We published a longer interview with Core Writer Meg Miroshnik before her Ruth Easton New Play Series workshop of Quiver earlier this year, but we also wanted to share this bonus interview with an incredibly wise, incredibly generous artist.
How does being a parent influence your writing?
It’s a challenge to dramatize parenting young children, since it’s such a challenge to literally put young children onstage. In college, I got to meet Kurt Vonnegut. He read an excerpt of a play I was working on at the time which featured a child character, then told me that it was a disaster and that the kid would most certainly sabotage my play. I didn’t realize until afterward that Vonnegut had actually written a play, Happy Birthday, Wanda June, which features a 10-year-old girl and had a Broadway run. So, the guy knew of whence he spoke.
The big question then is how to keep the kids offstage. Very often in American theater, the answer is to kill them. And I just feel like that’s not a story that I want to see told by writers who haven’t lived it, y’know? So, I find myself trying to write about it abstractly or indirectly. In The Tall Girls, a teenage girl becomes a surrogate parent before becoming a literal one. In Lady Tattoo, the thing that needs to be nurtured and protected is art.
I’m also really interested in how we tell stories about adult children and their parents. i.e., is everyone in the play a human doing the best they can with the resources they have? Of course, there are messed-up family dynamics in drama, but I find myself increasingly looking for empathy for even literature’s “bad” parents. And I’m seeking out a canon that includes work by caregivers, curious about what that split focus of attention, energy, and love yields. I can’t help but wonder how much day-to-day heavy-lifting some of the playwrights of our great family dramas did in the realm of childcare. Like, did O’Neill change diapers?
What themes do you find yourself returning to in your writing?
As the plays stack up, I find surprising, subconscious connections between them. A big discovery a couple years ago was that there was almost always a betrayer in everything I write.
Right now, I find myself particularly wrestling in several in-process drafts with the stories of innocence that white people tell themselves.
What does your writing space look like?
I make temporary writing fortresses wherever I go. My computer is in the center and then I build a semi-circle of protective junk around it. Pretty much every flat surface I have access to is guaranteed to accumulate piles of crap that I feel like I have to have within arms-length while writing. Because if I can’t immediately pick up a three-month-old utility bill while I’m writing, how can I possibly go on? ;)
What is your relationship with rewriting? Are you a 50-drafts writer or a first-draft-is-pretty-close writer?
I always get 70 pages in and discover that these first 70 pages should really just be my first 35. And the deadly thing is I can’t just know that and let it go until I’ve finished. I have to retype and rewrite from page 1 on the moment I discover it. It’s painful, but I also feel like I have a connection to the play as an organic draft when I retype that I lose when I just cut and paste.
So, yeah, I do a lot of writing and rewriting and whatever this in-between thing is that is simultaneously both and neither.
What is the most rewarding part of the writing process for you and why?
I just love being able to problem solve for the realities of theater. My favorite thing is rewriting to cover a costume change or to address the limitations of the space or to play to the strengths of a particular actor. I live for rewrites that wouldn’t have to exist in another medium. The later in the process, the better! Tech rewrites are my favorite.
I relish these moments of problem-solving because they feel like the teensiest bit of payback for the lengths that we as playwrights ask our collaborators to go. I sit on my butt and write words on my computer and then directors and casting directors and designers and technicians and stage managers and more go out and make them real. It’s incredibly moving to me and I’m always looking for ways to reciprocate.
What artists inspire you?
Playwrights. I admire other art forms in passing, but I am devoted to playwrights. I like re-reading a playwright’s body of work, doubling back on that writer’s path. I am rereading Lynn Nottage right now. Just finished a reread of the incredible Las Meninas.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
Different advice resonates for me in different moments. The dramaturgical advice I’ve been holding on to for the last year is pretty much Playwriting 101. It’s simply to ask myself before I start writing: Who is this play about and what does that person want? It sounds so straightforward, but I tend to start writing the world of the play first.
What is something you’re good at that few people know about?
I don’t think word has gotten out about my papier-mâché skills yet.
How do you relax?
Do writers relax? It’s a real question. I’d like to talk to one who relaxes. I waste potential relaxation time worrying about not writing.