The second weekend of readings in our Writers Group Showcase kicks off tonight with Emily Conbere‘s The Knocking Bird. On Tuesday you met playwright Vincent Delaney, and today we present his interview with fellow Writers Group member Keri Healey. This is the final interview in a series of eight.
VD: Tell me about your new play, and how it started.
KH: The play is called T.B.I. and it’s a very, very, very new piece. It’s about a woman’s search for an apartment where her nephew—a returning Afghanistan vet with a traumatic brain injury—can begin his civilian life.
The excitement for me is two-fold: 1) the play’s topic is very compelling to me in that I think the stories of re-entry and of family members’ struggles to adjust to returning military folks will be THE news stories of our next decade as Americans and I want to explore my own experiences in that world; and 2) this is the first real, solid idea for an original story that I’ve had since working on Torso.
VD: If you compared your latest play to your very first, what’s similar? What’s different?
KH: Excitement around my memories of writing my first play (All the Advantages): that wasn’t very exciting, it was more nerve-wracking because I wasn’t writing it just to WRITE it, I was writing it to PERFORM it (a one-person show). So, really the writing was just a step I had to take to get to the performance and I didn’t enjoy it until after I got to perform it and begin to look at each of the pieces I had laid in place to allow for the performance to happen. I do remember, though, feeling as though I was taking myself a little more seriously as a result. Performing feels like such a natural and intuitive thing to me, but writing feels like it’s harder work—at least for me.
VD: Do you think you wait for ideas to come to you, or do you seek them out?
KH: I definitely wait for ideas to come to me. And I guess I’ve come to trust that they eventually will because even when I’ve been the most stuck on something in a script or without a spark for a new play, one day I’ll be taking a walk or driving somewhere or listening to music and…an idea pops into my head. I wish I could be better disciplined. I do writing exercises each week, doodling on a scene here or there, in the hope that a new idea for a full play will evolve organically from that process, but rarely has that ever happened.
After Torso, I actually didn’t get the chance to relax. I jumped right into directing a play (by Lauren Gunderson) at ArtsWest—we started rehearsal on week after Torso opened. Then, right after that opened, I started to write AND direct Gentleman Desperado, the site-specific piece I did at the Mary Olson Farm in Auburn last fall. So…three plays in seven months. I don’t know that I ever did that much in such a short period, not even in my twenties! If Gentleman Desperado had not had a head start by being based on an historical story, and had I not been working with a brilliant co-writer, Jonah Von Spreecken, I might not have survived. I was definitely not restless. I was tired. But in a way, that was great. I was not ready to be alone after Torso. The whole period when I was writing that play was time I got to spend “with” my sister (whose death is at the center of the play)—that wasn’t easy, but I was certainly not ready for her to suddenly go away. The heavy workload was a welcome distraction.
VD: Does your acting background affect how you write?
KH: DEFINITELY! My plays are completely influenced by my acting background. I write plays because I love dialogue. That’s it. I like how people shift and maneuver and strive through language. And I know how it feels to be living inside a scene. How the language that’s handed to you is a puzzle. If I do gain an advantage from my acting background, it’s that I can feel a scene’s rhythm and shape more easily as I’m working on it because I look for the acting beats, the pauses, the laughs. I think about the choices an actor could make. As far as similarities in the processes go, I’ll say that whether I’m acting or writing, I keep asking the same question of my characters in order to build them—why? Why would she say that? Why does he care? Why now? Why why why?
(I’m a much better actor than writer, by the way. LOL. I wish I didn’t prefer writing.)