Saturday, July 20, 2013

I Interview Playwrights Part 598: Catya McMullen

Catya McMullen

Hometown: NYC (Chanukah Heights, Upper West Side)

Current Town: Brooklyn, NY

Q:  Tell me about Rubber Ducks and Sunsets.

A:  It’s about five people with varied relationships with this guy who just died. But hopefully, it’s not “that play” about the people in their 20’s and their feelings that we’ve all seen. It is about people in their 20’s, though. And feelings.
It’s about a journey through grief, love, friendship and self-discovery.
It’s about smart people who tell jokes instead of face reality.
It’s about the way friends can become family. It’s about the idea that with great light comes great darkness and to experience one is to experience the other.
But, music also plays a HUGE role in the piece and really helps drive it. Scott Klopfenstein of Reel Big Fish wrote the music for the play. (It isn’t a musical. It’s a play with music). There are these series of concerts throughout the play. Scott’s music is spectacular.
The set and other production elements are awesome. Ground UP is great because they don’t sacrifice and are by no means a bare bones company. The cast is terrific. Man they’re rad. You should come just to see sweet-faced JD Taylor and his guitar.
This play is immensely fun, has lots and lots o’ jokes, and I think is pretty moving. I write plays where, hopefully, you’ll laugh and cry in the same sitting. People seem to be doing both with this one.

Q:  What else are you working on now?

A:  I’m currently developing my play, “Rock Me Like a Hurricane.” (I’m still not sure if that title is a joke or not)

In September, I’ll be doing my September Challenge, where I write a ten-minute play for a week for a month. Then, in mid-October, there will be a brunch that showcases the readings of the plays. Last year, Matthew Klein, another playwright, joined me in the challenge. We hosted an 80-person brunch. It was awesome.

Additionally, I’m going to do another round of workshops with The Middle Voice Theater Company (Rattlestick’s Apprentice Company) for my play “Everything is Probably Going to Be Okay.” It takes place ten years apart on a porch in Durham, North Carolina. It’s about these two girls, Grace and Sam, who make a pact when they’re seventeen to have the most number of meaningful experiences possible (they stare at light to experience blindness, they read poetry under the stars, they beat each other up, they play live action Frogger on highway 85 etc.). They fall in love. Things go array. The play is framed ten years later, when Grace shows back up trying to find out what was right about the stupid stuff they did when they were kids. The problem is that she keeps sneaking off with Sam’s seventeen-year-old brother, Syke, doing the same kind of things that got the girls in trouble a decade earlier. I think it’s a really exciting piece and I’m SO excited to keep developing it.

Oh and Scott Klopfenstein and I are about to start writing a musical. Dude is a genius.

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 in the seventh grade, I had to do a Humanities project on Iran.
I decided to write a piece where we staged the Iranian hostage crisis, surprise kidnapping my class with super soakers. I doubt it was historically accurate. It ended with a musical number of a parody of the Backstreet Boys’ “I Want it That Way,” (which was a hit single that time) called “Iran is That Way.” We actually figured out which direction Iran was so that the song would exist as entertainment and a teaching moment.
Still having ambitions of being an actor, I played Ayatollah Khomeini.
The problem was that my teacher was so excited about the project that she invited another class. Deeply committed, we took all those suckers hostage. It, by no means, worked. It was kind of sad and funny.
But we had food. And the musical number. So I still count it as a success.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  I wish I had a more interesting answer to this question.
I think I more have theatrical friend crushes than heroes (although I for sure have the people whose work has changed me). A lot of the mid career writers whose work I’ve followed closely in the last few years are new heroes of mine.
Sure, I love me some Tennessee Williams and Pinter and all the others my BA in theater facilitated me to read.
Lynn Nottage has taken my breath away. There are others Sam Hunter, Raviv Joseph, Sarah Ruhl, Annie Baker, Madeleine George (basically Playwrights Horizons past and future seasons). Bekah Brunstetter is prolifically wonderful. Lucy Thurber has changed my life and the way I hear and revise my stuff and I love her work. Jackie Sibblies Drury.
Taylor Mac makes me lose my mind in the best possible way.
And so much more.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  Plays where you can laugh and cry in the same sitting. Plays that make me think and feel. Plays driven by heart not concept. Plays that merge the two.
Plays that are inherently theatrical. Plays that use spectacle but don’t sacrifice story in the process. Like Blackwatch. And “We Are Proud to Present…” Whoa that one shook me up. I like to be shaken up by a piece.

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

A:  Write. Set structures where you are accountable to others with concrete deadlines. That’s why I started the September Challenge. I was homeless and jobless and knew I needed to write and everything else would figure itself out so I emailed some actor friends and said “I’m going to write a play a week and then cook you pancakes on X date and you are going to read them please?”
“Rubber Ducks and Sunsets” started with a similar idea. I approached Ground UP Productions with the idea of developing a piece for their younger company members. Collaboration. Boom.
Also, have coffee with anyone who might have useful experience. Ask questions. Ask advice. People are willing to help.
Build a community of actors and directors who get what you’re doing.
Find mentorship.
Do living room readings.
See as much as you can, both readings and productions.
Have friends not in theater. Hang out with them.
If in New York: leave New York regularly.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  Rubber Ducks and Sunsets produced by Ground UP Productions at the Gene Frankel Theater at 24 Bond Street. Info and tickets at
We run for a limited engagement until 7/27.

Check out my website!
There will be info posted there closer to the date about The September Challenge Brunch. And other opportunities to see my work.


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