Interview: Liz Duffy Adams

Posted on April 17, 2012

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Where are you from originally? And where are you living now?
I’m originally from Essex County on the north shore of Massachusetts, near the setting of my PlayPenn play and much referred-to in it. I lived in New York City for all of my adult life, since I was 18, until moving to Western Massachusetts for the last two years.

What first drew you to playwriting and a life in the theatre?

When I was a teenager I saw my first Shakespeare play (Twelfth Night at North Shore Music Theater) and it changed my life; after everyone else had left I stepped onto the empty stage and knew I wanted to belong there. I moved to New York to study acting and gravitated to experimental theater, writing and performing collaborative pieces and self-producing them in downtown New York, and then had a brief failed attempt at mainstream acting. When I began writing plays, everything fell into place.

What was the first play you ever wrote and has it been produced?

The first play I wrote for others to perform was called A Fabulous Beast; it was produced Off-off Broadway at One Dream Theater, starring a pre-Sopranos Edie Falco.

What inspires you?

Almost everything I see and hear, and especially read. Playwrights Shakespeare, Behn, Churchill, Beckett; music, art, comic books, novels, history, poetry, news, overheard street talk, various people I know who act as accidental muses to me….

Under what conditions do you write best?

In the profound quiet and time-luxury of a writer’s colony, like MacDowell. Second choice oddly is a bustling café, with earplugs in.

What was the initial inspiration for the play being workshopped at PlayPenn?
The play was inspired by Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, historian Mary Beth Norton’s In the Devil’s Snare, and everything about the current and eternal state of our political world. A few years ago I saw The Crucible again and was struck by the fact that Miller lets Abigail Williams escape, despite blaming the Salem witch crisis on her hysterical sexual jealousy (for which purpose he transformed a child of twelve to a femme fatale of eighteen). I understood his dramaturgical impulse—he needed her out of the way to focus on his hero—but it started me wondering about the historical Abigail, and what would have become of her later. This remained an idle thought until I came across Norton’s book, in which she goes back to original sources to offer a revelatory and persuasive new look at the causes of the crisis, setting it into the context of the “Indian Wars” of the time. That’s when my vague thoughts about a play began to catch fire.

Why did you decide to apply to PlayPenn, and what do you hope to get out of the conference?
I’d heard great things about PlayPenn, and I wanted to go somewhere to shake out the play, get to know how it functions, what it needs, have a chance to dig in and make it better, before it goes on to production somewhere. I hope to get all that at the conference, and, as well, all the stimulation and inspiration of being around theater artists and theater lovers for an intense couple of weeks, working together, talking together, very probably drinking together. Also, I’ve scarcely ever been to Philadelphia and I look forward to getting to know it a bit.

What’s the oddest job you’ve ever had while supporting yourself as a writer?
When I was a young experimental theater-maker I worked for a while recording erotic phone messages. It wasn’t as tawdry as it might have been; it was oddly innocent, and pretty hilarious.

If you could change anything about the American theatre, what would it be?
That the American theatre could pay working playwrights a living wage.

Complete this sentence: 
I write plays because…
I can’t help it and I can’t do anything else.
I write plays because… I want to remake a chaotic world and create new ones.
I write plays because… I like the playwright’s life: travel, collaboration, a balance of solitude and society, all manner of surprise and possibility.
I write plays because… Shakespeare slew me.

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