Friday, December 16, 2011

5 Questions With Emilie Beck

Our final reading of the FORUM series for 2011 is SOVEREIGN BODY by Emilie Beck. This reading will be held on Sunday, December 18, 7:00pm, at Fairleigh Dickinson University, Dreyfuss Theatre, 285 Madison Avenue, Madison, NJ. Click here for directions. Click here for a printable map of the campus (the Dreyfuss Theatre is located in Building 9).

Emilie Beck’s play, Sovereign Body, was a finalist for National New Play Network’s Smith Prize and Ashland New Plays Festival, and was seen in Road Theatre’s Summer Playwrights Festival. Number of People was in Playwrights Theatre’s 2010 Forum Series, with Len Cariou, having been previously developed at Pasadena Playhouse and Hartford Stage with Edward Asner. It received its world premiere at the Piven Theatre. As a director, Emilie directed the Jeff-Award winning production of Because They Have No Words in Chicago and LA, and won LA Weekly awards for Best Director and Production for Block Nine at the Elephant Theatre.

1. What inspired you to write Sovereign Body?
My aunt has been living with advanced Parkinson's Disease for about 30 years. She started getting symptoms when her second child was just a baby. The feelings and responses it brought up within our family were surprising and varied. For myself, I found that I was so angry on her behalf, with no one to whom I could direct that anger. I'd been wanting to write about it for a long time, but I knew I needed a portal that took me to a more layered place than writing about a woman who gets sick. I started to read literature that had been written by Parkinson's patients, and, to a person, they all wrote about the feeling of being invaded. They would use some form of that word, "invaded" or "invasion." And it got me thinking on a larger level about what that means and how that feels in all its nuances. And, of course, during this time, we Americans have been invaders. We have attacked people, their homes, their families, and we have done it in a way that's politically justified by our government. And people, nations, clans have done it throughout history. I became fascinated by the way we feel in control of our bodies (this is a recurring theme for me) , and by extension, our homes, our countries, and resentful of any "foreign invader." So Sovereign Body became a political play to me, even though on the surface it's about a woman and her family and an illness.

2. You are also a director, do you prefer one over the other?
I enjoy both writing and directing. I think they speak to the different sides of my personality. As a director, I love the collaboration involved. I love the process of discovery, and the interdependence of all the artists working to bring dimension to a script. It's an exciting journey, and I get a lot of fulfillment in seeing what the designers and the actors are able to mine, and then figuring out how all of it lives in one cohesive vision. It piques the social, gregarious side of me. On the other side, I love the process of squirreling myself away with a million books, researching, soaking up ideas, and then allowing those to play out in characters and a story that speak from within me. I am not a fast writer. Or rather, I start out of the gate with speed, and as I go along I realize how much I don't yet know, and the journey becomes sort-of like going through a maze, where you actually want to hit the dead-ends because you learn so much from going there. You want to explore the whole maze, even though 9 out of 10 of those paths take you in the wrong direction. It's only by going there that I find the story I actually want to tell. So it's solitary and slow, and allows me to feed the side of myself that craves isolation. I find that balancing the work of a director with that of a writer is actually healthier for me than leaning more one way or another. It gives me sort-of a heavy pendulum experience, where I can take a break from the challenges of one approach by diving into the complete opposite.

3. What was your first job? Did you learn any valuable lessons from it?
My first job of any substance was as a waitress in a local diner when I was 15. I had been a pretty shy kid, pretty down on myself most of the time. There was something romantic about being a waitress to me at that point. (I've now had enough experience with it that I don't remember why I ever felt that way.) And it was hard at first. I had a lot of trouble balancing my time and remembering what dressing someone asked for. But I would work the counter, and these characters would come in from a nearby halfway house, and I remember one guy in particular who you couldn't understand; there was no way to decipher his speech. At first he was really annoyed with me that I didn't know his order, and we had to go back and forth until I finally figured it out. But then I realized he came in every week at the same time, and I would have his order ready for him. We couldn't speak, but we could communicate, and I got that you could effectively change a relationship based on how much effort you were willing to put in. It took me a long time to take that lesson out of the restaurant, but it's something that I carry with me. That not all people are good communicators, and sometimes you just need to show some good faith to let them know that you'll listen until you get it.

4. Who was your childhood hero and why?
I could answer with Maria Tallchief, or Gene Kelly, and both of those would be true. But my constant hero -- someone I still admire -- is and was my next-door neighbor growing up: Liz Wittner. She's two years older than I am, so I think I was alternately a friend and a pest in her eyes, at least before we were adults. But to me she was the nicest, smartest, most beautiful person I knew. I wanted to be just like her. She had a way of making everyone around her feel comfortable. She was funny and warm and empathic. If a little bit of her has rubbed off on me in any way, I'm pretty happy about that. I know that I'm not nearly as nice as she is, and despite my best efforts I seem to have a much more threatening presence, but every once in a while my husband will say to me, "You sound just like Liz," and I'll feel really proud. She's still my dearest friend, and one of the best people I know.

5. What movie always makes you laugh out loud?
Sleeper. I actually haven't seen it in ages, but I have a really wonderful memory of my little brother and I, late one night, having dragged a tiny little black-and-white TV into his room, sitting with our pillows on our laps so that we could smother our laughs and not wake our parents up while we watched it. I'm also a big fan of Buster Keaton, and I think Woody Allen's work in Sleeper was reminiscent of Keaton's work. These days my laughs come mostly from Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. Eddie Izzard and Louis CK can also make me gasp for air.

Click here to purchase a ticket to see SOVEREIGN BODY at FDU.

You can also find additional information on our website about the entire FORUM reading series.

$10 per reading
$25 for a FORUM pass (if you are going to attend at least 3 readings in the series---this is the best deal)

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