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1000 Playwright Interviews The first interview I posted was on June 3, 2009.  It was Jimmy Comtois.  I decided I would start interview...

May 27, 2017

I Interview Playwrights Part 944: Christy Hall

Christy Hall

Hometown: That’s a tough one for me. There are two houses that exist in the world that nurtured the bulk of my childhood, but they are in different states, and no member of my family lives anywhere near them anymore.

Basically, I am a direct product of the American Midwest. A small town girl. I grew up gazing at the stars, listening to crickets and quite often feeling utterly restless and anxious to bust out.

But I am ultimately proud to have participated in the poetry of growing up in the smaller corners of the world. There’s a complexity embedded within the simplicity of living in a place where things rarely change and everyone knows your name. Because of this, I truly wouldn’t change my upbringing for the world. It’s gifted me a very challenging perspective as my life has become far more urban.

City verses country. No matter what either side may claim, there are glaring positives and negatives to BOTH. And I’m grateful I feel just as comfortable wearing work boots as I sweat in the middle of an Oklahoma field as I do wearing high heels as I sip Prosecco and gaze out from the top floor of a Manhattan high-rise. This dichotomy has serviced me extremely well as a writer. It’s allowed me to be the vessel of highly contrasting characters. And I love that.

Current Town: The last nine years I have inhabited three different apartments in Harlem. New York City, baby!

Q:  What are you working on now? 

A:  Currently, I'm working on a new play called THE NATURE OF KNOWING. It's a two-hander set in Brooklyn. My last three plays have actually been placed in New York City. Let’s see, I have a play about two estranged sisters who are forced to live together in a very small Harlem studio apartment, I have another play that is fully encompassed in one single cab ride, and now I'm writing a play about an older man who lives in Brooklyn.

This wasn’t planned, but I suppose these three plays have organically manifested into my little trilogy of love letters to this remarkable city. I mean… there's a reason a great many tales use New York as its backdrop. I think it's because this city requires its residents to be a little crazy in a way. From Wall Street all the way to the gutters, a human doesn't exist in this city unless they possess certain extremes within their personality. I'm the same. The grit, the noise, the danger, the difficulty - it all requires a stubborn resiliency, a whimsical sort of madness, an unbending drive toward something - which we New Yorkers wear like a badge of honor.

Because of this truth, New York inherently has become this vast and highly unique treasure trove of characters. I could spend the rest of my life writing about the people of New York and never repeat myself, not once. And at the end of my life, I would not have even come close to scratching the surface.

As for my new play, THE NATURE OF KNOWING, my lead character's name is Larry, and he forgets things. And as I write about Larry - as the details of his story have slowly been revealed to me - this character has completely broken my heart. Because I know there are many like him, the real Larrys of New York City, quietly shuffling about their third floor walk-ups, a metropolis of millions racing about them, casting not a care if they live or die.

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

A:  Most artists suffered some form of turmoil growing up. And I am no exception. My childhood was marked with a series of very painful events, events that I will respectfully not unpack in the here and the now. But… I believe it’s all very purposeful. It is no coincidence that from a very young age, I thought a lot about the nuances of loss, of death and life, that fine line between love and hate, truth and lies - because I had to. Because the human condition - our perfect imperfection - was directly demonstrated to me in a myriad of ways, time and time again.

For me, I suppose writing naturally began as a means of therapy, a way of processing pain, though I didn’t know that is what I was doing at the time, I was a kid. Looking back, it was so clearly an escape, a means of survival within the powerlessness of childhood. It gave me a safe space in which to unpack all the things I wasn’t allowed to say out loud.

As the years have gone by, however, my writing has evolved from an impulsive act of raw human expression to more of a decisive, disciplined dedication. You cannot be a professional until that change has occurred. There’s a great quote by Stephen King that says, “Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.” It is so very true.

Not to say that I don’t still use the great pains of life in my stories. I very much do. And those who know me, know me well, watch my work and can easily point out all the sincere truths embedded inside the fiction. But writing is not therapy for me anymore. And if it is, I am no longer the patient in that scenario. I am now the therapist. My characters come to me these days, begging for help. Not the other way around.

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

A:  I do wish we had a countrywide dedication to new work. If every theatre in the United States did ONE brand new play every season, or even every other season, it would drastically change the health and future of the American theatre. It’s a frightening restructuring to undertake, I do understand. But I’ve seen audiences even in the smallest of theatrical communities embrace new work. Theatre goers are by nature highly curious and incredibly savvy. They actually want to be challenged with new narratives. Many of them simply don’t have the access. We as a theatre collective cannot continue to regurgitate the same stories again and again, or theatre in this country will continue to greatly suffer. Some artistic directors that I’ve spoken with bemoan the difficulty of securing solid, new work to produce. But I directly challenge that notion. In an age of information, we are far too connected to have an excuse. If you run a theatre company, become a member of resources like the National New Play Network. The future of theatre is literally happening right now. And it cannot begin and end with Shakespeare. Shakespeare himself would not approve. Keep in mind, at one point in human history, Hamlet was a brand new play that no one had ever heard of.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  Just this last weekend, I saw Enda Walsh’s new play Arlington at St. Ann’s Warhouse and I’m still processing what I saw. There’s fearlessness in Mr. Walsh’s work. An unapologetic sense of self. He’s not afraid to allow his stories to feel dangerous, uncomfortable and unsettling. I felt a great deal watching that play - the full spectrum of human emotion. From horror to happiness to confusion to comfort and all way back again. I walked out of that play with a sincere desire to be bolder in my work. And that is deeply exciting.

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

A:  Don’t judge yourself too harshly in the beginning. And don’t worry too much about that deep, sickening feeling of inadequacy. We all start out feeling a bit insecure, often questioning what the hell we are even doing. It’s because choosing art - any form of art - as a professional has and always will have its monumental challenges. No one would ever make a doctor question whether their profession is necessary or worthy of financial support. Yet, society needs stories just as desperately as our need to ward off sickness. Choosing the path of playwriting is choosing a path of vulnerability. Be kind to yourself in that endeavor. And just keep writing. What you are doing is important. You know it’s important, because, odds are, the power of theatre saved your life at some point. And now you seek to return the favor. Art saves lives and stories matter. You know that. I know that. The rest of the world just might always drag a few paces behind. And that’s okay. It's partly what makes art so magnificently glorious. Because it's hard. Even from the very inception of an idea, the act of creation is never easy. And would we have it any other way? Artists are like New Yorkers, after all… driven by a whimsical madness, a stubborn resiliency. And, honestly, I can tell you that living in that kind of extreme passion and purpose, day in and day out, is an honor. To be a playwright is a privilege. Never allow fear to cause you to forget that.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  www.christyhall.com

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