1.) What’s keeping you busy these days? Both professionally and generally.
Woo! Quite a lot. And in quite a wonderful way. I’m very grateful. I just returned from the NNPN Conference in Dallas, which marked the end of my playwriting residency at NJRep. I’ll still continue teaching there this summer and possibly next year, as well. I have taught six courses there this past year and I fell in love with my students. I was also just awarded the 2013 Smith Prize Commission for a play about the effects of capitalism upon the way we treat different kinds of people in America. It’s an as-yet-untitled play that spans thirty years and three major relationships in the life of an immigrant woman. All the scenes take place at a bus stop at night in Elizabeth, NJ, a quarter mile from a factory. I just completed my first draft of the play – and had a reading that same day at NJRep — and I hope to be developing it with a theatre soon. This July, I’ll be workshopping my play, “Petty Harbour,” with Leigh Silverman at New York Stage and Film’s Powerhouse Theatre Festival. That same play is getting a reading in Michigan at The Performance Network a week before the NYSAF workshop. And I will be returning to Seattle in August for One Coast Collaboration where I will be working with actor Marya Sea Kaminski on a one-woman show and staging a reading of “Petty Harbour” with The Satori Group. Other projects I’m looking forward to working on more include a film, “Remy,” and a musical about modern-day settlers to the area of Chernobyl. But probably the thing that’s had me most excited – and busy — these days is my upcoming wedding. One month to go! And then there’s our subsequent move to New York City in August. I’m looking on these days with much hope and happiness.
2.) We met at the Kennedy Center New Play Dramaturgy Intensive in 2011. How did that help you as a writer?
The Kennedy Center Intensive was probably the most incredible and rigorous workshop experience in which I’ve had the pleasure to be a part. Immensely fruitful and enlightening in the ways of the development process. And I was so proud to be involved with a program as prestigious as that of the Kennedy Center. I met amazing artists and intellectuals with which I’m still in contact today. And it introduced me to the NNPN, which inspired me to apply for their residency program after I graduated Yale. And then to apply for the Smith Commission. And to get to know certain theatres. So I’m terribly grateful for the connections it gave me. And then there was the workshop process itself. I worked every night and morning on rewrites….after I came back from the bar (again, GREAT people at the MFA Playwrights’ Workshop). The actors asked challenging questions and I had the time and encouragement to investigate and discover this play. There’s no place I’d rather be than the rehearsal room and the week I spent in DC was riveting for me. So I yielded a lot of writing.
3.) What have you done with your play ‘The Friendship of Her Thighs.’? Has it gone through many changes since?
Before I came to the Kennedy Center, “the friendship of her thighs” had received a workshop production at Yale, and was then workshopped further with the claque in NYC and The Playwright and Director Center in Moscow (though, granted, that was in Russian…which, let me tell you, can be quite illuminating.) I highly recommend workshopping your play in a language you don’t fluently speak. The play also won the Jane Chambers Student Playwriting Award in 2011 and was a semi-finalist for the O’Neill. I hadn’t changed it much since the Kennedy Center.
4.) What has your general experience with dramaturgs been?
Pretty positive, I’d say. When I can, I choose dramaturgs with which I mesh. People with similar aesthetics. People I respect. People who have had varied experiences in the theatre – not just dramaturging. Artists. Preferably, artists who still make their own work. These (and the director, of course) are the people with whom you share your true thoughts and concerns at the end of the day and you want them to be brave and smart and lacking in bullsh*t. I think you need to get to know your dramaturg and her work – and she her playwright – before walking into a collaboration on a new play. Ideally, you’ll be a little in love with their brilliance and moxie. The dramaturgs I’ve worked with, especially at Yale, were bold and daring, with darkness and heart, and they inspired me all along the way – in rehearsal rooms and out.
5. Your writing has a soulful quality to it, and your play ‘Friendship of her Thighs’ seemed to be shaped by a series of vignettes rather than a more linear storyline. Is this how many of your plays are?
Thank you! That’s a kind compliment! A few of my plays to date function in this way where we visit different times that aren’t necessarily presented linearly. Or, chronologically, rather. But that just means there’s something else you’re watching develop, something else that’s linear. I have plays with continuous, chronological, forward moving action – “Petty Harbour,” for example – where all the action takes place over one night. Then there are plays that dip into different realities – “friendship” travels between the nightmares of a woman (which are abstractions of her past) and then to her waking day-to-day life, where she is beginning a new relationship with a man. My hope with that was to understand post-trauma. And I have plays that jump around in time – this newest work is an example of that – where there is some issue gnawing at a character’s present days that is being looked at throughout her whole life. But I’ve found you have to be careful and crafty with those. An audience needs to follow something. So if I present a play out of normally-functioning time, I have something develop with a traditional arc, something the audience is watching. In this new play, we watch five scenes – three in the present and two in the past – to see whether a woman continues a destructive cycle that’s been helping her survive. And I try to set up that promise – that that question will be answered – early in the play so an audience knows that the story will go somewhere, albeit not traditionally.
6.) Describe for me your writing process.
Muse a lot, then procrastinate, panic, and write real fast? I’m kidding but that’s not entirely untrue. I’ll be attracted to some idea, some character, some place and I’ll build upon it for as long as I can. I’ll muse and write notes to myself along the way – usually in transit somewhere. Then I’ll set some deadline – usually an informal reading so there are other people holding me accountable. Depending on the scale of the play, I’ll set aside a week or so for continuous writing. Read it with actors, get feedback. And then keep going. I like presenting half-plays to people and then writing on from there. And I really enjoy the rewriting process. I print out pages and sit somewhere beautiful, just me and my play, away from things, for as many hours at a time as I can make work. The pages look like football plays by the time I’m done with them. It’s a treasured kind of time for me.
I never used to plan or outline my plays at all but now I find myself preparing for the first half of the story. In the actual writing of it, the story usually develops into something for which I could not have planned but it’s good for me to have markers, places to get to, so that I can discover things about these characters, and surprise myself, along the way.
As for the ideas themselves, I try not to analyze too much from whence they come. But I’ve noticed they usually have to do with something going on in my life at the moment, unaware though I may be about it at the time. Some obsession, some hurt or love, some mystery. Something I’d like to understand.
7.) What qualities do you look for in a dramaturg?
I talked about that a little bit above but I’ll add that life experience can be a very attractive thing for me in a dramaturg. This is not to say age but endurance, survival, living. There are things you cannot find in books. Things you need to understand in your bones through living. Humans do all kinds of things. And it certainly helps in conversations at the table and beyond when a dramaturg can understand seemingly strange character behaviors and assist a writer to better illuminate them instead of insisting on drastically rewriting or chopping them out.
8.) Have you ever had any negative experiences with dramaturgs?
Not really. You always learn something. I’ve disagreed with dramaturgs but that’s part of the process. You’ve got to be grateful for someone’s opinion – they are choosing to give you a part of their lives, being in the room with you, investing in your play. And you may not agree with them but you’ve got to consider what they say.
9.) When workshopping a play, how involved do you like to be? Are you more of an observer?
I love being in the room so I’m happy being as involved as is appropriate to the particular project. Still, I like directors to do what directors do best. I’m not the best at “actor speak” sometimes. I do rewrite a lot in the room. Cutting things as we go, adding notes to myself to write in some section at home later. I get excited when directors have actors do work off the page, outside of the play. Improvs and such. Mostly, I’m just happy to be there, learning about this thing, making something with people.