The playwright of Morning After Grace, Carey Crim, took time to answer some of our questions about her theatre background and the inspiration behind this surprising, funny, moving, and heartfelt play, on stage at the IRT through February 9!
Tell us more about your experience and background in theatre, from acting to playwriting. With this range of experience, what’s it like seeing your plays come to life on stage?
I started acting in a local children’s theater when I was eight and stayed until I was eighteen. I grew up in that theater. It was my second home. I then went to Northwestern University where I continued to study acting and spent a summer at The Royal Court in London. After graduation, I returned to London to work for six months and spent a short stint in LA. When I returned home, I got my equity card under Geoffrey Sherman doing Arcadia at Meadow Brook Theater. I was sure I was on the acting path for good.
I began working at The Purple Rose in my early twenties. Lanford Wilson came in to write a play specifically for them. There were a couple of roles that they didn’t have a company member for and I was lucky enough to land one of those. It was a Master class in writing, directing and acting. I had a small role so I was able to observe how everyone worked. I loved watching Lanford make changes and spy on us at the bar or elsewhere (but often the bar) and come in the next day with new pages. He was never precious with his words but knew what he wanted. He and Guy Sanville made an excellent team. The seeds of playwriting were planted in me then, but it would be years before I would be brave enough to try it myself.
I moved to New York, still planning to continue acting. At some point, I began writing my own audition monologues. I would make up the name of a playwright and play because I didn’t want people to know I had written my own. I used the name of a girl I had gone to summer camp with named Kate Phelan. I hadn’t seen her for thirty years but we met for coffee recently and I confessed. She is now a brilliant cinematographer.
I started getting better feedback on the monologues themselves than the auditions. One night, after what I thought was a particularly good audition, a director called. No, I hadn’t booked the job, but he liked the monologue so much that he had sent his assistant out to Drama Books to find it. What a surprise, she couldn’t find my made up play. It was raining and I felt guilty and fessed up. He laughed and told me if I ever did write that play, he’d be interested in reading it.
It took years, but I finally did write that play. Unfortunately by then, I had lost the director’s name and contact information. I thank him, wherever he is. So, I sent the play to Guy Sanville at The Purple Rose and they did it the following season. A wonderful partnership was born and I realized how much happier I was on the other side of the table.
Seeing my plays come to life on stage is one of the most fulfilling experiences I can describe. As a writer, I spend a lot of time alone with the voices in my head, so I love the collaborative aspects of rehearsal and performance. I love the chance to get out of myself. Seeing actors and directors and designers take the spine of those characters and make the story their own is an absolute joy. Morning After Grace at IRT ranks high among my all time favorites. They did a beautiful job and I’m so glad audiences are responding the way they are.
Morning After Grace is part comedy, part coming of age story, part drama, and an entirely unexpected look at aging. What drew you to the world of Baby Boomers and wanting to write this story in this way?
The inspiration came from a number of places. The play was a commission from the Purple Rose to write for two specific actors: Randy Mantooth and Michelle Mountain. Lynch Travis then came in as Ollie. Randy had been on the TV show Emergency in the Seventies and, though he had just turned seventy himself and battled cancer, he was still very much the same guy that girls had posters of on their walls and boys on their lunch boxes. I wanted to write a story for him that let him be all those things while still navigating grief and aging and love. The same went for Abigail and Ollie. They were characters of a certain age and, though that informed them, it did not define them.
Around the time the commission came in, my parents had moved into a retirement community. So I paid a lot of attention to that world whenever I went to visit and had many interesting and often hilarious conversations. Many of them ended up in the script. Also, I am just a generation behind the Boomers so I thought of my own life and how I hope to move through it as I age.
In a three-person play, each character must be able to challenge, encourage, and reveal different elements about each other. What inspired your creation of Ollie, Abigail, and Angus?
They were each inspired by people that I know. But then they took off and became their own characters. I wanted them to be three people who I would like to hang out with...People I would miss when they weren’t around. I wanted them to have core values in common but enough differences to set them at odds and create conflict. I wanted people who were smart and funny and flawed. I had a good sense of who they were apart but once I put them in a room together, they really began to reveal themselves to me. This was one of those plays where it felt more like the characters were revealing themselves to me rather than me creating them.
What’s one thing you’d like to do in retirement?
Live near water, hang out more with my husband, learn to play guitar and finally get fluent in Spanish. (Okay that was four.)
Catch the final performances of Morning After Grace at the IRT! Tickets available at irtlive.com!
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