Playwright Interview: Leah Nanako Winkler

Leah Nanako Winkler
How would you describe your writing style or “voice?” 
Funny, authentic, truthful, poetic and a bit impetuous. They are highly theatrical and highly compatible with directors and actors (and often musicians) who are excited about theatrical collaboration (like Artists at Play!). My characters enjoy cutting to the chase and making uncomfortable, humorous situations emerge from unbiased, brutal honesty that has no ounce of judgement. I don't use a lot of subtext in real life or when I'm writing. In my process, I let the words flow without neurosis  and then I mold them into something more structured later if needed. As a result, I am told my plays are bold, brave, genre bending and often surprising. The topics I write about are varied but I often write initially from a deep, personal place that carries a lot of pain. And then this pain transcends into manic hilarity on stage because pain is funny in retrospect. I think this shows through a lot in Two Mile Hollow.

What drew you to playwriting? 
You know those playwrights who are like, "Ugh—I hate writing!!!" Well that's not me. I've loved the act of writing since I was a kid. It makes me happy and if I don't write every day I don't feel good. It's my way of coping with life as well as a lot of things from my past. I also switched countries when I was little (from Japan to Kentucky) and being biracial—I was "othered" by both of the home-bases I was supposed to be accepted by (you know how it goes—when you're hapa—you're never Asian enough, you're never white enough) and so I would find solace by disappearing into manga and often writing my own. I think I fell in love with plays eventually because the  dialogue format is the same as manga and I when I started  experimenting with writing scenes, I thought it was more fun than manga. I didn't show anyone these scenes for a long time but when I did a small theatre company in Indianapolis put the play in a Fringe Festival and it was all over. I knew there was nothing more fun or meaningful to me in the entire world.

Winkler's writing space.
Take a photo of your writing space and give us one fun fact about it.
I write a lot on the couch. My boyfriend's cat, Linus, bothers me a lot. I love him though (both of them).

What do you hope to get out of this play reading? Usually—when a reading of mine is happening in front on an audience—I watch out for the following things: Who is laughing? What type of people? Why are they laughing? Who is surprised? Who is bored? Who is offended? Why are they offended? Who is entertained, if at all? I think confronting these scary questions ultimately help me understand what my play is doing and who my play is serving—which is invaluable to my writing process after the initial draft. Since Two Mile Hollow is a play that hijacks the "White People By The Water" genre. You know—those plays you see every season where a wealthy white family complains about their problems over white wine at a country house or a nice apartment and someone is always vaguely racist and someone else has a secret disease or affair or doesn't like their kid's novel or something? If a group of Trump Supporters see the reading and are like "OMG THIS IS MY STORY AMERICA IS GREAT AGAIN," I probably just appropriated the genre and didn't do anything interesting with it. But if a diverse audience is laughing and feeling validation I'm probably doing something right and should explore which parts are doing this strongly and focus. I also listen for rhythm and length and I listen for the tone. My work fails when it's read as insincere so I look for moments in the text where that seems to happen the most and attempt to gage why it's happening. For this reading, I am hoping to learn how the play can go from "funny" to "funny, unlike anything you've ever seen before and deeply meaningful." What excites me about working with Artists at Play is that we cast the white characters with a team of multi-talented POC actors—which already adds a whole new layer to the script that both challenges and encourages me.

Why this play? 
Because there are heroes in every class, every race and every gender. Because the universal perspective doesn't necessarily mean the white perspective anymore and there is plenty of room for more. And you see Caucasian actors playing POC's all the time in theatre, opera, TV and movies—In this play, you see that flipped. What will happen??? I don't know!

How would you describe Two Mile Hollow in three words? 
Entertaining, bizarre, hilarious.

Leah Nanako Winkler's Two Mile Hollow will be presented in Artists at Play's spring reading series on Sunday, March 20 at 3pm at East West Players.


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