Wednesday, June 13, 2012
I Interview Playwrights Part 465: Caitlin Saylor Stephens
Caitlin Saylor Stephens
Current Town: Brooklyn, NY
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I’ve been doing rewrites for the second play in a trilogy called WHEN WE WENT ELECTRONIC. It’s about these two seemingly vapid American Apparel models named Brittney and Bethany who just had the shit beat outta them. The play is their multiple attempts to remember what happened the night before when they were attacked. Because they are so stupid, they mix things up quite a bit. So even though something very violent and tragic happened to them, their trial and error attempts to retrieve their memory are pretty funny. They also sing and dance which adds to the theatricality of the piece and lightens things up a little. I like that the scope of the play is funny and sexy and also incredibly heartbreaking. I think those ingredients made me want to write it. I also identify a great deal with the characters and what they are going through. When the stakes are high, not remembering something that happened is a terrible feeling. It changes your relationship with what is real and what isn’t. I always like to put my characters in a position where they are trying to solve an impossible puzzle based on a question I have in my own life. I know I’ve missed a step in the formula if it isn’t somewhat humiliating or answerless. Somehow, juicing the personal gives me the freedom to crank the style volume, create a distorted world, and look for some answers.
I also just spent time at Orchard Project beginning the third play in the trilogy. It’s called OUR FUTURE WILL HOLD. I’m still figuring out what it is, but I’ve known all along there’s gonna be a search party and a corpse-fucking scene! I’m pretty excited about it! I also want to include a live kitten in the piece. There aren’t enough live kittens in theatre and I’d really like to pioneer that trend. I know, I know, good luck finding a director for that one.
Q: Why is everyone always hitting on you?
A: My guess is booze. Either that or it’s because I don’t feel I have the right to deny a messy moment. I tend to luxuriate in the moments when things go horribly wrong. I call these moments “whoopsie” moments. My life is pretty much composed of one “whoopsie” moment after another. Like, “whoopsie” my boob just fell out of my shirt at an office meeting, or “whoopsie” where do I get my bagel and coffee in this strange neighborhood at 7:30 am on a Wednesday?, or “whoopsie” the guy I met at the wedding and had such a good time with was actually on leave from prison. WHOOPSIE. There. I’ve given away my secret of secrets.
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 raised by writers and artists so my world has always orbited around desire perpetuated conflict. I have this one very potent memory from my childhood that has definitely influenced how I resolve conflict in my plays.
My father had this gorgeous garden when I was a kid. Fresh everything. And every kind of blossoming anything you can imagine. Bleeding hearts. Dogwood. Snapdragons. The most stunning palate of color and hybrids your imagination can see.
My parents went through a very dramatic breakup when I was 10. I remember seeing my father destroying one of the flowerbeds with a shovel one day after a fight. Just weed-whacking the shit out of this beautiful rainbow. Because he was sad or angry or something. He might have just been shoveling aggressively, you know, really planting the shit outta those peonies. But how it looked to me was scary and extreme. I see things in extremes.
This moment creeps in when my characters are on the brink of resolution. And suddenly after something horrible happens they see flowers. Like in I LOVE DEAD THINGS after MOTHER is brutally ambushed and bleeding all over the floor, DAUGHTER sees cherry blossoms and she finally understands her conflict and resigns from her battle of always wanting to keep the love alive. Or in ELECTRONIC, when BRITTANY finally remembers what happened to her the night before, she gives a long speech about how she was murdered. As she describes the attack she is bombarded by “thousands of pollen-filled memories.”
I think seeing the apocalypse of flowerbeds gave most of my plays a heartbeat of beautiful sadness.
Q: If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?
A: Theatre needs more fucking. Seriously. It’s fun to watch and it’s fun to do. If fucking actually drove the theatre, people would be less concerned with the point of view crevasse and more propelled by desire. People would make choices based on what the world is craving and fantasizing about. Things would be less about gender, race, politics, and agenda and more about having a good ol’ time. Everything would be about the poetry and suffering that comes from desire. Unified. We’d be unified. Even if for just one night. An orgy of love-making, creativity, and support that ain’t got nothing to do with what boxes you check or don’t check on all of those mind-numbing applications. It would be about the art. The language. The rhythm. The physicality. The mysterious apartment and the foreign mattress. The role-playing. The did we really do that last night? Did we? The anything can happen, let’s fall in love, oh my god, oh my god! I love you. Yes. We all made this bed. And now we’re all gonna sleep in it. Together. More fucking in theatre. I’m starting a campaign. Join me.
I also think we have this tendency to forget that theater isn’t real. You are on a stage and therefore you are not experiencing something as it would happen in real life. There’s an audience! There’s a light that might fall on your head! There are sound cues and costume changes. Theater artists shouldn’t be trained anymore for real. They should be trained for presence, discovery, collaboration, and theatricality. They should be trained to be hybrids.
Q: Who are or were your theatrical heroes?
A: I love people who invert the expected and give the audience an emotionally immersive experience. My heroes are: Taylor Mac, Cindy Sherman, Lisa Kron, Kate Valk, Samuel Beckett, Jean Genet, Mueller, and every one of my friends.
Q: What kind of theater excites you?
A: I am always exited by theater that has a personal artery that’s been struck by both style and character.
Stunning by David Adjmi, God’s Ear by Jenny Schwartz, Faust by Punchdrunk, Emperor Jones by The Wooster Group, The Amoralists, Young Jean Lee, Robert Schenkkan, The TEAM, Maly Theatre Company, John Kelly, anything Taylor Mac. These are to me, the pinnacle of theatrical excitement.
Also, theatre that really uses design and bridges the gap between the art world and the entertainment world is truly exciting to me. I love designers. They have a gigantic technical toolbox that gets my ticker ticking. They know how to use text to immerse and audience in a unique world. Costumes. Glitter. Fake eyelashes. Blood. Projections. Dancing. Music. Awesome lighting from unpredictable sources. Wigs. These things are always fun.
Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
A: If you want people to feel like they are a part of something, give them an experience. To give an experience, model your play on systems or processes that don’t involve arcs. Plays are much prettier when they look like constellations.
Q: Plugs, please:
A: Voice and breath with Scott Miller.
La Colombe brews the most bangin’ coffee.
Lookout for BoomBoom my duo/collaboration with Lacy Warner.
Come to the July Amoralab with The Amoralists and see pages from WHEN WE WENT ELECTRONIC.
Also, I’m single.