Catching Creation with Christina Anderson

The Goodman produced How To Catch Creation in 2019—now audiences have another chance to see it as part of the ENCORE streaming series March 15-28. Read how playwright Christina Anderson sparks her own creation when working on a new play.  Want even more artistic inspiration? Check out our recent Live at Five discussion featuring Anderson.

By Neena Arndt
“How To Catch Creation” is a play about creative impulses: how do we decide to create something and how do we go about doing it? What was the impetus that compelled you to write the play?

At the time it was like 2013 [or] 2014 and I had a residency out at National New Play Network. I was a playwright-in-residence at the Magic Theatre in San Francisco and around that time I also started a relationship with ACT (American Conservatory Theater). They commissioned a few playwrights to write about the new space that they had just acquired. That building had a very long and broad history. I had been living in the bay for several months and it was my first time living on the west coast. I grew up in Kansas City in a landlocked state that had four typical seasons, so it was my first time experiencing west coast life. I met so many fantastic Black artists— particularly Black women artists and even more particularly, Black queer women artists—who were just super inspiring.

So when I was thinking about this commission for ACT, I thought it would be interesting to have a conversation about how that area was changing. The building’s on Market Street and the closer you get to the water, there are fancy shops and the further you get from the water, you start hitting the Tenderloin. I started to think about a character who would be surprised that ACT had bought this building, knowing what that part of Market Street was—I was starting to think about what kind of character that would be. A lot of my work is in conversation with the justice system in America and the prison system. I started looking at men who were falsely accused and exonerated.

In doing that research, I started to shape the character Griffin. I was looking at, particularly, a Black man who’s exonerated versus a white dude who’s exonerated and how their pasts are just different when they come out of prison. So I started to shape that character Griffin and then I decided to make him a Black feminist, which is something that he acquired while he was in prison. Then I started to shape the world around him—the characters who make up his world, his found family and birth family—it all just started to be in conversation with the experiences I was having when I was living in San Francisco.

What does it feel like for you to stream a production two years after its closing night?

Well, it’s particularly interesting with this play because before it had contact with the Goodman, the play had a lot of workshops and readings. I was always pleasantly struck by how much the audience connected with the characters in the play. It was really moving to have people who were strangers to me tell me personal stories and revelations and things that resonated with them. So, this play in particular ended up touching a lot of people and a lot of different types of people. It makes sense that this play would be the play that is streamed—it makes sense that this play is the one that the circle continues to broaden.

Once we can safely return to the theater, we’re looking forward to welcoming you back to the Goodman for a production of your play, “the ripple, the wave that carried me home.” What was the creative spark for that show?

I’m working on a series of plays that look at the four elements—air, water, fire and land—in relation to Black American history. At the time I had a commission with Berkeley Repertory. They gave me free rein to write about whatever I wanted. I picked water as the element that I was going to look at. I had no idea what the play was going to be about; I just knew I had this element. I was looking at environmental racism, drinking water, oceans…I was all over the place. And then I found this book called Contested Waters, which looked at the history of public pools in America. It wasn’t until I read that book that a light bulb went off. I don’t know how to swim, my mother doesn’t know how to swim—so many people in my family don’t know how to swim and that book talks about public pool segregation and how policy dictated generations of black folks’ access to swimming and recreation. That really struck me, and I started thinking about Black folks and swimming. That really started me on the journey thematically.

What are you looking forward to when we are able to return to theaters?

Theater being shut down was traumatic for a lot of people, but on the flip side, there’s been a lot of truth telling and theater having to take a really hard look at itself between paying practices, labor practices, who they’re inviting into the workspace, who they’re excluding, who gets shielded and who doesn’t.

I’m excited to return to a theater that’s confronting those things and taking active steps to fix it. I feel like that has a resounding effect across the board—for the people who work there full time and also for the artists who come in and out. So I’m excited for hopefully a freer theater and a more inclusive theater. Also, I miss rehearsal! I miss the collaboration. Once we’re able to get back in the groove of things…I know it’s going to be different, there’s going to be a new normal so to speak, but as close as we can get to what it was, I’m super excited to be back in the rehearsal room.

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