CHRISTINE DREW BENJAMIN is the dramaturg of both these readings. She was able to sit down with both of these wonderful women last night and speak to them a little more about their work:
CHRISTINE: So hi! I’m with Emily Peters, who is the playwright of It Always Feels Farther. Hi, Emily!
CHRISTINE: So I’m going to ask you a couple questions, and we’re going to have fun. The first question I have for you is, what are five words you would use to describe your play?
EMILY: That’s not a hard first question at all, Christine.
CHRISTINE: Separate words.
EMILY: Hopeful. Realistic. Risky. Heartfelt. Did I say honest already?
CHRISTINE: Yes? Maybe…
EMILY: Well maybe I’ll give you six. Gosh this is really hard… Unifying.
CHRISTINE: Great. Thank you! So your play has to do with themes of love and relationships and the trials and tribulations that go into them. Is that based off personal experiences, or friends, or what kind of inspired this play to be written right now?
EMILY: I experienced a long distance relationship and I know a lot of friends who had versions of that themselves… that was sort of the jumping off point, so the technical inspiration, but then I realized distance is a thing that can exist even when you’re sitting right next to someone and that was extremely interesting to me as well. So the themes of closeness and distance, and how they interact is what got me excited about the piece.
CHRISTINE: It’s written in a way that kind of combines… I’m trying to think of how to tell the readers or whatever that there’s quotes, it has some type of magical element through it… is that a style you write typically or is this something new you’re experimenting?
EMILY: I’ve always really liked direct audience address, so that was really helpful in grad school when I had to write songs where actors would sing to the audience. That was a really interesting experience to bring in my sort of musical mentality and my book writing mentality to a play, and I knew I wanted to have these direct audience addresses… that’s actually what I started with before I even got into any scene work, I wrote a lot of character monologues, and then in terms of incorporating all the different elements, because of grad school at NYU, where we had to write a thesis that was protagonist drive and linear, I wanted to write something that was not that. So that’s where I got into this ensemble form or more or less of theater that the piece is currently in.
CHRISTINE: So how’s the process been throughout this development series for FullStop?
EMILY: It’s been fantastic. I feel really lucky to have been totally supported and that I could show up every three or four months and Lucy and everyone would give me these actors and they would read my work, and a writer loves deadlines, so with my work and travel schedules it would be difficult to find time to write but if I knew I had a deadline coming up, that would be so helpful, and that would be when I would get a lot of work done, and get to hear a lot of it all at one time. It’s been a really rewarding process and interestedly enough, you know, Megan and I weren’t together for most of the year throughout all this, so it’s been great to collaborate in person and work on this piece like that together now.
CHRISTINE: Great! Okay now for a random fun question. If you could pick one character from your play that you would go on a date with, who would it be and where would you go?
EMILY: I would actually probably hang out with Ava. She’s pretty cool, and honestly the first thing that came into my head was bowling. I haven’t gone bowling in a really long time, and I think she would get like crazy into it. She might like even secretly have her own bowling shoes because a) I feel like she would but b) she wouldn’t want to put on the nasty ass bowling shoes you that you have to put on when you go to bowling alleys, and it’s just seedy enough that she can make fun of it but it’s also fun enough that she can have bad pizza and cheap beer.
CHRISTINE: I like that! Oh, so I meant to ask you this earlier, but there are strong elements of Greek family visible throughout your play, does that come from your own heritage?
EMILY: Yeah. One part of my family is Greek, so I have experience with the language, the traditions, and the family aspects of that, so that was definitely another personal aspect of my life that found it’s way through my writing.
CHRISTINE: Because it comes through so natural that I was assuming there was some relation. Okay, so getting down to the final questions. The quotes you use throughout your play, did you just find those or what has been the process been to motivate those as a through-line?
EMILY: Well when I first knew I wanted to write about distance, I initially started thinking about the way we communicate, and I was really drawn to the historical aspect of that and looking at these primary source documents of people that didn’t have Facebook, or texting, or statuses, or “tag boyfriend” here… “wish you were here.” So I just started looking up, you know, Googling historic love letters/famous love letters to see what I would find, and it’s amazing to find the ones that are really sweet. You know you’ll see one in the play that’s not so nice and seeing how the people who would write these letters, and they may not reach the person they were writing to until three or four weeks later, and by then they may be having a whole other host of feelings but they can’t just text those feelings or pick up the phone like so many of us do now, so what was that dynamic like when you were forced to only communicate by written word. It’s so different now.
CHRISTINE: Okay, last question. What is your favorite love letter either in the play or one you found that didn’t include?
EMILY: I think the love letter that opens the play. It’s a love letter from Abigail Adams. She speaks about friendship, and that’s a very big theme between her and John Adams. They had this beautiful friendship in addition to this beautiful love that… when friendship is the basis of love, that’s when you find the strongest connection, and she speaks about that even though the time has changed and we have grown older, when you look inside my heart you’re still going to see that my love for you is unchanged. And I just think it’s so honest and so pure.
CHRISTINE: Well thank you, Emily! I can’t wait so be a part of your reading Friday night.
EMILY: Thank you, Christine!
CHRISTINE: Megan, your play includes a lot of beautiful imagery throughout it…
MEGAN: Thank you
CHRISTINE: Is that something you use a lot throughout your plays, or is this a new concept?
MEGAN: Well what’s interesting is that this is my first real play, so it’s hard to answer that question about context, but I’m an extremely visual person and always have been in everything. I imagine things as I read them, I imagine things as I write them, and I see things in colors and associate colors with people, times and places, so that just… I just think that’s my nature. Just extremely visual person…
CHRISTINE: That’s great.
MEGAN: And I’m also very literal.
CHRISTINE: Well that definitely comes through! Now, your play also involves a relationship between a mother and daughter dealing with the effects of CHF (congestive heart failure). Could you expand on that and explain the significance CHF has had upon your life? Is it a personal experience?
MEGAN: Yes it is. The play was inspired by my own experience with my mother and in fact a lot of those visual elements throughout the play come from dreams I’ve had over the past ten or fifteen years, as I’ve had similar experiences to some of the characters in the play in relationship to my own mother who had congestive heart failure and passed away from that a year ago.
CHRISTINE: So it’s your own personal story coming through with that?
MEGAN: Yes… I’m feeling funny because I feel like I’m on the radio.
CHRISTINE: Yes. Me too.
MEGAN: Well that’s something. Yes, it began out of me having a deadline and needing to write something that I knew…
CHRISTINE: Yes. That was my next question. When did you begin writing this?
MEGAN: I began writing this at the National Theater Institute. The task of writing a one-act play and I had to write what I knew… I had only a few hours to write this one act play, I was against a deadline, and had these ideas swirling in my mind, so I just drew very heavily on my own personal experience and created the foundation of this play. And then over the past several years that was almost six years ago… hold on we’re going to pause. Sorry about that, we’re back. Let me just start over. So the play did come out of my own personal experience with my mother who was diagnosed with congestive heart failure when I was sixteen, so I was in high school. My brothers, I have two older brothers, and they were out of the house by that point, and my mother’s marriage to my stepfather was falling apart so I did feel a very strong need to… or just a strong instinctive responsibility to hold the family together. And she was misdiagnosed for several months before they found the correct diagnosis, so that parallels with that scene in the play and it was a long journey. She actually passed away when I was 26, and when I was 22 I wrote this play. And in this play, the mother passes away after ten years, so it was an interesting experience for me to realize when my mother actually did pass away to think back and I sort of knew how long it would take. It was very creepy actually. So the play was originally my response to the experience I was having with my mom. And I wrote it at a point in my life when it was the first time I had ever ventured out from home to go across the country to the NTI where I was given this assignment. So it was my first time away from home and I did feel a lot of guilt and a lot of responsibility to my mother who was living alone for the first time, and I was extremely far away and by that point she didn’t have anybody else. So Maggie’s struggle was definitely born out of my own personal struggle, trying to find out how to grow up and be an adult and follow my own passions and the direction my own life was taking me, which was geographically three thousand miles away from my ailing mom, and as she grew sicker, I had to discover the point when it was time to come back home. And I found that point, and I came back home and I spend the last two or three months of her life with her before she passed away. So there’s a lot of interplay and part of the writing process in this development series with this play had been in the aftermath of my mother’s death, and as I look forward to my future in theater trying to recognize the value of this play as a potential piece that had a life beyond my own computer, and starting to allow the play to develop from the trajectory of my own personal story. So that’s what I’ve kind of been focusing on in the last year, developing this play into a full length piece that can stand on it’s own two feet, away from me and away from my own experience.
CHRISTINE: So how’s the process been in the room right now for this reading coming up?
MEGAN: The process has been a lot of reading out lot, because every time I hear it there has been a great deal of discussion afterwards, so it’s been really exciting actually because over the past year we’ve done several readings of the piece with actors that show up to the reading and they donate their time, which is so generous, but they haven’t seen the script before so simply a cold read, and they’re assigned roles on the spot, so it’s really an exercise for the playwright but since we actually held auditions and cast the role, we’ve had the same actors reading the parts at every rehearsal. The actors have developed ownership of these roles, and an affinity with their characters so the conversation really shifted from sort of general responses to the play to very specific responses to each journey of each character and what makes sense. So that’s been extremely helpful to have that shift in tone in the rehearsal process. Last week we had a rehearsal where we got the piece up on its feet and we began experimenting with different ways of staging. The play is obviously full of a lot of impossible elements and great magical theatricality, and so we wanted to experiment specifically with ways those moments might be interpreted by a director using movement, using actors in space in ways this production might be staged on little or no budget. So when you read the script you think, “wow this will cost a fortune to put up. There’s a giant larynx, there’s a heart that is huge and tiny, there’s water, there’s disco, there’s just all kinds of expensive things happen. So part of the goal of this process was to discover how to evolve an impossible piece of theater into something that is produce-able and attractive to theaters to produce. Because I think the story is extremely attractive and sort of the detriment is, “okay but how the hell do we do this.” So that’s been one of the questions we’ve been exploring, and the answers that we found are really exciting because in the hands of a creative and flexible director, the piece can really open up under any budget, we learned.
CHRISTINE: Great. Okay, last question. What are five words you would use to describe your play?
MEGAN: That’s so limiting. I want to say… magical, brutal, journey, growing up… I know growing up is two words.
CHRISTINE: I’ll give it to you.
MEGAN: Okay so magical, brutal, journey, growing up, and I’m going to cheat and use two words for my last one and say, well maybe three words actually… internal battle externalized.
CHRISTINE: I like! Well good, that was very informative, and I can’t wait to see the reading on Saturday night.
MEGAN: Well thank you, Christine! It’s been a pleasure.