Hi! How are you doing?
Good! What’s your name and where you are from?
Kate Benson. Originally from Evanston, Illinois, but really Brooklyn, New York.
And this is your first time at SPACE?
What have you been working on while you’re here?
I’ve been working on a rewrite of a play called Super Magic Wild Forest, which is about a theatre production that’s happening in a church, and Super Magic Wild Forest - my play - is entirely set in the parking lot that becomes the sort of ad hoc green room outside the church—so this sort of pass through place where people are coming and going and responding to what’s happening inside and outside.
Are they doing a specific play inside?
They are. It is a piece of - What they’re doing inside is a social justice play featuring some elements of - for lack of a better term - magic realism.
Yeah, I think they’re doing something like a political fable, and the cast is diverse for actors from New York who are camping out in Philadelphia, and then the rest of the people are from the church community and the greater Philadelphia community, so it’s a chance to have lots of different people collide.
And you said that this was based on an experience that you had?
Yes. Yes. Which did not have necessarily magic realism elements, but sort of - which Lear deBessonet directed a production of Quixote by Lucy Thurber at the Broad Street Church in Philadelphia and there were six actors from New York and thirty community members from Temple, from the streets of Philadelphia, from the Broad Street community, who were singing and dancing and performing their own text.
It was amazing.
Yeah, that sounds like an incredible experience. And you were performing in that?
I was performing in that - yeah, yeah - so I spent six weeks in Philadelphia getting to know Broad Street Church.
What has your writing process been like at SPACE so far?
Oh my goodness. I have never taken a play and just started from page one again, but that is something that seemed possible here, so it’s been really fast. I’m on page 66 on day two -
Oh that’s great!
It is - it’s exciting, it’s a little bit weird, like listening to the radio. And then sometimes I need to go for a walk or get in the canoe, and that has been great. But, sitting and working in all this quiet, with just enough people around, has been really lovely. It settles so many parts of my brain.
That’s so great. Are there any parts of SPACE you’ve come to haunt?
Sure. At night, the dining room in Kay Hall. And then during the day you just want to be outside, so today I experimented with a table in the field by the stage, because I figured that would be like being in a theatre space.
Yeah, how was that?
Great! I got a sunburn.
It was really easy to sit and be there for three - four - three - four hours? Three hours.
That’s so nice.
Yeah it was great.
It’s so nice to find an outdoor space that you feel like you can actually plant yourself. A lot of times I want to lay on the grass and then there are ants crawling on me, so I can’t lay there for and extended amount of time.
Yes - I tried that for a little tiny mini break. I stretched out on the grass and I was like - there are so many creatures, this is alive down here.
So what’s your writing process like at home usually?
Well, I have a lot of jobs, so my writing process is cafes on breaks and late at night and early in the morning and kind of whenever I can carve out space. I write - there’s a restaurant near my house where I frequently write. But you know - it’s a little bit like being here in the sense that I don’t need to be in the same place - although, sometimes I need to—for the next draft of this I will probably need to colonize my living room and just make it - you know because sometimes I need to put things on the wall to see - Sometimes I need to see the play. I have been known to tape the entire play to the wall so that I can see it all at once. That helps when there are more kind of - scene here - scene there - this is a continuous event - a day I think so far. Condensed. But in general I just kind of take my computer and write when I can.
What are your bunches of different jobs?
Well, I started as an actor, and I still do that. So there are rehearsals for various incendiary things. And then I work for a tutoring agency in New York, working with high school kids who are working on math, which is a really great break for my brain - and the kids are all really sweet and interesting, so that’s cool. But that’s like - there’s a ten o’clock appointment and then a twelve o’clock appointment and then a three o’clock appointment and so sometimes writing happens in between the kids. And then I have another job doing filing work for a publishing company.
Cool! That’s a lot of different stuff.
It is. It is - although a lot of it is talking and organizing.
Yeah - that’s fair. That’s totally fair. So how did you start writing?
Um, that’s a really interesting question. My first play I wrote when I was ten was a Holocaust play, because I think I’d discovered Romeo & Juliet or I had just seen West Side Story, or something and I was like “that’s just like the Holocaust.” And I think I alarmed my 5th grade teacher, because then I was in a special study group with one person who was an adult who was teaching me about the Holocaust - so I’m not sure what happened to that play. I think my brothers found it. I don’t think it was pretty.
Yeah. Yeah. And then I tried to write plays, off and on, and I could never really figure it out. And then…
And then you started acting.
Yeah. Yeah as soon as - yeah.
Were the two kind of like - when you were ten did you also want to be an actress? Was it both?
I didn’t know yet, but first I read Portrait of a Very Young Dancer, and I really wanted to be a dancer, but that was not in the cards for me. And then when I was seven I was a narrator in a school thing, and I thought, “This is great!” And then when I was in high school I did a lot of theater, and I ended up doing a lot of stage crew and a lot of set-painting, which was a great way to get through high school, with a hammer and a paint brush.
And I was in probably a play a year in high school. I think that’s right. And then I went to drama school. And there I tried to take a playwriting class, but it was a nonstarter. But two things happened in 2010. I joined a writer’s group. A director, Jess Chayes, along with Portia Krieger and Lucy Alibar, started the Jam at New Georges, and she asked me if I wanted to apply, and I did. And I talked my way in somehow, and so then I had to write things - so that. And then I started working with Jess’ company, The Assembly, on a devised piece about the Weather Underground. And then we started writing scenes. And both of those places were really good places to finally stop trying to write a whole play, but to try to write a scene, and so it became kind of approachable, and then I very quickly in a tyrannical way wanted to write my own plays not with groups. But I’d still love to go back and work with The Assembly again on something. But - so I finished something at the Jam, and then Erin Courtney came to see it - and I’ve known her for years, but she didn’t know I was a writer - I didn’t know I was a writer - nobody knew I was a writer. So she asked me if I wanted to go to grad school, so I applied, and I got in to Brooklyn College and that changed even more everythings than the others. So that’s sort of the long and the short of it.
Was there a defining moment in grad school for you in terms of your writing process?
Oh, well - I don’t know. I mean something wonderful about Brooklyn College is that no one ever talks about what a play is, because it’s just understood that nobody actually knows that. And that there are so many things that happen in theater that are called plays that it’s nearly impossible to confine what a play is to any kind of rule book. Which is not to say that we didn’t talk about structure, but there really weren’t - so the way it works is that you get a one-on-one tutorial with either Mac or Erin, or now Anne Washburn, - so you have that tutorial where you get to kind of propose what you want to explore. Mac says no to almost everything. And then there’s workshop where you just turn in a play. So nobody’s kind of hovering over you when you write. But there’s a deadline - and I would say that that’s the number one tool I understand - is a deadline.
So while I was in school I got a commission - which I feel very lucky about - from Clubbed Thumb. That has been a great other structure, because there were and are deadlines again, which I desperately need.
Have you set any deadlines for yourself here?
Yeah. I want to finish a draft by Friday afternoon so that we can read it out loud and hear it.
And then I want to spend Saturday and Sunday either staring at the sky -
- or adjusting - you know - what has happened while I’m here kind of trying to digest it and see what it is.
Sounds like a good plan.
Do you do any other types of writing outside of playwriting?
Haha. I once tried a novel. It is in a pile in my basement. But no, I mean every once in a while… What I do do on the side for myself for other brain food or something is sometimes I make collages - there’s a lot of drawing. Yeah, I think it’s really - Like one thing that happened when I started writing in earnest is that I started making a lot of bread.
Yes. Because I think it’s really important to do something with your hands besides hold a pen or type.
And it’s a way to think about it without - without um -
Having it in the forefront of your mind?
Yeah, and without so much pressure. It’s a way to feel loose about it. I kinda think when it’s good—this is scary to say—please don’t disappear—but I kind of feel like when it’s good—when it’s working, it’s just about following something more than about deciding something, and bread is kind of like that too. Drawing is kind of like that too. You do these actions, but you’re really just seeing what happens, if you know what I mean - seeing whether or not the bread is going to rise, and if it does, then you punch it down, and if it doesn’t, maybe you get frustrated…
…and start again, but you know. I don’t think it’s—I am happy to say that I don’t feel to precious about any of it, but it does seem to be important to do things with colors and with my hands and to go for walks just to try to find a little freer brain.
Are there particular types of bread you prefer to make?
Oh well for a while I had sourdough starter from a friend.
And so that was a little bit addictive, because you just feed the sourdough. And then all you need is the flour and the salt and the water and you just keep it going and then it gets funkier and funkier. Of course—I killed it.
Well! You know, it happens. You really have to keep up with it—it’s like a pet. It just turned pink one day, and like ooookay. And then I tried making my own starter and that also did not go. But my mother also has this recipe for something called Ethiopian honey bread.
What is that?
That is not a bummer, is what that is.
Um it has cardamom and cinnamon and maybe even - I don’t think there’s cumin in it- but there’s like a perfect blend of spices. And then there’s a whole lot of honey, and then a little bit of whole wheat, and a little bit of - I think there’s milk in that one. And yeast - as opposed to sourdough, and it’s soooooooooooooooo gooooood.
That sounds amazing.
Yeah. That one is delicious. I kind of want to go make some right now.
I’ve never made bread from scratch - I’m really hoping I can make some bread here.
Oh it’s great. And if you like working with your hands. You know, there’s a famous recipe that’s no knead required - you just put it in your closet for 24 hours or something like that - and it’s great, it’s totally amazing. But what’s in it for me is the working of the hands.
Yeah - that speaks to me.
I can’t keep them still. Right now for instance. So the kneading is a key component of the bread making - love it.
Well thank you so much for sitting down with me!
Interviewed by Jen Fingal.