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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 27, 2019

I Interview Playwrights Part 1054: Tana Sirois and Maria Swisher


Tana Sirois and Maria Swisher


Tana is from Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and Maria is from Marshall, Missouri. We met in Liverpool, England while studying at The Liverpool Institute For Performing Arts. We founded Dirt [contained] Theatre Company in 2010.

Current Town: New York City

Q:  What are you working on now?

A:  We are in the process of producing a semi-autobiographical original play called “Crushing Baby Animals”. We decided to write this play after realizing we had been having the same recurring nightmare where we attempt to save a large number of baby animals from a tornado, but in the process, we drop them and stomp on them as we run, crushing them all. In our semi-autobiographical science fiction play, our shared dream opens up a wormhole that sucks us through space into a timeless ether, where we meet our antagonistic dopplegangers, who force us to confront our egoic identities. The play blends physical theatre, multimedia, improvisation and a healthy dose of humor for a unique artistic experience.

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

A:  Tana- I spent a large part of my childhood playing out elaborate stories that generally resulted in me tearing through the woods, throwing myself in lakes, crawling through caves and climbing massive trees. These games would go on for hours and hours, and I would come home at the end of the day covered in dirt and cuts and bruises. The funny thing is, when I wasn’t playing like that I was a very, very serious kid. Everything always held a lot of weight for me. It’s probably because I took things so seriously, that I have always craved that creative release. I want to make work that reflects those two sides of myself. The imaginative, impulsive, fearless, dirty child, and the contemplative kid who was extremely concerned with the problems of the world. That juxtaposition is certainly reflected in “Crushing Baby Animals”.

Maria- Speaking of Crushing Baby Animals, here’s one that makes an appearance in the play we just wrote: I don’t know if it was being the daughter of a minister, or some innate obsession with ritual and nature and death, but I remember doing worm funerals on the playground at school as a kid. I never got a great deal of involvement from my peers, but there was usually one or two misfits who would join in with me as we marched through a choreographed routine. (I carried the crunchy worm carcass, because to be honest they were pretty cool.) It was a play I suppose, before I ever started doing plays, one about the things I’m still interested in: nature, mystery, and the cycles of life and death.

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

A:  Maria- My answer is more about our economic system I guess. This is not just about theatre, it’s about well being, livelihood and the future of work. I wonder all the time about what would happen if people were truly enabled to find work that they are passionate about that and could support themselves in whatever field that might be, from free good quality education and healthcare on up. I want artists to have the support they need to make experimental work that is meaningful and gives back to society. And I want people to feel healthy, happy and fulfilled in whatever work they choose.

Tana- I wish it was more affordable to make theatre and to see theatre. The hustle necessary to make your own work and support yourself is extremely challenging. It always feels worth it, in the end, but it does require a good amount of sacrifice. I’ve seen how live art inspires and moves people in a very powerful way. I want to reach a wide, diverse audience with my work. I want theatre to be accessible.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  Maria- Robert Wilson, Anne Bogart, Peter Brook, Augusto Boal.

Tana- Frantic Assembly, Slung Low Theatre Company, Augusto Boal.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  Maria- I like work that surprises me and stimulates something inside me that I don’t understand. At first it is the attraction, the feeling, like that first moment meeting someone you have an instant chemical attraction with. Then I have to go away and think on it to figure out why I feel the way I do and understand it on multiple levels. If that also coincides with an important message or realization, and if it makes me laugh, that’s the holy trifecta.

Tana- I’ve always felt drawn to satire because I think comedy is a great way to speak truth. Recently, I’ve been very attracted to work that incorporates multiple theatrical genres. All of my favorite work deals with what I consider to be incredibly important topics, while incorporating a lightness and sense of play.

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

A:  Tana- Trust your ideas. Most of what you write won’t end up in the final work, but exploring all of your ideas (even if they seem crazy or impossible), and embracing that confusing, beautiful artistic journey will help you get to where you need to be to tell the story you want to tell. Collaboration is huge for me. I get very little enjoyment out of sitting in a room and writing on my own, but exploring ideas with other creatives lights me on fire.

Maria- Write from yourself. That doesn’t mean that you can only write stories where you are the protagonist (like we are for this play!) but don’t question too much whether people want to know what comes from you. This body, this one unique experience you are having is your only tool to connect to the rest of the world, so it’s a very good place to start. Make yourself write, like it’s a job, giving yourself time to not be an editor. Write in ways that aren’t just sitting in front of your computer. Stand up, talk to yourself, improvise. Find someone to share your work with, whether that is a partner, or a group of other artists, or if you’re very lucky like me...your Doppleganger.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  www.dirtcontained.com, Instagram: @dirtcontained Twitter: @dirtcontained Facebook: @dirtcontained Upcoming Performance of “Crushing Baby Animals” will premiere at The Plaxall Gallery in Long Island City (5-25 46th Ave)

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