Jun 14, 2010
I Interview Playwrights Part 193: Christine Evans
Hometown: Sydney, Australia
Current Town:Providence, RI
Q: What are you working on now?
A: THE UNDERPASS-- a live-virtual script about a haunted rehabilitation center. It's a collaboration with a director and interactive media designer.
Q: Tell me about Trojan Barbie.
A: Basically it collides the storyline of the Euripides' play with the misadventures of a lost tourist in contemporary Troy, who repairs dolls. There's a kind of double-vision throughout the play between dolls (the tourist view of other people's wars) and corpses, which is inspired by seeing the creepy images of doll repair shops online--they look so much like the bodies of war dead in those news photographs. I wanted to theatricalize the experience of enforced voyeurism of other's suffering through a tourist's journey, and also suggest that things connect up on levels that are hard to perceive-- that unmourned histories return in other guises. And of course-- to play with dolls. It's a curious phenomenon that most little girls dismember their Barbies--so my version of Polyxena (Polly X) is herself an artist who makes sculptures from smashed up dolls and war detritus.
It premiered at the A.R.T. last Spring and had a show at the University of New Hampshire this Spring--next year it premieres in the U.K at Playbox Theatre in Warwick, then London.
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 grew up in 3 different countries, always slightly out of joint with where I was. As a little girl in England (country #1), the story was that Australia was "really" home (my parents were expats). So I learned the exile's longing and displacement in utero, I think. I went to nine different schools in England, New Zealand and Australia, and graduated from a very dysfunctional progressive high school at 16. I have always felt like the one herring that swims the opposite way from the school of fish.
I learned to read early and fell in love with Peter Pan at 4, which I took very seriously and read about 100 times. I ran away from home a lot in kindergarten and first grade, convinced that "second to the left and straight on til morning" would eventually lead me to Never-Never land. Kindly policemen brought me home, and I was expelled from my first school at age 5-- a recurring theme, as it turned out.
Q: If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?
A: Only one?? Well... I would call up Tinkerbell to reverse the relative representation of male to female playwrights and artistic directors for the next ten years, reverse the pay scales for primary creative artists (playwrights, actors, designers) and managers and interpreters (A.D.s; executive directors) and then see what happened. I would also require theatre critics to know something of the art form, and work at (say) the level of expertise of music reviewers or book reviewers, who are supposed to know MORE about the field than their audience, rather than do a faux populist read on what the dumbest (imaginary) person in the audience might think.
But less facetiously: I think the current model is broken, and that we need to move away from the "top down" model to more dispersed, collective, autonomous ways of making work. The buildings (literally and metaphorically) are crumbling; fear leaks out of their walls (the fear of fiscal collapse) and into programming. It is, however, assiduously kept off the stage which makes for anodyne programming and a dying audience. I see the most energy and hope in collective models where playwrights are players (in every sense). Otherwise, we're just making product for General Motors Theatre, Inc., based on an assembly line that's about to be remaindered. I think we need to go and find our people and work with them, and forget the gate-keepers if there isn't a sensibility fit there. That's what I've started doing and I am having vastly more fun, getting more work on, and finding passionate audiences. I don't think "home" has to be one place any more, and the internet has made that much more true.
I think there is a place for the "building home" and subscriber theatre, though, and it is in museum culture and should be funded as such. It would be sad if those skills and methods disappeared entirely. People need to know their heritage--If they really WERE museums, living museums, we might get better curation and more thoughtful, historically contextualized work-- Thinking of the Shakespeare's Globe in London, for example.
But really: I think my ur-point is Marxist: the means of production determines social (and artistic) relations, and for peculiar reasons to do with the Cold War and the McCarthy era and triumph of late-capitalism (at least til recently), this is a serious blind spot in American conversations about theatre. So we need to rethink the means of production and take responsibility for it and have say and control over that process as creative artists.
I totally cheated on this question; that's about 5 things.
Q: Who are or were your theatrical heroes?
A: Euripides, who wrote about slaves and women, and wrote (along with other Greek poets) so many versions of the same stories and characters. Caryl Churchill, who astonishes me with her range and concision and vision. I particularly love her more recent work-- Far Away and A Number and Seven Jewish Children. Bond, Pinter, Barker, Beckett--those guys. Sarah Kane. W. David Hancock who I think is deeply under-regarded in the American theatre-- an amazing writer whose version of the theatrical contract and whose love for working-class stories and modalities is unique. Judith Thompson; Daniel MacIvor. I love Forced Entertainment for the way they frame theatre as a game, a mess, an always-failing enterprise. Peter Brooks. And then just too many other playwrights to name--I have a love affair with Latino/a playwriting and have been astonished by Maria Irene Fornes and then Migdalia Cruz, Octavio Solis, Jose Rivera and others--and also love the lyric sweep and historical sensibility of Black playwrights Marcus Gardley and the early Suzan-Lori Parks. Botho Strauss for his Big and Little (Scenes)--the only play I'd ever read (back in the 90s) that placed a passive protagonist in the center of a social tragedy. I also have a deep fondness for Tenessee Williams and Thornton Wilder.
Q: What kind of theater excites you?
A; I love theatre where the inside is bigger than the outside. A dream with a hard core of truth inside. That's a huge range really: a tight chamber play or a vast, sweeping imagistic explosion (from Far Away to Brook's Mahabarata). Work that has a forceful vision at its center, that takes you somewhere you didn't know you were going--and when you return, everything looks different. Theatre with a complex view of mimesis, one that knows the viewer changes the thing viewed. Theatre that isn't completed when the show ends, that haunts me when it's over. Theatre that has to be theatre, that engages the danger and folly of liveness. It can be Aristotelian in its arc and drive or fractal and polyphonic; I don't care as long as it's fired by the force of vision.
Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
A: Write every day and find your people. Do that first and keep doing it for as long as you write. Go and see everything. Find the joy in it, and if there is no joy, do something else with your life. Don't worry if it's all terrifying; it just is. If you would like to make a living, think long and hard about that. If you want to be A Writer more than you want to write, please do something else.
Q: Plugs, please:
A: Its all just cooking away in the basement right now. I'm working on the second draft of The Underpass (my live-virtual collaborative piece) and scheduling workshops and an April showcase production for that. Starting a new chamber play for 3 women, Can't Complain, which I hope will be a comedy. Forthcoming publications: Trojan Barbie with Samuel French and an anthology of my war plays with No Passport Press, plus several pieces in Smith and Kraus' Best Women's Monologues of 2010 and Best Men's Monologues of 2010. And Alexis Clements and I are co-editing a two-volume anthology of plays from this year's Playwrights' Lab at the Women's Project, titled Out of Time and Place. Then the UK premiere of Trojan Barbie next year. Updates on my website: www.christine-evans-playwright.com