Brooke Allen is a Chicago-based playwright that I had the pleasure of working with for an entire summer at a regional theater company about fifteen years ago. Brooke has been an Artist In Residence with The Ruckus since 2012 and was the 2013 Playwright in Residence at Red Tape Theatre. She is definitely a playwright to keep your eye on and she even recently had an article appear in The Chicago Sun-Times about “processing the loss of her brother by penning a play”. We are lucky to have her answer a few questions below. Enjoy and be inspired!
How did you first become interested in writing for the stage?
It seemed like a really natural thing for me to do. When I was a child I loved to write stories and little scenes for my friends to read when they came over to play. I created elaborate and dramatic scenarios for all of my dolls. My mother was an actress so I grew up around theatre-folk and was able to watch and listen to the shape of plays from a very young age.
On her training…
I graduated from Webster University in 2002 with a degree in English and a focus in Creative Writing/Playwriting. A lot of my intensive workshop classes were geared toward playwriting and how to craft dialogue for the stage. We even created out own playwriting festival that was aimed at allowing playwriting students an opportunity to see their work on stage.
On her first job in theater…
My first real job in theatre out of college was working as a stage manager for a musical parody version of “The Poseidon Adventure”. My first playwriting gig was in 2007 when I wrote a show called “House Work” which was produced at a small storefront theatre in Chicago.
Is one of the characters always based on her?
I would have to say that in my plays, almost all of the characters are somewhat based on me. Some more obviously than others. But in order to speak for them and think for them, I have to apply some small part of myself to them. So even when they share drastically different opinions or values than me, they still sort of come from me. It’s more like, they are all family, we’re all related.
Is there a play that you wish you had written?
I wish I’d written “A Streetcar Named Desire”. It’s my favorite play. I love the way it sort of slips in and out of memory like you are watching it through a wave of heat. There’s so much tension and longing. I’ve just always thought it’s one of the saddest and most beautiful plays.
Do you listen to music while you write?
I don’t listen to music while I write, but I do listen to music, more specifically a song or album, that I feel matches the tone of something I might be writing at the time, A LOT when I’m not physically writing. For example, I listen to the same song over and over sometimes while riding a bus or grocery shopping in order to stay in the mood of the play and to keep thinking about it. Each play of mine has a set of music that sort of goes with it.
On dealing with writer’s block…
I used to panic. Now I do one of two things. I either push through it and force myself to finish a set amount of pages or scenes, even if they are a mess. Or, I just let myself stop and come back to it later. When I push through it’s harder but I usually have something I can work with by the end. When I stop I tell myself it’s ok and give myself a set time to come back to the work at hand.
Advice for emerging playwrights…
Go to the theatre! Go as often as possible and see everything you can, even if you don’t think it’s something you are interested in. It’s the best way to learn how to be a playwright. Read as many scripts as you can get your hands on!
Other recent credits include; “The Life and Death of Madam Barker” (Red Tape Theatre 2013), “Coyote” It Comes In Festival (The Side Project, 2013), “Ruby Wilder” (Tympanic Theatre 2012 / New York International Fringe Festival, 2010 / Not Waiting Productions, 2008 ), “House Work” (Not Waiting Productions, 2007 / 2010 Semi-Finalist for the Leah Ryan’s Fund for Emerging Women Writers). Brooke is also a Chicago Storyteller and has performed with Mortified, Guts and Glory, Solo in the Second City, The Paper Machete and You’re Being Ridiculous