Saturday, October 24, 2009

I Interview Playwrights Part 82: Kara Manning


Kara Manning

Hometown: Philadelphia, PA and a spell in Milwaukee, WI

Current Town: New York, NY

Q: Tell me about the readings at MCC and the Rattlestick.

A: Earlier this month, I had a reading of Killing Swans at Rattlestick as part of the literary department's October series. Denis Butkus, Daniel Talbott and Julie Kline have been incredibly supportive and I'm very grateful. I've been ferociously working on rewrites of the play. It had a workshop in June via one of LAByrinth Theater's intensive retreats at Bard College, and it was a great gift to take the play to its next step at Rattlestick. It's the most challenging, vexing thing I've written thus far, given its political genesis: Tony Blair's incomprehensible trust of George W. Bush and their relationship. My tendency is to write character-driven plays that roll around in the mud of betrayals, disdain and disappointments. Carnage of the heart. It's a tricky balance, this political/personal pas de deux, which I'm still trying to untangle with this piece. Ethan McSweeny, whose work I deeply admire, directed - his inventive production of Jason Grote's 1001 utterly blew my mind several years ago. The cast was comprised of fiercely gifted actors who constantly inspire me: Martha Plimpton, Samantha Soule, Peter Gerety, Adam Rothenberg and Brennan Brown. It was truly the most terrifying and rewarding reading I've ever had. And I finally know what in the hell to do with the play. I think.

Coming up on November 9th as part of MCC Theater's Playlabs at Baruch College, there is a reading of my extremely new play Sleeping Rough which the fabulous Wendy McClellan is directing. It's the first that I've worked actively with a structured monologue form along with dialogue, yet I didn't want a monolithic slab across a page. So I've structured them so they almost resemble lyrics; brisk, elongated, active. There was a workshop of the play's first 20 minutes last November at Hampstead Theatre which was dreamy. London feels like home. Last fall I spent nearly a month there thanks to dear friends who lent me their flat. My intense love for the city, the chance to be a flâneur again, traipsing down Cork Street or the Fulham Road, began to inform the character of Joanna. I arrived in the U.K. just two days after Barack Obama won the presidential election so it was surreal to experience the aftermath through British eyes. At the same time, they were marking the 90th anniversary of Armistice Day and I was deeply moved by the coverage of that event as well as the media's more focused attention on British Armed Forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Q: Can you talk about your day job? Does it contribute to or get in the way of your playwriting?

A: Oh, how long did it take me to get this questionnaire back to you? Ages. Yes, the demands of my day jobs are a continuing source of anxiety where my playwriting is concerned. I have so little time and it kills me. I'm lucky to have jobs I like at companies I admire, especially in this dismal economic climate. This summer I became a web editor/on air interviewer at WFUV/The Alternate Side and it's uplifting to work with such a terrific group of people. My background has mostly been in the music "industry" - Rolling Stone, MTV, a trio of radio stations. Plus I'm the literary manager of the Irish Rep - a superb theatre with a unique identity - which enables me to champion playwrights and actors. I have an array of other jobs, ranging from talent booking to freelance writing. But it's an exhausting schedule and I'm juggling a lot. So I'm determined that my weekends are devoted to writing, though I never have a quiet stretch of time to let a play stew and chatter in my head. The writing of a play doesn't only take place at the MacBook, but in those walkabouts you take, your discoveries, the scribbling you do in your head. The space between the words. I wish I could spend a day at MoMA.

Q: What else are you working on?

A: After I finish rewrites on Killing Swans and Sleeping Rough, I have a TV spec script to complete. And a new play to begin which feels too embryonic to discuss.

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

A: My parents used to listen to the cast album of Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris quite a lot, so by the time I was five, I'd memorized the bleakest, most politically outraged and romantically fucked-up lyrics - all written by a brilliant, likely alcoholic, Belgian chainsmoker. I believe I learned the word "fuck" from the song "Timid Frieda." I've no idea where my infatuation with the U.K. began. Perhaps with The Beatles or seeing "To Sir with Love" or reruns of "The Avengers" on television, but it's always been, oddly, my spiritual home and hopefully, one day, my real home. When I was in third grade, my mother was called into a school conference because I insisted on spelling words as if I were some Mancunian urchin - "colour," "grey," "theatre," "favourite" - and I'd vigorously argue when my teacher would mark them as misspellings. On the plus side of third grade, I vividly remember the confluence of music and writing for me. We were asked in an art class to write or draw whatever came to mind whilst listening to Aaron Copland's "Billy the Kid Suite." To this day, that first impression of freely galloping across a page with a pen, unrestricted, still lingers ... as does the importance of music in the conjuring of those words. All of my plays are born within a particular piece of music - e.g. Mind the Gap is Underworld's Second Toughest in the Infants and dubnobasswithmyheadman and afterdark is Miles Davis. I can't write without music.

Q: What kind of theater excites you?

A: I decided to quit my job at Rolling Stone and study with Anne Bogart at Columbia University when I saw the SITI Company's The Medium at NYTW. It was a watershed moment for me. Her direction, writing and insights continue to invigorate me daily. She's been a mentor and my most inspiring teacher. I'm most attracted to the darker, more menacing, emotionally brutal and often political palette of writers like Harold Pinter, Caryl Churchill, Enda Walsh, Martin McDonagh, Samuel Beckett, Tony Kushner, Bug-era Tracy Letts and friends Mark Schultz, Gary Duggan and Stella Feehily. The richly-drawn, flawed, luscious characters conceived by Tennessee Williams, AIan Ayckbourn, Sharman MacDonald and David Hare and friends like Stephen Belber, Kara Lee Corthron, Roy Williams, Laura Wade, Courtney Baron, Gary Sunshine, Neal Bell, Rebecca Cohen, Stephen Guirgis and Brooke Berman. I'm forgetting dozens of other fabulous people and apologize. I relish watching gifted ensembles at work on good scripts, like the recent Broadway run of the Old Vic's brilliant production of Ayckbourn's The Norman Conquests, Annie Baker's Circle Mirror Transformation or Lucy Thurber's Killers And Other Family.

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

A: Avoid journalism as a day job choice. Winter Miller will back me up on this! While it seems to make sense, you're a writer writing, it's draining. It guts you creatively. And the job market is grim. Find a gig that might inspire an angle of your writing that can serve as a catalyst ... or you can forget about at 6p.

Don't be afraid to survive in an unconventional way. Travel as much as you can. Study acting. Actors will teach you about your own writing in ways you've never imagined, but in turn, it's essential to understand their process. Learn what it takes to stand in front of others and do a scene or improvisation, the way words that are not your own feel they tumble from your mouth. Learn to move. Harold Pinter and Shakespeare were actors. That should be reason enough to take a scene study class.

Rewriting is as important as the writing of the first draft. Rip apart and reevaluate. I wasn't pleased with Columbia's playwriting department for many reasons, but I did learn the valuable adage "kill your darlings" from Romulus Linney, who left in my second year. You know that line that you love to death because it's so clever - but it never quite works in the scene? Cut it.

Q: info for reading, please:

A: The reading of Sleeping Rough will be on Monday, November 9th at 7p as part of MCC Theater's Playlabs series at Baruch College, 25th Street between Third and Lex.

http://www.mcctheater.org/literary/playlabs.html

Q: Any other plugs?

A: The Irish Rep's production of O'Neill's Emperor Jones - Ciarán O'Reilly bravely took on a very difficult, controversial play with a sterling cast. I'm very excited about the SITI Company's production of Antigone at Dance Theatre Workshop next week. I've not seen it yet, but I know Liz Duffy Adams Or, at Women's Project, directed by Wendy McClellan, will make me very happy. As well as the spring WP production of Sheila Callaghan's terrific Lascivious Something. Very curious see MCC Theater's import of Alexi Kaye Campbell's The Pride which goes into previews in late January. And the Druid's production of Enda Walsh's New Electric Ballroom which I did a reading of at the Irish Rep back in 2006. If you don't know Enda's writing you must; Disco Pigs at the Traverse in 1997 and the Irish Rep's Bedbound in 2003 were two of the best productions I've ever seen. His manipulation of language is violent, visceral and masterful. He reminds me to try harder.

3 comments:

tdawg said...

tell Kara she's got a free MoMA ticket on me, if she wants. she's just got to get me an audition for one of her plays! ;)

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