"Call Me Adam" chats with playwright Cecilia Copeland about her new play R Culture, a show about Modern American Culture told through the eyes of three women in a traveling circus ultimately revealing the naked truth our Rape Culture. R Culture plays at IRT Theatre in NYC from November 7-23 (154 Christopher Street, 3rd Floor). Click here for tickets!
1. From November 7-23, your show R Culture is going to be at IRT Theatre in NYC. What made now the right time to premiere this show? It’s funny you should ask that, because right now is an absolutely perfect moment for this show to arrive, and I wish I could say we planned it that way. The truth is, it just so happened that over the past year as I developed the play and as we planned the production the issue of Rape Culture exploded onto the headlines. R Culture was slightly ahead of the curve, because I’ve been working on this for a little over a year and in that time so much has happened that has forced this play even further into the spotlight. The 76 Universities under Title IX investigations, the NFL scandals, the seemingly endless list of victim blaming gaffs by Republican politicians, and just recently, NY Senator Kristine Gillibrand and star of NY Show The Good Wife Julianna Margulies were covered in the NYTimes sharing a conversation about sexual harassment, sexual assult and rape on campus.
2. What do you hope audiences come away with after seeing R Culture? Although I want some different things for different segments of the population depending on their own personal experiences I do want everyone to have a feeling that they have been through an old fashioned mystical exorcism, something along the lines of a having a festering boil lanced and drained of the poison. I know that sounds grotesque, but there are really putrid elements of society that can cause mass illness, I believe, if they are left to rot. In R Culture it’s my job as the writer to unmask seemingly innocuous rituals or daily occurrences and expose how they are actually hurting us. There are a lot of ways to expose something that needs to be exposed, and hopefully R Culture has the right balance of laughter and lancing so that what is discovered under the surface can be cleaned or exorcised.
3. What excites you about having this cast bring R Culture to life? As a playwright I tend to make big demands on my casts by writing theatrically robust work that includes a lot of vocal, physical and emotional acrobatics. I’m obsessed as a writer and I need collaborators who share that kind of passion. I’m really grateful to have a cast that takes their craft seriously, knows how to rehearse and can stay focused. On even a basic level this show would be impossible without doing proper warm ups and emotional prep as well as getting proper rest and decompression. The material we’re taking on is so intense that it’s vital to keep the room a place where people are free to trust one another and take risks. Fortunately for R Culture we found a cast of three immensely talented and hard working actors who all have a skill level that is as astounding as their discipline.
4. This show is about Modern American Culture told through the eyes of three women in a traveling circus ultimately revealing the naked truth our Rape Culture. How have you personally experienced this rape culture? I’ve been harassed at different places of work and in different academic settings. I won’t name where those are here and now, but I will say that I’ve experienced sexual harassment and the fact that I’m not even comfortable telling you where and when it happened is a direct result of victim blaming. So…right now I’m experiencing rape culture as I’m trying to answer a question that I know could potentially cause problems for me to answer honestly due to how we treat those who come forward. I’m being evasive right now to protect myself due to rape culture.
5. How do you feel your life has been like a traveling circus? I’ve certainly done my fair share of traveling, but I don’t really see my life like a circus. As a writer I’m a quiet observer rather than a wild performer. I guess if I had to be an act in the circus I would be some kind of exotic creature with huge mirrored eyes who inked out poetry portraits of the audience members as my trick. I would definitely be in the freak show part of the circus or I would be the lion tamer. I have a deep affinity with felines.
6. You are the founding Artistic Director of New York Madness, a theatrical company that explores modern American Playwriting through the use of storytelling. What made you want to start your own theatre company? It’s such a cliché to say it, but I really wanted to be the change I wanted to see in the community. I felt that it was important for me to create opportunities instead of just ask for them and I wanted to surround myself with diverse artists whose work I thought deserved to be produced.
7. What has been the best part about this venture and what has been the most challenging? The best part about this has been the incredible people who have been drawn to this project from collaborators to producing partners to online supporters. We haven’t even opened the show and already so many people are excited about it and want to be engaged with the material. People are hungry to get into a space and have this experience, which is thrilling. The most challenging element has been trying to limit the play creatively, because the R Culture circus could have five new scenes every day.
8. What's the best advice you've ever received? "Do what you know you need to do." This isn’t advice that anyone has given me, but it’s the advice that I get when I go to the people who I trust the most. By that I mean, sometimes as a writer there are things I know I should do, but I don’t want to do them because I’m being lazy or it’s painful. When I’m avoiding whatever it is that I know I need to do I’ll go to a good friend, someone who knows me well, and I’ll ask what I should do. It never fails, that person who knows me best will give me exactly the advice that I’m avoiding. Once I hear it from someone else I can’t avoid it any longer and then I just do what I need to do. So, I’m trying to get to the point when I can just "do what I know I need to do" without having to ask someone else to kick my butt for me.
9. What have you learned about yourself from being a playwright? That I don’t know how I really feel about something until I’ve written a scene or a play about it. Reading or thinking about something is superficial to my comprehension. Anything I know, I don’t actually fully know or understand until I’ve written about it.
10. How do you want to be remembered? I would much rather people remember my work and for that to live on than to remember me as a character. However, if I do get recorded in his/herstory I should like to be remembered as an insightful and entertaining writer, an ardent feminist, a wearer of red lipstick, a hard worker, a great dancer, and as an adventurous woman who lived in ways that defied convention.
11. If you could have any super power, which one would you choose? Strength. Being a petite female all my life I would love to be strong enough to fight anyone and win, or at least have a Super Power fighting chance!
12. If you could be any original Life Saver flavor, which one would you be? Tropical
13. If you could have a song written about you/your life, what would be the key elements you want the lyricist to get in the song? For example, I've had two theme songs written for me...one for my past radio show and one for a live interview series I used to conduct. The key elements I wanted to make sure got in there was that I did entertainment interviews and the lyricists wrote my theme songs around that idea. Key elements would be that it would have to be something that you could dance to, it would have to have lyrics that made you feel like getting back up after getting knocked down and it would have female vocals.
Cecilia Copeland is the Founding Artistic Director of New York Madness. Named Indie Theater Now's "Person of the Year," her plays have been presented at the Culture Project, Cherry Lane Theatre, Ensemble Studios Theatre, HERE Arts Center, The Anarchist Theatre Festival of Montreal, Venus Theatre, The Chain Theatre, New Perspectives & IATI Theatre, among others. She has also developed work with the Lark Play Development Center & terraNOVA. She was awarded a Special Effects Grant from Metro Screen Australia for her screenplay, Amusement Bomber. Copeland is the winner of a Fine Arts Grant at Ohio University, the Lennis J. Holm Playwriting Scholarship from University of Iowa Writers Workshop, was a semifinalist for The O'Neill Playwrights Conference & the David Callichio Emerging Playwrights Prize. Copeland is a Kilroy's List Nominee, finalist for Mabou Mines Residency & a member of The League of Professional Theatre Women.