Tell Me a Story and I Will Listen

by Catherine Miller

“a safe place to do the unsafe things that need to be done”- John Patrick Shanley

Events in your life, books you read, people you meet, and other aspects make up the person you are today. This includes those bits of inspiration that lead one to pursue, or not pursue, a particular career in any given field. This vast spectrum of inspiration has led me to realize that the theatre is the only path for me (though I did, at one time, have a deep longing to major in forensic pathology which passed when I realized that formaldehyde makes me nauseous and causes me to faint.) I was able to explore the various jobs within the theatre starting at the age of eight, asked to crew a show for every two shows I was cast in, in addition to being able to learn about different departments in a theatre from my internship at the La Jolla Playhouse. Eventually, I landed on dramaturgy. I love to research things. I also really enjoy being able to work on new plays and musicals with writers, and help them develop their ideas from the page to the stage (I am no Shakespeare, as you might have guessed). Dramaturgy allows its practitioners to consistently learn new things while working on something they are truly passionate about.

From the day I was born, I was surrounded by strong women. Raised in a single parent household, my mother was assisted by my grandmother, who was a notorious bibliophile. This was a woman who would go to her local library on a bi-weekly basis, check out 5 or 6 different books for good measure, finish them at an alarming rate, only to do the same thing the next week. It was a cycle that some of her co-workers were shocked by, but I was inspired.
A couple years ago, influenced by my grandmothers tenacity to read as much as possible, and by Suzan-Lori Parks’ 365 Plays/365 Days, where Parks wrote a play, a day, for an entire year, I thought I would attempt something equally as challenging: I would read one play a day, for a year. Obviously, I didn’t realize that on top of school, rehearsal, and social obligations, this just wouldn’t work. I ended up changing it to reading one play a week, which is a much easier goal to pursue and allowed me time to meditate on each play I read.
Each week I would attempt to get out of my comfort zone, pick up a play, and immerse myself in the worlds these various playwrights created . To be quite honest, before this experiment, I had always felt put-off or daunted by the writings of Tennessee Williams, August Wilson, Arthur Miller, and others like them who, I felt, did not cater to my personal aesthetic. To me, at that time, they were as ancient as the Greeks were, and Willy Loman was as unrelatable as Oedipus. Besides my pompous outlook on their plays, I had been forced to read such plays as Death of a Salesman and The Crucible in high school, under analyzing each scene and character, being read out loud by some jock who had no idea the weight of emotion John Procter was feeling when he admitted to infidelity in front of his peers. I decided to take a second look and was surprised at what I found. I became fully enraptured by these plays and it opened the door to explore various types of drama, and learn from the good and bad. Noah Haidle and Adam Bock, two writers I had never heard of until I sat down in the play section at my hometown library and discovered attempting to find a new play of the week, became two of my favorite playwrights. With my Brechtian obsession already intact before this experiment began, I decided to read through various adaptations of his plays, and then moved on to other modern adaptations of older plays. I trudged through Lorca’s Blood Wedding, fell in love with Doug Wright’s I Am My Own Wife, and was challenged by Lucy Prebble’s Enron. In a nutshell, I began to open my mind to what these playwrights had to say, whether or not I agreed with them. Thoughts of theme, references, diction, and character analysis began to flood my mind and the idea of majoring in dramaturgy entered my mind. This experiment, which is ongoing, helped me come to terms with what I wanted to do with my life as well as allowing me to learn each time I cracked open the spine of a play. Right now, it keeps me going. It’s my constant. So, if you have a play you think I should read or want to discuss a piece of drama, feel free to come up to me. I am also inspired by what makes other people passionate.


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