Interview with Playwright Arwen Mitchell

wagner_headshot - CopyArwen Mitchell is a Teaching Artist with Playwrights Local. Her latest play, The Bicentennial Project, is currently running at Kent State University at Stark Theatre. Show dates are February 26 -February 27 & March 4-5 at 8 p.m, and February 28 & March 6 (ASL interpreted) at 2:30 p.m. Find out more at https://www.kent.edu/stark/bicentennial-project

Playwrights Local: Arwen, how did you become interested in theatre at all, and in playwriting in particular?

Arwen Mitchell: Religious ideas gone awry. But that’s okay – they led me to theatre, which led me to just having a hell of a lot of fun, which I really just needed, as a young religious person. I am secretly a song-and-dance person, so theatre and playwriting give me kind of an outlet for that. Not because I commit song and dance, but I get to be manic and flamboyant and obnoxious and extreme and truthful without (many) negative repercussions. Oh: I got into playwriting because I wrote a play that I thought sucked, but it went over well, and then I was under the impression that I was “called” to do it. Do you detect a theme? But – I’m not knocking where I’m from. It just amuses me, a little – where I’m from.

PL: Tell us about your last project.

AM: I wrote a commission play for Kent State Stark’s regular theatre season, in conjunction with The Canton Repository, for its bicentennial. I wanted to call it Canton-O-Rama but that was not the ultimate choice. I’m just kidding – I mean, I joked about that title, but I did “suggest” it. But I bring it up because I think it gives a tiny little sense of how much I enjoyed the project: ENORMOUSLY. Who woulda thunk that I would become a lifelong, highly-enamored Canton fan? I’ve accepted Canton into my heart. I think the play does it justice – it’s a “tapestry” play with a lot of movement and projections, that covers 200 years of Canton history.

PL: Your play Snake Oil was recently produced by the Ohio City Theatre Project. How did you come to be involved with them?

AM: I happened across them when I moved here [to Cleveland], and struck up an excellent friendship with one of the artistic directors, Sarah Greywitt. She got me involved as a dramaturg, and then they asked me to join as a company member. As I love everyone involved, and believe in their mission and artistry, it was an easy decision. Then they produced my play Snake Oil at the Canopy Collective in Ohio City.

PL: How do you begin a new work? What are your first steps?

AM: Depends on the project. I usually “develop” it, big-time. I use a lot of strategies I picked up from screenwriting, but also some key playwriting texts that I love. So – I kind of outline it, kind of write a treatment, kind of do character studies, research whatever needs to be researched (though this is an everlasting process), work on the plot. And eventually write it in a frenzy. It’s really important to me that I’m paying attention to dramatic craft. I always go back to it, no matter what kind of shape the play is taking.

PL: Who are your theatrical heroes?

AM: Thornton Wilder. Sheila Callaghan. Young Jean Lee. Sarah DeLappe. Tom Stoppard. Melissa James Gibson. Eugene O’Neill. And on. So many. And I haven’t read nearly as many plays as I should. Some plays are more my heroes than their playwrights, only because some playwright’s plays aren’t my thing.

PL: Why do you think people go to the theatre?

AM: A lot of less-than-epic reasons, but I hope, on some level, because they hope to have a few hours that they will never forgot, for good reasons.

PL: What direction do you see theatre moving in? Can you identify any “trends” in new writing?

AM: Hmmmm. More focus on women, I think. I’m a little out of the loop right now. Trends… hm. Well, I don’t really know enough to speak to that. But I do hope comedy becomes more trendy.

PL: What kind of theatre excites you?

AM: The kind that makes me forget I’m a fidgety, OCD person with a low threshold for boredom and an unfortunate tendency to crabbiness and couch-potato-ery. I LOVE comedy. Weird comedy. And forms that mess with… form. I adore absurdism. I like stories of people who don’t often get stories told about them.

PL: What play do you wish you’d written?

AM: The Wolves by Sarah DeLappe.

PL: What play would you most like to see staged (other than your own)?

AM: Stupid Ghost, I forget the playwright’s name… so, so good. [Savannah Reich]

PL: If you could change one thing about theatre, what would it be?

AM: To realize that theatre and performance art are not the same, and to pay more attention to storytelling.

PL: I am a closet __________.

AM: I am a closet makeup gnome.

Arwen Mitchell is a Midwest-based writer, dramaturg, and historian with over a decade of experience in playwriting, dramaturgy, and theatre history. Her work focuses on American history, women’s studies, pop culture, and humanism. She is the recipient of the second Nord Playwriting Fellowship at Cleveland Public Theatre. Arwen holds an MS in Theatre History & Criticism from Illinois State University and an MFA in Creative Writing from Spalding University.