Wednesday, December 31, 2014

I Interview Playwrights Part 713: Claire Kiechel

photo by Zack DeZon

Claire Kiechel

Hometown: I am the daughter of a roving journalist so I am one of those annoying people who don’t really have a hometown.

Current Town: Washington Heights, New York.

Q:  Tell me about The Matchstick Series and the Pipeline Playlab.

A:  The Pipeline Playlab is a group of amazing playwrights that I am so happy to be part of. It means I get to hang out with Salty Brine, Colby Day, Sarah Einspanier, Adam Fried, Jerry Lieblich, Rachel Music, Jeremy Wine once a month where we eat brunchy items and talk about each other’s work. We spend the year developing a full length play for which we have a public reading in July, and then we each also have written a ten minute play for Pipeline’s Matchstick Series which goes up in the newly refurbished Red Room January 16-18.

My short piece is directed by the fantastic Jaki Bradley and stars the talented Carolyn Mignini. It’s a about a woman wrestling with an image of her younger self. It’s one of a collection of monologues I am writing that address the topic of “memory.”

Q:  What else are you working on now?

A:  I’m working on my Playlab full length which is about a cruise ship, the language of war, and female adolescence. I’m still in a research phase so I’m reading a lot of war testimonials, watching a lot of detective movies, and obsessing about the art of Henry Darger.

I am doing a workshop of my adaptation of Wedekind’s Lulu Play called Lulu is Hungry at Cincinnati Playhouse at the end of January.

And finally, I am finishing my play about a corporation that sells memories, The Forgetters, which is a play written to be performed as a reading. I had a reading of it with Crashbox Theater Company in December.

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 fourth grade and living in Brussels, I had a Danish friend who would come over and play, and I’d always invent these ridiculous scenarios and characters and sometimes write dialogue for us. One day we played “Apocalypse” which is, of course, the best game ever up there with “Lava Floor,” and I had my sister play God who we stumbled upon and asked why he had ended the world. I made God a real asshole, which makes sense because I spent a lot of my childhood angrily praying to God to please exist, so I was going through some things. Anyway my Danish friend told her very Catholic mother about our game and my friend wasn’t allowed to come over anymore, and I got in trouble with my own mother.

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

A:  Every time I go into the theater, I want to be moved. I am full of hope when the lights go down – maybe I will see something magical. And sometimes I do! But more often than not, I see bad imitations of plays that have already been done, I’m often ahead of the narrative, and usually the climax of the play is information that we discover happened before the play even began. So if I could change one thing about theater (besides the obvious answers of accessibility, affordability, the necessity of better wages and affordable childcare, and the woeful lack of diversity), I would encourage theater makers and producers to take bigger risks. I want bigger plays, messier plays, tiny tiny plays, plays that don’t take place in living rooms, plays in rhymed couplets, full day plays, plays that aren’t really plays at all but more like singular experiences.

Tim Etchells says he tries to create theater that makes the audience a witness instead of a spectator. I think the reason that a lot of experiential theater is so popular at the moment is that audiences want to witness something real they can’t experience by themselves or on a screen.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  Maria Irene Fornés and Caryl Churchill made me want to be a playwright.

My teachers Christopher Shinn, Laura Maria Censabella, Connie Congdon, and Frank Pugliese made me think I was one.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  Theater that does something unexpected.

Off of the top of my head, here are some exciting plays/experiences that I’ve read or seen and have been thinking about lately:

Kate Benson’s A Beautiful Day in November on the Banks… (The New Georges/Women’s Project is remounting the play from January 12 to February 7)

Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ An Octoroon (being remounted by TFANA February 14 to March 8)

Gabrielle Reisman’s The Panama Limited

Greg Wohead’s The Ted Bundy Project

Jackie Sibblies Drury’s We Are Proud to Present…

Rude Mech’s The Method Gun

Geoff Sobelle’s The Object Lesson

The Debate Society’s Blood Play

600 Highwaymen’s The Record

Cazimir Liske’s adaptation of Ivan Viripaev’s Illusions

Diane Exavier’s new play We Have Everything You Need for the Problems You Might Have (which is the only play I’ve ever read influenced by the glorious film Waterworld)

David Adjmi’s Marie Antoinette

Michael Crowley’s new play about Celine Dion, Let Them Touch Those Things

Nature Theater of Oklahoma’s Life and Times Episodes I-IV

Gregory Moss’s House of Gold

N.D. Austin and Ida Benedetto’s trespass theater

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

A:  Read a lot. Not just plays. Novels, biographies, histories, philosophy, shitty magazines. Make a note of anything that provokes a response in you. Don’t assume you’ll remember, you won’t.

Go to a lot of theater. Talk to a lot of people. When you see something onstage that you fall in love with, tell the creators and ask them out for coffee. Write down the names of actors you want to work with. Be nice to everyone.

Don’t go to grad school if it means you are going to have a crazy amount of debt.

Figure out a way to support yourself financially that allows you time to write. Ask people what they do for money. It’s a conversation we don’t have enough of in the theater community because people either have a lot of it (and are embarrassed) or have none of it (and are embarrassed).

Consider yourself and people you want to reach when thinking about your audience. Don’t be tricked into thinking about what the current theater-going public looks like when writing your plays; this results in boring theater. Once I stopped thinking about the weird old white guy “subscriber” that was somehow implanted in my head, I could trust my own impulses and instincts, and write stories that I want to see onstage and have discussions about.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  Come to Pipeline’s Matchstick Series January 16-18!

The Kilroys are a group of badass women working to achieve gender parity in theater.

The Orchard Project is a theater retreat where I’ve met some of my favorite theater artists working today. You should apply.

The Nonsense is a weekly list put out by Jeff Stark of independent art, weird events, strange happenings, and senseless culture happening in New York City.

Indie Theater Now is an amazing website that Martin Denton runs, which currently has plays by 630 playwrights.

Anything produced by Colt Coeur, Soho Rep, The Play Company, New Georges, Clubbed Thumb.

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