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by Hedgebrook Guest

Samantha Cooper’s new play and, and, and Isabella Bootlegs premiered this month. Production dramaturg Sara Keats led Cooper and director Norah Elges in conversation about the women-driven heart of the play, bi-coastal collaboration, and the future of new plays with Seattle roots. You can read more of their interview at http://ow.ly/NeTzc.


On personal history, family, and women as characters…

Samantha Cooper: […] I wanted to explore the way in which our stories get passed from one generation to the next. Secrecy, especially within the context of knowledge about our own families, is something that really interests me.

Sara Keats: Secrecy, and also just lack of knowledge. There is a lot about our personal histories that I think many people just never get to unearth.

SC: There is so much that we don’t know about our families and that we will never be privy to. Whether good or bad, some tales die with the generations – and some of tales are meant to. With this play, I got to play with that idea by bringing multiple generations of family together in one space.

SK: Specially the women in a family. This play deals almost exclusively in mothers and daughters.

SC: Yes, and part of that is that I love to write women characters. Bad-ass women. Strong, intelligent, driven, complex women.

Norah Elges: It was such a treat to work on a play with these– not necessarily gritty, but imperfect female characters. So many plays have female characters that aren’t fully fleshed out.

SK: We pass the Bechdel Test! With flying colors!

NE: These women are survivors. They have different tactics to survive, but they’re all tough in their own way.

SK: Norah, you do a lot of work with new plays, what drew you to this play initially?

NE: Courtney [Meaker, interim artistic director of Macha Monkey when Isabella Bootlegs was first selected for production] sent me the script. I love family plays because the dynamics of familial relationships are always so rich. You can be meaner to your family than anyone else in your life. I think for most people, the level of love that’s there in a family gives you the safety to really dig deeper. The way Sam was playing with structure presents such an interesting directorial challenge, and the language has a great rhythm and poetry to it. When Sam and I first met about the play, we talked a lot about the idea of unreliable narrators, un-likeable characters, and female characters not needing to be liked. I don’t think we see enough of that.


On a cross-country new play process…

SK: Sam’s been in New York [finishing her second year at Columbia] for the entire production process, but the play has been changing throughout. What’s a long distance new play rehearsal process like?

NE: Bi-coastal play development is a first for all of us. This play has been brought to you by an endless chain of group texts, Google video chats, emails, Dropbox uploads, and video & audio recordings. We were super lucky to have Sam out here in January for the second half of the audition process, which I think is really the number one thing that set us up for success.

SK: How has the play changed since that very first draft? What has stayed the same throughout?

SC: Knowing the DNA of your work is important, it’s where the integrity of the piece is born, so I wanted to make sure that stayed intact. Then it began about the nuances and clarifying moment-to-moment work and the way the show moves. But I think the heart of the play– how family stories and family secrets affect the people we become– has been a constant.


On what’s next for new play development in Seattle…

SK: Norah, in addition to directing, you’re also a dramaturg and producer with a passion for new work. How do you advocate for new plays in those roles?

NE: In addition to going to readings [like Monday’s Hedgebrook reading] and seeing new work, I’m gearing up to launch a new play advocacy group called Umbrella Project. UP was born from a desire to make Seattle a destination for new work. It’s wonderful to bring new work that’s connected to Seattle or has an audience in Seattle, like Macha did with Isabella Bootlegs, but there’s not the right structure in place to advocate for a play from germination all the way to a second production outside of Seattle. Organizations like Hedgebrook that launch new writers are fantastic and necessary, but with Umbrella Project, my partners and I hope to carry plays we love through multiple productions around the country. We have a lot of exciting things ahead of us.


You can catch the final two performance of and, and, and Isabella Bootlegs tonight and tomorrow (Thursday, May 21 and Friday, May 22) at the Cornish Playhouse Studio. Tickets at tinyurl.com/MachaBootlegs.


Learn more about Umbrella Project at umbrellaprojectnw.org and follow along on Facebook.


About the Artists:

SamathanaSamantha Cooper is a NYC based playwright, actor, and theatre cross-trainer originally from Cheney, Washington. She is entering her third year at Columbia University as an MFA Playwriting Candidate. Visit her website at samanthajcooper.com.




NorahNorah Elges is an actor, director, dramaturg, & executive director of the Umbrella Project. She holds a BFA in Theatre Arts Performance from Boston University. Visit her website at norahelges.com.




SaraSara Keats is a dramaturg, writer, and educator based in Seattle. She is a graduate of Carnegie Mellon University and an Affiliate Artist of the Umbrella Project. Visit her website at sarakeats.com.





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