Monday, April 02, 2012

I Interview Playwrights Part 438: Katharine Sherman

Katharine Sherman

Hometown: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Current Town: Iowa City, Iowa

Q:  Tell me about Christopher Marlowe's Chloroform Dreams.

A:  We're calling it an Elizabethan noir fairy tale - it lives in a kind of collage universe that plays around with genre, myth, legend and language. Moments reinterpreting myths and fairy tales mingle with tropes and familiar noir characters, the legend around Kit Marlowe's own turbulent biography and the mythology of the play itself - which is on its own a very loose adaptation of Marlowe's poetic rendition of the myth of hero and leander. It's being produced by Lunar Energy Productions, a company Phil Gates and I started in 2009, out of a love of myth and magic. Phil is directing this show and The Red Room Theater used to be a speakeasy, so the stars are aligning...

Q:  What else are you working on now?

A:  I've just started rehearsals for a play called ondine which will be presented as part of the 2012 Iowa New Play Festival this May. It's a kinda medieval romantic fairy tale that cracks and breaks down in form and content as the speakers in the frame go longer and longer without sleep. My director, David Hanzal is all about the beautiful and visceral, and we're planning one hell of a show. I'm really interested in form right now - we just took this awesome class on structure with Mead Hunter, and right now I'm pretty obsessed with how form and content are the same thing - how structure is story. It's informing everything i'm writing.

I'm also working on another play in the Marlowe trilogy, christopher marlowe's mystery play, which was developed at wordBRIDGE playwrights laboratory last summer - it's fun to know a character and stay with him as he's plopped down into an entirely different linguistic and aesthetic universe. And how the forms of those plays work towards telling those different stories as well.

Q:  Tell me, if you will, a story from your childhood that explains who you are as a writer or as a person.

A:  I was really shy and sensitive and didn't speak until I was three even though I already knew how, and then when I was caught and forced to use my words I did so in these long and apparently perfectly grammatical sentences, and I was this tiny little baby-looking thing being all, 'I am doing very well this morning, thank you for asking, how are you?' and people would just laugh. And then I would burst into tears and run away. And now it's like, where my writing kind of lives is in the language.

At one point I had a running list on a piece of paper divided into columns that served as my review system of episodes of Full House - like, date it was on, episode title, story synopsis, and my 'rating' of the episode out of ten, sometimes with what I would've liked to see happen in the episode. I'd like to say that shows my early grasp onto the importance of character and narrative and all that but it also might mean I really liked Full House

Q:  If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?

A:  Expectations - like, ideas in minds of what a play is, and the reverberations of those expectations. Also, money

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  Caryl Churchill, Jose Rivera, Mary Zimmerman, Charles Mee, August Strindberg, Federico Garcia Lorca, Henrik Ibsen, Jean Cocteau, Sarah Kane, Antonin Artaud, Christopher Marlowe, William Shakespeare, Pedro Calderon De La Barca, Robert Lepage, Suzan-Lori Parks. a few that come to mind in other disciplines: Hans Christian Andersen, Arthur Rimbaud, James Tate, Gregory Crewdson, Edward Hopper, Greer Lankton.

Three films also had a huge impact in shaping how I see theater - Ingmar Bergman's The Magic Flute, Jean Cocteau's Beauty and the Beast, and Baz Lurmann's Romeo + Juliet. I saw that when I was ten and it changed everything.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  Onstage I love to see magic, beauty, any and all kinds of virtuosity, transformation. I want it to be visceral, powerful, a punch in the stomach that hurts even harder because you're so close. Shows that lean towards being multidisciplinary. Shows that use form and structure to tell stories in different and exciting ways.

I'm also really excited by pieces that are undeniably theatrical - that could not be done in any other medium, that take advantage of the community of actors and audience, that really use the fact that we are all humans here together breathing the same air. Whether that's casting the audience in a role, turning the piece into a ritual - I've been thinking about ritual and narrative a lot lately, actually - about how a lot of rituals we know have narratives that they're built around - so why shouldn't we just flip it and have there be a ritual surrounding whatever narrative it is that we're telling in the theater.

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

A:  Love what you do.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  christopher marlowe's chloroform dreams - playing at The Red Room in the East Village April 18-may 5. info, tickets, and some stuff to look at here -

ondine - Friday, May 4th at 5:30 & 9:00. Tea parties, sequins, heartbreak, leeches. It's one of four productions, a workshop presentation and five readings in this year's Iowa New Play Festival. It's going to be grand so if you're in or near Iowa City come check it out! Informative things here:

Also this June is the third annual Hollywood Fringe Festival - there's going to be some really cool and innovative stuff, art of all kinds so I totally recommend checking it out if you're in California - it's June 14-24 of this year. everything you need: Two shows in this year's fringe that i know are going to be excellent:
Nostalgium, by Matt Benyo, directed by Alex Scott - and
Eggshell, written and directed by Søren Olsen -

Last plug: wordBRIDGE Playwrights Laboratory is up there with the best people you will ever meet and what they're doing is incredibly important. Check em out:


Mead said...

Okay, I have to stop my lurking here just long enough to say that Kat is a thrilling writer whose amazing scripts are like opium dreams: sumptuous, tactile, disturbing and beautiful all at once. Definitely see her plays whenever you can!

Adam Szymkowicz said...

Thanks for lurking, and commenting.