JUST WRITE: A Reflection with Playwright, Katie Northlich
Katie Northlich wears many hats. She is an actress, playwright, screenwriter, producer, acting coach, NYCastings enthusiast and, succinctly put, a storyteller. Her work has been seen everywhere from the Upright Citizens Brigade to original pilots on CBS and The Discovery Channel. However, when asked how she first began, Northlich says her writing is rooted in dance, a skill she honed when she was just eight years old. “Learning the elementals of storytelling when I was a kid through dance - musicality, rhythm, pace, timing - that was when I really began.”
Katie’s play, Two of Them, Looking, recently made its New York City debut at the Treehouse Theater. In the heart of midtown, the dark comedy played in the intimate black box space, eliciting laughter and tears throughout its limited run. “It was quite vulnerable.” Katie recalls, informing us that she usually performs her own work.
NYCastings sat down with the veteran writer to pick her imaginative brain on what makes a great storyteller. These were the results:
“All artists are writers, as we are always weaving stories.”
Sounds funny, but I think I began writing when I started dancing as an 8 year old. I think all artists are writers, as we are always weaving stories. But learning the elementals of storytelling when I was a kid through dance- musicality, rhythm, pace, timing- that was when I really began. Understanding flow, and beginning, middle and end. I practically applied it with pen to paper in college, writing sketches and fiction.
“A stage is just that – a stage.”
My exposure to Commedia D'elle Arte at UC Irvine as an undergraduate definitely influenced my style in that anything was possible. I learned that the stage is just that- a stage. How the theatre part is created is through imagination. So Commedia and Mask work taught me that it was up to me to channel all the good stuff- characters, the world of the play, tone, comedy, etc- and put it on the stage, in whatever way that feels inspired and truthful.
Inspiration: “All ideas start with a teensy, fleeting image.”
All ideas start with a teensy, fleeting image. A sentence. A man's face. A feeling. It all starts in the middle, really. Something ABOUT the thing I am going to write starts first, not the thing itself. So I guess the essence of what I am writing, be it a play or monologue or story, finds me first, and the rest shapes itself around that.
"Desire precedes the stamina."
The ultimate question: How does a writer complete it all? I think the only answer is desire. We all have lives, don't we? Complications and work and sweat and toil and exhaustion and relationships and daydreaming and bills to pay. So how do we finish our ideas? We want to. That has to trump all of it. Because one can say they want to and find themselves in front of the TV. Or one can say they want to- and sit down and do it. Desire precedes the stamina. Your idea has to come out that badly.
On what to do once you’ve finished...
Drink, of course! Let's see. I usually ignore it for a few days or a week. And then come back to it. I wonder if it's any good at all. And I always pay attention to how it feels. If it keeps tugging at your conscience, it's not over- which means it needs edits, or a production. It needs the light of day. If it stops tugging, it is meant to stay on the computer. At least for me.
The vulnerability of seeing her work ("Two of Them, Looking") on stage.
It was quite vulnerable. I am used to performing what I write. As the writer in the audience, especially for an existential piece that resonates so deeply with me, I was quite vulnerable. But ecstatic with my collaborators, so it was like having family around me as I started the first day of school. Something scary that I have to do by myself, but I felt the love of those around me.
How she got her play up and running.
I work-shopped it for the first time in 2013 and needed a director. A mutual friend connected me with Jamie Watkins, who attached to the project for the workshop and the eventual 2015 run. He was instrumental in helping with rewrites and fine tuning the piece. I completely aligned with him in terms of finding the vision, as this play is abstract, so the vision is very much up to who's looking at it at the time. We took our time fine tuning logistics. We waited until we assembled the right team and had our desired actors on board. Basically he and I worked together every step of the way in terms of mounting and producing the production. April of 2015 felt open and right for us. I couldn't have done it without him. He's awesome-sauce.
“Comedy is the great shadow to drama.”
I don't know if there is a place comedy doesn't try to find. Comedy is the great shadow to drama. It is just... there. Perhaps we don't always see it, but it is there. Comedy allows psychology to go down. It is the great spoonful of sugar. I feel it is necessary, and also ubiquitous. So it wasn't so much a choice, but rather a default of the journey of my writing. As I was writing this play [Two of Them, Looking], comedy kept appearing in the rhythm and the pace. I also am in love with comedy. I am totally and completely a fool for comedy and I'm always chasing it. So it makes its way into my pieces many times.
The best piece of advice she has for storytellers – “Write.”
I certainly am taking it a day at a time myself. But what I would offer is- write. You must! Do not listen to experts. Or even friends. Unless they are saying what you need to hear. You must write, wherever, whenever, and do not be afraid of silence, for this is where your imagination marinates, and takes shape. One cannot be afraid of what is possible in imagination, which is everything. It is our ego that tries to dictate. So kindly ask the ego to nap. Or ask it in rage to get the hell out. But write. Don't worry about what or how or why. If we wait until we're 'good,' we'll never start. Just open a document or notebook. And begin.
For more on Katie Northlich please visit her at www.katienorthlich.com.