March 8, 2016
I’ll Never Love Again at The Bushwick Starr
Most adults don’t want to return to their tumultuous teenage years, but for playwright Clare Barron there’s value in visiting them. Her new play, I’ll Never Love Again, uses music, found text from her teenage diary, and artifacts from that time to bring back the emotions and experience of first love. Playing through March 19th at The Bushwick Starr, the piece features many actors, including Barron, in the role of Clare. Culturadar blogger Shoshana Greenberg spoke with Barron about writing an autobiographical piece, the intersection of sex and adulthood, and that old looming deadline of the Mayan apocalypse.
Culturadar: What was the inspiration for this piece?
Clare Barron: It came out of a moment of exhaustion. I’d just finished another play that had been emotionally-draining to write, and I had another deadline and only about two weeks to meet it so I was like, I know what I’ll do, I’ll do something with found text. I had all these diaries that I had kept that I hadn’t looked at in years, so I started going back and reading through them. Like many people I’m someone who changed a lot between the ages of 15 and 28, when I wrote the play. I wasn’t really sure how that had happened. I was remembering all these important moments or painful, funny stories but I wasn’t sure how the “growing up” part of it actually happened. There’s a myth in our culture where there’s this one night where everything changes. But the way we grow up is impossible to analyze, and there are a million different stories for the way you are who you are and I am who I am.
CR: Why do different actors playing different versions of Clare?
CB: That was how the piece was conceived. I wanted to treat the diary as an external textual document. People of all ages and genders own the text, and I really wanted the audience to come and remember their own first experiences of love and in life. By having a choir tell this story, the audience is hopefully invited to see themselves as part of that choir rather than focus on a protagonist.
CR: How autobiographical is this play?
CB: Writers will say all writers’ work is autobiographical, but my writing is embarrassingly obviously autobiographical. The first 30 minutes of the play are literally straight from my diary. When the play moves on, it’s not autobiographical anymore. It’s inspired by stuff in my life but it stops being autobiographical even though there’s a character named Clare. What I enjoy about the first part being autobiographical is that it’s so boring. It’s about a very virginal, first relationship where nothing really happens. My childhood friend who’s also in the play, Paul Cameron Hardy, described it this way: The first part is about a very banal thing that is treated like it’s the end of the world, and the second part of the play is full of stories about horrific traumas that are told as if they’re banal.
CR: You both act and write, but how often do you do them together?
CB: This is the first time I’ve acted in a full production. It’s exhausting. As the writer, you’re used to running yourself down and then sitting in the audience and trembling while the play happens. But I was like, shoot I have to put a costume on now. I do a sex scene in the show and I didn’t really want to ask another actor to do the scene. I’m not sure what it means for me to do the scene, but I am doing the scene. It comes right after we share the actual journal. Artifact plays an important role in the play—the diary, the choir robes. There are all of these artifacts, so it makes sense that my body is one of those instruments.
CR: What is it about those first experiences that cast such a shadow over the rest of our lives?
CB: With your first break up, you are losing the only person in your entire history who has ever kissed you, touched you, said “I love you,” was tender towards you. That person in that moment owns all those experiences for you. You don’t know what a kiss is except with that person. It’s so scary and devastating because you feel like you are actually losing romance forever. It’s so crazy to be rejected, to be so intimate with someone and then have them be like, “Uh, I’m good.” It really cuts deep when you’re young because you haven’t built up your sense of self as much. It feels like you’re losing your whole world. As I’ve gotten older the breakups are way more devastating because the stakes are higher, but I have more tools for dealing with that heartbreak.
CR: The show is not just about our first sexual experiences but about our first adult experiences. How do you see the two--sex and adulthood--intersecting?
CB: Sex is much more complicated. I feel very strongly that one’s sexuality is fluid and complicated, and every time I feel like I’ve sorted something out I’ll run into another roadblock and feel like I’m starting from scratch again. It feels deeply connected with problems of human existence and continues to change. Sex keeps you as a perpetual teenager forever, whereas coffee and bills and taxes are one-way portals. Now I have a utility bill until the end of time and I will always pay my taxes on April 15th.
CR: The Mayan apocalypse is also a part of this show.
CB: I saw a Discovery Channel documentary about the Mayan apocalypse, and I was really stressed out because I didn’t know if I was going to be able to get married, have sex, and be a career woman before it happened. I was very nervous about it. It was in the air a lot when I was growing up.
CR: How would you describe the music in this piece and how it functions?
CB: My collaboration with Stephanie Johnstone, our composer and music supervisor, is one of the most meaningful collaborative experiences of my life. I’d never gotten to work with a composer before, and together with the director Michael Leibenluft, we figured out a clear evolution of music in the piece. The play begins with traditional choral numbers, but then music starts seeping into the diary text. It’s almost by accident. The actress Mia Katigbak speaks this text about being alone at night, and then she slips into singing. That moment is one of my favorite moments in the play. There are pop and raucous numbers. There’s a painful gospel wailing number and electronic music. As for the text itself, a big chunk of it is from this long diary entry that was 20 pages long. I wrote it in the past tense, after being dumped, and I was so afraid of forgetting all the special moments in our relationship that I sat down and wrote everything from beginning to end. Then there are other texts that are emails or love notes that are more emotional. I was able to use music to elevate the different species of text in the play. I think it helps the audience navigate the story and emotional arc.
CR: Teenage diaries are so raw and emotional in a way that's hard to access as adults. What do you think we do with those emotions and memories from our past?
CB: That very question is a major reason music is in this piece. There was this whole section of text that I had cut from a previous reading because there was no way to perform it. It was so intense, it was impossible. That’s where music became this incredible tool to help us as adults access this teenage pain. As adults, we learn to socialize and talk to people about what we’re going through. A lot of the stuff I was writing in the diary was stuff I didn’t know how to say. Keeping it as a secret made it more heightened. Adults get very good at ignoring how crazy existence, death, and love are, but life continues to be incredibly dynamic and tumultuous and full of surprises until the day we die.
Photos by Erik Carter.
Posted at 8:35 AM