May 17, 2011
I Interview Playwrights Part 353: Kathleen Akerley
Hometown: I was born in Swindon, England but did the bulk of my growing up in Silver Spring, Maryland.
Current Town: Cheverly, Maryland
Q: What are you working on now?
A: Two weeks ago I finished the draft of a full length play called Something Past In Front of the Light for production in August. We're going to get together to read it later this month so I can have some edits ready for first rehearsal: so despite the fact that I have a short play (Law & Ordure) due days ago and despite the fact that there is nothing more to be done with the first one until I hear the read, I keep using my writing time to go into the draft of the first one and just look at it when I really need to be getting more of the second one out of my head and onto the paper. And I have something due in about 60 hours for the playwriting collective I'm in, unless I want to skip the challenge which I don't, and all of that's in my head too. So I'm not working on anything right now while working on three things, which tends to encourage a lot of staring out the window.
Q: How would you characterize DC theater?
A: Overcrowded. Filled with many very driven, artistic and lovely people who must be counting on Adam Smith, or possibly even Darwin, to sort it all out, and who randomly sample from capitalist or socialist philosophies as suits them in any given moment to avoid being naturally de-selected (economically, of course: it is a lion-free environment). Generally, though, they're also folks who can be counted on to have interesting and open-minded conversations and to support each other's work.
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 checked in with my family on this one because that's often both illuminating and objective: my brother sent back a huge tally of stories about me being confrontational with cops (I had never added them up!) as well as other authority figures, my father sent back one choice from the same list. Perhaps the connection is tenuous, but: I am impatient with unexamined assertions, bland generalizations, resting on simplified views, both in human interactions and in plays, and I get hornet-mad at people who abuse their authority, whether it's legal authority or the authority you have over someone's time and experience when you get them into your theater.
Q: If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?
A: I would get people to stop using the little money we have on encouraging the audience perception that theater is only valid when it's recently upgraded and shiny. Since I will certainly fail in that initiative, I will then try to get people to stop writing monologue plays with wholly self-aware protagonists. This second failure will drive me out of theater and I will have to live out my days giving massages in Thailand.
Q: Who are or were your theatrical heroes?
A: Harold Pinter for so many reasons, but mostly for writing and living the line 'Don't let them tell you what to do.'
Q: What kind of theater excites you?
A: I saw a production of Trojan Women at La Ma Ma about six years ago in which an actor slid on her back, head first, down a sharply raked wall from about twenty feet up. She controlled the descent with a kind of alternating-shoulder oscillation, her hair was long and flowed out below her, her dress was blue and the fabric light -- the total effect of seeing someone who'd just been thrown into the sea was stunning. Every time I direct a play now I tell the actors that every scene has to have its blue dress moment or else we didn't find the point of the scene. I'm excited by theater that doesn't explain itself, does use a lot of muscle, doesn't rest on its points or over-simplify, and knows that absurdism/magical realism (my favorites) doesn't mean conceptually self-indulgent or undisciplined.
Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
A: 1. No one reminds anyone of a shared past in full sentences, no one states the theme of the play. Let the audience meet you with their thinking, let them leave with questions. 2. The longer a monologue, the more it should reveal something about the speaker that s/he doesn't know s/he's saying. 3. Everything you think is interesting: you can figure out later, in the editing stage, if it's relevant. Is my view!
Q: Plugs, please:
A: If you're in DC in August or early September, come on by the Callan Theatre and see my play about the Devil collaborating on his biopic with a documentary filmmaker (www.longacrelea.org). If you're in DC later in September or October, come see Law & Ordure, which is one of five plays in the Hope Operas, a new-works project established two years ago to support local charities.