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Hot Dust

nytheatre.com q&a preview by Catharine Dill
January 18, 2013

What is your job on this show?
Director, Co-creator.

What is your show about?
Part seance, part sermon, HOT DUST is a sympathetic and visceral examination of two strains of American religious fervor, both distinguished by charismatic female leaders: 19th Century Spiritualism and the Pentecostalism of the 1920s. HOT DUST compares these two movements through a single character-- Sister, a conflicted leader who uses her gifts of perception and charm to both survive and self-destruct.

Where were you born? Where were you raised? Where did you go to school?
I was born in Santa Maria, California, in northern Santa Barbara County. I lived there until I was 11, when my family moved to the Arkansas Ozarks. I lived there until I went to college at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. I got a BA in theater there and then moved to New York.

Why do you do theater (as opposed to film, or TV, or something not in the entertainment field)?
I don't know if I ever chose to do theater; I think that I gravitated to it, and it always excited me, but I am constantly re-choosing it with each project. I like movies a lot, but when I think of doing TV or film, I am fantasizing about a paycheck. When I have an idea that excites me, I think of theater. I like the limitations of theater and the fact that it is live. I like being able to create whatever I want without having to seek the approval of producers and executives. I have a lot of friends in that business and I am fascinated by the hoops that they must go through to get a project done. That said, I constantly fantasize about writing a treatment or screenplay that will fund my work. I can pretty much guarantee anything I came up with would go un-produced, however.

Why did you want to write/direct/produce/act in/work on this show?
For a long time, I've been interested in women who lead religious movements. Like a lot of people, I was beguiled by a show of spirit photography at The Met some years ago, and always wanted to recreate ectoplasm onstage. I was also attracted to the inherent theatricality of a seance. At the same time, I have always loved the character of Aimee Semple McPherson. I was in the middle of working on my last show, Ye're Here, Cuzin! when I thought of putting these two movements back to back in one show. There is something in each of them that spoke to me: they are strange, headstrong women who created their own insular worlds in which they made the rules—like a female director. Each one also seemed to be a natural fit for my collaborator, the performer Sharla Meese. I wanted to deepen our working relationship, and HOT DUST has been perfect for that.

Which famous New Jerseyite would like your show the best: Snooki, Bruce Springsteen, Thomas Edison?
Edison actually looms large over HOT DUST, particularly Act 1. He is, as we say in the show, “the telegraph operator who creates the filament.” I’m not sure if that means he would like it, though. Snooki might dig some of the special effects, if I am correct about who she is in the first place.

If you had ten million dollars that you had to spend on theatrical endeavors, how would you use the money?
This is the second time in the month that I've had an opportunity to spend an imaginary windfall, and I hope that perhaps if I keep answering it, perhaps someone will provide real money! Ten million dollars would be more than enough to set up Exploding Moment for life; our budgets are very low. My first order of business would be to pay everyone a working wage, and to inhabit a work space that we could use exclusively (as opposed to the lovely workspace we currently share). Beyond that, I'd be tempted to use the remaining money to generate work from other theater groups—maybe a workspace for other hybrid theater artists who need it, or a performance space that specializes in the work of very new artists. I'm also interested in theater education programs, and I'd be inclined to create one or fund one that already exists.