Interview with Playwright Kitty Felde

Kitty Felde sequestered:

Kitty Felde

LA FPI Blogger Kitty Felde joined the blog team in 2010 during our first year. A generous artist who shares her many talents on and off the page, Kitty’s is a voice to hear; she’s fearless.

1. How did you become a playwright? What brought you to theater?  I’d always loved to perform. In fact, I was an actor for about ten years – mostly commercials, but also a Woody Allen film (Radio Days), an equity show at SCR, and tons of commercials (including Skippy Peanut Butter with Annette Funicello).

I’d written a revision of a Jean Claude Van Itallie one-act in college, but that was about it, as far as playwriting. Until I had a day job that bored me out of my mind. I had a quiet office and a keyboard at my disposal. I wrote my first play – a melodrama called “Shanghai Heart” that the LA Times favorably reviewed. I haven’t stopped writing plays.

2. What is your favorite play of yours? Why?  My NEW favorite is an unproduced piece for young adults that no one may ever produce since it has a character in blackface. It’s “The Luckiest Girl” – the story of a ten year old African-American girl who moves to Holland with her grandmother, a lawyer at the war crimes trials. Tahira’s homesick and latches on to the Dutch holiday tradition of Sinterklaas – and his politically incorrect sidekick Zwarte Piet, or Black Pete. Her grandmother – as you can imagine – is horrified.

3. What is your favorite production of one of your plays? Why?  I think the premiere of “A Patch of Earth”, my Bosnian war crimes courtroom drama. The Alleyway Theatre in Buffalo flew me upstate in glorious fall, put on a terrific production, even gave me the Maxim Mazumdar Award. The play’s been produced worldwide since then, but I remember that production best.
I also loved “Gogol Project” – a truly collaborative adaptation brought to life by the talented Rogue Artists Ensemble. They make magic on stage with puppets and masks. I think I wrote 14 drafts for them.

4. What play by someone else has moved you the most and why?  I saw Bill Cain’s “How to Write a New Book for the Bible” at South Coast Rep a few months ago and wept buckets and buckets. It isn’t a perfect play – certainly needs a trim – but I connected on a personal level, having lost my own mother several years ago.

5. Who is your favorite playwright? Why?  These days, it’s Enda Walsh, Bill Cain, and Ellen Struve.

6. How has your writing changed over the years?  I think I’ve gotten braver, more personal in my writing. Being glib is easy for me. It’s digging deep that’s tough.

7. What type of plays do you write? (Dramas, Comedies, Plays with Music, Musicals, Experimental, Avant-garde …) What draws you to it?  I’ve written a musical comedy, a melodrama, a radio play, a courtroom drama, a one woman show, a play for young adults, ten minute pieces, you name it! It’s the story and characters that draw me in.

8. Do you write any other literary forms? How does this affect/enhance your playwriting?  I’m a public radio journalist by day. Sometimes, the stories I cover inspire a theatrical piece. More often, it wears me out so the last thing I want to do when I get home is sit down at the keyboard again.

9. Why did you become a blogger for LA FPI?  I support the work of LAFPI! Particularly when you can count on one hand the number of productions a theatre has produced by women playwrights. It’s a wonderfully supportive group! And as an ex-patriot Angeleno, it keeps me in touch with my LA community.

10. What is your favorite blog posting?  The one about how to best use feedback from a staged reading.

11. Who do you consider an influence where your writing is concerned? And, why?  My mother, a teacher, who encouraged and nagged me and offered to loan me the $2 thousand that I spent on my very first computer if I ever needed it. My high school English teacher for four years, Sister Judith Royer, who now heads the theatre department at Loyola Marymount University. And Jean Giraudoux, the French playwright, who saw magic in everyday life and dared to write about it on stage. I was in 3 of his plays in high school, wrote a paper about him for English class, then acted in another of his plays in college, directed by the professor – Robert Cohen – who wrote the book on Giraudoux!

12. When did you find your voice as a writer? Are you still searching for it?  I’ve always written like I talk. And when I go back and blush as I read romantic short stories from my early school days, I can still hear that same voice.

13. Do you have a writing regiment? Can you discuss your process?  This is the hardest thing for me: finding a structure to write. My day job consumes me. Theoretically, because I’m on the east coast, I have an extra three hours in the morning before the folks in the Pasadena office are aware of me. That’s when I SHOULD be writing. But the reality is, I need tea – lots of it. And I drink it while reading the paper and tweeting and clearing the emails. Then it’s a mad dash to cover stories.

So, I’ve decided the best time for me to call my own is at dusk. My brain is clear (hopefully) of the debri of the day. I can escape to a desk down the hall – or to the stairwell steps around the corner – and breathe. And think. And write. I usually start with a freewrite – not the three pages advised by “The Artist’s Way” – but as much as I need to slough off the issues of the day to clear space in my head. I’ll return to it when I’m stuck, just to brainstorm with myself, trying out ideas. I’ve also created a new file for myself while I write: leftovers. This is where I’ll put lines of dialogue – or entire scenes – cut from my play. It’s somehow comforting to know it isn’t lost forever, that I can go back and retrieve it if I need it. Sometimes I do. But usually I don’t. (Maybe someday I’ll write a play just with these leftovers!)

When I have a draft I can stand to hear out loud, I like to schedule an informal reading. It’s usually in my living room with lots of wine for me and the actors. A more formal reading by a company or a festival is the next step, with lots of rewriting in between. Then, if the stars are in order, a full production.

14. How do you decide what to write?  It’s either a story that won’t leave me alone (like the war crimes play “A Patch of Earth”) or something that’s been bugging me (like “Clybourne Park” which I thought got desegregation all wrong and it led to my ten minute play “The Flier”) or characters that I’d like to spend some time with (my current project, a romantic comedy set on Capitol Hill).

15. How important is craft to you?  Very. I try to learn from other writers – how did they do that? Why does that work? What doesn’t? I find writers groups enormously helpful – hearing other plays in progress, figuring out how to make them sing.

16. What other areas of theater do you participant in? I’m a Helen Hayes judge here in DC. That’s the local version of the Tonys. I see about 3-4 plays a month. And I think if I left my day job, I’d work in a costume shop. I LOVE to sew and create clothing!

17. How do you feel about the theater community in Los Angeles? It’s interesting to contrast with DC: both are STRONG communities. Both have larger theatres that snub local playwrights. Both have a strong group of smaller theatres reaching out to local talent. I miss my LA writing group at Ensemble Studio Theatre. And I miss ALAP (Association of LA Playwrights). And there’s no LAFPI in DC!

18. How do you battle the negative voice? (insecurity, second guessing)  I have a weekly Skype appointment with a wonderful Omaha playwright I met a few years ago at the Great Plains Theatre Conference. Ellen Struve and I spend an hour every Wednesday night, sharing pages, talking about plays we’ve seen or read, and sharing the insecurities we all feel as writers. She gives me courage to face blank pages for another week.

19. Do you have a theme that you come back to a lot in your work?  Justice. And that nagging question of why neighbor turns against neighbor, almost overnight.

20. What are you working on now?  It’s a five person comedy set on Capitol Hill – a modern version of “Pride and Prejudice” called “Statuary Hall.”

For all blog articles written by Kitty Felde you can go to http://lafpi.com/author/kfelde .  Kitty’s first blog article is titled “Act Two Hell” dated November 1, 2010.

Kitty’s Bio

By day, she’s a public radio reporter covering Capitol Hill.  But in her real life, Kitty Felde is an award-winning playwright.

Felde’s written everything from a courtroom drama about the Bosnian war (A PATCH OF EARTH, winner of the Maxim Mazumdar New Play Competition) to a one woman show about Alice Roosevelt Longworth (ALICE, winner of the Open Book/Fireside Theatre Playwriting Competition) to an adaptation of a trio of short stories by Nikolai Gogol (GOGOL PROJECT, winner of the 2009 LA Drama Critics Circle Award.)

Her one-act TOP OF THE HOUR has been chosen for the Provincetown Theater’s Fall Festival for a reading and will premiere in New York City in December.

She’s a co-founder of Theatre of Note, a Helen Hayes judge in Washington, DC, and a proud member of the Dramatists Guild, ALAP, and FPI.

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