Playwright Spotlight: Joy McCullough-Carranza

BLOOD/WATER/PAINT [ Mainstage production, Feb. 2015, Cupcake Reading Series, Sept. 2013]
 [Quickies Vol. 14June 2013]
After Midnight [Cupcake Reading Series, Oct. 2011]
Expecting Bobby (or Nicole) [Quickies 12, June  2011]


What about the story of Artemisia or the play Blood/Water/Paint are you most intrigued by right now?
I’ve been intrigued by Artemisia’s story for almost fifteen years, and for the longest time, I felt like I was the only one. So now the most intriguing thing is watching this amazing group of artists connect to her story and get excited about sharing it.

What part of working on Blood/Water/Paint are you most excited about?
‘AAAAAHHHHH EVERYTHING!!!!’ isn’t a very sophisticated or nuanced answer, is it? Amy’s vision for the play has really been mind-blowing; watching the extraordinary actors go all-in on such an emotionally and structurally difficult piece has been overwhelming in the best way; I cannot wait to see the design elements layered in; and I can’t begin to wrap my head around audiences getting to join us in this world.

Throughout the process so far, what has been the biggest challenge for you?
This is a story I have known needed to be told, and a play I felt deserved to be produced for so long, but I just couldn’t get it there. It was incredibly frustrating—really the epitome of that Ira Glass quote about having the taste level to know your work isn’t there yet but not yet having the skill to close the gap. I’m so grateful to Meghan for seeing the potential in the play and Amy for helping me see how to close the gap.

What is your favorite piece by Artemisia Gentileschi? Tell us about it, and why you love it!
Such an impossible question for me. The play features her Susanna in the Garden, Judith Slaying Holofernes, and Self-Portrait as the Allegory of Painting…and I just can’t choose between the three. I WON’T.

What other female artists do you love that you wish everybody knew about?
Oh, I love this question! I don’t know a lot about visual art. Our sound designer introduced me to a Baroque composer who would have been a contemporary of Artemisia’s, Barbara Strozzi, and I’m so excited to be learning about her. For writers, many people know of Flannery O’Connor, but I think she should be canon. Some modern fiction writers who should be on more people’s radar: Robin LaFevers, Leslye Walton, Laini Taylor, Jandy Nelson, A.S. King, Laura Amy Schlitz, Katherine Rundell—all of whom have the added strike that they write for children or teens, and are therefore (quite undeservedly) considered less serious writers.

Any favorite quotes, or moments from rehearsal that you are willing to share?
The rehearsal reports always have a quote of the day, and I’m always so intrigued when I missed rehearsal. I think it might betray the holy sanctity of rehearsal to share specifics, but I’ll just say that Amy Poisson makes a rehearsal room a TON of fun.

Tell us about any upcoming projects that you’re excited about!
Getting back in a rehearsal room has sparked all sorts of new things! I am researching the composer Barbara Strozzi, mentioned above, for a new play. I’m also gathering stories for a documentary-style play that will honor the stories of survivors of sexual assault and abuse. If anyone would like to confidentially share their story, they can email for more information.

. . . . . . .

Joy McCullough-Carranza is a Seattle playwright with a degree in theater from Northwestern University, where she won the Agnes Nixon Playwriting Award for her play fifty cents in the dark. Other plays include After Midnight, Home/LandChasing MonarchsHiding Hannah, Blood/Water/Paint, Trapped, Mud Angel, and Watching for Wolves, and have been developed and produced in New York, Seattle, San Diego, and Chicago, at Manhattan Theatre Source, ACT Theatre, Washington Ensemble Theatre, Mirror Stage Company, Live Girls, the Mae West Fest, 14/48, Seattle Dramatists, Stage Left Theatre, New Village Arts, Lamb’s Players Theatre, and Northwestern University.  She has twice been a finalist for the Actors Theater of Louisville’s Heideman Award.


Previous Spotlight Answers:

Where did the idea for BLOOD/WATER/PAINT come from?
About 12 years ago, I was reading a Margaret Atwood novel–I don’t even remember which one–and there was a very passing reference to Artemisia Gentileschi. I’d never heard of her and was immediately captivated when I looked her up. The story is a familiar one, and between my own life, and my work in college as an advocate for sexual assault victims, it was particularly interesting for me to see how little had changed. The transcripts from her rapist’s trial are still intact, and it’s really alarming to see the exact same blame-the-victim dynamics in play across cultures and hundreds of years.

What was your favorite moment in working on this piece?
Shortly after I moved to Seattle, I lucked into a spot in FringeACT (remember FringeACT?). And luckier still, the illustrious Peggy Gannon somehow talked Rita Giomi into directing my workshop. Rita didn’t know me, but I knew she was brilliant from the first moment we talked. Rehearsing with her – and an amazing group of actors, not to mention Sheila Daniels as dramaturg – in the SCT rehearsal rooms, still totally new to the Seattle theater scene – it was SO affirming to me as a playwright, and to the validity of this play.

And then, almost ten years later, after I had all but given up on the play, to have Meghan Arnette contact me and ask if we could do a new reading – that was another huge affirmation. It’s a play that seems so unlikely to be produced. And yet, amazing people continue to be interested in working with me on it. This is huge and I am tremendously grateful.

What projects are you currently working on?
I have been writing children’s fiction for the last few years, so I am at work on revisions to a middle grade contemporary novel at the moment.

Finish the sentence- “I love theater that…”
… couldn’t be anything but theater.

Who is your current artist crush (any discipline)?What was the best advice you were even given as a theater artist?
It’s all about kid lit for me these days, so Sharon Creech, Laura Amy Schlitz, R.J. Palacio, Sara Pennypacker, Robin LaFevers, John Green, David Levithan, Patrick Ness … I could go on and on.

Oh, and Junot Diaz, who is decidedly not for kids, but is fiction.

As for advice … I was fortunate to study under John Logan at Northwestern (he won the Tony for his play Red, and has been Oscar-nominated for several screenplays) and most things I know about playwriting, I learned from John. The first thing that comes to mind is this: Write what you know is bullshit. I believe we all have rich, deep veins to be mined from our own experiences, but I also think we can limit ourselves tremendously as artists if we never venture further out. Or leap further out, I should say …

And a second bit of advice from John – my first play was produced at Northwestern, and during intermission on opening night, John whisked me upstairs to his office and the first thing he said was, “What’s next?” And I was like “…um, Act Two?” And he said “No, what are you writing now?” So I learned from John that as soon as I finish something – in as much as a piece of writing is ever considered finished – to begin the next thing.

What is the one thing you know as an artist now that you wish you could tell your younger self?
Well, winning an award for my first play and having it immediately produced led me to believe that such things – productions more than awards – would be much more forthcoming than they have been. But I don’t know that I would have wanted my younger self to know what a long, hard road it would be.

So I don’t know what else … if my journey was different, it wouldn’t be my journey. I’m tempted to say I would have encouraged myself to attempt fiction sooner, except I think everything I’ve learned as a playwright about character and story and language has informed my fiction.

Outside of theater, what are you really into right now?
Kid lit, as previously mentioned. And my two amazing kids.

What is your favorite and least favorite word?
Let’s see … Favorite: Mama, when said all sweet and snuggly. Least favorite: MAMA! when screeched from the other side of the house by someone who could probably fulfill his or her own need.

Any other thoughts you’d like to share? (About Live Girls! Theater, Quickies, Love, Life, Puppies, Ponies…really – anything at all?)
Every time I’m sure that’s it for me as a playwright, Meghan Arnette and the awesome Live Girls come knocking. I am so thrilled to have landed in a city that is home to such an amazing organization doing such hard, passionate, dedicated work to get more work by women on the boards. So much love to Meghan and you all!