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Aditi Kapil

Posted in Writing on Mar 19, 2010

PLAYWRIGHT

aditikapil

aditi kapil

Remember the first date you and your partner had after your first child came into your life? Just the two of you hoping to reconnect back to the couple you were pre-kid. At some point, in your sleep-deprived state, there may have been this moment when you barked:

We’re on a damn date, it’s been 2 months, the book said to nurture our relationship, WE’RE NURTURING

That’s a line from Aditi Kapil’s short play “The Courbet Cure.” And so much about those 18 words ring true: the books that you consulted for everything; the good intentions that are poorly executed. You can read the short play – a dialogue between the couple Ben and Sarah – after the Proust Questionnaire below. There are parts of it that made me feel like Aditi must have been sitting next to me and my husband during our first postpartum date…!

If you’re an aspiring playwright or if you enjoy theater, you do not want to miss the insight Aditi shares with Mom Culture. Aditi is a critically-acclaimed, highly accomplished playwright who is the recipient of a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts New Play Development Program. The resulting work, “Agnes Under the Big Top, A Fairy Tale,” will premiere this year. (get even more of Aditi’s insight specifically about this play’s process here – enter “Aditi Kapil” in the search.)

In addition to being a playwright, she’s an actress and director, as well as mom to 3 kids. She’s also an immigrant to the US – half Indian, half Bulgarian by way of Sweden. Sounds like there’s much in her life that can serve as fodder for great material.

Check Aditi’s website for a complete list of her work, upcoming pieces, accomplishments and accolades.

enjoy!
-lm

From the Art Closet – are you a Type A? find out here


You’re an actor, writer and director. What came first and how did the other aspects of your talents evolve?
I began as an actress, and that is still at the core of how I understand theater. Ultimately everything we do is in service to that moment when an actor connects with an audience.

Then I began directing, which is a different kind of vision, and one I think I only developed after a decade immersed in theater as an actress.

The playwriting came last. I was exclusively a fiction writer before that, and writing for theater came as a surprise to me. I wrote my first play when I needed to tell a story that didn’t work in prose form, it needed to be on stage. But ultimately, all these are aspects of a whole: I make theater.

Can you offer a primer on playwriting: how do you get your work seen and produced?

Dumb luck? This is a hard one, playwriting is not a lucrative career even if you are getting produced, and it’s a fiercely competitive business – so few are getting even those small productions. I’m fortunate in that I have an artistic home, Mixed Blood Theatre, where my work is commissioned, supported, and frequently produced. That gives it a better shot at continued life beyond the one theater.

Play development centers like the Playwrights’ Center in Minneapolis, and Lark Play Development Center in New York, have also been a great way to develop my craft, connect with other artists and theaters, and promote my work.

Your parents are Bulgarian and Indian, but you were raised in Sweden and came to the US as a teen. Do you tend to draw on this eclectic background for all your work?

I came to the US to attend Macalester College at 18. I draw a lot from my background, I imagine all writers do, but in my work it’s probably more obvious. For instance, Indian characters tend to pop up, my aesthetic is probably more European than American and I tend to use multiple languages.

Does a common theme run in your plays?
Outsiders, Indian men, languages, migration, lately subways trains…

What’s your writing process like — do you come up with an idea and then just sit down and start writing? Or do you outline a storyline?
It depends on the project. Sometimes the story is clear and the writing consists of finding the strongest way to tell it, and sometimes the story has to be found by way of intuition and a lot of detours. That 2nd way is the hard way, like trying to catch hold of a dream once you’re awake.

Can you talk about how writing a short play differs from writing a full-length play?
The great thing about a short play is that I can envision it as a complete work of art and set it down in one go – my mind can handle 10 pages at once. Sure, I’ll still do 3-4 drafts, but the fixing is minor.

The longer the play, the less able I am to intellectually grasp its complexities at once, so I do like 20 drafts, peeling off layer after layer. I don’t know that I treat character that much differently, but the short story is a lot more contained given that it has to begin, middle, and end in a short time frame.

In two of your short plays, “Cirkus Kalashnikov” and “The Courbet Cure,” there are lines about opening one’s eyes. Is this intentional? What does that concept of opening your eyes mean to you?
Wow, that’s in my last play too… what does that mean? Interesting. I guess it means “be honest, be present, right now” which I suppose is what theater is, if you’re doing it right. Now I’m afraid to over-analyze it…

Your new play, “Agnes Under the Big Top, a Fairy Tale,” was selected by the National Endowment for the Arts New Play Development Program. What is the play about? What stage of development is it in currently and where will it be staged?
This piece is about a group of immigrants in a US city whose lives intersect, and it’s very nearly done. Most likely it will be produced next season at Mixed Blood Theatre, at which point it will be completely done!

A few of your plays involve sign language and deaf characters. Do you have a connection to the deaf community that inspires you to write about hearing impaired characters?
Years ago, I did a few shows as a voicer for a deaf actress, Nicole Zapko, and became a big fan of her work. I also have a passionate interest in languages and the role they play in our society and sense of self. Those two plays resulted from my friendship with Nic, and a desire to create more work for deaf actresses in general.

What’s your advice to someone who might be interested in getting into playwriting?
Go to a lot of theater, read a lot of plays, and then write a play. Write what you would want to see. I’d like to say, “get up on a stage and act for several years first,” but I know that’s not everyone’s cup of tea.

You have 3 children – when do you find time to work?
When they’re in school/daycare, which is 3 days a week for the baby. I’m never completely focused unless I’m alone, so this works well. And when they’re home they have my full attention. Sorta.

When you were growing up, did a certain talent present itself (e.g., acting or writing?) And were the arts and your talents encouraged by an adult – a parent, teacher, mentor?
My father was a modernist poet, highly impractical as a career. The family consensus was that I could write, but no one thought there’d be much point in pursuing it as a career. Immigrant families tend to look for more financially sustainable career choices. Unfortunately, there’s not that much else I’m good at.

Proust Questionnaire for Aditi Kapil:

My favorite snack is:  at the moment, those flat pretzel crisps, possibly with some Jarlsberg cheese
Don’t ask me to:  eat celery. ever.
I would put into a time capsule my:  my 7 year old’s 1st grade journal, my 4 year old’s picture book that she made, and a recording of my 6 month old squealing
My favorite place is:  our house in Zhablyano, Bulgaria- my grandparents village
When I have a creative block I:  leave it alone for 2-3 months, take a really hot shower, or keep typing until something makes sense.
My favorite mantra is:  I don’t really mantra, I use profanities- which you probably can’t print, so I’ll leave it at that.


“The Courbet Cure,” Aditi Kapil

A couple with wine, sitting at a table quietly, she is particularly spaced out. Suddenly she jumps up, patting herself down, something is missing, she looks under the table, behind the chair, panicking…

Sarah

Shit! Shit! Oh shit!

Ben

Sarah!

Sarah

Oh shit!

Ben

Sarah! The baby’s not here!

She stops

Hi.

Sarah

Oh shit.

Ben

Yeah.

Sarah

Ok. Ok. Mmm. Wine. Yummy.

Ben

Yeah.

Pause

Are you sure you should be…?

Sarah

YUMMY.

Ben

Right.

Pause

Sarah

Well, this is fun. It’s so dark in here. It’s dark right? Or are my eyes closed? Ben?

Ben

Eyes are open.

Sarah

Ow

Ben

What

Sarah

I think I hit my breasts, got my milk going

She presses her nipples

Ben

Oh, come on! We’re in public here

Sarah

Oh yeah, I’m doing it on purpose

Ben

Well can you not grab yourself?

Sarah

That’s how you stop it, you put pressure on the nipple

Ben

So go to the bathroom

She crosses her arms. Silence.

Sarah

Where’s your phone?

Ben

Pocket

Sarah

How are you going to hear it? Put it on the table.

Ben

Why? I can hear it fine.

Sarah

I can’t relax if I don’t know your phone is working, just put it on the table

Ben

You can’t relax, period

Sarah

You try to relax with leaky privates, engorged boobs and a husband who won’t put his damn phone on the damn table!

Ben

What the hell are we doing here?

Sarah

Don’t swear!

Ben

The baby’s not here!

Sarah

Shit!

Ben

What are we doing here? Huh?

Sarah

We’re on a damn date, it’s been 2 months, the book said to nurture our relationship, WE’RE NURTURING

Ben

That’s what we’re doing?

Sarah

Yes! Phone please!

Ben

Fine.
Hi Sarah.

Sarah

Hi Ben.

Ben

So this is a date?

Sarah

Yes.

Ben

So what happens at the end of the date?

Sarah

Oh for god’s sake

Ben

No, I’m just asking, what are the parameters here? What are we going for? Romance? Shoptalk? A good drunk? What are we nurturing?

Sarah

No sex

Ben

Did I say sex?

Sarah

Yes Ben, yes you did. And no Ben, there will be no sex with my sewed up scarred frankenstein vagina, not until I’m good and ready, so change the damn subject.

Ben

It’s been 2 months, it’s not sewed up or scarred

Sarah

How the hell would you know?

Ben

Well, if you’d let me get a look

Sarah

AAAAAAAAAH!

Ben

Jesus! Ok, ok, change the subject.

Silence

Sarah

This place is nice.

Ben

Yes. Really great fucking décor.

Sarah

Don’t swear

Ben

The baby’s not here! We are surrounded by sexually mature adults, all of whom are staring at us now

Sarah

They’ll get over it

Ben

Not if you don’t stop poking at your breasts

Sarah

I’m not poking them. I’m checking them.

Ben

And I’m not thinking about sex. So what do you want to talk about?

Sarah

You don’t have to be hostile about it.

Ben

I’m not hostile, I’m sleep-deprived.

Sarah

So am I

Ben

But the date was your idea, so find something to talk about

Sarah

Us. Just us.

Ben

When’s the last time it was just us?

Sarah

Our honeymoon. This is good wine.

Ben

OK, our honeymoon. I’m still not thinking about sex.

Sarah

Remember that fight we had?

Ben

Your memories of our honeymoon are apparently very different from mine

Sarah

That’s because all you ever think about is sex

Ben

Is that not better than hanging on to every fight we ever had?

Sarah

It’s certainly less complex. No, but that wasn’t my point. Remember where we made up?

Ben

At the museum.

Sarah

The Musee D’Orsay. Oh come on, that’s romantic.

Ben

So’s sex.

Sarah

That painting on the ground floor, that giant canvas of war in oil, reds and blacks, it was huge and mounted way high and we stood there and glared at it for like 10 minutes cause we were so pissed, but we couldn’t have a proper blowout in front of all those French people

Ben

I remember. Great painting, who was that?

Sarah

No clue. And then I looked down and I saw it, Gustave Courbet’s ‘The Origin of the World’! And you looked down and that was it- fight over man, fight over!

Ben

You gotta give it to the French, they have a sense of humor.

Sarah

THE OIL OF WAR! And underneath it just this little nature tone canvas, incredibly detailed, every pubic hair lovingly drawn, origin of the world. You wouldn’t even see it if you walked through the gallery too fast. Too damn funny! I love that thing! If they’d had a print I’d have bought it!

Ben

You know what I remember?

Sarah

The sex?

Ben

You flashing that guy in front of the Moulin Rouge who offered me a girl with you standing right there. “WHAT AM I??” Just ripped your shirt open and

Sarah

Oh shit, shhh, shit! I can’t believe I did that! Our daughter never gets to do that.

Ben

Hell no!

Sarah

Oh my god, that was so long ago!

Ben

Yeah

Giggles. They doze off. A snore. Suddenly she’s up and patting herself down, he jumps up startled and starts searching too

Sarah

Oh shit oh shit oh shit

Ben

Oh shit oh shit
Wait! Sarah! Baby’s not here!

Sarah

Oh shit. Oh right. Oh sorry.

Ben

No no, no…I..

Sarah

Aw fuck, I’m leaking…

Ben

Oh, ok, what do I do…?

She notices everyone staring

Sarah

Oh what? You want a better look? Never seen a lactating woman before? Well, let me take you on a little educational field trip-  (starts unbuttoning her shirt) you know a lot of people don’t realize that the milk doesn’t just squirt from one central orifice like a hose, it sprays from lots of little openings all over the aureole, here let me…

Ben

Sarah! Shit, come on

Sarah

What? They’re obviously curious!

Ben

Shush, let’s get out of here…

Sarah

It’s educational! I mean that’s why you’re looking, right?

Ben

We’re leaving, very quickly, very right now…
Sarah!

She stops. She gives him a kiss.

Sarah

Don’t forget your phone.
They start to exit
I’m glad we went out tonight

Ben

Yeah, me too, 1/2 hour is about all we can handle right now

Sarah

Hey, we can handle anything! The world can’t take us for more than 1/2 hour! Shit I’m really leaking

Ben

She’s probably crying

Sarah

You think?

Ben

You’re supermom, with super-sensory breasts

Sarah

I love you

Ben

Did you actually get drunk on 3 sips of wine?

Sarah

Yeah. That guy really wants to see my boobs.

Ben grabs her, they exit laughing

End of Play

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    Friday, 19 March, 2010

    [...] its doubtful that playwrights like Mom Culture’s featured artist this week, Aditi Kapil, use typewriters, these obsolete machines are making a comeback…in the form of really cool [...]