Tuesday, June 28, 2011

I Interview Playwrights Part 364: Mia McCullough



Mia McCullough


Hometown: I was born in Washington Heights in NYC, but mostly grew up in the Hamlet of Hawthorne, NY which is about 11 miles north of the the Bronx. People drive through it, but no one really knows it's there.

Current Town: I've lived in Evanston, IL since 1988. If it had hills it would be perfect.

Q:  What are you working on now?
 
A:  I've been writing and rewriting screenplays all year. I've got one ready to go out the door, and the second one is almost ready. I studied screenwriting and playwriting in college, and opportunities on stage in my 20s led me to forsake screenwriting for a long time. It's good to get back to it. I was feeling a bit burned out on playwriting. I have a play that I started last summer that I think I'm about ready to get back to now. The first draft is half-way...maybe two-thirds done. I've also recently started dabbling in stand-up comedy, which has been a blast. Stretches different muscles, allows me to get back on stage.


Q:  Tell me, if you will, a story from your childhood that explains who you are as a writer or as a person.
 
A:  Hmm. Well. I used to want to be a veterinarian. From the time I was 5 until I was 15, I was pretty dead-set on it. I volunteered at an environmental center for 7 years, I did an internship at the Bronx Zoo, I worked at a vet's office for a summer. The thing about working with animals, there's a lot of death. Short life spans and all that. And sometimes you have to kill the animals you work with, either to end their suffering or to feed them to another animal. I guess it's made me very unsentimental. I have very little patience for sentimental, sappy entertainment; for being emotionally manipulated by film or theatre. I resent soundtracks that tell me what I'm supposed to be feeling. Which is not to say that I'm cold or I don't want to feel things. I'd rather present a truth to the audience and let them have their own emotions about it.

Q:  If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?
 
 
A:  I would call for a moratorium on Shakespeare productions and teaching of Shakespeare in schools.
First, Shakespeare is the most produced playwright in the nation. I counted one year, (and I didn't count the theatres with Shakespeare Festival in the name), and there were 136 productions of Shakespeare plays. The next most produced playwright was Sarah Ruhl at 23 productions. The man has been dead for almost 400 years. He's not the most relevant voice, but he is the most heard. It's ridiculous. It smacks of idolatry. And theatre people get very upset with me when I talk about this, because he's their Jesus. I'm attacking the core of why many, many people embraced theatre in the first place. But what they're not seeing or not acknowledging is how many people Shakespeare turns away. Because that population doesn't enter their orbit.


I think force-feeding high school students Shakespeare has done more to kill the American public's interest in going to theatre than anything else. Especially with the influx of immigrants in this country, who struggle with modern English, much less Shakespearian English. The plays are inaccessible. If students read more plays about people who looked and talked like them --- and those plays are out there --- they would feel like theatre includes them and they might be more interested in taking part in it, being part of what makes it thrive.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  Today I found out that Lydia Diamond's play Stick Fly is going to Broadway, so today she's my hero. I admire a lot of writers who came before me, but my heroes are the people who slog along with me, especially the network of Chicago playwrights who support each other and help each other up the rungs of this ridiculous profession. I live in a very generous community, and even when people move away we still claim them as our own, and cheer them on. I'm proud to be a part of that.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  I love intimate little plays that give me a view into a world I would not otherwise see, like I'm looking through a peep-hole. When I go to a play I want it to teach me something, hold me captivated from start to finish, and allow me to feel...something. That's my perfect evening of theatre. If I can get two out of three, I'm still pretty happy, but I'm always hoping for all three.

Q:  What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?

A:  Submit your work everywhere. Don't send it one place and wait to hear back.
Don't keep rewriting the same play over and over. You learn much more by writing the next piece.
It's a craft, and it takes a long time to get good at any craft. Hundreds and hundreds of hours of practice.
Challenge yourself.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  My play IMPENETRABLE just received an honorable mention in this year's Jane Chambers Competition. And I've got a couple things in the works, but nothing I'm at liberty to talk about.

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