Interview with Carter W. Lewis

Spotlight on the playwright of Evie’s Waltz by Allison Garrett

In the past you’ve said you choose the subjects of your plays based on issues that are particularly frustrating to you. With that in mind, what frustrated you to write Evie’s Waltz?

I was perplexed by the post school shooting “press and pundits”. The blame game was over simplified and I couldn’t see these terrible events being created by any singular ingredient or cause.

Responsibility and blame seem so central to Evie’s Waltz. Where do you believe blame and/or responsibility lies when violent acts, particularly school shootings, are committed by children, teenagers and/or young adults?

I don’t think you can pin these events on one thing. This is why I wrote the play – to get the rattling out of my head, to sort thru all these projected causes. I think these situations are based less on a single cause and more of a tragically woven fabric. That’s what’s so perplexing. If we start legislating based on the over-simplification of these events we are only fanning the flames of social paranoia. The media tends to jump on the cause that is most appreciated by its constituents – these rudderless kids today, multi-tasking negligent parents, NRA’s proliferation of weapons, violence in TV and film, Marilyn Manson’s music, etc. I think these events spring from a somewhat flawed culture and are more due to a convergence of many circumstances than one single cause.

Do you believe violence in media (music, television, video games, etc) has an impact?

Only as part of the larger picture. Art is a reflection of our country’s life. And our country is violent. Is art imitating life or vice versa? Or is our country violent because a corporate governed country has redefined values as monetary and transitory. Violence in media is almost a chicken or egg question. And I like violence in some films. I think a few “fuck yous” and shots to the head are part of our landscape, and unfortunately the landscape is where we live. 

Bullying has been a hot topic in the past decade. There are many theories about how to best handle and manage bullying, especially when it involves minors and takes place at school. Did your research illuminate anything for you personally? Are you familiar with the It Gets Better video campaign? Do you think this is an effective way of addressing topics like bullying?

Not fair, that’s three questions. Bullying, like most problems, also comes from a complicated set of circumstances. I’ve seen schools that are plagued by it, and schools that are for the most “bullying-free”. Bullying is fear based. It’s insecure kids acting out. We’ve done a lot of post show discussions around the country with Evie’s Waltz. We’ve done them with kids at risk, inner city schools, school-shooting therapists – we even did a post show in NY with a large group of police officers who were being specially trained for handling “young armed perpetrators in hostage circumstances”. And yes, I am familiar with the “It Gets Better”. It’s a bit of a different target, but I think it’s good. And I think it will help. Just like “Scared Straight” helped. But these are temporary fixes. The larger fixes are almost beyond our control in this country at the moment. Our politics are too divisive, and the power has already been awarded to the wrong social contingent – corporate governance.

In Evie’s Waltz, as in many of your other plays, the setting is markedly suburban. What about this setting lends itself to your
storytelling?

I chose a suburban neighborhood mostly because the prototype of school shootings has been white upper middle class kids.

Any thoughts about Evie’s Waltz being staged in Philadelphia, a city still plagued with violent crime and a high murder rate, mostly
perpetrated by young adults?

I live five miles from East St. Louis. Our violent kids can crush your violent kids. (Bad joke sorry). Unfortunately, I don’t think Philly is any different than a lot of American Cities. You may feel that because you live there – and I may be wrong – but I’ve seen this play in many cities, and the face of these issues looks very similar everywhere – except Orange County.

Simpatico Theatre Project’s mission focuses on addressing and ultimately discussing the issues facing Philadelphia residents through theatre. What do you believe theatre’s role in a community discussion to be? Is this congruent with what it is, what it can and/or should be?

The joy of this play has been those honest community discussions. At Geva Theatre we did a performance and post show on the day of a school shooting. The play and the theatre became a bit of a healing center. The next play I wrote was a response to all the post-show and community discussions on Evie. In all the Evie discussions, one element of hope always jumped out from the kids who had survived these events and issues. Most of them had survived because, while they stood on the threshold of violence, they were saved by an act of creation. They were taught to dance or write or sing or juggle or act or paint or whatever. So the next play, The Storytelling Ability of a Boy, is about a bullied young man who is on the verge of an act of violence which is then truncated by an act of creativity. So, I think theatres role is waaay beyond just community discussion, I think it can heal and save. Hurray for Simpatico.

What issues do you see as being particularly troubling (or frustrating) now? Do you anticipate some of these issues making their
way into your work?

I am about to premiere a play called The Cha Cha of a Camel Spider. It’s about privatized military (and spoken word poetry). It’s sort of the next step after Storytelling. I think privatization is the tip of a nasty iceberg, and when it comes to international defense with companies like Blackwater (or Xe as they are now called) we are stepping onto an entirely new slippery slope. So, I use the same idea in that play – an act of creation “transcending” and actually altering time and space through the spoken word. And my last two plays, The Americans Across the Street and Hit-Story are about american anger. The fury building in our lower and middle classes, and the divisive nature of our neighborhoods.

What is coming up next for you?

I have four world premieres in the next 12 months. Yikes. Cha Cha of a Camel Spider premieres at Florida Stage in May; Hit Story premieres at OnSite Theatre in St. Louis in November; a play yet to be named/written premieres at Washington University where I am currently Playwright-in-Residence; and The Americans Across the Street premieres at Florida Stage in May 2012. So, workshops, traveling, writing, teaching – all interspersed with golf, running, horseracing and hanging out with my dog, Bucket.

Thanks for letting me drone on. Best to all at Simpatico – thanks for doing the play!