Directed by Bree Bridger
by Elizabeth A.M. Keel
September 5-29, 2019
INTERVIEW WITH PLAYWRIGHT ELIZABETH A.M. KEEL ABOUT HER NEW PLAY OVERRIDE
Landing Literary Associate Brendan Bourque-Sheil, caught up with Elizabeth Keel to ask her thoughts on her new play, OVERRIDE.
1. So, speaking from the experience, I know it’s really hard to sustain a good story for an hour when you’ve only got two characters and one room to play with. What are some of the things that helped you navigate that?
It was daunting at first! But it helped to remember that there were other characters hiding in the room: the Invention they're working on, Time in the form of a ticking clock, and even Silence. That helped me generate a structure that felt more like a web than a tug of war.
2. Can you tell us a few ways that Override is similar to a lot of your other work and a few ways that it’s different?
Override inherited some of my most dominant traits: a strong female character, humor, and a complex new world to fire up the audience's imagination. Beyond that, there's a line in the play where Louise protests that she didn't wait until the last minute on her project, but instead that all the minutes have led to this one; that it is a cumulative effort. All of the plays I have previously worked on have brought me to Override. It's different because I'm a little bit better, smarter, and more experienced than I was. It's my new best, for now.
3. Who are some of your biggest influences as a playwright, and who influenced the writing of this play in particular?
I'm a very excitable sci-fi theatre fangirl for Mac Rogers and Bella Poynton, who have taught me so much about dialogue and world-building. Override has many fairy godparents: Clare Barron, Mickle Maher, Suzan-Lori Parks, Theresa Rebeck, Jennifer Haley, Chana Porter, Jordan Harrison, and Lucy Kirkwood, plus so many others.
4. I don’t know if Override is technically a Sci-Fi, but there’s definitely a major Sci-Fi element to it, and you’ve done a lot of work in that sphere (your master’s thesis was on Science Fiction in Theatre, and your play CORONA recently premiered at Otherworld, a Chicago theatre that specializes in Sci-Fi and Fantasy). What are some of the challenges and rewards of writing science fiction for the stage?
It's only just barely still sci-fi, as the "fiction" portion of the science is being realized around the world as we speak by clever inventors. But as for the broader question:
(*Draws a deep breath.*) Science fiction is a tool that allows humans to work ahead in their imaginations. Theatre stimulates empathy and problem-solving. It doesn't matter if we're talking about reanimating a corpse or landing on a strange planet; we are still defined by our actions and the ways we treat one another. I find sci-fi theatre so rewarding because it makes ample room. It lives in a realm where absolutely everything is possible. The challenge – finding a way to stage it, live – is often a hefty one! But it's a Janus-face, offering the solution within the dilemma. We get to rise up and meet that same need for imagination with tireless, dauntless, questing human creativity.
5. While we’re on the subject, and while I have the benefit of interviewing an aficionado, do you have any play recommendations for people reading this who would like to read some great works of Sci-Fi and/or Fantasy for the stage?
If you want your mind blown apart, order a copy of The Honeycomb Trilogy by Mac Rogers. It literally changed the course of my life overnight. And I've been crushing hard on NINE FOOT NINE, a play out of the UK by Alex Woods and Sleepless Theatre Company, about a world where all the women suddenly grow to be nine feet tall, completely upsetting society. And if you're the kind of person who likes to read plays (I love you; there aren't enough of us!), I strongly urge you to consider the New Play Exchange website as a resource.
6. With rehearsals underway, you’ve now had the chance to see a bunch of different actors, a director, a team of designers, and various other members of the Landing’s staff interpret your words. What are some of the ways that their understanding of the play has shaped your own?
The exciting thing about a world premiere is that rehearsals are a time for magic. This is how squishy, malleable, brand-new-baby scripts solidify into production. We collectively take turns feeding and caring for it. Bree, my brilliant director, has a gyroscopic, 360° grasp on the action and a knack for spying connections I've missed. Joanna, our leading lady, asks the long distance character questions. Scott (a fellow Coog) is a spaghetti-thrower with a gift for comedy. It was my play to start, but good night, it's so much better as our play. Even you, Brendan, have been extraordinarily helpful by absorbing what was articulated on the page, but then asking me about the invisible parts of the universe. We all get to be story guardians together.
7. The characters in this play are both inventors and a playwright is a kind of inventor too. Is your creative process at all similar to Louise and Grav’s in this play?
Guilty. I often talk to myself, and snacks are required. Deadlines give me enough anxiety to power through anything.
8. What is one thought or question you’d like audiences to walk into this play with (doesn’t have to be directly related to the script)?
With this team, I know we're putting together a high-quality story. What's really unique is the company's microplay setting: witnessing theatre in such intimacy, in the comfort of our volunteers' homes. I'd like the audience to consider how the environment augments their experience of the play. Track your feelings, friends.
9. Override is just one of many exciting theatrical happenings you’ve got lined up this season. Can you tell us about some of the others?
Sure! You already mentioned CORONA, which had a Chicago premiere. It is a retelling of the myth of the Minotaur, set in space. Rec Room has offered it a developmental residency to continue its growth, which will open next March, directed by Sophia Watt. If you're hungry for fantasy, Mildred's Umbrella Theater Company is putting on my world premiere of TOOTH & TAIL, directed by Rob Kimbro, later in spring 2020. It's a playful adventure story very much in the vein of The Princess Bride, with dragons, spells, sword fights, etc. Lastly, if anyone is interested in writing a play of their own, I'm teaching an adult class for Grackle & Grackle called The Curious Playwright, starting September 8th. (You can sign up at grackleandgrackle.com.)
10. Is there anything else you’d like to say about the show?
Tickets will not be sold at the door, so please do buy online in advance to ensure your spot!
Brendan Bourque-Sheil is a resident playwright of the Landing Theatre Company, and the Literary Associate for Landing Local New Works Initiatives, which was created to help develop more creative opportunities for local playwrights.