Thursday, October 01, 2015

I Interview Playwrights Part 790: Charly Evon Simpson

Charly Evon Simpson

Hometown: Born in Queens, NY. Raised in Northern New Jersey.

Current Town: New York City

Q:  What are you working on now?

A:  I am working on a play called Hottentotted in Fresh Ground Pepper’s PlayGround PlayGroup. It is a play that brings together the life of Sarah ’Saartjie' Baartman, also known as the Hottentot Venus, with the lives of contemporary black women in the US. Baartman, if you don’t know, was a South African woman put on display in Europe until the 1800s. I’ve interviewed black women of a variety of ages, asking questions about how they feel their bodies are on display and sexualized, about how old they were when they realized fully what I meant to be black and female, etc. I am interweaving the real stories of these women in hopes of highlighting many of the issues we confront today. I’m lucky enough to be workshopping the piece at the beginning of October and it will have a reading open to the public in December.

Other than that, I am working on a short play called Postmark The Night as a part of EST/Youngblood’s Asking For Trouble. It will be one of 20+ ten minute plays going up in mid-October.

And lastly, I just started my MFA in Playwriting. My playwriting class is taught by Annie Baker…which means I feel like I should be working on anything for that class 24/7.

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

A:  Two things come to mind when trying to think of a story. First, when I was four or so, my favorite movie was Dirty Dancing. While watching, I would get up on the coffee table and dance along. All my dolls and stuffed animals would be piled together so they could watch me. I would replay the dancing scene over and over and over again. When I was seven, I moved on to Pretty Woman, which I was told I couldn’t show at my birthday party because other kids may not be ready for it yet. This may explain why I started out more as an actor, continue to write one-woman shows every once and a while, and am a sucker for a good RomCom.

The second memory is that I was always writing stories. In second grade, we wrote short stories that would get “published” so we could take them home and show our families. I wrote story after story, often lying and saying I had already written a “sloppy copy” so I could go ahead and work on the final published copy. I was always writing something and hated going back to the old stuff. I am much better about editing now (but I still think it is the worst…) and, predictably, my turnout is not as fast as then, but I still always have a ton of stories in my head.

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

A:  The lack of diversity that sometimes haunts our theater spaces. I mean diversity of the audience, the theater organization officials, the playwrights, the actors, the directors, the designers, the characters being portrayed on stage…And I mean diversity of gender, race, ability, age, class, etc. The theater I see that excites me the most usually shows me a world that is in someway diverse. I think diversity makes theater stronger. I would change many barriers to theater that cause this lack.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  José Rivera and Sarah Ruhl were my first heroes. I got lost in their words and worlds and soon was considering this whole playwriting thing a lot more. Now? I feel like I have too many heroes to name. There are so many talent theater people and I truly am in awe of a great number of people. Anyone committing to this path and overcoming hurdles and trying their darnedest is a hero in my book.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  Theater that is passionate and what I mean by that is you can tell all involved are passionate about the piece. I get excited by others being excited about the work. It doesn’t always mean I love the work, but it excites me. I love theater that feels like it has been infused with magical realism and jazz. I love theater that feels like a punch to the gut. I love being surprised. And like I said above, I love theater that is diverse. Leaving the theater energized and not drained—that excites me.

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

A:  First piece of advice: It is okay to be unsure. It is okay to not really know if this is what you want to do. Take the time and the detours. Test the waters. Freak out. Come back.

Related to the above: Use whatever you learned and whatever you experienced during that time and those detours in your work. Those times and detours are fertile ground.

Lastly: Find the artists you admire and want to work with. Find the artists that love your work. Hopefully there will be some overlap. Talk to them. Become friends. Find your community of people because when you can’t find the motivation, they can scrounge up some for you.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  Come to Asking for Trouble at Ensemble Studio Theatre! Also, visit my website ( in the coming weeks for the official dates of the Hottentotted reading.

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