49 Writers had the honor of interviewing Julia Izumi, an award-winning playwright, Theater Alaska workshop instructor, and Brown University playwriting professor. Below, she shares her thoughts on the writing process, what she’s learned from her mistakes, and the limits of American theater.
How do you approach a new play? What is your process?
I’ll get an idea about something or someone to write about and then I’ll kind of let it linger in my brain for a bit. I like to write at the crossroads of two ideas so I often can’t start writing a play until I know what is colliding up against it. I am a person who thrives in writing in cafes amidst the white noise of other people having conversations, so the pandemic has been tough on my writing habits. 🙁
What themes or topics do you like to explore in your writing?
I often write about weirdos trying to find themselves. Those weirdos are often young Asian women. (But sometimes they’re not.) I also like making people laugh.
What are some characters, situations, settings, or themes that you don’t see often, but you wish were explored more in American theater? What do you see too much of?
I think the American theater often limits the imagination of the stage and thereby their audiences. A stage can be the surface of a potato skin or the inside of a human eye but a lot of American theaters believe a stage can only be a living room. No shade to living rooms, but what if it was a living room AND a landfill AND a space for ritual?
What were some craft mistakes you made early in your career, and how did you learn to overcome them?
When I started playwriting, I really, really wanted to make sure the audience understood what I was trying to say and so I tended to over-explain or have a character say the same thing in 5 different ways. My first drafts even now have a lot of that. A good percentage of my growth as a writer has been me learning how to cut.
What are you working on now? Any upcoming events or performances you can tell us about?
I’m stewing on one play about the immunologists Teruko Ishizaka and her husband Kimishige who discovered Immunoglobulin E, the antibody responsible for allergies. I’m also writing a (separate) play about bears. My play miku, and the gods will be produced at ArtsWest in Seattle in June. I’m always working on my anxiety!
Julia Izumi’s work has been developed and presented at MTC, Clubbed Thumb, Bushwick Starr, WP Theater, Berkeley Rep’s Ground Floor, SPACE on Ryder Farm, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Ojai Playwrights Conference, Seattle Rep, Barn Arts Collective, The COOP, NNPN/Kennedy Center MFA Playwrights’ Workshop, Great Plains Theatre Conference, Williamstown Theatre Festival, CAATA’s National Asian-American Theatre ConFest, and Pork Filled Productions. Honors for her work include the OPC Dr. Kerry English Award, O’Neill’s NPC Finalist, Kilroys List Honorable Mention, and KCACTF’s Darrell Ayers Playwriting Award. She is a 2020/2021 New Georges Audrey Resident and a New Dramatists Resident. MFA: Brown University www.juliaizumi.com