Submissions for the 3rd Annual Bridge Award open on December 1st - just a few days away!
The winner of the Bridge Award receives $10,000 and professional development, including an AITAF produced reading of their winning play at New York's iconic Public Theater. In 2019, the Bridge Award went to California-based U.S. Air Force Veteran Shairi Engle for her first full-length play, Tampons, Dead Dogs, and Other Disposable Things, about a woman's trek up a mountain and her struggle to confront the demons of her past.
The October 7th reading of the play was an emotional, joyful night to remember, and sparked a powerful series of conversations and rewrites.
Anna O'Donoghue, the Bridge Award's submissions coordinator and reading committee chair, spoke with Jennifer Mudge and Darren Pettie, the two actors who starred in the reading, about their experience working on this piece with AITAF.
How did you get involved with AITAF and with the development of the 2019 Bridge Award-winning play Tampons, Dead Dogs, and Other Disposable Things by Shairi Engle?
DP: I got involved with AITAF years ago when I was asked to read a monologue for one of the broadway events. A few months ago, I also did a reading of Sam Shepard's TRUE WEST with AITAF at the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center, which lead to me being asked to read Joe in Shairi’s play.
JM: I got involved through our director, Lucie Tiberghien. I have worked with her many times since 2001. I’m such a huge fan of the work AITAF does! My husband has been involved with AITAF for a while, and this was my first experience on the inside! I think it’s crucial that AITAF is cultivating and making space for voices that are new in the theatre community, and providing such great support. I’m so honored to be a part of it.
Tell us about your connection with the armed forces. What are your experiences with and associations with the military community?
JM: My brother and dad are both veterans, as well as a number of uncles and cousins. I have grown up with and been around members of the military community my whole life. I also have worked with Theater of War since 2008.
DP: I am a Navy Veteran. I served on the USS Guam as an operations specialist from 1989-1993. My ship was part of the Amphibious Task Force during Desert Storm.
What was your first response to Tampons, and to your character? What did you connect with in the role?
JM: I was really drawn into the journey of my character, Jen: through the valley of her darkest demons, and out through the light, but still knowing the burden her past puts on her. The theme of recovery, without forgetting, is very resonant to me. We are who we are, but there is always hope.
DP: My first response to Tampons (I know that sounds weird) was amazement at how a writer could make such an intensely painful event in someone’s life so irrelevantly funny. My first response to Joe, my character, was similar in that Shairi has created a character that we like and trust through so much of the play who we realize in the end is a monster. One notable challenge was not judging the character; to play Joe as someone who feels justified in what he’s done, as a real person and not just as the imagined entity that Jen has been carrying around for most of her life.
I was surprised by how many moments of tenderness there actually are between the characters. Sweet moments that belie their history together, but also make the ending so much more powerful. It’s this dynamic that makes playing Joe so interesting. It gave me a broad range to play within.
This is a very personal play for Shairi, the writer. What is it like to rehearse and perform a new play with the playwright in the room? How do you approach it differently than you might a piece of work by a dead or absent writer?
JM: I love having the playwright in the room. Shairi was so collaborative and helpful. It just is really what I love best about making theater: being on the ground level of creating something and having access to how a writer saw it in their brain.
DP: I love rehearsing new plays with the playwright in the room. For one thing - it’s more collaborative. It’s also nice when you can have the playwright elucidate certain things for you that might be a little confusing in the beginning of the process. I think I approach a play differently when it’s new and the writer is there with us in that I’m reminded that this is someone’s work, something this person has spent hours throwing themselves into and my job is to help them realize their vision. With older plays that have been around and done for years, usually the impulse is to sort of put my stamp on the role. But when it’s a new play with a brilliant young playwright like Shairi, I'm brought back to the basics: how do I help this person tell their story?
Jennifer Mudge can presently be seen in Martin Scorsese’s THE IRISHMAN. She recently completed principal photography on THE SURROGATE and THE DRUMMER (opposite Danny Glover), and this summer starred in the premiere of Heidi Armbruster’s MRS. CHRISTIE at the Dorset Theatre Festival. She is a Drama Desk and Lucille Lortel Award nominee, and has appeared on and off-Broadway and in London’s West End, as well as various theaters around the country.
Darren Pettie can recently be seen in the feature TRIAL BY FIRE opposite Jack O'Connell. Last season he starred on Spike TV's, THE MIST, and he currently recurs on SEAL TEAM and recently MADAM SECRETARY. Darren co-starred opposite Logan Lerman and Michelle Monaghan in the feature SIDNEY HALL (dir. Shawn Christensen), which premiered in Sundance in January. In 2015, his film THE SCARECROW premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival.