the deleted interview

31+ Interviews | Deborah Magid

An almost-life-long theater professional, Deborah suddenly started playwriting and composing in 2008 and has written more than 20 operas, musicals, straight plays, short plays, and commissions so far.

I’ve said it before but let me state it again here: I, Chelsey Little, am not really a playwright. I do write sporadically, mostly creative non-fiction, but I myself have never actually written a play. Oh, I’ve tried, sort of, and I am interested – it may be something I do one day – but for the time being, I am a writer on the sidelines watching these playwrights work. Interested in learning how people who love and have been involved in theatre for years like myself might make the transition into the playwriting world, I asked Deborah to share a little bit about her first experience working on a play:

“The first piece was written because I needed to introduce myself as an actor/singer in a new town […], a chamber opera, actually. Cleveland Public Theatre does a yearly series of new works called Big Box. In 2005, while doing a Master’s degree in Music, I’d written a quintet about how five people liked to eat the same type of candy bar differently (think {of} how people eat Oreos). I came back to Cleveland in 2006 and auditioned a lot. By 2008, I was so frustrated with getting to the end of every audition and then having them cast someone they already knew that I submitted that quintet to Big Box – I’d always thought [the quintet] could be something larger, I’d just need an antagonist who wanted to proselytize the others to a different candy bar. So I wrote a synopsis, recorded the quintet with some friends, and submitted it as a chamber opera.

And I got the grant.  [I] had to write a chamber opera in about two and a half months, never having written much of anything before.

[After that], I had to cast and essentially produce it. […] I was pretty newly back (after 33 years away [from Cleveland]) and didn’t have much of a posse. Thank heaven my best friend is a pianist and somehow the whole thing got mounted with me in it (and directing, costuming, designing/putting together the set).

Now I perform in the area – I’ve worked at The Cleveland Play House and Weathervane Playhouse, to name a couple – so my plan definitely bore fruit. And about a month after the chamber opera went up, I thought up my first musical (pop), and have never stopped writing since.”

And Deborah had lovely things to say about the Cleveland theatre scene:

“[…] although getting cast is tough, it usually isn’t political. There are so many wonderful performers here – particularly in my demographic, but really across the board – that I’ve never felt I lost a role to someone not as proficient or professional as I. And we all root for each other, even as we’re competing. It was this way when I was growing up here as well, which is, I think, why there are so many Clevelanders performing consistently in the wider world – not only is there some terrific training here, but we also see it as a big community, a family, and help each other out whenever we can. Someone mentioned to me that the New York Times recently did an article about the large percentage of current Broadway players who are from the Cleveland area, which kind of makes my point.”

The Artist’s Statement on Deborah’s website states that her aim is to “create compelling roles for women, particularly those ‘of a certain age.’” It has often been lamented in the theatre world that female playwrights and characters are underrepresented. Esteemed actress Meryl Streep and many others have commented on this fact and are taking steps to rectify this, aiming for equal representation among the sexes in theatre and film. When asked what her advice was to female playwrights, Deborah had the following to say:

“What I understand is that in today’s world, we must be our own advocates. As a female actor ‘of a certain age,’ I find that roles are few, far between, and hotly contested, but that plays about this demographic are usually extremely well-attended – so why are there so few roles? […] [M]y advice to female playwrights is the same as my advice to male playwrights: do the work that speaks to you, do it sincerely, bleed into it, seek feedback, learn to glean feedback for what’s useful, and write as much as you possibly can, because it’s definitely a numbers game and you need a body of work to be able to move forward. At least, that’s my working hypothesis.”

When it comes to inspiration, Deborah looks to Pinter for his concision and Sondheim for his lyrical poetics. Additionally, {she is influenced by} “a heckuva lot of poets, painters, sculptors, composers, scientists, anecdotes, conversations deliberate and overheard, flowers, foods, fabrics, religions, qualities of light– inspiration isn’t hard, it’s the moment after. {Edison} called it ‘perspiration.’”

Currently, Deborah is working on “five projects based on/inspired by Wagner’s Ring Cycle, a full-length one-act magic realism play about MS and math, a play inspired by a piece of classical music, and rewrites on a rock opera, a C&W musical, a two-hander, a one- woman show, a chamber opera, a TYA musical, a pop musical” – just to name a few!

She is a member of the Cleveland Play House Playwrights’ Unit, the Ensemble Theatre StageWrights, and the Dobama Theatre Playwrights GYM, and serves on the Board of the International Centre for Women Playwrights.

Deborah’s strategy for writing 31 plays in August:
“Chop wood; carry water.”
Find out more about the varied theatre projects of Deborah Magid on her website and also check out her blog, mise en théâtre.

~Chelsey Little

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