Meet the Playwright: Kimberly Pau (Part 2)

ITN: To begin with, can you talk a bit about your background: where are you from, where did you go to college, how did you first become involved with theater and playwriting?

KIMBERLY: I grew up by the beach in Long Island and moved to NYC to study at Tisch (NYU) and that was where I started writing plays. I was also a double major in the acting program and had the chance to study in Amsterdam with the Experimental Theater Wing, which strongly influenced me.

ITN: Who would say are the important people who taught you how to write plays?

KIMBERLY: I’ve recently studied with Lee Breuer and Shelia Callaghan through the Flea Pataphysics workshops and they are both heroes of mine so those experiences were thrilling and informative. Also, about five years ago I was having a hard time finding my way, in tons of debt and not knowing what to try to do for work so that I could stay in NY. Somehow, I got it together to go to Estonia, where my mom’s family came from in the ’50s, for the first time. I was reading Ingmar Bergman’s autobiography, The Magic Lantern, while I was there and I had a dream. Bergman came to me and said, “whatever you do you need to be working in the theatre, at least somewhere in the building.” I woke up with a great sense of purpose and said to my aunt, whom I was traveling with, “I know what I’m going to do. Ingmar Bergman told me, I just need to get into the theatre. Somewhere in the building!” And my graceful aunt replied, “Ingmar Bergman died last night.” After that I went on to work as a producer for Aquila Theatre, Culture Project and others, experiences that taught me a ton. So since then I have this superstitious belief that Bergman’s spirit guides my unconscious mind. Whenever I’m in need of inspiration I read something of his or watch an interview with him. It works. I guess he is my honorary, if imaginary, mentor. I also had the good fortune to study with John Guare, Eduardo Machado and Leslie Lee while at NYU.

ITN:  What kind of theater gets you excited? What was the last play you saw that you really liked?

KIMBERLY: I recently met the lovely Jackie Sibblies Drury in a class and went to see her show We Are Proud to Present a Presentation… at Soho Rep a couple of weeks ago. I was so moved and excited by its innovative form and ability to be daring. I also loved Quiara Alegría Hudes’ Water by the Spoonful for being so brave and interesting in its structure.

ITN: Your plays OPEN UP and BABY PLAYS THE BANJO have strong Justin Bieber links. Why Bieber? What does he represent to you in your work? Why do you think he’s become so iconic?

KIMBERLY: Maybe this isn’t something a good writer would admit but I knew very little about Justin Bieber when I was writing these plays and I had never even listened to his music. Baby Plays the Banjo was inspired by the experience of someone close to me, who was tricked by a friend to think she was conversing with Justin Timberlake online, about ten years ago. When I decided to write about that I thought, oh, Justin Bieber is the new Justin, and he seems to be pretty popular- I generally avoid pop culture so didn’t really know much. Then I had the opportunity to do a show at Theater for the New City and decided to continue the story with a sequel about a new pop star who wants to be like Bieber. After that script was completed and we were in rehearsal, Amanda Peters, who played Shantee in Open Up, forced me to watch Never Say Never. I was really amazed. If you have five seconds, check out this YouTube clip of Beebs drumming on a chair at age 3:

I think Justin Bieber is an icon because he rose out of the dust to achieve national fame and fortune. It’s also interesting that he’s Canadian. The immigrant’s perspective has fueled the idea of America since its inception.

ITN: These plays also have strong arguments in them about the dangers of childhood celebrity, and more generally celebrity in the current age. Why is this theme important to you? What do you think our infatuation/obsession with celebrity signifies in 21st century America?

KIMBERLY: These plays are about delusion. Our society is controlled by delusion because of our obsessive fascination with being watched and known. We allow children to be sexualized and assign fame to most stars while they are still children. People have become more and more entitled. They are taught to feel individually special and capable when in reality life is very painful and challenging. Meaningful human connections and love are what are important in life. The desire to be famous is never healthy and I believe it should be discouraged in children, especially in those who are artistically inclined. I believe that the process of making any art, or music in the case of these stories, is a daily practice much like praying, and that producing this practice is the only way that we may preserve humanity in our culture. Art has always done this and it is important to create selflessly. The desire for fame will only lead to delusion, the consequences of which are shown in these plays as gluttony, laziness, trepidation, dread, greed, misunderstanding, jealousy and eventually mass murder.

ITN: What’s coming up next for you?

KIMBERLY: I am really excited about a workshop I have at the wonderful Theater for the New City on December 17th of my new piece, An Estonian Play, which is about my family escaping the Russian occupation of Estonia in 1940. I have also recently founded the collective Ouroboros Co. with Rachel R. Blackwell and Amanda Peters.

(December 16, 2012)