Posted by MB - July 1, 2015
Project Y Associate Producer, Sarah Dunivant, is reinstalling our Playwright Interview Series this #parityplays season. Sarah is a playwright and actress interested in the process of writing and developing new work. After each reading in this series of plays that have 50% (or More) Women in Casting, Sarah will sit down with the playwright to get an inside view on their process, their writing, and to reflect on their experience being part of Project Y’s series. We start with Washington, D.C. playwright, Allyson Currin, whose play “The Sooner Child” was performed at Cap21 Studios.
SD: What inspired “The Sooner Child”?
AC: I have only one recurring nightmare: I wake up thinking that I never got married, and I never had children. It’s a terrible feeling (thank God it doesn’t last as soon as the fog of sleep lifts) – that your whole life just didn’t HAPPEN. I was talking with my dramaturg Sonya Robbins about it right as she was urging me to dig deeper into my own personal emotional experiences for my plays, and she encouraged me to figure out a way to write about that. So I did. I pulled a lot on my experiences raising teenagers (I have twin daughters who are amazing and wonderful), and mashed that up with my nightmare and some twists of my imagination. The 1st draft of “The Sooner Child” was the result.
SD: How is this play similar or different to some of your other plays?
AD: Even if the subject matter is serious in a play of mine, there will always be comedy. I know that as a playgoer I care more about characters when they are smart and make me laugh as well as care. So those are the types of characters I strive to write. Humor is kind of my default setting anyway. I can’t imagine writing a play that didn’t pack in a lot of laughs, and I’m pleased to report that, in performance, “The Sooner Child” is delivering so far. “The Sooner Child” is probably the saddest play I’ve ever written though. In that way, it’s a bit of a departure for me.
SD: What was the process like for creating the piece? (How long did it take you, do you read the play with actors often, etc.)
AC: The play started out as a one-act (what is now the first act). 1st Draft at The Rose did a staged reading of it, and in a very lively talk-back with the audience, the comment was made that I ought to expand it and explore a reversal of the teenage character in the 2nd act. I am always very careful when deciding which audience comments to implement in my work, but when I heard that one, I had a very simple and profound realization that the comment was dead-on. So I wrote the second act, and did another staged reading here in DC with 1st Draft. The Project Y reading this spring was the second of the full-length, and I am busily shopping the play around for full production. All in all, the play has probably taken three or four years to write.
SD: What did you gain or learn from the reading with Project Y?
AC: I found the Project Y presentation of “The Sooner Child” one of the most moving renderings of my work I’ve ever seen. That was due in large part to amazing actors who gave themselves over to every moment, body and soul, and a director, Ryan Maxwell, who seemed to be reading my mind with his every comment. It was an amazing team. I am incredibly grateful to Project Y for giving a DC playwright the opportunity to reach an audience in another city. I’d do it again in a heartbeat!
SD: When did you decide you wanted to pursue playwriting?
AC: I have been writing since I was a child, but didn’t come to playwriting until after I got my undergraduate degree in acting, and an MFA in directing. In my late twenties, I just started trying it out, and had some serendipitous success with my first play that opened the world of playwriting up for me. I have been writing plays for over 25 years now, and while I still act and produce plays, writing for the theatre still feels like my true calling.
SD: Do you have any playwriting commandments or rules that you follow? If so, what are they? How do they instruct your writing?
AC: I don’t really have rules for myself except for one: I only write about subjects and characters I love. Even if the work is commissioned by a theatrical institution with, say, an assigned topic, I find that I have to figure out how to fall in love with the project in order to be able to write about it. I like keeping that standard for myself. The only other over-arching guideline I use is to try to surround myself with artists who are true collaborators, with strong dramaturgical skills and a fearlessness about asking tough questions. I like to be pushed and challenged, in a productive, healthy way, by the team on any project.
SD: What are you working on now?
AC: Lots! I have two plays opening in September: the first is a Theatre for Young Audiences play commissioned by Cincinnati Playhouse called HIGH SCHOOL ALIEN. I’ve been working on it with the Cincinnati folks for two and a half years now, so I’m really looking forward to that premiere! I’m also devising a piece for September production here in DC by Factory 449 – I’m writing on that rather frantically at the moment! I also have a national tour of my play “The Interior Castle” (a multi-media piece about St. Teresa of Avila, commissioned by Musica Aperta) hitting several major cities in May and June. It has been performed in Boston, Los Angeles, Houston and San Antonio so far, and is coming to Chicago and DC in June. I have several other projects in various stages of development, but the one I’m most excited about will premiere in 2016 at the Tony Award-winning Signature Theatre here in DC. It’s called “Silver Belles” and I wrote the book, with composer-lyricist Matt Conner. I just know it’s going to be a wonderful production – it will be directed by Signature’s Artistic Director Eric Schaeffer, who just finished directing “Gigi” on Broadway. So stay tuned!