Callie Kimball, award-winning playwright, discusses feminism, future plays and Sofonisba, now playing at TAM.

The following interview was conducted by Lydia Cochran, 2021 Arts Administration Intern at the Theater at Monmouth in Monmouth, ME. 

LC: From what I’ve read, you talk a lot about how people consider your work feminist, but you don’t want to put that label on yourself. And you don’t want productions to attach this feminist agenda to Sofonisba. Could you expand on this a bit more?

CK: What I’ve put on my website is that some people have called my plays feminist, which is lovely, I have no problem with the word feminist, I am a feminist. But really, the thing I’m doing is writing plays, where the main characters have jobs and goals, and happen to be women. And my plays do get described as being feminist, but I think it’s just because the main characters happened to be female. If it were a play about a male painter, the question of gender wouldn’t really come up. It’s still unusual to see a main character that’s a woman in a play who’s not serving the goals of a male character, or supporting them or being an obstacle, or serving the plot of the play. In this play, I’m centering the experience of what it is to be a woman with a job. A woman with goals, a woman who goes against expectations. I just want to normalize seeing these stories on stage. I try to put things on stage I haven’t seen before.

LC: I felt that Sofonisba, like many artists, is seeking her purpose in life and trying to fulfill that against other people’s ideas of what she should and shouldn’t be. So I am curious about how that part of the story came to be the one you really focused on and why it was important to you. Is that something that you can relate to in your story as an artist?

CK: Yeah, I never had kids. I never married. I’m older than Sofonisba at the end of the play. So I felt like I had had to make choices. Because I think if I had married and had children, I probably would not have been a playwright. I still think it’s very hard for a woman writer, a straight woman writer, to find a partner who will support them so they can do that work. I think it’s very unusual for a woman to have that office of her own; one where her work is considered equally legitimate to that of her partner, so I would have loved to have had more balance in my life. But like Sofonisba, I knew if I were going to be a playwright, I wanted to do it well, and I wanted to throw myself into it. I did not know how financially difficult it would be, how the hours are so strange. It’s very isolating. But I think like Sofonisba working, working; they talk about how hard she works. And that’s how I felt. I thought, nobody else is going tell me to do this. If I want to do it, I have to do it. And I try to write in such a way that every word counts, every word matters. Everything is deliberate, and precise. I don’t want to give up all that I’ve given up to just do something that’s mediocre. That would be my fear. So, yeah, I mean, I feel like I made the choices she’s making in this story.

LC: What projects are you currently working on?

CK: Well, as a matter of fact, Portland Stage is going to do a world premiere of a play called Perseverance, which was supposed to happen last summer to commemorate the centennial of women getting the vote. They commissioned it a few years ago. And I wrote it. And it’s oddly, specifically, relevant. I wrote it t before the pandemic, but it had references to the 1908 flu pandemic. Half of the play is about an African American school teacher. And the other half is about a current day school teacher, a woman who’s running for political office. So it’s like all of these issues that that were so relevant last year, and are still so relevant this year. But it’s weirdly timely. And so this play is a blend of times, 100 years ago, and the now, 2020. So you’ve got the historical and kind of classical feel. And then you’ve got very contemporary, very right now. And so it’ll be it’ll be great to see to see that come to life because I’ve never been in a rehearsal room with them. We’ve just done things on zoom. And that’s starting this fall. Yeah, we start rehearsals in September. I think it opens October 1. So exciting.

LC: Two big openings in 2021.

CK: I know. That’s so funny. Yeah, I would not have thought. I wasn’t even really counting on this until like, a couple months ago. I was like, Oh, I think maybe these are actually going to happen. And now they are!

Come see Sofonisba, written by Callie Kimball and directed by Dawn McAndrews, at Theater at Monmouth! Playing through August 21.