Karen Zacharias: I went from policy wonk to playwright. After college, I worked as an assistant Program Officer for Latin America for The National Endowment for Democracy across the street from the Washington Post. It was an amazing job focusing on giving disenfranchised populations tools to find their voice through the political process. At the same time, I missed creative writing, so I took a night class on playwriting at Georgetown University taught by Ernie Joselovitz…who encouraged me to keep at it. I took his advice to heart and did a Masters in Playwriting at BU. I returned to DC to start Young Playwrights’ Theater an organization which combines all my interests: playwriting, education, and battling disenfranchisement: by giving kids the tools to find their own creative voice.
JL: Have you ever been a member of a DC area playwrights writing group? If so, did you find it useful? Would you recommend that other playwrights join them?
KZ: I loved being a part of The Playwrights’ Forum. Ernie Joselovitz has done so much for so many DC area playwrights. I strongly recommend being part of a group that encourages and understands you and your plays. The friends I made at Playwrights Forum have been invaluable to me.
JL: In DC, we have the Capital Fringe Festival, the Intersections Festival, the Source Festival, the Kennedy Center's Page-to-Stage Festival, the Black Theater Festival, and the Hip Hop Theatre Festival. We also have the Mead Lab at Flashpoint Theater Lab Program. Have you participated in any of these? If so, can you speak about your experience?
KZ: I’ve been part of Kennedy’s Center Page-to-Stage, The Source Theatre Festival, and most recently the Intersections Festival (run by the amazing playwright Mary Hall Surface); I think any event that allows playwrights to share and vibe together is very vital in reminding DC we are here…and in reminding our peers that we are here for each other. I find these festivals renew bonds and inspire new, deeper art.
JL: What kind of work do you do to pay the bills? How do you balance this work with your writing?
KZ: I’ve been lucky that every pay check I have gotten in since 1995 is related to playwriting. I am founder and was Artistic Director of Young Playwrights’ Theater for ten years…(which involved all the rewards and challenges of running and fundraising for an arts education non-profit). I teach Playwriting at Georgetown University…I have commissions and royalties for and from several plays. I am the playwright in residence at Arena Stage…which miraculously provides a solid salary for the time being. I find that like every other playwright I know…we are doing a million things at once…and always trying to carve out time to write.
JL: How many plays have you had produced in the DC area?
KZ: Blue Buick in Mt Driveway (Source Festival, 1994), The Sins of Sor Juana (Theater of the First Amendment, 1999), The Magical Birthday Pinata (Imagination Stage, 1999), Ferdinand The Bull (Imagination Stage, 2000 & 2010), The 13th Summer of William and Pilar (ACTCO/Gala Hispanic Theater/YPT, 1998), The Invisible City with Robert Alexander (Woolly Mammoth Theatre. 2001), Cinderella Eats Rice and Beans (Imagination Stage, 2003), Choices: Reflections on the Holocaust (YPT/Theater J/Holocaust Museum, 2004), Retratos (Discovery Theater Company/YPT, 2005), The Other River: Ripples and Vibes from DC’s Southside with Patrick Crowley (Woolly Mammoth Theatre, 2006), Los Pecados de Sor Juana (Gala Hispanic Theater, 2006), African Roots/Latino Soul (Discovery Theater/YPT, 2007), The Book Club Play (Round House, 2008 and Arena Stage, 2011), Chasing George Washington (The Kennedy Center for Performing Arts, 2008), Looking for Roberto Clemente (Imagination Stage, 2008), Mariela in the Desert (TFA, 2008), How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents (Round House Theater- 2008) Maria La O (In Series, 2011), and Legacy of Light (Arena Stage, 2009)
JL: If you could be produced at any theatre in DC, which would it be and why?
KZ: I love being a repeat offender at Arena Stage, Round House Theater, Imagination Stage, and The Kennedy Center…those theaters all feel like home to me. I was very saddened by the closing of Theater of the First Amendment…that theater that instrumental to my birth and growth as a playwright. I would love an opportunity to work with Studio Theater…I love the intimacy of their space. I love Forum Theater. I find Theater J to be a real home for playwrights. I would like to write a Woolly Play. I would like to write a full length musical and have it come to life in DC.
JL: DC audiences are ...
KZ: ... very smart, very attentive, very loyal.
JL: DC actors, designers and directors are ...
KZ: …world class.
JL: DC critics are ...
KZ: ...here! And there are many! And there is something to be said about that. I may disagree at time with some of them, but I do recognize that having as many critics and reviews as we do is a vital sign of our thriving Theater scene. Let’s get some more!
JL: How do you feel the DC theatre community has addressed the issues of race and gender parity ? How has this particular issue impacted you and your ability to get your work produced on the main stages?
KZ: All of my work has a feminist edge (Female protagonist…women in power etc) …and much of it also reflects my Latino background. Almost all of my plays (some which have premiered else where) have found a home in DC which is not something I expected when I first started writing here.
JL: What advice do you have for an up and coming DC based playwright or a playwright who has just moved to D.C.?
KZ: See lots of plays. Attend the festivals. Try to be part of a slam. Support other playwrights. Find different ways use your skills to be part of the community…of your neighborhood. Create genuine good will. And then write. write. And re-write.
JL: What's next for you as a playwright? Where can we keep up with your work?
KZ: I am writing a 15-actor piece entitled JUST LIKE US based on the non-fiction book by the current political climate of immigration for the Denver. I am collaboration with Septime Webber and the Washington National Ballet on a Libretto for “THE SUN ALSO RISES.” I am doing an adaptation of THE AGE OF INNOCENCE as part of my residency at Arena. I am working on projects for the Kennedy Center and Imagination Stage. And I am on a steering committee to help organize an unprecedented national convening of Latino Theater artists that addresses the issues of being us in the U.S.