130 Plays Later: An Interview with Writers House instructor Caridad Svich


October 25th, 2018

By Emily Ezzo '19 

“We have to lean on the pioneers and see how we can move that conversation forward.” ~Caridad Svich

This week, I sat down with Writers House instructor Caridad Svich, to discuss her past and present work as a playwright. Svich revealed that she’s completed 130 plays. Her latest is titled STAND, a story “about rage and power, and the female-identifying,” in response to the #MeToo movement.

Not only is she a prolific, award-winning playwright, but she is also a translator, lyricist, and editor. Throughout her career, Svich's writing has been fearless and bold, consistently breaking conventional boundaries. She teaches her students to do the same, encouraging uncensored narratives. 

Like me, Svich is inspired by the ancient Greeks -- the Greeks being the brilliant people who gave us theatre and drama in the first place. Below is part of our conversation, when ancient Greek plays came up:

EMILY: And also, with the Greeks, it’s fascinating that their representations of women are so complex.

CARIDAD: So complex.

EMILY: People forget that. People think of ancient Greece, and they say, “Obviously women were oppressed.” Which is true, in many ways. 

CARIDAD: Yes, it is.

EMILY: And yet! We have figures like Medea and Clytemnestra.

CARIDAD: Well, they just knew: That’s where the story is! With these women. How they’re being abused by society. And either you’re watching them being mistreated, or you see, like Medea, how she’s wrestling with the fact that she’s both in a system that she can’t change, but she’s also wanting to change it. And that changes her. That’s what happens in that story. And Clytemnestra is caught, in her relationship. And she’s been raped. I mean, these are all women who have been deeply traumatized. They’re living with trauma, being asked to either be silent, or act out. And they act out in a big way. As they should.

EMILY: Right. It’s so fascinating, too, to think about writing in that era versus writing now. This is really the first time in history where we have a voice as women. We can say whatever we want, breaking these boundaries, breaking the idea of what a woman is. It’s so important to write about it, and to make these characters. You know, I saw a funny meme the other day. It said something along the lines of, “I don’t think male writers understand that ‘a strong female lead’ doesn’t have to involve guns and fighting.” It just means she’s a complex character, a complex woman.

CARIDAD: Right. Exactly.

EMILY: What would you say to female writers who are afraid of alienating men?

CARIDAD: (laughing) What an interesting question. In terms of subject matter?

EMILY: Yeah, subject matter. And also, saying what it is they really want to say, without being afraid of the reception.

CARIDAD: The historical problem with women in writing is that women were silenced for so long, by not being allowed to write. So women have had to rest in that place, sometimes underground, sometimes under an alias. There are so many ways women have created space for themselves to walk into the world of literature. So, to me, what is amazing is what great strides we’ve made. But, compounded with that is the fact that, if we’re thinking of the English language, it’s a male language. So, we’re inheriting a language that’s structurally male, and we’re trying to write our stories using that language. How do we do that? You have to figure out how you’re going to make that space your own -- which is Virginia Woolf’s big battle -- and understand the contradictory, and problematic, and paradoxical nature of that. You have to figure out how to break it open. And in the breaking it open, that is when difficult human truths emerge. So, whether that alienates other people? Well, that’s their problem, not the writer’s problem. You don’t know how people are going to respond. But, certainly, hiding in your work? That’s the worst thing you can do.

After speaking with her, I found myself newly inspired. I went home and wrote a piece, without thinking of how others would view my words. It’s natural, as budding writers, to be afraid of criticism. But you can never sort of break new ground; you have to fully go for it. As Svich advises, “We have to lean on the pioneers and see how we can move that conversation forward.” 

Got that, writers? Hiding in your work is the worst thing you can do. Whatever it is you’re afraid to write? Write it anyway. That’s what Caridad Svich would tell you!

Our stories do matter. They matter now, and they will matter in the future. We’re still talking about ancient Greek plays over a thousand years later. Why? They are surprising works that move beyond expected boundaries  and continue to surprise us.

(Here’s a writing prompt for you, prompted by this interview: Write a scene about two characters who are discussing the #MeToo movement. Let their views be opposing.)

One of my favorite plays of Caridad's is IPHIGENIA CRASH LAND FALLS ON THE NEON SHELL THAT WAS ONCE HER HEART. In this play, Caridad takes the ancient Greek story of Iphigenia (ih-fa-je-nai-uh) and she twists it into a contemporary tale. In her version of the story, Achilles is transgender, and the chorus of girls is played by men. The girls are the murdered girls of Ciudad Juárez.  Essentially, the twisted tale that she has written compares a modern tragedy of murdered women to an ancient tragedy of murdered women. She has taken an uncomfortable topic and written a provocative play. This is a fantastic example of “breaking it open,” as Caridad put it. We should all be aiming for "breaking it open."

130 plays later, and Svich is still writing. If you’re interested in theatre, or curious about the form, take Caridad’s playwriting class in the spring. 

“Playwriting”: 01:351:308, Wednesdays 9:50 - 12:50.