2015 Best New Work Nominee: "Eyes Shut. Door Open" by Cassie M. Seinuk (Wax Wings Productions)

Before we announce our 2015 ArtsImpulse Award Winners, we are proud to present our 2015 ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series.

Note: If you are nominated for a 2015 ArtsImpulse Theatre Award, and you would like to participate in our Nominee Interview Series, please email us at brian@artsimpulse.com

Photo Credit: Rachel Kurnos Photography

Photo Credit: Rachel Kurnos Photography

Eyes Shut. Door Open ("ESDO") was a surprisingly delightful and brilliant script by Cassie M. Seinuk.  The play explores the Cain and Abel story in a new and haunting environment, captivating audiences and keeping them spell-bound long after the performance ended.  The play's form and clever exploration of our guilt, demons, and grief made the play an easy Nominee for Best New Work.

In her Interview, Playwright Cassie M. Seinuk explains her intense writing and rewriting process for the play, with whom she would love to share a meal (I think that's a play waiting to be written), and her exciting new projects for 2016.

Cassie, thank you so much for interviewing with us.  Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Sure thing! I’m a Jewish-Cuban lady, hailing from a little place called North Woodmere, NY, but I’ve been in Boston for just over ten years and am so glad to have made this place my home.

Let’s see, I’m married to a music producer/engineer, we met online, and our first conversation was, yes, about the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers. I currently live in Brighton with two cats and a rescue dog, Haddie Snoo. When I’m not being a playwright, I’m an AEA stage manager and I also teach Hebrew, Drama, and Judaics in Newton.

Mostly, though, I love ice cream.

Tell us about your process for writing (and rewriting) Eyes Shut. Door Open.  What were some of your inspirations?

Oh golly, what question! Eyes Shut. Door Open, or ESDO as we fondly call it, began as a short story I wrote during my undergrad at Brandeis University. I was particularly interested in combining my love of East of Eden and the Cain and Abel story, and The Sandman, a short story by E. T. A. Hoffmann.

In grad school, at Lesley University, I adapted it into a 25-minute play, and from there into a full-length. After three years of workshopping and various readings, Wax Wings Productions offered me a production. Two months before we started rehearsal we did a weeklong workshop with director Christopher Randolph and our killer cast, and, during that process, I rewrote the entire play three times, and when I say “rewrote” I mean, scrapped hundreds of pages and began again. Then within the first week of rehearsal I rewrote about 73 pages again, and finally landed on a play we all felt confident in. I will be making additional edits and changes for the May 2016 production.

I don’t usually know how to describe my process, but yesterday in an email, a mentor of mine told me that I’m not precious about my plays, and I’d like to maintain that. Sometimes you have to make big, big cuts, and just trust the skin will scab over.

What are some of the challenges of writing for the modern theatre audience?  What are some of the more rewarding aspects?

ESDO is 100 minutes in length with no intermission, and is actually my first play without an intermission . . . it’s also my first play with just three characters.

Palmer (Michael Underhill) begs for forgiveness in this modern Cain and Abel play,  Eyes Shut. Door Open  (Photo Credit: Nile Scott Shots).

Palmer (Michael Underhill) begs for forgiveness in this modern Cain and Abel play, Eyes Shut. Door Open (Photo Credit: Nile Scott Shots).

There is a weird juxtaposition between what an audience wants these days and their attention spans alongside what Artistic Directors (on smaller budgets) want to see, few locations, few actors, and minimal tricks. I think ESDO appeals to both worlds, but also can get very big if someone has the $$$ to let it. There are magical elements to the show that can be done on a small budget and, I think, still stay affective, but they can also grow to fit a bigger space and budget.

I do however find it really rewarding to write for intimate spaces, and you really get a chance to hone in on that in a play like ESDO with just three characters and, mostly, one location. I also feel there is a drive to find new spaces to do theatre, and one of the cool things about ESDO’s Wax Wings production and the remount in May 2016, we used/will use found non-theatre spaces.

If you could change one thing about the Greater Boston theatre community in 2016, what would it be, and why?

More slots for new plays by local artists.

If you could get breakfast with two people, alive or dead, who would they be and why?  Where would you go?  What would you discuss?  What would you eat?

Wow. OK. Samuel Beckett and Kermit The Frog.

We’d go to this little French hole-in-the-wall brunch place in Hell’s Kitchen and I’d get their Eggs Benedict with spinach and avocado. Samuel Beckett would just drink black coffee. Kermit would come with his own meal of swampy delights. We would talk about Post-modernism and the fact that talking about post-modernism is post-modern.

Samuel Beckett because he is my favorite playwright and he is dark and creepy and I just love everything about that. And Kermit The Frog because that frog knows how to put up with difficult people and I’d want to pick his muppet-y green brain.

If one of your plays could be performed anywhere, which play would it be and where?

From the Deep ("FTD") in Israel, probably Haifa. I’d be very curious about how that would turn out and what it would mean to tell that story in a country that understands so much of the sadness and violence that haunts the characters in FTD.

Tell us something that most people don’t know about you.  Tell us something that you wish people knew about you.

I used to be sort of an athlete. I was a gymnast from three to sixteen years old, and then taught gymnastics into my early twenties. I was a (short-lived) member of the Brandeis University Fencing Team. I’ve been skiing in Australia and New Zealand. And I used to go to ice skating camp. But throw me a basketball and watch me fail!

I wish people knew that I’m a really slow reader. Oh! And that the M in my name really matters to me.

How do you reward yourself?  How do you inspire yourself?

Yoga, Reiki, ice cream, ice cream, ice cream. I watch a lot of Netflix, I read, listen to music, and talk to myself in the shower. But mostly I listen to people on the train and in public, and I people watch.

Do you read reviews of your plays?  Why or why not?

Yes. At this point in my career, I am still learning so much, and I feel like reviews are another place for me, right now, to learn how people are receiving my work… not the quality of it, whether it was “good” or “bad,” but how it is hitting people. I look forward to the day when I don’t read reviews anymore.

What advice would you give to young(er) playwrights?  What advice do you wish that you had received?

Advice: Go to grad school or find your people, or both.

I wish someone had told me earlier on to stop caring about produciblity and just write from my heart, that’s what of the hardest things to allow myself to do.

Do you have any upcoming projects?

I am currently a fellow of Next Voices at New Rep and developing my new family drama, Dream House. There will be a reading of this play in June.

Joanna (Melissa deJesus) and Palmer (Michael Underhill) observe the masterpieces of Palmer's brother, Turner (Victor Shopov, unseen) (Photo Credit: Nile Scott Shots).

Joanna (Melissa deJesus) and Palmer (Michael Underhill) observe the masterpieces of Palmer's brother, Turner (Victor Shopov, unseen) (Photo Credit: Nile Scott Shots).

I am also remounting Eyes Shut. Door Open as a self-producer along with co-producers Wax Wings Productions. The show will feature the same cast, Victor Shopov, Michael James Underhill, and Melissa deJesus, as well as the same director Christopher Randolph, and many of the same designers. The show will run May 12-27, 2016, at Warehouse XI in Somerville MA.

Do you have anything else to share with our ArtsImpulse readers?

You can learn more about my work at www.cassiemseinuk.com and more about ESDO at www.eyesshutdooropen.com.