An Interview with Playwright Kate Danley
One of the things that drew our Artistic Director to your play was the fact that it’s so firmly rooted in the screwball farce tradition but was written so recently. What was your impetus to write a play in this style?
Kate Danley: They say, “Write what you know,” but I’m more of a believer that you should “Write what you love.” And I have always loved the storytelling of the Golden Age. Some of my favorite memories were sitting around with my family watching Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers every Sunday night, and listening to the radio shows of Gracie Allen and George Burns.
The writing from this era is so rooted in wit, language, rhythms, and wordplay. As a writer, that is a ball pit of joy to dive into and explore.
What do you consider the main elements that bring the play into the modern day?
Kate Danley: There are stock characters and tropes from the era of the screwball, born from the vaudeville circuit, which, sadly, have disappeared from the theatrical zeitgeist in America. One of the tropes of screwball was placing female characters front and center and there were enormous opportunities for comedic women during this era. I think as we continue to have the conversation about women in comedy, the world of screwball gives the actors of today a “norm” of freedom that is rare to find in modern plays.
Having only read Building Madness, I’m curious about your creative voice. What makes your work distinctive?
Kate Danley: I cut my playwriting teeth through the world of improv, sketch, and standup in Los Angeles. It was there that I learned structure and how to write a joke. The character of Trixie and the bit about the typewriter actually first appeared as a two-minute opening sketch to a Friday night show. As a performer myself, I consider myself a character actor. However, I noticed that most plays relegate these roles to the back of the stage. However, every theatre has a character actor who steals every show they’re in. You know the ones! They step on the stage and just shine. I wanted to write a show where those actors really get their moment in the sun.
Can you speak a bit about your novels? You are prolific. If a patron is interested in reading your work, where do you suggest they start?
Kate Danley: I’m a USA Today bestselling author and have about a million books circling the globe. And in May 2023, will even have one circling around the globe! My book, The Woodcutter, is going to the moon and will be left there in a time capsule as part of the first commercial payload to that great rock in the sky. The Woodcutter is probably the best entry point for my writing. Although, Maggie for Hire is an urban fantasy about a supernatural bounty hunter in Los Angeles who takes down vampires and werewolves and has been optioned for television. However, if folks’ tastes run more toward the realistic, I write cozy mysteries under the name of Agatha Ball. (I call them my “feel-good murders.”)
This is the professional premiere! What are you hoping to see from Harlequin’s production? (And are you planning to attend?)
Kate Danley: I’m so excited to see my words brought to life by the professional team at Harlequin. As a playwright, I have found a script is never done. It is always a conversation and each production deepens my understanding of the characters and the world and enlightens me in ways I never would have seen on my own. It is what makes this art form so exciting. When you publish a book, that’s that. But when you send a script out into the world, it’s just the beginning. It becomes greater than you and a conglomerate of each person who touches it.
And I have to say, in addition to this being Building Madness’s professional world premiere, this is my first professional production, full stop. It is an enormous honor, and I am eternally grateful to Harlequin Productions for taking the risk to support new work and my voice.
(And I will absolutely be there to see the show multiple times! I can hardly wait!)