The world premiere reading of Claire Kiechel’s Pilgrims, directed by Stefanie Abel Horowitz, is coming up on July 18 as part of the Bonfire Series. Read her interview below to learn how her play about a cruise ship became a play about a spaceship, and her thoughts on writing the unknown into existence.
And reserve your seat now for Pilgrims, July 18, 7:30PM, South Oxford Space (138 S. Oxford St., Brooklyn).
Pipeline Theatre Company: What do you want us to know about your play?
Claire Kiechel: Preferably not too much! But I guess I can say that Pilgrims is a play about two people embarking on a journey alone and together. And it happens to be on a spaceship.
PTC: When and where did you decide to start writing this play? Why?
CK: I actually proposed an entirely different play to Pipeline about a cruise ship and a 16 year old girl detective. I wanted to write a straight forward comedy about death and the American way. But of course, things change and after going on a cruise by myself and working on some early pages with the talented director Katie Lupica and some amazing actors at the Cincinnati Playhouse in January, I realized that the heart of the story was about these two characters I had dreamed up – a former soldier, and a young woman – and that they didn’t belong on a cruise ship.
During my residency at the Millay Colony I read books about the history of post traumatic stress in our culture and was struck by the difference in the ways we see and treat PTSD resulting from war versus the ways we treat PTSD resulting from sexual assault. I was also reading a lot of Virginia Woolf and Kurt Vonnegut for fun, but became interested in how each used conventions of fantasy and science fiction in order to describe and examine the anxieties and dreams of their respective eras.
With Pilgrims, what I’m trying to do is use a familiar situation – earth colonists on a space ship – to explore the nature of trauma and how trauma can both bind us together and tear us apart. How do two traumatized individuals, both longing to escape their past selves, forge a connection? How do words and bodies fail us? How do we create the fantasies we need in order to survive? Does war and colonization spring from a basic desire to touch and be touched?
PTC: What excites you most about this project?
CK: I’m excited about writing a play that follows an emotional logic rather than a dramaturgical one. There are scenes in this play that don’t have a logical reason for existing, except that they do, they are unavoidable and to take them out would make the play a lie. Easier, more comprehensible, but a lie.
Lately I have been inspired by the writings of Marguerite Duras, Maria Irene Fornès, and Virginia Woolf, women who listened to themselves, who followed their own logic, who were their own escape artists. It’s really fucking hard to listen to yourself, and to let yourself write the unknown into existence.
PTC: In one sentence, tell us something strange that happens in your play.
CK: A quarantine, a robot, a haunting, an alien, a pirate, a detective, a lie.
PTC: Are you working on anything else? What?
CK: Right now, I’m in the amazing Fresh Ground Pepper PlayGround PlayGroup which I’m using to work on my piece Lulu is Hungry with the director Phil Gates. It’s a loose adaptation of Wedekind’s The Lulu Plays, but I’m interested in using the original to track the figure of the “Girl” across the 20th century. Kate Zambreno has this amazing quote that I find useful about this figure and the artists obsessed with her – “They fetishized the actress-hysteric, the spastic flapper-girl, the witty mystic, the lovely mental patient, they sucked her bone dry.” I think the “manic pixie dream girl” conceit of today is totally related, but really it’s all women who are seen as “crazy” or “wild” and who are fetishized and pursued, and then ultimately punished or destroyed for their perceived “appetites.” Some people we’re looking at are: Louise Brooks, Zelda Fitzgerald, Tippi Hedren, Edie Sedgwick, and Taylor Swift.
I’m also working on my newest play you’re nothing to no one to me, an adult fairy tale about the pleasures and dangers of story-telling that asks the question of who is allowed to tell stories in our culture. It’s a play with music, so I’m also getting into more song writing at the moment.
PTC: Two truths and a lie, go:
CK: I buy my bread on the internet.
I have never bought clothes on the internet.
It is raining now.
PTC: What’s next for you?
CK: I’m really excited to be going to the Sewanee Writers’ Conference at the end of July as a Tennessee Williams Scholar. It’s going to be hot.
by Claire Kiechel | directed by Stefanie Abel Horowitz
July 18, 7:30PM
138 S. Oxford St., Brooklyn
Reserve Your Seat
On a ship to colonize a newly discovered planet, a soldier and a teenage girl find themselves quarantined in one of the ship’s cabins with only an outdated robot and each other for company. Suddenly, they’re forced to explore their own traumatic pasts and roles in a dying society.