Aug 7, 2012
I Interview Playwrights Part 486: Diana Stahl
Hometown: Milpitas, California.
Current Town: New York City.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I've been commissioned to write a new play for Rising Pheonix Rep's CINO night series, which I'm thrilled about. That play's called KEY OF U and its going to be a play with music about letters. I love everyone involved with RPR, and their CINO series is one of my favorite things happening in the city right now so I am really pumped to be working with them. I'm also prepping my play HELPING PEOPLE for a reading at Rattlestick. HELPING PEOPLE is about a compulsive helper who finds these two odd guys who run a juice company and really can't get it together. Maybe she figures that out, maybe not, we'll see.
Also I'll be writing for Theaterspeak's WRITE OUT FRONT project, and you can read about that here.
Also I produce a bunch of different site specific projects here and there, so more of those are coming.
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 parents are both meditation teachers so things were always a little strange in my house. I remember a lot of transcendental meditations we used to do and some of those visualizations are stored like memory. Hope this doesn't sound too woo-woo and totally freak you out. Lots of medicine men. Lots of Tibetan singing bowls. Sage burning. Kombucha brewing. All of that. Because of this I do have a few crystals around my apartment and am pretty superstitious about them. We also used to go on these six week cross country road trips with my half brother and sister, parents and two dogs (Boots and Snuggles). We would totally lose our minds on these trips and go crazy so after a while my parents started giving me notebooks to write in and I'd fill them in between fits of cabin fever.
This one time my dad and I were hiking in Nevada and were being really quiet. When my Dad and I would hike we would spend about 20 percent of that time talking, the rest of it was silent and listening. So we turned this corner on this particular hike and there was this mountain lion just standing in our path. I think I was like eleven. I was totally freaked out! Then my Dad (who is NOT a scary man) lifted his arms and let out this roar and the mountain lion ran off. Later when I asked him about it he said he remembered that a Park Ranger had said to do that if you're ever in front of a mountain lion so he did. Without thinking because that's what he had to do. I like to think about this story when things in life get hairy or something in front of me really freaks me out. I can just raise my arms and say "You don't scare me!" or something.
These were all really weird trips. We met strange people and listened to loads of Neil Diamond.
Q: If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?
A: Crumble actor's equity and build a new one that isn't based on 1930s standards. Find some sort of amazing real estate loop hole folks found in the 60s and 70s to subsidize buildings and theaters so we can afford to take time with our work. Have more theater artists approach work like scientists approach theirs. Like we're all researching for a cure and if we fail we just get back up and try again and not get bogged down or take failure personally. Scientists can't throw hissy fits and neither should artists.
Q: Who are or were your theatrical heroes?
A: Brecht! Brecht! Brecht! Tony Kushner, Sarah Kane, Gwen Verdon (I really wanted to grow up to be Gwen Verdon when I was a kid...there's still time), Shakespeare, Emma Goldman, Walter Benjamin. There are so many writers out there right now that I'm totally crazy about. I hope you all know that. We are in an incredible age of the American Theatre.
Q: What kind of theater excites you?
A: Honest, large, and brave theater! Sarah Kane totally rocked my world when I read her for the first time because she uses high (and low) language in dangerously dramatic and theatrical situations. I love the Hypocrites in Chicago! They do some really killer work that's a-live! So I guess I love alive and honest theater that hasn't been over worked. Plays have a shelf life and when they are alive you've got to put them on a stage. When you're sitting in the middle of that life its very exciting. Don't feed me dead plays with tired ideas. I love those plays that sort of seduce you and then make you sit down and take care of business, Albee does this all over the place. Sheila Callaghan's plays always teach me that there are no rules in the theatre and I love that. Face those demons, face the hard stuff. Language, language, language. Games, games, games. Bravery. What bothers me is narcissism, irony, and clever theater. Like I loved that Jerusalem had folk lore, giants, and tribal drum chanting. This is what we want!
Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
A: I'm just starting out, do you have any advice for me? Seriously.
I can tell you what more established writers have told me: write every morning when you wake up for 30 minutes, write seriously, listen to your story, ask your characters questions, write long hand, find a community, make up rules because there aren't any actual ones, get together with friends and read your stuff out loud, be a part of a group, self produce, work with generous artists, write again. Read a newspaper. Read a novel. Avoid being insular or snobby.
Q: Plugs, please:
A: Writing in front of Drama Books this month as part of the WRITE OUT FRONT project: READ FULL DETAILS HERE.
Acting in an awesome puppet project with strange men & co: strangemencompany.com
Upcoming reading with Tenement Street Workshop: tenementstreet.org
Upcoming reading at Rattlestick: www.rattlestick.org
For more Stahl info: dianacstahl.wordpress.com