Women in the Arts 2019: Bree O’Connor gets “Playful”

The Playful Substance Company prepares for their most ambitious season … ever, beginning with “Shelter In Place” premiering as part of Fringe BYOV. The first production of the PSC. season, “Shelter In Place,” written and directed by Raphael Perahia, began as a part of the PSC Writers Group. Performing Under St Marks, 94 St. Marks Place. Between 1st Avenue & A Avenue on October 24, 25, 26, 31; November 1, and 2. All performances at 7:30 pm. When the fire alarm goes off in Jahoose’s Adult Education Drawing class (Mondays at 4:00pm) and the FDNY issues a mysterious command to “Shelter In Place”, five misfits realize that they have become more invested in one another’s lives than they ever expected. The powerful new work features Rahoul Roy, Dan Kellmer, Megan Greener,* Nicole Amaral and Brandon Fox. Shelter in Place is part of the 2019 FringeBYOV. Further info located at https://fringenyc.org/basic_page.php?ltr=S

Playful Substance 2019-2020 season continues with a new play by Lauren Lindsey White and a revival of “Still We Grow: An Immersive Theatrical Journey to Fight Human Trafficking” from the company’s acclaimed Good Works Series. “Still We Grow” is an immersive human journey to fight human trafficking. The production will benefit LifeWay Network, a local organization that provides housing and support for female survivors of Human Trafficking. The PSC will host an educational program of a series of one day workshops for collaborators on different aspects of craft. Director Development programs that will run in tandem with our Writers’ Groups; readings of new works-in-development (from the P.S.C. Writers’ Groups) will be presented. The PSC Writers Groups Fall Session developing new works from a group of eight participating writers and PSC’s annual networking event – “The Pithy Party” – will conclude the season. Party gifts are part of the fun at the event, so all guests see the plays-in-development and leave with a handful of “playful substances.” Visit playfulsubstance.com.

At the helm of this deeply philanthropic organization is the effervescent Bree O’Connor.

iconsquareabcE8B1B484-B575-4369-92FCED09B38369B8.jpgBy the artwork of her company’s latest showing, one can see that the joy one SHOULD have from creating art is evident in her.

It is people like Ms. O’Connor who “GETS IT.” They understand the educational and cathartic elements of the arts and foster them with the plays. Maybe that’s because she built a family with her company.

DQR wanted to take a moment and get some words from her on her company and her work.



Tell us about yourself as an artist?

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Bree O’Connor in her solo show “Gee, I Hope You Have Fun at My Mom’s Death” presented as part of our Woman’s Work solo festival in July 2019.

I am an actor, writer, director, producer, Circle in the Square Theater School graduate, member of the LAByrinth Intensive Ensemble (2014), and mother of three. 

What was the inspiration behind Playful Substance

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The gang at a developmental reading of “Shelter in Place”. Pictured: Rahoul Roy, Raphael Perahia, Ron Phippen, Megan Greener, Dan Kellmer, Laura Sisskin Fernandez, Lauren Lindsey White, Rocky Vega, Jaqueline Reason, Foster Stevenson and Bree O’Connor

I had children “New York early” (meaning young for New York but not for anywhere else in the country) and found myself isolated from artistic outlets and community for well over a decade. Playful Substance is my attempt to be the person I needed during my artistic exile. Everyone who is willing to put in the work should have access to a creative life, should have access to support and community. 

Seems you have a strong mission to educate. All areas or is there a focus?

I consider myself a facilitator as opposed to an educator. I started with writers because I have written something almost every day of my life since I was 7 or 8 years old. After some of my work started to get noticed, people kept asking me to look at their scripts. I was spending so much time reading and giving notes that it occurred to me that offering some writers’ programming could be the basis on which to build the company I have been thinking about for nearly 20 years. I started the Writers’ Groups, hoping to gain some support and accountability for my own work while also providing the same for other Writers and things have grown from there. In addition to starting an annual works-in-progress reading party, called “Pithy Party”, our Writers’ Groups also fuel our full productions. The intention is for that relationship to continue. Not every project that comes out of Writers’ Group can be a Playful Substance show (we don’t have the funding or manpower for that!) but we can offer developmental and practical support for writers who want to self produce and also try to pass along industry information about opportunities for writers as they come our way. 

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Rehearsal for “Shelter In Place” written and directed by Raphael Perahia. Pictured Left to Right: Megan Greener, Dan Kellmer, Rahoul Roy and Brandon Fox

As we grow, so will our artist development programs. This year we hope to add a Director Development component to the work we do as well as some short term workshops for collaborators to explore their relationships to one another and to different aspects of the medium. 

I have always been interested in developing new work. Certainly, it is exciting to watch something go from an idea to finished project, but I find that companies who spend this kind of time together tend to find their own language, their own way of being in the world, their own unique voice and way of working together and THAT is what truly excites me. I am hoping that if we create a group that is focused on creating something that is specific to US that we might unlock some secret together. What that secret is? I have no idea. But the journey sounds like fun and the thought of having a soft place to land makes me feel better prepared to take more risks.

What do you look for in terms of members for your Writers Group? 

I don’t have any criteria other than, “Do you want to do the work?”. Sometimes they think they do, but they really don’t. That’s cool. The work isn’t for everyone and that can be a valuable lesson in and of itself. But I DO believe that everyone has a story of value, a voice that deserves to be heard. If you want to put in the time, you can improve. If you can observe, if you can listen, if you can practice, you can become a better writer… a better artist. If you can challenge yourself to be honest with YOURSELF, and open with your audience, then you can create something transcendent. But that all starts with a willingness to sit down and write… and then share it.

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“SAHM’s Club” by Bree O’Connor directed by Jill DeArmon for FRIGID 2017 Pictures: Kaili Y. Turner, Kim Rios Lin, Nicol Moeller, Megan Greener, Ron Phippen, Jamie Klassel


How do you measure success?

At this point, I am happy that I have collaborators who keep saying “yes”. We are still a very young company and so we have a few years of hard audience development work ahead of us, but the artists keep showing up and they keep coming back for more. Right now that feels like success. Being able to offer more opportunities for artists, that would feel like the next level. We are working toward the day when everyone will get paid more than subway fare and snacks and audiences have enough of a relationship with us that they LOOK for us. But until then, bringing people together in a room to breathe the same air and share the same experience and maybe even be moved in some way that makes them slightly different than they were the moment before the lights went down… THAT sounds like real success.

What’s next? 

Our second full season begins with “Shelter In Place” by Raphael Perahia (one of our original Writers’ Group members) runs  October 24 – 26th and October 31 – November 2nd at Under St Marks Theater. In November we will be offering a short term workshop for writers to explore scene study from an actor’s perspective. In Winter 2020, Playful Substance will take on a new piece by Lauren Lindsey White (also, original Writers’ Group member) and put up a workshop production. Our Writers’ Groups continue through June. There will be a Good Works Series Project (a project we do in partnership with a local charity- details to come), more workshops and readings and our season closes with our third annual Pithy Party in June.