Wednesday, April 4, 2012

A Girl Wrote It: Deirdre O'Connor, Playwright

Deirdre O’Connor’s full-length plays include Jailbait, and Assisted Living.  Her plays have been produced or developed with The Cherry Lane Theatre, Naked Angels, St. Ann’s Warehouse, The Lark, The Playwrights Foundation, and Profiles Theatre, among others.  Deirdre was a 2008 Cherry Lane Mentor Project Fellow mentored by Michael Weller.  Deirdre was a 2008-2009 Lark Playwrights Workshop Fellow.  Deirdre’s television work includes Pearl, one of the short films in Lifetime’s FIVE (Writers Guild Award Nomination), and The Electric Company on PBS (Emmy Award).  Deirdre is a graduate of Hampshire College, and Columbia University's MFA Playwriting program where she was the recipient of the John Golden Playwriting Award. 

  • Your one-act, Penicillin, will be performed as a part of our upcoming production of A Girl Wrote It. Can you tell us about what inspired it? 
Oh dear.  Well, it was NOT inspired by personal experience.  Let’s just be clear about that. I was teaching a playwriting class to high school students and I gave them an assignment to write a play set in a waiting room.  And they all wrote cancer plays.  So I decided to give myself the same challenge and see if I could flip the situation on its head. Take what should be a melodrama and make it a comedy.  Take what should be the end of a relationship and find a way to make it the beginning. And Penicillin is what I came up with. 
  • When did you know that you wanted to be a writer? What inspired you to start writing plays? 
I always loved writing.  Growing up I wrote a lot of short stories and bad poetry.  But my writing was always about ninety percent dialogue.  I think it’s because I grew up in a big Irish family that valued good dinner table conversation above all else.  So I have always had a lot of lively voices in my head.  And then in my first year of college I took a playwriting course and it was just a natural fit for me. 
  • Who or what has been your biggest influence as a writer? What gets you to the page on difficult days? 
In grad school I studied with Eduardo Machado and Frank Pugliese, two amazing writers who had a big impact on me.  And then a few years ago I was mentored by the fantastic Michael Weller as part of the Cherry Lane Mentor Project.  Michael is a god among men, I learn from him just by sitting in the audience of one of his plays.  But I’m equally influenced by my amazing playwright friends who read my early drafts and fight about plays with me.  Heather Lynn MacDonald is an awesome person to argue about theatre with. 

And as for difficult days… if I have a story I feel compelled to write, I will write it.  But on some difficult days I don’t sit down to my computer at all.  I go for a walk or clean my apartment.  It’s a huge misconception that writing is only the process of putting pen to paper.  Sometimes I have my biggest breakthroughs just standing in the middle of my kitchen staring at my refrigerator. 
  • In terms of your creative process, do you have a particular ritual or schedule when it comes to writing? If so, can you share it with us? 
Well, I never used to.  But after my son was born I had to create one for myself.  I have an office nearby my home with a tiny desk and a little window that looks out on a beautiful garden.  I go there for six hours a day, pour myself a cup of coffee, disconnect my internet, and just write.  I always worked best with a deadline, and getting home to the baby is a pretty great daily deadline. 
  • Your play Assisted Living just completed its world premiere at the Profiles Theatre in Chicago, where your play Jailbait also enjoyed a run the previous year. How would you say the theatrical scene in Chicago differs these days from that of New York?  
Chicago and New York are both amazing theatre towns.  I think the big difference is that it feels like there is a greater balance in Chicago between the big theatres and all the amazing little store-front performance spaces.  Chicago critics and audiences really seem to value the voices and contributions of each of these disparate groups.  Whereas in New York, it can be harder for emerging theatre artists to get their work seen by a wider audience. 
  • Can you tell us about any other projects you’re working on right now? 
For the past year I’ve been focusing on film and television projects.  Which has been really fun, but I’m looking forward to getting back to playwriting.  I have an idea for a new play that I’m excited to write, so I’m going to carve out some time to do that soon.

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