AN INTERVIEW WITH CARSON KREITZER 2010-2011 SEASON
From the desk of the PRODUCING ARTISTIC DIRECTOR “is a woman’s life the sum of her biography? the sum of the art she inspired? the art she created? the children she raised? … Or is it one moment, one picture, one instant, frozen in time? is it one dark hillside in ﬂame?” Lee, Behind the eye Staging the life of a famed photographer and model is an exercise in reinvention, like the woman herself—a theatrical sleight-of-hand that simultaneously masks what is obvious and reveals a much deeper, inner truth. In Behind the eye, Carson Kreitzer perseveres, departing from traditional biopic methodology (“biography is a lie,” as Lee says in the play) in favor of a no-holds-barred trip through her subject’s psyche. The result is a searing, intensely funny, and deeply
honest portrait as enthralling as Lee Miller herself. At the same time, Lee’s story would be incomplete without a powerful visual presence, and Carson meets this challenge head-on. Using spare but poetic language (as is her soulful practice), Carson delivers a play that swells with evocative imagery, often crafted from no more than a few well-chosen words, and never out of place or character. It is the work of an artist at the top of her game. I’m honored to share with you a ﬁrst glimpse of this remarkable new work, which will receive its World Premiere at Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park this April.
JEREMY B. COHEN Producing Artistic Director The Playwrights’ Center
Behind the Eye BY
PLAYWRIGHTS’ CENTER CORE WRITER
Lee Miller could have stayed home in Poughkeepsie. Instead, she lived a life most only dream of. Man Ray’s lover and muse, her body—or parts of it—would become iconic of surrealism, but Paris was only one stop on a journey that would include Egypt, London, and the front lines of World War II. Behind the Eye traces the path of this extraordinary woman as she discovers the only thing she cannot be: still. PART OF THE
2010-11 Ruth Easton New Play Series
FEBRUARY 7, 2011 • 7 PM • AT THE PLAYWRIGHTS’ CENTER • FREE RESERVE SEATS: 612.332.7481 x10 OR INFO@PWCENTER.ORG
Project journey: •
COMMISSIONED BY CINCINNATI
PLAYHOUSE IN THE PARK, FALL 2007
READING AT THE
DEVELOPED ON RETREAT AT HEDGEBROOK, OCTOBER 2008
CORE WORKSHOP AT
STUDIO RETREAT AT
WORKSHOP THROUGH CINCINNATI
LARK PLAY DEVELOPMENT CENTER, JUNE 2008 PLAYWRIGHTS’ CENTER, OCTOBER 2008 THE PLAYWRIGHTS’ CENTER, DECEMBER 2008
LARK PLAY DEVELOPMENT CENTER, JUNE 2009
NEW DRAMATISTS, FEBRUARY 2010 PLAYHOUSE IN THE PARK IN NEW
Cover design by Very, Inc.
YORK, NOVEMBER 2010 •
WORKSHOP AND READING IN
THE PLAYWRIGHTS’ CENTER’S RUTH
EASTON NEW PLAY SERIES, FEBRUARY 2011 •
WILL PREMIERE AT CINCINNATI
PLAYHOUSE IN THE PARK, APRIL 2011
WE TALKED WITH CORE WRITER carson kreitzer IN ADVANCE OF Her february 7 RUTH EASTON NEW PLAY SERIES READING of Behind the Eye.
What is your play, Behind the Eye, about? I would say it’s about a woman struggling to live life to the fullest, which she pursued in a way that I find just breathtaking. It’s not easy to live up to your full potential every minute, and I think a lot of people will find pieces of themselves in her struggle. What stood out about her story? I feel like I’ve spent a lot of my career as a playwright working on this alternate history of the world, finding and excavating stories of … not just women, but mostly women that I wish I had known about when I was growing up. I feel like there’s a vast conspiracy of niceness foisted upon women and girls, and the idea that there are other ways to live your life is very important to me.
“That is the path I have been on— grasping power in terms of narration, and finding the stories that I think have not been told.” Marsha Norman, in talking about the role of women in theater, recently quoted Carolyn Heilbrun from her book Writing a Woman’s Life, and I believe the quote was, “Power consists to a large extent in deciding what stories will be told.” That brought back this flood of feminist theory from college. That book, specifically, had been such a revelation. And I looked back at my body of work and realized, that is the path I have been on—grasping power in terms of narration, and finding the stories that I think have not been told, that have been actively kept from me. I always said I would never write a play about Florence Nightingale. She’s wonderful, but that is the image that we’re supposed to live up to. We are told as girls, be nice,
be quiet, support others, be the supportive girlfriend and good wife and make sure everyone else is happy—and the women who refuse to live by those rules absolutely fascinate me and I adore them. And Lee MIller is very much one of those women. Do you remember when you first discovered Lee Miller? I do. I was reading the New York Times Book Review, just sort of flipping through, killing some time, and there was a new biography about her by Carolyn Burke, and in that book review alone was this incredible life. She had been everywhere. She was on the cover of Vogue in the 20s. She was in Paris with the surrealists in the 30s. She was Man Ray’s muse. And I was a big Man Ray fan, and I thought I knew a lot about that time, but I had not run into her. And I knew immediately—there’s a picture of her torso with stripes of light and shadow through a Venetian blind (in which Man Ray prefigured our entire 1980s video culture), but that’s her torso, and I went, oh my god. It had never occurred to me to think, who is that headless woman in that beautiful, beautiful picture? What has been the easiest and hardest part of writing this play? The easiest has been falling in love with her. Even the parts of her that are somewhat monstrous—her tremendous, amazing selfishness at times—I find really admirable, as someone who can’t access that in myself.The bravery with which she lived her life has
“The bravery with which [Lee Miller] lived her life has really made me question my choices over the last few years … Why am I not going to Paris, you know? Why am I not out there living in the way that she did?”
really made me question my choices over the last few years, as I’ve been writing this play. Why am I not going to Paris, you know? Why am I not out there living in the way that she did?
“At some point I realized that to do justice to this life, it had to be a 90-minute rush.” What has been hardest is what’s pretty much always hardest for me, which is getting enough of the information out to make a 90-minute play. I’m really in favor of 75- to 90-minute theater. Especially for this story—you really need to just plunge in and be in it and not have a moment out. I originally wrote it in two acts and it just never felt right. There was so much information, and I didn’t want to leave any moment of her life out, because they’re all so dramatic and incredible. With my subjects, I always feel a tremendous responsibility to represent the life correctly, to do justice to it. But at some point I realized that to do justice to this life, it had to be a 90-minute rush. So I spent a lot of time figuring out what is that dense, beating heart of the piece, and how can I get rid of as much as possible to just have that feeling of her, rather than a historical play that wouldn’t feel right for her. TALK a little about the NEA New Play Development Project grant the play received. Yeah, that is very exciting. It’s $10,000 for me, which of course makes a tremendous difference in the life of a playwright (certainly the year of a playwright), and $80,000 for Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park to support final development and the production. I’m so thrilled that we got it and that the money will be going to support such an incredible theater that has always been so amazing in terms of new play development. My experiences with Cincinnati Playhouse have been the best I’ve ever had. They always do a workshop prior to the production, and those workshops have been the most productive of my life, because you know you’ve already been picked. It’s not an audition. It’s not “Oh, if you change a few things we might do your play, or we might not.” It’s nuts and bolts—how are we going to take this script and put it into this space and make it live? This is the first play I’ve written specifically for the Playhouse, which is really a joy.
When did that workshop take place? We just did that in November. So the Ruth Easton will be your last chance to change things before rehearsal starts. Exactly.This is my chance to make the script 100% the way I want it to be on the first day of rehearsal. When I was looking at the year, I was so excited to have the Ruth Easton in the interim—it’s almost halfway between the final New York workshop and starting rehearsals. It also gave me the freedom in the November workshop to know I didn’t have to get everything battened down. We could fling things around and be more experimental because I knew I had this opportunity to work on it one more time and make sure everything is reading right.
“I cut very radically in the last workshop I did … I’m very excited to get feedback from the audience and make sure the emotional impact and the information I want in there is still in there.” Is there anything specific you’ll be working on in THE RUTH EASTON workshop, or are you mostly tweaking language at this point? I think it’s more a matter of flow and information. I have made so many changes to the script, and I cut very radically in the last workshop I did. At the end of the previous workshop it was an hour and 50 minutes, once I’d taken the intermission out and cut everything I thought I could cut, and that is not acceptable. Then I came in for the November workshop and it read at 97 minutes the first day, and of course that expands with having people actually walking around and doing things. By the end of that two-week workshop, with the help of Mark Wing-Davey, who is very good at letting you know what might be “a bit extra,” we got it down to 80 minutes.
So I’m very excited to get feedback from the audience and make sure the emotional impact and the information I want in there is still in there. And I may even be able to hear more, now that I’ve put it down for a little bit. It’s amazing; when you start paring away and making it as muscular it can be, you start to hear what’s a curlicue and what’s a little baroque filigree that doesn’t need to be there. A lot of this cutting was three words and four words, and you start hearing—that sentence is just pure language and I’m not allowed to have that. So the play is really much more sleek and muscular now, and I’m very excited to hear it.
“Two different male friends of mine in my directing class both said to me, okay, you’re very good at deconstructing the play to find where the women aren’t; why don’t you write the roles that you want to see?” Why did you become a playwright, and why do you stay ONE? Why do I stay a playwright? I don’t know! [Laughs] It was sort of the final place I landed in theater. I started as an actor. I wanted to be an actor from the time I was five years old. Then at Yale, when I was in college, I found myself getting increasingly angry and realized as a brunette I was playing the girlfriend, the mother, the bad girlfriend, the mother, the bad girlfriend … and once that clicked in for me, I realized that I couldn’t do that. It was physically making me an angry person. So I started directing. The first play I directed was Jean Genet’s The Balcony with 19 actors. (I very nearly wound up in the university hospital, but I directed it.) The Balcony has three scenes with whores and clients who are paying to dress up as
important men. There’s the priest and the penitent and the general and his horse and the judge and the thief. But you only see the women in the role that the client wants them to play. So I sort of took apart The Balcony and had the women present throughout. It was staged 360 degrees around the audience, and they would turn to see the scenes happen on either side—and around the edges, the whores would be filing their nails or eating a sandwich, just doing the things they would be doing when not on display as a role, sort of calling up the performative nature of woman, the way that we are all asked to play this role, Woman. And it is so false and so fictional. So I did a bit of that, and then actually two different male friends of mine in my directing class both said to me, okay, you’re very good at deconstructing the play to find where the women aren’t; why don’t you write the roles that you want to see? And that was absolutely terrifying and felt like a big challenge—the gauntlet thrown down. And I tried it, and sure enough, it was really hard! But that challenge, and that tangling with the world, has really kept me intrigued. I miss directing; I swear directing is way more fun than writing. I always meant to get back to it at some point. But writing keeps me constantly fascinated. And the great thing about it as opposed to other jobs in theater is you can do it whether or not someone has hired you for a project. You have always got your ideas and your time to structure. I mean, you don’t always—there’s rent to be paid—but really, I have spent my life chasing that time. Whatever will give me the time to sit somewhere and write. And that’s why I’m here. Has it gotten easier? I have been incredibly lucky. Especially since I first got the Jerome Fellowship and
“I am so grateful to the Playwrights’ Center, and the Lark, and New Dramatists, all these places that have supported me, that make my life work.”
moved here in 1999, I have been incredibly lucky and privileged in terms of finding grant support and being able to carve out that time. I am so grateful to the Playwrights’ Center, and the Lark, and New Dramatists, all these places that have supported me, that make my life work. The Jerome and McKnight foundations for what they do, not just for individual artists, but for the whole ecology of this place. As a matter of fact, this play, Behind the Eye, was begun during my PONY Fellowship at the Lark, continued during my McKnight Advancement Grant year, and workshopped at the Playwrights’ Center, the Lark and New Dramatists. A lot of help, a lot of homes along the way. A tremendous amount to be thankful for. I’m hoping that things will start to add up a little more in terms of opportunities to work. That still feels like a real struggle, and I know we all struggle to get those productions. This production in Cincinnati comes at the end of a rough period for me that has been a lot of workshops and no productions. The economic downturn has been tough, and I am very stubborn and I just keep writing the plays I want to write. I have not written my darkly comic two-hander. I know that I could be doing more to try to fit in with a market, so you know, I may shoot myself in the foot with my insistence on writing what I want to write the way I want to write it. Sounds a little Lee MIller-esque. Yes, yes … There’s a reason she appeals. What do you like or dislike in a play? I like to be thrilled and I like to be surprised in a way that lets me see some little corner of the world anew. And I guess I don’t have too much energy for things that just feel like lowest-common-denominator entertainment. “This won’t ruffle anybody’s feathers, and everyone will be happy, so it’s going to have a great run.” I like things that make you think. Is there anything else you want to say or mention? Just that I’m so thrilled to be back at Cincinnati Playhouse. Their support for me over the years has been this amazing rudder of stability, which is crazy because that doesn’t happen. This is my third show there working with Mark Wing-Davey, who is this incredible collaborator. Ed Stern at Cincinnati Playhouse commissioned this play, and he actually commissioned it when we were doing my play 1:23. My first play was The Love Song of J. Robert Oppenheimer, which won their Rosenthal New Play Prize, and that play did very well—everybody loved it, it was a big hit, Mark and I had a fabulous time, and everything was wonderful.Then Ed brought us both back to
“[Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park’s] support for me over the years has been this amazing rudder of stability, which is crazy because that doesn’t happen.” do 1:23, which is this really dark play about infanticide, and it didn’t sell as well. And I was having a rough time with that, because it was a beautiful production, it really was, and it answered any questions I had about whether one should write a play about women who kill their children or whether it was just too dark to live through. But, you know, it was not selling well, and in the middle Ed said, “Let’s talk about you writing something for us.” That his belief in me was made so visible and so concrete meant the world to me, and that relationship with Cincinnati Playhouse has been really sustaining over the years.
Next SCENE THE 2010-11 RUTH EASTON NEW PLAY SERIES:
Phantasmatron BY Daniel Alexander Jones Since the loss of her young son in 1862, Mary has enlisted every spiritualist of repute to make contact with him. Following a new lead, she travels with her friend and seamstress Lizzy to Manhattan, where a brusque and mysterious clairvoyant awaits them … and it soon becomes clear he has a talent the others do not. He knows Mary’s true identity, he has seen her future, and he is ready to lift the thin veil between this world and the next. MARCH 7, 2011 • 7 PM • AT THE PLAYWRIGHTS’ CENTER • FREE RESERVE SEATS: 612.332.7481 x10 OR INFO@PWCENTER.ORG
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Carson Kreitzer talks about her new play BEHIND THE EYE, why she became intrigued by Lee Miller, how she moved from deconstructing plays to...
Published on Jan 24, 2011
Carson Kreitzer talks about her new play BEHIND THE EYE, why she became intrigued by Lee Miller, how she moved from deconstructing plays to...