GREG PIERCE AND KATE WHORISKEY
Author and Director of HER REQUIEM
In conversation with LCT3 Associate, Natasha Sinha
Natasha Sinha (LCT3 Associate): Hi Greg and Kate—we’re so excited that you’ll be here at LCT3 soon for the world premiere of Greg’s play, HER REQUIEM! While you’re around for a developmental reading this week, I wanted to chat with you a bit about your lives in theater. Greg, we opened the Claire Tow Theater with the world premiere of your play, SLOWGIRL, and now you’re back! How does it feel this time around?
Greg Pierce (Playwright): It feels different because every project always feels different. It’s really wonderful to be back at LCT3, and this is an entirely new project and all new people. It’s exciting.
NS: I know there’s a lot of theater and the arts in your family and in your past, between being in plays as a kid in Vermont (where HER REQUIEM is set), the sketch comedy group—
GP: Yeah! I had a group called The Bad Astronauts in the East Village.
Kate Whoriskey (Director): Really?
GP: Yeah, it was me and a few others— like Hannah Cabell.
KW: Oh my god!
GP: Basically, we just wanted to write stuff for ourselves.
NS: So you were into the comedy scene and you were acting—and of course you also saw the acting career of your uncle (David Hyde Pierce)—but what made you focus specifically on writing?
GP: Well, when I was in that sketch comedy group, I started to write longer sketches and I wasn’t in them—and I enjoyed not being in them. I liked writing a lot more. So from there, longer plays kind of happened, and then I found it really hard to try and do both: to go full force into both acting and writing. I just felt more like a writer. And because I had actors in my family, I could see that they were enjoying it more than I was. [laughs]
NS: What was your inspiration for HER REQUIEM, and your process in developing it so far?
GP: HER REQUIEM was an LCT commission after SLOWGIRL, and I knew I wanted to write something with more characters—there are only two characters in SLOWGIRL. I knew I wanted to do something a little bit broader in scope and I had this basic idea of a girl who wants to write a requiem. And people have different reactions to her wanting to do this massive project. So I went up to Yaddo, which is an artists’ retreat in Saratoga, and listened to tons of requiems. I started drawing pictures and writing things down, and the story evolved from there.
NS: We’ll talk more about the play in the next interview, but in HER REQUIEM, a teenage girl takes a year off from school to compose a full-scale requiem. What’s your background in music—and particularly classical music—apart from your recent musical credits (KID VICTORY, THE LANDING)?
GP: I’ve always really loved music and recently, I’ve been collaborating with musicians a lot more. I wrote the libretto for my first opera called FELLOW TRAVELERS, and I collaborate a lot with composer John Kander (CABARET, CHICAGO), who is a major opera and classical music buff. He’s gotten me into a lot of stuff.
NS: Have you talked about the music in HER REQUIEM with Kander?
GP: I have, because we talk about everything we’re doing.
NS: That’s a pretty great sounding board! And Kate, you grew up in Massachusetts and then came to NYU, right?
KW: Yes, I came to New York to train.
NS: You were also an actor originally, and then you turned to directing later on?
KW: Well, I directed something in high school—a project called VIEWS OF VIETNAM.
Growing up, I was curious about the hushed tones adults used when speaking about the War. They spoke in almost a ghost-like way about Vietnam. I was curious about what that was. And so in high school, I decided to interview veterans that lived nearby.
So that’s how I began—I just wrote down what they said and created a little docudrama from the interviews. And I’m sure it was really, really terrible. [laughs] But what was interesting about the project was the conversation that happened afterwards. Parents with different points of view started to speak. Some parents who had been protestors and had spat in the faces of returning soldiers cried and apologized for the damage they had done to parents who had been former soldiers. The vets accepted the apology. The conversation had broken a multi-year silence… and you could feel a kind of power somehow. The conversation was the thing that got me. I love the idea that directing can put conversation into the world.
NS: That experience certainly sounds moving… I think RUINED was the first production of yours that I saw, and it’s still one of my favorite theater memories. Your productions feel so complete— they bring together such vivid design with truly full characters. What excited you when you first read HER REQUIEM?
KW: With Greg’s work, there are two things that pretty consistently strike me: Greg has a real gift for character—I love that he really thinks moment-to-moment through a character’s journey. And Greg’s work tends to reach towards larger themes. I was inspired by that combination of those two things.
NS: How did you get into the world of this play? What research has been most important for you?
KW: For me, it’s listening to requiems. I’m trying to listen to the canon.
NS: What was your familiarity with requiems before this play?
KW: I knew the basics— Mozart’s requiem, and Fauré’s. But this project is an excuse to investigate as many as I can.
GP: Yeah. There’s something about the form I really love because people are more or less using the same text, and they’re doing their musical version of a Catholic Mass— But, all these different kinds of textures come out.
NS: Yeah, they can really vary. As someone who studied music from childhood up through college, I’ve listened to a lot of requiems, and a lot of church music.
KW: How interesting! There’s something about it…
GP: Right, so when you listen to requiems, there’s what you’d expect from music about death—the gloominess— but there’s also lots of examples of joy and serenity and everything else. Duruflé’s requiem is so gentle while Schnittke’s is terrifying. Britten’s War Requiem has all kinds of textures you wouldn’t expect, given the form’s tradition. There’s something for everyone.
NS: When I first read your play, I was fascinated by the idea of a teenager in her cozy Vermont home in the 21st century finding her own unique way into this massive work that is associated with a world that I wouldn’t otherwise associate with an American high schooler…
GP: I love the idea of a traditional form that people of all kinds can put their own spins on.
Read Part 2 of LCT3-D with Greg Pierce and Kate Whoriskey!