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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Molly Smith Metzler's 'Elemeno Pea' premieres at Humana tonight

Tonight, Molly Smith Metzler's play Elemeno Pea opens in its world premiere run at the Actors Theatre of Louisville's Humana Festival of New Plays. But even in the middle of the intense schedule of final preparations for the production, Molly found time to answer a few questions for us.

Molly Smith Metzler

I always enjoy hearing the “story behind the story.” What inspired Elemeno Pea

Well, to tell you about Elemeno Pea, let me back up and first tell you how I discovered playwriting, because they’re related. During my final semester of undergrad at SUNY Geneseo, I signed up for an Intro to Playwriting class with Dr. Terry Browne. At the time, I had applied to PhD programs in Comp Lit; I was a super nerdy English major who had never even taken creative writing. But then this one playwriting elective changed everything! I fell madly in love with playwriting, and in the final hour of college (May of my senior year!), I decided to do a 180 and completely switch gears. As my college friends were going off to serious careers and jobs, I actually pulled out of the PhD program I’d committed to and decided to pursue writing instead. (Looking back, this must’ve horrified my Mom—but you’d never had known! She was so supportive!) Anyhow, I had read somewhere that Eugene O’Neill wrote Long Day’s Journey from his ocean house in Connecticut, so I thought “Yeah! I’ll move to Martha’s Vineyard—by the ocean—and write my own Long Day’s Journey!” 

Well, it didn’t really work out like that. I actually spent most of the summer staring at a blank notebook feeling confused and getting a great tan on South Beach. BUT. My summer in Martha’s Vineyard turned out to be instrumental in terms of playwriting because—even though I didn’t know it at the time—I was doing intense research for Elemeno Pea. In Martha’s Vineyard, I landed a job at the Edgartown Yacht Club, which is the sort of yacht club that the really really really old money New Englanders belong to. The kind of place where current member’s grandfather’s grandfather’s grandfathers were members. Anyway, I waited on these rich folks all summer long and the whole time I was taking notes and writing their stories down. The characters in Elemeno Pea are derived from actual people I served gimlets to that summer (fictionalized, of course). So, the moral of the story is: if I’m your waitress, you better watch what you say! :)

It’s so exciting that the play has its world premiere at the Humana Festival. Tell us a little bit about that experience so far.

The experience has been amazing. I was just saying yesterday at the press conference that the day Marc called to invite me to Humana is up there with the day Colin McKenna asked me to marry him. Both were shocking, joyful, wonderful, YAY YAY YAY days. Debuting at Humana is a dream come true and this has been a delicious place to work. Everyone here is so kind and patient. I’ve ripped the play apart here and done huge rewrites, which is indicative of how safe and nurtured I feel here at Actors Theatre. My dramaturg (Amy Wegener) is a genius, and my director, Davis McCallum, is the most thorough, hard-working, devoted partner I could have on this play. I am the happiest playwright in the whole world right now. No, seriously.

Share a BPT memory with us, if you will.

Oh my Goodness! I have so many memories of BPT, all amazing. BPT almost feels mythical in my brain; it was such a lovely and fantastic place to be. All of my playwriting “firsts” were in that front theater at BPT. My first grad class, my first full-length play, my first “load in,” my first table work, my first set, my first production, my first audience, and, perhaps most notably, my first “Oh Wow!” moments in terms of learning about what a play could do. I remember seeing Derek’s play Walker and Kate’s play The Glider and Ronan’s play Lepers and just feeling so humbled and excited to be in the same building. The work coming in and out of our classroom and on and off our stage was extraordinary, and I was blown away. 

I started the program in 2001 (as a 22 year old and from upstate New York) and left Boston a serious writer in 2004. And I have Kate Snodgrass, Derek Walcott & all of BPT to thank for that transformation. Kate literally held my hand while I wrote my play Training Wisteria—and when I look back through the photo albums, Kate doesn’t look like my teacher or an artistic director—she looks like a member of my family. There are pictures of Kate sandwiched between my Mom and brother with drinks on Opening night; there are pictures of Kate and I having pep-talks out on the fire escape; and there are pictures of me and Kate at the Kennedy Center, smiling ear to ear about the amazing ride we’d just been on together with Training Wistera. I felt (and feel) so loved and supported by Kate Snodgrass and BPT, and in my view, a writer who gets to work with her is in for an amazing ride, maybe even a magical one.

You’ve had a lot of schooling (first BU, then NYU and Julliard)! What has each of these educational experiences given you? (And are you done, or is there a Ph.D. somewhere in your future?)

My husband has declared an edict for me at this point: there will be no more school or he will stage an intervention. Ha ha ha. I guess I have been hitting the school pipe a little hard. But I can’t help it—I love being around other writers, and fellowships have allowed me continuously attend programs without cost, which is a joy. I really like opening myself up to new plays, new people, new voices, and new communities. I’m a little too social to be a writer in the first place—the whole hunched-over-a-typewriter-in-an-isolation-chamber is not for me. I need to engage with the world and be around other artists. I find it inspiring. And all of the programs I’ve attended (BU, Tisch, Juilliard) have challenged me in different ways, helped me grow, and best of all, introduced me to my best friends and favorite collaborators. I recommend all three programs to my friends.

How does your ‘day job’ (as Playscript Editor for American Theatre magazine) impact your own work?

Several times a year, my boss calls a playwright up and says something like, “We’d like to publish your play in American Theatre magazine.” And somehow just knowing those calls exist—that those calls go out to fellow writers—makes me incredibly excited about the state of American theatre. I’ve read some outrageously good plays in my three years at TCG, and it’s an honor to have access to so much beautiful work. Also, working in the publications department of TCG gives me a really different perspective on the industry. I know this might sound obvious to say, but we read plays—we approach them as literature. And sometimes this industry can be so much about ticket sales or or who the Big Celebrity star attached is, it’s really refreshing to have to take a step back and read, just to see what the play says and experience the writer’s voice. It’s like having a daily reminder that the play is the play is the play is the play. Plus, TCG is an outstanding national organization that offers incredible resources to playwrights and theater artists (I found my current job on Art Search, as a matter of fact). Absolutely all theater artists should be members! (

What are you working on now, and what’s next for you?

I’m working on a few things right now but I can’t actually give the deets until they’re officially announced (very soon) so I’ll get back to you on this question if that’s okay with you!
Lots of love to everyone at BPT! :)

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