Aug 22, 2011
I Interview Playwrights Part 379: Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig
Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig
I'm not really of a place. But I hope to be someday.
Q: Tell me about Lidless.
A: It's a work of speculative drama imagining the consequences of the United States government authorizing the use of the female body in the 'War on Terror,' and specifically, to make a Muslim man stop praying.
Q: What else are you working on?
A: I spent the past ten years working on my 'artistic' muscles if you will, and focused too much on that at the expense of other components of what I consider to be a healthy, balanced, vibrant life. The 'writing' work will always be done - I know how to be alone in a room and spend thousands of hours growing an idea into a literary work. What I know less about and am working on is how to not become too cynical or despairing when the work I am doing has a lot of darkness, and how to grow in and maintain human relationships over time. A lot of the theatre-making process is similar to a nomadic childhood - a really intense finite period, and then dispersal. A wise man once told me that you can't make new old friends.
Q: If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?
A: I would bankrupt all the media conglomerates and support the emergence of a truly independent media. Then theatre producers wouldn't have to rely on a single reviewer to make or break their shows and could be much braver and bolder in their programming.
Q: Who are or were your theatrical heroes?
A: He's not exactly a hero because he is also cynical asshole, but Edward Bernays was a pretty amazing manipulator of the masses and stager of street theatre. I love the way Ariane Mnouchkine works and wish there was a Cartoucherie in Austin.
Q: What kind of theater excites you?
A: The kind where systemically oppressed people realize they are performing their oppression in a ritualistic fashion, stop doing that, and build an alternative.
Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
A: Try thinking of yourself as an ecosystem that has it's unique needs and features. Understand what this ecosystem needs to grow and sustain itself over time - not weeks or months, but years and decades. You might have a daily writing practice and largely monastic life. You might travel and do other work for nine months of the year and then have a really focused and intense three months of writing. Try lots of different practices and ways of provoking yourself and expanding your frames, writing, and rewriting. Let go of what isn't working and hold on to what is. Don't think someone else's bizarre idiosyncratic writing ritual is going to work for you - but try it just the same. And stop doing what isn't helping you.
Read "The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property" by Lewis Hyde to get an idea of the range of economic relationships an artist can have to their work. Spend some years outside your culture of origin. Long enough for it to start to seem alien and for its rituals and identity-constructions to seem as constructed as anything you might make for a performance. Pursue a life of downward mobility. Try to be as little a wage-slave as possible so you can spend as much of your time thinking, reading, writing and interacting on your own terms for your own reasons. Don't be afraid to spend two or three years on a play before showing it to anyone. Don't try to be too much of a careerist about it - your work will suffer.
Q: Plugs, please:
A: Lidless, the play I described above, is having its New York premiere at the Walkerspace September 20 - October15, produced by Page 73 [www.p73.org] and directed by Tea Alagic. I am honored to collaborate with such an amazing group of theatre artists, and can't wait to see what we collectively create.