Since moving to New York in 2004 Bekah Brunstetter, a playwright from North Carolina, has seen her work getting awards, grants, licensing deals and Off-Off-Broadway premieres. Her bright sense of humor has a dark edge, a la David Mamet, but she shows substantially more affection for her characters. She shares some of Sam Shepard’s interest in the American mythos, though in a less epic Modernist and more Middle-American magical realist sort of style. That doesn’t quite do her work justice, but it fits well enough: Brunstetter is sharing the bill with Mamet and Shepard in this year’s season at Atlantic. Not bad for a young playwright two years out of grad school.
Aside from her Off-Broadway premiere, she’s also one of this year’s playwrights in residence at Ars Nova and the newest member of the Womens Project Playwrights Lab. The latter especially seems a good fit, since her plays about the slightly surreal incongruities of life in contemporary America are almost always told from women’s perspectives. Brunstetter turns familiar lives and loves into potent symbols by setting them into a tailspin with strange coincidences and portentous encounters. Or, as she puts it: “I write delightfully real, ever-so slightly magical, painfully funny stories about very specific people in a moment of tragedy, or at the end of their proverbial ropes.”
The L Magazine: How has the move from North Carolina to New York affected your writing and your method?
Bekah Brunstetter: Honestly when I moved to NYC for grad school, I truly felt like I was 'home.' My grandparents actually met in Brooklyn, so I've got some roots up here. But as for how NC roots have influenced by writing? I definitely walk this divide between my fairly conservative up-bringing (which I'm really grateful for) and this liberal city in which I now live. While a lot of work up here tends be pretty left-winged, I'm able to see the other side of things, I think? I guess I'm constantly playing devil's advocate in my mind. Also, growing up in a slower-paced environment, one in which I always felt slightly out of place of, I became extremely observant of people - their delightful nuances, etc - I think I became obsessed with the subtext behind southern politeness pretty early on.
Describe your style of writing and your major thematic interests in one sentence. (Sorry, I know it's terrible, but I have to ask.)
Ah! Ummm... I write delightfully real, ever-so slightly magical, painfully funny stories about very specific people in a moment of tragedy, or at the end of their proverbial ropes.
Why do you think you've been so successful as a young playwright in New York right now?
I'm extremely diligent, I write fast (sometimes perhaps to a fault,) and have never been horribly precious about my work (also sometimes perhaps to a fault.) Meaning - esp. all through grad school, I wrote a lot, and was constantly submitting things to contests and theaters and festivals - even if I didn't feel like the play was totally ready or done. I just thought, what the hey, risking public humiliation by just getting something on it's feet is really the only way I'm going to get better. I always tell myself, submit and forget. Send it off / email it, forget it ever happened. Months later, you most likely get a rejection letter, but what they hay, you have a moment about it, and you get over it, and keep writing. So, through constantly submitting things, I was able to see a lot of my plays done off-off Broadway early on, and subsequently learn and grow from each production.
What's next for you?
Oohrah! opens at the Atlantic Sept 9... supremely excited. I'm working on new play commissions for Ars Nova, Naked Angels, and the Roundabout Underground. Just continuing to do what I love more than anything, ever - I'm just hoping that my good fortune follows me, and that I can eventually make a living writing which has always been my dream!
Where you'll see her work next: Oohrah! continues at Atlantic Stage 2 through 9/27.