Core Writer Gabrielle Reisman is at the Playwrights' Center this week, devising a new work called Next Year People with collaborators Katie Bender and Rachel Mars. We asked Gabrielle a few questions:
Thinking about your Alice in Wonderland: What defines “immersive theater” for you, and in what ways are you drawn to creating it?
I’m obsessed with invitations and parting greetings of plays. In an Underbelly show (the collaborative that made Alice), the entrance and exit becomes a part of a story that audiences physically move through alongside the characters. The way immersive plays are able to use expanded proximity as a narrative tool—a character sitting right in your lap, or emerging from across a field—feels key to expanding the audience that comes to theater.
How do you write political plays, or plays with a message, without becoming didactic?
I believe theater can best create social change by expanding an audience’s capacity for empathy. I’m interested in the way systems—of class, language, policy, or capital—often breed serious injustice. These systems are made up of people who all feel they’re doing the right thing, or feel they’re just doing their job. Part of my job as a writer is to see myself in all these people and know that I am just as culpable.
Have you always been involved in theater? How did it all start?
When I was 5, I played a snake in a living room production of Many Moons. I acted all through childhood, often at a black box theater made in an old train station a block from my house. I was driven. I would cold-call agents from the yellow pages to try and get them to book my friends and I (to no avail). I ran a couple improv troupes in adolescence then started writing plays in high school and fell head over heels for the form.
What is the most rewarding point for you in the writing process and why?
I don’t outline my plays, so I tend to find out plot twists as I’m writing a scene. I feel like an explorer, gaining new insights of new play landscapes piece by piece. When my characters reveal things that make me gasp, or cry, or laugh out loud I am renewed by playwriting. The discovery of writing—of both the world I live in and myself—is more rewarding and long lasting than any accolade.