Interview: Mia McCullough

Posted on April 17, 2012

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Where are you from originally? And where are you living now?

I was born in Washington Heights in Manhattan. Grew up in a blue collar town in Metro NY. I live a few blocks outside Chicago, now.

What first drew you to playwriting and a life in the theatre?
I started in musical theatre, performing. But by the time I was in high school I was writing plays and screenplays. Not finishing them, mind you, but starting them. I went to college wanting to write and act and direct, and I came out focused on writing for the stage and screen.

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

Well, I wrote a couple plays in college that I’ve lost. I don’t even remember what they were about. But I wrote a one-act in college called Everyone’s Afraid of the Dark that was produced in ’93-’94 in an off-night late night slot in a hole-in-the-wall theatre in Chicago called the Playwrights Center. Starred Tina Fey and Shawn Douglass.

What inspires you?

Real people’s stories. Whether they’re people I know or read about, I’m inspired by desperate things that people do, crazy things that happen to them. But I’m also inspired by other art forms. Visual art, dance, music. Art that doesn’t involve words. Science inspires me. Also, there’s a place in Chicago called Architectural Artifacts. It’s a warehouse full of windows and tiles and light fixtures and doorknobs and hardware that have been pulled out of homes and businesses. Every item in there is laden with history and stories.

Under what conditions do you write best?
I write best in a moving vehicle. Trains, planes, and automobiles.

What was the initial inspiration for the play being workshopped at PlayPenn?

Ha. No comment. Well, I’ll say this: When I was in high school and college, I was friends with a guy whose mother kept this life-sized rag doll on chair in the kitchen. It was like having another person in the room. Really disturbing. So that’s a seed of some of it. This play comes from several different places.

Why did you decide to apply to PlayPenn, and what do you hope to get out of the conference?

The play had dead-ended. I’d had several public readings, but all with  different actors, different directors. I was rewriting it after every  reading, and it was useful, but there was no consistency. I wanted a  cohesive workshop process where I could work with the same group of  people for more than 12 hours. Be able to play and try things. And also I’d run out of ideas for getting theatres to consider it. It’s probably the most marketable thing I’ve ever written and it’s been lying fallow.

What’s the oddest job you’ve ever had while supporting yourself as a writer?

Zookeeper (odd and bad) and Crisis Line Worker at a domestic violence shelter (odd and good)

If you could change anything about the American theatre, what would it be?
I would take 90% of the money that’s spent on producing Shakespeare’s plays and put it towards producing a large and diverse group of living playwrights. I think Shakespeare would approve.

Complete this sentence: I write plays because …

when the characters start talking in my head I have two choices: 1. Write it down or 2. Be a crazy person.

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