The Subtext is a podcast where playwrights talk to playwrights about the things usually left unsaid. In a conversation that dives into life’s muck, we learn what irks, agitates, motivates, inspires, and ultimately what makes writers tick.
In this month’s extra-large edition of The Subtext, host Brian James Polak visits Actors Theatre of Louisville to attend the 42nd Humana Festival of New American Plays. During his visit he sits down with playwrights Leah Nanako Winkler and Mark Schultz for separate conversations.
Up first is Leah Nanako Winkler, who recently won the Yale Drama Series Prize for God Said This (which was presented at this year’s Humana Festival and will next appear at Primary Stages Off Broadway in 2019). Leah describes writing this play while her mother was going through chemo therapy treatment and how “cancer” movies like 50/50 and The Fault in Our Stars brought her comfort.
Real-life experiences inspire her work, but what she writes is in no way autobiographical, despite people believing she must have tried to stop her sister’s wedding as the protagonist in her play Kentucky did.
She admits being at the Humana Festival is a seminal moment, but she didn’t get there easily. Leah put in years of work to reach this place in her career from drawing manga comics when she was a child, to building her own audience through self-producing plays. Leah talks about how life can get bogged down with moment to moment work, and how it can become easy to forget to stop and enjoy the journey. But this life-changing year has reminded her to celebrate her success.
Mark Schultz is not only a playwright, but also an Episcopalian Priest, creating a sort of duality that allows him to both speak out to the world with his writing as well as listen in his role as a reverend. His play Evocation to Visible Appearance made its world premiere at Humana.
There were several moments in Mark’s life where he was given “gifts” by teachers and mentors; his high school teacher who introduced him to the theatre, and director Anne Bogart opening his eyes to seeing theatre as a means to open doors for an audience rather than to educate them, and playwright Lucy Thurber who gave him that precise note at the perfect time.
Mark approaches playwriting, not with easy answers to present to an audience, but instead eschewing “a single narrative meaning.” Mark goes on to ponder “There are multitudes inside of us… if we can’t wrestle with the tensions of our own multiplicity and our own internal diversity, how are we to wrestle with the tensions of a social diversity?”
Mark describes artist Mark Rothko’s seven elements of good art, which includes “10 Percent Hope” to help make the tragic feel endurable, but Mark Schultz’s work tends to follow a path tread by Sarah Kane’s Blasted, where he describes “there is only .03 percent of hope.” Evocation to Visible Appearance dramatizes a future for the younger generation that feels bleak, but somewhere there is perhaps a small amount of hope.