things. I don’t have a lot of details to announce beyond that yet, other than it’s an exciting script that we’ve been wanting to work on for a long time. We’ll have more information in the next month or so. Everyone can stay up to date by visiting our website (www.porchroom.com), becoming our fan on Facebook (www.facebook.com/porchroom) or following us on Twitter (@PorchRoom).