Monday, October 12, 2009

I Interview Playwrights Part 72: Mariah MacCarthy

Mariah MacCarthy

Hometown: San Diego, CA

Current Town: Astoria, NY

Q:  You have a couple shows coming up.  Can you talk a little about the plays and productions?

A:  The first play I have coming up is Ampersand: A Romeo & Juliet Story, the first act of which will be performed as part of the Looking Glass Theatre's Winter Forum (December 17-20).  It's a contemporary cynical lesbian adaptation of, you guessed it, Romeo and Juliet--with music and cross-dressing.  The title characters are two midwestern girls in their early twenties whose mothers are running against each other for mayor.  My approach is pretty un-romantic - I really don't think Romeo and Juliet would have worked out as a couple had they lived, or that killing yourself over grief for your lover is particularly romantic, and this rendition reflects that attitude.  I also had elections on the brain after last year's epic race, and am simultaneously tickled and disgusted by how much we know about politicians' children--and wouldn't it be wild if, say, Chelsea Clinton and Meghan McCain were a secret couple?  As all this was swirling around in my head, director Amanda Thompson asked me if I'd like to write something for the Looking Glass's Winter Forum, and the rest is history.

Then in the spring, the awesome Rapscallion Theatre Collective is projected to produce The All-American Genderf*ck Cabaret.  This project started as my senior thesis at Skidmore College, which I co-created with a fabulous student cast; then I reworked it in June in a staged reading with a different, though also fabulous, cast.  Genderf*ck takes eight gender stereotypes and, well, fucks them.  The characters, guided by an androgynous, omnipotent MC, morph from full-on cliches to actual human beings.  There's dancing, making out, assault, heartbreak, and peanut butter banana sandwiches.  The staged reading in June was one of those magical nights you dream of as a playwright, where the house is packed and you get a standing O and it leads to a production offer.  And I'm so excited to be working with Rapscallions; I've worked with them as a director several times, and in addition to being incredibly warm and welcoming people, they're always doing fresh, beautiful work.  (Shameless plug: check out their upcoming production of Naomi Wallace's Trestle at Pope Lick Creek - it's going to be gorgeous:

Q:  Tell me what it was like to intern at New Dramatists.

A:  Interning at New Dramatists was my wonderful crash course introduction to the New York theater scene that every theater artist should get when they're just starting out.  Not only are there absurdly brilliant playwrights hanging out at ND all the time, you're also being constantly inundated with new work - through stage managing the readings, seeing bucketloads of free theater, reading the plays in the library, etc.  I learned a ton, drank a lot of free wine, and met some delightful people that I'm still working with--Amanda Thompson, director of Ampersand, was a fellow intern there.  And if you intern with them, you get a reading of one of your plays, so I had an awesome reading of my play A Man of His Word there in January.  Yes, New Dramatists interns make coffee and get very familiar with the copier, but when something like PlayTime happens in the fall, you actually get really excited about making coffee and copies.  I'm serious.

Q:  You took a class with Lucy Thurber at Primary Stages.  What was that like?

A:  My class with Lucy was the beginning of a hugely important turnaround for me as a playwright.  I've always had a restless imagination, and as I've gotten older my work has become increasingly gender-political, so I waltzed into Lucy's class thinking I was rather clever.  She was the first teacher to kind of kick my ass and say, "OK, yes, you're very clever, but what's actually happening in this scene?"  She taught me that theater can't just be pretty; it has to be active.  Since then my work has changed significantly, and for the better.  (Side note: if you're in New York and haven't seen Lucy's Killers and Other Family yet, I don't know what you're waiting for.  See it before it closes this weekend.)

Q:  Tell me a story from your childhood that explains who you are as a person or writer.

A:  When I was three, I used to pick up my uncle's cats by their tails and throw them in his pool.  I didn't mean the cats any harm - it was hot out, and I thought the cats would want to cool off, and it seemed obvious to me that cats were meant to be picked up by the tail.  This, of course, was not the case, and very quickly these cats started avoiding me, but I didn't know why.  I just loved them so much and didn't understand why they didn't want to play with me anymore.

Q:  How do you feel about dating a fellow playwright?

A:  I feel pretty great about dating Larry Kunofsky.  We're both huge fans of each other's writing, but more importantly, we're madly in love.  It's a very convenient arrangement.  It's nice to feel both inspired and inspiring.

Q:  Tell me about Writers Group for Minions.

A:  Writers Group for Minions is the brainchild of me and my former co-minion Krystal Banzon (who will be directing Genderf*ck in the spring).  We created it to give our fellow office bitches, interns, and assistants a forum where they could bring and share work.  I've always found it hard to write without some kind of structure or deadline, so WGFM is our attempt to motivate ourselves and our peers.  Feel free to email us at with a description of your minion experience if you'd like to join us!

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  Really, even if I don't like something, I'll congratulate anything that's doing something I've never seen before.  But beyond that...Theater with visible strings.  Theater where someone totally rocks out.  Theater with longing or war or ugliness in it.  Theater that makes me go, "Oh no they didn't!"  Theater with awkward moments.  Theater that is socially aware without being self-congratulatory, or celebratory without being mindless.  Theater with guts.  From this year:  Monstrosity, That Pretty Pretty; or, The Rape Play, Red Fly/Blue Bottle, Rods and Cables, Chautauqua!, Bird House, Ruined, Expatriate, Our Town at Barrow Street...I could go on.

Probably my favorite person making art right now is Amanda Palmer, performance artist & former frontwoman of The Dresden Dolls.  Her solo album provided a lot of the inspiration for Ampersand (the title is lovingly lifted from the third track).  This year, she collaborated with a group of high schoolers in Lexington, Massachusetts to create one of the most memorable theatrical experiences I've ever seen, With the Needle that Sings in Her Heart.  It was an ensemble piece based on the Neutral Milk Hotel album, In an Aeroplane Over the Sea, in which Anne Frank uses her imagination to escape the horrors of the Holocaust - until eventually she can't anymore.  It was epic and broken and devastating and just...stunning.  And you can feel that theatricality in Amanda Palmer's music.  I wish she'd come to New York and bring her high schoolers with her.

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

A:  I consider myself to be very, very much still in the "just starting out" category, but here's what I've learned so far: people love free labor.  Give your sweat to theaters you admire, even if you already have a "job-job" - help with mass mailings, help with load-ins and strikes, be an usher, be a PA, whatever you can do (without adding too much to the debt you've likely already accrued from college).  Some people will take the free labor and run, but others will bend over backwards for you again and again.  Do it now, while you have the energy.

Also, remember that networking is often as simple as just making friends.  Your fellow intern today is tomorrow's Anne Bogart, so don't worry if you didn't get to share your poetic prowess with the big boss of your favorite theater company; your friends, your peers, are your future collaborators.  Toward that end, fill your friends' houses - karma works.  Befriend directors until you meet the ones that get your work.  And if you've just graduated college, contact your fellow alumni.  I wouldn't have gotten anywhere without the support of my more established fellow Skidmore College alums: Allison Prouty at the Women's Project, Jessica Davis-Irons at Andhow!, Yehuda Duenyas at NTUSA.  They enabled me to hit the ground running when I moved to New York, and I haven't stopped running yet.

Q:  Links for shows, please:

A:  There's no info online for Ampersand or Genderf*ck yet, but definitely check out both theaters' websites...
Rapscallion Theatre Collective: (And seriously, go see Trestle at Pope Lick Creek.  Fo'real.)

Q:  And other plugs?

A:  Check out my blog, A Rehearsal Room of One's Own: - I love getting feedback on my ramblings, so please feel free to drop me a line there!

Again, to come to a Writers Group for Minions meeting, email with a description of your experience as a minion.  We'd love to have you.

Also, my friend Heidi Handelsman runs an awesome reading series called The Potluck out of her living room (and yes, it is an actual potluck) - email to sign up for updates.

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