TheaterJones: Tell us a synopsis of your play.
Carla Cackowski: It’s Mary Shelley as she comes up with the idea for what will become Frankenstein. It’s based in reality in that the circumstances are true. She said that she had a dream about Frankenstein, a nightmare actually, and that’s how she came up with the idea. The play takes place in her nightmare. I add in the concept that she can time travel, so she gets on her computer and she Googles different ideas and she talks a lot about her circumstances in life with her children and her boyfriend, who is not technically her husband, and what it’s like to be a female writer.
From where did the inspiration for this piece come?
The inspiration was that I had made it a goal to do five solo shows in five years, and I was coming up on my fifth year. I had done a lot of autobiographical stuff, always something that had actually happened to me, and I knew that I wanted to kind of step away from myself. I was having a lot of writer’s block, and I started to read about writer’s block, and I came upon this story of Mary Shelley. I thought, “That’s perfect,” because I can actually talk about how it’s hard to come up with ideas, especially when you’re under a deadline.
How did you become involved with the Dallas Solo Fest?
I’m with a theater company called The Solo Collective in Los Angeles and the artistic director Paul Stein put me in touch with [Audacity Theater Lab artistic director] Brad [McEntire], who is running the festival. I had done some research and had seen that the one last year had some people who I knew and admired a lot, so I thought it would be a good fit. I’ve also never been to Dallas. I thought it would be a great opportunity to see what it’s like doing a show down there.
I talked earlier to [fellow Solo Fest performer] Lesley Tsina, and she told me you had done some of your studies together. What is it like having a friend and colleague in the festival as well?
I had no idea she was even submitting, so when I saw her name, I was really excited. Unfortunately, we’re there on different weekends, which makes sense programming-wise, but it would have been real fun to be able to be there with her. She’s a great talent. It’s exciting to see her go out and do it in other cities as well.
How has it been working with your director Jane Morris, and what aspects of your solo performance does she bring out?
Jane is great because she is very physical in her direction. She’ll get up and she’ll move with you. I’ve worked with some directors where it’s more conceptual and they’ll talk about themes, but she actually breaks down each moment beat by beat in such a way that makes it really easy to physicalize on stage. She also encouraged me [when] there were times when I got a little nervous and asked, “Is this too much Mary Shelley? Will people connect to this woman, to what I’ve [created] over two years ago?” She really encouraged me to bring out those truths in Mary Shelley’s life and find a way to connect them to the writer’s block aspect of the story.
Has she been your director through the whole process?
Yes, from the beginning. I took a workshop with her. For this one, like I said, I was struggling for an idea, so I took her workshop and there were other students in the class, so it was a lot of writing and just trying to find out things that were important to me at the time. Once I had the concept, I went into private rehearsals with her. I’ve done a lot of stuff with Second City, I teach at Second City, and Jane is a Second City alumni, too, so we shared a lot of the same language. We’re both improvisers, so it was kind of easy to connect with her on that level.
There have been a few performances of The Seriously Neurotic Dream of Mary Shelley, and you performed it most recently in December. Are you excited to revisit it and bring it to a different part of the country?
It’s been about five or six months since I last did it in front of an audience. I’ve missed it. I miss playing her. I did it with The Solo Collective, and we have a lot of the same fans and people who come out for all of the shows, the same audience. So I am interested to see what it will be like in a different community of people. I really don’t know what to expect, and I guess that’s a good thing.
Your other solo performances have been autobiographical. Even with this piece, it sounds like you found aspects of Mary Shelley’s life and experiences that were similar to ones you’ve had.
I’m sure a lot of women feel this way, but we’re surrounded in this business by [men, and this has become] a male-driven art form, even solo performance. It was interesting to read about her and how she dealt with being surrounded by these men who were then trying to come up with an idea for a scary story, and the pressure of trying to prove herself. I do feel that, not all the time, but certainly some of the time. I think that’s why I connected to her story, and I try to bring that out in the play that I do.
What is the writing process like for you, especially for this piece where you had to incorporate facts about Mary Shelley as well?
I guess this time it’s been a little different for each of the shows I’ve done, but specifically with this one, it was a lot of research, more so than I’ve ever done before. A lot of improv, too. Standing up and pretending like I was her and walking around the room as she would, and then just taking myself and seeing where it went from there. Then bringing that to Jane, and after transcribing it, looking at it, and trying to find the funny in it. And what that means is, “What can everyone relate to? What’s the unique thing happening here that everyone can relate to?”
What did you find that people could relate to, without giving too much away?
The frustration. I think this is not just for writers, but for anybody, of just trying to figure out why you’re here, and finding the connection to creativity. Whether that’s creating a child, or whether that’s creating a relationship with a partner, or if that’s actually creating art, finding that connection to make yourself feel valuable in life, to be able to say, “I’m here for a reason, I have a purpose.”
You’ve done a lot of solo performance and improv, and given that and the amount of research you had to do, what makes this play unique to you?
This one was nice because I was able to connect to it, but because I wasn’t presenting real facts about myself, I was able to also have additions afterwards. After my autobiographical shows, I was a little wrecked, and I felt like I had maybe given away too much information. This one was just pure enjoyment, and really just being able to have a good time with it. Because even though I share things with Mary Shelley, obviously we’re different people, and her facts weren’t my facts. When I left the stage, I felt like I could let go of that easier.
» Carla Cackowski's The Seriously Neurotic Dream of Mary Shelley is performed at the following times:
- Thursday, June 4 @ 10:30 p.m.
- Friday, June 5 @ 7:30 p.m.
- Saturday, June 6 @ 9 p.m.
And you can follow our coverage of the 2015 Dallas Solo Fest in our special section, here.