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1000 Playwright Interviews The first interview I posted was on June 3, 2009.  It was Jimmy Comtois.  I decided I would start interview...

Nov 17, 2014

I Interview Playwrights Part 707: Kate Hamill

Kate Hamill

Hometown: Lansing, New York. Population: More cows than people.

Current Town: New York, New York

Q:  Tell me about your adaptation of Sense and Sensibility.

A:  The world premiere just opened off-Broadway, produced by Bedlam (www.theatrebedlam.org) and directed by Eric Tucker. I started working on the script in 2010; it's been more-or-less finished since 2012. This production is 10 actors, but it can be done with as few as 7-8; it's running in rep with a new version of The Seagull from Anya Reiss. I'm also playing Marianne Dashwood in S&S, as well as Polina in The Seagull.

Q:  What else are you working on? 

A:  Sense and Sensibility is headed to a big regional theatre in the spring after this run; it should be officially announced soon! I recently finished The Little Fellow, which is a play about Harriette Wilson, the major courtesan of late 18th c. England, and I'm talking to people about workshopping that. I'm also finishing up a tryptich of plays with music based in Greek myths, as well as a modern two-hander about a high school student who ends up in a relationship with an older man. And I'm about halfway through a Mansfield Park adaptation; Austen isn't quite out of my system, yet!
I have some future stuff in the works with Bedlam, as well.

Q:  Tell me, if you will, a story from your childhood that explains who you are as a writer or as a person.
A:  I had this wonderful teacher when I was growing up: Cynthia Howell. She ran the music program K-12 in our little rural school system, as well as all of the school plays and musicals. She introduced me to theater, and it proved to be my lifeline - my road out of dysfunction, out of farm country. She used to say to us (and we were really young kids at the time) "you girls shouldn't just be actors; you have to write plays, you have to be directors; the theatre needs strong women" - and that really stuck with me. I owe her such an enormous debt; I grew up in an environment where I saw a lot of injustice perpetrated every day, and she really gave me an avenue to tell the stories of misfits, of dismissed people, of underdogs, of less-than-perfectly-sympathetic-protagonists, of crazy people, of have-nots. She gave me a creative outlet that saved me.

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

A:  I'd eliminate pay-for-play internships and auditions. It's creating more and more of a system where only privileged young people can even aspire to work in the theater. It's even worse now than it was 10 years ago, in my experience.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you? 

A:  I love playful, passionate stuff that doesn't take itself too seriously but which tackles big scary issues. I like language-driven work and I like a willingness to go profane. I like stuff that embraces theatricality and includes the audience.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?
A:  I feel like my biggest heroes are people I know and collaborate with. The entire team on Bedlam's shows right now is so amazing - really so so talented and playful and whip-smart and creative. Actors I adore include: Mark Rylance, Janet McTeer, Fiona Shaw. In terms of playwrights, I do love the classics: Shakespeare, O'Neill, Miller, etc. - and modern playwrights I really emulate tend to, again, be people I know and have seen work and re-work things until they're shining. There are a lot of them out there, but three of my favorite writers working now are: Janine Nabers, Jose Rivera, and Meghan Deans.

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

A:  I feel a bit pretentious giving advice, but I think anyone who wants to write plays should take an acting class. Or two. Or three. Maybe even go on some auditions. My background as an actor has really given me utmost sympathy for anyone who may have to muscle through an awkward line.
I also can say what I say to myself when writing a play, which is heck, try crazy ideas - if doesn't work, you can always re-write. Even bad drafts teach you something.

Q:  Plugs, please: 

A:  Come and see Bedlam's fall rep, running until Dec. 21st! Tickets are available at www.theatrebedlam.org. You can also catch up with where my plays are going next at www.katehamill.com.

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