Five Questions with Miranda Haymon

The cast and crew of In The Penal Colony, photo by Erica Snyder

Editor: Miranda Haymon is the director/writer/producer of IN THE PENAL COLONY at The Tank through September 17, 2018.

Where did you grow up and how did you end up where you are now?

I grew up in Boston as a pretty shy, sensitive kid. My favorite parts of the school day were definitely sports practice as I felt most myself with my teammates—all practicing together for our next game, then sharing that fleeting, ephemeral moment where it doesn’t matter if you win or lose, just that we did it together. Our dedication, precision, our performance is all that mattered. Within the first six months of high school, I tore my ACL and a tendon in my shoulder so my athletic career was totally over. I searched for a space where I could feel the same rush that I’d always felt in athletics with a community to rival that of a sports team. The next week I walked into the black box theater in the basement of the student center (in a sling and knee brace, truly a scene) asking if it was too late to submit an application to direct a one act.

Which performance, song, play, movie, painting or other work of art had the biggest influence on you and why?

I’m going to add the art of cooking to this list because chef Grant Achatz and work of art Alinea, his restaurant in Chicago, has had a major influence on me. In the opening sequence of his Chef’s Table episode (Season 2, Episode 1) he says, “It frustrated me that, as chefs, we were limited to scale that was determined by plate manufacturers. Why not a tablecloth that we can eat off of? Why do you have to eat with a fork or a spoon? And why does it have to be served on a plate or in a bowl? Why can’t we come up with something new? Every element of the restaurant we try to break down and go, ‘Is this the best way it could exist, or is there a better version?'” I ask, “What, for the theater, are our tablecloths, forks, spoons, plates and bowls that maybe aren’t actually serving us anymore? Is how we are making theater and performance the best way it could exist, or is there a better version?”

What skill, talent or attribute do you most wish you had and why?

I desperately wish I could sing. Don’t get me wrong—I still sing. I love singing. But especially as I become more interested in incorporating live vocals into my work, I think being able to sing would be useful.

Your website makes reference to your interest in dismantling the ‘universal’ and creating a resistance to the status quo of “who and what is allowed in the theatre.” What tools do you use for this? What tools do you think we still need to invent in order to fully bring these goals to fruition?

We need opportunities for artists to tell stories and play roles that they otherwise wouldn’t even be considered for and consequently develop tools by which to accelerate this. I should be able to do August Wilson AND Kafka. I use adaptation as a tool for this reclamation, this space making in order to show the relevance these old stories have but also to show the depth and breadth of my experiences and scope.

Since IN THE PENAL COLONY is based on a Kafka short story, what’s your favorite Kafka?

I find “A Starvation Artist” to be absolutely brilliant because it asks, “How far are we willing to go in the name of art?” as well as “What is the relationship between an performer and their audience?”, two things I am always thinking about in my own work.

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