Saturday, August 6, 2016
Spotlight On...Cassie M. Seinuk
Hometown: North Woodmere NY, currently Brighton MA
Education: BA from Brandeis University Theatre Arts and Creative Writing, MFA from Lesley University Creative Writing Stage and Screen
Favorite Credits: Occupy Hallmark winner of the 2015 Gary Garrison National Ten Minute Play Award at the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival, and the recent production of my play Eyes Shut. Door Open. with Wax Wings Productions in Somerville MA.
Why theater?: I began as a fiction writer and separately a stage manager, and after a series of strange events back at Brandeis I ended up with a playwriting thesis! When I combined my love for storytelling and words with the power of the live performance and actor embodied characters suddenly everything clicked. This is what I was meant to be doing. Theatre has the power to stick with you for a long time, it’s visceral like TV and Film, but because it’s live and right in front of your eyes I find it feels even more real, even more of a mirror of our own lives. And additionally, I love theatre because each performance is different, no matter how well rehearsed, the play will continue to breathe, grow, and change with and because of it’s audience. I find that beautiful.
Tell us about From the Deep: From the Deep is a modern surrealist play that strongly embodies some of the best parts of realism. It’s inspired by the true story of Israeli P.O.W. Gilad Shalit, and explores what happens to the mind while in captivity. It’s set in a white room, the room of the missing, a headspace, where Israeli P.O.W. Ilan finds himself shorty after his captivity. In order to survive the bleakness of his situation, Ilan plays games in an attempt to keep his mind active, to keep focused. But when Andrew, a missing college student from the U.S., appears in the room with him, Ilan must convince a stubborn Andrew to play the games too, survive, keep active, because he believes that this is the key to his freedom. The play explores the struggles we have with our own identities, secrets, and the power of facing the truth even if it puts us at risk.
What inspired you to write From the Deep?: There were a few major things that led to me writing this play. First off, I was going into my final semester at my MFA at Lesley University and needed to come up with a concept for my thesis, which would be another full length work, and just as that deadline was approaching two things happened in the news: 1) The one year anniversary of the release Gilad Shalit came with a plethora of interviews with him, where he described how he handled being in captivity for that long. 2) A college student went missing in Boston and his missing person flyers were plastered all over the city. In one of the Shalit interviews he was asked what did he do for five years, and he said “The secret is to maintain a constant schedule, a daily itinerary, activities. Being active, and not lay in bed all day and do nothing. …And also I played games with myself, all types of strange games.” I thought to myself, it what world or headspace could this message from Shalit help another captive person? Is there a place where two captive people can find each other and help each other survive. I wanted to use Shalit’s tools for survival to help my fictional character Andrew survive his own captivity. Once I started writing, Ilan (my fictional Shalit) and Andrew had even more to teach each other than just “keeping active,” and the depth of how these two could connect across time and space grew.
What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: Oh man! This is always such a difficult question because it does change, but right now I am most interested in theatre that makes me think, feel, and ask questions. People (and critics) have warned audiences that my work sometimes needs a “trigger warning,” and I kind of resent that. I think theatre is supposed to trigger you, to get at your core, to make you rethink your position, or deeply connect to your own fears. As Aristotle put it, theatre is for catharsis. This is one of the reasons I am so struck by plays like Blackbird by David Harrower, and The Pillowman by Martin McDonagh. This doesn’t mean I need theatre to scare me, but I want it to affect me. As someone who struggles with my own PTSD and a history of abuse, I found that theatre was the outlet that allowed me to feel heard and gave me the power to tell my story under the guise of someone else, and it’s freed me. When theatre taps that part of me, I am n minded of the fact that we are all connected, and the more of us that can connect through art and shared histories, the more, I hope, we can learn to accept. On another note, one of my biggest inspirations is my late grandfather, Ysrael A. Seinuk, who was an intrepid engineer who fled with my family from Cuba in the sixties, with the hope of finding a new life and living from “strength to strength.” Despite being an incredibly practical man, my grandfather was always supportive of me as an artist, and encouraged me to follow my dreams even though they were so far off from anyone else in our family. I dedicated this play to him, and even give a nod to his engineering firm in the play. I believe Ilan embodies many of my grandfathers attributes and the force to survive all odds.
If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: Wow! So many people to choose from! I think I’d have to say Anne Bogart. I have been deeply influenced by her work, especially The Viewpoints Book. Even though I am not an actor or a performer, I have found so much inspiration in the way she views making art on stage. I even use some of her theatre exercises to write. I love to think about architecture, gestures, shape, and tempo when I write. As a playwright I love working with directors who know her work too, because I feel like it connects very clearly to what I like to do with language and imagery in my work. So, yes, Anne Bogart, I’m dreaming big!
What show have you recommended to your friends?: I’ve recommended pretty much anything directed by David Gammons, who is one of my favorite directors. Two years ago he directed a brilliant production of Comedy of Errors, set like an old-timey carnival, and it blew my mind. Every show he’s directed in Boston has taken my theatre viewing experience to another level. He has a design mind and it really comes out in the way the stories are told. Plus, I love when there is a huge mess of stuff on stage, and I’ve seen him do that brilliantly. He will be directing Hand to God in Boston this year, and I can’t wait to see it.
Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: Zooey Deschanel would play me, or maybe Ellen Page, depending on the tone of the movie. It would be called… the comedy version would be called "Adorkable Playwright Meets the Dinosaur or Shirt Pocket Ink Stain", and the drama would be called "Things I Didn’t Say".
If you could go back in time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?: I would see Hamilton before I couldn’t afford it.
What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: Watching TV, especially procedural crime dramas. It’s research…. Right?
If you weren’t working in theater, you would be _____?: I’d probably be wedding planning. It’s very similar in my mind. But, in real life I also teach elementary, and I would love to teach at writing at a University level.
What’s up next?: After From the Deep at FringeNYC… Well, I just wrapped my second short film, it’s called Playing Checkers, and it’s an adaptation of a ten-minute play of mine. Leaning Tree Productions will hopefully release it in the next few months and we’ll cross our fingers for the short film festival circuit!
For more on From the Deep, visit www.fromthedeep.org. For more on Cassie, visit www.cassiemseinuk.com