Dixon Place workshop of my new play SAFEWORD
An Interview with Mariah MacCarthy

Indie Theater Now asked Mariah MacCarthy a few questions about this upcoming event.

What has been the development process for this play? How many drafts? Has the play changed incrementally, bit by bit, through collaboration/rehearsal/workshops – or do you write a draft, mount it, and then go away and rewrite?

This is the...third? Fourth? – draft of this play. It started with the premise (two people attempting to act out a rape fantasy), and I knew the woman (Lisa) was a single mother. Those things have remained constant, as has the basic arc, but the specifics have changed quite a bit. This play has been developed with the help of Flux Sundays, Youngblood, Kid Brooklyn, Barefoot Theatre Company, and Lather, Rinse, Repeat. It's had two readings but it's an intensely physical play. When the premise of your play is a sexual act, at a certain point you need to see people actually trying to do this stuff to know what you've written. So we're doing this workshop!

What do you as a playwright learn from collaborators, such as actors, directors, designers, and stage managers? What do you learn from reviewers and critics?

I mean, everything. To break it down: Actors teach me who my characters are, directors teach me what I've written (and what I need to cut), and designers teach me where my characters live. For a development process like this one, awesome collaborators are essential. Rock star director Evan Caccioppoli and I have been chewing on this play together for months. A sit-down table reading with smart actors and a good director with discussion afterward can teach you way more than a "formal" public talkback. (I mostly hate public talkbacks, or at least public talkbacks that aren't controlled by the playwright, which seems to be all of them.) What I've had the hardest time getting right in this particular play is the power balance; I don't want this play to be swayed considerably in one character's favor or another. And actors, as the ones playing that power dynamic, are in a pretty fantastic position to weigh in on what that dynamic actually *is.*

Are readings helpful? If this production is a staged reading—what do you hope to get from the process? If this is a full production, has the play had staged readings, and if so, were they beneficial (and how)?

The two readings this play has had were – while excellent! – very much NOT staged. And they were useful, in that they taught me that the play basically worked and what the rhythm of it could feel like, but in a play this sexual, at a certain point, you've got to see it in the flesh (interpret that as you will). Part of why we're doing this workshop is to see the play on its feet (or, more likely, on its back). Which requires a sex choreographer and two very, very game actors. Which is exciting as hell!

What has been the biggest change in this script since you started writing it?

The biggest change has been that the guy in this play (Damien) at some point became the father of Lisa's child; he didn't used to be. It amps up the stakes considerably when you know that, whatever happens tonight, you have to keep shuffling your child back and forth between you.

Do you ever hate any of the characters you write? Is that a good thing or a bad thing? What do you do about it when it happens?

I don't think I could write someone I flat-out hated. I have to see where they're coming from in order to write them. What's interesting is when I write a character that I think is doing something really despicable, and people are like, "They're really not that bad! They could stand to be a bit worse!" That's happened multiple times with this play. It's a weird conundrum because on the one hand, I'm like, Why aren't my standards of what's unacceptable behavior good enough for an audience? Am I betraying my values if I accept that this isn't "bad enough" for an audience to say, no, that's not OK? On the other hand, you want the shifting relationship dynamics to read. You want people to understand why the other person is upset. I banged my head against a wall with this for months, but I think I finally found a solution I'm satisfied with.

posted January 4, 2016
Mariah MacCarthy

Mariah MacCarthy