Dec 1, 2012
I Interview Playwrights Part 533: Erica Saleh
Hometown: Dryden, NY
Current Town: Brooklyn, NY
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I'm deep into rewrites on a play I wrote earlier this year, The Morning After, about a young woman who is, rather suddenly, forced to confront the ways in which her politics and theory and feminism do or do not line up with her personal desires and private life. It's also very concerned with the semantics of the word rape, Austin Texas, and pop culture.
I'm also just starting work on a commission from Dramatics Magazine to write a play for a large cast of high schoolers, which is fun and messy and a really good antidote to wrestling with revisions and incessantly thinking about feminism and rape.
Q: Tell me, if you will, a story from your childhood that explains who you are as a writer or as a person.
A: Ah. Ok. I usually claim that I wasn't really a theater kid, but then I remember this embarrassing story and wonder if I'm lying to myself about not having been a theater kid...
When I was in middle school my friends all suddenly revealed themselves to be really good athletes and decided that playing pick up basketball after school was a really fun thing to do. I, on the other hand, was scrawny and uncoordinated and thought playing basketball after school was significantly less fun than being in school. But I obviously played anyway, because that's what you do. One day the game wasn't going very well, I don't remember why or what that even means, I just remember everyone was frustrated. And one of the girls stopped and said "do you guys want to stop and make up plays?" And I got SO excited, and felt SO relieved, and blurted out "Yeah! Or like, dances or something?!" and everyone stared at me and I quickly realized that she had meant basketball plays, not play plays. And it was the kind of embarrassing moment that just sort of burns into your being because you've accidentally revealed yourself? The kind that you think about for months afterward and feel ashamed? And then don't think about for years because you were so embarrassed and then 17 years later remember and realize it's not actually embarrassing at all but a confirmation of the person you've become.
Q: If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?
A: I would shift the dialogue between theatermakers to one of positivity. It is so easy to talk about what we don't like. It is so easy to say that things are unfair. And that's not wrong. There is inequity, there is unfairness, and it is, of course, worth talking about constructively and working to change. But there is also so much to be celebrated. There is so much that is exciting and fortunate and good about what we do. There is so much good theater being made. I would challenge all of us to talk about that. To go into plays with an open heart and and optimistic mind and look for things to admire and respect rather than things to criticize. I would challenge all of us to realize that we have picked a life that is difficult, but also a life that is awesome, and to remind ourselves and each other of why we do it. To call out the magic when we see it. And if we don't see it enough, to actively look for it, because it's there.
Q: Who are or were your theatrical heroes?
A: Caryl Churchill. Sara Kane. Gina Gionfriddo. Tennessee Williams. And all of my former teachers, but I want to specifically call out Daniel Alexander Jones for his beautiful work but also for his generous spirit and inspirational relationship with his art and community; and Sherry Kramer for her wonderful work but also for her humor and honesty and kindness. These two taught me not only how to be a better playwright but how to be a better person and community member.
Q: What kind of theater excites you?
A: Something that excites me about theater that excites me is that the only pattern I can find is that it excites me. Plays that have knocked me over in the past few years have been wildly different form one another. Some of these, in no particular order, were: Becky Shaw, Banana Bag and Bodice's Beowulf, Hand to God, Circle Mirror Transformation, The Select(The Sun Also Rises), The Whale, Milk Milk Lemonade, Rapture Blister Burn... I could keep going and going, see above about how there is SO much good theater being made. But the point is that these plays are all really really different form each other. That said, I think, the common thread that triggers the excitement for me, is that they are all honest, and in that honesty they are simultaneously heartbreaking and hopeful. So I guess the short answer to what excites me is theater that breaks my heart but leaves me hopeful.
Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
A: Be kind to yourself. Be honest in your work. Be generous to your community.
Q: Plugs, please:
A: Three Graces will be hosting reading of my play The Morning After at The Gin Mill on January 22nd, and I have a play in an evening of short plays written for teenagers (and written by a whole slew of awesome playwrights) at the 52nd street project in early February.