What is your name and where are you from?
My name is Kirsten Bowen, and I’m the literary manager at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company in Washington D.C.
What is the project you’re working on at SPACE?
Well, I’m here with two playwrights who are working on their own distinct projects. One is Nikkole Salter, who is working on a commission for Woolly. She’s been researching and interviewing for a while now and this is the chance for her to take that material and actually start crafting her story. It’s a very ambitious project integrating storytelling and technology, and may eventually have an interactive element to it as well.
And then Chad Beckim, who is working on a new draft of a play that we have programmed for next season, April 2015, called Lights Rise on Grace. We just did a script development workshop of it at The Lark Play Development Center about two weeks ago, through the Lark’s PlaySpace program. It was his first chance to hear it with actors in quite a while, and that gave him a great new agenda for going forward.
And then I’m here as their dramaturg to bounce ideas off of and cheer them on.
How have you been spending your time at SPACE?
Nikkole and I got here on Thursday. We talked out her game plan and where she is in her process, and started discussing her point of entry, because she is starting with scene one. We talked about her characters and their agendas. I’m here to give her space to write and be available to her. She writes something and when she’s ready she comes to me and we talk about it. Chad just got here last night, and he’s been using his time to make those changes from our earlier workshop. After this interview I’ll be looking at what he’s been working on, then giving him some feedback, and we’ll continue working tomorrow.
What’s coming up next for you, your company, or your project?
This year, Woolly Mammoth will be starting with the DC premiere of David Adjmi’s Marie Antoinette, directed by Yury Urnov. In October and November, we’ll be producing a series of workshops that will give the three new plays we’re producing in the winter and spring some extra development time. There will also be a public component to each of these workshops, so stay tuned. In December, our holiday show will be Famous Puppet Death Scenes, which is created and performed by a Canadian company called Old Trout Puppet Workshop. In February comes Cherokee by Lisa D’Amour, directed by John Vreeke. Ours will be its second production after its world premiere at The Wilma Theater in Philadelphia. Then the world premiere of Light Rise on Grace by Chad, directed by Michael John Garcés, and then the world premiere of Zombie: The American by Robert O’Hara, directed by our Artistic Director, Howard Shalwitz. Our seasons are programmed along a theme, which next year will be Let Them Eat…, which is inspired by the apocryphal quote from Marie Antoinette, “Let Them Eat Cake.” For each play we’ll be changing the food item. For Marie Antoinette, it’s“Let Them Eat Cake.” For Famous Puppet Death Scenes it’s “Let Them Eat Worms,” for Cherokee which takes place on a camping trip it’s “s’mores,” for Lights Rise on Grace it’s “love,” and for Zombie, it’s “brains.” It’s our 35th Anniversary Season, so there’s something very decadent and celebratory about the theme, but it also connects to leadership and class, the “haves and the have-nots,” and societies struggling to hold themselves together. These are all ideas that each of our plays wrestle with in one way or another.
If you were to be reincarnated as a farm animal, what farm animal would you be and why?
For some reason my initial instinct is to say pig. I’ve been told that pigs are really intelligent, so I could hopefully still be a helpful dramaturg to the other farm animals.
It goes with your theme because the stereotype is that they spend a lot of time eating!
They do spend a lot of time eating! I think that I was also very impacted by Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White.
When did you know that you wanted to be a dramaturg?
I decided that this was the right career for me during my interview for the literary internship at Manhattan Theatre Club, which was a long, long time ago, before people were studying it undergrad. Christian Parker, the then literary manager at Manhattan Theatre Club, gave me a great and thorough explanation of his position and his involvement in the production process. Something kind of clicked and it felt like this was the right avenue for me. I was 22 and I had gone to a liberal arts school studying theatre where your options were playwriting, directing, designing, and acting. I thought that I would be a playwright, but deep down I knew that I didn’t have the discipline for it, or the ideas and imagination. Dramaturgy seemed to be a way to stay in this world and make a contribution. Then, I got the internship and spent a year reading plays and it became clearer that this was the area where I should be. I just wanted to read more and realized that what I wanted to be doing was to better understand what makes a good play, to help playwrights with their work, and be their advocate.
What make a good play for you? It doesn’t have to be scientific or have any literature references, what do you feel makes a good play?
When I think of a good play, it’s very personal. I’m going to change “good” to “exciting” because everyone wants to be more than good. A play that is theatrical and doesn’t feel like it can be easily transferred to film or television? A play that has something to say beyond itself, that has an urgency to it.
Something that is beyond itself?
A play…sorry this is going to be such a terrible interview.
No, no, it’s great! Just a really simple answer. If that can be a simple answer…
OK. I guess I can say what Woolly is looking for are plays that excite us and elicit an explosive engagement with the audience. That make you sit up, that ask the important questions right now. Like, who are we as a people, as citizens, what our responsibilities? A question that we are always asking ourselves in our season planning meetings is what’s the conversation? A play can be messy, it can not know what it’s doing quite yet, it can be rough around the edges. But if it’s something that has that dynamic to it, that electricity, and is trying to push the public conversation forward, that’s what excites us. That’s what makes a good play to us.
Interviewed by Raquel Loving.