Jan 24, 2012
I Interview Playwrights Part 420: Erika Sheffer
Hometown: Brooklyn, NY
Current Town: Brooklyn, NY
Q: Tell me about Russian Transport:
A: Well, this is my first play, so I stuck close to home and set it around where I grew up in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn. It's about an immigrant family running a struggling car service. A mysterious uncle arrives from Russia, the teenage son and daughter become entranced and danger ensues. It's a family drama/comedy/crime story/thriller. That's a real genre.
Q: What else are you working on now?
A: I'm working on my new play, Point Shoot Score. It's about a group of teenagers in suburban New Jersey, one of whom is a recent immigrant from The Ivory Coast. I wrote much of my current draft at SPACE on Ryder Farm, a beautiful and magical place to create.
Q: Tell me about 15th Floor.
A: We're a group of playwrights who came together to support one another's work in a variety of ways. We've hosted a reading series, organized write-ins in Bryant Park and The Rose Reading Room, and are currently at work on a web series. Check out our website to see what each playwright is working on, and to read our blog where we post articles on everything from play development to hollandaise sauce.
Q: Tell me, if you will, a story from your childhood that explains who you are as a writer or as a person.
A: When I was very young my family lived in Boro Park, Brooklyn. I attended an ultra orthodox/hasidic all girls’ school, where my grandmother worked in the kitchen. We weren't religious, but pretended to be. It was pretty weird and definitely left me with some lingering paranoia issues. So one day in kindergarten, I remember a girl throwing a tantrum and our teacher started yelling about what a baby she was for crying and that we ought to ignore her because of it. The girl laid down on the floor, hysterical, and our teacher, still screaming, started kicking her. I was about four, but I remember knowing there was something very wrong about what was happening. And I remember feeling like I should tell someone about it, but I never did. And I never helped the girl. My work always seems to deal with morality, when we show compassion, when we fail to, and why we fail to. I'm interested in characters on the edge of doing the right thing.
Q: If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?
A: I'd make it cheaper! I'd reach out to younger audiences, poorer audiences. I'd give more opportunities to writers of color, female writers, and older unknown writers. Sometimes the first story comes out when you're twenty-five, but sometimes it comes out when you're forty-five. Also, I'd put a bar in every theater, so people could stay after the show. Something I love about seeing a play in London is that it always feels like a social event. You get a drink, talk to a stranger, and listen to a story. The communion becomes central to the experience.
Q: Who are or were your theatrical heroes?
A: Clifford Odets, Arthur Miller, Howard Barker, Carol Churchill, Lynn Nottage, Lucy Thurber, Julian Sheppard, Tanya Barfield, Annie Baker, Daniel Talbott, Sarah Ruhl, Scott Shepherd, Stephen Dillane, Lillias White, Tennessee Williams, Stephen Sondheim, Bridget Carpenter, Marin Ireland, Bill Irwin. The list grows daily.
Q: What kind of theater excites you?
A: I love a big idea. I love an audacious opinion. I get excited by theater that surprises me, that leads me down a dirt path that becomes a road that becomes a highway that becomes the ocean. I love when we get to the ocean even though I never even knew we were on our way there.
Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
A: I'm starting out myself, so I'd say let's stick together, support one another's work and be generous of spirit.
Q: Plugs, please:
A: Russian Transport, produced by The New Group, is running at The Acorn Theater now thru March 10th.