Aug 24, 2010
I Interview Playwrights Part 244: Ruth McKee
Hometown: Ottawa, ON, Canada
Current Town: Los Angeles, CA
Q: Tell me about Full Disclosure.
A: Full Disclosure is a one-person show that my company Chalk Rep just produced site-specifically in Los Angeles. I started Chalk Rep about two years ago with a bunch of friends from grad school (at UCSD). Our mission is to do intimate plays in unconventional spaces and create theatre that is always an event to attend. Full Disclosure is about a real estate agent who is trying to sell a house, and as she gives the audience her sales pitch, plying them with wine and cookies, she starts to disclose a few things that she probably shouldn't. We performed the play in actual homes that were on the market, so the piece doubled as an open house for those sellers. It was a very successful run.
Q: What else are you up to?
A: I've just finished a first draft of a new play called The Rubber Room, which is about a teacher who finds himself in professional limbo after one of his students commits suicide. I wrote it as a part of Center Theatre Group's Playwrights Workshop this past year. Other than that, I had a bunch of readings of my play Hell Money this summer, and I'm spending a good amount of time chasing after my seven-month-old, who has just learned how to crawl.
Q: Tell me please about Young Playwrights.
A: I worked for Young Playwrights for about four years, first as a Teaching Artist, then as their Literary Manager and Educational Coordinator. This was in the years between undergrad and grad school. It was an amazing experience: I learned how to teach playwriting, read thousands of plays by young people, met tons of amazing theatre artists, and was given responsibilities and experiences far beyond my years. I was also moonlighting as an Off-Broadway sound and light op during those years, so I consider that time my practical theatre education. But I wasn't getting a whole lot of writing done, so grad school eventually called.
Q: Tell me, if you will, a story from your childhood that explains who you are as a writer or as a person.
A: When I was thirteen, my father got a job with Unicef and moved our family to Bangladesh. A few months into our stay there was a coup, and the ousted President was put on house arrest at the end of my block. The soldiers guarding him camped out in the empty lot next to my house. Then a month or so after that the Gulf War broke out. There was anti-American rioting, half kids at my school evacuated, and our bus was followed by a jeep full of armed guards every morning. Then in the spring there was a massive cyclone and over 100,000 people were killed. Bush sent Marines from the Gulf to help with the clean-up operations, and they camped out in the school gym. It was a dramatic year. I had no friends. I wrote a lot.
Q: If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?
A: I would change the way theatre is taught in schools. Shakespeare is important, but I don't think it's a great entry point. We're losing a lot of potential audience members because we're not giving them exciting first experiences.
Q: Who are or were your theatrical heroes?
A: My first obsession was Stoppard. I actually read Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead before I read Hamlet. After that it was Fugard. I wanted to grow up to be him. Now Albee, probably. I'd love to still be as relevant as he is when I'm his age.
Q: What kind of theater excites you?
A: I love small plays that make a big explosive mess. When I go to the theatre I'm always hoping for a story that makes me laugh so hard that I'm not sure when I started crying. Or the other way around.
Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
A: Don't wait for someone else to produce your work.
Q: Plugs, please:
My play Stray was just published by Playscripts: http://www.playscripts.com/play.php3?playid=2097
And please check out Chalk Rep: www.chalkrep.com