Interview With A Playwright: Kathryn Funkhouser
Playscripts sat down with Playwright Kathryn Funkhouser, author of Double, Double and co-author of Unbreakable Timmy Cratchit.
Tell us how you first got into playwriting!
Kathryn Funkhouser: I believe my first attempt at playwriting was an elementary school masterpiece called Superman at the Dry Cleaners which was exactly what it sounds like. (Yes, DC Comics, I am available.) I was always really into theatre and writing as separate pursuits as a kid, then when I was a teenager I found a way to merge the two things that I like geeking out about.
How did you and Mr. Dwiggins come up with the idea for Unbreakable Timmy Cratchit?
We actually started with the title, which was Tyler’s brilliant brainchild, and then we came up with the story together. It was based on the idea of Tiny Tim being one of those relentlessly positive, Christmas-obsessed people even though the Cratchits are having a kind of terrible Christmas. We’ve both written plays for school-aged actors and assume that teens are smart. We were interested in writing a holiday play that had something to say about some of the money stuff that’s baked into the Christmas traditions, while still being fun and funny.
What was it like collaborating on a piece with another playwright as opposed to what it was like creating Double, Double?
Collaboration can be really hard, but writing Timmy was so fun and quick that it was a little spooky. I think our similar senses of humor naturally bounce off each other. We got a lot of momentum really quickly. Our strengths are also different enough that they complement each other well. On the other hand, it took me a lot more time and angst to write Double Double. With that play, I didn’t give myself a hard deadline. It also had some stuff that was personal to me in it. Sometimes it’s harder to see the shape of a project when you’re really close to it. So there were a lot of drafts and a lot of places I got stuck with that one, but it was also really satisfying to finish!
What keeps you hungry and continually inspired as a theatre artist?
The only thing that gets me as fired up to write as a great story is a story with an aspect that I would love to fix. I watch a lot of movies and TV, listen to a lot of podcasts, read a lot of articles and books. And yes, see and read plays. I’m writing a play now that was inspired by a magazine article I read two years ago.
I’ve also found it really helpful to be a part of a writers’ group that meets regularly. I love a good deadline, and being around other people who have similar goals can get you in the head space to step up to the plate.
Hearing the play aloud is often really different than reading it on the page. It’s great to have a table read and a lot of different reactions to take or leave as you will. The more feedback you get, the less scary it is to put it out there the next time.
Any advice for any aspiring authors out there?
When I was a teenager I thought the only way for my writing to seem mature was to have a super serious and edgy tone. I was trying to seem serious rather than having something to say. Even now, when I’ve got writer’s block or am doubting myself, I get caught up in the idea of trying to imitate what “important plays” look like. This is when I generally do my cheesiest, least usable writing. If you have something to say, the best way to say it is the voice that feels organic to you. If you do it well, it’ll land effectively. Jokes stay with people!
I would also highly recommend pursuing whatever help is possible for you if you need help managing your mental health. In my experience, if you’re locked in combat with your brain to get through your day, you’re spending a huge amount of energy on that. If someone can help you find a way to make that battle less intense, you have a lot more space to use creatively. More energy for festive musical numbers! That’s my motto.
Kathryn Funkhouser‘s plays Double Double and Unbreakable Timmy Cratchit are published by Playscripts. Other plays include Help Who’s Next, Accessories, Alternative Facts, We’re Not So Different, You and I, The Sequel, The Pitch, and Ghost Story (Oxnam Award, EST and Drew University). She produced The Resistance Cabaret at the Tank Theater in NYC in 2017. She created, wrote, and co-produced a webseries called Wonder. Her articles and essays have appeared in publications such as The Toast, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, The Atlantic, and The Nation. BA from Drew University. She is a member of the 2018 Athena Writer group, and the 2018-2019 Project Y Theater Writers’ Group. She lives in Brooklyn with a lot of original cast albums.