Friday, May 16, 2014

I Interview Playwrights Part 660: Calamity West

Calamity West

Current City:  Chicago, Illinois

Q:  What are you working on now?

A:  I’m about to launch myself into a playwright’s initiative with Sideshow Theatre Company (Chicago.) They’re being gracious enough to provide me with a year of resources to write …whatever it is I want to write.

I just opened my adaptation of A Doll’s House (IBSEN IS DEAD) last week, so I haven’t had the luxury to dissect what this particular project is going to look like exactly…but I know it has something to do with America in the 1960’s…I know it’s going to explore fame, I know it’s going to explore personal exploitation, and I know it’s going to have something to do with addiction…

…beyond that…? I’m not quite sure (giggling while typing).

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

A:  Umm…there were woods in my backyard growing up.

My brother and I would play there a lot.

We would have to cross a bridge to get into the woods, but the moment we were there...? We could be whatever we wanted.

We created alternate universes in those woods.

We were hunters, gold miners, fur trappers…so yeah, I think it was the nature of that very safe, very small, very sacred wood that made me believe in The Imaginary…or…allowed me to believe that The Imaginary could be a reality.

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


It feels like the fire of our artistic ancestors is systematically being put...the fuck…OUT. And it’s really, really disheartening.

I want us to change that.

We seem more concerned with script accessibility and personal gain than actually saying something worthwhile in our craft. I think about storefront theatre, right? I mean, storefront theatre was created to counteract the despondency attached to commercialized theatre. The hope in the storefront legacy was that it would eventually rub off on commercial theatre. But the opposite seems to have happened. Even critics don’t say anything critical anymore, they’re just writing consumer reports.
And just to water this down a bit, if we think about A Doll’s House, or The Crucible, or Dutchman… I mean, those works were made to piss people off. And they did! A lot! And we can franchise those works as much as we want and congratulate ourselves (or maybe DELUDE ourselves) into thinking that things have changed since then, but in a lot of ways things are exactly the same. So let’s talk about that. Let’s CREATE about that. Let’s CHALLENGE AUDIENCES about that.

Q: Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A: ANNIE BAKER. Harold Pinter. Amiri Baraka. Sophocles. Spalding Gray. Lorraine Hansberry. Eugene O’Neill. Sarah Kane.

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

A: Most days I feel like I’m just starting out too. So I’ll give the advice I give myself:

#1 you don’t have to be poor to be a playwright

#2 you’ll create your best art when you’re taking care of your body and your relationships.

#3 don’t get a credit card

#4 don’t go to law school

#5 “As an artist, you’re constantly in a state of becoming. If you can remain in that state, then you’ll probably be all right.” – Bob Dylan

#6 if you want to be smarter than Steinbeck, Woolf, Lebowitz, Bukowski and Fitzgerald combined: don’t start smoking cigarettes. No matter how cool you think it will make you look, or how provocative you think it is, or how apropos you think it is for a writer to do, just don’t. You’ll never regret not smoking.

#7 if you have parents, be kind to them. Even when you get upset because they don’t seem to understand what you’re doing with your life…because let’s be honest…YOU don’t really know what you’re doing with your life (and I say that with admiration). Tell them you “love” them. Dedicate all your plays to them (at least the good ones). Because they’ve earned it. And without them, you literally wouldn’t be writing plays at all.

#8 Kick back.

#9 listen to Harold Pinter’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech/lecture at least once a month. It will be good for you, I promise.

#10 Be you. No one else is going to do it, so you should.

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