KARI BENTLEY-QUINN is a playwright based in New York City, originally from Stratford, CT. Her plays have been presented at or developed with Lark Play Development Center, Lesser America, Halcyon Theatre, Colby College, Michigan State University, Animus Theatre Company, Theatre of NOTE, Premiere Stages at Kean University, Astoria Performing Arts Center, The Brick Theater, The Secret Theatre, Pulley and Buttonhole Theater, Artemisia Theater, Caps Lock Theater, Packawallop Productions, FringeNYC, Team Awesome Robot, and more.
Kari’s full length plays include Paper Cranes (Backstage Critic's Pick), The Unlikely Ascent of Sybil Stevens (The Secret Theatre New Voices Project), The Ocean Thought Nothing (O’Neill NPC Finalist), Prepared (Kilroys List Honorable Mention), The Worst Mother in the World (Bay Area Playwrights Festival Finalist), Wendy and the Neckbeards (The Relentless Award Honorable Mention), and Hyannis (Ashland New Plays Festival Winner).
Kari is a co-founder of Mission to (dit)Mars, a theater company based in Queens, New York City. As part of the company, Kari was a leader of the Propulsion Lab, a bi-weekly writers group that supports emerging playwrights, as well as the Launch Pad Reading Series, which gave plays written in the lab their first public readings. Alongside her fellow co-founders, Kari facilitated the development of more than 30 new plays, some of which have been produced all over the country, as well as internationally.
Kari has been a finalist for the O’Neill National Playwrights Conference, the Bay Area Playwrights Festival, Dramatists Guild Fellowship, The Playwrights Realm Writing Fellows, the Public Theater Emerging Writers Group, the Leah Ryan FEWW Prize, and was a nominee for the Doric Wilson Playwriting Award. She is a proud member of the Dramatists Guild, and a current member of Project Y Playwrights Group. Kari has an MFA in Playwriting from Hunter College under Tina Howe, Arthur Kopit, and Mark Bly, and where she was the recipient of the Rita and Burton Goldberg Playwriting Award.
In May 2022 Post Productions' managing director Michael K. Potter chatted via zoom with New York based playwright Kari Bentley-Quinn about her award winning script, Prepared, set to premier on The Shadowbox stage 17 June 2022.
Read the full interview transcript below. . .
POTTER: Hello, I'm Michael Potter, managing director of Post Productions, and today we're talking with playwright Kari Bentley-Quinn, who wrote Prepared - the play that Post Productions is producing in June and early July of 2022. Hi, Kari.
BENTLEY-QUINN: Hi, how are you?
POTTER: Good, thank you. How are you?
BENTLEY-QUINN: I'm great. It's great to be here.
POTTER: Thank you. You, too. Well, virtually anyway. It's sweltering here, is sweltering there?
BENTLEY-QUINN: No, it’s nice-ish out. Like, it's cloudy and humid now, but it was sunny. It's like 70 – it's not too bad – but it's gonna be 90 and humid tomorrow.
BENTLEY-QUINN: So summer just decided to come immediately, which happens sometimes.
POTTER: Yeah, with a bang.
POTTER: Alright, so Prepared. We came about this collaboration with you in sort of a random way on Twitter, right?
BENTLEY-QUINN: I’m telling ya, it’s not the first time this has happened to me. This is what’s so amazing about Twitter sometimes – the connections that you make.
POTTER: I'm very glad that it happened, though, because when we asked you to send the play, we were floored by it. We loved it immediately and I'm so glad that we've been able to work with you and produce it.
If you were to summarize Prepared in a little precis, how would you summarize it?
BENTLEY-QUINN: I think Prepared -- do you mean plot-wise, or just my general, kind of, thought about it?
POTTER: Well, let's start with plot-wise and then we’ll go into some of your thoughts.
BENTLEY-QUINN: Okay, great. So Prepared is about a young man who has a lot of problems, and his mother who is doing her best to solve them. But as she's doing her best, she keeps isolating them further and further from other people in their life. And neither of them -- I don't think either of them are getting the help that they need, and so things just keep getting more intense. And she's bringing things like guns in the house, she's become a survivalist parent. She's divorced and estranged from her husband – she has another son with him – and they come to visit but their relationship isn't good.
And it's really just about this mother and son who are just further isolating themselves into their world until it can't sustain anymore.
POTTER: It's interesting that you – the way your phrased it, I think, highlights something that's really important that I hoping people get from the production, which is where the mother, Lydia, and her son, who’s just called “The Boy” in the play, where they are when we meet them in the play is a result of a series of choices but, as you indicated in your answer there, the choices stem from a desire to protect. All of these choices come from Lydia's desire to protect and help her son, right?
BENTLEY-QUINN: That's right. I should have given character names in my plot summary. Lydia’s the mother. Trey is her oldest son. Boy is the youngest son, we don't know his name – comes up later in the play. And Marshall is the father. Just so you have some names.
But yes, it is a very important point. And yeah, the isolation is something I was really honed in on.
POTTER: Yeah, and the isolation’s a huge part of the play right from the beginning. And our understanding of how isolated these two characters are grows and changes as the play progresses. Would you say that she became a survivalist, or prepper, as part of that sequence of events that stems from her motivation to help and protect her son? That this was an avenue that originally appealed to her because of her need to protect?
BENTLEY-QUINN: Oh, absolutely. I think that when you're a parent of a special needs child – and the play doesn't really delve into what particular kind of problem he has, I sort of left that ambiguous for a lot of reasons. But I think that when there's something wrong with your child that they can't quite figure out – which is the case because there is a point in the play where Marshall and Lydia are arguing over whether or not he's autistic and it becomes clear that they don't really have a definitive diagnosis. And I know I liken it to somebody like – I had a chronic health issue, which thankfully I've been treated for, but when you go to doctors over and over and over again, and trying to figure out what's wrong and no one can give you the answer, you turn to other sources. That's why people wind up going on the Internet and getting into these groups that are like, “Hey, this is what's wrong with my child,” and suddenly you can find yourself on survivalist websites with people like, “Take your kid off the grid,” and “Take them out of public education – they're putting things in the water.” And I understand that desperation and that need to protect your child because it doesn't seem like anybody else is doing that.
POTTER: Yeah ad she certainly doesn't think that her ex-husband, Marshall, was really taking the boy’s needs seriously and doing as much to help and protect him as he could. And that seems to have fueled her sort of dive into these conspiracy theories and fringe groups even more.
BENTLEY-QUINN: Yes, exactly. And we’re seeing a lot of parallels in our society today with what's going on where I think people are feeling unsafe and they, for whatever reason, turn to other sources and this is the result of what happens.
POTTER: Yeah. Where did the idea for this play come from? What was the genesis of this play?
BENTLEY-QUINN: Well, I grew up in Stratford, Connecticut, which is 20 minutes or so from Newtown, Connecticut, which is where the Sandy Hook shooting happened in 2012. And so it hit really close to home. One of the teachers who got shot was – she was in my high school. I think she was a freshman when I was a senior. I didn't know her, but she still lived in my hometown, and they've actually named an elementary school after her. So it was just really one of those moments where I said, well, something’s going to be done about this. And then it wasn't. And then there was a lot of attention paid to Adam Lanza, who was the young boy – and he was a boy, 17 years old – who did this horrible thing. I read a lot about him, and about the very little that we know, and what was very interesting to me - and this is not an endorsement of his view – but what was very interesting to me was, from what I could glean from the things that he posted online, he viewed this as a mercy killing.
Something about that stuck with me. I didn't want to write about a school shooting because I feel like there were a lot of reactionary – good plays – but there were a lot of plays in reaction to that that dealt with school shootings and the aftermath of school shootings directly. I wanted to get into what I felt like we really needed to be talking about, which is what's going on at home with these young men who are doing these things. And what's happening to young children in general. But, you know, I mean, most of the time shooters are male. That’s statistically true. So what’s the dynamic? What's happening? And I just chose this one story that I thought maybe – it wasn't exactly the same story, it's not supposed to be about Adam Lanza, but I just took these little pieces and tried to create what I thought was a very plausible scenario where something like this could happen.
POTTER: Right. Yeah. I remember too, when the Sandy Hook shootings happened, having this sense that well, surely, this must be the tipping point. This must be where people take action and where we’ll finally see some change and so forth. And we didn't, obviously. But also, there was, I remember, a lot of really sincere statements around that time from people saying we really need to understand where these shooters come from and what's motivating them – what we can do in terms of intervention early on, and so forth, so we can prevent this from happening in the future – which is the direction you went in – and I don't feel like we really made any progress there either, do you think?
BENTLEY-QUINN: No, absolutely not. Well, I'm sure you read about what happened in Buffalo.
BENTLEY-QUINN: Unfortunately young men are being groomed on the Internet to be white supremacists. I mean, I don't really know any pretty way to put that. And so it's gone past even just having access to weapons. Whatever kind of toxic masculinity, or whatever religious groups, or anything that they’re into has gone now more in this direction. And so it's the same thing. Sometimes it was the incels, so they were targeting women. And in this case they were white supremacists. And I mean, there's a direct line with – misogyny and white supremacy are very related.
So, no, we're not addressing this at all. It's a really frightening time to watch it just keep happening and no one’s doing anything about it. It's not as easy as just getting rid of guns at this point. I mean, it would help, but… I mean, we can't get rid of guns in America. It seems like an impossible thing. But even common sense laws aren't going through, so…
POTTER: Yeah. I remember presenting at a conference – I think it would have been 2016. I think it was when the campaign was underway in the 2016 American election – I presented about the confluence of what used to be separate, for the most part, groups. The white supremacist, for instance, incels, and some other groups. And how they were coalescing behind Donald Trump. The presentation was meant to be a warning that, look, these things are now coming together in a really toxic way and we need to pay attention to this and take it seriously. Because what it means for our future – it's not confined to the United States, by any means – is really quite alarming. And a lot of people at the time thought that was so ridiculous and so alarmist. And then we had four years of just watching it happen in what felt like, not just real time, but sped up time.
BENTLEY-QUINN: As someone who's been screaming about Roe v. Wade for a decade, if not more now, I understand what it feels like to be called reactionary, and overreacting, and doomsday prophecy, and then to watch it all happen exactly the way you thought it would is just – it’s a special kind of horrifying.
POTTER: Yeah, sometimes you really would prefer not to be right.
BENTLEY-QUINN: Well that’s why people are like, “Well, aren’t you glad you’re right?” and I’m like, “No! I’ve never wanted to be wrong –“ I’ve wanted to be wrong about so many things. It’s not like I’m some kind of prophet, I mean, the signs are all there, right? I know how numbers work. More conservative justices, more likely it's gonna happen. It’s just math.
So, yeah, it's awful, but it also is kind of like, well, we knew this was coming. But that doesn't help for some reason. You wish it would. But it doesn't really make you feel better.
POTTER: Yeah. So, what I like is that Prepared tackles these sorts of things, but not in a way that is at all pedantic, or even obvious. It really is focused on a story. Primarily the story of this relationship between mother and son, but the implications of it and the context of it address a lot of the other things that we were just talking about. Which is tricky. A lot of playwrights, I find, when they're trying to address these big themes, these big ideas and so forth, it's very tempting to go the Aaron Sorkin route and just have somebody rant for two pages about it.
Was that something you were struggling with when you wrote it?
BENTLEY-QUINN: No. I wrote this play with Tina Howe when I was in grad schools, she was my advisor and professor at the time. I was in her class and I came in with, I think – the first scene was a little longer, I think, but the first scene in the play was the first thing I wrote, which doesn’t always happen with me. Sometimes I start in the middle, sometimes, I don't know, I’ll write a scene here, a scene there and kind of patchwork it together. But this one kind of came in order. And I was going, “Yeah, but then maybe…” and I was talking about like, “Oh, it's going to be these four people, but then maybe this is going to happen, and this is going to happen.” And Tina was like, “No no no no no. This is about this mother and her son. That's what this play is about.” And when she said that, instead of opening up the world, I decided to make the world smaller.
And I can overwrite with the best of them. A lot of my plays have monologues. This is very sparse for me. This is my sparsest play, language-wise, a hundred percent. I feel like it almost gets more sparse as the play goes on – as they retreat further and further from the world – which I did not do on purpose. But it sort of feels like that. Like it's just more clipped or something. It's interesting what your brain does that you don't know that you're doing.
It was hard to write because I had to pull back my baser instincts to just start writing flowery monologues for mom to say, just to soften it because it's really tense, and it's dark, and it's, you know. I mean there’s moments of levity in it. I think there are some genuinely funny moments in the play. Which I tend to do. I tend to do dark – dark/funny seems to be my wheelhouse. It was just hard to keep it and make sure that everybody was still a human in it. Because it would’ve been really easy to turn Lydia into a villain. And I was absolutely determined not to do that. In a lot of ways she's the protagonist.
POTTER: Yes. A flawed protagonist.
BENTLEY-QUINN: Yeah, in a lot of ways she is though. Very flawed.
POTTER: I’m so glad she’s not a monster because the play wouldn’t be as interesting, right?
POTTER: And all the family members feel like they are individual human beings in this particular context, with his particular history. And that just makes everything more vivid and more grounded and more intense emotionally, right? I mean it’s pretty intense from the beginning, but it ramps up steadily as the play progresses. And I think that the intimacy of it is a key part of why that works.
The other thing that I was really fascinated by in the play, and you talked about how Lydia and the boy – it’s really Lydia making the decisions – how they become more and more isolated from the rest of the world, even from the rest of their family. But what's interesting to me is, what you start to see in the play is that their isolation has consequences for the relationship between Lydia and the boy in that they become, as they have less and less contact with the outside world, it seems they've also become estranged and alienated from each other. And in Lydia you see a desperation sometimes to try to close that gap and do something to correct this growing alienation, whereas the boy doesn't have those kinds of impulses so much. Was that a conscious choice?
BENTLEY-QUINN: Kind of. I think that Boy doesn't operate in the same world as his mother in any kind of way. But the more she tries to trap – “trap” is the wrong word – but the more she tries to close him away from people as means of protecting him, the more likely he is to lash out and behave badly. And whatever problems that he has are exacerbated by this because he's starting to feel cagy. Because, I mean, you know, she's even gone as far sometimes as to turn the Internet off for extended periods of time, and that's his only link to the outside world. And I think she's desperate to have an authentic relationship with him and is trying to eliminate distractions so that he will give her the love that she wants from him.
POTTER: There's even a line where the boy tells her that she's made sure he can't leave, or something like that. Am I misremembering that? In the back half of the play.
BENTLEY-QUINN: “You’ve made sure that I don't.”
BENTLEY-QUINN: Yeah, she says something like, “Don’t leave.” And he says, “You’ve made sure that I don't.”
POTTER: Yeah. And so there's a consciousness in him of the fact that his mother’s choices have – I don’t know if “trapped” is the right word – but maybe from his perspective it is. That they've trapped him in a certain situation and he may feel a desperation to escape from that situation that he can't quite articulate.
BENTLEY-QUINN: Well, I think any teenaged boy who’s being restricted by their parents to this degree is going to feel trapped. I mean, despite all of his problems and his inability to really function socially, he's still a teenager in a rapidly changing body with a rapidly changing brain. And, I mean, there's rebellion there. He's rebelling against this, which probably feels smothering for sure. She's over-attentive to a fault. But he also doesn't give her a lot back.
POTTER: Yeah, there's a codependency that exists between them. You know, he does need her. And she needs him in ways that are sometimes quite toxic.
BENTLEY-QUINN: Yes, it is definitely a toxic relationship. And that's why I think I did put moments of tenderness between them, because I didn't want it to be – there's something keeping them there.
POTTER: Right. She does love him and you do see that throughout the play at various points. It's just that how that love manifests in terms of action, in terms of choices, is sometimes not what she'd intended.
BENTLEY-QUINN: Exactly. She's doing what she thinks is her best. And is coping with the circumstances that she's been given. And just because she's making some questionable choices doesn't mean that she doesn't love her child, of course she does.
POTTER: Oh yeah, it's clear to me throughout the play that she does love him. It's just in – and I'm hoping that everyone who sees it will feel that and recognize that, even if they say, well, that's not how you should it make choices when you love someone, but they can at least see that that is where it's coming from. Like you said earlier, you were really consciously making sure that she was not a monster, and she isn't. She is not a malevolent person. She's not even an indifferent person.
BENTLEY-QUINN: No she’s not.
POTTER: She’s highly invested. She's invested in her son's future.
BENTLEY-QUINN: Yeah, she's absolutely one of the most committed characters I've ever written. She is in it and she is committed, and she believes that she can get him better. She fully believes that. With all of her might she believes that.
POTTER: Yeah, it's like this effort failed but the next one might not. Now I know, okay, I won't do that, but maybe if I try this other thing. And she's been doing this for years.
What about Marshall and Trey? I mean they're big parts of the play. What role do they serve in the story?
BENTLEY-QUINN: I think Marshall and Trey are really important to the story because you get to meet Boy’s brother who could not be more different. Could not be a more different person. He's just an entirely different person in every single way. It's always stunning to me – my brother and I are really different too. We’re alike in a lot of ways, and I think Trey and Boy are, I think they both have that snarky sarcasm, they have a little bit of wit, both of them, so they do have some similarities. But personality-wise they're just night and day.
Marshall – another person that it would have been very easy to just make the big baddie. Not that he behaves well. I’m not defending – he's checked out. We're seeing a family at a point where people are starting to be like, it's been a decade of this and nothing I do helps and I'm just checked out. And that's where he's at. That doesn't mean he makes good decisions. That doesn’t mean he handles it well. He doesn't. But you can also see that he struggles. And his kid kinda hates him. Maybe for a good reason, but he makes no secret that he can't stand his father.
POTTER: Yeah, and there's also, I mean, you see moments where Marshall is kind of trying to extend an olive branch, or trying to engage with the boy in some way, but it comes from a place of disconnection where you get that, since he left this relationship, he and the boy have not really had much to do with each other. And given what Marshall says before the relationship with Lydia ends, and given the fact that the boy was very young at the time, this is clearly Marshall’s choice for them not to have much of a relationship even if at this point, when the boy’s around 17, he feels some regret and feels like he must make some kind of effort.
BENTLEY-QUINN: Yeah, definitely I don't think Marshall knows how to handle him and his limitations. And also Lydia calls the shots. I have my own idea of their whole back story in my mind, and I do think that she probably – there were a lot of rules to follow and lots of hell to pay if rules were not adhered to exactly. And Marshall also works a really demanding job and works a lot of hours. And that's, you know, that's his choice. But he’s also supporting them since Lydia doesn't work. He’s providing for them.
POTTER: He encourages her to go back to work in a flashback, and she, at that point, has made the decision to retreat rather than engage more with the outside world.
BENTLEY-QUINN: Yeah, exactly. And, you know, it wasn't that he expected her to be a stay at home mom for the rest of her life. That was not the deal. The deal was when the kids were little, you can stay home with them, but then, you know… and then she just didn't.
POTTER: What you were saying about the back story between them, and maybe that there were a lot of rules to follow – you get kind of a hint of that toward the end of the play. It’s not the last scene with Marshall, but the last scene between him and Trey, where one of the reasons that going to strip clubs appeals to him is that there are definite rules to follow there. And there's less uncertainty. There's less left to your individual choice. Maybe being responsible for his choices, in a Sartrian existentialist sense, terrifies him at this point.
BENTLEY-QUINN: An interesting choice I made that I didn't really think about that hard until I decided not to expand the play beyond this family – this nuclear family – is that Marshall didn’t remarry. There doesn't seem to be – there's not a stepmom in the picture. And so that's interesting too because, when you’re talking about rules and structure, he's now living a bachelor life. And after having a wife and two children you're probably used to some degree of schedule. Then all of a sudden you have a lot of unstructured free time. So maybe that's why it sort of appeals to him to have these places where there’s structure. Like his job too.
POTTER: I imagine he probably feels some degree of responsibility and guilt and perhaps shame for the way his relationship with Lydia deteriorated. That he made wrong choices as well. She did too. But so did he. And that might make him a little terrified of what might happen if he were in another relationship and would have to make choices again.
BENTLEY-QUINN: Yeah, that's completely valid.
POTTER: Trey seems to me like the audience surrogate character.
BENTLEY-QUINN: He is.
POTTER: He’s the most well-adjusted of all of them. At one point he says, “Am I the only one who sees that something is wrong here?” And no one listens to him. And he makes a couple of very sincere efforts, I think, to try to improve the situation, but he's met with nothing each time.
Where did this older brother figure come from, and why is it important for that character to have this particular place in this story?
BENTLEY-QUINN: I’m the oldest sibling, and I think the oldest sibling kind of – especially if the oldest sibling is higher achieving and is off on their own doing okay – sometimes the squeaky wheel gets the oil and that's often the younger sibling just 'cause they're younger. My brother actually had a terrible misdiagnosis, they couldn't figure out – there wasn't something majorly wrong with him, there was just something; he was a little bit more offbeat. He was very introverted, and I was this big flaming extrovert. So my parents just didn't fuss over me as much because I was fine. You know what I mean? A we got older that changed, of course. But when he was little it was just like, “Oh, you’re fine.”
So, I think he’s a big older sibling who's done well for himself and his family is just falling apart and he's looking at it going, “Is anyone going to do something?” No one does.
My parents are divorced, so I've been through my own version of this sort of thing. And sometimes when people are wrapped up in their own stuff the older sibling can often take on a parental role, not only for their younger siblings but for their parents as well. And I think that's the position that Trey is in. I feel like he's doing an awful lot of parenting in the play.
POTTER: Yeah. Yeah, especially in the last big scene that involves all four of the family members. It seems as though he is slipping into a role he's accustomed to as the mediator – as the one who tries to figure out what's going on.
BENTLEY-QUINN: He is the fixer.
POTTER: The fixer. Yeah.
BENTLEY-QUINN: Yep. I’ve been in that position. There's other dynamics you can wind up in that position in your life too, besides your family. And it's just you’re the person who immediately jumps into action, you know? It's like, I got this. I can fix it. If I just talk to mom, she'll be fine. Everything will be great. And you realize after awhile, and hopefully some therapy, that it doesn't work that way. And that you can't spend your life cleaning other people's messes.
But he is the audience surrogate because he has a much broader view than any of them do because they’re so mired in it. But Trey’s working and living a young man's life – young; early 20’s – and he has a different perspective than any of them. He's not as isolated, kind of by default.
I want to go back to the journey of the script itself. Now you finished it, was it seven years ago?
BENTLEY-QUINN: Yeah, the first draft was the end of 2014, so that's, yeah, seven years ago. Almost eight though. Yeah, it’ll be eight in the fall because I wrote the first draft of this play in fall of 2014 in Tina Howe’s class. And then the thesis production was in February 2015. So I've been working on this play a long time.
POTTER: And it was your Masters thesis, this play?
BENTLEY-QUINN: Yes, it was my Masters thesis.
POTTER: What university?
BENTLEY-QUINN: Hunter College.
POTTER: Hunter College, right. And where is that?
BENTLEY-QUINN: It's in New York. It’s in the city.
POTTER: Okay, I know the one. Yeah, I completely blanked –
BENTLEY-QUINN: It’s part of the CUNY system.
POTTER: Yes. For some reason in my head I thought it was somewhere in the West Coast. But I have friends who are from the CUNY system and of course now that you say it it’s obvious to me, yeah.
BENTLEY-QUINN: Yeah, there’s a bunch of them. Hunter is one, Brooklyn College is in the CUNY system, there's a whole bunch.
POTTER: Oh yeah, it's a huge network of universities. So is this a path that you were always on – to become a playwright? Like, how did this happen? What was your journey to being a playwright? Is that a passion you has since you were young, or is it something you fell into later?
BENTLEY-QUINN: Yeah I had the playwright, to actor, to playwright boomerang that a lot of people do. I started writing plays really young – probably when I was 12 or 13 – but I was also performing. And then I got bit by the acting bug very hard and pivoted to acting for a long time. And then when I decided I didn't want to be an actor anymore, I kind of went back to playwriting. That’s a very simplified, short version of the actual journey. But I've always been – I’ve been writing forever. Writing is something I've been doing since I was old enough to write. Since the time I was little little. Playwriting was the first thing I attempted seriously, and I think training as a performer was great for my writing. And I loved it when I did it, it was great. It wasn't the life I wanted. So I shifted my focus to playwriting, and it went better than any of my auditions went.
But in all seriousness, I really love playwriting because you get to do rehearsal anyway. You get to work with actors anyway. You don’t have to be onstage to work with actors.
POTTER: You like the process.
BENTLEY-QUINN: Yeah. I’m a process gal. I love the whole process. I love rehearsal. I get my best rewrites done in rehearsal. I love making a play with people, it's like my favorite thing to do. It's been super fun doing this with you guys because it's been – even though we’ve had to do it on ZOOM – but you're in Canada, we probably would have had to do it on ZOOM anyway.
POTTER: Yeah. It's been just great for us to have you at rehearsals and to get your input. I was wondering how that felt for you. I wasn't sure what it's been like for you. So yes, please continue. I'm very curious.
BENTLEY-QUINN: It's not my first rodeo on the ZOOM. My play The Worst Mother In The World was produced by Halcyon Theatre in Chicago in 2019. I was very fortunate and able to be able to fly out there for the first week of rehearsal, which was great. So I was in person for the first week. This was pre-COVID, when such exciting things could happen. And that was great. And also my best friend lives in Chicago, so I was able to stay with her, which made it affordable for me to do so. Then I came back to open the show, so that was super great. But in the mean time, after we were done with that first week of rehearsal, I was watching everything on ZOOM. And that was my first time doing it for that long. I'd done like little things on ZOOM where it's like, “Oh, somebody's doing one of your scenes,” and then you watch it on ZOOM and then you go away. But not like a whole play.
With ZOOM, I think it's just focus struggle, mostly. But the nice thing is you can be in your pajamas and then you can turn your camera off and nobody has to see your face. Because I always say to my actors, and I think I said this to you guys, I was like, “It's not you.” I have the worst face, and it's usually about something I did. I've had actors just stare at me like, “Oh my god, I thought I did something horrible that you hated.” And I was like, “No, I was angry at myself.” So the nice thing about ZOOM is you can just – while everybody’s working, if they're up on their feet – for a table read you leave the camera on. But when they're working on stage my camera’s off so when my face is like, “Oh, God, what's that?” I haven't had to make that face a lot, though, I have to say. I really have not had to make that face.
POTTER: Fay and I have the same problem. When I was an undergrad I had a professor keep me after class once, and he was really concerned, and he’s like, “I just need to understand why you hate my course so much.” And I was like, “Oh, I love it! It's just – that's my concentration face. I'm sorry. I don't know what to do with it.”
BENTLEY-QUINN: Yeah, the awareness of our own – we’ve just had more awareness of her own faces than I think we've ever needed to.
And then I did – I was in the Ashland New Plays Festival with my play Hyannis, so that was all done on ZOOM. The production was on ZOOM. It was great. But it was a hundred percent ZOOM. Which was really interesting because I had never done that before, but it was a really great experience. It's just, you miss being in room with people. I love, like, when you run into each other at the vending machine, and you start chatting, and you go out for drinks after – I definitely missed that; I missed that communal part of it. But you still get to know everybody and it was a really cool experience.
POTTER: I was curious with Prepared and you attending via ZOOM – the rehearsals – one thing I was curious about from the very beginning was whether, from your perspective, there would be any sort of cultural disconnect between what we and the cast were doing and the intentions of the play. Sometimes a play doesn't translate from one country to another as well. Or we bring our weird Canadianisms into it and they distort what you were trying to do. I mean, have you seen any of that sort of disconnect culturally?
BENTLEY-QUINN: I mean other than the accents, not really. The accents, that's really the only thing I notice. But when they're working, most of the time I don't even notice it. Also, it's very believable this could be anywhere in America. This could be upper Midwest and it wouldn't be super far off, right? They’re right across the river from you.
POTTER: Well, this could be Canada. I mean, honestly, these things do happen in Canada. Not as often as in the U.S., but we've had some pretty horrific incidents like this in Canada.
BENTLEY-QUINN: Yeah, it's very easy for us down here, going through all we're going through, to look up to Canada as some socialist panacea. And, in a lot of ways, comparably, frankly, the healthcare situation alone is, in some ways – just in terms of “you have an option”; that's nice.
I know you all have your problem. I mean, I know the gun culture is a very interesting and different thing there than it is here. But you guys had all those crazy truck convoys and stuff up there too. So, you're getting your own doses of what we’re going through.
POTTER: I've always said that Canada follows whatever U.S. is doing with about a six year delay.
BENTLEY-QUINN: Yeah, that tracks. That makes sense.
POTTER: You know, we're just a little slower to latch on to these things, but we will.
BENTLEY-QUINN: Yeah. No, I mean certainly there are cultural differences between Canada and the U.S., absolutely. But I think that the isolation is something everybody can relate to. Since we all just went through and are continuing in degrees to go through COVID isolation.
I just found out this morning I got directly exposed by my co-worker yesterday. Yeah. So now I'm just like, great. Time to swab the ol’ nose again. So it's one of those things where I feel like everybody can relate and everybody can kind of relate to the sort of fear and reactionary ways that people are behaving, I think, are really throughout this play that have kind of just continued and keep going. And what can happen when you're getting your information from maybe not the best sources. Because I do think Lydia's misinformed in certain ways.
POTTER: Yeah, I think so. But, also, I think people will be able to relate to Lydia no matter how unlike Lydia they are. Because even if their family hasn't experienced this sort of trouble, this sort of breakdown and estrangement, I think any parent can relate to the fear of it.
BENTLEY-QUINN: Oh, absolutely.
POTTER: And that feeling of helplessness and powerlessness and desperation when your child needs something and you can't provide it and no one else seems to even want to try.
BENTLEY-QUINN: I can imagine – I'm not a parent. Some of my best friends are parents. I myself am not a parent. I love their kids to death, and I'd do anything for them, but I can't imagine what it's like to just have your child walking around this earth and feeling like the world is kind of out to get them. And that's, I think, how she feels. There's references to him being bullied because he's different. And I mean anybody who’s been bullied can tell you that that’s walking the gauntlet to school every day. It’s unbearable. It’s hard to get on that bus. Everybody can relate to that who's been through that situation. And watching that happen to your kid must just be – I get angry when I hear about my niece getting bullied. I’m not her biological auntie, but I’m her auntie. If anybody looks at her funny, I get defensive, so I can't imagine what it would be like being a parent in that situation. There is something wrong and it seems like not only does nobody care, but the world is like actively out to make his life miserable.
POTTER: Yeah. And I think that that conflux of emotions and that conflux of perceptions is something that anyone who's not only been a parent can relate to, but who's had a younger person they cared about, like you say, a niece or nephew, or even a little neighbor kid or something like that. We’ve all been in those kind of situations. Well, not all. Most of us, I think.
POTTER: I wanted to ask you about your process, because we run an annual playwriting contest and we work with a lot of playwrights, and I'm always trying to get material out there for people who are interested in writing plays, or who are struggling with the process, or are doubting themselves, to learn about other peoples’ processes and what other people do. Do you have something that you would call your process for writing?
BENTLEY-QUINN: Well, it's really funny because my process for every single play has been different to an extent, but I think that the three things I always rely on are – a big one for me is imagery. There's usually an image in the play or an image I've seen somewhere else that sticks with me and just floats around in my head. I look at visual art a lot to just get pictures in my head and sometimes they don't mean anything and sometimes they do, or sometimes they don't come up in the play at all. It's interesting, but I'm always images. Also, music is really important for me. I usually listen to music when I write. I listen to music constantly. And sometimes it'll just be a line in the song or something that kicks it off. And then the third thing is – and I think that this is part of my process that was trying to ignore because it makes life harder, but I wright longhand a lot.
POTTER: Oh yeah?
BENTLEY-QUINN: I'm kind of back to it now and it's annoying because then you have to transcribe everything. I think, because we have all spent so much time in front of the computer, that the computer is not my creative space now. So I’ve had to kind of redefine creative space for me, and that's sitting with my headphones looking surly, scribbling on the subway, or sitting in coffee shops like I used to when I was a teenager. I’m really trying to get back to that.
POTTER: I totally relate that. Before I started having trouble with my vision I would write my first draft of everything in longhand. Everything. I just thought better that way then I did on a keyboard. But I found the process of taking that and putting it into a computer became the first part of editing, and it ended up being a really helpful part of the process. Also, like you, I listen to music, and I used to – I haven't done this since the pandemic started, but – I used to create a new playlist for every writing project. So I would listen to the playlist for that project. When the project was over, I'd destroy the playlist.
POTTER: I don't know if that's bizarre, but that's what I used to do.
BENTLEY-QUINN: No, it’s interesting. I usually make playlists for every show. I’ve done the preshow for a lot of my shows. I love doing that. I love matching up a playlist to the themes of the play, or –
POTTER: I love doing that too.
BENTLEY-QUINN: -- how I want the play to feel. I love that. We'll have to collaborate for this one.
POTTER: I’ve got started so, yeah, we should get together and collaborate on that. I'd love to have your input on that. I think it would be really interesting and we might come up with all sorts of things that we wouldn't have thought of individually, which is always part of the fun of collaboration, right?
BENTLEY-QUINN: Yeah. Exactly.
POTTER: Alright, before I let you go, the other thing I wanted to ask you about was: what makes a Kari Bentley-Quinn play? If someone were to characterize your body of work, how would they do that?
BENTLEY-QUINN: I should have an answer ready for this.
I don't think you're ever gonna find a true villain in one of my plays.
POTTER: You mean somebody that isn't sympathetic in some way?
BENTLEY-QUINN: Yeah, I don't think that there's ever gonna – I mean, you might feel that way, but there's never gonna be a time in the play where they're not a human being. And I think that I try to approach things from every conceivable angle when I can. I think all of my plays have that in common. Also, it will probably get sad at some point. And, also, I do tend to have women characters at the centre of my play. It's unusual that that isn't the case. It’s something that's important to me, that men and women get equal stage time. Sometimes the ladies get a little more in my world. Yeah.
POTTER: Yeah. We started a women's monologue contest just this year – earlier this year. One of the reasons was that there's a local playwright who was asked to find a monologue for an actress and realized there are very few good monologues for women. So, she just wrote a book of 100 monologues. And so we've created a monologue competition based on her book. But, also, with us this works out really well because we are constantly looking for plays that primarily feature female characters. Good female characters. Because in our region, in Windsor-Essex, the female-to-male ratio amongst actors is decidedly in favor of females. So, we just have much better options to choose from, and many more options to choose from, if we choose female-oriented plays, which works out for us anyway.
BENTLEY-QUINN: Oh, that’s great.
POTTER: Recently, I was looking – for a different project; for a gift – I was looking for a bunch of plays. I wanted to buy a bunch of plays and give them as a gift. And what I ended up doing as one of my sort of limitations, or limit criteria, for this project was excluding most plays from before 1970 because, my God, there’s so little for women to do in most plays from before around that time.
BENTLEY-QUINN: Yep. Yeah. Yes! I'm a little over the old revivals at this point. I’m like, let's investigate the 80’s? The 90’s? You know, the 90’s? Can we?
No, but I mean it’s absolutely true, it wasn’t – of course there are the iconic, legendary roles, of course, you know, but it's not all Blanche and Streetcar out there pre 1970.
POTTER: I mean, even finding a play that has two female characters who both have agency.
BENTLEY-QUINN: Yeah, never mind the Bechdel test, you can’t even –
POTTER: So, good, we need more playwrights like you out there writing.
BENTLEY-QUINN: Well, we’re trying. We’re out here trying.
POTTER: Yeah, and there's been, in the last 20-30 years, there's been a lot more good work, right? Not only featuring good female characters – interesting female characters – but by female playwrights, which is good. And I think some older female playwrights are being rediscovered who might have been ignored in, say, university programs and that sort of thing, until recently.
BENTLEY-QUINN: Yes. And there were a lot of them that people just don’t know a darn thing about. I mean, tons.
POTTER: Fay and I read a really great play recently from the 20’s called Machinal. Is that it? Machinal.
BENTLEY-QUINN: Oh, oh yes.
POTTER: That is fascinating.
BENTLEY-QUINN: I know who wrote that play – why can’t I think of it? I’m going to lose my theatre card now. Look what you did.
POTTER: Two months ago I could have told you who wrote it, but it’s gone now. Anyway, I’d heard of it but never read it –
BENTLEY-QUINN: Sophie Treadwell!
POTTER: Thank you!
BENTLEY-QUINN: God, I knew that name!
POTTER: Sophie Treadwell, yes. That is a fascinating play, and when you consider that it was written by a woman in the 1920s, that must have been absolutely jaw dropping to people when that came out. Even now it really oddly resonates pretty well.
BENTLEY-QUINN: One of my favorite playwrights, also from the 20’s is Susan Glaspell, who was a colleague of Eugene O'Neill. They wrote plays together at Provincetown Players for years. She wrote some excellent plays and she was O'Neill adjacent. I mean, she's being studied much more by scholars now.
POTTER: I don't think I’ve read her. What would you recommend to start with?
BENTLEY-QUINN: Trifles is her most famous play. I would start there. It's a one-act and it's really terrific. She was really ahead of her time with female characters as well. I mean, obviously women writing female characters in that time is gonna be different. Her work – I wrote a paper in grad school about how her work was in conversation with O'Neill – they wrote on some similar themes, and yeah, she's definitely worth investigating too. She had a pretty substantial body of work.
POTTER: Yeah. I mean, you went into playwrighting – and I wanted to go into theatre in university when I was young, but my grandparents were very, very much against it. They wanted to do something practical, so I went into philosophy. But I ended up coming back into theatre.
BENTLEY-QUINN: My husband’s an academic, so…
POTTER: But what I – why was I talking about that? Oh, it was – in philosophy we have the exact same sort of phenomenon where there are women through the centuries who have really good work and substantial work, and sometimes a substantial body of work, but you wouldn't have heard of them in philosophy programs until recently. And they’re there, and people in their time were writing about them and talking about them and so forth, but history decided to ignore them until recently. It's good that these are being uncovered.
BENTLEY-QUINN: Yeah, most women weren’t considered Canon. So, it’s kindda that simple. And that's why I’m against the Canon. Like, we need a new Canon. We need to at least update the Canon.
POTTER: At the very least update the Canon, yes. I think in most disciplines we need to update the Canon.
BENTLEY-QUINN: The Canon needs updating, absolutely.
POTTER: Yes. Well, thank you so much, Kari.
BENTLEY-QUINN: Thank you.
POTTER: I really appreciate you talking with me today, and we will see you because you're coming out to see one of the performances on July 1st, is that correct?
BENTLEY-QUINN: I’m there July 1st and 2nd. I’m gonna try to catch them both.
POTTER: Excellent. Well, thank you. We’ll talk to you soon.
BENTLEY-QUINN: Okay, bye.
POTTER: Have a great day.
BENTLEY-QUINN: You too.
5/31/2022 - PREPARED - Interview with playwright Kari Bentley-Quinn
4/19/2022 - Interview with playwright Edele Winnie
11/10/2021 - DEAD BEAR - Meet the Cast
11/05/2021 - DEAD BEAR: interview with playwright John Gavey
9/12/2021 - BLASTED: Meet the Cast
7/2/2021 - CRIMINAL GENIUS: Meet the Cast
3/10/2021 - NEGATUNITY: interview with playwright Matthew St. Amand
3/10/2021 - NEGATUNITY: Meet the Cast
11/16/2020 - THE BEAUTY QUEEN OF LEENANE: Meet the Cast
10/5/2020 - FATBOY: interview with playwright John Clancy
7/16/2020 - Winner: 2020 Playwriting Contest
6/23/2020 - Announcement: Nikolas Prsa joins Post as Outreach Director
3/15/2020 - BETRAYAL - Meet the Cast
1/18/2020 - PRY IT FROM MY COLD DEAD HANDS: interview with playwright Edele Winnie
1/15/2020 - PRY IT FROM MY COLD DEAD HANDS: Meet the Cast/Crew
11/4/2019 - THE PILLOWMAN: Meet the Cast/Crew
9/18/2019 - AUTOPSY & A HAUNTING IN E FLAT: interview with playwrights Alex Monk & Joey Ouellette
8/29/2019 - AUTOPSY: Meet the Cast
8/29/2019 - A HAUNTING IN E FLAT: Meet the Cast
5/31/2019 - AMERICAN BUFFALO: Meet the Cast
3/31/2019 - NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH: Meet the Cast
3/19/2019 - NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH: interview with playwright Eve Lederman
2/25/2019 - So You're Writing a Play...
1/17/2019 - NO EXIT: Meet the Cast
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