Just in case you haven’t heard, Laurie McCants is a phenomenal playwright/actress/director/theatre artist in northeast Pennsylvania who is probably most well-known for her work with the prestigious Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble. But after the debut of Industrious Angels — a one-woman show created and performed by McCants — it is not hard to imagine that she will soon be just as well known for her solo work.
For your reading pleasure, here is the conclusion of my two-part interview with Laurie McCants (to read Part I, click here).
dramachicky (dc): So you left the house of Emily Dickinson in Amherst, Mass., with the idea of creating a piece that connected her poetry with your own personal memories of your relationship with your mother. Where did you go from there?
Laurie McCants (LM): (There was) this class that I was taking at the Ko Festival, which was taught by an artist named Michelle Matlock — she’s actually a clown; she’s performed with Big Apple Circus and is now performing with Cirque du Soleil — but she also has a solo show that she has created herself called The Mammy Project. She’s an African-American woman and her solo piece was about exploring the whole “Mammy” myth in American culture. It’s a very powerful piece…her course was really sharing her process of how she created that solo piece; very helpful to me. At the end of the class we did a very informal sharing of just little bits and pieces that we had created in class and Sabrina (Hamilton) came to see that sharing and after she saw what I had stitched together at that point, she said, “You have a rehearsal residency here next summer. Come. Let’s work on this piece.” So it was one of those happy accidents of this leading to that leading to this leading to that…that led to the creation of the piece in two summer residencies in Amherst.
dc: Where did you get the idea to use puppetry in your show?
LM: I’d gotten some real hands-on work with shadow puppetry with the Egyptians (while creating Our Shadows). Puppetry is a long, long-time interest for me. I’ve been introduced to the wonderful world of contemporary puppetry through my long-time collaborator Elaine Williams who is a design professor at Bucknell (University). She got me going to the Henson Festivals in New York City back in the ’90s and we saw so much great work there. (Williams) does a lot of design at the Center for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta…she’s my link to the puppet world. There’s a whole group of contemporary puppeteers out there who are doing really, really exciting work. (They’re) expanding the whole idea of what puppets are, what audience they play for, what subject matters you can deal with in puppetry, and of course, right now, a very popular evidence of that is War Horse which is playing a Lincoln Center right now…the puppet company that they’re working with was a long-time South African company called Handspring. And I remember seeing Handspring’s work…in a small theatre in London and thinking, “Oh, this is such great work!”
dc: Several of the plays you’ve written contain some sort of musical component by the time it reaches production. Why is this important to you as a playwright?
LM: I’ve always loved music. I had eight years of piano lessons; I never became a musician…but I had a wonderful piano teacher who was such a music enthusiast and so well-versed not just in classical but in contemporary music, that I got introduced to a wide range of music through her. Both of my parents were classical music fans…I have a brother who is not a professional musician, but he is a guitarist and we fell in love with rock music in the ’60s…I have a lot of friends who are wonderful musicians…Music has really been a part of my life since I was a kid. It’s really hard for me to think of any project…without some sort of musical component.
dc: Are there any themes in particular that you see yourself coming back to in your work?
LM: Perhaps a motivating force would be looking at the whole question of place and work. Certainly in Passage to America; what drew people to our country, what they found when they came here, and how their work made the nation that is our nation. We are a very rich nation because of all the cultures who have come here. With Hard Coal and Patchworks, it’s this region of Pennsylvania and what (industrial work) has meant to culture of this place, the history, the people who are here and people who have left. I have a mistrust of industry and corporations grounded in my study — a very thorough study — of the region’s history. Now BTE is looking at the gas drilling (to influence a potential script). It’s a very complex issue…the whole picture needs to be looked at. It’s a deeply human story and that’s what draws me to these stories of work and place.
dc: How to do you explore work and place in Industrious Angels?
LM: Industrious Angels is really about work — women’s handiwork. I consider the
work Emily Dickinson did with her pen as handiwork and it became an overall motif for
the piece. I actually do a lot of handiwork (in) the piece; paperfolding,
papercutting — they become the puppets, the objects I work with — sewing,
stitching, writing; I do all those things in performance. Industrious Angels is all about honoring the work of women’s hands.
Next up for Laurie McCants, she’s working on the “ABCs of Touring” in order to get Industrious Angels travel-worthy and scheduled to appear at a venue near you. Even as she’s performing and preparing to hit the road, the playwright in McCants is mulling over ideas for her next script, with potential to explore the story of Joseph Priestly (a resident of northeast Pennsylvania who was also a scientist, inventor, Unitarian minister, and friend to both Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson) or the idea of “Utopian impulse” and what it means to Pennsylvania. “I’m excited about some possibilities for the ensemble,” she says, reiterating the strong bond she has with BTE, a group of artists and friends who have supported her endeavors since day one. “I thank my lucky stars that I ended up in Bloomsburg.”
And with hopes that Industrious Angels might make an appearance in BTE’s 35th season, I know at least one dramachick who is glad Laurie McCants ended up in Bloomsburg too.