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The Subtext: Clare Barron’s Secret Sauce

Brian James Polak talks to the playwright of ‘Dance Nation’ and ‘You Got Older’ about memory, pain, and first drafts.

This month Brian meets Clare Barron at Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago, where her play Dance Nation is playing.

Clare Barron (Photo by RJ Tolan)

Barron discusses her sense of nostalgia and how becoming attached to what is going on in her life while writing a first draft impacts her process. Not a fan of revising, she talks about wanting to hold onto whatever secret sauce was there when she first put words to paper. She goes on to discuss memory in general, and how being bipolar and taking medication has had an impact on what information she can retain.

She recounts several seminal moments in her early life as a theatre artist which set her on path. The first was an early connection to Heidi Schreck, who grew up in the same town in Washington state; Clare was an actor in the children’s Shakespeare company run by Schreck’s mother, Sherry.

It was a trip to Florida to attend a writing program with Annie Baker that triggered her emergence as a playwright. Baker helped Barron get into Ensemble Studio Theatre’s Youngblood, which is where she started to find her identity as a playwright rather than trying to write like Edward Albee, which is what she felt like she was doing when she first started out.

The New York production of her play You Got Older became a crucial touchstone in her career. Although some critics didn’t love the play, it won an Obie Award and earned her TV/film representation. That early success, though, did come with its share of emotional challenges, as a sense of guilt surfaced for creating art out of the most painful moment in her family’s life. But her mother and her father, whose cancer inspired the play, were completely supportive of the work; her father even joked that he should get a co-writing credit because so much of the play was about him.

Download the episode here.

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