Twice this week — on Tuesday, March 21 at 8 pm and on Wednesday, March 22 at 3 pm — this year’s EST/Sloan First Light Festival will feature a Roughcut Workshop of MIDWIFE/MECHANIC by Chiara Atik. When EST mounted her play Five Times in One Night in 2015, the reviewer for The New York Times found the writing “specific and universal, mirthful and agonizing.” In the audience the reviewer “saw women watching with hands over their mouths and one man who appeared to have shut his eyes entirely.” This was because the play was a series of five sketches on “what we talk about when we talk about sex.” Let’s hear Chiara herself tell us about her new play.
What was the inspiration for MIDWIFE/MECHANIC?
I read an article a few years ago about a mechanic in Argentina who watched a YouTube video on how to get a cork out of a bottle, and somehow from that he invented a device to help babies out faster during labor. You usually hear “Necessity is the mother of invention,” but this guy seemed so far from that. I thought the idea of a mechanic dealing in obstetrics was very charming.
Can you imagine using a device like that during childbirth?
Uhm, yes. It gets the baby out faster? Yes, please. Yes.
The exchanges among the mothers in pregnancy class are hilarious. Whose experiences did you draw on to capture those? Did you use any childbirth consultants?
It's a message board, actually! I have a friend who would regale me with stories of her pregnancy message board. “Oh, the Bump moms really hate epidurals,” or whatever. So I started lurking myself and became pretty obsessed for a while. I learned so much. I followed the October 2016 moms for months. I had my favorites, and then the ones I thought were crazy. I should check in with them!! They all must have five-month-old babies now!
What research did you do for the colonial era childbirth scenes?
I read this AMAZING diary of a midwife, Martha Ballard, who lived in Maine in the mid-18th century. She kept a diary for 27 years. Obviously, her (succinct, no-nonsense) account of delivering babies was interesting, but my actual favorite part was her account of when a neighboring family was brutally murdered in 1806. This must have been (obviously) REALLY shocking to her, because she goes into far more detail than was customary for her. Really gruesome and weird, in an otherwise fairly mundane life!
Why are the mother characters named for fruit, nuts, and vegetables?
I didn't want to give them names, or too many specific details. The fruits, nuts, and vegetables refer to popular comparisons of a baby's size during development. Most pregnant women I know get weekly emails that tell them what size their baby is. (“Your baby is the size of a lentil! A walnut! A spaghetti squash!”)
Back in 2014 you told Adam Szymkowicz that playwrights starting out should “get on Twitter!!!” How is Twitter useful for playwrights?
You know what, I kind of take that back. I think it was VERY true for me when I did that interview – I had a play, Women, and relied on Twitter SO much to publicize it. We had a hashtag, and really got people to use it. (It didn't hurt that the play was based on Little Women, which people love, and the hashtag was #bethdies, which is sort of a joke and easy to incorporate into tweets.) And at the time I had a lot of followers who would see me tweet about a play or a reading and actually come. Which was amazing! I suspect that this wouldn't be the case now. I don't know why. I feel like Twitter has changed a bit. I think it's just harder to get people to engage in interesting ways now because it sort of feels like when you log on, everyone's trying to sell something. You're sort of inured to it. But fun fact, I tweeted about an EST reading once, and this guy I didn't know saw that tweet and decided to come to the reading and now we're married. So Twitter was certainly useful in that sense!
What a sweet story! I'm so glad you connected before Twitter got bad. That reminds me. Publishers Weekly called your book Modern Dating: A Field Guide (Harlequin, 2013) “big-sister advice at its best,” and now you’re married! Which were the winning tips? Can readers expect a sequel?
Oh my god, you know what? That book was big sister advice at its best!!! It can still feel strange and incongruous that I wrote a book about dating, but I actually think it was the most measured, level-headed advice. And honestly every so often I'll be patiently listening to a girlfriend complain about dating and, though I would never ever say so aloud, in my head I think ". . . she should read my book!!!!" It's the most practical, sound dating advice ever.
I wanted a different title for it, "Unattached." Because the whole point was how to navigate life when you're "unattached," aka single. It's not a problem to be fixed, it's just a state of being, and maybe you're unattached for a long time or maybe only briefly. The big take-away is don't freak out about it, stay open to things, take chances on people, keep an open mind. Dating doesn't have to be like, this big dramatic deal. There won't be a sequel, but I fantasize about people actually reading the original, ha ha.
You were a member of EST’s Youngblood Group. How does the EST/Sloan play development process compare with how you developed plays as part of Youngblood?
A big difference is money!!! :) :) :)
Do I have this right? Helen Estabrook, who produced Whiplash, has optioned your script Fairy Godmother for MGM? Or is it MGM has optioned it for Helen Estabrook? Either way, congrats. Does this mean you’ll be leaving theater for Hollywood?
Yes, the movie sold! Very exciting. Fairy Godmother is about a middle-aged fairy godmother named Faye who is charged with setting her preternaturally confidant client Kenzie up with the handsome young prince. Except, Faye falls in love with the prince instead. I hope it gets made. I will never stop trying to do theater.
Anything I’m missing as far as what’s next for Chiara Atik?
I think that covers it!!
The 2017 EST/Sloan First Light Festival runs from January 30 through March 30 and features readings and workshop productions of ten new plays. The festival is made possible through the alliance between The Ensemble Studio Theatre and The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, now in its nineteenth year.