THE INQUISITION OF MAC WELLMAN, In Honor of 10 Years of Brooklyn Collegeby Gary Winter with Young Jean Lee, Kristen Kosmas, Normandy Sherwood, Erin Courtney, Karinne Keithley, Trish Harnetiaux, Annie Baker, Sibyl Kempson, and Scott Adkins.
So Emily DeVoti and I are sitting in our favorite bar—The Delphic Weasel—thinking about articles for the theater section for the Brooklyn Rail’s 10th anniversary issue.
Gary. Wake up.
Oh sorry. Roller derby practice. I’m zonked.
I practiced all morning and you don’t see me slacking off.
Okay I’m just avoiding the issue here. I don’t have any ideas for the Rail’s 10th anniversary issue. Hey did you know Mac Wellman has been teaching at Brooklyn College* for 10 years? Coincidence or alien intervention?
Coincidences like this happen only once in a lifetime. Why don’t you contact 10 of Mac’s former students and have them ask Mac one earth-shattering or mundane question each?
* Where Mac has attracted some of the most interesting writers in the city, pulled them into his orbit for two years and sent them back out into the theater world to spread their aesthetic like the furballs in some of Mac’s early work—the deep dark but in this case beautiful power of good subversion.
for Mac Wellman.
And 10 Answers.
Young Jean Lee: What is the most difficult part of writing for you, and why?
Mac: YJ: Keeping one step ahead of the devouring monster of my own assumptions, opinions, and all the horrible doings of the Already Known. The worst thing about theater is the opinionatedness it seems to generate.
Kristen Kosmas: How do you go on?
Mac: Kristmas: I do not go on, I try to stop and Sit There Doing Nothing (STDN) and allow the madness to rush on by. I consider the lilies of the field.
Normandy Sherwood: Where were you on the night of July 17, 1977? What about December 5, 1995? What about April 3, 2016?
Mac: Normandosity: a) Gave a poetry reading with Gerard Malanga at an unknown bar on the Upper East Side; b) Went to the gym for the 43rd time that year; had a tutorial with Kathleen Tolan, met Erin Courtney at 108 East 15th Street, and went home tired, but happy. (I was still recovering from a scary play I saw the night before.); c) I shall be sipping a martini on the porch of my casita outside of Taos, New Mexico, enjoying my vast estate (purchased from my earnings as the first OOB Billionaire).
Erin Courtney: One of the questions you have asked the incoming graduate students is to recall their first theatrical experience. In my memory of this question, you let us know that this might be a parade, a skit performed in our garage, or a school play on pilgrims. So, what was your first memorable theatrical experience?
Mac: Erindoodle: Doubtless this would have to be my father appearing one winter night at the window in a gorilla suit.
Karinne Keithley: What is a lemur?
(And as a follow-up, what is an evil lemur?)
Mac: kk: a) When you get up in the morning and look in the mirror; b) When you get up in the morning, look in the mirror, and growl and cackle.
Trish Harnetiaux: Under what circumstances would we find you living in a small Romanian village?
Mac: Twish: I would not be living in such a place, but in the castle overlooking, listening to the cries of the children of the night. For I am Boyar, and the common people fear me.
Annie Baker: In what ways have you changed as a writer in the past, say, 15–25 years? Are there artists/schools that you used to despise but now appreciate? If so, what/who are they? Is there writing you used to love (your own or other people’s) that now makes you cringe? If so, why? Which of your older plays do you still love and which plays do you want banished from the shelves, if any? Were you so much older then and are you younger than that now? I guess this is a nine-part question.
Mac: Anniebakerus: Hmm. a) I am probably less baroque, more impatient with myself; b) I almost always find myself angry at work that will come to be important to me later on, e.g. hated Richard Foreman’s Rhoda in Potatoland until I realized it was doing exactly what it should to me; c) Tried to reread Wallace Stevens recently, but found I didn’t like him anymore. As for my own work, most of my early work gives me the creeps—until, say, Cellophane and Bad Penny. My best play is The Lesser Magoo which was pretty much ignored here, except for Charley McNulty in the Voice. I’m proud of Antigone also, and my opera with David Lang The Difficulty Of Crossing A Field. Yes, I was older then than now because I had not yet realized the scary truth that nobody knows anything.
Sibyl Kempson: Where do you want to be five years, 32 days, and two hours from now? What are you doing? Who is with you? What are you feeling?
Mac: Sibboula: a) Im Badlands; b) Cattattattapallakakkaluza, etc.; c) Met Squeetch; d) Malarkish...
Scott Adkins: What is the stupidest play you’ve ever written and can you describe how you made it stupid?
Mac: Scatkins: My most recent (which may or may not be done in a year at Dixon Place) is a candidate: 3 2’s; or AFAR, which features a BOOT and SHOE talking about philosophy, the dangers of getting dressed, a sofa which eats and disgorges a girl, and a song about the “Divell’s Butt Hole” which goes on far too long. Then there was Duh: A Dromedary Play—a play so stupid it got lost in the closet, and Ding: A Deng about which the less said the better. How did I do All this? By much (DULL) effort and keeping in mind the dictum: True ignorance approaches the infinite more than any amount of knowledge.
Gary Winter: Tell me something you’ve learned from your students.
Mac: Gary: I’ve learned everything from them. There are far more wonderful playwrights now than ever before. And far fewer theaters of any interest at all.
ContributorGary Winter with Young Jean Lee, Kristen Kosmas, Normandy Sherwood, Erin Courtney, Karinne Keithley, Trish Harnetiaux, Annie Baker, Sibyl Kempson, and Scott Adkins.
MAC WELLMAN: Works-in-progress include: Muazzez, featuring Steve Mellor for the Chocolate Factory; 3 2's; or Afar for Dixon Place; Linda Perdido, a novel; and Left Glove, forthcoming from Max Winter's Solid Object press.SCOTT ADKINS writes plays and runs the Brooklyn Writers Space. He is making a play to be seen in the spring 2011 at a ... near you. ANNIE BAKER lives in Park Slope, where she frequently runs into Mac. She won the 2010 OBIE Award for Best New American Play. ERIN COURTNEY teaches playwriting at Brooklyn College. She's working on Leakey's Ladies with Crystal Skillman, Rachel Hoeffel, and Gretchen Von Lente for Drama of Works. TRISH HARNETIAUX is currently working on a stage adaptation of Shirley Jackson's The Bird's Nest as well as writing a super secret novella. KARINNE KEITHLEY's Montgomery Park, or Opulence, part museum, part operetta, runs from November 4-13, 2010 at Incubator Arts Project. SIBYL KEMPSON is working on three plays: So Much To Go Crazy (The Show Might Go On)(Sehr Langsam); The Secret Death of Puppets (or) How Do Puppets Die? (or) Puppets Die in Secret; and Child Memorial, or Peabody. KRISTEN KOSMAS co-curates the Twenty-Five Cent Opera (with fellow Mac students Ben Gassman, Corina Copp, Misha Shulman and Lashea Delaney) and is working on a play-length monologue--inspired by the deeply disturbing and completely unsympathetic character, Solyony, from Chekov's Three Sisters--which will be performed as a bi-lingual duet in Russian and English, a solo play for two actors and two languages. YOUNG JEAN LEE: Untitled Feminist Multimedia Technology Show Work-in-progress at the New Museum in N.Y.C., December 16-19, 2010 NORMANDY SHERWOOD is writing a new play called The Golden Veil for the company she belongs to, the National Theater of The United States of America. The play will be put on at the Kitchen in the fall of 2011. GARY WINTER is a member of 13P. He is currently working with Theater 167 on The Tale Project, which explores how folktales from a number of Jackson Heights's cultures are radically reinvented. To be staged in 2011.