Sue B's interview with Sue B
INTERVIEWER (IN): Hello, Sue. Welcome to the forum.
SUE B (SB): Thank you for having me.
IN: So, today's topic is what inspired you to write.
SB: That's a great question!
IN: We thought so. Please, begin.
SB: Okay, well, I first started writing when I was seven or eight years old, as soon as I could. I was a voracious reader--
SB: That I read every book in the children's section of the Haverhill, MA public library. The Librarian and I were good friends. After I finished, I moved onto the teen section. I even took books to birthday parties, sitting in the corner and reading, while the others were playing pin the tail on the donkey and throwing cake at each other.
IN: So what you're saying is that you were a nerd.
SB: I prefer the term "book worm." Anyway, I started keeping a journal when I was seven or eight. I still have one of my earliest ones: pink, with a little lock on it. I used to write things like, 'I had a good day. School was fun, and then we went to Friendlys for dinner.'
IN: Sounds captivating.
SB: Well, it was a start. In fourth grade, I wrote a play for my Sunday school class, based on T'bishvat (sp?), about the spring and the birth of trees. It was a huge success. Well, the parents liked it, anyway. I don't have a copy of it anymore, unfortunately, but it was fun to write. I felt such a thrill seeing it performed.
IN: So you need at an early age that you wanted to be a playwright.
SB: No, but I knew that I wanted to be a *writer.* When I was 10, we wrote short stories in class. Mine were usually not that short--sometimes as long as 30 pages, though handwritten, and I wrote in LARGE LETTERS--and I finished each one off by having the characters each die, since I couldn't figure out how to finish the story, and I got tired of it.
IN: Do you still engage in that practice?
SB: No, but I still have difficulty finding endings, like a lot of writers.
IN: Did you continue writing into your teens?
SB: Yes. I wrote to a newspaper column called Confidential Chat in the Boston Globe, where I posted as "10 Going on 40" and then "11 Going on 40," and discussing the travails of growing up. There was not a term called 'tween' then, but that's what I would have been called. I continued keeping a journal into my early 20s, but I began to find that all I did was complain, so eventually I gave it up. Today, I have a blog, but I try to keep it as upbeat as possible, though that's not always so easy.
IN: Did you write plays in your teens and 20s?
SB: No, for some reason, I just wrote short stories and poetry. I found poetry very cathartic, though most of my poems were pretty bad, I have to admit. The best ones were comic, and I wrote a lot of them when I was in a terrible job at a publishing job in Boston, and had to keep myself amused. I had terrible writer's block in college, though I was an English major, so I wrote as little as possible. I finally rid myself of it just before I went to grad school, b/c I knew I had to be able to write. I took a class called "Freeing the Writer Within," which allowed me to be human, to make mistakes, to work through difficulties without self-judgement. You can't edit until you have something on the page to edit, and when I got a word processor, now an antiquated piece of technology, I always had something to work with, something tangible on the page. I thought I would go to law school--well, my parents wanted me to--but I had written quite a few poems and very short stories at that point, along with some essays, and that's what I showed to the admissions director at Emerson College. I was accepted into their MFA in Creative Writing program in 1991.
IN: But still no playwrighting.
SB: That's right, and to this day I still find that odd. I acted in elementary and junior high school, until I became too self-conscious to do so, thanks to Lanford Wilson's "The Rimers of Eldridge" at Phillips Exeter Academy's summer school and my role as an old biddy (never cast me as an old biddy; I already have a great fear of mortality).
IN: You really need to get over this.
SB (sighing): I know.
IN: Moving on--
SB: Well, I started acting again in my 20s, just for fun. I wasn't particularly good, though I tried very hard, but it reawakened my love of theatre. I was still acting while I was in grad school, and yet the idea of playwrighting still hadn't occurred to me, and I don't know why. I was a short fiction major, but my stories had a great deal of dialogue--I developed an ear for it--and little narrative, and yet I hadn't made the connection. From there, I entered the world of improvisational theatre, but again, found it difficult and wasn't successful, if you determine success by improvement and fun. I had neither. I pushed myself in a genre that wasn't natural to me. I'm not a visual/spatial thinker, I need time to ponder and to edit, and I have trouble staying in the moment, and all of those skills are necessary for strong improv. However, I had begun writing sketches during this time, and that was the beginning of my playwrighting career, if you will. They were often heavy, and not so much sketches as play excerpts (I tried but was rarely funny, a problem if you're involved with most sketch writing), but they felt natural, and that's what I wrote. From there, I moved onto monologues, and that's where I really began to find my niche.
IN: What was the first monologue you wrote?
SB: If I remember correctly, it was about a woman who was trying to find a date, and was willing to convert to Catholicism if that would help. It was actually pretty funny, and the woman playing it did a great job. I felt so alive when I saw it performed; I understood the connection between my feelings and my ability to convey them onto paper and then have them performed, thus forming a connection with the audience. I continued writing monologues, first for a graduate show at Improv Asylum, and then in another acting class at Mass College of Art, where I conceived a one-woman show called "workin' progress.' The show didn't morph well, but I knew that I could write about topics that effected others, and from there it was a fairly natural progression onto playwrighting. I took a class from Kirsten Greenridge on playwrighting, and in the class I developed my first play, a 10-minute piece called "Peanut Butter Sandwiches" that is my most popular work to date, having been accepted by four festivals thus far.
IN: What makes this play successful, if you will?
SB: Well, I think it speaks to a popular issue--the troublesome relationship between mothers and their teenage daughters. Though it is not based on me and my mother, there is certainly a theme of alienation and disconnection that I remember and that others do as well. It is a serious play, which is not that common with 10-minute pieces, but it is truthful, without being overly heavy (there are moments of levity), and I think the audience recognizes the humanity. I'm not trying to overstate this--it's not Mamet or Pinter, by any means--but I'm not trying to be preachy, and yet I do want to have the audience feel for the characters and relate to them. That's what makes a piece work, I think--its truthfulness.
IN: Are you continuing to write?
SB: Yes, and continuing to submit. I currently have several 10-minute pieces, along with a three-minute play, five one-minute plays, a few monologues, and a one-act. Edd Crosby Wells is pushing me (in a good way) to begin a full-length or longer one act piece this fall, and when I have 10 days off in October, I plan to begin doing so.
IN: What is the biggest challenge you encounter as a writer?
SB: Being willing to accept rejection. I want to be accepted into every festival I submit to. I feel personally slighted when my work is not accepted, instead of accepting that the factors are out of my control, and that it is not a reflection of me or my work when I am not accepted. I realize that I write because I want to and need to, and not because I want to brag to the world that I am a playwright (though I have no qualms about sharing my happiness when I am accepted into a festival) or because I want to write flashy or superficial pieces that I hope will be popular with festival producers/readers. I need to write from the heart, and when I have, I know it. I think I have something to say, and I want to share my experiences with others. I've always felt this way--even in high school, my yearbook statement says that I would be a writer when I 'grew up' (and a lawyer, though that wasn't a profession I chose to pursue)--and I am following my dream and my passion. I won't make a living as a writer, but I will allow my creativity to express itself.
IN: Well, we here at the Playwrights Forum wish you the greatest success in your quest to write the best plays you can and to enjoy the process.
SB: Thank you. That's my goal.
So there you go.
I will add two current pieces of news:
1) I have two infected toes, and am still on antibiotics. Let me caution you all against popping blisters. Very bad. Refrain. I am finally on the full road to recovery, but haven't been able to work out for over a week, aside from walking and yoga, and that does not make me very happy. I am also lucky that the infection did not spread. I will never take blisters lightly again.
2) Six friends and I travelled to Providence, RI to see my 10-minute play "Peanut Butter Sandwiches" performed as part of StudioRep's "Insert Title Here Part Deux." Though the attendance was fairly sparse (25 or so people, so we made up about 1/3 of the audience) and the lighting and acoustics were not terrific, the actors were extremely enthusiastic, and the actors in my play were very talented. I got to meet the the woman and teenager playing mother and daughter after the festival, and the woman playing the mother, a drama teacher at Salve Regina, hugged me, insisted I autograph both her program and her script (very embarrassing but also extremely flattering), and have a picture taken with me, Sarah (the daughter), and her. We had great vegetarian food before the show and hung out in Providence afterwards on a very pleasant September evening (despite my painful toes). All in all, it was a really fun evening, and I'm looking forward to future activities as I continue to actively submit my plays and write (I've begin work on a new play with the theme being "one shoe," the theme of Heartland Theatre's next festival).
How can it almost be October so soon?! September went by far too quickly this year! I do not look forward to the onset of chilly weather and *shuddering* snow. C'est la vie.