Saturday Oct 20

SarahBraunstein Sarah Braunstein is the author of The Sweet Relief of Missing Children (W.W. Norton). The novel was a finalist for the 2011 Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize from the Center for Fiction and was the winner of the 2012 Maine Book Award. In 2010 she was named one of “5 Under 35” fiction writers by the National Book Foundation. Essays and stories have appeared in The New YorkerAGNI, Ploughshares, The Sun, Nylon, Maine Magazine, and on NPR’s All Things Considered. Based in Portland, Maine, she teaches at the Stonecoast MFA program at the University of Southern Maine, and is currently a visiting professor at Bowdoin College. 
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Sarah Braunstein Interview

Sarah’s response to my interview questions.



Hi Kathleen! I took a stab at these. Some I'll let Michael handle. If I can say more about any of this, let me know.


How did you three come up with the idea of STRING THEORY?

I give Michael all the credit for that. He approached me with this idea, asked me to contribute an act, and I immediately agreed. The only thing more wonderful than Michael's ideas is that he actually makes them happen. When he wants to work with me, I know I'm in for a treat. 


How did you three write it together? Did you all sit in a room and banter? Did you take turns from distant places and send the story around via email? I'm enjoying wondering how you did it, but I'm dying to know how you reached consensus!

We each took on one myth and wrote our respective acts on our own. Later, Michael arranged, revised, found ways to connect for the stage. I wrote the Arachne section. 



Who's the Greek historian of the three of you? Or did you all pony up what you knew about mythology and Wikipedia the rest?

I re-read a little-- relying, I'll admit, on a charming children's book called I am Arachne. And Edith Hamilton and Ovid. Michael is the Greek historian.


Obviously interlacing the play with "Project Runway" as well as utilizing modern patois is intentional, but how did you reach that interplay?

I brought Project Runway in. I think I feel slightly ashamed by the pleasure I take from that show. When I can elevate my interest in something that wastes my time, I feel better about myself. When I looked at the Arachne myth, and at its hysteria-laced "weave-off" between Arachne and Athena, my mind went to the hysteria-laced, textile-obsessed TV competition. It seems the clear contemporary analogue. But the story of Arachne isn't merely a shill battle of egos. These women are battling about art, its purpose, its power. I'm interested in how art can simultaneous efface and celebrate the self, and the myth seemed a perfect way to untangle this idea, so to speak. Oh, and Tim Gunn is just a wonder. I love him. Such a kind, magisterial presence.


And why interlace present language and attitudes with ancient stories? Other than creating the hilarious anachronistic 'mash up' of ancient and modern, that is?

It's a problem that we think our age is THE AGE. The boundaries between ages, and between linguistic registers, must be blurred. 


Has the play been read aloud? I'm deeply curious how it would read aloud- and did you use a multi-ethnic cast? (feel free to ask me why I ask this or any other question, btw)

 (I'll let Michael address this)


How long did it take for you to craft this play?

Not very long. Once I had my assignment, I wrote the first draft in a week or so. Later, during the workshop of the play in NYC, Michael and I revised my section. Amy is one of the preternaturally gifted playwrights. From what I could see, she produced a fantastic, funny, wickedly smart first draft. 


Tell me about how each of you came to writing?

I was always scribbling. I started writing "seriously" in college-- largely fiction. I was an English major. Drama minor. I earned an MFA in fiction writing at the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop. 


And who are writers that current thrill each of you?

Currently-- and always-- thrilled by: Virginia Woolf. George Saunders. James Salter. Janet Malcolm. Iris Owens.  




MichaelBarakiva Michael Barakiva Interview

Here are mine, which I did before looking at Sarah and Amy's for fear of anxiety of influence. Thanks so much for taking the time with our little play.  Responding to these questions took me back in time to its conception, and that's a joyous thing for me.

How did you three come up with the idea of STRING THEORY?

I was asked to direct a play for an acting school in New York.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but this was the period in my life when I was transitioning from being “just” a director to a director/writer.  I asked the guy who ran the school if I could write the play that I would direct.  He said yes.  I’d always loved Greek myths, especially because of their plurality.  So that’s what I decided the play would be about. 

I met with the actors a few times a week, having them read different source materials (Hesiod, Homer, Calasso)


How did you three write it together? Did you all sit in a room and banter? Did you take turns from distant places and send the story around via email? I'm enjoying wondering how you did it, but I'm dying to know how you reached consensus!

Having never really ever written anything before, when I sat down in front of my computer to write STRING THEORY, I felt what has now become a common emotion to me when writing: pure fear.  So I asked Amy and Sarah, both accomplished writers, to come on board.  We each chose a story and I gave them some really simple parameters (amount of actors, a few common themes), but then just let them go. 


Who's the Greek historian of the three of you? Or did you all pony up what you knew about mythology and Wikipedia the rest?

I sent them some ideas for source material, but we all did our share.


Obviously interlacing the play with "Project Runway" as well as utilizing modern patois is intentional, but how did you reach that interplay?

Sarah’s initial take on the Arachne myth, and this was the version we used when the play was first performed, was very different.  Then we when were given the chance to workshop the play, and that’s when she came up with the “Project Runway” model that dramatized this story so well.  This was the version we used when I directed the play the second time, at Vassar College (getting to do the play at Vassar was especially sweet because that’s where I met Amy and Sarah).


And why interlace present language and attitudes with ancient stories? Other than creating the hilarious anachronistic 'mash up' of ancient and modern, that is?

The first thing, for me, is accessibility.  Mythology was pop culture for the Ancient Greeks, and I wanted to present it in a form that was as least intimidating as possible.  I loved these stories, and want other people to love them, too. 


Has the play been read aloud? I'm deeply curious how it would read aloud- and did you use a multi-etnnic cast? (feel free to ask me why I ask this or any other question, btw)

Casting both color-bling and multi-ethnically is very important to me, as a theater director.  Tim Bond, who runs Syracuse Stage where I’ve had the honor of working repeatedly in the last year, speaks about this very passionately and intelligently.  Basically, now, as a theater director, unless I’m working on a new play with very specific racial casting requirements, I make sure that the lights don’t come up on an all-white cast.  That’s not the world I live in, and it’s not the world I want to show on stage.

Both productions had a multi-ethnic cast.


This is a play about story telling and the power of words- Action is very much secondary to language, and somehow you make it work, to paraphrase Tim Gunn. Was this wordiness a concern, or were you making an effort to recreate the Greek Theatrical experience, where characters have simple scenes, a Greek Chorus and descriptive story telling directed point blank at the audience?

A lot of this, I think, has to do with the Theseus sections, which were the ones I wrote.  Again, because this was the first thing I ever wrote, I just ended up writing these longs passages.  Monologues felt easier to write than dialogues.  Then, as a director, I found a way to make the story-telling interesting.

Also, like in Ancient Greek plays, we wanted the primary experience of the play to be language.


How long did it take for you to craft this play?

We wrote the first draft in a few months, then we had the performance in downtown New York for the acting school.  Later, we workshopped it for a week, then we had another production at Vassar College, which was where I wrote and added the prologue.

I should also add that Sarah and Amy didn’t meet until opening night of the second production.  They’d send me their pages and I’d read them and give them notes and figure out how the whole thing would fit in together – the epiphany to intersplice the stories was a key putting the event together.  When I read the last monologue of Amy’s piece, I knew that would have to end the evening.


Tell me about how each of you came to writing?

I trained as a theater director, and my day job was working as Wendy Wasserstein’s typist in my twenties, so I got to see, up close, the writer’s process.  It never occurred to me that I would want to write, but then the impulse started scratching at me, like a cat wanting to be let out of a room.  I tried to ignore it, but the scratching didn’t go away.


And where did each of you study?

I did my undergrad at Vassar, where I doubled in English and Drama, and where I met Amy.  She was a year above me, and starred in almost all of the plays I directed in college.  When I was a senior, Sarah came to do a semester at Vassar, and I cast her as a mentally unstable matriarch in Percy Byshe Shelley’s THE CENCI, a three-hour revenger’s tragedy. 

Then I went to the Juilliard School, where I studied directing as an Andrew W. Mellon Fellow in the now-defunct directing program.


And who are writers that currently thrill each of you?

I love this question.

Firstly – Amy Rebecca Holtcamp and Sarah Braunstein, David Mitchell, Margaret Atwood, Bridget Carpenter, Terry Curtis Fox, James Christy.  Itamar Moses.  Richard Nelson. 


And which writers of the past brought you to where you write from currently?

The answer to this question, for me, are two mentors of mine who’ve passed away, both who were writers.

The first was Wendy Wasserstein, who took enormous pride in her craft.  I’ve got a young adult novel coming out in the spring entitled ONE MAN GUY, and my editor, the amazing Joy Peskin, commented to me that she was surprised at how quickly and efficiently I can take her notes and turn around a draft.  I can only do this because I watched Wendy do it for years.  I think for artists like me and Wendy, who’ve felt unhip and uncool for most of their lives, craft is something in which we take great comfort.

The second was Ann Imbrie, who taught at Vassar College.  Ann was a real rare breed: a scholar, a teacher, a non-fiction writer and a fiction writer.  She loved words and gave them the kind of meticulous care someone else might lavish on a fragile, priceless piece of art.  She lived by the maxim, “Writing is re-writing.”  Writing on a blank page is terrifying to me.  Re-writing is thrilling. 

If you believe in art and believe in me, please click here.

Also, please read my blog, and check out my web site.




AmyBoyceHoltcamp Amy Boyce Holtcamp is a writer and director. Her directing credits include Romeo and Juliet and Julius Caesar (The Shakespeare Festival at Tulane), Arabian Nights (NOCCA), Shakespeare’s R&J (Serenbe Playhouse), Waxie Moon: Extreme Boylesque (Northwest New Works at On the Boards), Waxie Moon: Boylesque Cinematheque (Next Stage), Heavens to Betsy by Stephanie Timm (Next Stage), Wonderful Life (Washington Ensemble Theatre), Romeo and Juliet (EVE Productions), A Christmas Story (Everett Historic Theatre), Having Our Say: The Delaney Sisters First 100 Years (Public Theatre of Kentucky), Sorry, Wrong Number (The Culture Project, NY), Christina and Apartment Building of the Blind (Soho Rep, NY), and Machinal and Stage Blood at the University of Washington. Her play, Dead Reckoning, was produced as part of the Soho Rep Summer Camp Festival of New Plays and The Mystery of Chung Ling Soo (created with The Flying Carpet Theatre Company) ran in Atlanta’s Seven Stages Studio Space (Creative Loafing Award for Best Touring Show of 2005) and at festivals throughout Europe. Her plays, Relevant, Adult, Uncensored, and Island of Misfits were produced in Seattle, WA and her latest work, String Theory, was performed at The Studio in New York City and Vassar College. Holtcamp is a graduate of Vassar College and holds an M.F.A. in Directing from the University of Washington. She currently resides in New Orleans where she teaches at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (NOCCA).


Amy Boyce Holtcamp interview


How did you three come up with the idea of STRING THEORY?


As I recall, it was Michael's brainchild. He had the idea of writing a piece that would mesh together different myths that all involved string in some fashion. He called me up and asked me if I'd like to take on one of the myths. Michael and I went to Vassar together.  Back then I was an actress and he directed me in several plays. He's always been one of my favorite collaborators. These days I do more writing and directing than acting, so this seemed like a great way to reignite that artistic relationship with my dear friend.


How did you three write it together? Did you all sit in a room and banter? Did you take turns from distant places and send the story around via email? I'm enjoying wondering how you did it, but I'm dying to know how you reached consensus!

I was living in South Carolina, far away from Michael and Sarah, when I wrote my portion of String Theory - the thread (pardon the pun) about Penelope. In fact, I didn't even meet Sarah until the piece was performed at Vassar! I wrote my piece pretty much on my own, then Michael sent feedback and I did a rewrite. Finally, if I'm remembering correctly, Michael figured out a way to intertwine (let's see how many string puns I can make) the three stories.


Who's the Greek historian of the three of you? Or did you all pony up what you knew about mythology and wikipedia the rest?

I was familiar with the Odyssey in a sort of distant, read it in college kind of way. My approach to writing this piece was actually not to do much research. I refreshed my memory of the major Penelope-based plot points in the myth, then just went about writing something that really had very little to do with the original. 


Obviously interlacing the play with "Project Runway" as well as utilizing modern patois is intentional, but how did you reach that interplay?

It's interesting, Sarah and I never spoke during the process of writing the play.  And Michael never communicated a desire for the pieces to utilize anachronism or modern language and characters.  But when I read the final piece, I thought it was delightful that we all found our way to a sort of unified tone for the piece - even though each storyline does have a unique voice.


And why interlace present language and attitudes with ancient stories? Other than creating the hilarious anachronistic 'mash up' of ancient and modern, that is?

To be honest, I was a bit of a ham as an actress and I think I'm still a bit of a ham as a writer.  So getting some laughs through the contrast of the epic story and speech was probably good enough for me. But, in a way, I think modernizing the language was also an important part of why this project was worth doing. I don't think any of us were interested in a simple adaptation of the myths - we wanted to unravel the myths (I did it again!) and then weave something new (Wow.) out of the fabric of these ancient pieces. I think that adding a modern voice to the ancient content actually goes a long way to point out the timelessness of the myths. And adapting the mythology to reflect a modern set of anxieties, concerns, etc. is sort of an inherent part of the way that these stories have functioned for hundreds of years.



Has the play been read aloud? I'm deeply curious how it would read aloud- and did you use a multi-ethnic cast? (feel free to ask me why I ask this or any other question, btw)


The piece has been produced a couple of times. I had the pleasure of seeing Michael's production at Vassar. He would be the person to ask about the casting. I know that when I wrote the piece, I imagined that the parts could be played by people of any ethnicity. Maybe because I love Charles Mee's modern takes on Greek mythologies and because he is so outspoken about the fact that his plays should be cast with all sorts of people - people of different races, ethnicities, people in wheelchairs, etc. So that was definitely in my mind as I wrote my part of String Theory.


This is a play about story telling and the power of words- Action is very much secondary to language, and somehow you make it work, to paraphrase Tim Gunn. Was this wordiness a concern, or were you making an effort to recreate the Greek Theatrical experience, where characters have simple scenes, a Greek Chorus and descriptive story telling directed point blank at the audience?

I think that a love of language is definitely something that Michael, Sarah and I have in common. I know, for me, I believe that in our modern world full of film, video, online content, etc. that heightened language is one thing that theatre owns and does better than most other forms of performance. It's funny, though. In performance, Michael's directed the play in such a way that the words were infused with action and wonderfully physicalized. 


How long did it take for you to craft this play?

I think it probably took 2-3 weeks.


Tell me about how each of you came to writing?

In college I considered myself an actress. I always wrote short stories and I was in a sketch comedy troupe where I did a lot of writing, but I really didn't consider pursuing any part of theatre that wasn't acting. After graduation, when I moved to New York, I decided that I would work more if I had more oars in the water. I started writing and directing to see where that would take me and, as it turns out, I found both extremely fulfilling. I decided to write a full length play, Dead Reckoning, and showed it to a friend of mine who was really encouraging about the script. So encouraging, in fact, that he decided to produce the play as part of a festival he was producing at Soho Rep. That friend, funnily enough, was Michael Barakiva!


And where did each of you study?

All three of us went to Vassar College for undergrad - although I never knew Sarah while I was there. Then I went on to get my MFA in Directing at the University of Washington in Seattle.


And who are writers that current thrill each of you?

Paula Vogel, Sarah Ruhl, Naomi Izuka...really I'm a fan of any modern writer that takes advantage of the audience's imagination and writes plays that are theatrical, full of wonderful language.


And which writers of the past brought you to where you write from currently?

I don't think it's necessarily evidenced in my writing, but discovering Chekhov in my early twenties feels totally inseparable from my identity as a theatre artist. Maybe the way that my love of those plays has found its way into my own work is in the juxtaposition of tragedy, pathos, melancholy with comedy. It might just be the ham in me, but I can't seem to write anything, about any subject without weaving a little humor into it. Or at least a pun or two.

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