Monday, May 02, 2016

I Interview Playwrights Part 831: Katie Bender

Katie Bender

Hometown:  I was born in Houston Texas and moved around a lot growing up. New York, Texas and California feel like home.

Current Town: Austin, Texas

Q:  What are you working on now?

A:  Right now I’m working on a two-hander for a magician and his assistant titled One Night Only. Based on the life of Harry Houdini, this play has lot’s of space for me to play with magic and theatricality while exploring questions of ambition and escapism.

With Underbelly I co-create immersive journey plays that invite audiences into the unperformed spaces in the theatre. With a commission from ZACH theater and a residency with The New Victory Playlabs we’ve created an adaptation of Alice in Wonderland that has been running at ZACH for the last three months. We are currently re-imagining the play for a workshop with New Victory in New York. www.underbellytheatre.com.

Starting in July I’ll be in Minneapolis as a Jerome Fellow at The Playwright’s Center. This last year I’ve been jumping non-stop from one project to the next. I am so excited to spend the summer in Minneapolis reading and dreaming and finding new inspiration and in the fall diving into a big old historical play about Susanna Dickinson, Santa Anna and The Alamo.

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

A:  A few memories here:

When I was little we lived in Seattle in a neighborhood filled with huge trees and eccentric victorian houses. If I could climb a tree and get on one roof I could sneak from roof to roof looking in at other people’s lives. I loved the physical rigor of balancing in the trees, I loved the danger of getting caught, most of all I loved looking in on other people from an unexpected angle.

Driving back from a camping trip with my dad and sisters in a tense car with my dad’s desire to make a great vacation as palpable as his knowledge that we couldn’t afford the great vacation, I started puppeting my sister’s hair clip. I created for the hair clip a persona that was foul and gruff and could get everyone in the car laughing. I played that hair clip character so much it started to feel like a trance I could drop into, where all the tense weird gross shit I wouldn’t usually say could come out. Mostly, I was just trying to keep everyone laughing.

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

A:  I wish there was greater gender parity in all areas of the theatre. I wish more theatres produced more new plays, and more kinds of plays by more kinds of people.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  Oh man, so many. Naomi Wallace, Pina Bausch, Sam Shepard, Kazuo Ohno, Paula Vogel, Lisa D’Amour, Ivan Van Hove, The Rude Mechs, My teachers, Kirk Lynn, Steven Dietz, Suzan Zeder and Liz Engelman. My incredible collaborators Gabrielle Reisman, Abe Koogler, Stephanie Busing, Mercedes O’bannion, Kristian Piña, Kelsey Oliver and Peter Stopschinski.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  I love theatre that is consciously crafted to lead the audience into an experience of the unknown.

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

A:  For me, writing is a physical act, often I need to write several drafts before I know what the play is about. So I would say write as a muscle you are building that leads you to your own voice and then listen, listen to the play, listen to your collaborators, listen for outside inspiration...the play lies at the intersection between the act of doing and the ability to sit back and listen.

Find your people and make your own shit.

Don’t get caught up in the idea of gatekeepers; write the plays that excite you, see if some other people are excited by them and get them up.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  If you’re in Texas come see our production of Alice in Wonderland at ZACH Theatre.
http://www.zachtheatre.org/content/2015-16-family-shows

Also Liz Doss’s Poor Herman with Paper Chairs
http://paperchairs.com/upcoming-events/

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