CMU School of Drama

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Interview with Playwright Sarah Ruhl

Proscenium: Sarah Ruhl’s plays include Scenes from Court Life, For Peter Pan on her 70th Birthday, The Oldest Boy, In the Next Room, or the vibrator play, The Clean House, Eurydice, Dead Man’s Cell Phone, A Melancholy Play, Orlando, Late: a cowboy song, Dear Elizabeth and Stage Kiss. She is a two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist and a Tony Award nominee. Her plays have been produced on Broadway at the Lyceum by Lincoln Center Theater, off-Broadway at Playwrights Horizons, Second Stage, and at Lincoln Center’s Mitzi Newhouse Theater. Her plays have been produced regionally all over the country and have also been produced internationally, and translated into over twelve languages.

10 comments:

Katherine Sharpless said...

I'm generally familiar with Sarah Ruhl, having designed for Eurydice, and am very drawn to her process, more so than her final product. I love how she uses historical references, or the pre-Freudian context, to reflect present day issues. I feel such a strong tether between the past and present while reading her work, inspiring contemporary reflection. But I'm not always a fan of the dialogue she employs. To me her style can be more emblematic than necessary, and the storyline is lost amidst the wonder and creativity of her language (she was a poet before she was a playwright). As the designer, my complaint is probably very egotistical as I work better with a more straight-forward script. While designing Eurydice I was frustrated during my initial readings because the core story wasn't completely accessible. However, reading the interview helped me understand more of her process and her mentality towards playwriting, and reconciled my struggles with her work. It would be helpful for me to read and see more of her shows. She has offered so much to the theatre community and I hope I have the opportunity to design for one of her shows again.

Brennan Felbinger said...

Is there anything this human cannot do? I had no idea that in addition to her immensely successful career as a playwright that she also taught at Yale School of Drama. Sarah Ruhl's plays are absolutely out of the world. I have always been fascinated by how artists develop their own style, because I feel as though it can be incredibly difficult to develop a style that can be both considering marketable but that also is very distinctly your own. Sarah Ruhl does this seemingly with ease, which is why I have been drawn to her in the first place, regardless of my consistent inability to remember names of playwrights. Sarah's is one that I distinctly remember. I think the most critical point in this interview in particular was the fact that she is unable to separate between comedy and tragedy, which I think really defines her style of writing in a quite concise manner.

Liz He said...

I got to know who this amazing playwright is when I was assigned as the APM for Eurydice last semester. I instantly fell in love with the play when I only started reading the playwright's notes. It was so beautifully and poetically written, and like Sarah said in the interview, her work embraces fantasy and realism, humor and melancholy, wit and absurdity. The dynamic equilibrium she manages to keep among those is purely superb and done to perfection. On top of everything, I felt a sense of familiarity from her writing and later I found out that she was also the playwright for Three Sisters and Dear Elizabeth. Like Brennan said above, what can't she do?

I found it intriguing that she said teaching makes her more forgiving. Perhaps the task of guiding students and paving the way for them to move further in life requires both pragmatism and romanticism, both hope and harsh reality, from which the educator procure a more comprehensive perspective of the world and humanity in general, the "sympathetic observation" so to speak. Playwrights like Sarah are immensely precious to the theatre industry, because they are the heart of heart, the "prehistoric" mystic force, the core that keeps theatre alive.

Helena Hewitt said...

I was first introduced to Sarah Ruhl's work last year during Foundations of Drama. Jasmine and Natalia did a presentation on her play The Clean House which has a largely female cast and focused on different relationships between women. Not long after CMU produced Eurydice in the Rauh. It was the poetry of Ruhl’s imagery and particularly her stage directions. I am very much a “theatre is meant to be seen, not read” kind of person but Ruhl is the one playwright that I enjoy reading her work as much as I do seeing it. Her pure use of language is appeals to me in a way that I haven't found with any other writer. Even the language of Shakespeare, which I love, I don't find very appealing on the page. His words I need to hear performed to catch the feeling, rhythm, and clever wordplay. But Ruhl’s words allow me to see the images and feel the emotions of a play just from the raw text. Even in her interview, the simple but beautiful image she invokes of the anatomy of a leg as a metaphor for the relationship between comedy and tragedy is like a chunk of a poem wandered into her everyday speech.

Annie Scheuermann said...

Last year I read The Clean House for my foundations of drama class, and really loved the story as well as the writing style. Then weeks later Eurydice opened here, and I loved that play of hers as well. Her work is so new and has a fresh view on our world, while bringing in old time characters and atmospheres. From this interview she seems like a very inspiring women, and I highly respect her for leading the women in the playwriting field. I do wish this interview went way more in-depth, perhaps it is more on her and not wanting to be very open about her life to the media world, as some of her answers were rather short. I really want to see more of her work being done, and the newest play I will definitely add to my reading list.

Sarah Battaglia said...

I had never read anything of Sarah Ruhl's before I saw Eurydice last year at CMU but I absolutely fell in love with the language when I saw it and I looked at more of her stuff and I fell in love with it. Her ability to create a world with language is so incredible. The interviewer was exactly right in saying that her plays seem like poetry with narrative. It almost feels like you are listening to constant imagery as you watch her work. I loved the simplicity with which she gave her answers as well. Too often I see writers that use these crazy things to inspire them and I think it perfect that Ruhl said things like "rain" and "family". It makes perfect sense that she would be simple in her answer. While her work is intricate and interesting, there is a simplicity to it that makes her so impactful. When I listen to stories I want them to be beautiful but I also want to be able to understand them and relate to the characters, which often gets lost in the words when they are so intricate. Ruthless work hits you hard and leaves you with things to think about but you also feel like you could be in it, and I think that is a really unique quality. I look forward to reading more of her work and watch her grow as an artist.

Natalia Kian said...

Last semester, when poised to choose a play for Jasmine and I to research and present in Foundations of Drama, I immediately turned to Sarah Ruhl's collection of works in search of something inspired. Sarah Ruhl's words and work have been incredibly important to me since the first show I was ever a part of - at fourteen years old I was a PA on my high school's production of Eurydice. I had one job: I sat in a dark corner backstage with a headset on, and when the time came each night I would listen, receive a cue from the stage manager, and point a single finger at the run crew member who was responsible for flying out the string house rig. It was the tiniest, most miniscule, insignificant job in the world, but I felt as though if I failed the apocalypse would fall. This, to me, was largely due to the holy poeticism of Sarah Ruhl's playwrighting. Never before had I met a play which was as much about presentation of text as it was the words which comprised it, which made it impossible to present in any other way. Every syllable of Ruhl's scripts has an air of absolute necessity, a capacity to capture something wholly singular which no other number of words, no matter how great, could capture as well as the one. Her metaphor and poetry breathe life into a story so precisely and expansively, no director worth their salt could keep an audience from feeling the effect. I don't know that I'll ever be able to fully comprehend just what makes Sarah Ruhl's mind work the way it does. I don't know that I want to. All I know is, I feel lucky to be effected by the strength of its individuality. Sarah Ruhl is an artist if I've ever seen one.

John Yoerger said...

One particular quote from this interview caught my eye. Ruhl says that "I can’t separate comedy and tragedy. I think they are as mutually dependent as the muscle and the bone in terms of getting a leg or a play to move." and I don't think that I've ever heard anything that is more true. Out of all my gripes with certain theatre creators, and moreover dramatic literature itself, there sometimes exists this caveat to deny the humor in a situation. Death can be funny. I feel like some artists deny the humor in various situations they write about--and when they do--they take away from the humanity that is the theatre art form. Some people laugh when they're uncomfortable and that's okay. Sometimes things are funny. It can be irony or just slapstick humor. But this ideology that humor is only "appropriate" at certain times I believe degrades the humanitarian spirit in some dramatic works... So good for Ruhl.

Amanda Courtney said...

Sarah Ruhl is a staple on my bookshelf. I read some of her 'Passion Play' last night before I went to sleep. While this interview does not dive exceptionally deep, it does give some vague shape to her process, which is something I have wondered about for a while now. After finishing 'The Clean House', I remember wondering what could have possibly prompted the juxtaposition of such a "mundane" happening (the breakup of a marriage) with such absurdity (the entire role jokes play within the world).

I prize Sarah Ruhl's work for some of the very aspects that were mentioned, such as her signature blend of tragedy and comedy. She utterly incorporates the two into almost all her works, and the subsequent feelings of humanity and relatability this combination incites feel very real, despite the absurdness of the worlds she works in. Though the product was fairly non-illusory, thiss interview brings attention yo a true treasure of American playwriting.

Sasha Schwartz said...

I’ve seen two different productions of Eurydice, one a high school production and the production in the Rauh last year, and I cried profusely both times!!! I love the poetic language and romanticism of Sarah Ruhl’s plays. I think what she said about how playwriting incorporates all other writing styles is very interesting. I think that some of the most dynamic theater pieces don’t just stick to the standard way of writing dialogue. I think it’s also very interesting that she considers comedy and tragedy to be one and the same, to be dependent on one another. Looking back on the writing of Eurydice it makes more sense, since so much of her whimsy comes from a place of humor, even in the context of themes such as death and lost love. I definitely agree with what she says about the importance of including historical themes in our modern work, because how else are we to learn from the mistakes of the past? Also, I think often the past isn’t as distant as we make it out to be. For example, the base themes of Victorian hysteria which express shame over female sexuality are still very much prevalent in today’s society. It’s very inspiring to hear a professional theater artist talk about how teaching has improved her writing, since it has given her a broader and more objective perspective on work, not just her students’ but her own.

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