Hometown: San Francisco, CA
The leaves are changing colors here in New York City, and it’s the time of year in which we introduce you to our National Competition Winners! Our Literary Manager, Nick Gandiello, will conduct interviews with each of these wonderful writers, which we will present as we get closer to welcoming them to the 2015 National Conference. There, they will network with working playwrights and representatives of New York’s top play development organizations, see Broadway and Off-Broadway shows, and rehearse and present their plays with theater professionals at an Off-Broadway theater.
First in this series is Zoe Kamil, whose play We Go Together explores desire and sexual identity as a teenager tries to vicariously fix her friend’s relationship problems – only to become a part of them.
I wanted to start by asking you about your history with Young Playwrights Inc. You’ve been involved with YPI before the National Competition so I was wondering if you could describe that experience?
First of all, my sophomore year of high school I took a playwriting class at school – I had done theater my entire life up until then, like the acting side – and I found that I really loved it. And my mother and I did some research and we found Young Playwrights Inc., and found the Urban Retreat program, which is over the summer, nine days of playwriting workshops and experiencing theatre in New York and learning about playwriting here. I applied and I got in, and I have to say that it was probably the most transformative nine days of my life so far. I think it was just getting to be surrounded constantly during that period with people who were interested in the same things as me. Like at that age, being fifteen, that was not something I was getting anywhere else. Also through Urban Retreat, I met my best friend Miranda Cornell. We immediately clicked artistically and have since founded a theater company together – Semicolon Theatre Company. We self-produced 2 plays Off-Off Broadway this past March, and we’ll be producing again in early June. Actually, we’re mounting a wonderful piece by another of the National Competition winners, Alexa Derman! So that’s, like a specific door that YPI opened for me.
Great! So, what was the inspiration for We Go Together?
It is probably the closest thing to an autobiographical play that I’ve written so far. It’s not a situation that I’ve been in exactly, but I wrote it at a time during my high school experience where I was just starting to learn how to loosen my grip in friendships and relationships – realizing that the humans beings are complicated and fiercely imperfect and usually impossible to control no matter how much you love them.
You capture how confusing one’s own emotions can be; there’s a great complexity and ambiguity in what the characters feel about each other and about themselves. Was that something you set out to do or did you just happen upon that while you were writing it?
I don’t know if I was conscious of expressing that through my writing, but I was conscious of the fact that that was happening to me. I don’t know if that makes sense, but I guess that’s why it came through in my writing, and I’m glad it did come through, because that’s what I was feeling.
I’m glad it came through too – it’s a really great play! So, you’ve been working with a good friend of Young Playwrights Inc., Alice Pencavel, as your dramaturg. I was curious if you can tell me what that process has been like for you.
Well, we’ve met once so far and I think she’s fantastic. From the very beginning she was like “I have very specific ideas and I want to express them to you but I also want you to know that of course this your play and it’s your creation and as a dramaturg my role is to support it.” I’ve worked with dramaturgs before who are either not expressive enough of what they think or too expressive or too pushy, and I think she has done a great job so far of really giving me concrete things to think about but at the same time saying “I want you to take the lead on this and really lead me along.” It’s been great so far.
Good, I’m glad to hear that. Is the play changing at all as you’re getting ready to join us for Conference?
It is! There might be a whole scene that is no longer there and a new one in its place, so I would say so!
That’s exciting! I’m looking forward to reading it! So, another question that I’m personally curious about but it’s also one of those good interview questions: Who are your theatrical heroes?
Oh man… Yeah, I love and hate this question. When I was in my sophomore playwriting class, the first one I ever took, my playwriting teacher, Dylan Russell, who to this day is my mentor and an amazing person, she assigned each of us a play to read based on what she had perceived our aesthetic to be or what we were interested in writing about. And I was assigned Top Girls by Caryl Churchill. It completely – I don’t want to say changed my life because that’s such a dramatic thing to say – but at the same time, it kind of did. The way that she writes about gender and about politics in that way is just so… After I read that play I was like ‘Okay, I want to keep doing this.’ So definitely Caryl Churchill. Wendy Wasserstein for sure. The Heidi Chronicles is one of my favorites of all time. I really like Durang. And… I could go on and on. But those are the three that are coming to my mind right now.
Those are not bad role models. So what’s up next for you? Are you working on anything at school right now?
Right now I am a theater major with a playwriting concentration at Marymount Manhattan College. In the past six months I’ve also been writing my first full-length play. Right now, the first draft is done. It’s about 65 pages. I’m not sure where that’s gonna go next – hopefully people will read it and give me feedback. That’s always a helpful thing for me after a first draft.
Everybody here would be happy to read it and talk to you about it!
Oh, really? That’d be awesome!
Yeah, of course! Well, it was really good chatting with you. We’re looking forward to having you at the Conference!
Thank you! And I’m so looking forward to being there and having this experience. I’m really honored.
Zoe Kamil 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.