Aug 3, 2012
I Interview Playwrights Part 482: Laura Maria Censabella
Laura Maria Censabella
Hometown: Born in Brooklyn, grew up in Queens, NY.
Current Town: Now live in Brooklyn.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I have an Ensemble Studio Theatre/Sloan Foundation Commission to write a science-based full length play. The science I am working with concerns the biochemistry of romantic love, which, of course is very fun to work with. And yes, there is real science behind it!
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 mother suffered from PTSD from growing up in Northern Italy during World War II. My grandmother did dangerous work to fight Fascism and help the partisans, and she was almost killed in front of my mother several times. In order to exorcise those demons, my mother was given shock treatment in the 1970s. The shock treatment did almost nothing for the PTSD but it did deprive my mother of language for a while. Before the treatments she spoke English and her native Italian. After them, she could only speak in basic sentences in both languages. It was a tragedy for her as she was extremely sensitive and wanted to have the words to express how she felt. She often turned to me to provide the language for her thoughts. It was a profound and scary responsibility for a 12 year old, and yet, when I did manage to capture the nuance of something she felt, her gratefulness was rewarding. I believe, without being conscious of it then, that that was the beginning of my vow to give voice to people who have no voice.
Q: If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?
A: More slots for productions! All theatres have such limited seasons these days.
Q: Who are or were your theatrical heroes?
A: When I was a child, the only women playwrights I was exposed to were Lillian Hellman and Lorraine Hansberry. Both of them wrote such passionate, engaged plays. I didn't dream of becoming a writer then, no one in my working class neighborhood wrote so it wasn't even in the realm of possibility, but their sensibilities inform my work.
Of course, I have many more writer heroes such as Arthur Miller, Caryl Churchill, Thornton Wilder, Horton Foote, etc.
And then there is Romulus Linney. I am currently writing this from the Sewanee Writers' Conference where I presented a 15-minute tribute to Romulus. Romulus had probably the most profound influence on me because I knew him for 24 years. Our friendship began when I was just starting out and we both had productions at the Philadelphia Festival Theatre for New Plays in the same season. Through his struggles, honesty and willingness to keep working in even the smallest venues, I arrived at a new definition of what success means in this art form.
Q: What kind of theater excites you?
A: Truthful theatre. Theatre that takes emotional risks. Theatre that is emotional. And there must be a story. I'm fine with fracturing that story, or finding innovative ways to tell that story, but to me storytelling is the greatest art, we absolutely need stories to live and that's what I come to the theatre to see.
Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
A: James Baldwin said: "To be a great writer, find what you're most scared of and run straight toward it." That about says it all.
Q: Plugs, please:
A: Here are some links to my work on the web.
The first is the trailer for my short film "Last Call."
Here is the link to the Ensemble Studio Theatre's Playwrights Unit, which I run: