Playwright, Librettist, Artist and Educator, Coni Ciongoli Koepfinger is the creative director and host of AIRPlay with the On Air Players. In addition to teaching theatre and composition at Carnegie Mellon and various universities, Koepfinger is an internationally published and produced playwright and librettist. She also is a contributing writer for the Center of Conscious Creativity in LA; a board member of the International Center for Women Playwrights; the Media Arts Advisory Board of Lifeboat Foundation; a Member of The Dramatists Guild, and the League of Professional Theatre Women. Recent work includes a fresh look at political corruption in the face of ancient Celtic mythology in The Eve of Beltane and the musical Schoolhouse with her creative partner Joe Izen; Singularity: A Brave New Musical with Joe Kelly & Joe Izen; Turbulence, a Look into the Madness of Art commissioned by Mara Mills at Hudson Valley Center for Contemporary Arts; and her metadrama Sideshow directed by Paul Navarra at Manhattan Repertory Theatre that takes gender, ego and identity struggles to a new dimension.
Can you tell us a little bit about how you got into playwrighting? What influences did you have as a child?
As a child I was tested and was found to be allergic to 48 out 52 items. I couldn’t breathe outside and was forced to stay in the house and watch my sisters and the other kids play in the yard. I used to sit by the casement windows and imagine my own worlds. After learning to read and write, and growing up in a home that was filled to brim with books (my mother was a poet and an avid reader), I started to write stories and plays as early as third grade. When I started college, I had but one thought in mind—to be a playwright as a career.
Can you tell us little about your current projects? What are you working on right now?
Right now my main focus is on a new kind of musical theatre with my partner Joe Izen. We want to create major musical theatre works that will allow audiences to transcend ordinary pressures and come away with a renewed sense of innocence for all life. I studied theatre as an undergrad but my advanced degree is from Carnegie Mellon in Literary and Cultural Theory. I believe that the arts, especially theatre, has the power to transform society. Currently we are working on “Schoolhouse”, “The Eve of Beltane” and “Singularity”.
Schoolhouse examines the brutal aftermath of a school shooting and lifts up so we illuminate its causes and then transfigure the future after such a devastation. The underlying theme of all of our work speaks to the need for humanity to allow for more creativity, because unless if not creative, humans will be destructive. As one critic puts it,
“Coni Koepfinger and Joe Izen reveal the link between dreams, parallel universes, and possible transition to them via a new kind of timeless awareness in their new musical SCHOOLHOUSE.” Robert Rhodes, Physicist and New Media Science Advisor
In addition to my musical theatre with Joe, I do still continue to polish some of my older work in productions. This summer I have 4 shows going up in New York City:
Turbulence – June 27-28 at Manhattan Rep; The Shadow Dancer – July 8-9 also at Manhattan Rep as part of their anniversary celebration; Garrett the Blue Giraffe – July 20-26 at ThespisNY theatre Festival at the Hudson Guild theatre; Coffeehouse Magik – August 17-September 6 UNFRinged Festival at the Secret Theatre. Then in September we will be developing The Eve of Beltane for Off Broadway to Broadway.
What does your day-to-day look like?
- Meditation with my husband 6am
- Coffee – breakfast
- Check in with messages
- Meditation with my daughter
- Coffee & tea
- Writing 10-12
- Break for meditation
- Writing/ editing 1-4
- Communications 4-5
- Sahaja yoga
- Choir practice/ rehearsal etc.
What’s the part of your work that you love the most, what do you love the least?
What I love the most is the process of creation. The act of writing is, was and always will be a fascinating magical process for me. I find myself enchanted in other’s world; talking to people as they come the page. Even working in collaboration, which is my second favorite aspect of being a playwright, I tend to show my exhilaration when a new character is invented. Much like giving birth, the very essence of the joy of innocence, when you give life and breath, you often step back astounded at the formative stages of creation itself.
Least? Rewriting… Editing,… Formatting. It’s hard work but often times it proves to lead you further into the story, finding another path you may not have found otherwise. But again I try to enjoy that process as well using a six step process of revision. I start with an analysis of the information via the narrative, then I scrutinize the meaning of my word choices aligning it with each character, then I try to read from the audience point of view. Next I usually work with dramaturge to examine my overall structure for clarity of intent in the plot and in the character thru-lines. And then comes development, from page to stage… a very necessary part of writing for the theatre since you are dealing with words that must come alive. Which is why I created the On Air Players for my radio theatre program AIRPlay – a virtual studio to work new plays- which by the I welcome playwrights to contact us at www.onairplayers.com.
How has being a mother transformed your work?
Most certainly being a mom has transformed my life and my work by giving the opportunity to understand a greater capacity of love. The world is made from love. We come from and return to a source of love that is unending. Growing up with my daughters Katie and Mary is probably the single-most aspect of life that has allowed me to really know who I am. And after all, isn’t self-realization what it is really all about here on this planet? “To thy own self be true” “Know thyself” When you first look into the eyes of that child that came from your womb, you know that you are part of something majestic, grand and glorious. You feel it’s innocence and from innocence gravity is born. I have great power in my pen now, and I know that it is from the pure love that ebbs and flows from my children.
In your publications, I noticed a work called The Mother /Daughter Monologues. Can you tell us a little about that?
Yes. My mother and I were very close. She saved my life when I tried to ruin it after being raped at 14. In 2008 she died – I wrote the piece “The Guardian” for her the year before she died – in 2009 I entered it into a competition and it won acceptance into that anthology. It’s a very special piece because after her death, while I was still heavily grieving I talked to quite a bit. I was alone a lot with my husband traveling and both my girls off at school. One day I asked her to prove to me that she was still listening and an hour later the opportunity for that international anthology came into my email. Coincidence?
How has being a mother changed your prospective on your career?
After the birth of my first daughter, I gave up my full time job as a marketing director and decided to do freelance. I facilitated mother-children’s playgroups for one – three year olds, while continuing to develop my own women’s theatre company. While training for these groups, I learned about “sequencing” a tool taught in parenting to guide you through the everyday pressures as well as allow you gain insights into the big picture of development. Since then, I’ve taken that tool and applied to my career. For example, I was somewhat discouraged when my academic path was temporarily pause but now years later I see why my career strategized itself in this manner with specific ordered connections.
Do you have any tips on how a mom can stay creative despite there rigors of being a parent?
Teach your children what you love to do – both my daughters are very strong writers and communicators. Mary is in biological science and Katie is a designer at Google life sciences. They were in theatre as children as kids and helped as I developed my work and now I see how adaptable they are in their careers – both have excelled and are moving up and have lots of love extensions in their lives. I think theatre teaches you that at a very guy level.
What is 1 tool you’ve found particular useful in managing your work/life balance?
The internet and social media has allowed me to stay connected to the professional theatre scene and continue to make contacts no matter where I am or what I am working on. For example, when I stepped out of the industry to get my masters and teach for ten years, I stayed linked in via email. This is even more exciting with social media because you can even build networks and group projects. Which again is the essence of AIRPlay.
Can you share any activities you do with your kid(s) to help them become more creative?
I have always done theatre with my girls and now they are still very involved in my work – in all stages of development. They themselves are extremely creative and have advanced in their careers. Theatre teaches collaboration and allows you to live large and love all kinds of people. That, to me, is the essence of creativity.