Hometown: Castle Rock, CO
This is our second interview in what will be a series of eight. Each week, we will be getting to know a different winning playwright from the 2011 Young Playwrights Inc. National Playwriting Competition in anticipation of meeting them in person for the Young Playwrights Conference, January 4-12, 2012. This week, I had a chance to chat with Paige E. Roth.
Thanks a lot for taking the time to talk to me. Where am I reaching you right now?
I go to school at Trinity in Texas, in San Antonio, Texas. But I am from Denver, Colorado, and my mom lives in Orlando, so I kind of live there, but my parents are still married so it’s all wonky, but technically I live in Colorado.
I have never actually been to Colorado. It is on my list. Do you ski and stuff?
Badly, but yeah.
Are you a theater major at Trinity?
Well, I am not really sure what I am going to do with myself. I mean, I don’t really like acting so I don’t know what I can pull off a theater major without acting, so I will see what I can do. I certainly want to take all of the intro to dramatic lit kind of stuff.
I can identify with that! I was wondering if we could talk a little bit about The Price of Gas? So, as I understand it, the action begins when a young man, Connor, comes to stay with his godfather out in an isolated gas station that never gets any customers. We discover that, this man, Frank, has already taken in a woman who is broken– emotionally and physically– and has somehow repaired her except for her eyesight. He is keeping her in the basement in isolation until Connor discovers her.
These are rather mysterious circumstances, I feel that that is one of the real strengths of the piece: the atmosphere that you manage to create is unique. It makes me curious, what was your inspiration for writing this play? Where did it come from?
Honestly the beginning story is really lame, my friend told me she thought I should write a play that took place at a gas station. We were hauling a trailer of horses through Southern Kentucky and stopped at this really sketchy gas station where literally women were nursing their children outside of their trailers on the property and that was where it all started.
And I started writing two different plays, basically. One was a love story between Connor [the young man] and Matilda [the blind woman], and the other was this weird sci-fi play in the basement and they kind of merged together.
So The Price of Gas is the offspring of a sci-fi thriller and a love story merged into one. That is fascinating. Now that you say that I can see elements of both in your play.
Have you always been interested in playwriting? It sounds like if a friend can say to you, “Paige, you should write a play about this” then perhaps she knows you and identifies you as a playwright already.
Yeah, I was really lucky that my school had a great playwriting club and they work with a theater in downtown Denver called the Curious Theater Company. Actually, Josh Brown, one of the other winning playwrights is from the same program in Denver.
Really? I had no idea!
So I did the program at school and did some summer programs at Curious and really got into it. It was great: they had professional actors come in and help us get the plays on their feet and it was a really supportive, encouraging community. So, that’s how I started writing plays my sophomore year of high school. My first play was about Hell as a Southern hick town.
It sounds like you had a lot of great experiences there, but can you pinpoint any defining moment that has made you into the writer you are now?
Two come to mind:
The first thing I should mention is my mom is a professional writer. She is a journalist and she has a home design column so I have always grown up with that. My mom is kind of a hardcore Republican conservative but she got her masters in creative writing from Vermont College, so she has these two sides to her. So that was really influential first of all.
But the moment that I think of most when I think about my writing is I wrote this scene at the end of a one-act where a girl does air-guitar on a lamp with her mom, and they staged the full show—It’s called Other People’s Organs– and there was this little red-headed girl playing air-guitar on my mom’s living room lamp with this other actress (I mean we literally brought the lamp to the theater) and they are blaring Blink 182 in the theater…It was this great moment where it was the end of the festival and these people are playing air-guitar and the moment turned out exactly as I had planned, which never really happens. I would say that was my defining moment and there are actually really great pictures of it.
That is cool. I am curious about you mom being a writer as well. Do you share you work with her?
Never. Not until the very last minute. I am my own harshest critic but I am almost nervous to show her. When I get my mom’s approval it’s pretty cool. If I am asking her about my comma placement in my essay for English then, yeah. But when it comes to my creative stuff she has to keep her paws off.
Got it. So do you have any theatrical heroes? Anyone you admire from the world of theater or playwriting specifically?
I have to say, our playwriting teacher, Dee Covington [from The Curious Theater Company] because she is all about creating community in theater. I probably would have shied away from playwriting because putting yourself out there is really daunting. I probably would have shied away had she not been so good about pushing us along and surrounding us with people who were encouraging our work. So she is a huge theatrical hero for me personally.
In terms of writers, I just read August Osage County so I am a big Tracy Letts fan at the moment, and in terms of who made a large impact, I really like Paula Vogel. But a real hero I would have to say my back home playwriting teacher.
I think that is wonderful. Do you see playwriting in your future?
Playwriting is my pipe-dream job. If I could do anything I would be a playwright…My dad called me his “least-lucrative” child. My sister is the math/science, straight-A kid, and I, you know, sing, and ride horses, and I like to jog, and I write plays. And I guess he is kind of worried about what I am going to do with my life. But it seems pretty clear to me that it has to be something creative. My mom always said to figure out what you are good at and figure out how you can do that to make the world a better place. So I feel like, hopefully, I can do that with playwriting.
That sounds like great advice, and a great way to cap off this interview. I am really looking forward to meeting you for the conference.
It will be fun!
Paige Roth will be joining seven other playwrights at the 2012 Young Playwrights Conference in New York City, January 4-12. This year we will be inviting members of the Young Playwrights Family (like you!) to the readings of these talented young writers. If you are interested in attending the readings contact us at reservations[at]youngplaywrights.org.
The deadline for writers in the United States 18 and under to submit a play to our 2012 competition is January 2nd.
Until next week!
Elizabeth Bojsza, Literary Manager