Every week, culture critics Diep Tran and Jose Solís bring a POC perspective to the performing arts with their Token Theatre Friends podcast. The show can be found on Spotify, iTunes and Stitcher. You can listen to episodes from the previous version of the podcast here but to get new episodes, you will need to resubscribe to our new podcast feed (look for the all-red logo).
This week, the Friends discuss two audio plays: Richard II by Shakespeare and Julia Pastrana by Shaun Prendergast. Richard II was presented by the Public Theater and WNYC, and starred André Holland as the king and Miriam A. Hyman as his foe Henry Bolingbroke. It’s still available to download. Julia Pastrana is produced by Amphibian Stage Co. and is about the ugliest woman in the world. It’s based on a true story and is meant to be listened to in the dark. How immersive! The Friends discussed what worked about the productions, does race matter when it’s radio and how audio plays can give you the ASMR tingles.
This week’s guest is playwright Clare Barron, who was a Pulitzer Prize finalist for drama for her play Dance Nation. Barron just wrote a new short play called What This Will Be Like When It’s Over, for a new theater journal called The Flashpaper. It’s about dating during the pandemic. She and the Friends get into a deep discussion about sex and dating, and how Barron is able to get ultra-personal in her plays without feeling self-conscious. Also, she talked about that time she had sex onstage.
There’s some very frank talk of sex, with some expletives thrown in, so please if listen on your headphones if these subjects are sensitive to you or anyone around you.
Here are links to things the Friends talked about in this episode.
- Free Shakespeare on the Radio: Richard II
- Julia Pastrana at Amphibian Stage Co. (available through July 30)
- A review of I’ll Never Love Again by Clare Barron
- The Flashpaper: a new theater journal featuring writings from theater artists, including Clare Barron
- The script for Dance Nation by Clare Barron
The episode transcript is below.
Diep: Hi, this is Diep Tran.
Jose: And I’m Jose Solis.
Diep: And we’re your Token Theatre Friends. People who love theater so much that if you cut us open you will not find cake but a pair of curtains. I’m just kidding. Have you been watching those videos with people cutting into objects and it turns out to be cake.
Jose:I refuse to, like, people should not joke with Cake. Cake is not something you joke with like at all. No, no.
Diep: As a baker, all of those cakes look dry and low quality because fondant is bullshit.
Jose: No, okay, now you’re missing with the wrong crowd. Also fondant. That’s amazing. Fondant is the only reason why I will get married.
Diep: Okay, I’m not eating any of your wedding cake.
Jose: Well, I’m very single. So that’s not going to happen, so don’t worry. Wait, because fondant is a super thick thing that’s like toothpaste, made of sugar. Oh my god. I’m salivating. I love it.
Diep: Oh, you know people roll that out with their hands.
Jose: Well, so they do with pizza and I love pizza.
Diep: Yeah, but they don’t cook it.
Jose: They don’t cook pizza.
Diep: They don’t cook fondant.
Jose: But I mean, it looks so pretty. Like they can like make little grooms out of it.
Diep: With their hands. I mean, we’re in the COVID. So if you want other people touching your food.
Jose: I mean, I’m not gonna order a wedding cake anytime soon. So I’m not gonna worry too much about that. And also, if you opened me up today, I’m also made of margarita.
Diep: Oh shit. I didn’t know we were drinking today.
Jose: We’re always drinking.
Diep: I am not always drinking. Okay, this quarantine, I need structure in my day. So I pretend that I’m on a regular work schedule—our work schedule’s from 10 to 6. And then after 6 is when I go, I start drinking.
Jose: Okay, I drink whenever I feel hot and whenever I feel like I need a drink, so,
Diep: Okay, see that? You’re like chaotic energy and I’m like, and I’m lawful energy I guess. I mean, I guess is that what the kids are saying?
Jose: I don’t know what the kids are saying. They’re always talking about big dick energy though.
Diep: I’ve been told I have that.
Jose: That is a different podcast. Welcome to Token Sex Therapy Friends.
Diep: I think Big Dick Energy is just like you know, I give off a lot of confidence.
Jose: Like Mr. Big.
Diep: I don’t want to be Mr. Big he sucks at communicating. Never date someone who doesn’t know how to communicate their own feelings.
Jose: Next time I ask you if you’re like Mr. Big you’re supposed to answer, abso-fucking-lutely.
Diep: Oh my god. Spotify is gonna give us an explicit again for this episode. Just because we did that. Okay, sorry about that opening everyone, don’t eat fondant. What are we talking about?
Jose: Today we are discussing two audio, are they called radio plays, audio plays, audio shows. Anyway, we are discussing two audio plays first we’re gonna be talking about the Richard II that Shakespeare in the Park, now Shakespeare on your ears, what are they calling it?
Diep: Shakespeare on the Radio.
Jose: We’re gonna be talking about the Richard II that is not happening in Shakespeare in the Park but Shakespeare on the radio because it is going are being like broadcast on WNYC, so it is radio I guess.
Diep: It is technically radio yeah, and I don’t know how to, I don’t know, I don’t have a radio. So I don’t know how to find it.
Jose: I don’t know either. No, I do have a radio, but that’s not the point. And we’re also going to be talking about Julia Pastrana, which is another audio play being produced by Amphibian Stage.
Diep: Yeah, so we’re talking about one play that’s in New York, another play that’s in Texas, and it’s all available in your ears. What? I feel like we’re teleporting everywhere every episode.
Jose: We’re living in the 1930s. I love all those audio dramas from that era.
Diep: It’s a new, old form of theater. And after that, we’re going to be talking to playwright Clare Baron, Pulitzer-finalist Clare Baron for her play Dance Nation, which is one of my favorite things I have seen in the last couple of years. She just wrote a play for a new literary journal called The Flashpaper, and we’re going to be talking to Claire about that, because she wrote a play about online dating. And I have questions about doing about that right now.
Jose: So it is Token Sex Therapy Friends today. Yeah. Okay. Yeah, yeah. Welcome.
Diep: There may be talk about pussy. Because if you’re ever been to a Clare Baron play.=
Jose: Let’s do this. Let’s go into audio dramas then.
Diep: Let’s talk about audio plays, you know, well, first of all, I just want to tell people, I think the best way to listen to an audio play, in my opinion, is you put on your headphones, and you just take a walk. You walk in the neighborhood, you watch the park, go somewhere, that’s not your apartment, because this actually allows you to do that. And just like really marinate with it by yourself. Turn off your computer, like don’t don’t let anything else distract you. But that’s what I did. I had a great time.
Jose: If you’re on a street and you’re like saying that don’t let anything distract you. There’s like people without masks outside and there’s people coming from Disney World outside and there’s like cars. How?
Diep: Are you not a New Yorker?
Jose: Well, yes, but I don’t listen to things that I need to focus on. When I’m out. I’m listening to music. I only listen to like audio, like podcasts and stuff when I’m sitting in a subway, but I’m not going to venture out there while I have to concentrate and following a plot, cuz that’s like.
Diep: Geez, okay, okay, well go the park. I don’t know. Thank you. Thank you, mom.
Jose: Look both ways.
Diep: Okay. So talk about Richard II.
Jose: I don’t even know where Richard II is about. It’s about a king. It’s like Shakespeare and it’s about like, I don’t know how to set it apart from like other Shakespeares, like intrigue and someone who wants to reclaim the throne and lots of death and stuff, like it’s about men who want power.
Diep: Yeah. And this was produced by Public Theater in collaboration with WNYC and directed by Saheem Ali, whose work we’ve all seen on stage and starring the former Token Theatre Friends guest and person with a very nice voice Andre Holland as Richard II. And and you know in the play Richard II, he’s being contested for the throne by Henry Bolingbrook who you know, I’m gonna tell you Henry wins and that’s why there’s Henry IV, there’s three of those, so don’t come after me for spoiling this for you not sorry not sorry—should be reading more.
But in this production what was really fascinating was Miriam A. Hyman played Bolingbroke and so that’s, I’ve never seen—actually no, that’s not true. I did see the all female Macbeth with you. But I’ve rarely seen a Shakespeare play where they actually play with gender like that. Because the great thing about every episode was yes they did the play for you, but also there’s also like 30 minutes worth of like explaining the plot, explaining the cultural significance and also explaining the casting and Saheem Ali was on the show and he said like he wanted, the only person he wanted to see like overthrow a Black man was a Black woman. So yes, girl power/take down the patriarchy.
Jose: For ever and ever and ever and actually Miriam A. Hyman, who we are going to have a feature with her on our sides. She’s actually also a rapper and her rap name is Robin Hood. And she has a new EP out and it’s fan-fucking-tastic. So stay tuned for that, she’s like, so fascinating. Like I loved that she played Bolingbrook because like, like hats off. If I was wearing a hat, hats off to her, kill all the evil men and take over forever. Like I love that. And also Lupita Nyong’o is the narrator and she was the one addition right? Because like most of the other actors were set to do it in the actual park this summer. And then Lupita was obviously not because they didn’t need a narrator. But once they did that Lupita became the narrator and trivia for you also cuz I did my research on Miriam, Miriam at one point was a ghostwriter for Lupita.
Diep: Oh my god, every. It’s all interconnected. You know, theater is a very small community. And if you just poke at the right people, like they’ll get you the celebrities that you want.
Jose: It’s always six degrees of so many separation, everyone. But I love this cast so much, because it also has like one of my favorite actors, Barzin Akhavan, who I love seeing in everything I see all over the city. And it has this collection of actors who we love seeing precisely in things like Shakespeare in the Park, which is why I was very happy they just didn’t give up and be like, Okay, I guess no plays for the people for free this year. And instead they went and did that cuz it was, um, it just listen to the show. I did listen on the radio the first time and then I was like, fuck I’m just going to listen to it on my phone with my headphones.
But the first time when I did listen on the radio, I felt very like, I don’t know, I felt like I was in a time machine. I love how it revealed, just being able to sit at home with the Shakespeare, it kinda like opened up the beauty of language in a way that I don’t get to experience when I’m like when it’s like 2,000 degrees outside and I’m sweating. And I’m also wearing like a plastic poncho because like, when it rains at Shakespeare in the Park, it is one of the worst things that can happen to you. So sitting at home and listening to all this actors act on the radio, I really ended up enjoying this Richard. I can’t name every character but I enjoyed this Richard more I think that I would have if I had seen it in person, is that crazy to say?
Diep: Like, I think there’s an intimacy when Andre Holland is whispering into your ear, that it feels like they’re talking to you specifically because you could hear the breath in between every line like that’s that’s what you get an audio that you don’t get quite in live theater because even if they’re well mic-ed like you cannot get every single detail of of what it is that they’re saying. And also I really love the sound design. And this is the same as the other play we’re going to be talking about, the fun thing when you’re listening to this on your headphones, and they do like sound design where it’s like clinking glasses, or like a helicopter flying and goes from your left ear to your right ear, I got the ASMR tingles.
Jose: Oh, I got a different kind of tingles and we’ll talk about it when we talk about Julia Pastrana because they were not good tingles. Not good at all, at all. Like, I also really love the fact that you know, one of the things like I don’t know, like probably like all the Shakespeare purists are gonna come for me when I say this, but I feel like after experiencing Richard II on the radio, I kind of don’t want to see Shakespeare dramas on stage anymore. Like, they should just be like radio versions. And then they should just focus on like the comedies and give us the comedies on stage and save the drama because they’re also like, super long. And boring. Yeah, save Hamlet and save Macbeth because we’ve seen Macbeth like a kazillion times unless it’s Lady Macbeth. I mean, you know what I mean? Mac Beth,
Diep: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. All-lady Macbeth.
Jose: That Macbeth I want to see everywhere anyway. Save those for the radio and then give us a comedy on stage because we’re gonna need comedies after all this. But also, the fact that WNYC and the Public, split this into four chapters, which meant that you could almost follow it like a soap opera, you know, like every night, you got an hour of Richard II, which is more than, you know one hour’s more than enough, who can handle three hours?
Diep: I mean, there are people. We’re not those people.
Jose: And I like it. I enjoy it like I mean, I’ve enjoyed plenty of Macbeth and Hamlet, but it’s not like it’s doing it a disservice to Shakespeare. It’s just like, letting us experience Shakespeare in a new, more interactive, like more fun way. I would say. I feel like a lot of the issues with Shakespeare are precisely that people you know, they’re always like wearing like a monocle and gasp, you do not like the Bard. I mean, I don’t know how to do accents. I’m sorry. It’s like very stuffy and very, like classist. And I enjoyed this version of Richard II more than I have any drama that I’ve seen put on stage. Remember how boring that Macbeth that Lincoln Center did with Ethan Hawke a few years ago was?
Diep: No i didn’t see it because I heard it was bad. And I’ve seen like, like in five Macbeths, I don’t need to. It’s like me and Othello or Taming of the Shrew. It’s like, I don’t need any more of that. Yeah, no, I’m fine. I’m fine.
Jose: We’re saying Macbeth a lot. Are we gonna, is some lightnings gonna strike us right now?
Diep: We’re gonna have tech issues. That’s what that’s what’s gonna happen. But I wonder if also the reason that we both felt more connected to this was was because it was also a mostly Black cast. Andre Holland and Miriam A Hymen, their voices are just naturally very magnetic and very sympathetic. It’s like good voice acting. That’s what I realized about Richard II on the page. No one’s actions make sense. Like why are you deciding to abdicate your crown? The previous scene, you’re like, I’m not giving it up. And then next thing you’re like, Okay, maybe—it does not make any sense. So It’s really up to the actors to kind of fill in the blank spaces for you as audience members. And I think they were really successful and giving these characters motivation and development just by using their voices. So I feel like this this wasn’t so much like a play performance. It was like a program, because I really loved the just like the context of everything. So like, for every subsequent episode, it was like, last night on Richard II, Bolingbrook has returned to England.
Jose: It was a soap opera, I love it.
Diep: I love the contexts. I love the setup for every scene where it’s like, okay, you the audience can’t see it, but Richard is in his castle, and he’s talking to his advisors. So it was very much a well, we’ll walk you through this because we’re not going to assume that you can understand 100% of it because even I, you know, I have a degree in this. I don’t understand. I understand maybe 70% of it all at all times.
Jose: No one understands anything. And when Lupita Nyong’o is your guide and your narrator. I mean, who needs more than that, right?
Diep: Mm hmm. Yeah, it’s a well-constructed program. And I really appreciate Ayana Thompson who was a Shakespeare scholar, who they brought in to give us background information. She was like, we don’t need to produce Othello or or Taming of the Shrew or any problematic plays anymore because they are toxic. And we need to put people of color in stuff like this. Now, I’m like, Yes. Yes. Say that on national radio.
Jose: Yes, I was. I was very excited also, because I know as much as I’d love Shakespeare in the Park, because it’s free and New Yorkers could see. I was so excited that people all over the world get to listen to this because the Public made it available also as a podcast.
Diep: WNYC’s podcasts.
Jose: I remember when I didn’t live here. I and I saw about that Anne Hathaway, Raul Esparza Twelfth Night I was like, I mean, it’s like wishing that I could just teleport myself to New York City that summer. I really like the idea of you know, those audio versions of those places existing somewhere because also theater’s so fleeting. It’s so once in a lifetime, one moment it’s gone. I love the fact that this really groundbreaking Richard II, it’s gonna live forever.
Diep: Or whenever Actors Equity tells them to take it down, I don’t know how long they signed that contract for. So, after you finish listening to this podcast, go and just download all four episodes and keep it in your hard drives for whenever you have time to listen to it.
Jose: And now the FBI comes for us. Okay, let’s talk about Julia Pastrana.
Diep: Julia Pastrana is a play written by Sean Prendergast, directed by Jonathan Fielding with sound design by David Lanza. And it’s currently being mounted by Amphibian Stage in Texas. You can buy tickets until July 30. And you’ll get directions to listen to the play while in complete darkness, which I did. And I got spooked by my cat, but that’s fine. But it’s actually a real life story because you know me I love researching these like based on true story kind of plays and movies, but it was about this real life woman who had a birth defect. And where you know, where like, her features were just really large and pronounced and they called her the ugliest woman in the world and like, exhibited, exhibited her in a circus. And then she died and then they embalmed her body and continue to exhibit her until the 1970s. Like, what is wrong with you people?
Jose: Everything is wrong with people.
Diep: Yeah, everything was wrong with people, but apparently she did, her body was eventually interred in like the early 2000s in Mexico.
Jose: That’s the least they can do. So this play this play reminded me. It was kind of like a cross between that and American Horror Story Side Show and the musical Side Show. And also Venus by Suzan-Lori Parks.
Diep: Yes, Venus. Yes. But
Jose: You know the tingles it gave me? Remember that play that we went to see that was in the dark but that we had to walk and they threw fart bombs at us.
Diep: That was a Halloween play, though.
Jose: I kept thinking that someone was going to come throw stink bombs at my face. That play was so traumatic.
Diep: So why did you get the disgusting tingles during Julia Pastrana.
Jose: Because it’s so immersive that I felt that someone might sneak behind me and throw a fart bomb in my face like they did at that play where we were moving. Did you see what was that called, was it called The Encounter, that sound thing they did on Broadway?
Diep: Yeah, yes, it was.
Jose: Julia Pastrana was like a really? I mean, I enjoyed The Encounter but it was very like, you know, white guy goes to like the forest, kind of like kumbaya like Zac Efron, dad bod, beard, going to Costa Rica kind of thing. Ah, well, that was fun. I was just like a really wonderful drama. So you did have the Venus connection also right?
Diep: Oh, definitely. Venus connection and also had you know, The Greatest Showman and also The Chinese Lady which is another play by Lly about a Chinese woman who was also fucking exhibited.
Jose: Why do they do that to people?
Diep: Because there’s something wrong with white people, Jose.
Jose: very bad and now Jesus Christ, but I love cuz it’s I mean, I did not do the research. About the real Julia but even just like in the way that the sound design is just so exquisite, and even the way the stories told and the acting is so good. I felt so bad when she was yelling when the baby was born.
Diep: Oh my god, you could. There’s a birth scene and you can like feel her scream. Right here. Yeah, right, like down the back of your neck. I was like, Oh my God. I feel like the sound design like, I feel like this is something that zoom theater hasn’t quite figured out because the connection’s usually so bad is like how to get that kind of quality. And so like, there’s like, these are like the first times I’ve actually felt like, this is a production, we have production quality, which is what I’ve been missing for the past couple months.
Jose: Yeah. Make radio great again. Are we like nostalgia people? Give us our radio and our—
Diep: Give us our radio dramas. It’s working really well.
Jose: Yeah, but some some people are doing interesting stuff not maybe not with sound ’cause yeah, the connection so terrible, but with lighting and with sets, but whatever. That’s a whole other story.
Diep: Yeah, yeah. Well, we’ll we’ll talk about that another time. But I haven’t gotten ASMR, tingles from you know, zoom play yet.
Jose: I hope not. I would be very disturbed if you had.
Diep: It’s not sexual, it’s just—
Jose: Even if it’s not sexual, like ASMR it’s like pleasurable.
Diep: But still, I do have a question for you about about race, because like this came up in Richard II too, like, if we’re just listening to these voices, does race matter? It’s more like, can we still have like a conversation about representation? And then what it means when it’s an audio form?
Jose: I mean, of course we can. I was so excited every time I heard Lupita Nyong’o in Richard II. It’s about opportunity I think more than anything. Who was it that recently quit for being white and voicing a biracial character.
Diep: I think it was Kirsten Bell who voiced an Asian character on Bojack Horseman and she apologized for that.
Jose: But also like another white lady apologize for some—
Diep: There was also Apu dude, Hank Azaria in the Simpsons who was Apu.
Jose: Who is married to Helen Hunt for a very long time. As long as you’re not a white person playing a Black character. I mean, I do not want to listen to Kristen Bell doing Once On This Island. For instance. I do not want to listen to Julia Roberts and Matt Damon and George Clooney doing Hamilton. So yeah, as long as you’re not doing accents, like don’t, don’t accent stuff. So I’m all about seeing, I’m all about listening to actors of color playing bullshit Shakespeare characters because those people don’t exist anymore. And even if they existed, fuck it. Yeah, I don’t want it to be just like, oh James Earl Jones is gonna voice Darth Vader and Mufasa. I want to listen to James Earl Jones voicing like Shakespeare characters also on the radio I’m sure he has because he’s super old.
Diep: He hasn’t voiced it but he had done done King Lear on stage in the 50s.
Jose: Right? I keep saying see but I want to hear more of that. Like I I just I basically think that white people should not be playing characters who are specific to other races, but I’m all about listening to actors of color, play and capture.
Diep: I think what was interesting with Richard II versus Julia Pastrana was, in Richard II like the casting of Black actors, there’s also commentary on race and about power and about how you know power can corrupt even the best-hearted people And, and I think was interesting Julia Pastrana was yes, the actress playing her was was Latinx, Hannah Martinez. And what was interesting was JR Bradford who was Black, he voiced her husband who, you know, exploited her and eventually had her embalmed. And so I felt like it was like, I don’t know how race factored into, I’m trying to figure out how race factored into the, you know, the interpretation of that.
Jose: I kind of think it’s different because like, we know people like Andre Holland, for instance, and we know Lupita Nyong’o, but I don’t know the gentleman who voiced Julia’s husband for instance, so in that case, I would say you know, the opportunity for it is what I would go for it. I mean, we don’t know him, right, I don’t know if he’s like a known actor in Texas. Our apologies, sir, if you aren’t, but I don’t know your work. I feel like when it is people that people know and that people will, ’cause I kept imagining Andre Holland in like a crown and like, you know that sexy leather S&M Shakespeare gear. Like remember that, what was that production, was it at Ma-Yi that they did it? Was it another Richard? It was like he had like, he had like the great, the best costumes. And it was like all this actors of color and like harnesses and stuff. It wasn’t like a sexual thing. It’s like harnesses and like leather and stuff, and it was so cool.
So I kept imagining the costumes for this were like, harnesses you know, like, cool, like, I don’t know, Madonna in the Confession Tour, kinda like S&M gear. I don’t know. I don’t know what I’m talking about. But I kept thinking about Andre Holland. And every time like Lupita Nyong’o would narrate, I kept imagining her as like Laura Linney, “This is PBS masterpiece. Welcome to Downton Abbey.” I kept seeing that and I was very happy that I was imagining Lupita, Nyong’o and Miriam A Hyman and Andre Holland and Barzin Akhavan and Sean Carvajal, and not imagining Kristen Bell. Yeah. So speaking of bells, if you want to hear some bells, you can download either of these wonderful productions and and keep them and have them in your ears. And hopefully you get some tingles out of it. Not scary tingles with fart bombs.
Diep: No, no, that’s nice tingles, nice tingles. There’s also a sex scene in Julia Pastrana, and it’s really disturbing. So and next up, we have our interview with Pulitzer Prize finalist playwright Claire Barron, where we’re going to be talking to her about vaginas and plays and other stuff.
Jose: Hi there.
Clare: How are ya?
Jose: Good. How are you? Thank you for joining us.
Clare: It’s so exciting to be with you today.
Diep: Okay, Clare, I have to tell you, you’re responsible for the most uncomfortable I’ve ever felt in a theater which was during I’ll Never Love Again at the Bushwick Starr when you, because you’re in that play and you get eaten out during the play and it’s a very uncomfortable experience for your character. And I was just sitting there thinking, oh my god, this takes me back to the first time that happened and it was so cringy. It’s too intimate. I don’t know how I feel about this.
Clare: Yeah, my my, one of my best friends who is a playwright was like so mad at me, she like saw the play and like, it was just like, “I really did not want to like see you do that.” I feel like people have such different reactions to that scene. Like some people are like that. You know, that is how like early sex and sometimes like late sex like felt to me, and so like they appreciate it. And then other people are like, I really did not want to watch that on stage.
Diep: It’s not like I didn’t want to watch it, it was more like it just felt visceral.
Jose: I didn’t see that. But go you go Clare.
Clare:I mean, it was really crazy because you know, I can talk about it now. But like, we really just, everything was real. And that’s, you know, we did it at the Bushwick Starr. When you work with the Bushwick Starr, at least when we did in 2016, you’re still like self-producing. So you’re still having to like raise money and like, put on the show and Noel [Allain] is so amazing, who runs the Bushwick star. He’s such an amazing dramaturg and stuff, but there really respectful, like hands off policy, which is actually really special because like, they just let the artists like make their work. And so, you know, that’s why I cast myself in that role. I was just like, I hate fake sex on stage. And so I’m just going to cast myself with someone that I feel comfortable like doing this for real. And he actually fisted me and he actually ate me out. And we did it every night and no one stopped us. That actually happened.
Jose: Go Clare.
Clare: Yeah, it was really surreal. And I’m like, should I not? You know, it’s funny. Well, I don’t know if I should, whatever, I always am a little over sharing. You know, I mean, I have had sex in public before. So like, I have a high comfort level with like, that kind of thing. But it was very surreal. And it’s, in some ways, it’s the most fun I’ve ever had acting because I had such like a clear physical task in front of me that I really wasn’t stressed. Do you know what I mean? I was just sort of like, this is gonna happen. He slapped me too, like, I know he’s gonna slap me, like I know this is gonna happen. So in some ways it was like very liberating.
Jose: Because like intercourse itself is so performative, right? I’m super gay, so I’ve never actually seen a vulva nearby. But sex intercourse is so is so performative. So I would love to hear a little bit more about that because you know, like, even during, like, sex like I feel like most human beings are always like trying to put on a show.
I was telling Diep earlier that, I’m sorry Clare, like if you want to hang up after I say this, I’m a huge Gwyneth Paltrow fan. And I was watching The Goop Lab on Netflix. And she had an episode about vaginas. And I was telling Diep that I was horrified when I learned that in the past like five years or so, there’s been like a 40% increase In the number of women who have, like a vagina plastic surgery because they want their vulvas to look like porn star vulvas, and like porn is just like straight men and gay men, but it’s all about men lying and like just like, the pleasure is centered on them completely. So it really pisses me off that women, that anyone but especially like women, would have to go through like a surgical process to fit this ridiculous fantasy that men have, when men are so lazy, and we are so dumb, and we don’t deserve people, you know, having surgery done to please us. It’s bullshit. So I wonder if knowing how intercourse would play out because you wrote the scene, you know, made it empowered even more because you remove that whole performative aspect of intercourse if you’re doing that.
Clare: Yeah, I think also, because the character is so young, she’s 15, now I’m 34 I just had sex last night and like, you know, you like learn how to, like, make those sounds and like say those things about whatever you’re saying, dirty talk or whatever, you learn how to, like, literally make someone come with your voice, you know what I mean? And like when I was 15, oh my gosh, I don’t think I could have made a sex noise to like save my life. You know what I mean? Like, you’re just so like, um, and then it was complicated, complicated because that young woman character was not really wanting to engage in that sex act, but didn’t have the communication tools to like, communicate that she wanted it to stop. And so, uh, you know, I wrote that whole play. It was made up of my actual 15-year-old diary.
I grew up like really Christian and wanted to save my virginity for my husband. That was like a really important thing to me and I grew up with a lot of sexual shame and I ended up in this like sexually abusive relationship with another playwright actually. And so I wrote that play because I was like, how did I go from this extremely like virginal person who was, you know, the story of the relationship and the play, the only thing they ever do is kiss. So the scene that we’re talking about, is what she does with like her second boyfriend, which I feel like is so classic, where you like, keep your virginity safe for someone and then they break your heart. And you’re like, fucking anyone who comes in the door, like, it’s like, you know, and so it was a little bit of a therapeutic. Even though the scene was traumatic, it was therapeutic for me to like, go through it in a weird way.
Diep: So what’s been like part of your process of, because I feel like a lot of femininity is like unlearning the damage, like undoing the damage that you didn’t ask for/has kind of been subsumed into your brain through you know, expectations and of what you’re supposed to do. And so like what was the process of for you of like figuring out, Oh, this is why like this, this is how I can authentically express myself. And like speak up for myself.
Clare: It was really painful. I kept my my penetrative virginity because I don’t really believe in virginity or I think it’s, you know, super limiting and what it includes, and I had tons of sex before I ever had a penis in my vagina. So I didn’t have like a penis in my vagina until I was quite old. I mean, not old but like older than I think the average person was, after college. But I had a ton of sex that was really fulfilling before that moment, but I had a lot of shame. I was so terrified. That if a penis went inside my vagina, which is such like a conservative Christian thing, I would go to hell. That’s what I thought would happen.
But it kind of backfired and made me like extremely kinky because basically what happened in college is because I was so terrified to like, let that happen, I was like, let me explore BDSM, let me explore like this, let me explore that let me explore this person, let me explore that person. So I sort of like explored horizontally, if that makes sense. But it’s been a really long difficult road. I’ve also been sexually assaulted on like, multiple times in my life, both by men I was dating and strangers. So there’s just been like a lot of, I’ve had some really bad partners that have, like, I will make progress and then sort of like, backtrack a bunch and then have to sort of like I don’t know—so it’s an ongoing, I’m 34 and I still feel like I struggle with shame and guilt, even as I’m like saying this stuff, I’m not ashamed of everything I’m saying but like, like, I hope my parents don’t listen to this, you know? Like, there’s so many people in my life that I don’t feel like, as a person, I feel totally comfortable being like, Oh, I’m really into BDSM. But like, there’s so many people in my life who I would feel, you know, like, really mortified to say that in front of.
Jose: I think it was like after after we went to Dance Nation, which we did not see together. But after we went to Dance Nation, and we discussed in our show, and I remember asking, Diep, can I say pussy? And she was like, sure, cuz, you know, one of the things that I that I have really loved about your work is that, and I don’t know if this makes sense, but as a gay man know, growing up, and even now, like I find men and male characters so boring and so stupid and some predictable and I have always loved seeing empowered female characters on stage. On screen and reading about it, and even, you know, I felt so empowered by the pussy monologues in Dance Nation that I was like, I want to go out and recite them even if I’m a male who doesn’t have a vagina. And I was like, and I was wondering if you can talk a little bit about that because I feel that because your writing is so urgent, but also so funny and so human, and something real like I want to recite everything about vaginas in Dance Nation, in a way that I don’t want to recite anything in any Shakespeare by any man ever since.
Clare: You know, I’m gonna, I’m going to say something like about that pussy monologue at the end and also why the cis men in the play, that might make me sound a little crazy, but um, I just feel like it’s a little bit what you both are talking about, in terms of like, the way that women and men are socialized sexually.
I feel like being penetrated, if you are a person who has a vagina, and you are penetrated by a penis or by an object or whatever it is, that’s, it’s extremely vulnerable. And I also think for a lot of women, it’s painful. Like in addition to like, losing my virginity late I have something called vaginismus, which is like, essentially just like painful sex. So when I waited like all these years to like, have that penis in my vagina, and then it fucking hurt so bad, it hurt for years, like excruciating pain. So, for me, sex and pain have always been one, which I think is a very foreign concept for a lot of cis men. Like where it’s just like a pleasure experience. And so like, I feel like I, and also I think as a sexual assault survivor, you know, I don’t really like that word like, I just think being penetrated is really intense. And something that I would love for cis men is like, the emotional, spiritual experience of like being penetrated of like, knowing what it feels like to be penetrated.
And this is where I start to sound a little crazy, but like I love like ass play on man. That’s something that whenever I have sex with cis men, I’m really into. And I think it’s partly because I like, even if it’s just with a finger, like having that vulnerable relationship with a cis man and like being inside him and like penetrating him and so like sometimes I think that maybe all of us, no matter our gender, and no matter our anatomy, if we all were penetrated in some way that it would actually make us all more empathetic or like better sexual partners to like understanding what it feels like. I don’t know if I sound crazy, but like, that’s sort of like my sexual dream for the world, is that everyone can experience being penetrated. And through that experience of being vulnerable, be more generous giving and careful sexual partners. So yeah, I want men to like, celebrate their pussies is what I’m saying.
Jose: As someone who you know, as a gay man who is first of all, who has penetrated and who has been penetrated, you’re completely right. I mean, again, I don’t have a I don’t have a vagina. But there is that, you know, that vulnerability that comes when you are, you know, if you’re a male, and you are a bottom and that—oh my god, I want my father to listen to this.
And if you happen to be bottoming during that, you know, during sex, the vulnerability is so incredible that I remember the first time that I did that with someone that I loved. I felt for the first time, I felt like oh, wow, it’s like the movies where you’re like, you know, like, it’s almost like the covers just like land on you in a very like strategic way out there. And as someone who’s like very cold and who tries to be very in control, that vulnerability is something that I in fact, which is also part of being socialized as a man, even if I’m gay, that vulnerability is something that I sometimes really run away from, that I don’t want to deal with that. Which is why when I was reading, What This Will Be Like When It’s Over, and your very first line, and I had to read it, because I have it in front of me and I don’t want to like, you know, misquote you in front of you. And it just opened by saying, “Do you want to tell me what you’re thinking about?” And I’m like, how do you get in people’s heads like that, Claire? Like, how do you do that? Can you, do you have like a formula?
Diep: There’s also an intimacy thing of like, how do you like create intimacy because that’s the head is the first thing I feel like yeah.
Jose: It should be the first thing.
Diep: Yeah, right. I mean, intimacy comes from that part.
Clare: Well, something that’s been really interesting about, like dating during COVID is that, you know, I’ve started and I’m now seeing people in person, but for a long time, it was all virtual. So you didn’t start with the head. It started with the fantasy, you know, like, “tell me what your fantasies are,” like back and forth, like over and over again, like, what are these fantasies.
But it’s interesting because, again, these experiences were with just men, but even then there was this imbalance, because I was constantly sending nude photos and videos of myself, and they were very rarely ever sending something back. So like, once again, even in the virtual sex, I felt like my body was vulnerable. The inspiration for this piece is this like, I’ll just talk about it cuz I really don’t like him. It’s like this 42 year old playwright I met who like we have this weird entanglement and I just felt like he was so selfish, like selfish, and I don’t know if that comes across in the piece because I was trying to be like, really, I’m trying not to just like, be so one sided or anything. But like he, he expected me to just sort of like, give him pictures of my tits and my pussy and my ass but like, nothing came back. And then he had initiated every single aspect of our encounter. He had, like, looked me up, he had asked me out, he had initiated the text, he initiated the calls, and we get on a zoom call to have zoom sex.
And the first thing he says to me is, hey, just so you know, just because we’re doing this virtual thing doesn’t mean I ever want to fuck you in real life. That was like his opening line. And I was just like, Fuck, you pretentious, presumptuous piece of shit. Like, like, I don’t know, I just don’t understand how he could be so entitled to my body if that makes sense, and so I don’t know. Now I’m just off on a rant, but like it just made me so angry and yet there was something really beautiful about us sharing our fantasies over texts and sharing our fantasies over phone calls. And there was something so nice. You know, something that I’ve learned from COVID that I’ve forgotten about sex, it’s just like how much fun foreplay is that like delay is actually like, so delicious and like, amazing. Um, those are some of the things I was thinking about when I was writing that piece.
Jose: It’s because like, even you know, I get very angry at men—I love this is like the best episode of Sex in the City ever. It’s like, man, I always get so angry at men because even you know, even like, the most like, the dumbest, out of shape, boring man in the world will always think that he’s more fuckable and like, the smartest, like most attractive, whatever women in the world, and that also like applies with gay guys. Like we aren’t the worst of everything. So yeah. I suck, anyway, but I see that with my friends where I would be, with like my girlfriends would be like, that man is like, boring. He has like, he has a really bad haircut. Like, and look at you and like, you’re smart. And you’re beautiful. You’re so interesting. And why is this man, you know, it’s that power imbalance. It’s always like, it really pisses me off. And, you know, the character does not come off as bad as you’re saying, but the character is a jerk. And I was like, this person’s a jerk. And I kind of wanted to stop reading but I was like, it’s also such good prose that I kept up reading.
Diep: And for me, what it brought for me what it brought up was the fact that so like, you know, I like you also lost my, I also had a penis inside of me very late in my life, like in my early 20s. And because it came from a place of shame of like, Oh, I need to keep this intact. For however long, and then after that happened, and then I moved to New York and, and my 20s was basically like, Okay, what do I feel about sex? I want to experience it because I’m fucking, I’m horny, I want to fuck everything because I never got to in my teenage years. But at the same time you still have that voice in the back of your head being like, oh you you need to value this. And and so I feel like there’s always like these two sides of my brain where I’m just like, I want to be empowered, I want to be the Samantha where I don’t—well I can do this and not feel too bad about myself or not feel like rejected if someone doesn’t call me after. But I also want to have the intimacy and to have people value me beyond you know what, beyond my vagina. And so and so I feel like now with COVID I haven’t dated but I’ve I feel like in my 30s now, it’s very much like a return to try to find, try to figure out like what this means to me. It’s like how do I build intimacy and in conjunction with building a sexual relationship,
Clare: I feel that too, hardcore. I’ve tried to sort of like, I hate to say it like, I just feel like I have had situations with straight men where I’ve put out and then been devalued because like, they essentially treat me like a slut. And it really hurt me. And it’s been like really painful. And it’s hard. Being sexual is a huge part of who I am, but I too in my 30s in a protective way, have tried to sort of like slow down a little bit and get to know someone a little bit more, but it’s just because I’ve been like hurt so much. I’m actually trying to protect myself.
Jose: I wonder then like, you know, I have realized that a lot of times, the writing of mine that people respond to the most is the one that comes from really vulnerable, vulnerable places, or like really angry places, or places that come from, like, you know, deep feelings that I don’t like dealing with. So I wonder for you, when does something that you know, feels like someone devalue you or someone you know, like that jerk who was like that Zoom jerk, for instance? How do you then go, Let me take this experience and see if I can turn it into art. And how do you get to that place because I’m, like, mind blown and I wish I could do that also, but I just want to run away from it. I don’t want to deal with it.
Clare: I think it’s so personal, you know, my so my, um, my first playwriting teacher ever was Deb Margolin and she talks about the theater of desire and you know, like really writing from like what you need to say. And it sounds so like, you know, it’s such like a big statement, but she always says, like, say today what you need to say if you were to die tomorrow, like, anytime you write, like, really think about like, What do I need to, like get out. So I always think about Deb and Deb, because I was an actor before I was a playwright and Deb saying that to me really helped me start like writing it, just sort of like unlocked something in me. And I think that’s why, like, all my plays that have ever existed are essentially about trauma.
But I think for me, you know, for me, it makes me feel better to write about it. It makes me feel like I’m taking back power or it makes me feel—I think it’s related to that upbringing of being raised really Christian where I felt like I had to repress my dark thoughts. And I’m also bipolar. So like, I have a lot of dark thoughts. So there’s something about theater and playwriting, it like gives me permission to like, say the things I’m afraid to say. But you know, I think it it’s interesting. I, you know, I haven’t written a new play four years. And so part of being a writer like that is that when I’m feeling it, I write, and if I’m not feeling it, I just don’t. I just don’t write, you know. Which is an, I’ve been like, very, I want to say, I’ve been very lucky because what, essentially what happened is, in my late 20s, and when I was 30, I wrote a bunch of plays very quickly. And what’s happening is they’re slowly getting produced as I’m older, So people think that I’m writing but the reality is I wrote like four plays within 18 months, and then like, haven’t written in four years and I think that’s maybe my process. Like I sort of feel like maybe I’ll be like 38 and write like four more plays between like 38 and 40. You know, like, I feel like every writer is different and so I never like force myself to write or push myself to write I write when I like, want to. When I want to write,
Diep: But how? Cuz like I, you know, one of the evil things about capitalism is like it ties your worth as a human being to how productive you are. For me, and I always feel like, Oh, I feel good when I produce something. And so I just, I write really very fast so I just produce a lot. But now I’m trying to slow down and just really focus on, just like marinate with things a lot longer. So like, how do you like turn off the the societal pressure of like, you need to do something?
Clare: Well, I think it’s also like you know, I haven’t written a play in four years, but I’ve been working in TV, I’m done like work work, you know, I write a pilot or I work, I’ve staffed twice where I’ve like written episodes for like TV shows. And then I’ve also just like had a fair number of productions. And when I go into production, that’s like two months of just like, working all the time. So I have, I’ve definitely been like working these past four years. It’s just that my work hasn’t been generating like a new play.
Jose: I wonder if going back and seeing productions or a play that you wrote four years ago, in any way serves like a time machine also, like where you’re sitting in the dark, maybe looking at the rehearsal, and you’re like, Oh, that’s such you know, 29-year-old Clare.
Clare: Yeah, for sure. There’s this play that was supposed to happen next year, and I don’t know if it’s gonna happen. It’s the last play I wrote. I wrote it in 2016. Before the MeToo movement, and it’s about an experience of sexual assault inside of a dating relationship. It’s only 70 minutes, so it’s a really weird play. So many theaters passed on it because, I don’t know why they passed on. They just didn’t get it or they just didn’t like it, which is totally fair. But it finally got a production that was supposed to happen next year. And now I don’t know if that’s gonna happen, but I feel like I just want to make it so badly. Because it is about this really traumatic chapter in my life. And I just want to go through the catharsis of like fucking making it and I’m supposed to direct it too, which is a thing I’ve been wanting to do for a long time. And so I’m just like, itching myself. I’m so hungry to like make that play and sort of, yeah, because it does feel old. It feels like a you know, it feels it also is—so I was diagnosed with bipolar when I was 30. It’s actually a funny story.
I had a pretty serious mental breakdown a few days before the 2016 election. I was pretty incapacitated, and my friend who worked on the Hillary [Clinton] campaign knew about it. And so she came to my house and picked me up and was like, I have a surprise for you. We’re going to the Javits Center tonight, you’re going to see the first woman elected president. So I was like barely functioning, barely, like truly incapacitated and she took me to the Javits Center and then it was just like being on the Titanic when it was like the most depressing place in the entire world to be trapped that night. Like at the Javits Center, like sitting on the convention floor and then like they’d see us all sitting down like crying and they’d be like stand up, stand up, stand up, cheer because they didn’t want, they didn’t want like images of us upset on the TV. So we’d have to like stand up and like cheer and my friend’s like, “I’m so sorry I brought you here.” I haven’t written up place since that breakdown. Which I think is related. But also yeah, this old play I want to like, like as a, as an artist, I want to make it. But also as a human I want to like make it to, like, move on because I don’t feel like I’ll ever fully move on until I get to see it through. So we’ll see what happens.
Diep: Well, we both love your work so crossing my fingers even if it’s through Zoom and no one can touch each other, I’ll watch anything that you do. But I actually wanted to ask you about like, since you’re directing and because like all your plays, the plays I’ve seen just talk about like, really, it’s really uncomfortable and you know, you acted in one of them. And so like, there’s been, and since 2017, has been a big conversation around like intimacy directors and making sure people feel safe. And so like what’s, for you when you’re in the room, like what’s part of your process, in terms of just making sure people feel comfortable speaking up if something doesn’t, if they don’t want to do something?
Clare: I feel like, to be honest with you, I feel like I’ve made some mistakes. Because as in like my Bushwick Starr show, like the type of person I am is like a balls-to-the-wall type person. And obviously, not every actor is going to be that way. And so I feel like my relationship to it has like really changed. And now when I write a play, I feel like hyper, you know, when I used to write plays, I used to be like, yeah, nudity, like, spit in her face, like, you know what I mean? Like, now, I’m sort of like less interested in writing plays like that. They just like, don’t interest me. And, you know, there was nudity in Dance Nation, and I still wonder if that was like the right choice. And when we did the production in London, I think it’s the biggest mistake of my professional career.
I handled it really, really badly and I feel really bad about it. I mean, it was, like many things. It was like a breakdown of many things. Like nudity is written into the script. So the actor should have been aware of it. But I think there was a breakdown in conversation with the agents like, I don’t think before they were even cast, I don’t think the right conversations happened. And then the director in London, who is a dear friend of mine, who I love, was a man. And so he didn’t really feel comfortable having this conversation with the women. So he kept asking me to have it as the playwright which I feel like is not good because like, I wrote it, and then me asking them it’s like a lot of pressure. And then there was also a cultural problem where like the women in New York, when we talked about the nudity in New York, they let us know very clearly how they felt about it. They were like, “yes, no, we’ll do this. We’ll not do this.” But these British women, they didn’t say anything. Their silence was a no, it was an emphatic no, we are not doing this, but I feel like I misread it and like didn’t understand. Or maybe I wasn’t listening. Well, I take full responsibility. I feel like I’m majorly fucked up.
So I kept bringing it up because the director kept asking me to bring it up, which resulted in the women feeling really pressured. And then also there was a dynamic of like, I’m white, and the cast is diverse. And I’m, like, very tiny. And so like, there was also like, a fucked up dynamic of that to where I think also, it’s an intergenerational cast. They’re all ages. So like, I was, you know, and I’m young. And I was like, I’ve been naked on stage and I think rightfully some of the women were like, “Fuck you, like, shut the fuck up.” Like it’s not the same thing. This is a white audience too. Right? So it’s just like not the same thing. So that I think is I really mishandled that situation. And it really made me think, I don’t think, I’ll to be honest with you, I don’t think I will ever write nudity into a play again that I’m not personally performing. Like I’ll write it into a play that I’ll perform, but I don’t think I’ll ever ask another woman to get naked on stage. Again, even though the nudity in Dance Nation. I mean, most people didn’t even see, it goes by so quickly. You know, it’s meant to be like subversive because it’s like multiple people getting naked at the same time as they’re changing. It’s not sexualized, like I wrote it into the play because I was interested in non sexualized female nudity, but like, I don’t know, I just started to feel like it’s not worth it. Or like, I just never thought of like, making any actor who’s working with me uncomfortable makes me feel like shit. So I feel like, I won’t do it again. And I definitely feel like I’ve made mistakes in my past.
Jose: I grew up in a household where my mom and my dad were naked all the time. My parents were not nudists or anything or anything like that. But like from a very early age, my mom was like, This is called this or that. It’s called a penis. This is called vagina, right? So, I grew up knowing the words and knowing what the language was for everything. And I see right now I’m 34. And I see 45 year olds who start blushing and giggling when they hear the word, vulva, or the word penis, I wonder for, you know, cuz you grew up in a very, you know, in a Christian like, conservative, conservative household. So was there a piece of fiction, like either a book or a play or a movie or whatever, where you finally were like, oh, wow, like, you know, this is not what I’ve been told. Like where you discovered, so to speak, that we are so immature as a society that we don’t even want to use the right words to describe genitalia and to like describe sexual acts or anything like that. Was there anything like that in art? Or did you feel like, nothing exists, I need to write it myself.
Clare: I have two answers for you. One is I grew up reading a lot of romance novels, which I would get at the public library and like the librarian would like recommend to me, but she’s very funny because they literally talk about like clitorises and stuff like that. And they’re very graphic. But I also have this memory of a friend giving me the book, Henry Miller’s Quiet Days in Clichy. Oh my god, it’s like the word cock is like every other word in that book. It’s so graphic, I was so traumatized, I was not ready for it. I was like, this is like a type of sex that I am not, it’s like, “I bent the woman over and then I took my like, semi erect cock and like, pushed it into her pussy.” Like it was very, very graphic, very violent and very cock-driven. And I probably read it when I was like 16 or 17. And I was just like, Oh, my God.
But I mean, to give you an idea of like, how sheltered I was. I remember talking to my friend Becca about Bill Clinton. And we were probably like, 15. And we were talking about like Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, and we were basically like, we don’t understand why it’s such a big deal, like talking dirty isn’t a big deal, because we heard the word oral sex, and we knew, like, oral exam. And so we thought that oral sex was like talking dirty on the phone. And we were like, 15 and like, didn’t know what oral sex was, you know? Which, yeah, now seems like so crazy to me when I think back on it, but yeah, oral sex does happen in romance novels. That’s interesting. The thing about romance novels is that they’re so female pleasure centric. So the man goes down on the woman all the time, but I think like maybe three times I can count on one hand the number of times there’s been a blow job in a romance novel, it’s just like not what happens.
Diep: It’s because it’s written by women mostly. And for women.
Jose: Thank you so much, it’s been such a delight talking to you. Now I want to give you Gwyneth Paltrow’s This Candle Smells Like My Vagina candle. I don’t have it so I can’t gift it to you.
Diep: We can’t afford it.
Clare: The idea of it gives me warmth.
Jose: Yeah, I want one too. So like if people want to send Clare and me some Goop, This Candle Smells Like My Vagina candles, please do it. And Clare please let us know where we can find all your projects. Right next you have that play that beautiful play in The Flashpaper. And can people buy Dance Nation and any of your plays or anything like that?
Clare: I don’t think I’m having any streaming, but Dance Nation and You Got Older plays are both published, which you can buy. And the Flashpaper is out with a lot of great work from a lot of great people.
Diep: Aren’t you working on something with New York Theatre Workshop?
Clare: I did an adaptation of three sisters that Sam Gold is directing, and we were supposed to open May 14. So I think we’re going to work, you know, we’re hoping to do it next year. But you know, at this point, I sort of take each day at a time and hopefully we’ll get to make it at some point, but we’ll see.
Jose: I forgot about that. And I was like, I’m just gonna say right now that I love you for any involvement had in casting the Sexiest Man Alive Steve Buscemi in that play.
Clare: Oh, my God. He is. I had no involvement in that and I’m so excited that he is in it. Obsessed with him. I mean, he’s the cutest guy.
Jose: Anyway, thanks so much, Clare. It’s been a real pleasure.
Clare: Yeah, thank you both take care.