Hometown: New York City
Fall is an exciting time of year for Young Playwrights Inc. Along with pumpkin spice, there’s an eagerness in the air as we prepare to welcome our National Playwriting Competition winners to our annual Young Playwrights Conference. We’ve gotten to know them better as they begin working with professional dramaturgs and directors, exploring and refining their plays before rehearsals in January, 2014. And we want you to get to know them as well! Each week leading up to Conference, our Literary Manager, Nick Gandiello, will be interviewing a different playwright. We start the series off with Chloé Hayat, whose play Electric Blues is a surrealistic exploration of a man’s time on death row.
It’s exciting: this is the first interview that we’re doing this year, and I’m happy that it’s with one of our Young Playwrights Inc. alums!
I started as the Literary Manager this year, so I was interested to hear about your history with Young Playwrights Inc. and how we got to know you.
Wow, okay, I’m pretty sure, if I remember correctly: I took the Urban Retreat the summer before sophomore year of high school and that was so much fun. I didn’t really know that there were yearlong classes as well but my good friend Tori Lassman who has also been with Young Playwrights a really long time –
A former National Competition winner as well!
Yeah! She told me that you do have yearlong classes and that I should sign up for one or try to get in. And then I did. And I just couldn’t leave! Actually, leaving Young Playwrights senior year of high school was far more upsetting and emotional for me and more of a rite of passage than it was graduating high school.
I’m both glad and sad to hear that it was that kind of experience. Do you remember a particular play you worked on in the Advanced Playwriting Workshop?
Well actually Electric Blues… I started writing my last year in APW.
It’s a fantastic play. I’d love to hear where the inspiration for this play came from.
I had read Dead Man Walking for school over the summer before senior year. Then I wrote my final – I can’t remember what it was called! – public policy paper for my exit project in high school on the death penalty. And it is such a moving topic for me. I feel very passionately, obviously, against the subject. I wanted to find a way that an artist could change something about it. I thought that putting a face (to it) and making this issue human could really bring more light to the topic than numbers and facts. So, Trigg, my main character, is my human face to such a horrible, controversial topic.
I think that’s a really amazing way to describe this play. You really get inside Trigg’s experience in a very intimate, very theatrical way. Is this the style you usually write in?
Um… Yeah! Well, all of my YPI plays were really, like, dark, and not comical, but… My stage directions, I write them as a character. So that’s something I learned from Young Playwrights Inc. I read so many plays and knowing what I thought was interesting to read as opposed to just seeing. In high school, I studied acting, and our acting teachers would say ‘ignore the stage directions.’ And the playwright in me always got really angry about that because someone wrote those for a reason! Like Sarah Ruhl does something like this – and I think she’s amazing. You would never, ever ignore Sarah Ruhl’s stage directions.
You mention Sarah Ruhl. What other writers have meant a lot to you as a playwright?
(Sigh) Okay, this is gonna be a little bit long. Love, love, with all my heart: Suzan-Lori Parks. I think she is the greatest thing on two legs. And Beckett. And Brecht. Edward Albee, I love Edward Albee. Oo! Actually at YPI, we got to have a Q & A with him and I asked him a question and I feel like that was one of the greatest experiences with YPI. Because he was so mean to everybody and he answered my question really nicely. And that meant a lot to me.
Ha! I’ll have to decide whether to edit that out of the interview or not. Anyway, that’s a really great list of writers. And I can see their writing influencing you. Going back to Suzan-Lori Parks, what about her writing has inspired you?
She manages to tackle some large issues but she doesn’t really slap you in the face with them. And she has this style that is so clearly hers that you could read one line and you would know exactly who it was and what she’s trying to say. And she’s so interesting and different and brilliant. We studied her last year in one of my classes at Purchase and she says that she styles her plays around shapes. Like there was one that was in the shape of a cassette tape. I love the way she thinks about her art.
You mentioned Purchase. What are you doing at SUNY Purchase now?
I’m majoring in Playwriting and Screenwriting. One of my teachers is also a Young Playwrights alum: Sylvan Oswald. I love him. He’s so excellent. Actually, right now, I’m on my way to my screenwriting class. I had never really written a screenplay before I came to Purchase. And then actually knowing how different it is than playwriting makes me appreciate playwriting all the more.
While you’re learning at Purchase with Sylvan and in your screenwriting class, have you learned anything about Electric Blues as you keep working on it?
This is more personal… I’ve learned a lot of things about it since starting Purchase. I started writing it in senior year, then I stopped, then I finished it while I was at Purchase. And in between that space, my grandmother had died. I hadn’t realized that I had accidentally written her in the play before she had even passed away. She has come to life as Mamma in my play – as Trigger’s mother. She was from Missouri, and she had this very Southern, twangy thing about her. And she had all these funny phrases that I had just put into that play… and it turned out that she had been in there the whole time. And that came to life at Purchase.
That’s a great discovery. I really relate to that: that moment that you realize you’ve been grappling with something that you weren’t even aware of while writing. So has there been any work you’ve been doing with Dipika Guha, your dramaturg, gearing up for the Conference?
Oh yeah! She was so helpful. She sent me a bunch of plays that really, really, really inspired me and helped narrow in my questions and my style. She gave me questions to work with that had never ever popped into my mind. One of them was how Mamma’s world is relevant to Trigg’s. During the play, his world is falling apart; is hers doing the same? …That question really helped me focus my play more than anything else.
I’m really glad to hear you made that discovery with her. Well, I’ll let you get to your screenwriting class – I hope that goes well! I’m really looking forward to working with you during Conference.
Chloé Hayat 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.