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Elias Stimac Talks with
Bekah Brunstetter About Her Latest Play With
Working Man’s Clothes Company -
I Used To Write on Walls

Bekah Brunstetter


Working Man’s Clothes is putting on its latest uniform and presenting a new play, I Used to Write on Walls. This “anti-romantic comedy” follows the company’s provocative revival of Anthony Neilson’s Penetrator and the scandalous Fuckplays at The Ohio. WMC is also the winner of six 2006 NY Innovative Theater Awards for To Nineveh: A Modern Miracle Play.

Performances run through October 27, 2007 at The Gene Frankel Theatre Underground (24 Bond Street) in NYC. Log onto : WorkingMansClothes learn more about WMC.

I Used to Write on Walls is directed by Diana Basmajian and Isaac Byrne and is written by Bekah Brunstetter, who is the author of To Nineveh. Brunstetter has an MFA in Dramatic Writing from The New School for Drama (formerly the Actor’s Studio Drama School.) A founding member of Working Man’s Clothes Productions, her plays Green, Arms, and To Nineveh have been staged by WMC at the American Place Theatre. I Used to Write on Walls was recently awarded the Jane Chamber’s Student Playwriting Prize through the Women and Theater Program. Her one act Green was awarded 2nd place in Boston Theatre Work’s Summer Unbound 2006 and was a semi-finalist for the O’Neill. Her one act, Sick, was published by Samuel French in Fall 2006.

Bekah’s new work follows the lives of three women -- Diane, Georgia and Joanne – who live very different lives. We recently had the chance to discuss her life as well as her new project for New York Cool.

Elias Stimac: What is your background in the arts growing up, and when did you first realize you wanted to write plays?

Bekah Brunstetter: I have always identified myself as a writer, even when I was little. I started out in middle school/high school writing pretty terrible poetry and short stories about boys I was in love with and places I’d never seen. In high school I got involved in theater sort of as a social outlet – I was a pretty bad actress, and was so tall that I was forced into the role as a Guy in Guys ‘n’ Dolls, embarrassing things like that. In college at UNC Chapel Hill, I declared a theatre major with a minor in fiction writing (which I did my honor’s thesis in.) Again, was a terrible actress – but the majority of my friends were actors, so I instead devoted time to producing, stage managing, directing, etc – in my first year of college, I decided to write a play – and was hooked from the get go. It made me feel special, it challenged me, and I found it to be incredibly rewarding. With playwriting, I found a challenging way to express myself, stay involved with my friends (writing parts for them, etc.) and have perhaps the most fun – ever. UNC has a great department called Studio II – just for producing student written work – there weren’t tons of student playwrights, so I got to see a lot of my work staged even in my beginning years as writer. It was magnificent. I decided to pursue an MFA in Playwriting as opposed to Fiction or Poetry writing because I feel like it’s so much harder, and I knew I had so much more to learn.

Elias Stimac: What was your experience like at The New School for Drama?

Bekah Brunstetter: It was stellar. A lot of arguments circle about the writing community – can you be taught to write? I mean, yes – and no. With playwriting – you can’t be taught a voice, or a gift. You either have it, or you don’t. But there ARE indeed skills that you NEED – that are crucial – the basic art of dramatics – I didn’t know these things. I had no concept of drama when I started at the New School, and emerged with a much stronger work ethic and eye for clarity. As a fiction writer and poet originally, I LOVE words, and tend to use too many of them – characters became robots for my poetry. During my three years at the New School – I learned basic skills that allowed me to flesh out what I’m actually good at – and use it towards the writing of a great play. Grad School for writing, in my opinion, is simply a good excuse to write, and well, WRITE – for three years. I had some amazing professors, saw my work developed and staged, and learned how to communicate with actors and directors, which is so important. If you write a great play – but can’t even communicate what you mean or what you want – what’s the point? The new School is great in that respect – you work so closely with the student actors and directors.

Elias Stimac: What was your involvement in helping to form Working Man's Clothes?

Bekah Brunstetter: During my first year at the New School, I met some people from Texas – we wanted to start a company – so we did. Easier said than done, I guess, but three years later – we still do it. I’ve been on board since the beginning as director of new play development. Our first show was a one act of mine, Green.I think I’ve stuck with it because we’re all such great friends. We enjoy each other’s company, love each other, and want to make good things happen for each other.

Elias Stimac: Your current play is being billed as an anti-romantic comedy. What was the inspiration for writing the piece?

Bekah Brunstetter: I am a classic narcissist when it comes to playwriting, that’s for sure. I draw my material from things that confuse and intrigue me – and well – things that have happened to me. Pissed me off, made me laugh, hurt me. This play, in particular, without getting too grossly specific, mainly revolves around a slew of experiences with a few – ahem – gentlemen callers – I’ve encountered in the three years I’ve lived in New York. One of the most lovely and horrible things about being a writer is the privilege to take loud, but nearly anonymous revenge on those who have hurt us.

Elias Stimac: What does the title, I Used To Write On Walls, signify?

Bekah Brunstetter: I wish it was some huge beautiful metaphor, but I can’t say it is. As I said, I just love words to the point of sick – when I hear a group that I like, it sticks with me until I find a story to lovingly shove underneath it. I Used to Write on Walls – a friend of mine wrote these words on my notebook during a theater history class forever ago. I looked at them and loved them. This later became befitting for a story about a young man I knew who was obsessed with drawing on walls with chalk. Titles always come before the story for me, and it is up to the directors to scramble like mad to justify them J. Diana and Isaac have found some really lovely resonance in the title that I didn’t even know was there. But in retrospect – the play really is about our effort to leave marks on the world, and the people we love.

Elias Stimac: What is the dynamic of having two directors, Diana Basmajian and Isaac Byrne, working on the play?

Bekah Brunstetter: It’s great. It definitely doesn’t work for every play or every project but – Isaac and Diana have both separately directed my plays before – I love and trust them, and they understand my writing, so that ground was already covered. Also – they have completely different directing styles that really compliment each other. It should also be mentioned that they communicate very well – and neither has a huge sensitive ego that would get in the way of the creative process. I think it’s going to turn out swimmingly.

Elias Stimac: How does this play compare to your last production, To Nineveh?

Bekah Brunstetter: I wrote To Nineveh four years ago so I HOPE I’ve gained some skills since then. They are both very personal plays with stylistic challenges and lots of room for play and interpretation. It’s still a WMC show – so the focus is on minimalism and a clarity of story-telling.

Elias Stimac: How did you feel when that piece won the 2006 New York Innovative Theater Award for Outstanding Full Length Script?

Bekah Brunstetter: That was a pretty awesome. I can’t lie. I really, REALLY didn’t expect it. It was the greatest thing I had accomplished to date – I was just really stinking proud, and really felt like a playwright, as opposed to a person who sometimes writes plays. It was also a huge honor for the whole company, and we all got to revel in the accomplishment, which was really special.

Elias Stimac: What advice do you have for other playwrights trying to get produced in NYC?

Bekah Brunstetter: It is so important to go see off-off plays, meet the people behind them, find people whose work you enjoy – and force them – against their will – to take a look at yours. Keep your eyes and ears open for opportunities. ALWAYS submit your work, as frequently as possible. Put it in the mail – forget you sent it. If they don’t respond to it – no big deal. They are not going to come to your apartment and laugh at you. It seems like a huge risk to submit your work but – it’s important. Even if it seems like the play isn’t done, submit it anyways – because truth is – it will NEVER feel done. Check out www.playwritingopportunities.com for a monthly update of submissions. Join the Dramatists Guild, for sure. Take any and all opportunities. Experience life as fully as possible. Live life and make mistakes. Write about them.

Elias Stimac: Most playwrights want to get published. How did your one act, Sick, get published by Samuel French last year?

Bekah Brunstetter: Samuel French, in association with LoveCreek Productions, holds a one act festival each year, with something crazy like 200 one acts from all over the country. Judges pick finalists, and from these finalists, six or seven are chosen to be published by Samuel French – it’s a pretty sweet deal. It’s harder to get plays published than it is to get them produced, that’s for sure. To Nineveh was published by United Stages because of the It Awards, and my play Arms will be published by Smith and Krauss because, well, my roommate met the editor while bartending. Seriously. Seize all opportunities.

Elias Stimac: What's it like having a show done at the Gene Frankel Theatre Underground?

Bekah Brunstetter: I love small spaces. They are scary and weird and lend so many opportunities for small, truthful story telling.

Elias Stimac: What is it like to be an artist working in New York these days?

Bekah Brunstetter: It is difficult – really. Especially when you find the thing that you love to do, that you want to do more than anything – but it doesn’t pay the bills. It is frustrating to have to do some other thing for money – and then when that is done – your real work has not even begun. But so much joy comes from the finished product that I feel makes it all worthwhile.

Elias Stimac: If any of your plays are set in NYC, what makes having New York as a location important to a play?

Bekah Brunstetter: I think that living in NYC after three years is just now really starting to influence my writing. NYC is hard, fast, alienating – but – also wonderful. This contradiction is challenging to grasp in a play. I haven’t yet really set something specifically in NYC – it’s usually just ‘the big city’ – I don’t like being very specific with locations. They’re usually things like ‘a park somewhere south’ or ‘a hill somewhere.’ It’s more fun this way; more room to play.

Elias Stimac: What are your future projects and plans?

Bekah Brunstetter: I hope to keep writing plays – to have the means and the will to do so. Hopefully, one day, I can support myself doing it, and not have to constantly scour Craigslist for disturbingly strange freelance writing work. I’m constantly sending my work all over the place (then forgetting that I sent it, of course) so maybe – hopefully – one day – something will pan out. As for the near future, I have a reading of my play Green here in November through SPF and Fox Theatricals, and at the Alliance Theater in Atlanta in February. My new full length, Fat Kids on Fire, goes up in January through Phare Play Productions, and I’ve recently somehow managed to get the attention of Rattlestick Playwright’s Theater, which is really exciting.

On tap for Working Man’s Clothes Productions in the spring of 2008 is
the NY Premiere of 37 Stones by playwright Mark Charney. Will Neuman
will direct.

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