Hometown: Arlington, MA
Current Town: West Medford, MA
Q: What are you working on right now?
A: Currently I am working on a play called THE LUCK OF THE IRISH, which was originally commissioned by South Coast, but it passed on it. It's been recommissioned by the Huntington Theatre Company here in Boston and I am thrilled--and grateful to Lisa Timmel and Peter Dubois and Charles Haugland at the Huntington-- about that. I am also working on a short adaptation of a Brothers Grimm fairytale for a theatre company here called CompanyOne, as well as a commission from La Jolla called MILK LIKE SUGAR.
Q: What was it like to be playwright in residence at Woolly Mammoth?
A: I loved living in DC and going in to Woolly every day. The experience was only odd because one of the grant's guidelines was that the playwright had to spend a set number of hours at the theatre itself. Most plays aren't written this way. You write your play, a theatre is into it, they have you do a reading or workshop and if they still like it and have money and have a slot, they produce it, and THAT is when you lurk around the theatre. Instead, I was being asked to be in the theatre each day which was wonderful on paper--as in AHHH the PLAYWRIGHT is here with us--but a little strange for me because I found it very hard to write there. At first my desk was in the main office with everyone, but then I asked to have my desk in the basement, in the green room. This was much better, but not very inspirational. I would go in to the theatre from 10-6, travel back out to Oakton, Virginia where I was living, and then write at night. I tried to see as much theatre as I could, but I was pretty strict with myself about writing and reading every day, even if the pages were crappy, so basically I was in front of a computer all day, every day the whole six months I was there. If I was not in front of a computer I was reading scripts for Woolly and I absolutely loved this part of my time there. I wish I could do it with every theatre. I am quite proud I got to point to Noah Haidle's play VIGILS and say DO THIS! And the next season, there it was. I'm not naive enough to think it was all my doing, but I do remember coming in with two or three of his plays and saying to Howard and the rest of the readers "Woolly has to know this writer." Howard was really committed to reading all the work that was coming in, so he devised a kind of insane reading schedule where a bunch of us read a play a day every day, then came in each week and reported on them. I got to meet Rebecca Taichman this way and that relationship has been wonderful. In addition to all that, I liked sitting in on rehearsals of other new plays being done there. I love watching rehearsals because for a playwright they are kind of these secret things. You only go to yours and see how yours work, and to be honest, mine don't always go the way I would like, or how I'd hoped. So I like to see how other people work and by going to rehearsals that aren't mine, I can relax and breathe in the process in a way I can't if I am rewriting and nervous the thing is gonna sink like its got a thousand holes.
Q: Can you tell me about your grad school experience?
A: I went to Iowa. The first year I applied I got rejected from everywhere but the second year I reapplied to Iowa because it had said "We like you but you're too young, you need more experience." So I thought, well, I will reapply for the next few years and maybe in six they will let me in. It took only a year. I was so convinced I had to go there, I didn't even realize it was a three year program. I also needed health insurance and they had a good plan with all those university hospitals around there. I loved it (both the program and the coverage). I can't imagine going anywhere else. There were times I was lonely, cause basically Iowa City is in the middle of nowhere, if you are used to say Boston, but I got a ton of writing done and I think there is a cohesiveness to the writers there in terms of personal bonding because it is so isolated. One huge obstacle though was having enough actors of color to do my work who were able to embrace plays that were not Realist dramas. That was hard. But to this day I consider my Iowa friends to be some of the best writers and best theatre people I know.
Q: Tell me, if you will, a story from your childhood that explains who you are as a writer or as a person.
A: I used to be a gymnast. My friend, playwright David Adjmi, says all my gymnastics training helps with my writing because I can be disciplined and can sometimes let failures spur me on. I remember when I was eight I began to get kinda good at gymnastics and I started winning things. One day my coach was trying to get us to do dismounts off the beam. They were not hard, she just wanted us to stick them a certain way. She knew I could do it the way she was asking, and I knew I could do it the way she was asking. So she asked me to do it and I was very proud, and I got up there and did it, and kinda fell on purpose. I have no idea why. She excused everyone and had me go over to her and she said "Why'd you do that?" And I said "I don't know" and she said "You're good, you're one of the best on this team, but you give up easily. You don't always try hard enough. You can't do that or you won't be the best anymore." Or something to that effect. I was mortified. I was terribly embarrassed. But I got it. And it is something I think of often, even if I don't practice it. I can be a lazy writer. I hate traveling. I like rewriting but have to psych myself up to do it. Instead of printing stuff and proofreading it I will make excuses like I have to go to Staples and buy more ink and paper before I touch a word. I hate the phone so I am horrible at setting up meetings and keeping in touch and I self sabotage a lot. When I feel myself slacking, I think of my eight year old self doing stupid stuff to get attention when I should have been doing the work to get better. It's the same now. I need to remind myself to hunker down and do the damn thing, or else what is the point? If I really want to "fall on purpose" I should just get a day job with health insurance and stop all this crazy playwrighting stuff right now.
Q: What kind of theater excites you?
A: I am an easy audience member. I love a good story. I also like to laugh. I actually don't see very much theatre so I just get excited to see something, no matter what it is. But I particularly love plays that make me lean forward, that challenge me to look inside myself, even if what my inside self is thinking is "I wish I'd written that."
Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
A: Keep writing no matter how often you get rejected. Embrace the work. It will always be there, unlike the praise or the criticism.
Q: Plugs, please:
A: Mmm....Next up is the GRIMM adaptation here in Boston this July. Then will be BOSSA NOVA at Yale Rep, and then MILK LIKE SUGAR next summer...just enough to keep this new mama hopping.