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Derby, CT based playwright enjoying double-barrelled New York success

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From a very early age in South Omaha, Nebraska, Monica Bauer knew that she was “gifted.” It just took the world a little bit longer to realize that.

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The Derby, CT resident is currently gaining a reputation in national and international theater circles as an up and coming playwright whose work has been seen at the Edinburgh and Brighton Fringe Festivals, as well as at various theaters around the country. Her full-length play about race, “My Occasion of Sin” is now running at the well-respected Detroit Repertory Theatre.

In addition to being an active playwright with any number of works being juggled at one time, Bauer is also a Writing Fellow at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, where she enjoys working with college aged students, and maintains active within the New Haven community, where among other activities, she participated in a reading to benefit the Connecticut Food Bank.

Two of her plays are now running on Friday nights through April 4 at Stage Left Studio in Manhattan's Chelsea neighborhood under the umbrella title, “The Gifted Series.” Although tickets for each work must be purchased separately, the two plays do share some common traits. Both are solo works, designed for a single actor each, and deal with issues that continue to resonate throughout the country today, including youthful isolation, bullying, gay rights, gay marriage and familial relations.

“The Year I Was Gifted,” which Bauer performs herself, is autobiographical, based upon her experiences at the Interlochen Center for the Arts in Michigan in the mid-1970’s, where she boarded as a high school student, as a reprieve from the culturally stultifying atmosphere she encountered growing up amidst South Omaha’s packing house community. Through a combination of luck and sheer determination, Bauer managed to snag several scholarships and grants that enable to attend the school, where she discovered that her gifts included a love for theater and the ability to become an expert percussionist. The play follows her journey from Omaha to her friendship with a fellow music composition student, Bill Sherwood, who would later gain acclaim as the director of one of the first films to portray the AIDS epidemic from a gay point of view, “Parting Glances,” which many recall as introducing Steve Buscemi to the world.

The second play, “Made for Each Other,” is designed for a solo male actor and grew out of Bauer’s interest in two seemingly disparate topics, Alzheimer’s disease and gay marriage. She wrote the play with actor/friend John Fico in mind for the part, and he has subsequently toured with the work in the United States (the Orlando Fringe Festival) and abroad. The play follows the relationship between two middle-aged gay men who meet and decide to get married, while dealing with familial memories and personal secrets.

Bauer’s journey to becoming a playwright and performer took many various turns throughout her life, which saw her receive a BA from Brown University, a Master’s and Ph.D. in the social sciences field and a Master’s of Divinity from Yale. She recalls having an artistic bent since her childhood in South Omaha, where she had done some acting and wrote music while in school, as well as some initial playwrighting, talents not understood or appreciated within her own family and among the neighborhoods’ Polish-American community. “I was desperate to get out,” she remembers, “and had been doing a lot of things to become an artist. But I was fairly clueless about what opportunities were available to me, since my family was poor and were not supportive or helpful in furthering my education.”

Once at Interlochen Bauer explains that “At last, I had discovered my tribe.” However, as a sheltered 15-year old, a lot of this world and its people was quite new to her. Not too long after her arrival, she met a somewhat unapologetically flamboyant senior (Sherwood) who took her under his wing and inspired her creative development as an artist, with three minors in percussion, music composition and drama. She also met openly gay people for the first time, and immediately identified with the isolation they felt and the double lives they had led back in their home communities. As a straight woman, it’s an affinity that remains strong to this day.

An interest in writing and composition remained strong with Bauer throughout her early career in the social services and caregiving professions. In the early 2000’s, as “a more mature adult” she says, she decided to focus more comprehensively on her writing career and enrolled in the Playwrighting program at Boston University’s School for the Arts, where she received an MA in playwrighting and served as a Teaching Fellow in the Graduate Playwrighting Program. She began writing plays and musicals and submitting them to various festivals.

Her work attracted the interest of such venues as Urban Stages, which staged an early version of “My Occasion of Sin,” and the Brighton and Edinburgh Fringe Festivals, which accepted “Made for Each Other” in 2012 and “The Year I Was Gifted” in 2013. Both works were also performed at Manhattan’s 59E59 Theaters, as part of their annual East to Edinburgh Festival, which showcases selected American works on their way to the Edinburgh Fringe. It was there that Cheryl King, the doyenne of Stage Left on West 30th Street, caught Bauer’s work and offered it further life at her venue, including as part of King’s annual “Women at Work” festival.

Although Bauer has performed “The Year I Was Gifted” in all of its various incarnations up till now, she does envision it being performed by other actors in colleges and theaters around the country. “I’m not an actress by profession,” she relates, “but I’ve been so close to theater all my life that this is a natural fit, since the story comes from my life.”

Bauer was initially uncomfortable writing a solo show, even though friends and other theater professionals had encouraged her to write a work about her rather unique journey to becoming an artist. “I looked at a number of one-person ‘memoir’ shows,” she says, “and found them to be just a little to self-congratulatory for my tastes.” Once she recalled her friendship with Sherwood and the dilemma she would ultimately face at school because of the importance of that relationship to her life and her values, she was able to work from that point of view.

“Here’s a way, I thought, about how to do a play about my life that is more than just about me,” she adds. “It introduces themes and incidents around which many people can relate.”

As the gregarious Bauer talks about her career, she reveals the importance of revising and rewriting for a playwright, as well as the need to see a playwright’s work staged in some fashion, whether through a reading, a workshop or an actual production. In a post-show discussion following a recent performance of “Made for Each Other” she shares with the audience the play’s original ending and how it was revised through various readings and stagings, including those in Great Britain. She rewrote and revised “The Year I Was Gifted” at a residency at Writer House in Virginia and again before it played the East to Edinburgh Festival.

She also outlines what she learned from the musical she wrote, initially called “The Diet Monologues” which later became “Light” for its run at the New York Musical Theater Festival. That experience helped her to realize exactly what she wanted from that work and, as a result, is determined to revisit that work as well.

Bauer also has a great deal of praise for her colleagues on “The Gifted Series” including her fellow actor Fica and the directors associated with each production, John Fitzgibbon for “Made for Each Other,” and New Haven-based director Carolyn Ladd for “The Year I Was Gifted.” Bauer cites Fico as “one of my most favorite actors,” and hails Fitzgibbon as a director “who gets me and gets my work.” “He’s been with us from the start,” she adds, “and understands the needs of the play.” Bauer got to know Ladd through Bauer’s active involvement in various community arts activities in New Haven, such as the play reading series at the Church of the Redeemer. Ladd is an experienced professional actor who teaches voice and speech, acting and musical theater at New Haven’s downtown magnet school, the Educational Center for the Arts.

Through these colleagues and the various productions of her work, Bauer admits that she has grown to understand the importance of “assuring that the play doesn’t stop moving, even though it is being performed by a single actor. It has to be non-static and theatrically done to keep gripping the audience.” She’s also committed to the playwright’s life of keeping writing, and then keep on re-writing, and keeping yourself moving. It’s clear that this diminutive dynamo has a lot more theatrical stories to share.

Tickets for either "Made for Each Other" and/or "The Year I Was Gifted," are $25.00 and available to purchase online at www.StageLeftStudio.net. Tickets may also be purchased ½ hour before each performance at the venue. A special package for both shows is available for $35.00. Both shows take place at Stage Left Studio located 214 West 30th Street, 6th Floor, New York, NY 10001.

To keep up with theatrical events in Connecticut, consider subscribing to the Hartford Arts Examiner by clicking on the word "Subscribe" at the top of this article. Each new posting will be sent directly to your inbox. To keep up with theatrical activities in western Massachusetts and the Berkshires, consider subscribing to the Springfield Art Examiner.

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