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! While you’re in rehearsals and deep within the world of HER REQUIEM, I wanted to find some time to talk to you about the story and its characters. To start off, Dean’s passion for his daughter Caitlin’s requiem really drives the play—what inspired his character? His unconditional support ends up having a downside.
Greg Pierce (Playwright): As I was writing, the focus of the play shifted. I was first interested in the idea of this 17-year-old girl who has a really ambitious idea that her parents don’t understand— I was going more into her story. But as I dealt with the parents’ reactions to what she was doing, I became more interested in the difference between their reactions. And then their roles got bigger.
NS: Right, Dean’s the dreamer, and Allison’s the practical one. Dean is so charming and endearing, but he gets very obsessive. Where did that sense of fixation come from? Do you get obsessive?
GP: Playwriting is an obsessive thing to do with your life. And you get really into an idea. When I went off to the Yaddo writing retreat, I was listening obsessively to requiem music. There’s something very exhilarating about immersing yourself in one thing, and it’s also a little bit scary because the rest of the world shuts off a bit. I’m intrigued by that state of mind. And so I started writing about that: a parent who is—through his daughter’s project—putting himself into that zone.
Kate Whoriskey (Director): Every character has a kind of obsession. For Caitlin, it’s writing the requiem. For Dean, it’s making sure that she IS writing the requiem, as well as the world of what requiems are and what they mean. There’s something interesting to me about watching a group of actors take their obsessions through as fully as they can.
NS: Absolutely. And Greg, I’m struck by how well you portray teenage girls—both Caitlin in HER REQUIEM and Becky in SLOWGIRL. I’m wondering what you connect to within them. Do you know someone like Caitlin? Where did her character come from?
GP: Caitlin and Becky are so wildly different in my mind in terms of how they express themselves, even though they’re both 17-year-old girls. In some ways, Caitlin’s kind of an old soul, and I’m intrigued by that idea of people who are physically younger, while their mind seems to be in an older place. And how difficult it can be for them to fit in with their peers. It can be hard for them to find a place in the world.
NS: It’s fitting that you say an “old soul” in an “older place,” since requiems are associated with a very different time period than anything that would traditionally come with the territory of an American teenager.
GP: Yeah, it’s an old-soul thing to do with your life, at that age—to write something that not only has such a history but also that people generally do once they’re pretty accomplished composers. It’s generally not one of the first steps.
NS: Do you compose music?
GP: Not really. My little brother, Randal, is a composer. And I work with a ton of composers—that’s a lot of what I do. But I don’t compose.
NS: Got it. Speaking of art forms apart from writing, you said part of your process consists of drawing pictures. Can you talk more about how that fed into writing HER REQUIEM?
GP: I do a lot of doodling and sketching. Sometimes I do a little sketch of a set that I will NEVER share with the director or anyone—
KW: That’s too bad— I would love to see it! [laughs] I want to see some of these doodles!
GP: [laughs] Maybe after! But yeah, sometimes it’s just what a character might doodle, or it’s the character itself. And part of it is just the act of doing something with your hand while you can let your mind not even actively think about the play or the plot, but just sort of let your mind BE there, and see what emerges from it. So I do a lot of that.
NS: How do you continue to develop your plays as they near production? Can you talk about how Her Requiem changed and grew to become what it is now?
GP: We did three readings here at LCT3, and had a different focus for each one. I tend to write really long, and I just go off on a lot of tangents. So as we develop, I tend to cut and cut and cut. I do a little bit of rewriting along the way as well. But I can’t really know what the play is without having the big mess at first.
NS: How do you approach other art while you’re in the process of figuring out what your play is about?
GP: I find when I’m really writing a play I don’t feel particularly inspired by going to the theatre or reading plays. I just kind of put that aside, and it tends to be more musical or visual arts stuff that are more inspiring. I find going to the theatre more inspiring in other moments. It’s more important for me to NOT be thinking of the mechanics. And because I don’t know as much about music or visual art, I can be inspired without thinking of how it was done.
KW: Yes, I don’t go see theatre when I’m in rehearsal.
NS: There’s a lot to sink into within the play at hand. I’m curious (and the question is asked in the play as well)—do you have a favorite requiem, since you’ve been listening to so many during the rehearsal process?
GP: I’ve been listening to the Schnittke requiem just because I think it’s so strange! There’s so much going on in there that at times, it doesn’t feel like any other requiem. So I’m intrigued by that one right now.
KW: Well, part of it is I’m listening to them for sound cues—I feel like we’re finding things in Verdi’s and others.
NS: What’s been the most unexpected part of rehearsals with the actors while exploring the play, since this is an LCT commission and so this is the first production? You’ve had readings, but this is the first time going through such an in-depth process with these characters.
KW: I would say the role of Allison grew quite a bit—in terms of what I thought it was when we first started rehearsal to what it is now feels like. She’s more of a presence in the play. Mare [Winningham] brings an enormous amount of care to rehearsal, in terms of the relationships and how she plays relationships. It’s so generous. There’s something very beautiful about watching her, and I think the role of Allison has come into focus even more than it originally did for me. It used to feel like Dean’s play, and now it feels more like Dean and Allison’s play.
NS: Mare and Peter [Friedman] are two very talented and warm actors—we will definitely talk about them next time, and what else they and the rest of the cast and the designers bring to the production. ‘Til then!
Read Part 3 of LCT3-D with Greg Pierce and Kate Whoriskey!