INTERVIEW with KRISTINA AUTEN
What is the project you’re working on right now? And what inspired you to explore it?
I’m hopping back into my thesis solo from my second year of grad school at Sarah Lawrence, which is called COVERUP. I kind of started COVERUP from a place of inspiration from an article that I just randomly read once upon a time about an archaeological dig that was run by these women, and what struck me about it was that they were looking back into a previous archaeological dig that was done by men in the 60s who had made all these male-centric assumptions about the artifacts they found. And these women realized these assumptions were incorrect, and published a new study about it, and got to re-write history and re-insert the narrative of women back into history, which I was really interested in. I started to connect this idea of buried history, buried voices, specifically women’s voices with my own and my southern upbringing. So I created a character named Maralie Turner who’s a 1950s housewife who wants to be an archaeologist, and the solo show is through her eyes, dealing with who she wants to be versus the parameters that her life is actually structured around.
What made you want to revisit this piece?
My personal experience with my solo show was very negative. I was really really unhappy with it, up through the last performance of it. I had a really hard time with my final project at Sarah Lawrence College being this thing that I just didn’t feel was anywhere near finished or polished. After it was over, I just sort of dropped it down the toilet. I refused to watch the video of it when it came out, I dumped all the scripts and media on a drive and just threw it in the back of my closet and didn’t want to see it again. I spent the last year and a half just ignoring that it ever happened. And then I had sort of a come-to-Jesus moment with myself this past fall. I went through some personal things in my life that made me have to look at myself really fast. And have to look in the mirror and ask what sort of work do I want to make, what do I do, what is my voice, what am I doing? And I was kind of frozen in that, not sure how to move forward. So when Emily came to me about the Midwives and asked me what project I would want to work on, my brain wouldn’t let me stop thinking about COVERUP. And I realized that for my own sake I needed to return to it and figure out what my issues with it were, why did I have such a strong distaste in my mouth about it, what are the actual parts of it that I’m passionate about. And I wanted to go back to the core of what inspired me to make it in the first place and try to dig back into that.
Now that you’re looking back into this and re-exploring this piece, what has your process been like with it? How have you been interacting with the past material, building new material?
In my first meeting with Paul, my Midwife, I was really honest with him, and told him I felt really lost. And he listened and suggested the first thing that needed to happen is that I needed to watch my solo and re-read my script because even by this point of talking with him for the first time, I still had not done that. So the first way back into the piece was trying to re-engage with it and get over that sort of nasty little gut feeling that makes you scared to do things, especially when it comes to your own work. That was the first step. And that took me a really long time, like an embarrassingly long time, but it was less scary than I thought it would be. Coming at it after two years of not looking at it at all, I felt like I saw things that I hadn’t seen before or that I didn’t realize before that were kind of hidden in there. Then it became this overwhelming question of where do I start? And in talking with Paul, he brought up how we don’t hear a lot from the voice of the person who is digging in the piece. The excavation side of it. So that was sort of the prompt he gave me to get back into it and that was what I latched on to the most—the voice of the person doing the excavation. So in my piece that voice, and the way it exists right now is as a child, Maralie as a child, and that’s where I started. I started by going back to that voice, which ironically is the very very first thing I ever wrote for my piece.
What has been a challenge about this project?
I think the biggest challenge is just finding time. All of these little life things that wiggle their way into your schedule and suddenly it’s 11 PM and you’re really tired and you want to go to sleep. So I think the biggest struggle for me has been setting aside time to write and work on it. Just the diligence to do that. Because it’s really hard when you don’t have a classroom structure or really an abundance of free time. So I’ve actually been having a lot of self-reflecting moments to figure out what I need to help me stick to a goal and set aside time to work on this project. I think the other thing that has been hard is how to do it. I’ve set aside the time, I’m honoring the time, I’m doing it, here I go, but I don’t remember how to do this. I don’t remember how to freewrite, but luckily, I remembered a freewriting exercise that used to work for me, so I’ve been doing that a lot. But it’s hard! It’s hard to know how to re-enter into something. Just figuring out which tools to pull out of your pocket can be a challenge.
Have you found anything in this process that has been a surprise in any way to you?
Something I discovered through this is that I give other people’s projects such different rigor and attention and time and thought than I do my own work. Working on this project in Midwives has taught me that this truth about myself as an artist, which is that when given the option I will put my own work on the back burner in a way I know I would never do to another person’s work. So that was a big thing for me to realize. I need to learn how to give the same amount of attention and time and thought to my own work as I do other people’s. I didn’t really want to admit this about myself but I see that it’s true. I’m still figuring out what I need to do to value my own work and put it first, and I think that might be a lifelong thing for me!
Is there anything else that you would like to share that has come up for you at this point in the process?
I think what I really need, and what I think other people might need sometimes is an external deadline. I think it helps with the process to have that pressure of a deadline. It doesn’t have to mean a full production. It could just mean a reading of your script in front of your friends or having a share night at a local bar or something. But some kind of accountability helps structure a process for myself because I have this goal in mind that I’m going to share the project. I know everyone’s different in their processes, but I think having that deadline makes you want to work on it more.
Interview by Mekala Sridhar