Supporting creative work by women
Is there a more appropriately named festival in New York these days than the Frigid Festival? It’s a great place to check out new, emerging work and see shows that have wowed people in other parts of the country. Among the 30 fabulous shows is Almost a Genius, Maria Wojciechowski‘s hilarious take on living with bipolar disorder and panic attacks. Maria performs regularly in Chicago.
She spoke to Works by Women about labeling herself as a performer, the inspiration for her show and what it was like to appear on America’s Got Talent.
WORKS BY WOMEN: Tell us about your work. Musician. Comedian. Hybrid Performer. How do you describe what you do?
MARIA WOJCIECHOWSKI: Sometimes I don’t know how to label myself, and I find that gets me “in trouble” when it comes to getting booked. I suppose I just label myself as a writer and performer and hope that is a vague enough description to give me room to do whatever I like to do.
WORKS BY WOMEN: Your show ALMOST A GENIUS mines the humor of a potentially dark subject–bipolar disorder. How did this piece come together? How was it developed?
MW: I was very depressed for a good part of 2012/13, and I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder during that period. It was a lot to swallow. The day I received my diagnosis I wrote a set about it and performed it at an open mic and later at iO Theater in Chicago. I was surprised at how well it was received. I use that set as the unifying theme in Almost A Genius.
As for other pieces in the show: For a year I performed as an ensemble member of a rotating sketch show at iO called Saturday/SATURDAY. For that show the ensemble had to write new pieces every week, not unlike a popular live television show filmed in New York. It was amazing. It was a safe place to fail in front of a real audience, which is imperative to producing material. Most of my solo sketch characters in Almost A Genius were created for Saturday/SATURDAY.
On night I decided to do a one woman show, I stayed up all night and threw it together. It was a mess. Luckily my friend Natalie Shipman got on board to direct, and she helped me come up with a running order that really focused the show.
WBW: What excites you most about being part of the FRIGID Festival?
MW: Almost A Genius was well received in Chicago, but I have NO idea how it will play in New York. That’s exciting for me. I mean nerve-racking, but also exciting. I’ve never performed in New York, and I’m really looking forward to it. –Also, I’m looking forward to warmer weather. Chicago is awful right now. Just awful.
WBW: I loved reading your post about being on America’s Got Talent. So insightful and funny. It sounds like a pretty awful experience. Now 10 months removed from the experience, what do you take away from the experience? And, now when you flip past a reality TV show, do you view the shows differently?
MW: Oh gosh. First of all, thank you. At the time it was earth shattering for me. I really had high expectations of it being my “big break.” I cried for weeks after it. It didn’t help that I was already severely depressed at the time. Now almost a year later, I’m so glad that I did it. Every comedian has there “bomb” story, and America’s Got Talent was mine–in front of 4,000 people. It doesn’t get much worse than that. Now I feel free to try new things and know that failure might happen but who cares. I wouldn’t say that it made me fearless, but I have become a braver performer.
It also taught me that there likely won’t be a “big break.” Those Cinderella stories happen only to Cinderellas right? For most of us we just have to keep working hard and achieve our successes gradually.
WBW: What’s next for you?
MW: I’m writing a sci-fi novel, but other than that I don’t have any grandiose plans. My best friend, Abby Vatterott and I have a two person group called Abbaria (our names combined). We have similar comedic brains, and I’m excited to see where it leads. I’m just going to keep doing what I enjoy doing until someone notices. Or doesn’t. But I’ll keep doing it =)
WBW: What are the challenges facing women in American theater?
MW: I’d like to see more female directors. In my experience I’ve worked mostly with male directors. I love working with other women. It’s refreshing and relatable for me.
WBW: What gives you hope for women in American theater?
MW: I’ve seen a lot more female playwrights popping up! Most of the “classics” were written by men, and while there is nothing inherently wrong with that, it is, again, refreshing to get a new perspective. Also I think it’s educational for our male counterparts.
Almost a Genius runs February 21-March 7 at the Frigid Festival. For tickets and information, visit the Frigid Festival’s website.