MANDI RIGGI is a writer/director and a member of the Dramatist Guild, DGA and WGA. Her TV pilot, “Peace x Piece,” was optioned and developed at the Showtime Network where Gary Levine personally championed it. Mandiʼs short film Spade starring Jorge Garcia (Lost, Hawaii 5-0) premiered at the Katra Film Series and won the Katra award. It will soon be available on iTunes. Her previous film, Parallel Passage, was nominated Best Short at the Deauville Festival of American Cinema by a jury presided by Roman Polanski. It went on to travel major international film festivals including Hamptons, Newport Beach, Sao Paulo and premiered on the Independent Film Channel (IFC) where Mandi was a featured director. Her animated script, “Shoe In” was a finalist at the Fantastic Planet festival in Australia and her screenplay, “Before You Say Goodbye,” was selected into the 2010 FIND Producers Lab. In addition to filmmaking, Mandi is also a playwright and directs for the stage. Her produced plays include “Chicken Soup”, “A Babyʼs Arm Holding An Apple” (finalist at ReOrient Festival / Golden Thread), “Heaven and Hell”, “Piaf”, “White Hot Fusion”, “The Tale End,” “Patience’” and “Mercy” (finalist recipient at Stage Left Theatre / Downstage Left Residency), which has also been adapted for the screen. Mandi’s musical one woman show “Piaf” first premiered in Los Angeles at the Marilyn Monroe Theatre to a sold-out audience, has since traveled to New York, Rome, Hong Kong, and twice presented at the Grammy Museum. Mandi is a member of the very selective Playwright Directors Unit at the Actors Studio. In the summer of 2013, Mandi was selected as a playwright into LAByrinth Theatre Company’s highly competitive program, the Ensemble Intensive where she was mentored by famed playwright, Stephen Adly Guirgis. In September 2017, Mandi was invited to workshop her play "Leviticus" at Guild Hall of East Hampton. A staged reading followed at the Actors Studio in October, and another took place in February 2018 at the Ensemble Studio Theatre (NY) to a sold-out audience. “Leviticus” is now being performed (August 2018) at the renown Edinburgh Fringe Festival after a week of sold out performances Off Broadway at 59E59 (NY).
WATG: You met the WATG gang through Lyle Kessler’s class, right? In fact, you got along so well they actually asked you to write a play with them in mind and thus “Leviticus” was born! Tell us more about how this all came to fruition.
Mandi: Yes, Lyle’s class is where I met the WATG gang. It was definitely a hub of creativity and I’m so grateful for it. In class I worked on scenes from my plays and screenplays and wrote some monologues tailor made for the actors. We all got to know each other very well in-and-out-of class. After the WATG gang produced their first play at Guild Hall, they reached out to some of their favourite writers looking for new material to produce and I was one of them. I wrote the first act having the WATG ensemble in mind, but it did stem from an idea I was already playing with and a subject matter I had been interested in writing about. Because I was already very familiar with the actor’s voices, the characters really took off and the full plot eventually flowed out of those initial conflicts within the first act. A couple of months went by and I sent in the next act that ended with a cliff-hanger. WATG did a private reading of the work-in-progress draft at Guild Hall and we were offered a weekend workshop of Leviticus in September 2017. It was really exciting to get together in the Hamptons. We concluded the workshop with a reading of a completed draft. New drafts followed soon after as well as private and public readings at Actors Studio and EST. And here we are now at Edinburgh Fringe giving birth to our first production.
WATG: You’re from NYC, but currently residing in London. Living abroad isn’t new to you though is it? You’re an experienced traveler. What’s it been like living in the UK vs US? Has traveling influenced your writing?
Mandi: I actually spent my childhood into my early teens in the UK, so living in London is a bit like coming back home. As a writer I think it’s really important to get a different perspective on life and traveling has been key. I love meeting people from all walks of life. Of course we have that in New York because it’s such a melting pot, but it’s different when you meet people outside of your own comfort zone. Your eyes and ears are more open. Traveling feeds my curiosity and gives my creativity a boost, so I’m sure it must influence my writing.
WATG: Playwriting isn’t your only artistic talent. You also do a bit of drawing. Rumor has it some of these works of art may even become tattoos! How did you get into that?
Mandi: I actually studied illustration at Pratt. My dream was to be an artist. Writing was something I always did, but I never thought it was an actual career I would ever pursue. I even stopped writing for a couple of years in pursuit of being a fine artist. The tattoo designs/drawings are a thing I do as a hobby. Usually they begin as scribbles and somehow end up as tattoo designs. I’m super flattered friends have requested to have them displayed on their bodies.
WATG: You are also one hell of a cook! Where did you acquire this refined palette and fantastic culinary talent? Any favorite go-to places you’ve found while here in Scotland?
Mandi: To be completely honest my mother is a really good cook and she even had her own restaurant. But she’s shocked I can cook as I never showed any interest. Truthfully, I was always paying attention to what she was doing without her knowledge. Whenever I feel blocked as a writer, I cook. And usually it’s for an army. As long as I don’t have to do any dishes! I’ve visited a few restaurants here in Edinburgh and my favourite has been this little place called Lovage with simple, but delicious wine and food.
WATG: As a playwright, what’s your writing process like? Are you someone who prefers to go off into the wilderness for a few weeks to churn out a play or do you like to be out and about being inspired by the world around you?
Mandi: I’m lazy. I need deadlines, or else I won’t churn anything out! I’m always envious of writers who wake up at 6am, have a coffee and write for 3 or 4 hours, then have the whole day to themselves. For me, it’s torture. I would do anything not to write and to delay. I daydream about the play or screenplay for weeks before actually writing it. Once a deadline has been forced upon me there’s no stopping me. I become obsessed and lock myself in a room, won’t come out until I finish. I find cafes too distracting, and it would be a dream to go write in the wilderness, but I can’t say I’ve ever done that. I do have a room in my apartment I call my “writer’s room” and it does have great creative energy. I do miss my muse. I lost my cat of 11 years last November and he truly grounded me. He was definitely my muse.
WATG: “Leviticus” has so many layers with rich and complicated characters. Did you use any real life characters as inspiration for the play?
Mandi: When I was 16 I had a best friend who was gay and was forced to go through conversion therapy by his religious parents. He was incredibly traumatised and used to run away from home and hustle in the streets of NYC. The police would find him and send him back to his parents in Connecticut, where they would force him back into “the therapy.” We lost touch after a couple of years, but I never stopped wondering about him. I oftentimes imagined him in a sham relationship, married with kids, all for the sake of religion and his parents. I would say he was the original inspiration. I was very interested in themes of denial and self-sacrifice.
WATG: You also have a great sense of comedic timing along with being able to find some deep serious moments throughout the play. This is no easy feat. Do you often write plays with this sort of juxtaposition?
Mandi: Thank you! I enjoy writing dark comedy. It’s not all I do, but I have the most fun as a writer with this type of genre. That being said, the next play centres on a young woman who is wrongly accused of espionage in a foreign country and gets imprisoned, so pretty serious I would say. I do hope to find some levity in there somewhere.
WATG: What has been your favorite part of this process? Do you like being in the room with the actors developing your show? Any highlights you care to share?
Mandi: One of my favourite parts of the process is definitely being in the room with actors mining what I’ve written. Especially in this case, because I specifically wrote these roles for the WATG ensemble. Seeing the audience engaged and responsive is however the best part of the process. I would say one of the highlights was when Sawyer turned to me and innocently asked if I wrote the part of Austin for him because I thought he needed to get more in touch with his feminine side. That just about killed me and I could not stop laughing!
WATG: What’s up next for you after the Fringe? Back to London or off for more traveling?
Mandi: I’m really hoping to hang my hat in London for a little while. I haven’t been home since early May and really feel the need to be grounded. It’s been a gypsy kind of life living out of suitcases for too many months. I hope to be filming in December and need a wee bit of rest prior.
WATG: Where can we find you online to keep up with all your latest projects?
Mandi: You can check me out here:
Come see “Leviticus” in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival from Aug 3-27 at 12pm (except for Tuesdays). Buy tickets here: https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/leviticus
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