The Interview Project: Brittany K. Allen
Interview by Will Arbery
April 6, 2020
"Grateful for photographer Sam Fox, partner in and out of quarantine, and the breakfast nook" —Brittany K. Allen
What fills your days?
A lot of reading right now. I'm trying to take this forced hiatus as an opportunity to recalibrate my attention span, and reading always feels like a sneaky way back into writing for me, after a slouch of any kind. After I wake up and read too much of the internet, I'll try to take a virtual yoga class of some kind, write a few pages, do a couple hours of my stalwart freelance side hustle, and then spend the rest of the afternoon in a book. The evening is for chaotic FaceTime happy hours and, um, Love is Blind; Tiger King.
What is your relationship to work during crisis?
I'm finding it hard to be creatively productive during this time, and am trying to be kind to myself about it. It feels ironic that the one thing we're often obliged to hunt for as artists (space and time to art!) is suddenly here in spades, but of course it's not really free time and space. There is incredible anxiety, and there are people and communities close and far to look out for, and then the brain-seizing obligation to completely rethink one's short-term finances (all this in the best case scenario). Looking plays in the face has felt particularly difficult because live art feels so imperiled, and for a time there I was mourning the early closing of one of my productions and the postponement of another. The idea of writing a scene felt especially futile, knowing it could really never see light, and my brain was too scattered to focus on any of my in-progress projects.
That said, I have been easing back into the bathtub, because it does ultimately feel better to write than it does to not write. But I've been fleeing into fiction as a daily practice, because that's a medium where the writer gets to pretend they have full control over the thing until it's ready to be shared. I handwrite a few pages in the morning and type them up the next day, at the beginning of the next little session. It's very early days on this fiction project, so the stakes feel low.
What or who is inspiring you right now? What or who is beautiful?
Memories of the Worm Moon, which was the last thing I experienced on the street surrounded by happy strangers.
Virtual classes at the friend-run Hola Yoga, out of Nashville, Tennessee.
David Adjmi's STUNNING, which I just read and keep thinking about, and Leif Ove Andsnes' Sibelius recordings, which I've been listening to because Blanche mentions Sibelius in that play. (Pro tip: Sib is very good music for when you're working and happen to be confined to a studio apartment with someone else who is also working.)
The essay collections MINOR FEELINGS: AN ASIAN AMERICAN RECKONING by Cathy Park Hong and AXIOMATIC by Maria Tumarkin. Margo Jefferson's memoir, NEGROLAND. The novels OPTIC NERVE by Maria Gainza, STRANGE WEATHER IN TOKYO by Hiromi Kawakami, THE REGRETS by Amy Bonnaffons, and everything by Deborah Levy that I can get my hands on. Pro-tip: many of these titles can be procured as e-books from the NYPL. (I hate Kindles, but desperate times.) Oh! And FIONA APPLE, canon. She has a new album dropping like next week, so — fusspots, take heart.
What are you dreaming of making, once we can gather in rooms again?
...but also more specifically, this play called MORE BLACK FRIENDS, which is hoping to explore the ways individuals capitalize on the face value of a diverse community. It's a domestic comedy narrated by the ghost of the author Kathleen Collins, and it needs work.
What would you say to your younger self — the one without many connections in theater, the one without a Playwrights Horizons commission — if your younger self were confronting or considering a future as an artist during this time of tremendous uncertainty?
Ai yi yi. I think all I could say is a reiteration of that above reminder to be gentle with yourself, and do your best to oust the impulse to produce, no matter what Twitter says. If anything good can come of this time (and I say that tongue in teeth; I think it's important to be wary of the impulse to peddle a silver lining during absolute catastrophe..), I think it could be the opportunity to reconstitute the idea of "community," beginning with the most basic units: the self, the house, the family. I think we have every reason to suspect that uncertain times are ahead for our industry, so to tell young me "keep going, you ambitious queen!" as if that were not the case would feel disingenuous. But perhaps it is a good time to take stock of what you love best about this body/partner/roommate/apartment/neighborhood, so as to see — much later — what you'll have to say about those things. In really hunkering in and tending to my body, home and family, I am forced to reconsider myself as a highly particular storytelling container — here is where I come from, what I carry and think about, what I tend to question or delight in. So far into this mess, I may not offer very much product or feel especially inspired to make things, but examining and appreciating one's basic vessel can be a kind of art work, I think. It's a kind of thoughtful maintenance.
And moreover, young self/current self: there will still be art on the other side of this! The community may not look exactly as it did before, but there remains and will always be the need for stories. If your urge to talk and their urge to listen survives, then something'll have to be done.
Brittany K. Allen is the recipient of a Jody Falco and Jeffrey Steinman Commission for Emerging Playwrights.