Hometown: Grafton, Ohio
This week, I continue my interviews of the 2012 National Playwriting Competition winners in anticipation of our upcoming Young Playwrights Conference. This week I caught up with Abigail Carney. Her play, The Gloaming, portrays an isolated homesteading family struggling to survive the winter.
So when people ask you about The Gloaming, what do you tell them? Do you have an elevator speech that you’ve prepared?
I think the basic log line that I use is: it’s a play about a family who is very isolated in the Midwest when isolation was still possible. And about what happens when you’re alone with yourself and a few other people for an extended period of time. And it is really about the setting—the title, the gloaming, the dusk, the coming of the dark. It makes it sound a little bleak, which I guess it is.
I think that is what the people on the committee really responded to—this atmosphere that you are able to create in the play of just this crushing space—there is nothing outside of those walls and the way that that forces the characters into action and reveals who they are. In terms of your influences as a writer, are there any playwrights in particular who you admire, are there writers of any genre who have inspired you?
I think I have seen a lot of bad plays, but I have seen a couple of plays that really stunned me. One thing I saw around the time I wrote this play last year was a play by David Harrower calledBlackbird, which I had never heard of before. And it was one of those plays that even though it wasn’t that relevant to me I just felt it so much and was torn up after I left the theater. It made me have all of these questions and I have seen some plays that have done that for me…I also like the classics—when I read A Doll’s House I really liked it. I like Ibsen, I like Chekhov… and I also love Edward Albee. I have seen Zoo Story and The Sandbox, and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?One of my goals for this year is to read more plays.
The first form that can be directly linked to this [play] is a poem I wrote for an exercise where we took a line from an [existing] poem, “Cranes on the Seashore” by Linda Gregerson, and the line was just “The farmers on Orkney favored this time of year” and I wrote this poem about the time of year just after the harvest when you are preparing for winter. I wrote it right after reading the Linda Gregerson poem, so I feel like I always have to give credit to her and that poem. But when I was writing the play I was reading a lot of Flannery O’Connor and she is very good at creating a feeling of gloom sometimes and it is sort of this mythical realism, where crazy things happen and she writes a lot of rural settings. So I think she is who I was thinking of most while I was writing the play.
Have you ever lived in the country yourself?
I’m from a small rural town. Yup, all my life…when we go to family reunions you drive on a dirt road to get there. So, I’m very much from a rural setting and it’s something I tend to write about.
So up until you went to Yale, you were in a small town? That must have been quite an adjustment.
It wasn’t too bad. It is definitely different. I was a little nervous about not having wide open spaces but it’s been okay so far.
What is your major there?
And do you get to do any playwriting as part of the curriculum?
I haven’t yet, I am taking a screenwriting class this semester. Which is fun, and I haven’t done that before. So that is very similar. And I am going to apply to do the creative writing concentration. So yeah, we will definitely do some playwriting. But the thing that I am more excited about even outside of coursework is there are a lot of great people to collaborate with here. So I am hoping to do some more of that in my time here.
Wonderful. So, when did you start writing plays?
I think I wrote my first one when I was 16. I wrote a one-act my junior year of high school for the Ohio Thespian Conference. They have individual events: you can perform a monologue or design a set and enter and you get judged. There is a playwright event, and my director knew I liked writing. So I wrote a one act with her to go along with that and we did a reading of it and that was really fun. And then the next year, I wrote another play and ended up directing that one and producing it at my high school.
What was it like directing your own play?
It was great, it was kind of funny: so the first day I cast it, which I knew I would do, which was difficult. And then show up to the first day of rehearsal and my director is there, and she says “Okay, go ahead. You’re directing it.” And I’m like, “WHAT?” I had been under the impression that she was going to direct the play until that first day of rehearsal. I was not expecting to do so at all, so I just went for it… It was kind of chaotic because originally I had written it as a full-length, but in order to enter it into the festival it had to be a one act. So, during the rehearsal process there was also a heavy cutting process. Which made it pretty hectic because there was a new version of the script every rehearsal, and we couldn’t really rehearse at the school so we would have rehearsals at my house. It was a really hectic process and kind of scary but it was a lot of fun.
So what other types of writing do you do?
I very much don’t consider myself a playwright or defined by any medium at all. I have been writing since I was about four years old but mostly prose, it’s what feels natural and what I feel I am best at, but I am liking drama more and more. But I write a lot of prose: mainly fiction, but creative non-fiction as well. A lot of poetry as well. I did a ton of slam poetry in high school and I’m in the spoken word group here. And my opinion is that slam poems are often very much like monologues.
I agree! Thanks for taking the time to talk.
Abigail Carney will be joining seven other playwrights at the 2013 Young Playwrights Conference in New York City, January 9-17. 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 you can get your tickets by clicking here.
The deadline for writers in the United States aged 18 and under to submit a play to our 2013 competition is January 2nd.
Until next week!
Elizabeth Bojsza, Literary Manager