Aug 18, 2011
I Interview Playwrights Part 378: Karen Smith Vastola
Karen Smith Vastola
Hometown: A small town in upstate New York
Current Town: New York, NY
Q: Tell me about Buried Words.
A: I began work on the play while in Columbia MFA program. It had a reading at Rattlestick Playwright’s Theatre. More revisions. There was more developmental work done (revisions) at the terraNOVA Collective playwrights group. Accepted by 2011 Fringe Festival. Rehearsed for three weeks under the direction of Johanna Gruenhut. More revisions and new scenes added. It started as an imagined conversation between two grown women remembering childhood events with a mother who evoked a mixture of fascination, fear and anger. These three emotions fuel their imaginations. Ultimately it became about these same two women as children reconsidering the violence of both parents towards themselves and each other through the acting out of past events.
Q: What else are you working on?
A: Most recently, I began work on a play set in a long distance train ride across the US. Time, home, references...are suspended for its travelers. Within a small, crowded space travelers are forced to deal with issues of class, race, and each other’s very different needs. Conflicts, outright clashes, possibly understanding may develop. I am also revising two plays for younger actors. The first called Useless Inc. includes Coco Chanel, Ayn Rand and a time-traveling mannequin set in the old Hollywood and Paris in the early 1900’s. The second is a very loose adaptation of the Pinocchio story set in World War I.
Q: Tell me, if you will, a story from your childhood that explains who you are as a writer or as a person.
A: A hardscrabble life where one of the options was voluntarily asking for safe haven in an orphanage three blocks from my house. A strict Catholic education that put the both the fear of the retributions of sin and the belief in miracles which kept me on the straight and narrow until I could leave town. A sister who held an imagination and sense of adventure that symbiotically entered my being.
Q: If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?
A: A national theatre system that is subsidized by the government, similar to the one in Great Britain, so that all classes of people could afford to buy a ticket and artists who wanted to make theatre could have a place to practice, It happened once in this country as part of WPA in the 1930’s. It put a lot of people back to work, and more Americans across the country, in every region, saw more theatre, then they had ever seen before. Also, an end to all bias- gender, race, sexual orientation, religion and age. It‘s written into the laws for government funding, but a lot of folks ignore it and few challenge those who control the choices. Sorry that’s two things. Writers can’t count.
Q: Who are or were your theatrical heroes?
A: Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Behn, Calderon, Everyman, Schiller, Durrenmatt, Beckett, Genet, Pirandello, Wilder, Williams, O’Neill, Wilson, Pinter, Kane, Bond. Still with us heroes: Albee, Churchill, Kennedy, Guare, Ruhl, Parks, Fornes, Kushner, Adams, Hare, Eno, Gibson, Moses, Machado, Stuart, Koteles, Szymkowicz, Walker, Walsh, Lawson, Cohen, Vourakis, Swedeen, Empfield, Wallace and Wertenbaker.
Q: What kind of theater excites you?
A: Committed. Intense. Truthful. Highly theatrical. Highly Imaginative. Ideas that abound. Anything directed by the Peruvian director, Gisela Cardenas, the French director, Mnouchkine or the American director Johanna Gruenhut. Theatre Complicite, Elevator Repair Service. Abbey Theater, The Civilians, Performance Lab 115, Flux Theatre and watching plays written by all of the previously mentioned theatrical heroes.
Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
A: Write. Write alone and with a weekly group of writers whose opinions you value. Attend Grad school if you can afford it, become homeless, but gifted, and then apply to grad school for scholarships. Send your plays out. Befriend members of your own tribe- actors, directors, stage mangers, etc. If theatre companies don’t want to do your plays, produce them yourselves – on the street, in churches, your studio apartment. Never give up - life for most is long. Believe in your work and keep people close who love you and also believe in your work. Any art is a difficult choice. Persevere and Revise!
Q: Plugs, please:
A: Go see my play Buried Words at the Kraine Theatre, 85 East 4th Street- August 15, 20, 24, 27 & 28. It’s part of the International New York Fringe Festival.