Q: As I understand it, you took to theatre even before high school. Many kids in Orange County fall in love with theatre, many grow up wanting to act, some think about directing, but relatively few think about playwriting. Was there a particular incident or event that led you to become a playwright?
A: When I was much younger I absolutely believed myself to be a performer—probably because I was landing those dream roles of Oz Munchkin number 12 and Daddy Warbucks’ third maid. But my high school theatre teacher/eventual mentor/now dear friend Mr. Nathan Wheeler noticed a distinct voice in my written assignments for class. At my high school we had an annual 24 Hour Playwriting Festival every fall, and my sophomore year Mr. Wheeler signed me up as one of the playwrights. I, someone who had never even written a monologue, was given one night to write a ten-page play…that was to be performed the next day. In front of people. I spent the next three hours masochistically going through middle school Facebook pictures and complaining to my mom how unfair this supposedly fun assignment was. But then, once I finally sat down and typed the play’s first line, everything came together. Simply put, nothing in my life had felt as right as being in front of my computer writing that play. And although the script I wrote was terrible (it was about an 11th grade vampire desperate for popularity I think?), that same straightforward, “everything makes sense” feeling set in again when I gave my work to actors, designers, and a director for them to bring to life.
Q: Fair is a contemporary play which nods to classical theatre traditions, such as the chorus and masked actors. What made you want to tell this story in that way, with elements of spectacle?
A: I have always been mesmerized by these kinds of classical theatrical traditions. Especially with the emergence of the hyper-realistic, dialogue-driven drama that has dominated contemporary stages, these expressions of theatricality have been widely abandoned. But theatre is supposed to tell stories in a way no other medium can, right? The very modern story Fair tells is super specific, but the classical conventions of mask and chorus work are so universal. Theatre is the only place where you get to tell such a specific truth in such a universal way.
Q: Today, playwrights tend to think small. They often write small-cast works with an eye on the economics of theatre companies. Fair, on the other hand, has a cast of 14. Is this simply the kind of story that needs a larger theatrical canvas?
A: I think it is. While it is possible to downsize Fair with certain casting tricks and doubling of actors, I cannot see it being any less than a cast of 9. Believe me, my professors have told me time and time again how difficult a trajectory this script is going to face because of its large cast size, its tech requirements, etc. But hey…it’s in the OC-Centric New Play Festival, isn’t it?
Q: Tell us about The Women of Williams County, which was produced at the Midtown International Theatre Festival in New York City.
A: So Women of Williams County was actually a writing challenge when I was a camp counselor for St. Margaret’s Innovation Stage and Capistrano Theatre Lab. The whole camp was aimed at teaching the kids how to adapt their favorite stories in dramatic ways; the college-aged counselors had one week to fulfill the same task. In this chaotic week, I wrote a one act about the seven heroines of Tennessee Williams’s The Glass Menagerie, A Streetcar Named Desire, and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, all trapped in a room together lamenting about how much it sucks to be a woman in a 20th century American play. The inspiration came from the countless times I have read these scripts for various Theatre History classes—it becomes impossible to ignore how small the women of these worlds are forced to exist. I was fortunate enough to see it receive a developmental reading at the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival, as well as a student production at the University of Michigan’s Wall-to-Wall Theatre Festival. After I spent about a year with it, I submitted it to the Midtown International Theatre Festival and it was chosen! I got to team up with this AMAZING company called Hedgepig Ensemble Theatre, whose members served as producer, director, designers, and performers. It was my first professional credit, and I couldn’t be more thrilled to label it as such.
Q: What is percolating for you right now, and do you think we might soon see more of your work in Southern California?
A: At this moment in time, the most immediate project at hand is me! I just graduated in April, and I’m moving to New York in September. So much of my energy has been dedicated to securing some semblance of a life before I get there. However I did right a couple of scripts this past semester for my senior thesis, I would love to see one or both of those pieces receive some developmental life pretty soon. I definitely want to do more work in Southern California! But I think right now the best way for me to grow as an artist and a person is to try those unfamiliar and challenging environments that both excite and terrify me. Like New York… duh duh duh.
Karly Thomas' Fair opens August 17 at OC-Centric.
To reserve your tickets, CLICK HERE or call 714-902-5716