Core Writer Kate Tarker was at the Playwrights' Center earlier this month, workshopping Dionysus Was Such A Nice Man with director Dominique Serrand and actors Stephen Cartmell*, Luverne Seifert*, Adelin Phelps, Steven Epp*, and Tony Sarnicki (*Member of Actors' Equity). Learn more about Kate below.
Your new play Dionysus Was Such A Nice Man is inspired by the story of Oedipus. How is working with a classical inspiration different from working on a purely invented story?
Is there such a thing as a purely invented story? I don’t think so—writers are scavengers, and everything new is woven together from things that somehow exist in the world. (You can’t reflect the world without drawing from it.) The most seemingly original things are those in which writers just combine stuff in unusual or unexpected ways.
Oedipus is a minor character in this play—he’s offstage for most of it. I was excited, though, to tap into a primal fascination with a taboo (incest) as a way to explore things I needed to explore; mostly in the realm of boundary problems, co-dependency, and alcoholism in a family setting. And I wanted to do a deep dive into tragedy; what do these long-inherited Greek ideas about tragedy mean to me as a writer and a person? Where do resilience and optimism fit in, and when do those traits work against you? What is the tipping point between fun and self-destruction?
What were you like as a kid?
I was sweet and shy and seemingly wise. Until I turned eleven, when I became smart-alecky and annoying.
I drew and read a lot. I was not sporty. I remember my mom signed me up for a softball team. I stood in the outfield and whenever the cute kid on the team spoke to me, I cried.
What artists inspire you and why?
All of them. Because what they do is so important, and you have to swim against the current to build a life out of this.
But I’ll pick just a few as today’s favorites:
- Sufjan Stevens for his painfully personal lyrics
- Joseph Beuys for his enigmatic yet iconic dreamscapes
- Kenneth Koch for his irrepressible effervescence and humor
- Kara Walker for her unapologetic boldness, both monumental and delicate
- Rebecca Solnit for her integrity, vastness, and relevance.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
Roll with the punches.
How can artists support other artists?
Take them seriously. Introduce them to others. Cook them dinner. Give them thoughtful gifts on their birthdays.
What is something you’ve never seen onstage but would like to?
Something that makes me cry uncontrollably. Something that excavates all the sadness from my bones.