The 24th Annual Seabury Quinn, Jr. Playwrights’ Festival officially opens tonight! The featured, Thesis Productions of our Third Year MFA Playwrights debut this weekend in Kantner Hall on the Elizabeth Evans Baker Stage. To celebrate the opening of the featured productions, and leading up to the festival staged readings on the 26th, 27th, and 28th, we will be featuring daily interviews with the current playwrights about their work. We’ve interviewed the 3rd Year MFA Playwrights, Philana, Cristina, and Natasha on their Featured Thesis Productions, now learn a little more about the upcoming staged readings presented by the 2nd and 1st Year MFA Playwrights!
Second Year MFA Katherine Varga (pictured below!) was interviewed by Third Year MFA Philana Omorotionmwan about her play, Cora.
Philana Omorotionmwan: Cora is set in a world in which people can separate themselves from their hearts, which allows them to perform their jobs more efficiently. What inspired you to write this play?
Katherine Varga: I was originally inspired by a workshop from Michael Bigelow Dixon, who encourages playwrights to embrace theatricality in the 21st century. During his talk, he challenged us to create theatre that reflects what living in the digital age is like – an age where you’re constantly bombarded with vivid imagery and sharp contrasts (just scroll through your social media feed!). While I don’t think I lived up to his challenge, I was interested in exploring the effects of constant exposure to horrifying news, and our desire for instant gratification.
In the world of Cora, when you separate yourself from your heart you need to hire an Ellie (which is basically a digitalized room) to keep it safe. Since most of my friends and family live outside of Ohio, I spend a lot of my time communicating with them through my phone and laptop. Sometimes it feels like my heart is trapped inside a computer.
Philana: A little birdie told me that you didn’t outline this play before you wrote it. Can you talk a little more about what your process was like and how that may have differed from the way you approached writing previous plays?
Katherine: I started writing last semester based on a premise: “What would happen if computers could babysit our hearts?” I didn’t have much time to start something new but was worried if I didn’t start writing, I’d lose my excitement for the idea. I started writing three pages by hand every morning before I got out of bed. They were sort of in order, but if I was struggling I’d just jump ahead to whatever scene interested me that day. If I couldn’t think of anything, I’d force myself to just write a throwaway scene – usually by the third page I’d have discovered something interesting about the characters or the world.
For previous plays, I’ve written first drafts having a good idea of where I was going – usually an outline, or at least a list of major scenes. With this play, I had no idea where it was going, and I often didn’t know a scene would exist until I was writing it. Once I had a substantial amount of pages, I went back to my outlining comfort zone to put together a coherent draft (and ended up throwing out a lot of the pages I wrote). But I really enjoyed letting myself discover moments in the play through writing pages.
Philana: As a second-year playwright, you get to collaborate with a director for your staged reading. I know it’s still a little early, but how does working with a director influence your process?
Katherine: Working with a director is rejuvenating. It helps me look at my own play with new eyes and often opens up opportunities in the text I hadn’t realized were there. So far I’ve only had one talk with Olivia, my Playfest director, but she’s insightful and creative and I’m really excited to get into the rehearsal room with her.
Philana: What play (or playwright) do you read over and over again, and what keeps bringing you back to it (or them)?
Katherine: I’m going to go rogue and answer with a musical! Technically, the main reason I’ve listened to Adam Gwon’s Ordinary Days over and over again is that I have the original cast recording in my car, and it’s a nice way to pass the time on long car drives. But I also love the journey I go on when listening to the album. The songs are full of great character-driven language (and some lovely internal rhymes). The Deb/Warren storyline in particular exemplifies the types of stories I’m drawn to – a friendship love story that celebrates art and appreciating everyday moments.
Philana: If your play were a flavor of ice cream, what would it be and why?
Katherine: A twist, because the play’s split into two stories. The Woman is vanilla (because she doesn’t have a heart) and Cora is chocolate.
Katherine Varga is a millennial playwright working through her love-hate relationship with the Internet. Her first play Energy Mass Light was selected for a developmental staged reading at the Geva Theatre Center in Rochester, NY and was later student-produced on the University of Rochester campus. Her shorter plays have been seen at Writers & Books (Rochester), the 2015 First Niagara Rochester Fringe Festival, 20% Theatre Company (Chicago), and Curious Theatre (Denver). Her full-length screenplay It’s Not Rocket Science was a finalist in the 2017 LezPlay Contest. She also freelances as an arts journalist for the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, a Gannett paper. Website: http://katherinevarga.weebly.com
by Katherine Varga, directed by Olivia Rocco
4:00 pm, Friday April 27th, Forum Theater, RTV Building
A young photojournalist travels overseas to document war crimes. But first, she must agree to leave her heart behind. Fortunately, her news corporation has state-of-the-art technology to ensure the hearts are protected and thoroughly entertained. Cora explores how a digital culture that connects us to the world can separate us from ourselves.
Tickets for the Stage Readings are FREE and open to the public.