At the PWC this week: Carson Kreitzer

Core Writer Carson Kreitzer is workshopping Capital Crime! at the Playwrights’ Center, in collaboration with director Leah Cooper; composer Annie Enneking; and actors Jessie Scarborough-Ghent, Stephen Yoakam*, Peter Christian Hansen*, Christian Bardin, Miriam Schwartz, James Craven*, John Riedlinger*, JuCoby Johnson*, Annie Enneking* (*Member of Actors' Equity Association). Join us Tuesday, December 19, 2017 at 2:30 p.m. for a public reading of the play.

An interview with Carson:

Your musical Lempicka is a collaboration with composer Matt Gould. What have you learned about working with a composer?

Working with Matt is the happiest I get as a playwright. Our work process is super intense, since we live in different places, so when we get a chance to be in the same place, working on the show, we go all in. We had a residency at Virginia Rep, preparing a new draft for a reading at Williamstown this summer, and it was just Matt and me in a blackbox theater with a piano and a keyboard and a printer, and a bunch of index cards taped to one wall. And an ever-growing stack of paper. We would do 10- to 12-hour days together, and then retire to our hotel rooms to continue working separately. The only time off was sleep. It was exhausting and fabulous and frustrating and so much freaking fun. We wrestled structure. We wrote new songs. That’s the joy. We cut songs we love. That’s the pain.

Honestly, I don’t know that I’ve learned anything about working with a composer, so much as I have learned about working with Matt. What I have learned, in the abstract, that I could bring forward: it’s an incredibly intimate process, collaborating on the molecular level like this, writing songs together, crafting a whole show together. You need to like each other a whole goddamn lot. And you also need to have clear, open communication, and a shared vision for where you’re headed. As Matt says, it’s a marriage.

In April you were named a Guggenheim Fellow! What does that mean, and what does it allow you to do?

That means I can breathe for two years. Which is amazing. Generally, having my head above water is a year-to-year thing. You apply for all these grants and fellowships, you try to line up the commissions and the teaching work, and you see how it all adds up. It can be pretty roller-coaster-y, as a lifestyle. Knowing I will have money coming in, and can get my bills paid, for longer than a one-year horizon is pretty extraordinary, and something I have not experienced since grad school. This fellowship will support the writing of a new play, specifically, but more than that, it will allow me to do my job, to live my life, as a playwright, without a money-related ball of fear and panic in my gut.

How do you approach writing a play based on historical people or events? How is it different from writing other types of plays?

Hard for me to say how it’s different, because that’s pretty much my process… I love research, I love discovery, I love finding things I absolutely have to share with an audience. I’m currently working on a climate change play, Timebomb, for A.R.T., and the process for that is a little different. Still heavily researched (and, I mean, the heaviest research I’ve done in a long time… Not since reading about prostitute deaths for SELF DEFENSE has the research portion of a play been so damaging to my mind and soul), but this time I’m letting the characters rise up out of the research, rather than starting with actual people, and listening for their voices in the research. It’s a little "neater” this way… One of the things I love about starting with historical people/events is there is always something knotty or strange or unwieldy… You need to shape a play around an often un-cooperative set of co-ordinates. Real life isn’t neat. I like theater that reflects that.

What does your writing space look like?

Don’t ask. But I did get a standing desk this year, so that’s an improvement.

What is your writing process like?

A lot of thinking. A lot of research. Then boxing myself in with deadlines and writing like a madwoman.

What was the hardest thing about writing your last play?

Getting it produced. Still working on that.

Finish this sentence: If I weren’t a playwright I would be…

sleeping better at night.

How do you relax?

Hot baths. Awesome TV, increasingly now written by my friends.

What advice do you have for beginning playwrights?

D.I.Y. Get in there and get your hands dirty. Listen to your words spoken aloud, not just living on the page. Find out what makes something electric in front of an audience.

And it makes me a little sad to say this, but try TV. The landscape is so different from when I graduated from college… Theater used to be where all the exciting, rough, strange work was happening. No longer the case.

What play do you wish you had written and why?

Funny, I don’t have that with plays. But I do have it with songs. “Sweet Jane,” Lou Reed. I think, if I could write a play that does what “Sweet Jane” does, I would be finished. I could write the rest of my plays in peace, knowing I had done that.


Carson Kreitzer