by Martin Denton · November 8, 2015
Your playwriting voice is lyrical and idiosyncratic and quite beautiful. Yet CHOP YOUR OWN WOOD is, according to your bio, your first play. Have you written in other genres before (poetry perhaps)? How did you come to writing, and playwriting in particular?
Chop Your Own Wood is my first full-length play, yes, but I've written for the theatre before in a more collaborative capacity for devised works. I'm married to a poet and I read a great deal of poetry, so it's nice to hear that some lyricism is finding its way into my writing by osmosis. My other writing has largely been fiction. Right now, I'm working on a novel called Things As They Ought To Be and a screenplay called Doppelgang.
Who taught you how to write plays (this could be a teacher, a playwright, or anyone in the world)?
I studied acting at Saint Louis University and then received my MFA in Acting at The New School for Drama. I learned a great deal about how plays work from Tom Martin at Saint Louis University. I benefited tremendously from going to school with some terrific playwrights at The New School for Drama like Jessica Cohen and Claire Kiechel, both of whom I was lucky enough to have as early readers for Chop Your Own Wood.
I also read voraciously. I am a student and devotee of Chekhov forever. And Murakami. Chekhov and Murakami.
What inspired you to write CHOP YOUR OWN WOOD? How did it find its shape?
I wrote Chop Your Own Wood when I was a brand new mother. It came from a fear-monster that I was trying to beat back. Having a newborn came with an overwhelming amount of love and a sudden fear of and clarity about the randomness of tragedy. I think I was dealing with a lot of big feelings I wasn't sure what to do with and didn't know what else to do but to write a play. I suppose it was sort of a "worst-case scenario" play.
Along with having a child came the fear that there wasn't room for me in the theatre anymore. I'm glad that there is a burgeoning conversation about how unfriendly a life in the theatre can be to women with children and discussion about ways to change that. Last winter, though, I was feeling like there truly wasn't a place for me unless I carved it out myself. So I started writing.
I can credit a lot of the play's shape to my collaborators. Alexandra Kuechler Caffall directed the play and Tyler Caffall played Daniel. We spent a lot of time getting to know the play on its feet, discovering what worked and what didn't, and paring each moment down to its essence. The two of them helped me to draw out the much-needed moments of joy and connection. We're a terrific team in that respect. I'll remind you about cannibalism and meteorites, Alex will figure out how to celebrate those things, and Tyler will breathe deeply sincere life into it all. The play would not exist as it does now without the two of them. The vibrancy and clarity people seem to feel drawn to, Alex and Tyler helped me to find.
There are just 2 characters in the play, and you played one of them at FringeNYC. Did you specifically write the role of Lydia for yourself? What is the thing about Lydia that you enjoy the most when you portray her, and what frustrates or annoys you about her?
I was trying to come up with a more graceful way of saying "Yes, I wrote the role for myself", but I can't seem to find one, so: Yes, I wrote the role of Lydia for myself. I took some time off from acting when I was pregnant. After my son was born, I was desperate to be in a play. More than anything, I missed the rehearsal room and table work and getting to work with people who inspire me. So, yes. It's fair to say that I began writing the play with the intention to act in it.
My favorite thing about Lydia is her passion-- sometimes for things like her husband or Jamestown, sometimes for things like morbidity and running away. She is deeply flawed and complicated, but what she does, she does with great conviction and I like that about her.
There's a lot that frustrates me about Lydia, but I'm certain that a lot of that stems from trying to get inside a character's head while I was still very much tied to the writing process. The character isn't as dynamic as I'd like her to be. I'm eager to work on the script again without the pressure of having to act in the show, as well.
Has anyone else ever played Lydia so far? If so, how did that feel? If not, are you looking forward to seeing other actors take the role on?
I'm the only actor to play Lydia as of yet. I'm eager to see a set of actors who aren't Tyler and I take on Lydia and Daniel. I feel that a hefty part of the play is a rich, unspoken history, so I would be very interested to see what another pair would bring to the story.
What is next for the play and for your career in the future?
Bonneville is the theater company that I co-founded with with other two creators of Chop Your Own Wood, Alexandra Kuechler Caffall and Tyler Caffall. We have a lot of exciting projects coming up, including a production of Hamlet, which I'll be acting in. On the writing front, I'm working on two new plays at the moment, one about a group of teenage girls in Georgia discovering Russian literature and one about the employees of a failing amusement park in Florida.
Shameless plug: Bonneville has a party and performance coming up on December 8th. Details can be found at www.bonnevilletheater.com. It's going to be a blast!