Supporting creative work by women
Kristen Palmer‘s plays The Stray Dog, The Melting Point, Local Story, The Heart in Your Chest, Departures, and Gloucester Point. They have been produced and presented in New York City, Los Angeles, Seattle, and elsewhere. She has been a Women’s Project Lab Member collaborating on the off-Broadway production We Play For The Gods, a Jerome Fellow at the Playwrights Center, New Georges Associate Artist, Soho Rep Writer/Director Lab Member, and a company member of Printer’s Devil Theatre in Seattle. She is a graduate of Bretton Hall College in Yorkshire, England and holds an MFA from Hunter College where she studied with Tina Howe and Mark Bly and won both the Zarkower and Goldberg Prizes. She is currently the Artistic Director of Oddfellows Playhouse Youth Theater.
Her play Once Upon a Bride There Was a Forest, produced by Flux Theatre Ensemble, opens in New York City this week. Kristen spoke to Works by Women about fairy tales, Flux, and balancing motherhood with playwriting.
WORKS BY WOMEN: What is the inspiration for Once Upon a Bride There Was a Forest?
KRISTEN PALMER: I have a long infatuation with fairy tales. I used to help my mom sort books at the library for their annual book sale and as long as I helped I could take books for myself. Maybe that was the deal, or maybe I was just stealing them. Anyways, I found a thick, old, battered hard back copy of The Brothers Grimm’s collected stories that seemed like a magic thing and I read it cover to cover, over and over again.
Then I had the fragment of a story in a notebook about a girl who goes to seek her father over the mountains and when she found him he had a whole other life without her.
Then I had the great good fortune of having Tina Howe as a teacher who started class off with a steady diet of Jung.
WBW: You’re working with Flux Theatre Ensemble and Heather Cohn. Tell me more about working on this production.
KP: Flux is a company who puts their values into action at every step of the process. They are some of the hardest working, committed, sparkling folks in independent theater. This play’s first outing was at their annual retreat site specifically staged around a farm and barn. Heather directed it and Becky Byers and Rachael Hip-Flores were both in that reading. They then hosted a public reading in their Food:Soul series and now, here we are about to open. The continuity of artists and community around the play has contributed to its development since that first reading.
Because I have a long relationship with Flux there has been a lot of trust built into this process. And I admire them for creating a space where that is no accident. They have structures in the way they work to allow for these relationships to grow.
WBW: You are part of a two playwright household. What are the advantages of that? Also, director Jordana Williams just spoke to Works by Women about juggling working theater and being a mom. Has being a mom enriched your experience as a writer? If so, how?
KP: Both of those questions are so big and existential! My husband, playwright Adam Szymkowicz, is a great reader and giver of notes. We support each other to find writing time and space without question. However, now we’re new parents and while we want to support each other to find and make that time for writing we haven’t figured out how to do that consistently. Jordana and other moms who continue to manage to make theater and parent are inspirations to me as I try to figure it out. But, to be honest I haven’t written much since our baby was born last year. Revisions of existing plays, some manic forays into new material but I haven’t found that sweet spot for myself yet.
WBW: You are the artistic director of Oddfellows Playhouse Youth Theater. What is it like working with future theater makers? What do you learn from them?
KP: Theater is putting yourself into the space. The young people have to show up, move, speak, make choices and commit when they’re in classes or rehearsals. I get the sense that they are hungry for that. That there aren’t so many opportunities for that in their lives. Theater needs people in a room together agreeing to play together, all responsible for the success of the project. It is elemental and we all need it, especially when we’re young. My job is to create the most opportunities for young people to make that agreement and play together.
So I learn, over and over again, from my students, that theater is essential and we’re better off when we play together. Every time.
WBW: What’s next for you?
KP: I’m directing Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Youth Theater and leading a devising process with junior high students considering race and identity at this point and time in America. Writing-wise I have a play I’m starting to share that I’m calling the Persephone Project (an environmental mama-drama) that is big and epic and sprawling. I’m also working on a three character office comedy set during the twilight of the Time Life Books phone operators.
WBW: What are the challenges facing women in American theater?
KP: Time and money. Women continue to be compensated less than men for the work that they do, we know this in terms of dollars, but it is also true in regards to status. I think the challenges women face in the theater are similar to the challenge all women face. There is something hinky in the system.
WBW: What gives you hope for women in American theater?
KP: That more women are present in leadership and decision making roles, both by making their own theaters and systems and by taking places in organizations. And that we’re talking about issues such as health insurance for artists, childcare, and acknowledging that you have to support diverse artists and leaders if you want a diverse, lively, cultural discourse. And that as the status quo fails more and more of us the need to change business as usual becomes more widely understood.
Also the women I know are so damn talented and determined.