An interview with Allyson Currin
Conducted by Caleen Sinnette Jennings, Dramaturg
CALEEN SINNETTE JENNINGS
In the spirit of full disclosure, I have known Ally for twenty-five years. She and I are two of the co-founders of The Welders D.C. Playwright’s Collective. I deeply admire Ally as a woman who manages to give 100% to everything she does. In addition to being a playwright, she’s an actor, director, dramaturg, and teacher. She has been a highly engaged theatre advocate on the national level through her work with the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival (KCACTF) and she is the D.C. representative for the Dramatist’s Guild. She also happens to be the mother of twin daughters graduating from college this year. As a lover and teacher of theatre history, Ally has learned dramatic structure from reading and teaching the great plays in the canon. She is a painstakingly careful craftsperson and that’s one of the reasons I was so pleased to serve as dramaturg on this Mosaic production of Sooner/Later. This play received a terrific reception at the Cincinnati Playhouse and I was curious to see what kinds of adjustments and revisions would or would not be necessary for the Mosaic production. Given the extraordinary volume and variety of work she does, I felt lucky indeed just to catch Ally for this interview.
CALEEN: What lit the fire for Sooner/Later?
ALLY: At a KCACTF festival a number of years ago, a student wrote a charming rom com (romantic comedy) with a strong female lead. I complained to a colleague, “I used to be able to write comedies. Now, I’m too jaded and cranky.” My colleague said, “Why don’t you write a jaded cranky rom com?”
CALEEN: When did you begin writing it?
ALLY: Probably around 2013. It started as a one-act called The Sooner Child. A savvy audience member said, “Lexie’s so idealized. What would happen if we saw an actual teen?” A lightbulb went on.
CALEEN: What other ingredients went into the writing of it?
ALLY: A nightmare—in fact, it’s my only recurring nightmare. I wake up and realize that my life never happened. I never got married and I never had children. I mashed this up with my curiosity about Probability Theory. It was liberating to develop this play from a one-act into a full length. It was fun to write a second act and flip something on its head.
CALEEN: What, if anything has changed in your life since the early days of writing this play?
ALLY: The Cincinnati production got me a New York agent, for starters. The play has had some wonderful powerhouse people working on its development. Director Wendy Goldberg, of the O’Neill Theatre Center, did a New York workshop of it in spring 2016. She gave me fantastic insights and articulated fundamentals I knew in my gut but it was nice to have them reinforced. The play was in the Cincinnati Playhouse 2016-2017 season. I partnered with director Lisa Rothe formerly with the Lark. She’s an actor/director and one of the most sensitive people I know. She had a profound understanding of the play in its odd, liminal space. She glided between the real and not real, but grounded that dance in practical choices. She also built a family on stage. We were like-minded about casting, design, everything. Blake Robison, the Cincinnati Artistic Director, trusted the team. There was a lot of “yes/and”. Nobody was saying no.
CALEEN: How does it feel to bring a play back into development after a first production?
ALLY: I’ve never had the experience of having a production at one theatre then tailoring if for another. I had remind myself to not get defensive or possessive over my baby. I’m pretty good at being a collaborator. And that’s where the dramaturg and director come in handy.
CALEEN: Speaking of directors, what does Director Gregg Henry bring to this production?
ALLY: He is the fiercest, most idealistic advocate for new work that I’ve ever come across. I’ve been dying to have him direct something of mine. My previous work with him was all administrative. Then I worked with him on The Welders’ production of happiness (and other reasons to die). I loved what I heard about him from the actors. He’s got profound technical skill and he just gets it.
CALEEN: What risks did you have to take, either expected or unexpected in writing this piece?
ALLY: The biggest challenge for me was how to adapt the play for a D.C. audience. I had to figure out what it looked and felt like to make it specific without compromising the emotional integrity of the story. The adjustments I made had to do with DC-centric detail and some structural elements. This casting is certainly very different from the Cincinnati production. But, interestingly, with this casting there was no shift at all in the core of the characters or the emotional heart of the story. There is something universal about their situation.
CALEEN: What’s been your biggest discovery in developing this Mosaic production?
ALLY: During the week we workshopped the script, we talked about this specific cast and what, if anything, we needed to change in the script. By end of the week, the actors were saying not to change a word. I find it fascinating, that there is such a different visual take on this production, yet, independent of each other, this team is making some of the same kinds of choices that the Cincinnati team made. Gregg and the actors have come up with stage business that is not written in the script but is the same as stage business in the Cincinnati production. That says something about the consistency of the characters—that they demand things even on a sub-textual level. Mosaic’s team is emotionally invested. The actors are bringing their A-game and the chemistry is wonderful to watch.
CALEEN: Did this play reveal more of you than other plays you’ve written?
ALLY: All my plays are pretty revealing of me. I’m a very personal writer. I write a lot of plays about trying to go home. This play is my experience but so is every other play I write.
CALEEN: How has this play helped you grow as an artist and craftswoman?
ALLY: I had a lot of fun with form and style—honoring conventions until you break them. That’s an area where my more recent plays are beginning to live. I’m moving away from convention and this play is a logical extension of that personal trend. I had fun with the structure and despite seriousness of story, there’s a lot of play in it.
CALEEN: Where are you now in terms of your own development and what you want to write about in the future?
ALLY: I have my antenna up. I always have plays I’m working on. There’s not a whole lot of realism in my future although I’m writing “Return to Latin” and that is quite realistic. I tend to pendulum swing. If I’ve written something serious, I want to write a comedy. I’ve got plenty of projects but I don’t know what the next catch-me-by-the-throat idea will be. I get a lot of good stuff from my dreams and from being a student of history.
CALEEN: What do you want the audience to go away thinking and feeling? What experience do you want them to have after seeing this play?
ALLY: I want to give the audience a meal -- the whole thing. I hope that they’ll laugh, cry, and have a full range of emotions. This is a very specific story and I believe that when stories are specific, they get to be the most universal. The world of the play has very specific rules and I hope they resonate personally with people in Mosaic’s audience.
CALEEN: How do you think that this play fits into Mosaic’s mission and culture?
ALLY: Mosaic has walked its talk in terms of its dual mission. The plays in their season reflect a great combination of global responsibility and support for D.C. artists. Mosaic has demonstrated in all of its seasons that it has a genuine commitment to support D.C. playwrights. I’m grateful for that dedication. The idea of making Sooner/Later a D.C.-specific play puts the Mosaic stamp on it. Audiences will see a fresh spin on the story, now that it’s written for my hometown.