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A Reflection on SPARK in Atlanta (#2)

Working Title Playwrights, Avondale, Estates, GA

November 10, 2012

Directed by Justin Anderson (of Synchronicity Theatre, Atlanta) 

                                           by Kaye Coker, Co-Director, Veteran’s Heart Georgia

The lights came on way too soon, jarring me so that the tears stuck in my throat. I was still immersed in the stories of the family members that I had just witnessed. This reaction and the magnetism of what had just taken place on the stage took me by surprise. I had read the script SPARK by Caridad Svich and “knew”—cognitively--the characters and the plot, and the ending. It was the superb acting and direction that evoked and opened the emotional response.

These actors had become the characters and pulled me into their lives. And it was the last line that provided the hoped-for exuberant shift that happens when the work I do with people in my office goes well…when you just know that something amazing has changed things and that there is indeed hope for healing. This is a sacred moment.

As I made my way down to join the cast and director on the stage, struggling somewhat to make the transition into my role in the Talk Back, I became aware of the impact of having audiences share this experience of the effects of war on an individual and her family. It’s far too easy for those who have been guarded and protected to cultivate comfortable ignorance of those whose lives are forever changed by the experience of their service.  And just as harmful is the belief that all our Warriors are broken beyond hope of healing from being in war.

The work of writers, musicians, artists, actors and playwrights has depicted the human story and soul for eons so that it may be heard, seen and understood by all.  Narrative not only binds us together as a civilization, it is healing, as we are forced to bring our wordless emotions into language. We civilians must be able and willing to listen to the narratives of war without turning away, seeing and tending the wounds and helping to create mutual understanding that bridges the gap between those who fought the battles and those who remained at home.

Deepest gratitude to Caridad Svich for bringing the words and emotions of the effects of war to us. Respect and admiration for Justin Anderson for guiding the thespians, Cara Mantella, Sarah Wallis, Taylor Dooley, Luis Hernandez and Geoff McKnight as they became the people of this story. Atlanta is indebted to passion of Jill Patrick, who made this event happen here at Academy Theater. And NoPassport is to be celebrated for sponsoring this reading in many parts of the world, informing and involving communities in healing the effects of war.  

And many thanks to the audience, who, with stories of their own to share, created a listening community.

Kaye Coker is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in Decatur, Ga. She serves as Co-Director of VETERAN'S HEART GEORGIA, a non profit all volunteer organization dedicated to healing the effects of war in our service members, veterans, their families and our communities. Since 2005 she has been providing counseling and teaching Mindfulness meditation to service members, veterans and family members, working on research regarding the effectiveness of Mindfulness with military veterans,  and maintains a private psychotherapy practice. When not otherwise engaged, the mountains of northeast Georgia call and she and husband Jim flee the city.


Reflection on Spark in Portland

Profile Theatre, Portland, OR

November 14, 2012

Directed by RaChelle Schmidt

                                  by Andrea Stolowitz

I attended a reading of SPARK at Profile Theater in Portland, OR on Nov. 14th. I am a playwright have long been a fan of Caridad's work and Profile Theater so I was very excited to be able to attend. The play was moving on so many levels: The relationship between the sisters, the sense of place, the sense of longing for the past and a better future, and the pain of the war and being a soldier  transposed through the generations. The specificity of the characters and time and place led to such a wonderful universality of theme. The rhythm and language became part of the theatrical landscape and I found myself following the cadences of language as a layer of the story. The use of songs, music, and  army chants added another fabric to the play. The play leads the viewer into a conversation about war and economic disparity with a gentle light touch so that we can not shy away from the truths that it presents.

Andrea Stolowitz is a playwright living in Portland Oregon. Her plays have been produced nationally and internationally.  The LA Times calls her work “heartbreaking” and the Orange County Register characterizes her approach as a “brave refusal to sugarcoat ... issues and tough decisions.” A recipient of Artists Repertory Theater’s $25,000 New Play Commission, Andrea will premiere her newest work ITHAKA at the theatre in June 2013. Her play ANTARKTIKOS was workshopped nationwide in 2011 at the New Harmony Project (IN), Portland Center Stage’s JAW Festival, and at Seattle Repertory Theater. Pittsburgh Playhouse mounts the world premiere in 2013.

Check out SPARK at New Dramatists!


New Dramatists presents a free Alumni Reading
in collaboration with NoPassport theatre alliance & press of ... 

a new play by Caridad Svich
Directed by Scott Schwartz

Featuring: Sofia Jean Gomez, Jocelyn Kuritsky, Gloria Mann, Bobby Plasencia, and Steven Rishard.

November 27, 2012 at 7 PM
at New Dramatists, 424 West 44th Street.

RSVP at 212-797-6960

For more information about SPARK visit:

To read on TCG Circle:

SPARK lead dramaturg: Zac Kline

SPARK line producer for NoPassport intl reading scheme: Lanie Zipoy 


Reflection on Spark in Burlington, VT

MOXIE Productions, Burlington, VT

November 4, 2012 

Directed by Monica Callan 

                                           by Monica Callan 

When Spark came across MOXIE Productions’ radar via a valued supporter, it piqued my interest for a few reasons.  It’s a new play still in development (MOXIE specializes in new work development), the script is moving, with characters that I felt actors would want to perform, and it touches on a few artistic interests of my own. It is a story about war, one written not with expected hard-edged brawn of masculine language and aggression, but in a quieter and more nuanced style that makes the dramatic action more significantly penetrating.  I also was excited to work with the language, which lends itself to almost any American ethnicity (a writing skill and sensibility for which I have a tremendous amount of respect) and speaks to the broader American experience.  I loved that it is authentically about a family from a demographic that I call “America’s invisible population”—poor, uneducated, and struggling to better themselves with little prospects or resources—a group that is often the victim of dramatic cliches.  It also speaks to the personal impacts that veterans and their families endure to keep the rest of us in a secure standard of daily living, which, I believe, is a worthy investigation for us to consider when we talk about our “Freedom.”  So there was no question I was going to take the opportunity to explore this work. 

I fashioned an extraordinary cast that immediately understood that this was an “actor’s play,” and enthusiastically approached the work.  We rehearsed and held two readings. The first (which was also the very first of the national series) was held in a classy wine bar in my home town of Waterbury, Vermont; the second was presented in Burlington City Arts’ Firehouse Gallery in Burlington, Vermont’s largest city, surrounded by a striking exhibition celebrating Veteran’s Day. 

Now, I’m not a military person and I certainly won’t lay down any judgment with my ignorance of the logic that constructs war, but I do ask: why must there be such excess of money and human resources spent in behalf of it?  My father was in the Air Force many years before I was born and speaks almost nothing of it.  My little brother also enlisted the Air Force, and has been deployed numerous times.  Serving as a Chaplain’s Assistant (a beautiful choice for the military to decide given his character), he generally remains safe from the combat zone, and although I’m well aware that anything can happen, I’m fortunate not to worry like other families.  I don’t have the full frontal personal experience of this play, but I still find the particular issues in Spark’s circumstances compelling.  I wasn’t sure how our audiences would take it, but I was going to find out.

The responses were overwhelming.  Of course the theater people were intrigued as I was, and engaged in lively discussions of dramaturgy. People arrived who I didn’t think had any interest in theater.  Others were rapt and no shuffling of feet could be heard, but you could hear tissues being fumbled for. The most gratifying reactions, however, were the veterans or veteran’s family members that were in attendance.  The play struck them so directly, the emotions came flushing forth. 

After the Burlington reading, we had a talk back session with a panel from the Vermont Veterans Association.  The conversation was charged with the passion that stirs when acknowledgement is so acutely and unexpectedly made.  Male veterans my father’s age were fighting emotions with thinning voices and quivering lips and it made me wonder if my father had stoically held his service memories his whole life.  One woman veteran was astounded by the accuracy of subtle but essential details that Ms. Svich wove into the story, asking, “how could she have even known that?”  The actor playing Lexie was asked if she was a veteran too her portrayal rang so true.

I shouldn’t have been surprised that this chord would have been struck.  The percentage Americans serving in the military is 1%, which is a lot, really.  Because of the number of Vermont National Guard deployed to recent conflicts, and given Vermont’s relatively small population that percentage is closer to 10%.  The Vermont VA has asked us to bring this play to their facility.  They felt that it would be a effective tool for healing veterans all over the state who have returned to rural, and in many cases, isolated areas.  We are hoping to arrange a date in early December for this to happen, because we would love to offer the same experience of our first two readings to more veterans in furthering the effort to honor those whose sacrifices do not just happen in direct combat.

Ms. Callan is an arts educator teaching theater arts, visual arts, and writing in locations spanning museums to correctional facilities.  She also coaches privately and in small groups.  She is the founding member of MOXIE Productions, a theater company dedicated to developing and producing new works.  Ms. Callan is a trained actress and active member of Screen Actors Guild and Actors Equity Association, with more than 30 years experience performing, and dozens of classic and contemporary roles in her repertoire.  She is currently writing several stage scripts and a multi-media show.  She has many film credits in feature and short formats and has been behind the camera in many capacities, most notably as the Extras Casting Director in The Spitfire Grill, a Warner Brothers Film.   She has New York City and regional directorial credits including original and published plays.  She has also created and directed many educational programs and productions, sometimes writing the plays herself, or guiding students through the process of writing and performance. Ms. Callan has been trained by various professional stage, voice, and film experts and programs, and holds a bachelors degree in Theater Arts from Emerson College, an Arts Administration Certificate from NYU.  She is an alumni of the Atlantic Acting School in NYC and has worked in many non-profits, both on the books and as a volunteer.  Recently she became a “Project Champion” in a Long Term Recovery project, guided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, in her home town after Tropical Storm Irene devastated the area with flooding waters, and is the founder of Across Roads Center for the Arts, an economic and cultural effort borne from that experience.  Currently she is designing a teen curriculum at T. Schreiber Studio and Theater, a renown acting conservatory and production organization in NYC, teaches at the Fleming Museum in Burlington, Vermont, is the Vice President of Waterbury Activities and Cultural Center, and is a life long resident of Waterbury Center where she raised a family with her husband who is a graphic designer/ builder and designed and built her house.  She splits her time between VT and NYC.

Reflection on Spark in Houston

Stages Repertory Theatre, Houston, TX

November 11,  7 pm 2012

Directed by Eva LaPorte

                                 by Kristen Wright

When I was first asked to serve as a dramaturg on Stages Repertory Theatre's reading of Caridad Svich's SPARK, I knew that I would be in for a treat. My first introduction to Svich's work came when I stumbled upon excerpts from her play PRODIGAL KISS. At the time, I was drawn in by her seductive rhythms, and her ear for dialogue. And when I first read SPARK, the voices of the Glimord sisters immediately stood out for me, even before I began to pull the play's many complicated strands together.

And even though I enjoyed the music of the sisters' voices, I still wanted to place the play in a particular location. When I first met with the reading's director, Eva Laporte, to discuss the script, my first instinct was Virginia. (Because of all the tobacco references). Eva thought it was North Carolina, and Google later confirmed that she was correct.

Our first rehearsal brought up many other questions. There were the expected ones: Flo Garvey, the actress playing Lexie, wanted to know how to pronounce the names of the cities in which every major American conflict since the Civil War has been fought. (The way that whole exchange unfolds between Lexie and Vaughn is great writing). But the rehearsal also produced many important questions: What is the role of gender in the military? Are the poor often asked to fight battles for the rich? Is Vaughn Lexie's long-lost father, or a mythic representation of soldiers past, present, and future?

Armed with all of these questions, I set off to create an actor packet that would guide the cast through this process. I used many of the wonderful resources that Zac Kline had already gathered for the NoPassport website, and my fascination with the play's sense of place lead me to the lyrics of John Loudermilk's 1960 song "Tobacco Road," a reference to a neighborhood in East Durham, North Carolina. Fascinated by this finding, I placed the lyrics to the entire song in the packet. (I imagine subsequent productions of SPARK taking place in East Durham. I'm not sure if this is what Caridad wants, but it fascinated me).

Slightly over a week after the rehearsal process began, we held the reading. The reading was intimate, followed by and illuminating Q and A session led by Eva. Many of the audience responses concerned the role of the male characters in the play. Poor men and male veterans are often portrayed as damaged goods, but both Hector and Vaughn provide needed counsel to the Glimord sisters. Even the town ne'er-do-well, Barry, is available to "shoot the shit" with Lexie when she needs him. One person even said that Vaughn's compassion comes from the fact that he has observed war firsthand. Representatives from the Houston Area Women's Center set up a table in the theatre's lobby, and their presence goes to show that we need better resources to help female veterans transition from military to civilian life.

As an early-career dramaturg-playwright, it was an honor to work on this play. I hope to work with the team at Stages - and on more of Caridad's plays! - very soon.

Kristen Wright is  a 2012 graduate of Yale College in New Haven, CT, where she received a BA in Theater Studies and Political Science. She currently serves as the Education Assistant at the Alley Theatre in Houston, TX, and was previously an Education and Community Engagement Intern at the Alley. Kristen is also a freelance dramaturg and playwright in the Houston area.

Reflection on Spark in Salt Lake City

Pygmalian Theatre Company, Salt Lake City, UT

November 7, 2012

Directed by Alexandra Harbold

                                                   by Fran Pruyn

Pygmalion Theatre Company had the honor and privilege of coordinating and presenting a reading of Spark on November 7, 2012, at the Rose Wagner Black Box Theatre in Salt Lake CityUtah.

Beyond having intriguing characters, vivid and poetic imagery, and a language that can be spoken interracially; Spark speaks about the American soldier's experience, and how it impacts everyone touched by it.  

Spark is a play about class and war.  It is a play that reveals how the military uses money and the ideals of heroism to seduce young people to enlist.  It is a play that exposes the collateral damage to any family that results by sacrificing a family member to any war.   

Spark captures an entire family in PTSD.  The play speaks in the rhythms and poetry of a Southern poverty --  where military service is a solution, and violence and war is an intergenerational disease.

Spark’s magic is in revealing how people get stuck in their private but collective pain, and how getting un-stuck is a miracle. 

Fran Pruyn is the Artistic Director of Pygmalion Theatre Company. 

Reflection on Spark at the Cherry Lane (#3)

Cherry Lane Theatre, New York, NY

November 11, 2012

Directed by Scott Schwartz


SPARK: A Reflection on the Play and Its Many Wars

                        by Nicole Aiken

I had the honor of being a part of the Veteran’s Day reading of Caridad Svich’s new play SPARK at The Cherry Lane Theatre.  The reading was directed by Scott Shwartz, and I had the pleasure of reading stage directions while sharing the stage with the wonderful cast members Louis Cancelmi, Peter Jay Fernandez, Marin Ireland, Jocelyn Kuritsky and Gloria Mann-Craft.

SPARK is a beautiful play that explores war, family, hope, fixing what’s broken and coming home.  The play begins with the characters Evelyn and Ali waiting for their sister Lexie, a soldier, to return home from war.  Upon coming home, it becomes clear that Lexie left one war and walked right into another…the war at home.     

I found it fascinating that SPARK begins with one war, and reveals many as it unfolds.  The war at home, the family war, is one of the first wars we see in this play.  The sisters’ relationships with one another are rich with history and full of conflict.  Already complicated relationships become much more complicated upon Lexie’s return.  The characters also struggle with their personal wars.  Self-medicating, self-sabotaging, struggling to stay in control, to be understood, to connect, to belong, to fix what is broken.  A major war in the play is the war going on in Lexie’s head.  The war of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).   The trauma Lexie experienced as a soldier during the war makes it hard for her to return to “normal” or feel like she is at “home.”   All of these wars collide, creating a powerful and engaging play.   

I’m thrilled that SPARK is being read around the world.  This important and moving play raises awareness about soldiers and PTSD, as well as the way in which people “receive” soldiers when they come home from war.  SPARK will spark conversations, while promoting healing and understanding of the war after the war.

Nicole Aiken is an NYC based actor and a member of the LAByrinth Theater Company Intensive Ensemble 2011.  Recent acting credits include a reading of “The Champion,” by Amy Evans at the Lark Play Development Center and a reading of “Alondra Was Here,” by Chisa Hutchinson at NYU’S Goldberg Theatre.  Other credits include the CityKids Repertory Company, Ensemble Studio Theatre, The Actors Studio, Manhattan Center, Central Park Summerstage and starring in the feature film The Legend of Bloody Mary” (Lionsgate). 


Reflection on Spark at the Cherry Lane (#2)

Cherry Lane Theater, New York, NY

November 11, 2012

Directed by Scott Scott Schwartz 

                                                     A Reflection on SPARK at the Cherry Lane 

                                                     by Crystal Skillman

EVELYN: What you been through? 

LEXIE: Got no idea.

EVELYN: I can-

LEXIE: No. You can't. No fuckin' movie is gonna make you imagine how it is. 

EVELYN: ... You know, in church they say ...

LEXIE: The road to Damascus is a long road? 


LEXIE: Well, let me tell you, it is a bloody road. And I don't wish anybody on it, even if it does lead to Jesus.

EVELYN: ... I did not make you join up.

LEXIE: We all put together out memories how we like. 

                                                          Excerpt from SPARK 

SPARK is a timely, beautiful play by Caridad Svich I heard it at the Cherry Lane Theater this Veterans Day (Nov 11, 2012). Set in North Carolina, Caridad rips open this family play with Lexie, a woman solider coming home to a house struggling to stay afloat and her sisters who couldn't be more at odds with their ideas of their futures. As this family struggles to find a way to reclaim the joy they once knew with each other, it operates as the perfect metaphor for a country struggling to heal itself from war. This is a personal and gripping play that seeks to find beauty in the aftermath of destruction. The whole audience was deeply moved by this story and excited to see a play that addresses what's in our mind and hearts now in a way only theater can truly do. It's very exciting to see where this play goes in the future! 

Crystal Skillman is the author of CUT (The Management, Apollinaire), THE VIGIL (ITG/Brick; 2010 NY Innovative Theatre Award for Outstanding Full-Length Script) as well as BIRTHDAY (Rising Phoenix Rep) and FOLLOW (Balancing Productions/Lanie Zipoy), both with director Daniel Talbott.   GEEK will debut in NYC with Vampire Cowboys this march; WILD, which debuted in Chicago with Kid Brooklyn Productions this past summer, will make it's UK debut with Kibo Productions in summer 2013. Plays available from Samuel French andindietheaternow.com


Reflection on Spark in Boston (#1)

Atomic Age Theatre and Emerson College, Boston, MA

October 30, 2012

Directed by Noelle Vinas

                                                      by Jeff Freeman

Spark is a play dealing with the strange truths of homecoming. The placelessness, the confrontation of failings, the newly reopened rifts, the salvation of acceptance.

But Spark isn’t content to remain merely a family drama. No, this is a play which tackles the broader societal truths of military life. As we move into Thanksgiving I am struck by the ways in which we covet ritual in this country. Thanksgiving is a moment so engrained in us that even the simple trappings of store decorations ignite physical sensations of comfort and warmth. And yet the return of the solider from abroad has no such ritual. Instead it is confronted as a non-event.

Something of incredible significance is happening to warfare in this country. As displays of aggression abroad becomes less and less palatable at home, conflicts are becoming sublimated within domestic policy. Our war in the Middle East carries on unending and untenable, and yet there is no outcry because the event has no voice.

Who are these Americans returning from abroad? How do we aid and understand these individuals whose experiences are so radically different from our own, yet intimately tied to how we live our lives?

Spark does not offer answers but rather demands questions. As the last few moments of the play draw to a close the audience is left only  with a feeling that it is not within the protagonist alone to bring about her own salvation. Rather, the problem is one that needs to be addressed by a group. Perhaps as large as the country, or as small as the audience. As always with a Svich play, something needs to be done.

Jeff Freeman is a senior BA Theater Studies Major at Emerson College with a minor in Post-Colonial Studies. He is the Co-Founder and Artistic Director of the Boston based non-profit, Atomic Age Theater. He has overseen fourteen productions and looks forward to more. A proud Minnesota resident, he has worked with the Jungle Theater, Four Humors Theater, and Penumbra Theater Company in the Twin Cities. He is currently directing Emerson Shakespeare Society’s production of Faust.

Reflection on Spark in Atlanta (#1)

Working Title Playwrights, Avondale Estates, GA

November 11, 2012

Directed by Justin Anderson (of Synchronicity Theatre, Atlanta)

                              By Jill Patrick

The dissonance of survival pulses through Spark just as it courses through the veins of every member of the working poor, by both service members (who too frequently live at or below the poverty line) and those that love them. Lexie's enlistment was meant to save the family from even more economic despair, none of them foreseeing the psychological devastation her enlistment would have. I come from a long line of military veterans, myself a disabled US Navy veteran. What Spark illustrates so clearly is not the impact of war alone, but the impact of assimilation into one rigid culture completely isolated from all others... and then returning to the other. When it should be homecoming, the military veteran so often receives (her) return to civilian life as yet another tribunal. But all the characters in this play are veterans - of life and loss and disappointment and battle and they are scrappy and funny and gut-wrenching as they, ultimately, return to the one thing they thought they'd lost - hope. 

This play speaks both softly and loudly about sacrifice and service and our reading was deftly directed by Justin Anderson with the consummate talents of Cara Mantella (Evelyn), Taylor Dooley (Lexie), Luis Hernandez (Hector), Sarah Wallis (Ali) and Geoff McKnight (Vaughn). Working Title Playwrights is proud to have partnered with Kaye Coker and Veteran's Heart Georgia to be part of this global play reading scheme.

Jill Patrick, Managing Artistic Director of Working Title Playwrights, is an Atlanta-based playwright and poet. Her one-act play If I Told You I Love You Would You Believe Me? premiered in Austin, Texas, 1986, winning the first ever Moody Award for Playwriting. Her work can be seen in literary magazines such as New Millennium WritingsCreative License, and Red Hills Review. Jill is former host of the Midtown Atlanta Writers Group and has honed her craft along side such working novelists as Karen Abbott, Joshilyn Jackson, Anna Schachner, Fred Willard, and others. She is on the Advisory Board of Atlanta’s Essential Theatre and is a member of Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas, The Dramatists Guild of America and the Association of Writers and Writing Programs. Jill became Managing Artistic Director of Working Title Playwrights in 2006, not based on her playwriting experience, but on her successful track record of creating opportunities to excel. By fostering growth and nurturing continued excellence in playwriting for all the members of the organization, from novice to pro, under her guidance WTP has grown not only in membership but in programs offered and is now at the forefront of new play development in the Southeast. Jill lives and loves with her infinitely better half, Perry, and their collection of well-fed and happily assorted strays. She strives each and every day to keep the faith that there are only three things that will change the universe: education, motivation and wormholes.