Saturday, August 08, 2015

I Interview Playwrights Part 770: Amy Staats


Amy Staats

Hometown:  Hard to say. I was born in Boston, and moved to Charleston, South Carolina when I was two. When my parents split up a year later, my mother became a news reporter and moved to Green Bay Wisconsin and then to Sacramento California for local television jobs. My sister and I spent the school months with my mother, and summers in Charleston with our Dad.

Current Town:  Brooklyn. Williamsburg. We've been there forever. It's like being on the inside of someone's mouth when they're getting veneers.

Q:  What are you working on now?

A:  Right this very instant I'm getting ready to go into the final rounds of the Sam French Festival with my short play Throws of Love for the Samuel French Festival, directed by the amazing Jess Hayes and starring Cathy Curtin (OITNB), Kara Dudley, Katie Lawson, and Bindu Bansinath. I'm also finishing up a first draft of play about Van Halen that I'm taking up to SPACE at Ryder Farm to work on with Margot Bordelon and Megan Hill in September. I couldn't be more thrilled about both of these projects. I am really lucky to be working with all of these incredibly talented people.

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 think the fact that that my sister and I moved around a lot and went to six different elementary schools made made me very aware of subtle social differences. Picking up social cues was essential for survival as a chronic new kid, so I got good at figuring out how to pass as "normal" for short periods of time. Also, my parents splitting up before I had command of language provided the kind of profound heartbreak needed to really get an artist going. Another great thing about my childhood is that my mothers side is full of strong characters who talk over one another which taught me that your characters don't actually need to always listen to each other which I think is important. Another great thing is that my fathers parents were these really stoic people from West Virginia, and my fathers father was from a family of doctors and had a small hospital in West Virginia called Staats Hospital which fell into a state of financial disrepair in the eighties and had to be sold. All the cousins and my sister and I called him Charles Charles, because he was the second Charles in what would become and long line of Charles's. My Dad was also named Charles, or "Ched" and later "Chuck" when he dropped out of medical school and became an artist. Charles Charles had a waxed mustache that was inspired by seeing a Chinese gentleman when he was a doctor in World War Two. Charles Charles also though he was a genius, and gave himself permission to operate on his own family. He was very into new gadgets and would buy the first make of new things, for instance, there would suddenly be a large wooden Norwegian ski machine in my grandparents living room when we came to visit. He was extremely strict and scary and would give us long lectures about the proper way to roast marshmallows so my cousins, my sister and I called him "Marshmellow Snob" behind his back. He was also an early health food enthusiast, and drank hot water and ate raw oats for breakfast. This did not help his flatulence problem which accented his lectures and we didn't dare laugh at. Of course Charles Charles started to lose his mind in his early seventies, which he tried to diagnose himself with mixed results. Without a doubt I was blessed with a family full of characters and I think this is helpful for anybody trying to do anything really and provided me with a love of the ridiculous.

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

A:  I would reincarnate Jackie O so she could entice the government into giving more funding for the arts so artists stand a better chance of getting paid. Also, I think this fascination with doing plays with a crazy little amount of rehearsal time is getting a bit dodgy. Actors are getting ulcers, and I think the joy of doing something impossible sometimes clouds the fact that the play could have been better with a teeny bit more time. That being said, I know that theater companies are doing the best they can with very small budgets. I don't mean those guys and gals. I mean the people who secretly get off on chaos. You know who you are.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  Right now Donald Trump is killing it.

My heroes are those crazy people who are making theater happen despite everything. The Management, Morgan Gould & Friends, Maria Striar, Susan Bernfield, The Debate Society, all those guys at Rattlestick, the Lesser America peeps, The Tuesdays @9 peeps, Graeme Gillis and RJ Tolan for maintaining their outstanding heads of hair and whoever got the thing going where theatre's support other productions in their emails.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  I like a variety of different theater. I like realism mixed with the ridiculous, I like subtle relationship plays and I like a crazy experimental plays. I like drama with a scoop of comedy and vice versa. I actually like most types of plays if they are done well. I think the thing that makes something exciting for me is the spirit in which it was created. I'm not a fan of sloppy. The only time sloppy woks for me is if there is so much joie de vivre that you figure what the hell.

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

A:   My advice for playwrights starting out is that they shouldn't come to me for advice. My journey as a playwright has been totally upside down. I started writing plays over ten years ago by accident, got a production, then freaked out and stopped. I stated back up a few years ago. So far it's been fun. I mean, sometimes, it's just hard, making a beginning, middle and end is no joke. But seriously, I started out as a ballet dancer, moved to NYC at eighteen to dance, started acting in new plays, then wrote a play. I didn't go to college. So I'm constantly trying to educate myself. Don't do this. No matter how smart you think you are. Learning about the Greeks on your own is no fun. With all that in mind my advice don't try to write a good play, instead try to write a story that makes sense on some sort of level be it abstract or literal.

Q:  Upcoming:

A:  My full length play Hands has been selected for The Claque's reading series on Oct 13th. I'm looking forward to that. As an actor, I'm getting ready to shoot Morgan Gould's web series, so look for that on the inter webs. Also as an actor, I'm looking forwarded to remounting Megan Hill's hilarious and heartbreaking Jazzercise Play, directed by the great Margot Bordelon sometime this year.

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