LOS ANGELES, CA -
Callaghan is an accomplished award winning playwright.
Currently, she has three of her plays being performed. Scab
is being seen in Seattle. The world premiere Crawl, Fade to
White is performing to rave reviews at the Theatre of Note,
and premiering October 8th at the Los Angeles 7th
is Crumble (Lay Me Down, Justin Timberlake).
Arts & Reviews correspondent Adrian Rennie jumped at the
chance for an online chat interview with Sheila Callaghan;
regarding her work, her passion for her craft, and to get a
glimpse of an individual who is making her dreams come true. The
individual, who lives a life with humor, utilizes abilities, and
shares wisdom with others, becomes the genuine role model.
Hi Sheila, so nice to meet you. Thank for taking some time out
to chat with Maestro. First thing first, congrats on having two
plays simultaneously in Los Angeles.
How long have you been writing plays?
I suppose professionally since I left grad school in
'97... I wrote some really REALLY silly and derivative little
things in college that my little theatre club threw up, but back
then I was a lot more serious about poetry and prose than I was
about writing plays.
made you want to be a playwright?
It was the meeting point of my two loves... I loved writing and
I loved the theatre. I
used to act a little, not very well, and so I knew I couldn't
have a career in theatre ON the stage, so working behind it (or
above, below, beneath) made the most sense.
Tell us about the first play you wrote. What was motivation
FIRST play... my first SERIOUS play, or my first play?
The first play after college, or more specifically - the first
one where you were most nervous on opening night
Those are two different plays.
My first serious play was called The Hunger Waltz.
I was reading a lot of Gertrude Stein at the time and I
wanted to try to simulate a "continuous present" on
stage... I was also trying to investigate the idea of sexual
autonomy in a theatrical setting.
The play takes place over 600 years and follows a woman
who arrives in three different centuries, each time working
through her relationships with her clueless and somewhat abusive
husband and her manipulative but super-sexy girl lover. In the
end the woman sheds both relationships, aborts a child, and
winds up on an island, alone.
Some saw it as bleak, but others viewed the woman as
powerful-- finally in control of her destiny at the expense of
those who loved her. And
some found it completely baffling altogether.
It's not my most produced play... :-)
The play I was most nervous about was probably Scab, because in
writing it I drew a lot upon reality and it was
painful/exhilarating/terrifying to watch.
THAT is my most produced play.
curious to see the Hunger Waltz now. *smile* The Scab is
currently being performed in Seattle. Have you traveled to that
that one, unfortunately... it's the first Scab I'm going to
miss. But I just
could not work it in, with the two plays in LA and my two
weddings this fall (one small thing in Brooklyn and one larger
Greek thing in Florida)... they are taping it for me so at least
I'll get to see it on the little screen...
Weddings? Exciting! Congrats again!
What were some of the obstacles you had to encounter and
overcome, in terms of playwriting?
The biggest obstacle I find is to keep doing it. I just wrote a little something about this actually, if you
don't mind me quoting myself here...
And I quote:
The other day I was re-visiting my original impulses for making
a career out of theatre, and I thought of myself sneaking out of
class and breaking into the tiny theatre in my high school and
sitting on the empty stage in the darkness and just swelling
with joy at all the possibilities to be carved out in that
darkness. I still have that feeling sometimes, like the first
time I enter a rehearsal room with a stunning group of actors,
or when I walk into a theatre as the set is being built, wood
sawed, flats painted... it's like falling in love. But that
feeling is so fleeting, while this gnawing feeling of low-grade
failure is pretty constant.
trying to come to terms with it. The art of this business is not
in the making of art, which is chiefly instinctual. It's in the
aggressive re-discovery of one's love of magic. Because quite
often there isn't much else to go on.
I like that. I can relate. In college, I used to sneak out onto
their empty theater stage too.
I wrote it because I was maneuvering through the first round of
reviews of the plays that are up now (folks always say
"don't read your reviews" but I always find it
impossible not to), and I got really down about the nature of
the biz. Success in
the theatre is so arbitrary.
The stakes are seemingly low because there is no real
money involved, but when you commit your life to something that
has such low monetary reward I feel like the personal stakes get
completely magnified... and so when it isn't going particularly
well, the question "WHY AM I DOING THIS" can be
reviews coming in are rather good right now, so I was mostly
reacting to my vast relief and how sad the root of that relief
What would you say is one of your greatest successes so far?
I have no idea!! Isn't
that odd? My first
instinct was to say "my son" but I don't have
what folks usually say...
That is a great success if you ask me
So I imagine it WOULD be my son if I had one.
I read you are teaching playwriting at the University of
Rochester. How is that coming along?
I love teaching. I really really do. I love being able to get
excited about theatre in front of folks who don't have any real
experience in career-theatre, because I can be totally
idealistic and doe-eyed about it and no one will look at me like
I'm smoking crack.
Haha. *smile* I wish you the best on the that. I have great
respect for people who have to opportunity to give back in that
manner. What are some inspirations for writing?
But again, teaching playwriting is low-stakes... I've also
taught Composition to a room full of thirty adults, none of whom
had English as a first language... that kind of teaching feels
like survival teaching. My inspirations...Hmm..My playwright
inspirations.... I have a list. Erik
D'amour. Mac Wellman. Maria
Irene Fornes. I
feel like this is a typical list... playwrights who are fearless
with language and form. There are more.
It's a strange thing to boil down though, because there are
things that happen to me each day that are inspirational.
Travel inspires my work a lot.
Love and torment do.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Hm. I have two
answers. 1. Living
in Los Angeles writing for an edgy, quirky HBO special that I
nailed because one of my plays suddenly and unexpectedly caught
the imagination of the masses and made me wildly popular without
compromising my aesthetic. 2.
Living in a college town somewhere in easy commuting
distance to a bigger city, working in a tenure-track position as
an English professor and continuing my playwriting habit on the
side. 3. I lied, there are three.
A playwright is never done, I always say
3. Touring with my newly formed band (the soon-to-be infamous
Sagapo) with my husband, a few stalwart musicians, and my brand
new baby son named "GS" (short for "greatest
*smile* Sheila, once again. It's been a pleasure to chat with
you. I wish you the best of success in playwriting and in the
classroom. Thank you taking the time to answer a few questions.
Any words of wisdom to share with our readers?
Hee. Floss? I'm such a dork. But
floss. It's never
too late for floss.
Haha. You are far from a dork.
Not as far as you might imagine... Thanks, this was fun!
And hope the weddings are joyous and not too stressful. Thanks
again Sheila! *smile*
Sheila : Thank you! Those are very good wishes indeed, I shall take them. Have a lovely evening! And good luck with the online mag and your acting...
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