9 Questions: Claudia Haas

March 25, 2014

Claudia Haas has been writing plays – primarily for teens – for 18 years.  She has been honored with 1st Place in the Anna Zornio Memorial Play Writing Contest, Aurand Harris Play Writing Competition, the Bonderman Symposium at the Indiana Repertory Theatre and twice by the Jackie White Memorial Children’s Playwriting Contest.  Other honors include The Nantucket Short Play Festival and the Marilyn Hall Awards.  Many of her plays are commissioned by local theatres and schools in Minnesota with an eye towards writing for young performers.  Her plays have seen over 600 productions in every state in the U.S. as well as abroad.  She holds a B.A. in Speech and Theatre from Wagner College.  Additional theatre studies continued at Circle-in-the-Square Theatre and HB Studios in New York City.  She has been a teaching artist in the Twin Cities for 23 years.

1. A group of friends is having a potluck-- what do you bring? 

Antipasti.  Always Italian and for ease finger food.  Cheeses, salumi, olives, breads, roasted red peppers....and sometimes mini cannoli.

2. What have you sacrificed for your career? 

That would be money.  Nobody that I know of is renovating an Italian villa with their royalties.

3. What is most helpful to you as you sit down to write a first draft?

The play has:

a. Percolated for a long time.
b. Notes and notes and notes - on scraps of paper that drove my family crazy.  During a weekly clean-up, they were not allowed to touch anything that had my handwriting. 
c. Research.  Even if writing a fairy tale.
d. A character list with complete character descriptions including a "pressing need" even for a minor character.  I need to see and hear them before I can write them. I'm very auditory as a playwright hearing the characters is necessary.  When it is quiet, I need to return to note-taking.

4. If for some reason you were suddenly forbidden to write, what would you end up doing?

Talk-write.  And keep talk-writing until I memorized my play.

5. Is there a book you read, play or movie you saw, or story you heard as a child that had a significant impact on you? 

Just as I don't have favorites
anything I don't have any "aha" moment.  I read voraciously.  I grew up in NYC and every dime of my babysitting money went to see shows and buy books.  My theatre-and-book-habit left me always wanting more.  It was the best background for a future playwright.

6. What is the biggest obstacle or setback you've ever faced in creating a play, and how did you move past it?

I think I am currently in that place and moving at a snail's pace.  I am working on something that involves physics
my nemesis.  Unfortunately I have a love of a subject I cannot wrap my brain around.  I have one significant change to make and every time I try to rewrite the scene, I sound like a documentary.  I just have faith that as I read and process, the next rewrite will work.  Eventually. 

7. How has your writing changed over time?

In my early days, I had a standing summer commission to create plays for young performers that were supposed to be "summer fun."  Lots of comedy, lots of silliness.  Lots of roles that were accessible to young performers (as young as six!).  It helped me learn how to craft a play that gave the young performers an arc and helped to teach them the art of acting.

Over many years, my writing became more nuanced and specific.  I am not afraid to tackle bigger subjects even if they scare me.  In fact am starting to welcome "the scare."  I do not write for a specific group of young people anymore and there is freedom in that.  I don't need to worry if I have a role for the very experienced and ten roles for the novice.  I have never strictly adhered to the "write what you know approach."  But these days I wrote much more in the area of "write what you know nothing about but want to know more."

8. If you could ask another playwright, living or dead, to read your work and give you notes on your latest play, who would that playwright be and why would you ask him/her?

That's easy.  Years ago, I attended a one-hour workshop with Suzan Zeder.  In five minutes, she generously handed everyone in the room specific tools to improve your play immediately.  I still have the notes (although they are memorized) and I still use those tools.  And of course, I do love her plays.

9. How rigid are you with your first draft?  Do you allow your characters to veer off in unplanned directions?  Have you wound up with an ending vastly different than the one you had planned?

In terms of plotting, I am pretty rigid initially.  While I allow the characters to "speak to me" in unplanned ways, I do have a destination and I go there.  Characters change more than anything.  Endings seldom do.  If, in the course of development another ending makes more sense
I certainly will explore it.  I won't write page 1 without knowing the last page.

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