Martyna Majok’s new play, Ironbound, opens September 9 at Round House Theatre. She was born in Bytom, Poland, and aged in Jersey and Chicago. Her plays include Mouse in a Jar, the friendship of her thighs, Petty Harbour, reWilding, and Woman at the Well. Her plays have been performed and developed at Steppenwolf Theatre Company, Marin Theatre Company, Ensemble Studio Theatre, Actors Theatre of Louisville, the claque, LARK Play Development Center, The John F. Kennedy Center, The Playwright and Directors Center of Moscow, Satori Group, Yale Cabaret, HERE Arts Center, New York Stage & Film, Red Tape Theatre, and the LIDA Project, among others.
Martyna has been awarded The David Calicchio Emerging American Playwright Prize, The 2050 Fellowship from New York Theatre Workshop, The National New Play Network Smith Prize for Political Playwriting, The Jane Chambers Student Feminist Playwriting Prize, The Merage Fellowship for the American Dream, The Olga and Paul Menn Award in Playwriting, a Ragdale residency, The Howard Stein Scholarship for Playwriting, commissions from EST/Sloan Foundation, Walkabout Theatre, and The Foundry Theatre, and publications by Samuel French and Smith & Kraus. BA: University of Chicago; MFA: Yale School of Drama. She has taught playwriting at Wesleyan, The New Haven Co-Op High School, New Jersey Repertory Company, and SUNY Purchase, and assisted Paula Vogel at Yale. She is a proud member of Ensemble Studio Theatre’s Youngblood and The 2014-2016 Women’s Project Lab. Martyna was the 2012-2013 NNPN playwright-in-residence at New Jersey Repertory Company. She lives in New York City. You can visit her at www.martynamajok.com
Why are you a playwright?
I love the work of unfolding a story – and the lives of characters – in the rehearsal room. There’s actually no place I’d rather be than working in a room with actors and directors who are curious and invested in making something honest together, who are down to dig into the mystery and comedy of being alive. When I write, I know I don’t have all the answers; I propose something on the page and become inspired by the questions that come after. I feed off of that kind of collaboration.
Rewriting might be my favorite part of playwriting. And what I love about the act of writing plays is that it lets me embody the lives of many different characters – oftentimes, characters whose perspectives are in opposition. I feel like playwriting brings me closer to people. And that’s what I hope will happen to me every time I enter a theatre – that my perspective on humanity will be deepened, that I’ll feel something real, commune with someone’s sadness and joy, that I’ll be surprised and challenged by all of our striving and messiness. Nothing shakes me like great theatre. It seemed like a good thing to do with my life.
What type of theatre most excites you?
Theatre where veins had to be opened for it to exist. Stories that tangle the personal and political. Where humor emerges from circumstance, from the need to laugh, as a release from devastation. Theatre that tries to answer questions about how to live. Theatre that is generous, that cares about its audience, that wants to communicate and understand, not confuse or punish. And, to be real, theatre about and by poor people, by folks who understand it in their gut.
Do you have a favorite writing place?
Right now, I’m writing in the lobby of Round House’s space in Silver Spring, while Ironbound is rehearsing a few feet away. A week ago, I was writing on the Amtrak en route to DC. I research and note-take and muse while I ride the subway in NYC. In summer, I write on my fire escape in Queens. Writing time/space for me is whenever/wherever I can find it. But some of my best writing days have begun really early in the morning – like, 3 or 4am, when it seems like almost everyone is still asleep and I feel alone and unwatched. Solitude is my favorite writing place.
What starts a play moving in your imagination?
With Ironbound, it was a sense of anger and frustration over my then-job and how little power and mobility I felt I had being low-income. And my long commute. And reading Slavoj Zizek’s “Violence.” I wish I knew how a play starts moving in me – I’d engineer those same circumstances for my impending deadlines. But it’s been different every time. I find locations to be incredibly inspiring. And the dialects and languages that emerge from them. Oftentimes inspiration for a play comes from something I’m experiencing in my life that smashes up against something larger that I’m observing in the world or that I’m reading. And something that feels mysterious to me.
WOMEN’S VOICES THEATER FESTIVAL
September 9 – October 4, 2015
Round House Theatre
4545 East-West Highway
Bethesda, MD 20814
Details and Tickets
How did you choose this play to debut at the Festival?
Ryan Rilette was in the audience the first time I had a reading of this play at Marin Theatre Company. He came up to NYC a few months later and asked to produce the play at Round House, as part of the Women’s Voices Theatre Festival. He understood the speed, the comedy, the violence, and the hunger of the characters. He knew how hard they had to fight. And I was thrilled by the idea of this festival. I wanted in. I’m thrilled to be here.
What female playwrights have influenced your writing and how?
I discovered Sarah Kane by accident in a library my first year of college – I was drawn in by the cover photo of a child in Chechnya in ’96. And the name “Sarah” paired with the words “Complete Plays.” I don’t think I’d ever read a contemporary play until then. And I definitely had never read a female playwright. In high school, our teachers popped in DVDs of Mel Gibson and Daniel Day-Lewis to teach us Hamlet and The Crucible and that’s about all I remember about our theatre education.
I had it in my head that plays stopped being written after Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams. Sarah Kane was important for me to find in college – which is something I learned I have in common with a lot of lady playwrights my age. I think we especially needed Sarah in our early 20s. I felt like I had a compatriot in her writing, someone who spoke of the wild and hungry things in women, the dangerous, terrible, and beautiful things in people. And she can find humor in the most devastating circumstances. Soon after, I found Breath, Boom by Kia Corthron and Yemaya’s Belly by Quiara Alegria Hudes. Finding Quiara Alegria Hudes was like finding Jhumpa Lahiri – these were women writing about immigrant experiences and that made me feel seen. I loved Caryl Churchill for her daring, for her sharpness and toughness. Paula Vogel and Lisa Kron for their honesty and theatrical invention. Ntozake Shange and Sarah Ruhl for their poetry. Mud by Maria Irene Fornes for many reasons. Lynn Nottage for her love and concern of people. These days, I’m especially inspired and excited by Dominique Morisseau.
What’s missing from theatre today?
In the business side of theatre? A living wage for artists that do not come from wealth.
And in the art itself? Everything is out there. There are writers who are writing the stories and the people that we rarely see on the big stages. And there are directors with the vision, compassion, sense of generosity, playfulness, rigor and respect in their theatre-making that know how to work a stage. I can give you lists of them. I think it’s only a matter of time (and courage and trust) before the American theatre attains the inclusivity of voices and perspectives that we are all calling for now.
What are you working on now?
I’m writing the book and lyrics for a musical about Chernobyl for The Foundry Theatre. For Marin Theatre Company, I’m writing an epic play that follows the very different lives of two undocumented immigrant women that come to America at the same time. For Manhattan Theatre Club, I’m basing a play loosely on the story of scientist George Price, who discovered some wonderful and then devastating things about human kindness…which then sort of ruined his life. And I’m adapting a Mary Gaitskill short story called “Don’t Cry,” about a recent widow that accompanies her friend to adopt a baby in Ethiopia, into a 4-episode radio play for “The New Yorker.”
I’m also workshopping a new play (that still needs a title, whoops) at LAByrinth Theatre Company. And Ironbound is going on to a NYC production this March. I’ve got a huge gift in the PoNY Fellowship, which will enable me to generate and workshop plays for a year, starting in October. So hopefully I’ll be working on all this and more.
Answer this: “If I weren’t a playwright, I would be … ”
…very sad. But probably better rested.
I also love teaching college and older adults. I love school, in general. I used to run an evening workshop in Jersey where folks aged 40-60+ would bring in plays. And wine. And sometimes lasagna and, one time, a giant cake. We’d read and discuss and argue and laugh and drink. I’m still in contact with some of those students, most of whom have continued writing. I feel like that would be a pretty good life, doing that, if I weren’t a playwright (and if that gig had the same health insurance benefits as teaching college).
Anything you would like to add?
I hope that this festival showcases the range of women’s talents, obsessions, and concerns and encourages people to value our perspectives in the larger artistic and political conversations of this country. How perfect for this to be happening in DC and now. I’m very proud to be a part of it.