Q: You are a New York playwright with Orange County roots. Growing up in Westminster, were you involved in theatre at all locally? Or did you discover it a bit later?
A: Much later. I only started writing for the stage after I moved to New York City. When I was growing up, my parents took me to see shows at South Coast Repertory, but I wouldn’t have seen contemporary works. We saw what would have been thought of as “classics” – Shakespeare and some musicals and operas. I remember being dazzled by the staging and theatricality of the shows, especially of the operas, and deeply attracted to the stories and images. But for some reason I didn’t think the theater-world was accessible to regular people like me -- it seemed unreachable. At school, the theater kids were actors, not writers. Getting involved would have meant standing up and performing, and I was much too shy for that.
Q: The characters in Night Moths on the Wing must strive to find someone and something to believe in, in a world where nothing is the way it used to be. Do you think hope and faith - or even the absence of hope and faith - is a central element in a good play?
A: I’m most inspired by writers who write as if no one were judging them—regardless of their themes: plays like Askins's Hand to God, Norman's Night Mother, Vogel's How I Learned to Drive, or Beckett's Waiting for Godot. I’m drawn to characters in those moments when they confront genuine moral ambiguities, and when they are forced to inhabit and negotiate unstable worlds. Uncertainty seems to be a constant in the modern world, and everyone has a different comfort level with it. Hope and faith are means of coping with uncertainty. But when abused they can also be crutches invoked as psychological survival mechanisms; we need to believe in something to make it through the darkness, but what we choose to believe in is really what matters. How and why we make the choices we do is what I like to explore.
Q: Night Moths on the Wing is one of several powerful new American plays exploring various dystopian themes and settings - Mac Rogers's Universal Robots, Jennifer Haley's The Nether, Robert O'Hara's Zombie: The American. And then you have notable dystopian plays from Philip Ridley, Sarah Kane, Marina Carr, Fin Kennedy and of course Caryl Churchill in the British Isles. Do you think your play might be part of some new genre of playwriting that is emerging?
A: First, thanks! It’s an honor to be added to this list. You are not the first person to use the word ‘Dystopian’ to describe the world of this play, and I see what you mean, though I never saw it that way while I was writing. So yes, perhaps you’re right. It seems natural that an emerging genre would be concerned with the potential for losing all we’ve built. But honestly, the world of Night Moths is sometimes how the world looks to me right now. I think we are already there. Then again, maybe every generation fears that what is best about their world could slip away. I don’t know what motivates other writers, but for me, confronting what frightens me is my roundabout way of embracing whatever the future brings.
Q: Some playwrights insist that it takes a different skill set to write a play than it does to write prose. Do you find that to be true?
A: For me it is. I write fiction and non-fiction as well as plays, and can attest that each genre requires a different frame of mind, and a different set of skills. That said we have it easy as writers, if we are lucky enough to spend our time cultivating different forms of writing. Primo Levi made a living as a chemist; John Berger as a painter and critic, Richard Selzer as a surgeon! Lots of playwrights are also actors, directors, and producers, photographers, stylists, dancers... So, while it can seem like mental gymnastics to move between the different modes of thinking needed for different kinds of writing, it is important to stay flexible and build those different strengths. Some of my all time favorite writers wrote across genres supremely well: Virginia Woolf, Samuel Beckett, Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde, Flann O’Brien, Muriel Spark – to name only a few. I think it’s good to try everything, as it is not only skill sets that determine what genre is best to bring an idea into the world; sometimes an idea will choose its own genre and let the writer know how it wants to be approached.
Q: Can you tell us a bit about your upcoming work with the NY Madness Playwriting Festival this September?
A: Sure! NY Madness was founded by Cecilia Copeland and has been running for a few years now. Every year, 8-9 playwrights are invited in and given a theme by the featured guest playwright (this year it is Steven Fechter) and the playwrights have one week to write, cast and stage a new and original 7-10 minute play based on the theme they are given. The playwrights will get about 3-4 days to write, the director and actors will get a 2-hour rehearsal. Then we’ll put the plays up in a theater in the city. This is the first time I’ve been invited to join, and I can’t wait. It should be pretty intense. http://nymadness.com
Kimbery Kalaja's Night Moths On The Wing opens August 20 at OC-Centric.
Buy tickets by calling 714-902-5716 or CLICK HERE.