|Posted by The Fourth Wall on May 17, 2013 at 3:10 PM|
Posted by Neil
Playwright Emily Goodson spoke to me at Soma Coffee House in Bloomington, having already consumed a pot of coffee on her own. Even before I asked any questions, pertinent or otherwise, she launched into the following monologue, charting her path to writing a new musical, “Spun,” which opens Friday, May 17 at the Bloomington Playwrights Project.
Emily: I was working at Snorkel-Mart, and I was bored. It was the slow season; it was around spring or summer when everybody’s already got their snorkel, what do they need me for? So I just manned the phones. And I wanted to write this drama about women and about sexuality. So I sat down and I wrote ten pages. It was very serious. And then I just put it away. I didn’t touch it for a while. Then like a week later I came back and started rewriting it, only it turned into this weird, slapstick comedy called, “Lady Bits.”
I like to write jokes, and it was totally an excuse to write jokes. So I just set up a staged reading at the BPP. I had written a few things at the BPP before,but only for “The Blizzard,” only the one-minute/two-minute plays. I wrote a play called “Time Machines Can Be Funny Sometimes.” And “Bird Rap,” which is a rap about birds. A very good one. It’s a really good rap about birds. Fine rapping about birds. And it’s scientific, too. It’s educational and it’s uplifting, and I used “muthaflocker,” instead of “muthafucker.” So when I told Chad [Rabinovitz, BPP’s Producing Artistic Director] I wanted to do a staged reading of it, he was like, “Alright, I‘ve seen some little things you’ve done before.” So we did the staged reading, and it went over pretty well. And so he asked me to take it to IndyFringe. So, sure enough, we got it cast, took it to Indy Fringe, opened to great crowds. It did really well. Out of nowhere, Chad asked if I would pen the book for a new musical with Jeremy Schonfeld, who wrote the music and lyrics for “Kissing Frogs.” They wanted to write a comedy, based on this one song that Jeremy wrote, called “Rock n’ Roll Fag” So I swear I began writing a musical around that one song, and like it always does, it turned into something else.
So now it’s a musical about two people, a brother and asister. The brother comes home after eight years, and his sister hasn’t seen him since the night of their mother’s death. And so they’re back and now the father’s dead and he comes home to settle the estate, but the problem is since he’s been gone, like a lot of rust belt cities right now, the city’s fallen into complete disrepair. I mean, the neighborhoods are blighted, there’s very little occupancy, huge crime, so he wants to keep the house and she is trying to convince him that the property values are crap, and you may not owe a mortgage, but you’re still gonna owe property taxes and every time a neighbor moves out they burn the houses to keep the squatters out. So this isn’t a neighborhood you’d wanna live in. You know, there are packs of wild dogs. A lot of it was inspired by moving to Detroit with my husband in July. You drive through that city and you can’t not be affected by it. We call it “Ruin Porn.” There are lots of people coming in and taking pictures of the blight. You can’t drive down Woodward without… In some neighborhoods there is abandoned lot after abandoned house after burned down house. They leave these abandoned buildings up too, because the city doesn’t have the money to raze it to the ground.There’s an old record studio bigger than half the hotels in Bloomington, with just roofs crumbling, and that’s just one. It’s gigantic. There’s one neighborhood in the north end that’s just one block after another is abandoned. Like 10% occupancy.
For me it was really kinda beautiful at first: “Ruin Porn.” But you start driving through it every day, and you begin to feel like, “This isn’t beautiful, this is tragic.” People live here.
Is that original song still in the show?
No. No no no. There was no reason for it. I tried to add it back in, but they were like, “What? You can’t just put this song in wherever.” You know, they’re in the middle of a conversation about their dad’s death and then sing “Rock n’ Roll Fag!” No, no Emily.
It’s so crazy. I’vehad this experience myself choreographing a piece, or working on a piece where there’s an essential idea that gets the ball rolling that is your inspiration from the start, and then you get to the end of the whole process and you go, “Wait. Where is that first thing? Everything else came out of that, and now it doesn’t belong anymore. How did that happen?” Well, you file that one away, and it may be useful again.
That’s how I felt. I was inspired by two things. It was that song, but also, before I moved…do you know who Tracy Bee is? Josie Gingrich? They’re writer friends of mine. Fantastic. Tracy was the director on “Lady Bits.” Josie is a YA author in town. When we were bored, we used to always send each other writing assignments and read our assignments out loud over wine and cheese. We’d have a good time. It was very pretentious yuppie fun. Either I sent it to Tracy or Tracy sent it to me, but it got stuck in my head and it hurt. It was this one assignment: Write a story about a person who’s been given something they don’t want. And I was like, oh okay, so I started thinking about inheritance and wills, or the opposite, to die without a will. And then what happens to your stuff? What happens to your stuff when you die? What happens if someone else dies and you get their stuff? What do you do with their stuff? Because you kind of collect your own stuff.
Is there a montage sequence? The “renovation rag.” Cause it’s a musical!
I’ve got two jazz hands and a heart, haven’t I? Of course I wrote in a renovation scene. But most importantly, the musician I’m working with has a way of tugging at your heartstings. He’s got some great numbers in there. So, we’ll see how it goes. I totally didn’t expect myself to be doing any of this.
Which brings me to my first question...
How do you introduce yourself to people you’ve not met before?
Hi, my name is Emily. If they say, “What do you do?” I say, “I am a playwright…and I…work also.” That’s recent, though. I used to say, “I’m Emily. I work at Snorkel-Mart.”
When did you give yourself permission to use that title?
I felt like I had to have at least one professional production under my belt, which now I’ve got…a few. Actually, I wrote and produced a play when I was seventeen with the Monroe County Civic Theatre. It wasn’t good. It was actually really bad. It was clever. It might have had some cute moments, but it was what a seventeen-year-old writes when someone says,“Write a play, seventeen-year-old!” It was a lot of fun, and I loved that group of people involved in that. “The Blizzard” was really the first. We got a bunch of plays when I was cast in 2010. We just wanted to fix a few, and then we started writing a few, and then writing a few more, and then Chad put them in, because they were fun. And then we took it to IndyFringe. Yeah, so I consider them somewhat professional productions. They’re ridiculous though. Don’t get the idea that I write anything deep or meaningful. One play I wrote had each character playing an object in the lunchroom, and this guy gets a drink of water, and it’s spit from a girl’s mouth. And then they make a smoothie in my mouth, and I was a blender, and they just shove bananas, orange juice,something else in my mouth, and I just swoosh stuff in my mouth and spit into a cup, and Ben Smith had to drink it. So Ben Smith will always have my undying adoration. I adore him. I have the utmost respect for that man. I love gross-out plays. But, after that, when I did “Lady Bits” was when I thought Ican actually call myself a playwright. This is what I want to do, and if I think about it, what I always wanted…I wasn’t a theatre major in college, I wasan English major. I didn’t want to act, I wanted to write.
But certainly acting has created some great opportunities for you.
Absolutely. But I wanted to write fiction, though. I wanted to write books and novels. I wanted to write the Great American Novel. As does every 20-year old.
Why haven’t you yet?
Because I’m not a good writer. I’m a total fraud! What I’m good at is telling jokes. So, dialogue I’m good at, I can do all dialogue. I can tell a story through, just, talking. So, for me, it’s a way to tell a story through talking. So, yeah, I feel alright about calling myself a playwright now.
Which of thesenumbers is most significant to you: 1, 3, or 7?
I like 7.
How long is a pieceof string?
A piece of string? I would say a piece of string is…that long. [Puts index fingers about 5 or 6inches apart.] It’s not long enough for you to use it for anything but tying into a bow when you’re bored at a meeting.
Poetry or prose?
Oh, see, this is where people really disagree with me. I really like poetry. But I like poetry that’s written in the style of prose.
The angry one. Animal.
Complete this sentence: The older we get, the more_____ we become.
I would say, “The older we get, the less blank we become.” I feel like I’ve got a lot written on me right now, and I’d like to erase some of it, and have some space where I could write some new stuff like down here [pointing down her right arm], like new history. The rest is just covered. You don’t know what to do with it.
You could use some exfoliation.
Yeah, I need to get a pumice stone.
What don’t you do anymore?
Drugs. I answered that too quickly. Should I have thought about that?
Who or what is your nemesis?
Can I say that name? There’s a person. I have a real-life nemesis. Well, I don’t think that’s fair to say she’s my nemesis anymore,because we don’t care about each other anymore. I mean, is it lame to say that it’s probably just my own laziness and lack of ambition? That’s probably my biggest problem. I have so many ideas and so many things I want to do, that I get tired and want to watch “New Girl.”
...cool or creepy?
No no no! No snakes! Snakes make my insides throw up inside of themselves and then have vomit just rotting in my body. It’s the most disgusting thing. Snakes…BLUhahLARluhuh! Gabe and I had a snake in our house.In. Our. House. In the house. I was hysterical. And he thinks it’s so much better because it was a baby snake. It was the size of…a piece of string!...however, when I see the baby snake, I think there is a big, pissed-off mamma snake somewhere, who’s like, “Where’s my baby, yo?” So I panicked and tried to call 911. So Gabe had to take the phone, and then I made him search the whole house, and then my dad was like, “If I was just outside your house, and you told me there was a snake in there, I wouldn’t stop to help you.” My dad’s afraid of snakes, too. FYI, snakes are not considered an emergency at 911.
What won’t you eat?
Really, not much. I won’t eat dog.
Besides working at Snorkel-Mart, what’s your non-artistic dream job?
I would want to own a restaurant. A Mexican restaurant. And I would want to call it The Nosy Pepper, because it’s jalepeño business! Get it? And we would do Mexican food, but instead of lettuce, we’d use cilantro, and people need to learn that it’s a delicious, leafy green.
You know what I, until recently, wouldn’t eat? Cilantro. I’m one of those people for whom the taste is like soapy metal pots.
Oh, I use to be like that, but then I went to Austin, TX and couldn’t get anything without it, and now I can’t get enough of it. If Icould crush it up, bottle it, and wear it as a perfume, I would. It’s beautiful.
Which writer’s spouse interests you most?
Zelda Fitzgerald. She burned down a mental institution. Well, she died in a fire at a mental institution. Something like that.
Do you think she freaked out and set the fire because of a snake?
I can justify burning down a house because there’s a snake in it. I have no problem with that. And I think insurance should cover that. Fire in case of snake. There’s like a box, instead of a fire extinguisher with a sign: “Burn down house in case of snake.”
Do you read movie credits?
Usually, yeah. Because I’m hoping for a gag reel. And I like to see people’s nicknames, like Michael “Sparky” McDougal…oh he did the production design.
How will you survive the zombie apocalypse?
I’ll become one. I really don’t want to become a zombie, but I can’t camp outside. I mean, I really like the idea; it’s adorable. But I can’t kill anything. I would be worthless. When I’m thirsty, I bitch so much. I don’t like to be hot. I don’t like being cold. I feel like I would just give up and go ahead and join the bad guys quickly. I would sell out real fast. I’m not really a survivor.
What is your favorite swear word?
The one I use most often is the “F” one. But I like saying,“Goddammit,” because it sounds like an old-man thing to say. I remember it was the only thing my dad used to say when he was really mad, and I always thought that’s a Man’s swear word. You can drink Scotch and say, “Goddammit.” And then spit and slap something.
Where don’t you get your ideas?
I steal from everything and everywhere. I feel like I steal every conversation I’ve ever had. Or things about people’s personalities. I’m really interested in people. I find them really fascinating. So I guess if I’m alone in a chair, maybe I wouldn’t, but then I even, even when I was a kid, I had stories going on in my head. I had TV shows going on in my head, and was casting myself as characters. I remember getting in trouble when I was a kid,because I wrote something that had a boy that my sister liked, and my mom thought that I was hitting on my sister’s boyfriend, and I was like, “He’s the astronaut in my…nevermind. Yeah yeah yeah.” Because I didn’t want to be like, I have this separate life that I’ve created, another world in my head, because that’s even crazier. That’s happened twice; my mom thought I’d had an affair with a married man when I was seventeen, because I used a name in a monologue. I used to write monologues. It’s funny that I wanted to be a fiction writer, because I would write monologues or poetry. And she always used to find monologues that, without a character name at the top, looked like a letter. So, to this day, I have to be like, “I was not sleeping with him, Mom. I was seventeen and he was thirty. I was not interested.” But it sounded better than, “Don’t worry, Mom, I’m just a crazy person.”
How are you unlike the writer stereotype?
I don’t know. I’m lazy. Well, I guess writers are lazy. I kind of feel like I’m a fraud, a little bit. I just want to tell jokes until it’s time to say something serious, and then I’ll do it as a joke. And I don’t always need to make a point. Though, neither did Thomas Pynchon, am I right? That guy. I hate that fuckin’ shit. Postmodernism can suck my ass. I don’t know how I’m not like a writer. Well, I’d say I’m more like a sorority girl than a writer…though I don’t think I would fit in there, either.
I don’t think anyone who has ever met you would liken you to a sorority girl.
Sometimes I feel like I just don’t fit in anywhere. I’m just a weirdo.
You are the eternal square peg.
Yes. There is no hole I fit in. But I’m trying to shove myself into this one, so we’ll see how it goes. What is the stereotypical writer? Like, moody, smokes cigarettes and wears berets. No that’s painters. Writers throw toasters out of windows and sleep with prostitutes. I don’t do those things. I’ve never, to my knowledge, thrown a toaster and I’ve never paid anyone for sex. Yet.
Okay, help me critique this expression that I just made up over breakfast this morning: “They get along like two poops in a drawer.”
I like that idea. That’s fantastic, because if you’re in adrawer, by yourself, and you’re just one poop, what do you do, except find another poop. That’d be great. I love it. You can stink up the whole dresser! Together! Why have just one drawer, when you can stink up the whole dresser. I like that. That’s a good one. My sister and I have always had a running joke that whenever we would write each other letters I’d say, “I love you the way a rabbit would love you.” And we kind of went back and forth, we were like, “Is that gross? Is that weirdly sexual?” No, rabbits are soft, and they have pink noses and their ears are like this [holds palms up on top of head]. I like absurdity a lot. That’s a good one. I will use it. I am trying to get my gay couch joke to catch on. What do you call a gay couch? A homo-sectional!
What question didn’twe ask?
You did not ask me how much I weigh. But don’t. Because my mom will ask that later. We’ve got it covered. Joking.
What do you wear tosleep?
I don’t like pants. I don’t like socks. T-shirt and underwear.
So is this a musical or a “MUSICAL!”?
It’s a musical. There’s no dancing. No jazz hands. It’s not an ensemble piece. There are only two people in the whole play. There was no need to cast anyone else, except the two principal characters. This is just as dialogue-focused as it is music-focused. So what we’ve been doing is we build a scene, build until you reach an emotional point, then release it into a song. So the dialogue build build and then start over. So they are two very sarcastic characters who, you know, “put the -ism in defense mechanism,” so the only time they feel anything is through the songs. So there are 10 or 12 songs. I should know that. Since I have rehearsal at 3:30. And I haven’t revised scenes 2 and 5 yet. It’ll be mostly the delete button, which I’ve found makes me delete a lot of jokes, but the one thing I’ve gotten to keep is my Star scene, which I really wanted. I like to put outer space in all plays. And what I’ve really been trying to do is reference Good Will Hunting in every single play. I don’t have that in there yet, but I’m gonna get it in there. Good Will Hunting is my favorite movie to quote. At all times.
“Spun” runs Friday,May 17 - Saturday, June 1 at the Bloomington Playwrights Project.
Categories: IMPERTINENT QUESTIONS