Tuesday, July 21, 2015

I Interview Playwrights Part 764: Katharine Henner

cross-posted to Samuel French's  Blog

Katharine Henner

Hometown: Cincinnati, Ohio

Current Town: Brooklyn, New York

Q:  Tell me about your OOB play.

A:  The Brighter the Star is about two coworkers at an unusual job that, upon meeting, agree to despise each other for the rest of their lives. The appearance of a third party causes them to reconsider their divisive instincts.

If I dug deeper, I would discover this play is about the two warring natures inside of my self and how each feels about spirituality. Is it necessary to have spirituality in order to live an examined, self-actualized life? I think part of me thinks it’s silly, like believing in Santa Claus when you are an adult. But part of me truly wonders and hopes that believing in magic will unlock a richer, wilder world.

This play is a new creature of mine and I wrote it specifically for the OOB festival. I’m grateful for the opportunity to work again with one of my favorite directors, Bob Teague. He’s incredibly supportive and challenges playwrights because he is a writer, too. We’re currently assembling the rest of our team.

Q:  What else are you working on now?

A:  Two pilots to sell for television. One is a half-hour comedy with my writing partner, Matt Cook. The other is a solo project which is based on an industry that not many people know about.

I’m also in the outlining stages of developing a full length play that focuses on a tight-knit group of friends and a witch hunt to find the sociopath manipulating from inside their circle. It’s a (dark) comedy.

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 five, I had a recurring dream where a dozen other children and I lived in the wings of an old theater. We slept in sleeping bags and would perform a variety show every night for a sold-out audience. The electricity I felt, the aliveness of the dream penetrated my waking life.

I spent hours practicing the perfect signature for my secret stage name, “Katty Williams.” (I know, yikes.) I tap-danced in the Kroger grocery aisles, hoping someone would discover me and show me the way to the old theater. If my parents or teachers took me to a show, I couldn’t bear to sit in an audience and watch. The actors were openly stealing from me! They stole my sympathy and my laughter. They used my energy to power their performance, to make themselves more alive than I was.

I wanted to be up there. Like them. I wanted to rob and pillage and leave broken hearts in my wake.

As an adult, I still side with that dramatic kid. Except if I’m going to steal something from my audience, I try hard to offer something much better in its place.

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

A:  I enjoy this question. Although it sounds quite harmless, it’s actually provocative. If I say one thing to change about theatre, chances are that someone is doing it or has done it already. Perhaps it needs a bit more help or exposure.

However, I do envy London and its treatment of theatre. Theatre is embedded in their culture in a way that the U.S. does not understand. All citizens are aware of it. If you read a financial newspaper in London, you will see a theatre review. If you are a student, the opportunity to see theatre is free or very cheap. You don’t have to go a theatre to see a show. You can go to a theatre just to hang out in the lobby, grab a coffee or a pint, and absorb the energy.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  My parents named me after Katharine Hepburn. What large shoes to fill! She was a brave woman both in and out of the theatre. If you want a good cry, find a clip of her reading the letter she wrote to Spencer Tracy 18 years after he died. I’m haunted by the emotions she could draw from herself.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  I will like and even love your play until one of the following things occur: 1) your play turns into a lecture that I, as a silent audience member, cannot participate in; 2) you touch me/single me out and it’s unearned; or 3) you insist upon striking and reassembling the set after every 2-minute scene. Why are there so many chairs?!

Seriously though, I'm pretty excitable. But also calm. So calm. You can still invite me to your party.

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

A:  Find a 24-hour play festival in your area.

The festival combines you with a director, a selection of actors, and often a theme or a prop. You have 24 hours to write, rehearse, and present a 10-minute play. The process is an adrenaline rush and forces you to finish a script. It’s also a chance to meet new theatre connections and possible lifelong collaborators.

I met my director, Bob, at my first 24-hour play fest in New York. The theme was “horror” and we ended up presenting a play about two acrobatic succubi and a man in love with his IKEA chair which I half-wrote in Esperanto. I loved the experience.


Consider all of the people in your life that tell you writing is difficult, that being an artist is difficult, that the path is full of lifelong pain and sacrifice. Even if they are not a writer or have absolutely NO experience in the industry--don’t ignore them. They hate that.

Maybe they’re right. Maybe it is hard. But you’re the hero and you’re going to do it anyway.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  I love collaboration. I also love writing stories. You can reach me at katharine.henner (at) gmail (dot) com.

Enter Your Email To Have New Blog Posts Sent To You

Support The Blog
Mailing list to be invited to Adam's events

Books by Adam (Amazon)

No comments: