Supporting creative work by women
Kara-Lynn Vaeni directs Kara Lee Corthron’s latest play, AliceGraceAnon, for Obie Award-winning New Georges. The production — a three ring kaleidoscopic circus of sorts — follows three iconic females — Alice from Lewis Carroll’s famed novels, rock singer Grace Slick and Anon, the subject of the fictional tome Go Ask Alice. Oh, and there’s a live band and a spectacle brigade. The eye-popping show opens at the Irondale Center in Brooklyn tonight.
Works by Women spoke with Kara-Lynn about the production and why she loves Kara Lee Corthron’s work as well as how much she enjoys teaching theatre.
Carolyn Baeumler (Grace) and Teresa Avia Lim (Alice) | Photo Credit: Jim Baldassare
WORKS BY WOMEN: AliceGraceAnon follows three known heroines – Alice (in Wonderland), Grace (Slick) and Anon (from a famous druggie journal) – and features a live band. How do these universes come together?
KARA-LYNN VAENI: These universes come together when each heroine, (Anonymous, Alice and Grace), reaches a point in her own individual story where she realizes that her history is being written for her by somebody else. Their universes collide when all three women decide to stop that at the same time, they all say “stop, I quit, I’m not participating in this narrative anymore, I want to do my own thing.” And then all three ladies get swept away into this weird other land and meet each other and then discover from there that they’re being written, how they’re being written, and how they can change that or if they can change that. And there’s a live band.
WBW: You’ve worked with playwright Kara Lee Corthron before. What excites you about her work? How is it working with her this time around?
KARA-LYNN: It’s always great to work with Kara Lee. She’s a wonderful collaborator. She is really responsive to what actors and a director bring to her text in rehearsals and there is just an ease and a confidence to her writing and to her presence in the room that makes you feel like you’re in good hands, artistically.
What I love about her work is that she’s a little dirty, which you don’t expect, and her characters are a little dirty. Her characters are rough around the edges but they’re also very witty and smart. All of Kara’s plays have one really weird thing, like dolls that talk or you know Carol Channing shows up or something. There is always that element of the magical being, but then it always gets called on!
It’s never like “oh that was actually magical” it’s more like “you realize that I’m a doll that talks, right?” So I really jive with that. This idea that there can be magic in the world, but you can’t really trust it or it can’t be totally pure, you always have to find the man behind the curtain. And I feel that way too. I enjoy magical things but I’m always like but “what’s REALLY going on here?”
WBW: You work at NYU and University of Massachusetts-Amherst. What is working with students like? What do you learn from them too?
KARA-LYNN: Working with students is extremely rewarding! I think directing plays and teaching students is equally rewarding to me, but in different ways and I think that’s why I do both of them. My students give me so much more than I can really express.
The thing that I continually learn from my students is that theatre is FUN! Because you get to a certain point where you’re just tired and you feel cynical but for undergrads it’s all amazing and new. If you start thinking you know how theatre works then its time to quit! Their questions remind me that I actually don’t know any answers either, and that journey is one of the things I love about the job of directing AND teaching. Keep curiosity alive!
WBW: What’s next for you?
KARA-LYNN: This summer I did an area premiere of a new musical at American Stage in June and then in July I did a two week workshop at the Huntington and then in August I did an area premiere of Jenufa, which is a Slavic opera in Czech, so I had to sort of learn Czech and now I’m doing AliceGraceAnon with New Georges, and soon as it opens I go into rehearsals for Benjamin Britten’s Midsummer Nights Dream opera and then I am doing the world premiere of a new Spanish golden age play written by a previously undiscovered female Spanish playwright. That rehearses in January/February and then goes up in March. After all that I’m going to take a nap! I’m having a really good run.
WBW: What are the challenges women in American theatre face?
KARA-LYNN: That question is hard because what I want to say is that they’re the same challenges that American women face in the workforce in general. The glass ceiling is a little higher, but it is still in place. I know that’s not a popular thing to say but I experience it and I see it. I think theatre is hard for anybody to do, and then its doubly hard for women to do just because there aren’t as many of us in positions of power.
So I think the key is getting more women into positions of artistic and financial leadership, so we can hire each other like boys do! But that said, even in the last ten years I feel a lot more hopeful than ever before. When I first started out it was weird to be a woman director. It was a total boys club. It may still be boys club but I feel like you’re not allowed to be as brazen about it, the whole attitude has gone underground a little bit. And I just know so many more female directors and playwrights and producers, so that’s exciting.
WBW: What gives you hope for women in American theatre?
KARA-LYNN: I feel like one thing I have experienced that is hopeful is that I no longer get referred to as a “woman director” and more and more often people are not talking about “women playwrights”. The conversation when I was starting in my career was about women directors and playwrights as an anomaly, but now I get to be just “a director”. But mainly, what gives me hope for women in theatre is all the women who are MAKING THEATRE!
For more information on the production of AliceGraceAnon as well as tickets, visit New Georges’ web site.