Cynthia Wands in conversation

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Playwright Cynthia Wands recently sat down for a conversation with CCCT’s Artistic Director Marilyn Langbehn; here is a part of their conversation:

Marilyn: You’re no stranger to this part of the world; tell us a little bit about your connection to the Bay Area.

Cynthia: In the 1980’s I lived in Berkeley and attended the Drama Studio of London, (what a time that was!) It was there that I had a chance to work with some wonderful Bay Area actors: Molly Noble, Katja Rivera, and Susan Evans. It’s wonderful to see the kind of work they’re doing in the community now and their growing artistry. In those years I performed with the Magic Theatre, San Francisco Rep, and Berkeley Shakespeare. It was a heady time for the arts back then, lots of experimental theater productions, some were good and great and weird and some were really horrible, but it was…very exciting times.

M: What kind of research went into the writing of THE LOST YEARS?

C: I was given a research tract position at the Sir Francis Bacon Library at Claremont McKenna College—it was a perfect Harry Potter kind of refuge. Huge dusty books with indecipherable handwritten pages, and jealous researchers scribbling away in corners. But I found some unexpected sources on the “backstage” lives for women in Shakespeare’s time—and I started researching that idea. I was sad to learn that the Sir Francis Bacon Library recently merged with the Huntington Library and that magical space is gone. That time and space made quite an impression on me, and years later I made a sojourn to London and then to Stratford to see what I could make of it. It wasn’t until I went to a retreat at Ohio State University with the ICWP (International Centre for Women Playwrights) that I buckled down and started writing it.

M: Are you a Nona, a Catherine, an Isabelle, or a Helena? Or are you more of a Humphrey or a Richard?

C: I must be a Humphrey Bludgepot character: I’m always reaching for a big fancy word I can’t… quite remember what it is…but I would so love to be able to use. (Just about now I would love to throw in some fancy phrase, but I can’t seem to find one.) And then too, I have the artist’s malady of always wanting more: more lightning, more passion, a bigger frame, more dragons with blood in their nostrils, that kind of thing.

M: Who’s your favorite Shakespeare character?

C: My favorite Shakespeare character would have to be Prospero, from The Tempest. He’s magical, bitter, moody, magnanimous, and prescient. He also has an indentured servant who can fly and a monster that he can boss around.

M: Name something that makes you laugh out loud.

C: When I’m in the grocery store, I love looking at bottles of wine with strange graphics on the labels—some of them can make me laugh out loud in the grocery aisle. You’ll see bottles of red wine with a black dog chewing a shoe, or a white wine with a frigate of frogs paddling away to a tropical island. More often than not, I’ll end up buying a bottle of wine more for the graphics than the wine.

M: Any advice for beginning playwrights?

C: I would encourage any beginning playwright to spend time being part of a theater group: see as much theater as you can. See it from the light booth, or the backstage, or in a rehearsal—but the experience of watching what actors do, and what really good directors do, is to witness how that communal magic is created. Jump in!

The world premiere of Cynthia’s play, The Lost Years, opens at CCCT on April 7.

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