Friday, March 18, 2011
I Interview Playwrights Part 327: Kari Bentley-Quinn
Hometown: Stratford, CT
Current Town: Astoria, Queens, NYC
Q: Tell me about Paper Cranes.
A: PAPER CRANES follows five people in a modern American town who are connected through a chain of surprising relationships. Maddie, a rebellious and precocious young woman, is balancing the social implications of her burgeoning sexuality with the responsibility of supporting her bereft mother, a woman who finds solace in the folding of origami paper cranes. Maddie escapes the confines of her stifling home-life by entering into a tumultuous relationship with Julie, an older woman. Julie's best friend and one-time lover Amy, in a renewed search for acceptance and love, enters into a dangerous S&M relationship with a mysterious man protecting a dark secret. Each character is desperate to break away from their haunted pasts to embrace a better future.
PAPER CRANES was partially inspired by a book I read when I was little called Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes by Eleanor Coerr. The book tells the story of Sadako Sasaki, a twelve year old Japanese girl who lived in Hiroshima when the atomic bomb was dropped, and ten years later died of leukemia as a result of the radiation. Sadako wanted to fold a thousand paper cranes (called senbazuru; once completed, it is supposed to grant a wish to the person who folded it), but passed away before she could finish them. Her friends and family finished them for her after she died. The story has stayed with me ever since. I think loss and death have always fascinated and terrified me (with love and sex on the other side of that coin, two things that definitely come into play in the piece), and I'd always dealt with loss on some level in all of my work. PAPER CRANES is the play where I finally addressed it head on.
Q: What else are you working on?
A: I'm currently working on writing the book for a musical, which is a brand-new and scary thing to do for me. It's a comedy about a Christian MMA Fight Club (yes, they exist!). I'm working with my friend Jason Loffredo, who is an amazing composer and songwriter. I've been friends with his wife, the uber-talented Melanie Kann, for many years. It's really fun to work with good friends, but writing a musical is incredibly challenging. It is stretching me as a writer in a huge way.
I also just started a new full length play about a flight attendant who is the sole survivor of a plane crash. It is (very) loosely based on this woman named Vesna Vulovic who was a flight attendant in the 70's from the former Yugoslavia. She was the sole survivor of a mid-air bombing of the plane she was on and fell something like 30,000 feet. They found her alive in the rear section of the plane, and she became a national hero. I wanted to explore what her story would be like if it happened in modern day America and our crazed celebrity/political culture.
I was commissioned to write some ten minute plays last year, and they were a lot of fun, so I'm doing more of those. I just started writing my first spec script for television. I'm also joining up with some cool folks to start a collective of Queens theater artists. Oy. I need an assistant.
Q: Tell me about the PACK. How did it come about?
A: The Pack was started by Scott Ebersold and Alejandro Morales. They came up with this idea to have an offshoot of Packawallop Productions, their theater company, that gave a space to actors, directors, and writers to meet once a month and develop new work. Alejandro is a dear friend of mine, and we were always talking about how writers groups kept us focused, and how cool it would be to make theater with people we liked. I'm so glad they did it. Since the inception of The Pack, I have had a public reading of my play UNBLESSED as part of The Lounge Series, and I wrote the entirety of PAPER CRANES through working with The Pack. I have met so many ridiculously talented artists and have made wonderful friends. We have almost doubled in size since our first meeting. It's truly a once in a lifetime type of group. It is so easy to feel free and create in such a mutually supportive environment. I am so proud to be a part of it. It makes me really happy.
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 seven or eight, my grandmother and my mom pitched in to buy me an electronic typewriter. We couldn't afford a computer, so this was the next best thing. You couldn't keep me away from it. I used to sit in a huge wooden chair at our huge dining room table and just click click click away at the keys. I loved the tactile feedback from it, the instant gratification of words on a page, the bell that indicated the end of a line. I wrote a book of poems about endangered species affected by the Exxon oil spill in the 80's. I am, to this day, obsessed with humpback whales.
When I told my mom years later that I didn't want to write anymore, she showed me a box of stuff I'd written as a kid and said "This is who you are. You've been doing this since you were old enough to pick up a pen". It's the most loving and selfless thing my mother has ever done for me, because I know she would have much rather I quit writing to do something sensible like be a lawyer or doctor. I bet she still has that box. One day I want to go back and read all of it.
Q: If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?
A: The stodgy elitism of it all, the inaccessibility both culturally and financially. We need more revivals of dead playwrights like we need a hole in the head. I know it's important stuff, but come on, it's 2011. There are amazing contemporary playwrights (without MFA's, even!) doing great work. New plays should be the focus. If you can't find one great new play to do, you just haven't been looking hard enough.
Q: Who are or were your theatrical heroes?
A: Tony Kushner, first and foremost. ANGELS IN AMERICA made me want to be a playwright. His work is such a gorgeous hybrid of intellect and emotion. The man is a genius. Then - Lillian Hellman, Edward Albee, Caryl Churchill, August Strindberg, Eugene O'Neill. Right now there are so many playwrights making amazing work that I can't possibly name them all, but I will say that Sheila Callaghan is a big hero of mine at present. THAT PRETTY PRETTY spoke to me so much as a female playwright and theater artist. It inspired me and made me want to take bigger risks. I stood up and cheered my face off at the end of that play.
Q: What kind of theater excites you?
A: I love big, emotional, poetic, messy plays and I don't think there are enough of them. I feel like sometimes plays get overdeveloped and the soul of the work gets whitewashed. While there is no question that pristine, polished shows have their place, I'd rather see something with rough edges and a whole lot of heart than see something pretty that leaves me feeling like I just spent two hours staring at the equivalent of a Faberge egg in a glass cabinet. When I'm at the theater, I want to be ALIVE. I want theater to smash the hell out of that precious glass cabinet, and have the bloody hands to prove it. I want to feel, to think, to hyperventilate, to cry, to laugh, and to feel connected to humanity.
Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
A: Find your people. Submit to everything. Make new friends in real life and on the internet (get on Twitter, people, seriously) who love theater as much as you do. Read everything you can get your hands on. Luxuriate in your aesthetic obsessions. See as many shows as you can. Take care of your mental and physical health. Do not be afraid to introduce yourself to people. Take as many classes and workshops as you can afford. Make sure you have an income doing something, preferably something with health insurance. Nothing will kill your creativity more than poverty, and it's not super likely you're going to get paid for writing for a long, long time.
Most of all, write. Write what you like. Write what scares the crap out of you.
Q: Plugs, please:
A: PAPER CRANES will be at the Access Theater in NYC, directed by Scott Ebersold, April 15-May 8. Tickets can be purchased at www.packawallop.org.
Also, I have a website: http://kbquinn.wordpress.com