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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...

Jun 8, 2017

I Interview Playwrights Part 949: Julia Specht

Julia Specht

Hometown:  Fitchburg, Massachusetts

Current Town:  Brooklyn, New York

Q:  Tell me about your EST marathon play.

A:  Two sisters are trying to bake a casserole for the funeral of a woman who was sort of a surrogate mother for them when they were growing up, but then their actual mom shows up and kind of barrels over the whole thing. So, it's about moms, and what it means to be a mom, and realizing that your kids lead separate lives from you. Family stuff! It's also about Massachusetts.

Q:  What else are you working on now?

A:  I've been super into faith and belief. Blame it on 2016 (blame everything on 2016), but toward the middle of last year I became really interested in the way that ideas become core to who we are, and how we respond when those ideas are threatened. Logic isn't a part of it, it's something deeper and more urgent.

So my next play is about a group of bigfooters (i.e. people who believe in and try to prove the existence of Bigfoot). Trying to track down evidence of sasquatch, and also justify decades of time and energy spent in the woods listening to rustling and looking for scat. It's called Patty.

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

A:  When I was maybe 12, my mom went on a crusade against wind turbines. She had a reason, I think - some neighbor was trying to install a turbine next to our house? It was going to be loud? She told me very solemnly that the birds were going to die. I don't know, my mother is not an eco-terrorist and that is not the point of this story.

She took me to an anti-wind-energy convention, because she is incredibly thorough about everything she undertakes, and it was full of real weirdos. Most of whom had exactly no opinions about wind-energy or turbines or anything of the sort.

There was one guy who looked about 50, and he was dressed in linen pants and a WWE shirt, and I remember he cornered me and talked to me about how turbines would deter UFOs from visiting and that would be a real shame because Fitchburg and Leominster were hot-beds for alien activity, regular alien tourist destinations. He talked for 40 minutes. Girls learn to sit still and be quiet at a young age, and so I sat and I listened to him yell about UFOs and I didn't say a word but I was fascinated by how much he cared. He cared more about the UFOs more than I had, to that point, ever seen a person care about anything.

There is a lot to unpack there.

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

A:  I mean, point A, the obvious answer, is make it less racist. I want more, higher quality jobs in theater for POC. I'm trying to do better with that in my own work, per Dominique Morisseau's recent points about specificity. Race is in everything and it's better to just look it straight in the face. Paul Beatty did an interview with the Paris Review a couple years ago that I use now to think about my work, too.

Point B, I'd make it more accessible. A lot of companies are doing great work with that already. Company One in Boston does incredible community outreach, lobby displays, and immersive dramaturgy. Their work is so strong and it's a shining example of accessible theatre. Gold Dust Orphans (another Boston company) also crushes at this. They pull in people who don't care about theatre at all. (Granted, it's easy for them because they write original drag musicals - who would not be 100% on board for that?)

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  So many people are smart and brave and I admire them immensely. Annie Baker writes plays I love. Lynn Nottage and Paula Vogel have stuck the fuck around through some nonsense and they're both my heroes for that.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  Give me a good, satisfying story! That is all I care about.

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

  • Write. Write every day. I know, I know! It sucks. Do it anyway. Inspiration is fake. I am also 60% sure that writer's block is fake. You can always force yourself to type into a word doc for 20 minutes. Who knows, something might come of it.

  • Submit stuff you're proud of. The popular advice is to submit as often as possible ("accrue 100 rejections a year!", shit like that), and sure, that's great, do that. But don't submit just to submit. Never send in first drafts. Love yourself and your work enough to edit brutally, to do 10 revisions, to make something that you feel is bullet-proof.
    • I don't say this because like, "if you edit more you won't be rejected as often" - you'll still get rejections, and a lot of them, and that's fine. Your work won't be for everybody, nor should it be. I say this because like, just imagine getting something that you half-assed accepted into a festival or whatever, and then you have to watch it rumble to life and it's awful and you hate it and you can't believe you let it out of your computer. THAT is the worst consequence of all.

  • There is no such thing as "making it". Even if you win a bunch of prizes - think of the best writing prize in the world, even if you won that one - you will still be hustling to the next thing. It's the nature of the job. I recently bullied a novelist who just published her second book and has won a bunch of prizes into giving me advice, and she told me that "you're never done with beginner shit". There will always be another hurdle, and that's okay! Recognizing that removed a lot of stress for me - it means that you just are where you are, there's no ladder to climb, no one is fancier than you, we are all digging through the same problems every day.

  • So, with the above advice in mind - envision what you want your life as a writer to look like on a daily basis. Imagine how you want your daily schedule to be, visualize your routine. And work toward making that happen. That should be the goal.
  • Lastly - we're all going to die someday anyway, and people are going to forget our work, and that's pretty great because playwrights exist to be of their time! So like, have fun. Who cares. It's theater. Do stuff you like.
Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  Come see this show! EST Marathon Series B. Not only is my show cool as heck, I'm lucky enough to be in the company of some other really great theater, so you're going to have a good night. It runs to Monday, June 26th
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