Friday, June 19, 2009

I Interview Playwrights Part 13: Victoria Stewart

Victoria Stewart  


Hometown: Beverly, MA

Current Town: Minneapolis, MN

Q:  You just had a show up at The Playwright's Center that Workhaus produced. Can you tell me a little about that?
A:  Workhaus Collective is a collective of playwrights that produce our own work. The play, "800 Words: The Transmigration of Philip K. Dick" is an older play, I wrote it back in 2002. It had a nice production in Seattle in 2007 but since the Workhaus playwrights just choose which play to produce, I really wanted to see this play up with Luverne Siefert playing the lead and with Jeremy Wilhelm directing. (Jeremy directed a great version of the play in grad school and we had always talked about doing it again.) The play is about Philip K. Dick, the science fiction writer who wrote the stories that became the movies "Blade Runner" and "Minority Report." In 1974, he had visions of God that obsessed him for the rest of his life. It's a trippy play with transformations, non-linear storytelling and puppets. What's nice about Workhaus is that you really have control over the production so no one's trying to make the play something it ain't (which is helpful with such a strange piece.)  

Q: How did you become interested in writing about Phillip K Dick?
A:  My brother owns a science fiction/fantasy bookstore so I always grew up with sf around the house but I didn't get into PKD until my 20s. A friend suggested I read Lawrence Sutin's "Divine Invasions," a biography about PKD, just because it was a good read. I got obsessed at that point but this was about 5 years before I started writing plays. So I just read a bunch of his books because they were great. Near the end of grad school, I just plunged in, thinking nothing would come of it. Most of my plays are very realistic and linear so here I was tryin' to be experimental and shit. (All my years stage-managing for avant-garde directors at the American Repertory Theatre served me well.)  

Q: What are you working on next?

A: I just finished a new play called "Rich Girl" which is a modern-day adaptation of "Washington Square/The Heiress." It's about women and their relationship with money. I developed it at the Tennessee Repertory Theater which was a great experience.

Q: Tell me about Workhaus. Basically you're a playwright run theater not unlike 13p in New York. How do you decide whose show goes up next? How does it work?

A:  Workhaus is completely modeled after 13P. The playwrights serve as artistic directors during their show. The playwrights end up doing more technical stuff and house-management, etc. than 13P does because we can't afford a tech crew! So during tech, you'll see one of us hanging lights; during the shows, we're the ones house-managing. Because of this, we've realized that the playwrights have to be Minneapolis-based because we really need boots on the ground to produce everyone else's shows. How we choose which shows go up is a little haphazard. We have a core group of producer/playwrights and then we have a few satellite playwrights. We have a three show season and we only have 10 members, so people cycle through more than once with preference going to the main producers. We tried to plan two or three seasons in advance last year and all that planning went out the window very quickly. So now we're planning a year at a time. At this point, we're in residence at the Playwrights Center which means we use their theater and rehearsal space which is so helpful.

Q: Like me, you are married to a playwright. Would you like to comment on the challenges or benefits of a wright union?
A:  I'm pro-wright union. It's great, right? The benefits are having a spouse who really understands your challenges ("What? Another rejection letter????") and having a brilliant in-house dramaturg at your beck and call ("Honey, wake up and read my scene!"). The challenge is getting frustrated when one person gets something the other wants. But luckily, you're also really happy for the other person and as long as you keep in mind that what's good for one person is actually good for the unit you've become, it evens out.  

Q: You and I have the same agent. Isn't Seth great?

A: LURVE him. Cory and I do have a pet name for him but I won't write it down....

Q: What kind of theater excites you?

A: Good theater. That may sound obnoxious but there are so many different kinds of great theater out there. On one hand, I love bold, visual, experimental work but I'm also happy as a clam when I see Arthur Miller done well. I like work that's emotional, that makes me lean forward, that's intellectual but not abstract. Also, because I'm an ex-techie, I get very distracted by bad production (and sometimes by great production) so I'm thrilled when I am completely drawn into something, whatever form it takes.

Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?

A: Just keep trying. Get yourself out there. Find people you trust to read and hear your work. Have faith in yourself.

3 comments:

Dawn: said...

Just read your entire blog in two days which saved me from slipping into a coma at my day job. I love reading about your process and the interviews with playwrights. I'm glad you haven't given up. We need good writers and I'm really looking forward to exploring your work.

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