Today’s interview is with Joey Madia, Artistic Director of “Seven Stories Theater Company” formally known as “New Mystics Theater Company” in West Virginia. Joey is also a playwright, director, actor, and novelist. He has been a huge mentor for me for years and has written some incredible plays about social issues and other genres and a fantasy novel as well as other books. I am very excited that he agreed to do this interview and hope you enjoy! :)
Krystle: Can you describe your background? (Where you went to school/ the training you’ve had) and the type of theater you do.
Joey: I have literally been in theatre for the bulk of my life. Did my first play in 3rd grade and never stopped, so by the time I hit high school I knew I wanted to be in theatre for my career. I also have a huge love of writing, so I enrolled at Arcadia University in Glenside, PA near Philly and double majored in English and theatre. Although I produce, write, direct and act in all types of theatre (musical, drama, comedy) I am best known for my work in Theatre for Young Audiences with my participatory plays for kids 3-5 and my social justice plays for high school students.
Krystle: Great, What inspired you to write for Theater for Young Audiences and social justice plays?
Joey: TYA plays happened kind of by a serendipity. I was touring with Youth Stages in Princeton, NJ as an actor and the managing director asked me if I wanted to try writing a play. That play, Two Marys, Five Jacks, and One Very Big Shoe has been touring nonstop for 8 years and has had performances all over the country. It was picked up by Dramatic Publishing a few years ago from a smaller publisher. I wrote 4 more plays for Youth Stages since and have been Resident Playwright there since 2008.
Social justice plays was kind of the same thing. I was managing director at a theatre in Scottsdale Arizona and was asked to write a play about teen pregnancy. It debuted in 1998 in Phoenix. It won 3 big awards and toured the southwest for many years before we brought it to NJ as the starting play for New Mystics Theatre Company in 2005. I have since written half a dozen other social justice plays about drug and alcohol abuse, civil rights, teen suicide, and physical and psychological violence.
Krystle: How has the reaction been towards the social justice plays? (From students, teachers, etc…) Has it motivated you to keep going in this mission?
Joey: It has been overwhelmingly positive! We have now reached over 27,000 school-aged kids with the plays and with our interactive bullying education and prevention workshops and have received numerous grants to continue the work. The plays are as true to life as possible, and have all been brainstormed and workshopped in very specific ways with theatre company members the same age as our target audiences. I am highly motivated to keep improving what we do, staying current with the big issues and giving young actors the opportunity to not only train at a high level but become more caring citizens and activists.
Krystle: That’s awesome! How has your family reacted to all of this? Have they been supportive and are they involved with your projects?
Joey: My wife, Tonya has been at times President of our non-profit theatre company and at others Executive Director and she and two of our three children have acted in the plays and participated in the workshops, so it has been wonderful for all of us in that way!
Krystle: That’s great! What inspires/motivates you as a writer and director? For instance, have there been any productions/tv shows/movies you’ve seen that excite you and keep you wanting to move forward in this field?
Joey: Wow… lots. But in theatre my inspirations are Harold Clurman (directing), David Mamet (playwrighting), and Sanford Meisner (acting Technique) although it all begins and ends with Stanislavsky. I am just finishing reading “Stanislavsky’s Legacy” and I was trained specifically in his technique in college. In TV I love Mad Men, Sopranos, Deadwood, Supernatural, and Criminal Minds. All incredible writing and the top people in the field as far as character development and storytelling. In movies I love the work of Chris Nolan, Wes Anderson, Charlie Kaufman and Jim Jarmusch and the actors they usually work with.
Krystle: Those are all great things to be inspired by. Have there been any setbacks with the theater company? How did you deal with it and keep moving forward?
Joey: There were some setbacks at the very beginning, as we tried to figure out the right size for the Company. We wanted to give as many opportunities as possible to students who were studying with us, so we started with 30, but work shopping and rehearsing new material with that many while we were still figuring out just what our process should be was hard, so we scaled way back about 8 months in to 8 actors—of whom you were one!!— that we worked with for a few years to really solidify things. At its height the company then grew to almost 40 members in NJ and when we started the second Company in WV in 2008 we have kept it anywhere from 8 to 12 high school and college actors. The work has always been the most important thing. As long as we never stop following the mission, we land on our feet and things work out.
Krystle: Yeah, I had some amazing times with New Mystics and credit a lot of my theater training to you and the company. I’m glad things have worked out! Besides theater, what other projects are you involved in? Do you write for things besides theater?
Joey: We miss having you as a daily part of the Company. It’s now called Seven Stories Theatre Company, as of just last month. It is a confused and fearful time in human evolution and having “Mystics” in your name, although we meant it in a more creative/imaginative/spiritual way than a religious way, caused some problems. Ironic, give the social justice and acceptance work we do…
I have a novel called Jester-Knight and many dozens of short stories, essays and poems published. I am also Founding Editor of www.newmystics.com, a literary and visual art site. We are celebrating 10 years in September! I also mentor playwrights and writers all over America and teach creative writing courses for the continuing education program at the local community college.
Krystle: I’m sure that’s a great learning process for them and you. Do you have any advice for someone who is considering a career in the theater arts or to be a writer in general?
Joey: The best advice is a two-fold path: 1. If you want to do it, find ways to be constantly doing it. Write every day, act any place you can—all experience is valuable experience. 2. Diversify, especially if you want to control your own destiny. As an actor, playwright, director, teacher and producer I can have multiple income streams and doing all makes me better at each because I understand the mechanics of each piece of the puzzle.
Krystle: Thank you so much for being a part of this blog series! I truly appreciate it.
Joey: Thanks so much for this opportunity!