What is your name and where are you from?
Laura Maria Censabella. I grew up in Brooklyn and Queens. Now I live in Brooklyn, but a very different part.
Where did you go to school?
I went to Yale as an undergrad and had a major in philosophy and a concentration in theater studies.
What project have you been working at SPACE?
The play is Paradise and it is a Sloan, Ensemble Studio Theatre commission, Sloan Science Foundation. And it is about a young Yemini American teenager who is facing an arranged marriage and it’s about her intense desire to be a scientist and to try and reconcile her cultural expectations with her ambitions and the scientist who she meets that she tries to help her.
What inspired you to write about this?
I had taught a bunch of girls who were facing arranged marriages for three years as a poetry teacher. They were young Albanian American girls and that stayed with me—that memory of them—some of them who really didn’t want to yet, get married, so that stayed with me. And then I love the idea of the scientist who has an incredible hubris and has been disgraced and somehow that idea came to me that he studied romantic love that that was his calling, and she goes to him for help but psychologically he is so unable to love or to give.
Where do you teach?
I teach now in the graduate program at the new school for drama. It’s an MFA program for writers, actors, and directors. But next year I will be doing an undergrad course. I also taught at Columbia School of the Arts; there I taught as an adjunct for three years, and I taught undergrad one year. I taught at City University and Sarah Lawrence for two years and lots of poets and playwrights in the school’s programs and guest residencies around the country.
Are you primarily a playwright?
But you write poetry as well?
No, I just happened to luck into that really beautiful way of making a living when I was younger. You don’t make a lot of money… but as a young person right out of school. I had been out of school for four years when I got the gig. I loved children, I loved being immersed in the art and teaching them about the art and teaching them to do the art. So to me it was phenomenal. I got to travel all throughout the city and to lots of neighborhoods—even though I grew up in New York—that I didn’t know. To work with different ethnic groups whether they were Eastern European or Puerto Rican from the Bronx, whatever… to have that I felt so lucky.
So teaching has helped you to grow as an artist?
I think so. Someone has said: “You teach what you need to learn.” So it’s a way to investigate. And then sometimes when I get stuck as a writer I say to myself: “What would I tell a student?” and then I’m like: “Oh YEAH!”
How have you been spending your time at SPACE?
So on the very first day we did a reading of my play and then I got some terrific feedback from the audience I learned some stuff from how the actors did it, too. They taught me some new stuff about different aspects of the characters and ever since then, other than attending other playwright’s readings, I have been rethinking the next draft of the play. Some of it I have already started rewriting and others just trying to change the tectonic plates, some of the bigger aspects of the play.
What have you been doing in your free time?
Talking to wonderful people and getting to know them. Some of the people came from EST who I’ve never had time to really get to know. I know them as artists, but not as people. And then I’ve met extraordinary other people like you, Michael and then Kirsten from Woolly Mammoth Theatre Co., and Emily and Therese and learning about their work and it’s just fabulous.
What’s coming up next for you?
I have several full lengths that I’ve proposed to different theaters and so I’m waiting to see if I’m going to get a commission. So I’ve actually spent a good part of the summer so far pitching those ideas and actually writing them out as proposals. And I have books coming out: Best American Short Plays of 2012/2013. I have a play in that.
Where is your favorite place to work at SPACE?
Well if I was typing, I would have loved to work on that side porch facing the green or the Gazebo because it has a table. Because I wasn’t typing… because I was thinking a lot and musing I didn’t want to be outside where people would see me just staring into space with a paper in my hand. So that has been best done in my bedroom. Because I do like to sit up in a bed, kind of like Edith Wharton or Virginia Woolf. They used to like to sit up in bed and just throw the pages on the floor. I don’t throw the pages on the floor.
If you were reincarnated as a farm animal what animal would you be and why?
The animals here are coming to mind. The ducks look like they’re having the most fun, whether they’re copulating or running after each other or just making very silly faces.
Interviewed by Michael Calciano.