Meet Eliza Bent

One of my favorite benefits from writing TheatrePlayByPlay is meeting playwrights.  My Eliza Bent story is illustrative both of that benefit and of how engaging and committed many young playwrights are.

Eliza Bent

Eliza Bent

Years ago when it was still conceivable that one might not have heard of Kickstarter, I had just discovered it and wrote a post called Help Kickstart a Dream about this great way for artists to crowd fund their projects.  As an example, I found and donated to a project to produce a new play called The Hotel Colors by a new playwright named Eliza Bent, whose name I recognized as a writer from American Theatre Magazine.  Well, she was pleased with the donation from a stranger and recognized my name a couple of months later on the attendees list of the Humana Festival which she was covering for the magazine; she contacted me and asked if we could meet for a drink.  Over drinks, she told me about her writing and also mentioned her boyfriend (now husband) Dave Malloy and that they were excited about his project – which turned out to be the Obie winning and Tony nominated Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 which I saw the following year off-Broadway and then saw both Dave and Eliza on TV on the Tony Awards the next year!  Even though we live on opposite coasts, we’ve had an occasional email correspondence ever since and I’ve been following her playwriting career.  She recently told me she would be coming to the prestigious Berkeley Ground Floor lab to work on a new play, invited me to the reading, and I had a great time seeing a reading of her play Indeed, Friend!, based around the staff of a college literary magazine, which was the perfect context for the word play, poetry, puns and exploration of language she has become known for in all of her plays.

Dave Malloy and Eliza Bent photo by Walter McBride broadway world

Dave Malloy and Eliza Bent
photo by Walter McBride broadway world

 The Hotel Colors went on to win L magazine’s 25 best stage shows of 2013.  Her other works include The BeyonceAloha, Aloha, or When I Was QueenOn a Clear Day I Can See to ElbaToilet FireBlue Wizard/Black Wizard (with Dave Malloy),  Karma Kharms, and Pen Pals Meet.  She’s been a MacDowell Colony fellow, a Bay Area Playwrights Finalist, a New Georges affiliated artist and the recipient of a US Embassy grant for her work in Iceland. She is a founding company member of Half Straddle and producer of the Real Talk/Kip Talk event series.  She is also an active performer, in her own work and in other works.

One of her more recent productions was Aloha, Aloha, or When I Was Queen,  about which the New York Times said: “The one woman show, directed by Knud Adams, is a bright, thought-provoking personal journey that delves into her own history of unwitting white privilege, while boldly investigating many modern day ramifications of cultural appropriation.”

To date, Eliza has self-produced all of her own plays, mostly in off-off Broadway venues in Brooklyn, where they have largely done quite well, received good to rave reviews and built her reputation as a brainy, quirky wordsmith.  Here is what Eliza told me about self-producing her work:

I think I now have a better grasp on how to self-produce and all that goes into it, but as an individual artist, I have been wary of founding my own company. On the one hand, I imagine that having a company would make fundraising easier — because it certainly widens the pool when it comes to eligibility for grants. But having a company also requires so much stamina and paperwork, tasks I don’t exactly excel at. I would rather just be produced by venues and larger companies with more infastructure! So I am still struggling to figure out the necessary moves that will get my work beyond the self-producing sandbox. And the enthusiasm of asking for money that I felt in my 20s is beginning to … wane.   But so it goes. I am impatient and want to see my work happen. So when a project has been bumping around for a few years I just want to see it happen instead of waiting who-knows-how-long (if ever) for another company to produce it.

Well, she is about to have her first produced (by another company) play open off-Broadway:  The Beyonce, Bent’s adaptation of Checkov’s The Fiancee  (which won the 2014 Payne Award for Outstanding Theatrical Event) will have performances July 27, – Aug 18 2018 at  A.R.T./ New York Theatres – Jeffrey and Paula Gural Theatre.   Eliza said: “It’s the only play of mine that has even been “produced” by an outside entity (but hopefully not the last!).  I am really thrilled to see how this company, Adjusted Realists, will interact with the text I wrote four years ago when I was on the brink of marriage, a fiancee myself…”   Tickets available at Brown Paper tickets.

A larger upcoming project for Eliza Bent is a new show about a flight attendant’s “retirement” flight — Bonnie’s Last Flight  — which she says will require significant fundraising but will be shown at a great space, NYTW’s Next Door Series.  This initiative provides each project with subsidized resources and space for development and performance in the Fourth Street Theatre.  Bonnie’s Last Flight is part of the 2018/2019 Series and performances are scheduled for February 4 – March 3, 2019.

So, how’s that for meeting an emerging playwright?  I’d say she’s well and fully emerged and I’m delighted for her and by her.  Now, I just need to get to New York and actually see one of her plays!

              Ideas won’t keep. Something must be done about them.   -Alfred North Whitehead

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