Hometown: Columbus, Ohio
As 2014 approaches, we’re happy to reflect on the wonderful year Young Playwrights Inc. has had. One highlight was reading the work of Piper Rasmussen, one of the winners of the 2013 National Playwriting Competition. And now we’re introducing her to you! Her playRumplestiltskin explores motherhood, desire, and fulfillment as a carnival barker navigates a relationship with a local girl who may be running away.
I thought I would start by asking how you started writing plays?
How did I get started writing plays… it was sort of a natural transition. You know, every self-respecting preteen writes that sort-of emo poetry? Just that act of writing pretty frequently… I ended up serendipitously writing a dialogue poem. I took a look at it and I was like ‘why am I bothering with this intermediate thing, I should just write a story with dialogue.’ And then I did. And then it happened again. And then I just kept writing.
Was Rumplestiltskin your first full-length?
Yes, it was.
And what inspired that play?
Actually it started with an image. I write usually starting with images. It was somebody throwing a snowcone like a snowball at a carnie – I shouldn’t use the word carnie – at a carnival. It sort of grew from there. The initial place that came from was: I want this play to be about surprise. I want it to be about what happens when you’re completely thrown off your game. How magical that is. And it grew from there, and changed from there significantly.
It’s definitely an upheaval for your main character, and it’s sort of delicious to watch her navigate all of her conflicting desires. Have you learned about the play as you’ve continued to work on it through this process?
I think that implies a direction to playwriting: that the play is like this sculpture you carve out of a piece of rock. I’m not sure it isn’t a different play every time it goes through a revision. So I learn what I want to say better each time I go through a revision. But I wouldn’t say that I learn necessarily more about the play itself because I don’t think the play is a single entity.
In the most recent iteration of it, what do you think you’ve learned about what you’re saying?
My dramaturg, Daniel Pearle, has helped a lot with this. I’m learning more, as I focus in on some of the non-central – they’re all pretty central – on some of the non-Jess and non-Lindy characters, that each of these people tries to find the richness in their life in a different way. Or that they can’t find the richness in their life, and that’s what everybody’s struggling for: they’re looking for richness and they’re looking for magic. It’s more about diversity than it used to be. Diversity in life-approach.
And I can see that as I’m thinking about how the play has changed. You mentioned before we started the interview that you’re taking some classes in theater and some classes in educational psychology. How is that going for you right now?
It’s great. I don’t think I ever want… I shouldn’t say that yet. Because I’m, you know, I’m 19. I don’t know what I’m gonna do. I don’t think I want to be a teacher at this point. But I really enjoy thinking about the way that educational studies and theater interact, because education is performance. And what do we learn through performance? And the two fields are interacting in a really interesting way right now.
That’s great. And I know you said you’re in finals right now. Do you have any projects coming up or are you just focusing on finals?
I’m spearheading, with the help of a faculty advisor, Barnard’s partnership with the Broadway Green Alliance. We’re going to be working to make Barnard’s theater department more eco-friendly next semester. That’s something I’ve done before. I worked with Planet Connections Theatre Festivity here in the city. That’s a whole other lecture I could give! About theater and the environment interacting. You know, go very college freshman on this. I mean, I’m a sophomore, I should be moving past that, right?
No, I feel like it’s an important thing to talk about! Give me a mini-lecture on theater and the environment!
Great! I’m talking about traditional theater more in this context. We create little environments. We create worlds on the stage. We create a world on this, like, 36 by 48 platform, and we use actual aspects of the world around us. And we try to build that world out of pieces and parts; it’s like a Frankenstein interpretation of… anything. And I think that’s something that a lot of theater fails to acknowledge, like ‘I want to create a representation of the world and I don’t want the audience to think about what is up on the stage that was actually something else at some point.’ That’s a really lofty statement. I think it would actualize itself into like, ‘hey look: this chair used to be a trash can.’ I think it’s gonna take a lot of smart people, especially as our resources are starting to be depleted as a country and the whole world – we as theater practitioners have a responsibility to represent that on stage, that we are using resources to create the world that we want. And that that use of resources – not just like stuff – but wood, metal – needs to be conscious. Does that make any sense?
I think it makes a lot of sense. It’s a really important idea to get out there. Well, we’ll wrap up here. We’re looking forward to getting to know you more at Conference!
Piper Rasmussen 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.