Meet NYC's most talented starving artists, before they're rich and famous. This week meet playwright, Mariah MacCarthy and find out what she has to say about loving the female body, taking Justin Timberlake as a sex slave, and adding peanut butter to Ramen noodles.
by David Davila (playwright / songwriter)
Mariah MacCarthy has only been on the NYC theatre scene for a couple of years, but she's already made a very large mark with her underground, self-produced, provocative plays about relationships and the human body. I first met Mariah in Detention. Not high school detention obviously, she's from California and I grew up in Texas, but Primary Stages' downtown one-act theatre series, Detention. I had heard from a mutual friend, playwright Richard Patterson, that she was also writing a gay Romeo & Juliet update called AMPERSAND: A ROMEO & JULIET STORY which was playing Fringe Festival back in 2011 and I was immediately intrigued. Needless to say, I started following her work.
More intriguing still were the titles of her other plays that followed, THE ALL-AMERICAN GENDERFUCK CABARET, and THE FOREPLAY PLAY which she produced in her friend's apartment to sold out crowds. It was her creation of CAPS LOCK THEATRE that inspired me to self produce my own events as well.
Last summer she created a fundraising event called PUSSYFEST for her 2012 Fringe Festival submission, MAGIC TRICK (about a paraplegic burlusque performer) and the event was such a hit that she's bringing it back for seconds. PUSSYFEST REDUX, monologues about the female body, is happening this Saturday and Sunday (9th and 10th) at Joria Studios, and I've never been more excited about pussy.
(A scene from THE FOREPLAY PLAY)
I sat down with the envelope-pushing playwright at New York Beer Company over local IPAs and chatted about whiskey, fish bodies, and boybands. Here's what the lady had to say:
(David Davila) What is Pussyfest?
(Mariah MacCarthy) Pussyfest is forty-one monologues about the body, written for female-identified/bodied actors. “About the body” can mean anything. We’ve had monologues about fish bodies, about dead mothers, about becoming different animals, and, yes, about vaginas.
(DD) How did Pussyfest come about?
(MM) I needed to raise money for my Fringe play MAGIC TRICK and I was inspired by an event at my playwriting alma mater, ESPA at Primary Stages. Every month ESPA has an event called Detention, where there’s a guest artist who has student playwrights write short pieces, and then student actors and directors put them up. So one month they had us do two-minute monologues all based on the theme of the apocalypse. I found myself thinking, hey, this is a really efficient way to get a lot of amazing people all in a room together, which often means big audiences as well, and then I started thinking we could do it with actresses and call it Pussyfest. (This time around there are also a couple performers who fuck the gender binary, which I love and intend to keep embracing as PUSSYFEST continues.) After all, there are so many unbelievably amazing actresses in the city; why not give them a chance to strut their stuff? And since Magic Trick was about burlesque and disability, I decided to have the monologues be about the body—however writers chose to interpret that.
So the first time around, I did it sort of traditionally: I put out a call for submissions, chose forty of those submissions, gave a handful of monologues to each director, and had the directors cast and put them up as staged, script-in-hand readings, a la New York Madness, another event that inspired this one. But then I realized that the performers, the ones who’d been the impetus for this event existing, were the last ones on board. They had the least time to get invested, to promote themselves, etc. So this time around I approached the performers first, and then once I had enough awesome actors in my pocket I went to the playwrights and said, “I’ll be matching you with one of these amazing performers, wanna play?” Almost everyone I’ve asked to participate in Pussyfest has said yes.
So every single monologue you see in Pussyfest has been custom-written for that performer. There’s also music—more this time than before.
(MM) I liked their work.
(DD) Cool. Now let’s get into some really important Bohemian questions. How long have you been trying to “make it” in NYC?
(MM) Make what? Make love? Make money? Make a career? I’ve lived here five years. I’ve been working my ass off pretty much the whole time.
(DD) Yeah you have to in this city or it eats you alive. What neighborhood do you live in?
(MM) Astoria, around the corner from the beer garden.
(DD) I have still yet to go to an alleged beer garden. It’s on my to-do list. What is your favorite appetizer to order at a Pub?
(MM) Sweet potato fries. Though it’s really, really sad when they’re soggy.
(DD) Totes! What’s your favorite adult beverage?
(MM) Depends on my mood. Red wine sometimes. Whiskey sometimes.
(DD) And how do you like your coffee?
(MM) Light and sweet—the opposite of my plays.
(DD) Haha. I love that. If you had to choose one boy band to use as sex slaves which one would you choose?
(MM) The Lonely Island.
(DD) Oh. My. God. Best answer ever! You get Justin Timberlake without having to take Lance Bass. What are your top 5 favorite hangouts in NYC?
(MM) South’s in Tribeca, Sparrow in Astoria if it’s not crowded, Mosaic, also in Astoria for quiet conversation, Stillwater in the East Village, and New York Beer Company in Hell’s Kitchen has really good onion rings. They’re like a donut with an onion in them.
(MM) If you add peanut butter, soy sauce, and red pepper sauce to ramen, including the flavor packet, it’s delicious and makes you feel gourmet instead of “oh God I’m so poor I’m eating ramen.”
(DD) Hahaha. I am going to try that! I promised my Mom I would stop eating Ramen. Something about chemicals, but of course I haven’t really kept that promise. What's the craziest or worst job you’ve ever had?
(MM) I worked at a Friendly’s the summer after I graduated college. It actually wasn’t so bad. I got free ice cream. The Gap was probably worse, because they didn’t give me any hours if I didn’t shove Gap cards down people’s throats.
(DD) My ex used to work at the Gap and he complained about that too.
(MM) At least I didn’t have to wear a uniform at the Gap. Also, the Gap managers really bought into the propaganda of the place and expected their employees to do so as well; at Friendly’s, they were just like, “So, you’re looking to make some extra money? Cool. Here’s how you make sundaes.”
(MM) If it’s nice, the park.
(DD) If only it were nice this time of year. What lesson would you like to go back and teach a 10 year old version of yourself?
(MM) I’d tell her that love is more important than being the best at everything.
(DD) That’s a hard lesson to learn. What do you think is the purpose of art in society?
(MM) Same as food and air.
(DD) Wow you just blew my mind. That’s so poetic. What reoccurring themes surface in your work?
(MM) Love, sex, gender, power shifts, and dance breaks.
(DD) Haha! Dance breaks! I love that that's a reoccuring theme. What do you wish to achieve by writing plays?
(MM) I have no fucking idea. All I know is I can’t not.
(DD) That’s a good sign I think. What’s your plan to break into the business?
(MM) Work my ass off, do it myself if I have to, keep good collaborators around me. It’s working.
(DD) Do it yourself! That brings us to Voxism. (The idea of producing your own work – and using guerrilla campaigns to become popular) Would you consider yourself a Voxist?
(MM) You were the one to call me a Voxist, so I guess I would!
(DD) Right. We listed you as one of our Voxist influences. What kind of Voxist ideals have you used?
(MM) There is definitely an element of the “guerilla” to what I do. When I used to work in arts administration, they let me use the office during off-hours as a rehearsal space for a workshop of my play The ALL-AMERICAN GENDERF*CK CABARET, during which I’d have the actors improvise scenes based off of prompts we gave them, and I’d write down as much as I could and make it into a scene later.
For a fundraising campaign for my play THE FOREPLAY PLAY, we told people that we’d perform, on video, as much of a song as they were willing to pay for; thirty seconds, a minute, or the whole enchilada, in whatever fashion we chose. That could mean just straight-up singing, dancing to it, having teddy bears dance to it, whatever.
Also, Caps Lock, my theater company, has “by whatever means necessary” as part of their mission statement. That seems pretty Voxist.
(MM) I was about to say “people who are unafraid.” But, that’s not quite true. People who don’t let fear, or discrimination, or bad odds, or a perceived lack of resources, or anything stop them.
(DD) Are you able to make a living off of your art?
(MM) Not yet.
(DD) Any advice for the teenage artists around the world who dream of moving to NYC?
(MM) It’s not the only place to move to. If you decide to move elsewhere first for a few years, New York won’t go anywhere. There are plenty of other thriving arts communities around the country. That said, I’m glad I moved here right after graduating college and I wouldn’t change a thing.
No matter where you go, volunteer for the institutions you wish to be part of. Enthusiasm and free labor are highly valued currency. Keep in mind that smaller institutions, often the ones that don’t see themselves as “institutions” at all, are easier to penetrate. See everything you can at first, later you can start budgeting your time more selectively, but supporting your peers’ work is another form of highly valued currency.
(DD) So true!
(MM) And no matter how hard you have to work, KEEP. MAKING. ART. All the time. That’s the whole point, after all, isn’t it?
And keep your credit card debt low or non-existent, if you can.
(DD) That is good advice gurl. Just say no to credit cards. So, what other projects are you currently working on?
(MM) I have a reading on Wednesday, February 6, at 7pm at the Players Theatre, of my Lysistrata Rape Play. It’s a dark, dark, dark comedy in which women decide en masse to embrace abstinence as a protest against rape. Things go horribly wrong. People, including me, seem to think it’s pretty funny. It’s also been devastating to write. You can find out more about it at thetheatreproject.org.
(DD) Oh, and can you share your favorite Instagram photo with us?
(DD) I love Astoria too!
...and now for the 90's jam of the week. This week's song is in honor of the fabulous Destiny's Child reunion at the Super Bowl this week. Beyonce be fierce... though what was up with ending on such a downer with "Halo?" Anyway here is the ORIGINAL members of Destiny's Child before the days of Michelle's raspy gospel voice and lots of Daddy/Manager drama.
DAVID DAVILA is half of the song-writing duo Havrilla & Davila, author of the Tex-Mex plays ADAN Y JULIO, MEN OF GOD, CREDO, REQUERDOS OF MY LIFE, and AZTEC PIRATES AND THE INSIGNIFICANCE OF LIFE ON MARS, and founder of Lone Star Theatre Company. Come see a concert of his original songs performed by a bunch of awesome Broadway singers on Feb 17th at the Triad Theatre. OR come check out a concert of his original songs sung by a bunch of kick-ass college students on Feb 27th at the Underground Theatre! www.daviddavila.net
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