Nina Louise Morrison is one of the four playwrights commissioned to write new plays for The Greenhouse Playlab: A Climate Change Theater Incubator. An excerpt of her new play THE VAULT will be read at the Museum of Science (5/4, 70-10 PM), and there will be a workshop performance at the Democracy Center in Cambridge (5/6, 7 PM).
We asked the 2017 Mass Cultural Council Dramatic Writing Fellow about the play, her approach to commissioned work, and other aspects of her work and life as a theater artist on the rise.
What have you found most exciting about participating in the Greenhouse Playlab project? What are the challenges for you as a playwright?
It has been great to work with Flat Earth and Greenhouse Playlab to develop this play – the four playwrights have gotten to develop the plays together from the ground up, along with directors and dramaturgs. It’s been helpful to read scenes in progress out loud together, and have workshops of bad drafts with fantastic actors who make you want to write better drafts for them. I’ve gotten incredibly helpful notes from my director, Josh Glenn-Kayden. The writing challenges are the same as always – finding the time, using the time well, deciding what to keep and what to toss in revision.
How does your approach to writing a commissioned work differ (if at all) from a non-commissioned work?
Plays need to be produced to see what they are, at the very least you need to hear them to see what they might be. The less theoretical the audience for your play, the better – so having people who are asking you to write something specific, give you deadlines, and then read it and give you feedback, is such a gift. Climate change is an immense topic. But it narrows things down a bit from just writing about anything. It’s still up to me to decide what want to write, it just gets paired with the useful structure of the commission process, and also, luckily, the wisdom of a bunch of other fantastic theatre artists. It’s like having a friend issue a challenge, it’s wonderful. It’s much better than writing without a specific community in mind.
Do you remember where you were (as in, what actual place) when you learned of your 2017 Artist Fellowship? Where were you in your career?
I was probably in my pajamas. I had just had a baby, I was getting zero sleep, and I was deep in the throes of typical first-time parent fears that I would never be able to write, find my creative mojo, be ambitious, or have the time or energy to pursue those ambitions. Then I got the call, and it was a call to action.
How many revisions does your work typically go through?
This prompted me to go back and examine my process – I realized I have 52 different documents saved for one recent play not including assorted notes, synopses, outlines, research, and proposals. The 52 documents of original writing might add up to what I might consider 2 or 3 Drafts with a capital D – a lot of it is raw materials as I develop characters and scenes, long before I have a full First Draft. The play isn’t done. I think it’s probably 1 or 2 Drafts away? It all sounds like madness. It’s so hard to say when a play is done, particularly when it hasn’t been produced yet, and I still haven’t had a production of a full length play where I was the sole writer/creator. Peter Shaffer revised Amadeus for over twenty years, even after making a successful film version of the play, working with some of the finest actors and directors, and finding great critical and financial success all over the world. So who’s to say what’s madness – you have to be obsessive, you have to define your own success and follow your deepest instincts, and so a play is hardly ever “done.”
Spring, Summer, Winter or Fall?
I love spring – oh how I long for the scent of flowers on a soft warm breeze right now! – but I have to say I love the end of summer when it’s just about to become fall best. It’s that back to school feeling, new notebooks and new classes and all the warm relaxing energy of summer turning into long shadows across a lawn. This is one reason to love the Northeast – we have seasons! Or at least, we used to… spoiler alert, climate change is happening.
Do you secretly dream of being a) a pop icon, b) an algebra teacher, and/or c) a crime-solver/writer a la Jessica Fletcher?
This is funny because a character in The Vault (the play I’m currently writing for the Greenhouse Playlab) actually references Murder She Wrote. She definitely secretly dreams of being the Norwegian Jessica Fletcher.
What are you currently reading?
I’ve been reading Cut to the Chase for my screenwriting class. It has a lot of great, practical advice from working screenwriters who teach at UCLA’s Extension Writers Program. And I’m reading my husband’s new book The Heavens Might Crack: The Death and Legacy of Martin Luther King Jr about the social and political impact of King’s death. I also have a long wish list of new plays to read this summer but I have a feeling I’ll mostly be reading textbooks! I just ordered a dozen different textbooks to decide which to teach in my Intro to Theatre class next year at the University of New Hampshire – a huge 450 person lecture class I’ll be teaching for the first time this fall. I love it when you leave a play talking like the characters, debating the questions of the play, or when you leave a musical dancing the dances and singing the songs. Can I inspire some young adults to fall in love with theatre? I’m really excited to go back to basics and connect to the things that make theatre accessible, inspiring, moving, challenging, life-affirming.
An excerpt from Nina Louse Morrison’s play THE VAULT will be read as part of The Greenhouse Playlab: A Climate Change Theater Incubator event at the Museum of Science (5/4, 70-10 PM). There will be a workshop performance of the play at the Democracy Center in Cambridge (5/6, 7 PM).
Nina Louise Morrison is a Boston-based playwright, director, and teacher. Along with a Mass Cultural Council Artist Fellowship, she has been a Huntington Playwriting Fellow, winner of the 2016 Boston Project commission at SpeakEasy Stage Company, a Company One Affiliate Playwright, a core member of the devising company Project: Project, and a member of Rhombus writers.
Image: still image from the 2016 production of SHIVER, a devised theater piece by Project: Project, of which Nina Louise Morrison is a member, photo by Jeffrey Mosser; image of Nina Louise Morrison.