What is your name and where are you from?
My name is C. A. Johnson and I’m from a suburb of Louisiana called Metairie, Louisiana. It’s like fifteen minutes outside the city; it’s where the airport is so most people who’ve been to New Orleans have been to where I’m from.
What project are you working on here at SPACE this summer?
So this summer I am probably going to use the time to fine tune a lot of stuff, but the new play that I’ll be starting is currently untitled. I affectionately call it ‘my beauty shop play’, and it’s sort of like a queer mystery set in a beauty shop. The opening, and I’ve known the opening for a while, is this young woman who has an Ivy League degree. So she just got her Bachelor’s Degree from Georgetown. You know, left Georgetown, moved to suburban Louisiana, got a hair license, and decided she wanted to do hair. And she goes to this sort of down home beauty salon, and they welcome her with open arms but the question that everybody’s asking is “what is this woman doing here?” And for me the play is the journey of her admitting her reasoning for being there which is maybe not so nice. But also another woman in the shop admitting that she recognizes why this woman is here and that they’re sort of keeping that from all the other people in this shop. And so it’s a play that’s about the present, but really it’s about a lot of history and a lot of secrets of people not being who they are. I want things to sort of explode into this quaint little beauty shop.
And it’s all set inside the shop?
All set in the shop. Usually in the mornings or at night. There’s one scene that will happen in the middle of the busy workday. But for the most part it’s you seeing the after hours of the beauty shop.
Where have you been spending most of your time while here at SPACE?
Most of it I’ve been spending in Kay Hall. I must admit…I don’t love nature. And that’s not exactly true, I really love grass. I like greenery. I’m my most productive self when I’m in the middle of open space. But I don’t like bugs, I don’t like walking in tall grass. I get real itchy, I get a little complainy. And so I’m trying to really measure my time here. So a lot of it’s been in Kay Hall, either up in my room or out on the patio. Or down in the main living room on one of the long tables. Before I go I may try the floating dock. The floating something?
The floating picnic table!
Yeah yeah yeah! At some point I might try it. But, you know, I’ve got a severe fear of water so I might have to make somebody come with me. I may go down there and I might never come back. It’ll be the tragedy of SPACE on Ryder Farm. Moving on!
What’s coming up next for you and this project? Where do you see it going next?
I know that I want to get out a solid draft by late August and then I want to spend my weeks here in September really fine tuning and polishing. And from there I’m going to hunt to get it work shopped. I don’t always have plays that I see very clearly, they’re just jumbled and I don’t understand them, but I understand this one. Probably because I’m pulling so much from my childhood, I spent a lot of time in beauty shops as a kid. So there’s something about me that’s saying, keep working keep working in a consistent way, don’t step away from it because if I do I’ll forget some stuff. So I’m hoping to try to get a workshop of it in the fall if I can. Just so, after this big hunk of work, I have something that I feel really solid about. Rather than something that I feel good about but needs a ton of work. Of course it’ll still need work after one workshop, but it’ll need less work. So that’s the goal.
You said it’s a queer mystery? I’ve never seen a story about a beauty shop that involves the queer community, is that something that you experienced or is that something you wished you had experienced and wanted to put onstage?
It’s not something that I’ve experienced but it’s something that I know, if that makes sense. I think I was always in beauty shops that were wildly straight or at least in the outward way. It was a place where a lot of straight women came together to talk about their husbands. And I think that’s a beautiful thing. But I think that as an adult I’ve become really interested in the people who are invisible in those spaces. So I find oftentimes in my plays that I go back to places I know and try and find the quiet queer. And in this play it’s the shop owner. She’s sort of a community staple, she protects and loves all her employees. But she’s sad and lonely too. And nobody really cares why, because there’s a part of her she keeps shielded. And in my mind that’s the part of her that could have been happy if she had found herself a nice little woman and settled down. And she never quite did that. For me the mystery of the play is who was this woman she got really close to and how does that person haunt her life. It’s a bit of a ghost play in that way.
What things are concerning you in the world right now? And how is your work responding to that.
I feel like so many things are on my mind. I think the main things that are on my mind are “when the world goes wrong how are women being treated?” And I think that that can be everything from women being asked to shoulder all the burdens and bring everyone out of the dark. That’s one version of it. I think another is women being asked to sit down and be quiet while the men make the world better. And it depends on the community and the place and a whole bunch of other factors but both are problematic. I also realize that I’m interested in a lot of things tangentially. I feel like I am a political playwright in the sense that I see a problem in the world and I want to write very about that problem, but I never want to do so in too explicit a way. I sort of say some other playwright who knows how to do that is going to write very specifically about that problem. And I’m going to put that problem right behind the play and I’m going to talk about the people. Because I often think that when you take politics and put them in the center there is a silencing that happens. It becomes a conversation about power that can trump and silence the little guy. And the little guy is often a woman or a person of color or somebody who’s queer or someone who’s floating in any way. Who are the people who are trying to live their lives while the big thing is happening? That’s the stuff that’s on my mind.
On Thirst and her work as an artist:
I am interested in being an intersectional playwright. I don’t know what that means. I just made that up in this moment, but I’ve definitely lived a life that is intersectional. I was born into a Black family and a Black community but I always went to school with tons of white kids. I took classes with white kids. I played sports with white kids and Latino kids and Asian kids. I was in gifted and talented classes, whatever that means. But I’ve always lived this life that is straddling all the different worlds I’ve been introduced to. And I think that in my plays I try to write honestly about what that’s really like or at least what it’s been like for me. I think you end up in a world that is muted in some ways but it gives you a strange clarity. And it has meant that, I don’t go to rage first. I go to quiet first and say, “Hold on. Make sure you see all the players. Make sure you see everything and then wait it out.” And eventually you’ll know how you feel. If I go to rage first I’ll just say something really stupid. So I try to do that in my plays as well.
If you were reincarnated as an animal on this farm or farm animal in general what would you be and why?
I’m going to go for a farm animal in general. I have always known that I would be a cow. Because they don’t move much. They sit. They stand. Occasionally they turn left. They shift right. That’s me. Cows are really sweet. They live a life of leisure. I don’t live a life of leisure but I’m quite lazy. So I do think that I’d be a cow. Maybe a pig. Maybe I’d like a little splash in the mud.