A Dozen Questions with Samantha Cooper

Holy crap, guys... I am back in Seattle after 3000 miles of travel and 110 days away! Not only that, but I am back with TONS of awesome stuff. New products, new crafty how-tos and new interviews with some amazing local artists.

Today I bring you a woman who I met in 2005 when we were freshman at Western Washington University. She is now a development associate at Book-it Repertory and an amazingly voracious and prolific writer. So now... 12 questions with September's Artist of the Month!

Who are you and what do you do/make?

Samantha Cooper. Playwright. Actor. Director. Theatre Cross-Trainer. (Occasional crafter, painter, apartment decorator etc. Too frequent delusional Pinterest pinner.)

Photograph by Cassi Gallagher

Photograph by Cassi Gallagher

How/why did you get started as an artist/crafter?

I’ve been doing various performing arts for as long as I can remember. I really started, as most little girls do I think, as a “dancer.” You know, little kids in cute costumes following their ballet teacher around on stage while waving at their family in the audience. And I was the kid who always fell over while waving. But I really got bit with the theatre bug in middle school. I don’t think I’ll be able to escape the theatrical grasp…ever.

Why did you start your current project?

I just finished a project with Blood Ensemble called Blood/Sailing. Blood/Sailing was a show that combined experimental theatre and live heavy metal music from local Seattle band Smooth Sailing. Because of the exceptional time I had working with Blood Ensemble on that project, I’ve just signed on to direct their next show, Nevermore, a new play written by Emily Harvey that will combine a pre-written script with moment work. Nevermore (previously titled Poe.) is a modern psychological thriller based on the life and works of Edgar Allen Poe which will go up in a to-be-determined found space in October.

How long have you been working on your current project?

I directed a public reading of Nevermore towards the end of July and officially signed on to direct the full production on July 29th. So, we’re currently in all the pre-work that goes into putting on a new show: setting a schedule, casting, working on the script, finding a space, and being in constant discussions and research about the themes in the work. I’m excited…and a bit nervous. Usually I live in the playwright and actor realm so this is my first big foray into directing.

Meanwhile, there are any number of other creative projects going on in my life. Plays being written, staged readings here and there, festivals, acting gigs when I can take them (get them) and editing a local ten-minute play literary magazine for Northwest Playwright’s Alliance called NorthNorthwest.

Do you create full time or part time? If part time, how do you make time for your creative work?

I create work part time. My day life still involves theatre; I’m the Development Associate at Book-It Repertory Theatre (http://www.book-it.org/) but my work there is more administrative than creative. Making time for creative work is easy when I’m involved in a show; rehearsals and performances are prescheduled so I have a calendar to stick to. Of course, when in a show, it’s hard to strike a balance between working, rehearsing, eating, and sleeping enough. BUT, at the very least, I get to happily be making work.

When not in a show, it’s harder for me to make time for my creative work. As a writer, I tend to rely on inspiration. When there’s a lot of inspiration percolating in my head, I can sit for hours and work on scripts, poems, and stories. When I can’t seem to get inspired, I have a harder time focusing. I’m hitting the point in my life where I need to be scheduling time to focus on my work. That’s a goal for me.

Where do you get your inspiration?

I am a textbook eavesdropper. I tend to draw inspiration from listening to the conversations of others, how they interact, what they say to each other, the acknowledgment (or lack thereof) of status in relationships. I’m really interested in the human condition, why we are the way we are and how we got to be that way. I find riding the bus to be great inspiration. Or sitting in an airport. Anywhere where I can people watch. I keep at least one notebook on me at all times and write down the brilliant and not-so-brilliant things people say.

I also tend to draw inspiration from strong visuals. Pinterest is actually a great tool for me in that way. I archive images that I can use as a jumping off point in the future. I like pictures that tell me a story the minute I look at them, but not too much of a story so that I can’t place my meaning on top of them. I have a HUGE store of images currently, probably too many to use. I like to think they will be a cure for writer’s block in the future.

Blood/Sailing [photograph by Cassi Gallagher]

Blood/Sailing [photograph by Cassi Gallagher]

Do you have a signature or favorite piece you have created?

As a theatre artist, I tend to become deeply involved in whatever I’m working on at the time. Currently, I’m still incredibly attached to Blood/Sailing. And actually, it’s one of the best processes I’ve worked on in a long time. I bet I’ll stay attached to that show for years to come.

One of the most rewarding pieces I’ve worked on was my senior project for Western Washington University. It was an evening of three short works bundled together and titled Apocalypse Plays.

It was the first time I’ve seen my work fully produced while still being able to be involved as a playwright and an actor. I like that piece so much that it remains in the back of my head always; I’m always considering remounting it as a whole.

What direction do you see your work going in the future?

That is a good good question. Most days, I have no idea which direction I’m heading (which I like). I try to focus on the ways I need to grow as an artist and a person at each specific moment in my life. In my writing, at least, I tend to focus on the uniquely female American experience. My friend Jordan said that it’s like I’m saying "I'm a girl, deal with it, 'cause I’m trying to" with my work. I think I like that characterization. I’ll always be trying to deal with it, and hopefully my work will be too.

As a performer, my focus has become and probably will remain in devising/collaboratively created theatre. I like the nature of that beast. I like that you can start with anything and end up in a place you never thought possible. I like the polarizing nature of it as well. I think I feel like my truest self when I am devising.

What is your workspace like?

Ugh, nothing. I don’t currently have a designated work space for myself…which is probably why I have a hard time focusing at times. That is a dream of mine. I want a dream writing studio. In the meantime, I work at my kitchen table, in my bedroom, in coffee shops, in my empty office on the weekends if I really need some quiet. Or I sit in the outdoors somewhere with my notebook, people watching.

What has been your biggest challenge (creatively or otherwise) with your work?

I think I said it before but it’s doubly true now: Focusing. And setting aside time for myself to be creative. I spend a lot of time working with other people, on shows and what not. I need to be forceful in carving out time for me to work by myself on my writing.

What has been your greatest reward?

Getting to know the Seattle theatrical and writing community. There are amazing people here, so many artists that I really admire who are also the nicest, most supportive, and caring people that you could ever meet. That, and seeing my work performed. There is no experience like hearing your words coming out of the mouths of capable artists. Theatre can’t happen in a vacuum after all. It relies on the participation of everyone.

What hobbies or other interests do you have? How do you find balance in your life?

I am constantly on a search for the perfect happy-hour. I also like picnicking while wearing a big floppy hat. Within the last year, I did something I never thought I would do by becoming a runner finishing my first half-marathon in June. That adds a lot of balance to my life. I’m hoping to keep up the running. That’s another thing that requires scheduling.

Samantha's writing is haunting and poignant. She hits on subtleties of humanity while simultaneously being funny and witty. Read her work on her blog http://apocalypseplays.blogspot.com/ and on her newest writing project at http://nightpeople.blog.com/.

You should also watch for Samantha's directorial debut with Blood Ensemble's Nevermore coming in October. Samantha's work can also be seen with DoubleShot Theatre Festival in September and Arts Crush in October.

UPDATE!! Samantha is now a Playwrighting MFA student at Columbia University in NYC!