Hometown: Altadena, California
The holiday music has started streaming in through the windows here at Young Playwrights Inc. headquarters, and that means we’re getting closer to the Young Playwrights Conference.
This week we are introducing you to Eliana Pipes, one of the writers who will be joining us in January. Her play Snow Gray is an irreverent spin on a fairy tale, centered around a young woman of mixed ethnic heritage contending with the ‘Seven Dwarves’ on either side of her legacy.
You submitted several plays to this competition and they’re in a range of styles, from realistic to expressionistic and more. I wanted to ask how you began writing in such a range?
One of the funny things about how I came to writing is that it happened one hundred percent through acting. I’ve never had a structured playwriting class before, really. I did one summer program but that summer program was all about breaking structure! So as a result, most of what I do is really exploratory and I’m just trying to latch onto what a style is. I don’t really know what my aesthetic or voice as a writer is yet – so that’s part of what I’m looking to find.
What, so far, is the aesthetic that has been the most accessible for you?
I do a lot of single-scene family dramas. A lot of around-the-table things. I realized I’ve never written scenes before – just one sustained, slow-burn thing. So definitely family dynamics are something I’ve thought a lot about.
I think there are family dynamics in Snow Gray; they’re a different kind of family, and there’s a family legacy in the background of the play. What was the inspiration for that play?
That one… oh gosh! I was in a history class and my teacher just casually mentioned this side note that interracial marriage was illegal on the books until 1978 – he’s actually wrong about that, it was 1969, I googled it because it got me really mad! – but just having that in my head just made me really upset because both of my parents were alive during that timespan. So, thinking about everything they must have been inundated with growing up, and realizing how having an identity that sort of transverses two planes that are historical opposites makes you battle history as you go through the world. So just thinking about the historical forces pushing… I just got really angry and came home and I wrote that play!
Anger can be a place to start from, definitely. And I feel like you’ve moved through anger though.
I’m happy about that!
How has the play been changing since you’ve sent it to us?
Definitely more character development. I think it’s gotten deeper. Which I’m really happy about. And I it’s more about the human aspect than how they serve as symbols. I think, before, it was a lot of interaction between them as ideas and not really them as people. So I think it’s moving toward them as people. I hope!
I think your team of actors is going to have a field day working on this! It’s really exciting. So, you told me through email a pretty awesome coincidence: your dramaturg, Marcus Gardley is actually someone you’ve worked with on this play before this process.
Yeah! I did a six-week young playwrights workshop at Brown University last summer actually. It was the first time they ever did the program, it was like the big pilot program. And we had classes and there were Master Teachers and Marcus was one of the Master Teachers. His play The Gospel of Lovingkindness was going up at Trinity Rep at the time, so we all got to see his play and then we got to meet him, and of course after we saw it we were just so entranced. It was amazing work. And so he just did this one little Master Class – and he actually mentioned this competition, he mentioned Young Playwrights Inc. And I took a note and then I flipped through my notebook, and that was why I applied. So much of it is due to Marcus! Also his play was really bold and also tackled racial themes and showed an example of the kind of work I wanted to do. And now, it’s him! It’s crazy!
What’s it been like having him as your dramaturg?
Really exciting. He has really insightful questions. It’s a little intimidating sometimes! But he’s great!
Great! So you mentioned before the interview that you’ve been acting. Can you tell me a bit about what you’ve been up to since you moved to New York City?
I’m involved with Columbia University Players – C.U.P. – in a production of Twelve Angry Men. I joined an improv troupe, Fruit Paunch. And I’m just doing a lot of exploring. I’m really trying to get into the city and see more theater. It’s harder than I thought! But I’m just connecting with the city as much as I can.
What have you seen that has inspired you? Not just in New York City…
Back in Los Angeles I was really involved with Center Theatre Group – CTG. They did a lot of outreach programs to my school in particular, and that’s part of the reason I really got involved with art. There are three big foundations that I credit with my involvement in the art world, and they’re one of them. So a lot of what’s gone up there. And Other Desert Cities by Jon Robin Baitz was huge! Tribes by Nina Raine – which was mentioned in one of my feedback things*; it made me so happy! Those shows meant a lot.
(*Note: Young Playwrights Inc.’s readers send every submitting playwright a detailed letter of feedback for each play.)
Are there any other theatrical influences you’ve had? Any other inspirations?
Oh, so many! I did the August Wilson Monologue Competition in high-school and that was a really big “Okay fine I’ll admit it, I want to do theatre” moment! And as a result August Wilson’s work has been really important to me – definitely in my development as an actress but also to me as a theater artist and a playwright. Paula Vogel’s How I Learned to Drive changed the game! Completely changed the game for me.
For a lot of us! Anything else you want to let us know about your play or about your process as a writer?
I think this is the first play I’ve ever written that’s been sort of therapeutic… which I hesitate to say. I’m a really firm believer in the way that writing is an outlet for young people. I think it’s really essential for young people to have a way to express themselves through writing because so much of the youth experience is characterized by feeling voiceless. And having an outlet, whether it’s poetry or playwriting or what have you – it’s such an important way to empower people.
Young Playwrights Inc. agrees with you!
Eliana Pipes will be joining seven other playwrights at the 2015 Young Playwrights Conference in New York City, January 7-15. 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 2015 competition is January 2nd.