Friday, April 29, 2016

I Interview Playwrights Part 827: Kristin Idaszak

Kristin Idaszak

Hometown: Western Springs, IL

Current Town: Minneapolis, MN

Q:  What are you working on now?

A:  I’m working on a new play called Lovelier Lovelies, in which a woman tries to adapt a novel about Polish slaughterhouse workers for the stage. (The novel is loosely inspired by Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle.) She fails, and the play gets cancelled. The writer’s forced to present a makeshift slideshow about the Chicago stockyards. What we learn is that in trying to explore her Polish identity, and her great-grandfather’s death on the slaughterhouse floor, she’s actually written a play about a traumatic event in her own past. It’s written half as the presentation and half as rehearsals from the play within the play. The play explores the way narratives get co-opted, and how sediment of identity accrues over the course of generations. And it also asks about staging things that are intrinsically impossible to stage—whether that’s a cattle stampede or an act of sexual violence.

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

A:  What comes to mind is more a kaleidoscope of images than a single story: I remember building sets with my dad for the local community theatre. I was the only girl in the scene shop. I remember going to class with my mom when I was off from school but she wasn’t. She was a chemical engineer when I was a little kid, but she went back to school to become a pharmacist. I realize now how brave that was. I remember, for my birthday (maybe my sixth or seventh) I got a detective kit. You could break codes or detect invisible ink. I carried it around everywhere, looking for mysteries to solve.

These fragments explain some of my obsessions, at least, and perhaps circle around who I am as a writer and a person.

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

A:  I’d like to see gender parity across the board—writers, directors, designers, actors, technicians, everybody. But there’s so much work to be done, not only in terms of gender, but also in terms of race, ability, and economic inclusivity. There’s a long road ahead of us.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  First and foremost, my teachers—Naomi Iizuka, Deborah Stein, Adele Shank, Carlos Murillo, Dean Corrin, Coya Paz. These are artists in their own right who have guided me in finding and strengthening my own voice. They’ve helped me understand that teaching is also an artistic practice. Other artists I find heroic are Taylor Mac, Caryl Churchill, and Maria Irene Fornés, to name a few.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  I love spectacle. I love simplicity. I love plays that go by in a heartbeat and plays that last eight hours. I respond to ambitious, unapologetic, impossible theatre—work that is formally inventive and questioning itself. I love when I see something that challenges what theatre can be or do. These days, I’m most excited when I see something that engages with me as an audience member—it needs an audience to be complete. Sometimes that’s immersive or site-responsive work, sometimes it’s in the style or the presentation of the story.

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

A:  Find what nourishes you and cultivate that. The body and the mind are inextricable, so take good care of your physical self. I also think that the greater stability you can create—the quiet spaces, a sanctuary within your own life—can allow you to do the deep tissue work of writing.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  You can see my play Second Skin on the beach in Santa Monica until May 15.

The Last Tiger in Haiti by Jeff Augustin at La Jolla Playhouse

King of the Yees by Lauren Yee at The Goodman Theatre
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