Tuesday, July 21, 2009

I Interview Playwrights Part 25: Sarah Gubbins

Sarah Gubbins

Hometown: LaGrange, IL

Current Town: Chicago, IL

Q: Tell me a little about your play Fair Use. When is it going up? What sort of development process did it go through?

A: The play is about lawyers trying an intellectual property case, but there’s also a love triangle, with a lesbian at the apex. I’ve spent a significant amount of time with lawyers. There are tons in my family: my dad, my uncle, both grandfathers, and my great-grandfather was a Judge. I also used to work in a law office part-time for many years. Actor’s Express is producing it this fall. The lovely Freddie Ashley’s directing it. I started writing the play before going to grad school and got a grant to workshop it at the Next Theatre. I tinkered with it while I was in grad school after it won a playwriting award on campus. Then it was a Finalist in the Kendeda Graduate Playwriting Competition, that’s a national competition for graduate students in their final year of school and it’s administered by the Alliance Theater in Atlanta. Freddie directed a reading of the play at the Alliance. Ed Sobel, who was at the Steppenwolf Theater in Chicago at the time, asked me if I wanted to have it developed in First Look last summer. That’s when the play really got cooking.

Q: You went grad school at Northwestern. Was it for playwriting? Who runs that program? How was that experience?

A: The Northwestern program is a screen and stage program so you write screenplays, television pilots and specs, and plays. The program is headed by a Dave Tolchinsky, who is a screenwriter, and Rebecca Gilman heads the playwriting curriculum-- although the philosophy of the program doesn’t segregate screenwriters to one corner and playwrights to another. I was glad to go back to grad school. It was a chance to focus solely on my writing. I had never done that before. Rebecca is such a sane, intelligent, and insightful human being who has a deep love and respect for the Chicago theater scene--it was pretty fantastic to have her engaged in my writing for a couple of years.

 Q: What theaters in Chicago should I check out?

A: You won’t be at a loss for things to see. Store-fronts and mid-size theaters to check out are: Timeline, Red Orchid, the Building Stage, the Side Project, Silk Road, The Gift and Strawdog. There’s a ton of companies that produce in various venues, so try and track them down: Theater Oobleck, The Hypocrites, 500 Clown, Dog & Pony, About Face, Colloboraction, Rivendell, and Theater Seven. But the best place to catch a play in the summer is Chicago Park District building, Theater on the Lake. The theater sits right on the shores of Lake Michigan in a T.B. sanitarium from the 20s. Crazy but true. Every week a different play is performed by various theater companies, most of them re-mounts from the past season.

Q: What theaters in Chicago have you worked with and how did you get involved with them?

A: Well, before I started writing plays I worked as a dramaturg and in that capacity I’ve collaborated with many different theater companies like Steppenwolf, Court, Northlight, and the Goodman. As a playwright I’ve worked at Steppenwolf, Collaboraction, Chicago Dramatists, Rivendell and About Face. As I was writing Fair Use both Ed Sobel and Martha Lavey, over at Steppenwolf, read early drafts of the play and were very encouraging. I met Bonnie Metzgar when she took over as AD at About Face and she’s been reading various plays (and fragments) informally over the last year. I’m excited to be part of their XYZ Festival this fall. Rivendell Theater is going to be developing a new play of mine at the end of this month. It’s called In Loco Parentis. Another legal term. But no lawyers in this one.

Q: What kind of theater excites you?

A: I like a juicy Moral Dilemma. And some Spectacle. I also like Athleticism –push-ups are my favorite. Or couch hurdling, especially if the hurdler is Amy Morton in August Osage County. But mainly, theater that asks a lot of the actors and audience. I loved Elevator Repair Service’s Gatz. Did you see Ariane Mnouchkine’s Les Éphémères? I don’t know French, but I sat through all seven hours in Paris a few years ago. Unbelieveable. It’s at Lincoln Center.

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

A: Yeah, check back with me in about ten years. But I will say, I was taught by Benedictine monks and their credo is ‘Work and Pray.’ I can to get behind that. Not the bended knee kind of praying. More the walking the dog and catching a band at Scuba’s sort of praying. The chilling out and being in the world kind of prayer. I will say too, I don’t know how you write for the theater if you don’t see a lot of theater. You want me to quantify a lot? At least two plays a week. Oh, and have a kick ass playlist on your iPod, ‘cause some days you need an anthem to show up for work.

 Link for show at Actor's Express. http://www.actorsexpress.com/cgibin/MySQLdb?VIEW=/plays/viewone.txt&myplay=128

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