Hometown: Stratham, NH
It’s the third week of our interview series with the winners of our 2013 National Competition! We’re thrilled to introduce you to Alaina Demopoulos, whose play Almost Cut My Hair is a bittersweet drama that revolves around a Vietnam War draft-dodger returning home after ten years abroad.
I’d love to hear about your journey with Almost Cut My Hair… because the circumstances you wrote it under were interesting!
It’s coming up on like two years ago because it was my Thanksgiving break my junior year of high school and my parents scheduled me to get my wisdom teeth out three days before Thanksgiving. So it was terrible. I was in so much pain, I had a really bad reaction to getting them out—I mean everyone does. I got a fever. I had so much percocet in my system…. it was crazy. I actually don’t really remember starting the play because I was on drugs when I started writing it. I had slept all day because I had been tired, and then I woke up and Easy Rider was on TV. It was like midnight and I’m watching Easy Rider in and out of consciousness and I mean it’s a trippy movie anyway… And I just remember thinking about the injustices of the world and getting really angry and like “Ugh, it’s such an injustice I can’t eat anything on Thanksgiving!” And I started listening to Stephen Stills solo album Manassas—the original title of the play was called Fallen Eagle because he has another album which is more explicitly about draft dodgers and I was listening to that over and over and over again and I just started writing it. I was done with the original draft that night.
That’s amazing that it just poured out of you that way.
Yeah, I think that the thing is I’ve had so much time to revise and I’ve gotten older and I like to think that my writing has become more sophisticated, so it’s really great to have this kind of like super crazy jumping or starting point and then being able to cut back. I go back to it so much to change and edit.
Tell me a bit more about how you think your voice has changed, or how your technique has become more sophisticated.
I have definitely had a lot of help with that because my sophomore and junior years of high school I was part of this program at Hartford Stage which is pretty similar to Young Playwrights. It starts in the fall, and we had like 5 or 6 other people—all Connecticut high school students—and over the course of the year we worked with a Fellow that they have there (my first year it was Will Power and my second year it was Marcus Gardley) so I had the idea kind of germinating and I was able to take a scene of Almost Cut My Hair and I worked with it at my second year at Hartford Stage and it was workshopped there (a 15-minute excerpt from it that I kind of took and made its own thing) so I’ve done that a lot. I like to take out scenes of it and rewrite them so that they can stand alone. I think it teaches me a lot about what I’m trying to say. I’m super into history and really into researching—so it has been great. I think earlier my research was really superficial but truly like historically I really didn’t know too much. And I had this awesome teacher at my high school, Dr. Wethers, and he was a bit of a scholar on the actual war—the Vietnam War—a lot of the military history which I knew nothing about and he was more than happy to share with me all of these books and things he had written and stuff from his dissertation which is really great.
That’s fantastic, and you definitely have a vested interest in history and social issues and politics because you shared another play with us.
One Child Born.
Do you want to give a synopsis of One Child Born?
It’s about a young woman who lives in present day Iran and she’s obsessed with Western culture because she’s in such restrictive Iranian culture and it’s about her and her friends and their attempt to rebel and live the life that they deserve to have.
It’s a really compelling story. You have a real knack for carving out particular individuals against the backdrop of larger issues. And I know that the dramaturg you you are working with for Young PIaywrights Inc.—Morgan Jenness—was really excited about both of your plays. How has your work been with Morgan?
Morgan, she is so cool. It’s really actually funny because, since I go to school in NYC we met at a coffee shop to talk about Almost Cut My Hair and talk about her edits and everything. Before too long, she asked me who my professors were and I found out that she and one of my favorite professors both worked with Sam Shepard in the early 70’s, so it’s really really cool just to see how connected and small this playwriting world is, especially in New York City.
Yup, it is a tiny tiny theatrical world! So you’ve been telling me a bit about your professors. So you’re studying playwriting now?
I’m studying dramatic writing. I’m in my first year, I’m in intro to everything—playwriting, screenwriting and TV writing. And then at the end of my Sophomore year I pick a concentration. So really I’ve only had experience in playwriting. We’re just starting screenwriting now which is so great because I would love to write a movie, just because movies can reach so many more people, and I would love to turn Almost Cut My Hair into a screenplay, but screenwriting is very difficult so I’ve got a lot to learn. It’s funny when you think you know so much bout something and then you realize you’ve got so much more to learn.
That’s a great perspective to have because once you feel like you know everything, you stop growing, right? To wrap up, are there any projects coming up for you that you’re excited about?
I’m doing a lot for school. So far we’ve written ten-page plays and thirty-page plays and ten-minute screenplays and by the end of the semester we’ll have a thirty-minute screenplay. And it’s really great to work on a deadline. So often I think, “ooh, I’m a writer, I’ll get it done, I’ll get it done.” But it’s really nice to actually have a deadline because that’s how life works. But who knows, Thanksgiving break is coming up so maybe I’ll bang out another crazy thing, I don’t know.
Great! We are very much looking forward to having you at conference and working onAlmost Cut My Hair some more.
Alaina Demopoulos will be joining six other playwrights at the 2014 Young Playwrights Conference in New York City, January 8-16. We will be inviting members of the Young Playwrights family (like you!) to the readings of these talented young writers.
The deadline for writers in the United States aged 18 and under to submit a play to our 2014 competition is January 2nd.