Mar 23, 2013
I Interview Playwrights Part 563: MJ Kaufman
Hometown: Portland, OR
Current Town: New Haven, CT
Q: Tell me about the play you're bringing to New Harmony.
A: Sagittarius Ponderosa tells the story of a 29 year old transboy moving home to the woods for family reasons and falling in love. And it has puppets. I started writing it a few months ago. I had been feeling frustrated that most queer narratives are coming out stories and most trans narratives are transition stories. Why are the most prominent narratives organized around arriving at a more stable identity? I wanted trans narratives that would focus on fluidity, highlighting the way many of us are different genders in different spaces. I wanted art that would acknowledge constant change as an intrinsic part of being a person.
Around the same time my teacher Sarah Ruhl introduced me to what she calls Ovidean plot form. Here’s how I’d describe it: A plot form in which identities are in a constant state of change and worlds are in a constant state of change so that human beings can be multiple genders at once, or become a beast and then a tree as a result of falling in love or being heart-broken or struggling to struggling to escape from someone. Basically all things and characters are able to morph and change throughout and the resolution of conflict does not depend on arriving at a more stable identity. As soon as I understood it it I fell in love with it. It sounds more true to my life than any coming out story. I started working with it first to examine a landscape of gender fluidity but found the form led me to a more ecological fluidity, the way that things are constantly changing and being recycled in nature. This ultimately led me to a sort of spiritual fluidity: the way that love and souls are recycled.
Q: What else are you working on?
A: A play about a family that goes on a family history tour to connect with their roots but ends up realizing they have no idea who they are. It's actually part of a series of plays about 10 generations of one family haunted by the same ghost. And also another play about gay people.
Q: Tell me, if you will, a story from your childhood that explains who you are as a writer or as a person.
A: When I was a kid my friends and I used to get my brother dressed up as a girl for fun. We were really good at it. His name was Henry so naturally his drag name was Henrietta. Once he decided to go to a party at my aunt's house as Henrietta. He really committed to the role and party guests were all totally charmed by the new little girl in our family. For weeks afterwards people we met at the party would ask us in complete sincerity, where's Henrietta?
Q: If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?
A: Artists would control the means of production.
Q: Who are or were your theatrical heroes?
A: Paula Vogel, Sarah Ruhl, Naomi Wallace, Suzan-Lori Parks, Caryl Churchill, Cherrie Moraga, Taylor Mac, Peggy Shaw, Adrienne Kennedy, Bertolt Brecht, Thornton Wilder, Hallie Flanagan, Morgan Jenness, Polly Carl...I could go on and on...
Q: What kind of theater excites you?
A: Theater that surprises me into feeling something new. Weird, scary worlds that are strangely familiar. Theater with puppets, projection, music or movement, installations, ensemble theater, theater that moves through a large space or building. Stories about my queer and trans community. Ghost stories.
Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
A: Make sure you get to hear and see your work as much as possible. Theater doesn't happen on the page and you won't know what a play is until you get it up on its feet. Get actors to read your early drafts. Produce your own work. Don't give in to the cycle of readings, readings and more readings- fight to get your work produced. Take risks. Write what you love and really have to write, not what you think other people will want to produce.
Q: Plugs, please:
A: Carlotta Festival of new plays! Find out more here: http://drama.yale.edu/onstage/festival/carlotta-festival-new-plays
Books by Adam