Thursday, March 21, 2013

I Interview Playwrights Part 561: Keri Healey

Keri Healey

Hometown:  Born in Long Beach, CA but grew up in half a dozen different towns, from Freeport, NY to Golden Valley, MN to Arlington, TX.

Current Town: Seattle, WA.

Q:  Congrats on the Osborn Award! Tell me about Torso

A:  Thank you! Torso is about one woman’s (Daphne’s) long, drunken night of reckoning with the grief she feels about the wrongful death of her sister. It’s years after her sister died and Daphne gets a settlement check from a lawsuit against the doctor who was found guilty of negligence. Her unresolved anger and sadness is ignited by the news she receives about a childhood friend who was just arrested for fratricide. She sets off on a trip to—in her mind—get to the bottom of how someone could kill a sibling. She hooks up with a pretty hard luck cab driver who becomes her reluctant travel companion and foil. A secondary storyline focuses on the friend’s murder case she goes to investigate. The play started from an autobiographical place as I was trying to find somewhere to examine my own grief about losing my sister, but it definitely took on a different life and became angrier and more violent than I expected.

Q:  What else are you working on?

A:  I’m working on two scripts that have re-entry after combat as a central theme, but come from different perspectives. One is a multi-generational military family saga that starts in Pearl Harbor and wends its way to Iraq. It feels like a really “big” play right now in my mind with lots of different story threads and time periods. With the other one, I’m aiming for a much smaller piece—about a middle-aged woman’s apartment hunt for her nephew who recently returned from Afghanistan with PTSD.

Q:  Tell me, if you will, a story from your childhood that explains who you are as a writer or as a person.

A:  According to my parents, on my fourth birthday I left the party going on in our living room, stormed into the kitchen where my mom and grandmother were prepping the cake, and I announced that I was leaving. When my grandmother asked me why, I told her this about the kids at my party: “They are staring, they are speaking rudeness, and they don’t even want my loving kindness.” Even though I don’t remember any exact details about being four years old, I have to admit this story sounds on the up and up.

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

A:  I just wish that, as a way to make a living, it could feel more like accounting or working retail—like it was more normal and in demand, as if success in theater didn’t need to feel like such a jackpot situation.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  There are many playwrights and other types of writers that I have admired and been influenced by at various points in my life. In trying to mention them all, I risk leaving too many important folks off the list. I think if I go beyond influences, though, and think about real “heroes” it would be the folks who started and ran small, scrappy theater companies where new work has been consistently born and tested and loved: Annex Theatre, Deep Ellum Theater Garage, Peculiar Works Project, Printer’s Devil Theater, and all the places like them. That is some hard, (almost) thankless work. Actors who hang lights and take out the recycling bins, directors who help build sets, and board ops who balance the books all fill my heart with joy.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  Theater that employs live music. Talky plays about things people are afraid to talk about. Tabletop and shadow puppetry. Anything where bodies move in unison. Unison always thrills me for some reason.

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

A:  Act in plays before you start to write them. Learn what they feel like from the inside. And later…always, always listen to actors. Make them your collaborators. You don’t always *have to* do what they suggest, but they will be the ones to feel it most when your play is not working and their instincts can be very helpful. You ignore them at your own peril.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  June 14-23— Seattle Repertory Theatre’s doing a showcase of new plays by members of their Writers Group (I’m in it along with Scot Augustson, Frank Basloe, Emily Conbere, Vincent Delaney, Al Frank, Elizabeth Heffron, and Stephanie Timm).
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