Catching Up With…Cecilia Copeland, NY Madness Founder

As we head into our second season, New York Madness is thrilled with the wonderful writers who launched our first season and those who will be a part of year two.  Each week, we will interview one New York Madness writer, asking three questions in our Catching Up With series.   We are excited to see what’s on their minds.

First up is Cecilia Copeland (pictured far left), the founder and driving force behind New York Madness.  She had a dream to bring Madness to the Big Apple and has turned it into a reality.  She fills us in on what theater means to her, how New York Madness got its start and what’s around the corner for her.

1) What does theater mean to you?

Well, I have to start with what does Art do to answer that. Defining it functionally, Art is a means of connecting to the world in which we live. Bad Art doesn’t touch anyone or connect anyone to anything. Good Art, at the base level, minimizes feelings of isolation and from there a host of other ambitions are possible. Now, Theatre is the form of Art that I am best suited to creating for, which means only that if I had a calling or a gift to be a painter I probably would do it. The one thing that I can do beyond a reasonable measure of my own talents is to write plays. I guess, I’m saying that as a writer and theatre maker I am beyond my limitations, much like perhaps an architect designing a place of worship who reaches greater heights because they build for the glory of life. I feel I can do this in theater, and although it’s painfully challenging there is a deep satisfaction in giving all of oneself until there is nothing left. When I’m on a deadline I’ll write until my eyes blur and have to stumble into the kitchen for a slice of cold two-day-old-pizza and a can of Coke. I’ll write until the chess game of pages and scenes in my head feels like it has an actual gravitational pull. Writing requires a discipline and exertion that allows me to push myself. I might be a bit of a masochist, but I like knowing that I’ve gone beyond anything I’ve done before to arrive at a meaningful satisfactory end. Some years ago when I had finished my play, Courting, before reading Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex I thought I had been alone way out on a limb or low in a valley searching for a deeper truth, and then I read her and there she was high above and below me waving wildly for me to push on! It was so comforting that I wept. I want to have that experience again and do that for others. So, Theater gives me a way to connect at my most distant peaks in a community of similarly adventurous human explorers.

2) Why did you bring Madness to New York?

Before starting my third year in Ohio University’s MFA Playwriting program I had come back to New York to teach play script analysis at Stella Adler and intern at the Women’s Project. It was a trying summer. I was nearly four years into my separation when the paperwork finally arrived from Australia for my divorce, then my identity was stolen and my accounts hacked, my grandmother went into the hospital, my roommate’s fiancé died suddenly, the first draft of my thesis was due, and my university funding was cut because I decided to stay in New York through the fall to get reestablished here. I couldn’t afford to retreat by solely submitting my work to total strangers and hoping someone somewhere would produce it. My friends at the Playwrights’ Center in Minneapolis had already finished one successful season of Madness there and I thought, ‘Why not here?’ Okay, we didn’t have a huge institution to support us, but that also meant I wasn’t tied down to anyone else’s game plan. I wanted to find a way to do what I love and to help other playwrights who were in the same position of feeling powerless. Now that we’re starting our second season here in New York, I’m thrilled that Madness has fulfilled the mission of engaging in an artistic and intellectual dialogue with our audience and each other. The one thing I did have going for me in the summer of 2010 was that I was lucky enough to have befriended some really talented playwrights who were supportive. I have to say an eternal thank you to all our season one Guest Artistic Producing Playwrights Jeni Mahoney, John Walch, Crystal Skillman, Don and Martha Wollner and our season one supporters who wanted to write with us, but couldn’t due to scheduling so they helped get the word out and scout us more talent: Erik Ehn, Elaine Romero, and Qui Nguyen. THANK YOU!

3) What’s next for you?

Aside from teaching playwriting at the Performing Arts High School in New Brunswick, which I love, I’m in the ovum developmental stages of a production for IATI Theater’s re-opening in 2013. My play Light of Night was first read in New York at New Dramatists as part of their generous intern alumni program and then IATI Theater included it in their reading series. IATI loved it and have since started working with me and the team, which includes Padraic Lillis, Flor Lozano, Ana Cruz Kayne, and Charles Goforth to get it mounted with some real funding. It’s a long way off so it’s hard for me to feel that as being real, but having just attended the groundbreaking ceremony last week on the Fourth Arts Block it was exciting to see the beginning coalesce. Otherwise, I will have a reading of two of my one-act plays with IATI Theater at Jimmy’s No. 43 while IATI undergoes their renovations. Those one-act plays will feature Trevor Long and Anna Lamadrid. Playing was produced at the University of Iowa and read in the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival and the other is my newest work, Velvet Eggs that was commissioned by Overturn Theatre Ensemble.

The second season of New York Madness kicks off October 11th at 8:00 pm at INTAR (500 West 52nd St., 4th Floor at 10th Avenue).  Cheryl L. Davis is our Guest Artistic Producing Playwright.  Join us!