Interview with Cambria Denim, playwright of "A Girl Smiles In The Arctic"
Q: A Girl Smiles in the Arctic is getting its second production here at OC-Centric, having won Best Play at the Secret Theatre's Act One: One-Act Festival in NYC this spring. It is a tender comedy involving Justin Bieber, a young Siberian Inuit woman, and a middle-aged Englishman who all find themselves in a conjoined dream. Where did that all come from?
A: There’s a TV writer named Nell Scovell who, when asked where she gets her ideas, says it’s sort of like being asked how she grows her hair – it comes out of her head and it kind of just happens. I wish I had a diplomatic answer about technique and the CRAFT that makes it seem like I wear turtlenecks all the time but the truth is I just thought it would be funny and something I’d wanna go see. Also wanna shout out that production in New York, which was awesome. It was directed by Madelyn Shaffer and featured Braiden Wells, Nayem Cardenas-Lopez and Andrew Griffin. The Secret is publishing A Girl Smiles… later this year in an anthology.
Q: Your two-character play Arabesque #1, the recipient of a National Undergraduate Playwriting Award from the Kennedy Center, was just presented in the She L.A. Summer Theater Festival in Hollywood. You also acted in it. It is ideal to act in your own work, or is it strange sometimes?
A: It depends on the piece. Arabesque is probably my most autobiographical piece, so while I was writing it, I was aware that I would want to be in it when it was put up. But really, it just depends on the story. I mean, there’s no role for me in A Girl Smiles, and I don’t need there to be. I want to be in whatever role best services the story, so if that’s being writer and actor, or just writer, or just actor, or director, or producer, that’s what I want to do. I will say that my ultimate dream is to be on a TV series that I write and act on that showcases the stories of resilient and diverse women. I also need to shout out the team for that production – Natalie Griffith Robichaux, Savanah Lyon, and Garrett Schulte are the coolest people on the planet. We won Best Leading Actor, Best Script, and Best Production/Best of Fest for that festival, and it’s completely attributed to their hard work and love.
Q: You just finished a yearlong playwriting residence with the great Echo Theatre Company in L.A., could you explain how that came to be?
A: I was part of the inaugural year of the Echo Theatre’s National Young Playwrights in Residence, which selects playwrights ages 18-25 to develop a new play with a mentor in the industry (mine was badass Charlotte Miller), which would then be presented at a professional reading at the Echo. It was an incredible experience and if you’re a playwright in that age range, YOU’D BE SILLY NOT TO SUBMIT. DO IT. SUBMIT. That process helped me write and develop my play Lark and the Dark, which is a grown up fairy tale about Alzheimer’s influenced by Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli films. It was very meaningful, as someone really important in my life has Alzheimer’s, and I was humbled to have the people at that company help me make something to give back to her.
The other playwrights in residence, whose names you should know, are Dayna Smith, Zoe Jovanovich, Imani Redman, Andrew Sianez de la O, and Jorrell Watkins, all of whom write bomb stuff you should check out.
Q: In these times, there is debate about what plays, and playwrights, should aspire to do. What should a new play do, in your view? Should it strive to break the bounds of realism? Should it address social issues? Should it try to become part of the zeigeist? Or do these kinds of ambitions risk getting in the way of the best new work?
A: Oh boy. What a gigantic question. Well, I think in life, and especially in a creative life, you should be wary of people who are 1000% certain of one regimented way of doing things. “THIS is how things are done, write THIS way and you’ll be successful, live your life following THESE SPECIFIC STEPS then you will be FINE FOREVER and NEVER BE ANXIOUS ABOUT ANYTHING AGAIN...” etc etc etc. The wisest people I know are the ones most open about not having all the answers, open to being wrong, open to considering different viewpoints with conscious thought but without judgment. All this to say there is no one way to be an artist, and anyone who says otherwise is usually very annoying about it.
So I can only speak for myself. I am so passionate about a multitude of movements (a list of charities you should check out will be at the end of this article) and I am conscious that my job can be an excellent tool for communication and encouraging conversation in a productive way. And it looks different for everyone - sometimes it means writing a silly pop culture play because I know the world can be exhausting and I want people to laugh and relax, if only for a short period of time. It’s your choice whether you take the opportunity to do that or not, and I say that without judgment.
When my work has created discussion that is meaningful to people, that is an honor. It feels like my purpose. Because - and I’m going to sound like I’m sitting cross legged in a kumbaya drum circle but stay with me here - things changed for me when I started thinking of what I’m doing as a service job. Completely removing my ego from the process and just thinking of the most efficient way to service the greater good. I think we’re all the same in that we all want to be seen and loved. That’s what everything boils down to. We can try and separate ourselves as much as we want, but you, your best friend, your worst enemy, we have all felt a deep, private need to be genuinely seen and genuinely loved. And if I can help people feel that way, then hallelujah.
And to remove any pretentiousness from what I just said, just imagine a 20 second long fart noise right now.
These are also some of the charities that Cambria would like to promote. Click on their link for more information:
The Trevor Project Girls Write Now Trayvon Martin Foundation
March for Our Lives RAICES Troop 6000
Cambria Denim's A Girl Smiles In The Arctic opens at this season's OC-Centric on August 18, 2018.
To reserve your tickets, CLICK HERE or call 714-902-5716
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