Monday, October 25, 2010
I Interview Playwrights Part 272: Eliza Clark
Hometown: Darien, CT
Current Town: Culver City, CA
Q: Tell me about Edgewise.
A: EDGEWISE is a dark, comedic thriller about three teenagers flipping burgers during a near future total war. It’s about what people are capable of under extreme circumstances and what happens in a world operated by fear. I hope, too, that it will be a fun ride, that you’ll be laughing and enjoying yourself in spite of (or maybe even because of) some of the more brutal elements of the play. It’s an exploration of what life would be like for Americans living in an American war zone, specifically New Jersey.
Q: What else are you working on?
A: I moved to LA a year ago to write for a new AMC show called Rubicon. The final episode of the season just aired and so right now we’re sitting tight, crossing our fingers for a second season. In the meantime, I’m working on a pilot about teenagers working at a Walmart-type superstore. I have a thing for kids working shitty jobs. One of my favorite directors and collaborators, Lila Neugebauer, is directing a 30 minute play of mine called SNOW DAY that goes up for a couple nights the week that Edgewise closes. I’m pretty excited about that! I’ve also been working all year on a play called DEAD CHILDREN about a family living in a town that’s being terrorized by a serial killer.
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 six years old, I was in a wonderful musical called Opal, written by Robert Lindsey-Nassif, that went up at the Lamb’s Theatre. It was based on the diary of a six-year-old French orphan, the sole survivor of a shipwreck taken in by a woman in a lumber camp, at the turn of the 20th century. It’s a really sweet, sad, wonderful musical with a beautiful, haunting score.
I loved being in the show – and I was in almost every scene (a situation that lead to me peeing my pants on the stage no less than twice). During the run, I started writing in my diary in Opal’s writing style, which was a sort of French to English translation – she would write sentences like, “I did go to the store” or “I did wake up.” I basically unlearned English in order to write in the style of a girl I wanted to be (‘cause she was published!). At one point, I wrote letters to myself from God and hid them backstage for the rest of the cast to find. Throughout the run, the other actors would find notes on the set written in six-year-old scrawl that said things like, “Dear Eliza, Break a Leg, Love, God.”
Not exactly sure how it relates to me becoming a writer, but I had an active, delusional imagination, I guess, probably from growing up in theaters. I don’t know what I was like as an actor, really, but I know that I had already started thinking of myself as a writer by age six.
Q: If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?
A: I wish there were more women whose plays were being produced. I wish that audiences would be more excited about seeing “science fiction” on stage. I’m told sometimes that I write sci-fi plays and that can be a bit of a turn-off. I love science fiction (though I don’t really think I would categorize what I do as sci-fi). But once people started saying that about my work, it got me thinking that I’d actually really love to write a straight up science fiction play. I would dig seeing something like that on stage. Ender’s Game, for instance, could be a beautiful night of theater.
I have this dream of owning a theater. It should be stated that in my fantasy, money is no object. I want to start a theater in Los Angeles, where there are a couple of fantastic theaters, but in general, the scene is rather small (certainly not as vibrant and overflowing as New York theater). I don’t want subscribers. I don’t want to have to do anything other than exactly the kind of theater that I would want to see. Again, money is no object, so if two people come to the show, then so be it. So we would only pick shows we love, shows by playwrights who don’t have agents or plays that nobody else wants to produce, or plays that everybody wants to produce but only with some crazy movie star in the starring role instead of the crazy talented weirdo theater actor who is really right for the part.
I guess it’s a childish fantasy, in that the dream is basically just, “I want a theater where I get to do whatever I want to do.” But it’s my fantasy, so it can be as silly as I want.
Q: Who are or were your theatrical heroes?
A: There are too many. Here are a few. Deb Margolin, a writer/solo performer/teacher/mentor/goddess who helped me tap into some really messed up part of me that has never really gone away. Deb’s writing soars, it’s really quite amazing. Martin McDonagh – The Pillowman is the play that I most often give to people – it’s my favorite. Liz Meriwether, Amy Herzog, and Annie Baker – a real triumvirate of fantastic female playwrights who I think are killer writers as well as some of the nicest people around. The playwrights I’ve worked with in Youngblood (EST’s writing group for emerging playwrights under thirty) and Interstate 73 (Page 73’s writing group). I’ve been really blessed to be a part of supportive communities filled with writers I admire and learn from.
Q: What kind of theater excites you?
A: Theater that is visceral, that elicits a physical reaction. I like laughing until I feel like I’m going to puke. I love musicals – that soaring, skipping feeling you get listening to someone belt out a song. When I saw Blasted at SoHo Rep, I felt a sheer terror that I had never felt in a theater before. A movie can get you up close to the action, can make everything insanely realistic, but nothing but live theater can make you feel like you’re right there, like you might be in danger. I live for that feeling.
I like theater that entertains. I have a low-brow sensibility that would totally appreciate seeing Die Hard on the stage. I like being frightened. I like when theater calls me out for the way I live my life.
Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
A: I’m just starting out! I guess my advice would be to keep writing. Donald Margulies, who was a professor and mentor of mine in college, always encouraged me to just move on to the next play instead of spending months and months editing. I sometimes thought it meant that he didn’t like my play, but I realize now that he knew the secret of becoming a better writer, which is just to write and write and write. I try not to get too attached to or precious about my work. Actors and directors are great at cutting right to the heart of something, and it’s so important to listen to smart people you trust when they are saying, “Cut these pages, cut this scene, etc.” Just make sure you like their sensibility. I’ve been lucky to work with people I really admire and click with. Find those people and then let them go to town.
Q: Plugs, please:
DIRECTED BY TRIP CULLMAN
presented by Page 73 and The Play Company
NOV. 9 – DEC. 4, 2010
@ Walkerspace (46 Walker Street)
Online at https://www.ovationtix.com/trs/dept/255
Or call (212) 352-3101
More information here: http://www.p73.org/programs/productions/edgewise/
DIRECTED BY LILA NEUGEBAUER
Four 30-minute plays, directed by the 2010 Drama League Fall Fellows.
The Barrow Group Theater - 312 West 36th Street 3rd Floor
For tickets, call 212-244-9494 or email kcarter at dramaleague.org
Thursday, December 9 · 8pm
Friday, December 10 · 8pm
Saturday, December 11 · 2pm
Saturday, December 11 · 8pm
Sunday, December 12 · 3pm More information here: http://dramaleague.org/?page_id=2627