When Stephen Karam's "The Humans" debuted on stage in the fall of 2015, it created quite a sensation: The New York Times called it a "haunting, beautifully realized play," and it won four Tony Awards -- including Best Play -- and was a Pulitzer Price finalist. Karam helped bring the show to Northwest Arkansas' TheatreSquared, and we had an opportunity to ask the playwright a few questions about his work.
Q: Can you talk a little bit about what parts of this particular show are personal to you -- what characters do you "know," what issues discussed in the show have you (or those close to you) wrestled with?
Playwright Workshop: Scene Study and Q&A
3-5 p.m. Wednesday
Henry Board Room, Fayetteville Public Library, 401 W. Mountain, Fayetteville
Registration required at faylib.org.
TheatreSquared Artist Forum
6 p.m. Wednesday
Walker Community Room, Fayetteville Public Library, 401 W. Mountain, Fayetteville
A: There's no one part that's personal in a literal fashion -- but the entire play -- the story, structure, characters -- every inch of it feels personal because it came from my head, so, even when it's subconscious, if I'm doing my job, the entire work is personal. Every play I write is personal, on some basic level, I'm writing about what it means to be alive right now -- or even more simply, I'm creating a kind of dramatic poem about what's on my mind.
Q: You represent the points of view of five very different people so respectfully, without playing down their weaknesses, but also without making any one person the butt of the joke or an object of ridicule or scorn. Can you talk a little bit about whether this was something you consciously did, or if it's just that you felt such an affinity for each character that it came about naturally?
A: I often start by trying to create a structural game of sorts so I can start writing -- something to impose a disciplined frame into which I can throw the chaos and mystery. ... in this case I was thinking of the big existential human fears (our fear of poverty, ill health, loss of love, etc.) but that only carries me so far. At some point, the characters become complex and take over.
Q: Is this the play that you set out to write when you began this project, or did it morph at some point into something quite different? Did what it became surprise you at all? If it did, why do you think that happened?
A: My process of writing is usually all about morphing. Embracing the morphs as they happen. I rarely end up with what I think I will! In this instance I thought I was going to write something much more genre -- more of a classic stage thriller. In the end, it collided quite firmly with the family play genre. I think I ended up with a family thriller.
Q: [T2 Executive Director] Martin Miller has credited you as one of the reasons T2 was fortunate enough to be one of the first regional theaters to present this show. Can you talk a little bit about why you thought T2 would be ideal for your show?
A: Well, the amazing gift T2 has given me is an open embrace of my work. When an institution understands your work -- and T2 produced "Sons of the Prophet," which is not the easiest sell in the land, a play about gay Lebanese-American brothers! -- that says a lot about the care they will take with your work. Seeing them stand by me and do a wonderful production of "Sons" made me really pleased they wanted to do "The Humans," and happy to lobby for them to get the rights.
NAN What's Up on 02/09/2018
Print Headline: Four Minutes, Four Questions Stephen Karam