Monday, April 28, 2014

Interview with Playwright Emilie Beck

Playwright Emilie Beck wrote Sovereign Body, the critically acclaimed drama now receiving its world premiere at The Road Theatre Company. In our conversation she talks about the play and about the cast and creative team of Sovereign Body.
Tell me about Sovereign Body without giving away too much detail.
The play was inspired by my aunt, who's had Early Onset Parkinson's for over 30 years now. She's always maintained her sense of humor, and she made an offhand joke decades ago to the effect of having an affair with Mr. Parkinson. I'd wanted to write about her experience for years, and that joke stuck with me as I was delving into research. I read a lot of writings by people with Parkinson's, and to a person, they all spoke about the feeling of being invaded. I took that as my entry point: a personification of the disease as invader.

How were you motivated to write it?
It is so hard to watch someone you care about suffer. It's a helpless feeling, and it brings up a lot of anger, and there's nowhere to direct that anger. You can't harangue a disease. So I did the only thing I could do. I wrote about it.

Compare it to other plays or stories you've written. Is is very different? If so, why?
I seem to have a theme that I'm drawn to over and over again, which is: How we are changed by our bodies? Or how do our bodies define our personalities? Or how is outside perception of who we are dependent on how we are represented by our bodies? But my plays deal with this in very different styles. SOVEREIGN BODY straddles a very fine line between Realism and Surrealism, and demands a light touch in that balance. My play AND LET THE SKIES FALL falls more into a style of Expressionism, manifesting in gestural and choral work. NUMBER OF PEOPLE is more Absurdist: a one-person play in which the main character, suffering from Alzheimer's, keeps asking the audience who we are. My newest play, HABEAS CORPUS, is much more straightforward, but still takes us on poetic journeys.
Who is your favorite playwright? Play?
I love Albee's THE GOAT. I'm a huge fan of his work in general, as well as Maria Irena Fornes, Samuel Beckett, Harold Pinter. I think Octavio Solis' LYDIA was under appreciated. And I'm a big fan of the devised work that Anne Bogart does with the SITI Company. Shakespeare is pretty great too.
Are there any mentors who have been particularly inspirational to you and your writing?
I had a few English teachers in my early years, who really inspired me. I don't know how connected the kind of writing I'm doing now is to what they taught me, but Yolanda Robbins and Curtis Crotty were major figures for me in 7th, 8th, and 12th grades. In my days as a performer I worked a lot with Mary Zimmerman, and I learned a great deal from her as an auteur. These days I'm very lucky to work with the artistic team at Boston Court. We are in constant conversation about the art of theatre, and they feed and nurture me as an artist. Those folks are Jessica Kubzansky, Michael Michetti, and Aaron Henne, all super smart, all crazy talented, and all incredibly supportive.
How has it been working with the Road? Are you happy with the cast and creative team of Sovereign Body?
Long ago, when I was an actor, I was a member of the Road company. It's always great to be able to come full circle, to come back to an artistic home. Sam Anderson is a terrific human being, and I felt so welcomed by him as Artistic Director. And of course, it's terrific to have Taylor (Gilbert) in this play. I feel connected to her as friend and artist. I've known Scott for years now. He and I have shared many meals as excuses to talk about art and theatre. And I feel very lucky for the cast as a whole. This play demands smart, committed performances from each actor, but also a strong sense of ensemble. Finding where those two dovetail is surprisingly difficult, but that's exactly where this cast shines.

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