Hometown: East Hampton, NY
Current Town: Brooklyn, NY
Q: Tell me about Requiem For Black Marie.
A: I’m so proud and scared of it. I read this book about the inner workings of the Brecht Machine called Brecht & Co., by John Fuegi. Much of the book is shockingly personal stuff about Brecht, which I love finding out about. I love being reminded that adored, historical figures were gross and weird and sexual. Fuegi claims that Brecht’s female lovers were more than just contributors, but that they actually wrote some of his best plays for him, in their entirety, never getting credit or money. True or not, I saw such tragedy in this. I also related to falling in love with a charismatic theater guy, (which has happened to every woman and man in the theater. They’re the most exciting relationships, but often the most dangerous and destructive.) So I focused my playwriting on two of the women I most related to, Elisabeth “Bess” Hauptmann and Margarete Steffin. Requiem For Black Marie is about them. It’s told in seventeen quick, tense, darkly funny scenes directed skillfully by Shannon Sindelar. There’s also a musical score running under the whole play by a live band. The play exists in what I see as one of the most exciting eras for theater, the Weimar Republic in Germany, those few years before Hitler took power in 1933 and right before the Brecht team (some of them) fled to America. So there’s a sense of impending doom shrouded around the playwriting, staging and characters. The Brecht team and community made theater under threat of death, constantly searched by police. Some were executed, some died in camps, some simply disappeared. But yet, making theater was still the priority for them. It was a compulsion, as it is for us now. That’s what this play is about.
Q: What else are you working on now?
A: I’m really excited for the play I’m going to write this summer after Requiem closes, which is a Civil War play inspired by a lingering fact I learned while in Mexico: Ancient Mayan women who died in childbirth were buried with the same ceremony as Mayan warriors who died in battle. So I’m exploring this ancient parallel between death in childbirth and death in war. Key to the play’s structure is the fact that it took a letter three weeks to be delivered during the worst years of the war. This lag time in information I hope will lend itself to a distorted narrative, which I’ve never really played with. I’m going to attempt to write this using the broken and sometimes indecipherable language of real Civil War letters, fictionalized between a husband and wife. I tried writing this play a few months ago and it was really bad (I often, unknowingly, write a terrible version of a play first, realize it’s terrible, get really depressed about it, then start over months or even years later. Requiem for Black Marie was, back in 2009, a clunky, soap opera-ish, unwieldy and pretty terrible thing. I discarded like 98% of it). Hopefully going to have the Civil War play up in the fall or winter, be it self-produced or not.
Q: Tell me, if you will, a story from your childhood that explains who you are as a writer or as a person.
A: This might actually be one of my first memories: I was in preschool, maybe 4 or 5 years old. I must have been staring into space, deep in thought. All I remember is Karen, my preschool teacher, gently shaking my shoulder saying, “Sara, Sara, come back to us.” And I suddenly snapped out of my daydream and was back in the classroom. I remember feeling really embarrassed and bad that my teacher had caught me absorbed like that. I’ve never thought about this until just now as I write this, but that, in a nutshell, is how I am. I’ll lose myself a lot in daydreams, fantasy, romance, rehearsal, performance, writing, anything for a long stretch of time, but then I always somehow end up with a rude awakening. Thank God the theater allows for this. Personal life definitely does not.
Q: If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?
A: Probably excuses. That kind of covers all of it for me. Excuses from actors, playwrights, theaters, etc… it’s really just fear, I guess. Our time is so short! You ( I ) must stop making excuses why things can’t happen and remember: Theater artists are supposedly to be the wily ones, the ones who steal and don’t get caught, the ones brave enough to embarrass themselves, the ones who don’t take “no” for an answer ever, in any regard, about anything. I can’t believe it when theater artists play by anyone’s rules, institutionally, professionally, artistically. Or when they think there’s a science or a specific route to having a successful career in the theater or--- well, believe anything anyone tells them. I’d change people’s excuse-y attitudes. But I’m a victim of it too.
Q: Who are or were your theatrical heroes?
A: Firstly, my husband Reid Farrington, my ultimate theatrical hero, who, years ago, taught me to “make it work” no matter what it is, in both theater and life. Secondly, (and these I list in random order and for a wide variety of reasons): Mac Wellman, Constance Congdon, Erik Ehn, Eugene O’Neill, Antje Oegel, The Wooster Group, Samuel Beckett, Jeff Jones, Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, Megan Emery Gaffney, Frank Boudreaux, Erin Mallon, Alexandra Collier, Shannon Sindelar, Ibsen, Strindberg, Chekhov, Harold Pinter, Lisa D’Amour, David Jaffe, Michael Cadman, Marya Ursin, Rachel Jett.
Q: What kind of theater excites you?
A: If it’s rigorous, thoughtful, funny and moving and doesn’t involve audience participation, I’m excited. It doesn’t matter what kind of theater it is as long as it’s got that stuff.
Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
A: I would say: I truly believe that making theater in the USA is privilege and not a right. Everything I do as a playwright, I “get” to do. This, I think will make you a happier artist. Something I heard once from a fellow playwright, “No one cares about your play.” Yep. So self-produce, self-promote, max out credit cards if you have to, rehearse/produce in your apartment, anything to make them care. (They still might not care, but at least they saw your play.) I would say: don’t decide to start a theater company, rather, decide to produce your play. I would say: don’t worry about being good, just strive to be good. This involves accepting your bad plays, big time. You can’t get better without failing, making terrible artistic moves and disappointing people. There’s a line from Slings and Arrows from the senior actors Frank and Cyril: “Don’t fret! You have lots of talent, you’ll have loads of success and a very long career. But at the end of it all you’ve got to have some spectacular cock-ups. Because then you’ll have stories! And then… you’ve had a life.” This line makes me tear up. Makes everything okay, makes everything worth it. I’d also say: Start a family at some point. Being an artist doesn’t exclude you from the big, cosmic parts of life. Don’t let financially stable people be the only ones allowing themselves to have kids. That’s not fair to the evolution of the human race. Finally I would say: Don’t ever be late to anything, don’t flake out, check and double check the calendar, say yes a lot, prioritize theater, see theater, spend money on theater even if you don’t have it, write from a personal place and, perhaps the most inspirational thing I heard recently from my dear agent, “Just keep doing what you do.”
Q: Plugs, please:
A: Get tickets online for my upcoming show, Requiem For Black Marie, (aka the Brecht play) which, for me, is about everything. DETAILS: June 13, 14, 15, 18, 20, 21, 22, 23, all shows at 8pm, Incubator Arts Project. Tickets at incubatorarts.org. It’s written by me, directed by Shannon Sindelar and features: Megan Emery Gaffney, Erin Mallon, Caleb Hammond, Jocelyn Kuritsky, Wil Petre, Yuki Kawahisa, Natalie Mack, Tatiana Gomberg, Gavin Price, John Gasper. With set/lighting design by Cecilia R. Durbin, costume design by M. Meriwether Snipes, stage management by, R. S. Buck, video design by Reid Farrington, asst. diected by John Moriarty.
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