Dec 21, 2011
I Interview Playwrights Part 413: Caitlin Montanye Parrish
Caitlin Montanye Parrish
Hometown: Atlantic Beach, FL
Current Town: Los Angeles, CA
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I just wrote a short play called 10 Dimensions for Ten at The Gift Theatre in Chicago, and I'm also writing a new full-length called Uncanny Valley that will be workshopped this summer in the DCA Incubator series. I'm also writing a number of TV pilots. And doing homework. And producing a monthly live variety show, the LA chapter of The Encyclopedia Show (originally created by Chicago geniuses Robbie Q. Telfer and Shannon Magnuson).
Q: How would you characterize the theater scenes in Chicago and LA?
A: I don't really feel qualified to comment on the LA scene, yet. I've been in grad school, and any spare time is immediately commandeered for sleep. The Chicago scene is my favorite environment on Earth, a loving and bracing community of insanely talented people with long memories: they remember who brought whiskey to strike, and they also remember who was a jackass to the crew. Forever. And, you can't beat the variety or quality of shows.
Q: Tell me, if you will, a story from your childhood that explains who you are as a writer or as a person.
A: My grandmother, a deliciously boozy WASP who somehow ended up in the South, told me when I was seven that you weren't really well-read until you'd read all of the Bible and all of Shakespeare, and decided which one to believe. And then she taught me how to make martinis. The combination set me on a direct course to theatre.
Q: If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?
A: I'd make it required in schools.
Q; Who are or were your theatrical heroes?
A; The playwrights I re-read the most are Mickle Maher, Tom Stoppard, Caryl Churchill and Margaret Edson. There's a heightened quality to their work that's always fun to revisit, because I know it's highly unlikely that I've caught every trick they've snuck in. I really wish Margaret Edson would write a second play.
Mike Daisey. Genius.
Robbie Telfer, Shannon Magnuson, Christopher Piatt, and Ian Belknap run three of the most original shows in Chicago. They're not theatre, per say, but they're sure as hell theatrical. The Encyclopedia Show (Robb and Shannon) is an amazing monthly combination of vaudeville and literature. The Paper Machete (Christopher) is a weekly live periodical, a salon in a saloon, he would say. And WRITE CLUB (Ian) is a monthly, three round, bare-knuckle writing match. All these shows boast a wide variety of contributors, many of whom spend the bulk of their time in Chicago theatre. All three shows are challenging the notion of what performance can and should be. Go see them.
Anyone who shows up and gives their all to a play, for little to no money, is my hero. Anyone who shows up and gives their all to a bad play is a hero by any standard.
But Erica Weiss, who's dramaturged and directed almost every play I've written, is my theatrical hero. She is the most steadfast and intelligent director I've ever encountered, and no one understands scripts better. No one. Any playwright who works with her is better for it. I understand when writers are reticent to take suggestions from directors - not every director knows what's best. But, I can count on one hand the number of times I've refused one of Erica's suggestions, watched it play out, and been right. It's like she has absolute pitch for theatre. She hears it and knows immediately if it's right or wrong. She's also very, very funny. And makes me tea when I write. She is, in short, a total baller.
Q: What kind of theater excites you?
A: Urgent, and current, and intelligent, and fraught. That's the sweet spot.
Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
A: Write. Constantly. Get feedback. Take feedback. But most importantly:
If and when you are lucky enough to have a play produced, it will have been the result of unbelievably hard work on the part of lots and lots of people. You did not do it all yourself. You are not magic. Thank every single person in your cast, on your crew, on the design team. Thank everyone who helped fundraise. Thank everyone who offered to run the box office for one night. They are showing up, and stepping up, because they love theatre. They are giving you a gift you cannot repay. All you can do is strive to be worthy of their faith, and their aid. If you are an asshole to the people who have helped you, because you are laboring under the delusion that you are the most important, sparkly cog in the theatre wheel, then you are useless, and you have failed as a human.
Q; Plugs, please:
A: Ten at The Gift Theatre, in Chicago, starting January 5th. (http://www.thegifttheatre.org/now.html) Pretty much go see anything they produce, their track record is ridiculous. My play A Twist of Water is going to be in New York at 59E59 in October of 2012, please come see that. And every month I host The Encyclopedia Show LA (http://www.theencyclopediashowla.com/), along with a number of wonderfully strange Angelinos. Please come and have a drink with us.