Saturday, April 13, 2013

I Interview Playwrights Part 571: Katherine DiSavino

Katy DiSavino

Hometown:  Lancaster, PA – although my mother always told me I should tell everyone I’m a “child of the world.” This makes me sound a little crazy, but at least people don’t ask me if I’m Amish when I tell them this. They just back away slowly.

Current Town:  Brooklyn, NY

Q:  Tell me about Things My Mother Taught Me.

A:  It’s a romantic comedy about a young, unmarried couple moving into their first apartment together. One of the producers of the premiere called it a modern “Barefoot in the Park” which I found really fitting and flattering. It takes a generational look at relationships, the expectations we all have, and the lessons we learned from the people who raised us (even if we didn’t realize they were teaching us anything). And besides all the touchy-feely stuff there’s furniture stuck in doors, stolen property, a delightful superintendent and two very drunk dads at one point. It’s a piece that’s close to my heart because it’s about me, my boyfriend and our families. It’s my love poem to him (and to all of them) and I was so excruciatingly nervous the first time they all saw it because, obviously, a lot of humor comes from these unflattering moments the characters find themselves in – but they all loved it and are still talking to me, and as far as I know I haven’t been written out of any wills!

Q:  What else are you working on?

A:  My partner and I are working on a new holiday comedy called “Seasonal Allergies” – it’s premiering at The Rainbow Dinner Theatre in November 2013. It’s all about the holidays, relationships, and what happens when a friend in need overstays his welcome during this joyous (and extremely stressful) time of year. I’d tell you more, but we’re honestly just diving into the piece. I’m pretty sure there won’t be any live animals or car chases or anything like that, but it’s really too early to tell.

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 own and run a theatre in Pennsylvania, so I quite literally grew up in the theatre. Some of my earliest memories involve sneaking into the ladies dressing room in the middle of a show (when all of the women were on stage) and just raiding their makeup kits like a pill addict set loose in a pharmacy. They’d come back after curtain call and I’d be wearing their clothes, and teasing my hair and my face would look like a cross between Bobo the Clown and Renee, your local hooker with a heart of gold. As I got older, I started finding ways to make secret hide-away spots behind the sets. Any play that required a staircase was, like, a god-send. I’d pull every spare blanket and pillow I could find from our props storage and pack it into the space underneath the stairs and would spend the entire show just hiding in there, listening to the actors clomp around me, and the audience laugh, and thinking that I was the luckiest kid in the world. And you know – looking back? I still think I was. A weird kid, but a really lucky one.

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

A:  I’m almost afraid to broach this because I don’t want to sound as if I’m speaking as an authority of any kind, but in my personal experience, I’ve come across a number of people who look down on comedies and comedy writers. I’ve gotten the sense that many people think that comedy is easy to perform, easy to write – a lesser art, if you will. I grew up around comedies. My parents run a theatre that only produces comedies. I’ve spent many of my formative years watching my father and mother get into fights because he stepped on her punch-line, or she didn’t give the right cadence on the set-up.

I especially feel that farces get the shortest end of this stick because it’s so easy to be distracted by the physical comedy and the rapid fire pace – but, structurally, farces are actually some of the most complex theatrical pieces around. There’s the timing, there’s the sheer physical requirements to pull off a farce and there’s a level of acting required – because, let’s face it – a farce is ridiculous. But the characters in a farce need to believe – they need to think that whatever is happening to them is life and death – because that’s where the humor comes from. In BOEING-BOEING, Bernard has managed to have three flight attendant fiancés for years that never knew about each other, until one day they all show up at his apartment and he has to keep them separated. This sound ludicrous, but Bernard (bless his heart) LOVES them, and they CANNOT find out about each other because it would be HORRIBLE – and the more Bernard sells his desire that these three women never cross paths, the funnier all of the antics surrounding stopping that inevitable moment becomes.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that making a room full of strangers laugh at the same thing is not easy. Think of how different people’s senses of humor can be. Rousing an audience to laugh out loud requires an understanding of the commonalities we all share as humans, and utilizing that to get to your joke. If there’s one thing I could change about theater, it would be this perception that comedy is easy. I think Charlie Chaplin said it best, “Anyone can make them cry. It takes a genius to make them laugh.”

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  I’ll stick to playwrights here because if I start naming actors we’ll be here for days, so to start: Neil Simon. Oh my goodness I love Neil Simon. I think if I ever had the chance to meet him in person I’d fall over myself. The way he approaches comedy – that sadness and bitterness that runs underneath “Barefoot” and “The Odd Couple” – it’s something audiences from any generation can relate to. We all get that. And of course Sarah Ruhl is a hero of mine – it’s so easy to say you fall in love with someone’s writing – their dialogue or characters for example – but I fell in love with her stage directions and the way she approaches her vision of a play and communicates that to her readers. Her readers, mind you – not her audience – they don’t see those beautiful words on the page – they feel them through the performance. Amy Herzog would be another one, and Ray Cooney – and Billy Van Zandt and Jane Milmore (that’s the side of me that worships farces). And my parents, who introduced me to all of these writers (in text form, not in person. They aren’t thatcool).

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  This is so corny – honestly? All theatre excites me. Sitting in an audience, waiting for a play to begin, knowing that what’s going to happen will unfold LIVE right before your eyes? That sense of the unknown – of the potential. Incredible. Theatre that KEEPS me excited tends to surprise me over and over again – comedies, dramas, musicals – the genre never matters. I don’t need to be punched in the gut, or laughing so hard I’m in the aisles – I just love when I don’t know what’s around the next bend.

Specific pieces of theatre that have recently excited me in NYC? HANDS ON A HARDBODY, HEARTS LIKE FISTS, EL AMOR EN LOS TIEMPOS DE COLERA and (these are from a while ago but I STILL obsess over them) THE BEREAVED, TIGERS BE STILL and SHE KILLS MONSTERS. Just to name a few!

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

A:  Write. Write an hour every day. Does your day job make you tired? Tough. Drink an espresso on your way home from work and write for an hour before dinner. Or after dinner. Or when you wake up in the morning. Or on your lunch break. It’s not a punishment – it’s a favor. It’s a gift that you’re giving yourself – time to be alone with your characters and to tune out the world and just write.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  You can check out the Facebook page for my first play, NANA’S NAUGHTY KNICKERS here:, and if you’re ever in Pennsylvania, you should totally see a show at my Mom and Dad’s theatre, Rainbow Dinner Theatre (the only all-comedy dinner theatre in the US!):


Books by Adam

No comments: