Welcome to our Rising Tides series! Here, we will take the opportunity to interview some of our favorite collaborators about what makes them tick, what they are up to, and where to catch them next.
On January 18th, 2015, we hosted a reading of the play The Caruso Sisters by Claudia Inglis Haas at the Phoenix Theater in Minneapolis. We first met Claudia through TEASE – The Easy Access Script Experience, our event that takes local playwrights and gets excerpts from their work in front of local theatre companies. Over the years, TEASE has lead to several full productions as well as readings for the writers. For the past two years, we’ve asked the audience to vote on their favorite scene of the evening; TEASE 2014 selected The Caruso Sisters as their favorite. The feedback from the audience at this reading was phenomenal, proving once again that women’s stories are as powerful and moving as the men’s stories we so often see on stage. In this interview, we find out more about the woman behind the words.
Looking back over your work do you find there is a theme in your writing?
I go through stages. In the last five years, I’ve been playing a lot with magical realism. I have had a lot of losses during the last few years so exploring the world through different lenses has been a way of coping. It’s also a jumping off point into the unknown – and I look at ways to solve the unknown. I never will which keeps me on my toes.
You’ve mentioned you’re a native of NY – but have lived in MN for many years. What keeps you here artistically?
My plan – many decades ago – was to stop here, mooch off of my parents (father moved here for a job at Ecolab) and continue to California. I stopped here – and lo and behold – found a thriving theatre community. It was a wee bit kinder than New York and in many ways took more chances with programming. What’s not to like? I acted, directed, taught and wrote plays. Then, I went and met my husband and had kids. They are all determined to stay here despite the polar vortexes so I’m not going anywhere.
What have you seen on stage in the past year that was inspiring?
Steerage Song by Theater Latte Da kept me riveted. I’ve always wanted to write about the immigrant experience. I have so many stories from my grandmother’s past that would work on the stage. I haven’t figured out how to make it a cohesive experience – yet.
After Life by Brandon Taitt at the Fringe left me and my family with much discussion – which is good theatre. And it’s a discussion I entered into (and will continue to discuss in other plays) with And the Universe Didn’t Blink. Brandon’s exploration is very close to my exploration – of the universe, of the after life, of the unknown and I realized after seeing it that I was not close to being done with that theme. Of course, it’s a huge theme! One is never done.
Panties on My Head by Kari Steinbach at the Fringe introduced me to the world of Roller Derby and turned over my preconceived notions – always a good thing. I did one play based on the dialogue/commentary of others (By Candlelight) and love docu-drama. It had me revisiting my play Riders of the Orphan Storm about the Orphan Train Movement.
What kind of challenges do you think a playwright starting out today has versus when you started writing?
The MFA has become more important. The debate as to whether or not to go into debt to go into a field that does not earn a viable living is discussed everywhere. There are theatres that will not look at a playwright without an MFA. So the discussion continues.
As someone who writes predominantly for youth theatre, “the gate-keepers” have intensified. Subjects that I could write freely about 10-15 years ago – are scrutinized. I did have a commission for a middle school – so yes, more tender than older teens. I knew the language had to be G-rated but I was told by the principal to avoid: (of course) sex, drugs, rock and roll, drugs, drinking and also: cutting, any mention of being or discovering one was gay, out-of-wedlock pregnancy, politics, religion – in short – just about anything a 13-year-old would be curious about. And probably already knows. I did sneak a few of those subjects through the back door….
If you could give young you (or a new young writer) one piece of advice, what would it be?
I’m going to go with the obvious: read. Read widely, read everything – just read. I cannot tell you how many wonderful plays are out there because a playwright saw a blurb in a newspaper and said, “Wait! I want to know more.” Plays start from moments in history, a line in a poem, a photograph, a signpost, a fairy tale, a look at the night sky. If you observe and read – you will always have something to write about.
A lot of your work features a female actors and plays for youth, what draws you to these stories?
I wrote The Caruso Sisters for two reasons: absolute love for my slightly nutso (maybe full-blown nutso) Italian family that had a huge hand in shaping my being. And to address the “disappearance” of actresses over forty – indeed actresses over fifty and sixty who are at the peak of their powers but lacking in available roles.
My stories are all personal – they’re not necessarily true but they come from an inner part of me that includes a truth and a question.
Writing for young audiences sings! Whether you’re onstage with nothing but a cardboard moon or surrounded by imagination-on-steroids, a riveted young audience will still your heart. There is an openness with young audiences. Respect them and they will follow you anywhere.
What’s next for you? Any upcoming projects/readings/productions? Did you submit for fringe again?
I did Fringe twice and had a wonderful experience both times. The summer of 2014 was my first summer in 23 years where I didn’t have a play in production and I found I liked my summer – spent in the garden and writing.
I have two shorts coming up in Spokane, WA and Mankato, MN in February 2015. I am also a “semi” at three places that I won’t go into because I am superstitious (it’s an Italian thing). The Caruso Sisters is being considered elsewhere.** As is And the Universe Didn’t Blink (both showcased at TEASE). There’s a 6 month to one year waiting time after a script is sent and/or requested.
I am included in an anthology for plays for young people due out in 2015 and have a new publication coming out with YouthPLAYS in 2015. It’s all gratifying.
If you were trapped in a lifeboat on the ocean what would you most like to have with you? (basic provisions are provided- water/food)
I will assume basic provisions include cheese, chocolate and suntan lotion.
I would need a never-ending pile of page-turning books. I love the ocean but the scenery stays the same for a long time. Trips into other worlds would be good for my morale. As I look back, books have always been my lifeline.
** Since this interview it has become known that The Caruso Sisters was selected for a staged reading at the Houston Family Arts Center on Jan 22nd.