Thursday, November 01, 2012

I Interview Playwrights Part 519: Chelsea M. Marcantel



Chelsea M. Marcantel

Hometown: Jennings, Louisiana

Current Town: Abingdon, VA (by way of Chicago)

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I'm editing one of my very first plays, A Place to Land, which is getting produced in a new draft at the beginning of 2013 by Acadiana Repertory Theatre. I'm also completely overhauling a recent play called Even Longer and Farther Away, which has had readings at the Dramatists Guild in NYC and at the Barter Theatre in Virginia, but the newest draft is an utterly different beast. I've just barely begun writing a one-person show about the war on women, specifically focusing on how it affects women in different generations within the same family. That play doesn't have a title quite yet.

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 started writing stories as a child because I was a big reader, but sometimes I didn't appreciate the way stories ended and felt I could improve upon them. I remember specifically feeling extremely distraught at the ending of Carousel, and knowing in my heart it was my duty to "fix" it, so I did, on paper. I think I've carried a version of that same idea with me into adulthood -- some of the most honest work I've ever done are fictionalized rehashings of actual conversations and confrontations from my life. The second time around, I get to say everything I want to. I get to dictate a different ending for momentous events. As a writer, I get to live twice, and I think that's part of what people mean when they say that writing is therapeutic. I take a childish delight in crafting happier or more interesting dialogue and endings for everyone involved, real or fictional.

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

A: I wish that theatre could be honestly regarded as community service, and the people who make theatre could be compensated accordingly. I feel like theatre for young audiences is very often seen as life-enriching, but for some reason theatre for adults is viewed as a luxury. Bill English of San Francisco’s SF Playhouse says that "theater is like a gym for empathy. It’s where we can go to build up the muscles of compassion, to practice listening and understanding and engaging with people that are not just like ourselves." I believe in the truth of that statement, and as the world gets flatter and more diverse and more conflicted, I wish that audiences and governments and even some theatre-makers could acknowledge the magnitude of the function that theatre plays in society.

Q: Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A: Anne Bogart, Sarah Ruhl, Tom Stoppard, Young Jean Lee, Samuel Beckett... oh, the list goes on and on.

Q: What kind of theater excites you?

A: I like theatre that focuses outward -- it starts in a relationship that then explodes and turns us outward to a greater view of our surroundings and our world, but everything is still seen through the lens of a handful of people. I love non-realistic, physical, and non-linear theatre that manages to retain a strong, rooted heart. And I'm a total sucker for endurance theatre -- give me a six-hour, eight-hour, ten-hour play or cycle and I'm in heaven.

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

A: See theatre, especially at theatres you'd like to work with. I'm always amazed when I meet a playwright who can't tell me the last show they saw, or which theatres in town they'd like to work with. You can't stare at your computer for weeks on end and never venture out to see what work is being made. I recommend seeing shows on opening night, especially at small theatres, because the director of the play and the artistic director of the company are usually in attendance, and you can tell them what you thought of their work and begin to build personal connections.

Q: Plugs, please.

A: I just wrapped up a play called "Independence Day" that was part of the Hobo Robo 5 Festival in Chicago. Now I'm focused on getting my playwrighting students at Virginia Intermont College through their final exam readings! Check out www.chelseamarcantel.com for information on upcoming productions.

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