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1000 PLAYWRIGHT INTERVIEWS

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

Aug 19, 2019

I Interview Playwrights Part 1057: Brenda Withers




Brenda Withers

Hometown: Merrick, NY

Current Town: Wellfleet, MA

Q:  What are you working on now?

A:  I'm in the middle of a play about eugenics, IVF, and shelter dogs.

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

A:  I remember in fourth grade making (what I thought was) a huge mistake by telling my Mom about a girl at school who had no friends. At lunch, while everyone else was doing something sporty or braiding hair, she would walk in slow circles around the perimeter of the field, totally alone, until the bell rang to call us back inside.

My mother made it made clear immediately, unequivocally, that I was to spend lunch with that girl from then on-- I could either convince the other kids to invite her into a larger group activity or walk that perimeter with her myself, but either way I was not to leave her on her own. This made me very nervous, as hanging with outcasts requires a certain insouciance my 10-year-old self had not yet mastered, but I knew my mom was right.

I wish I could say the outcome of this story involved the girl and I becoming champion field-walkers or even just actual friends, but really it was just a lot of me keeping her company next to a chain link fence. I do think having a companion made her feel better, which made me feel better. That was a big, tangible lesson for me-- that our collective well-being is impacted by the welfare of individuals, that we owe it to our community (and ourselves) to look out for each other, even when it seems hard or futile or unfair. I know my parents taught me this lesson in a thousand more significant ways, so I'm not sure why this instance sticks out. But it definitely encapsulates my current worldview-- most of my plays are about the ramifications of upping (or abdicating) personal responsibility.

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

A:  Fix the money! Ticket prices need a radical drop, big donors need to stop wielding influence over artistic directors, and artists might want to get on board with theater as vocation instead of cutthroat career. If you're not in this for love, it usually shows, and not in a good way.

Who are or were your theatrical heroes? Ken Branagh, Caryl Churchill, Martha Graham, Tom Stoppard, Ariane Mnouchkine, Joe Papp, Ivo van Hove, Eugene Ionesco. And all artists toiling in obscurity who maintain a sense of humor and service.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  Theater that has layers, good jokes, danger, and poetry. Plays that are actually new (in structure, content, style), not just recently written.

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

A:  Do a crossword puzzle at the start of a writing session. Or read a poem. Aim really, really high, then take the shot.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  I have a few projects happening this Fall: my play Jordan is premiering at Northern Stage in Vermont, my very loose riff on Jarry's Ubu Roi is going up at the Modern Theatre in Boston, and the adaptation Jason O'Connell and I did of Cyrano is traveling to Two River in NJ. I must also mention our little-theater-that-could, the Harbor Stage Company, which I've been running with a stellar team of misfits for eight years on Cape Cod. I take everyone who visits for a swim.


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