The Playwright’s Playground: SOURCE Festival 2014 – Interview with Playwright Mariah MacCarthy on Her Play: ‘Painted’

The Playwright’s Playground is a monthly in-depth conversation with a local female playwright in the D.C. theatre community. Female theatre artists make up more than 50 percent of those involved in the theatre, yet the number of female playwrights being produced is dramatically lower. In this continuing Series, I will interview and introduce DCMTA readers to the many talented playwrights in the DMV area to learn about their writing process, their inspirations, and their motivations and struggles to write and produce their art.

In this special edition, I am overjoyed to feature the ten female playwrights of Source Festival 2014. Led by the Artistic Direction of Jenny McConnell Frederick, Source Festival 2014 is a three-week performing arts project of CulturalDC that cultivates new work in a nurturing environment and spotlights the witty, incisive, and thought-provoking writing from today’s emerging American playwrights. Building the path for the next generation of outstanding performing artists, The Source Theatre Festival (June 7-29) presents three themed full-length plays (Mortality, Revenge, Quests), three experimental Artistic Blind Dates of created original work, and three thematically grouped programs with six 10-Minute related plays to enjoy.

Mariah MacCarthy

Mary McCarthy.
Mariah MacCarthy.

Selected from more than 500 nationwide submissions, Mariah MacCarthy’s play Painted is one of the six ten-minute plays featured under the Mortality theme in this year’s Source Festival 2014.

Mariah MacCarthy is a New York-based playwright and Skidmore Graduate, is the Founder and Executive Artistic Director of Caps Lock Theatre and the Associate Artistic Director of The Brick.  A 2012  “Person of the Year,” MacCarthy is the first playwright to receive The Lotos Foundation Prize in the Arts and Sciences, the curator of Pussyfest, and is a member of the Dramatists Guild.

Sydney-Chanele:  Why do you write, and more specifically why do you write plays?

Mariah: I write because I am arrogant enough to think that other people need to hear what’s inside me. And then other people corroborate this arrogance by telling me that they did, in fact, need to hear what I said, so I blame them. I write plays because that’s the language my brain speaks. Because there is something special and immediate and breathtaking about being in the room with the action. Theater is also more social than fiction. I like cast parties and rehearsal much more than I like locking myself in a room to churn out pages.

What was the turning point when you considered yourself a professional playwright?

I think the turning point was my second reading in New York, my play The All-American Genderf*ck Cabaret (which just had its Baltimore premiere). It was a reading with the energy of a Broadway musical. Standing ovation and the whole bit. My director and I looked at each other and squeezed hands and whispered, “We are going to take over the world!”

Source Festival 2014 Play

How do you describe the plot and themes of your play in this year’s Source festival?

My play, Painted, is about a young woman whose mother hasn’t really approved of her life choices, and now that mother’s mind and life are slipping away. The daughter uses her art to make her peace with her mother and to say goodbye. It’s a bit more poetic than what I’ve been writing lately; there’s one moment that I would say qualifies as magical realism.

Taylor Robinson, Gayle Carney, and Noelle Vinas in ''PAINTED. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.
Taylor Robinson, Gayle Carney, and Noelle Vinas in ”PAINTED. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

What has been your biggest challenge with this script? How did you come up with the idea for it?

I wrote this play when my writing teacher at the time, Lucy Thurber, gave us an exercise (which I may be remembering incorrectly, in which case, sorry Lucy):

Think about your mother.

Think about your mother’s greatest fear.

Imagine a character in a bed.

Put your mother’s greatest fear into that character.

Put someone else in the room.

Write that scene.

What do you like most about this script and has it ever been performed on stage before?

I love this script’s huge heart, and poetry, and bittersweetness. This will be its first performance.

A Deeper Look & Inspirations

Mariah, what is your writing process? How disciplined are you about writing every day?

My writing process is wholly dependent on other people. I force myself into deadline situations and then procrastinate a lot.

How have you been able to get your work developed? As a playwright, what is the biggest struggle getting your work produced?

I self-produce. It’s a ton of work, but it’s faster than waiting for theaters to decide I’m worthy. Now that I’ve gotten some notice through that, I’m trying to move toward a career model where OTHER people also produce my plays.

How do you feel about the disproportionately low number of female playwrights consistently being programmed by theatre companies?

It’s something I beat my chest about on a regular basis. If you say there’s a paucity of choices, come be my theater date sometime. I’ll show you some fierce women’s work. New York is absolutely dripping with talented female writers. The work is out there. If I hear one more person claim otherwise, I’m going on a hunger strike.

What is your all-time favorite play? Name your favorite living female playwright that you’d recommend to others, or would like to see performed in the DC area?

I don’t have an all-time favorite play. I’ll stick with my favorite Act 3 of all time: Mr. Burns.

Favorite living female playwright – also hard to choose. The DC area should produce something by Monica Byrne, though. Or Leah Nanako Winkler. Or Kari Bentley-Quinn. Or Lauren Ferebee. Or Micheline Auger. Or Sarah Shaefer. For a start.

What inspires you to continue, and who are your playwriting inspirations?

My favorite compliment on my work is “thank you.” I don’t think people see a ton of stuff with the themes I’m writing, whether that’s because people aren’t writing it as much or because theaters aren’t producing it as much – queer, sex-positive, women-centric, non-gender-binary plays. Of course that’s not ALL there is to my work, but it’s one of the things that makes me unusual. So when people find themselves in that work, sometimes they’ll tell me so and they’ll thank me. That keeps me going. I want my work to make people feel less alone.

Inspirations: Daniel Talbott, Lucy Thurber, Amanda Palmer, Taylor Mac, Young Jean Lee, Diana Oh, the vanguards of New York indie theatre like Gideon Productions and Flux Theatre.

People who do things that seem REALLY impractical because that’s the way their story needs to be told. People who tell raw, ugly, honest stories, or big, otherworldly stories. People who don’t confine themselves to one role or discipline. People who get way personal in their art. People with big hearts.


Painted is performed as a part of the Source Festival – MORTALITY: Six 10-Min Plays, June 22, 2014 at 4:00 PM and June 27, 2014 at 6:00 PM at THE SOURCE THEATRE FESTIVAL 2014  (June 7 – June 29, 2014)  at Source– 1835 14th Street. NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call OvationTix customer service toll-free: 866-811-4111, or purchase them online.  Source is located 2 Blocks from U Street/Cardozo Metro Station on the Yellow & Green Lines.


Read Mariah MacCarthy plays for $1.29.

Mariah MacCarthy – Executive Artistic Director, Caps Lock Theatre.

Mariah MacCarthy – Associate Artistic Director, The Brick.

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Sydney-Chanele Dawkins
Sydney-Chanele Dawkins is an award-winning feature filmmaker, film curator, film festival producer and a theater/film critic and arts writer. She also serves as an impassioned advocate for the Arts as Chair of the Alexandria Commission for the Arts in Alexandria, VA. Fearless. Tenacious. Passionate. Loyal. These characteristics best describe Sydney-Chanele's approach to life, her enthusiasm for live theater and the arts, and her cinephile obsession with world cinema. Her successful first film, 'Modern Love is Automatic' premiered at SXSW in Austin, Texas, and made its European debut at the Edinburgh Film Festival. She recently completed her third film, the animated - 'The Wonderful Woes of Marsh' - which is rounding the film festival circuit. In 2013, Sydney-Chanele produced the box office hit,Neil Simon's Rumors for the McLean Community Players at Alden Theater, Her next producing effort in 2014 is Pearl Cleage's 'Blues for an Alabama Sky' for Port City Playhouse. Programmer for Cinema Art Bethesda and Co Chair of the Film Program for Artomatic, Sydney-Chanele is the past Festival Director of the Alexandria Film Festival, the Reel Independent Film Festival,and Female Shorts & Video Showcase. She is active in leadership and programming positions with DC Metro area Film Festivals including: Filmfest DC, DC Shorts, the Washington Jewish Film Festival, Arabian Sights Film festival, and AFI Docs. Please feel free to contact me with your comments and questions - [Note: Sydney-Chanele Dawkins passed away on July 8, 2015, at age 47, after a battle with Breast Cancer.]


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