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FringeNYC: Five Questions for Playwright Laura Brienza

The 15th annual New York City Fringe Festival begins on Friday. To mark the date, WNYC asked five playwrights and alumni of the FringeNYC five questions about what it's like to be a part of the fest.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Laura Brienza's play "Scared of Sarah," came out of two preoccupations: the youthful frivolity of many of her peers and the relationship between autism and empathy. Her play follows the life of a young couple, Lily and Sam, whose pregnancy is clouded by fears that the baby will be autistic like Lily's sister, Sarah.

"Scared of Sarah" began as a staged reading at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. but comes to FringeNYC in its first fully-produced iteration. Brienza, who works as a nanny and as a personal assistant at a hedge fund, feels that writing plays allows her to write the blueprint for what her story can become, imbued with the talent and collaboration of others.

The Harlem-based playwright turns 23 years old on the show's closing night at the Fringe.

WNYC's Julia Furlan: Do you think being a part of the Fringe will change the path of your career?

Playwright Laura Brienza: It already has! I wrote and directed "War Zones" in last year's Fringe Festival, which allowed me to form some really special relationships with artists and producers that I hope to work with in the future. With about 200 shows, there are so many artists within the festival to get to know and learn from, and, moreover, the festival attracts an audience of about 75,000. So, odds are, you're going to be rubbing shoulders with people you can learn from, work with in the future, and who can inspire you to grow.

JF: What is the audience that you hope most gets to see your show?

LB: Technology has made our lives really easy. But relationships and parenting are hard. Marriages fail and children suffer when people equate difficult with bad. This is a play about two people who are scared that they won't be strong enough for the challenges coming their way. The play will probably resonate with family members of autistic individuals. The show wades through the difficulties of parenting a child on the autism spectrum, and the nuances of personal relationships with those on the spectrum. Everyone has met an autistic person, whether they realize it or not. That odd guy at work, that kid who won't play others, that woman who never goes to the office parties... There are many highly-functioning autistic individuals who are misunderstood or made fun of because people don't know why they're a little bit different.

JF: The Fringe festival is often considered an ideal place for experimentation. What are the benefits and drawbacks of having such a broad range of shows?

LB: The Fringe is an outlet I am grateful for. New plays are a financial risk, but they're so important. We need theater to explore, challenge, and explain current affairs, trends, and attitudes. Fringe says, 'Yes' to the new, untried, scary, and weird. It says, 'Yes' to the unconventional, the unproven, the risky. As a writer and audience member, I am grateful for this. Great theater has to start somewhere. FringeNYC takes the risk on 200 shows that just may be those great plays.

JF: How is the Fringe different from other festivals?

LB: While it is a ton of work to make theater happen, I have personally found that this festival is a gift. I get to work on a project that excites me with a great cast and crew. FringeNYC is a community of people who love theater, and are generally really awesome people, and it starts from the top. Elena Holy [FringeNYC founder and director] is an inspiring woman. When a festival is run by someone whose passion and compassion is evident every time you talk to her or even receive an email from her, you know you're in good company.

"Scared of Sarah" will be performed at the First Floor Theater at La MaMa on August 12 at 5 P.M., August 13 at 7:45 P.M., August 14 at 6:45 P.M., August 15 at 6:45 P.M., August 17 at 7:45 P.M.

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