Nina Mansfield on her career and her craft
May 17, 2016
Playwright Nina Mansfield, author of Erasing the Brain, answers questions about her career, playwriting, and the theatre.
Q: What was the play you saw or read that made you think: “this theatre thing is what I want to do for the rest of my life”?
A: I saw Annie on Broadway when I was seven. I remember thinking how I wished I was up on that stage. I got the cast album and listened to it repeatedly on our stereo. This was back in the days of records, and the lyrics were printed on the sleeve of the record album. I would sit there and sing along to “Maybe” over and over again.
Q: What was your first job in the theatre?
A: I started off my theatrical career as an actor. The first play I acted in was a Russian language play at the Russian school I attended on Saturdays when I was eight or nine years old. I played “The Wind” in a version of Snow White. I was terrible! For some reason, the following year they gave me the lead role in Sleeping Beauty. I was a terrible ham, but I was definitely hooked.
Q: I think we find inspiration in the work of others. I often find myself wishing I had written a particular play/moment/character, and that’s when I realize I have developed a playwriting crush (these are ever changing and different from your playwright loves). Who is your playwriting crush and why?
A: Tom Stoppard. I love Arcadia. I seriously briefly considered naming my daughter Arcadia because I love that plays so much. I love the layers and the wit.
Q: What’s your favorite line of dialogue/moment/character you’ve ever written? You can share why, but you don’t have to.
A: “You were piling out of the trunk of that compact car. There were nineteen other clowns with you, but for me, there was just one.” It’s from my short play Clown Therapy. It still makes me laugh.
Q: How do you define success? What have you sacrificed for your career?
A: For me, success is when I’ve written something that makes me happy. I can’t say that I’ve sacrificed anything for my career—except my sanity at times!
Q: What’s the biggest mistake you’ve ever made? Give one piece of advice you wish you were given when you started.
A: I wish I had taken my writing seriously sooner. It’s funny, because a good friend of mine told me in high school that I should be a writer, not an actor. I don’t regret the years I spent acting, but I wish I had started writing—really writing—sooner.
Q: How has your writing changed over time?
A: This is a tough question to answer because I feel like my writing is constantly changing. What I write today will be very different than what I write tomorrow.
Q: If, for some reason, you were suddenly forbidden to write, what would you do to fill that void?
A: I’d scrapbook, cook and make funny cat videos.
Q: Please take a minute to describe the journey of creating one of your plays published by YouthPLAYS in your own words (take into account impulse, writing complications, production history, discovery, what it’s about versus what it is trying to say, etc.).
A: I wrote Erasing the Brain at a time when I was teaching playwriting to high school students. One of the things I taught was how it is necessary for characters to have a strong objective. But I can’t really remember how the idea for Erasing the Brain came to me. Often my plays start with a line of dialogue. And then I think about what the characters want. Once I let an idea percolate, I tend to write my ten-minute plays very quickly. I don’t think about what I am trying to say when I sit down to write a play. I just let the characters go after what they want. Sometimes they get what they want, and sometimes they don’t. At the time that I wrote Erasing the Brain, I was in a playwriting group at a theater company called Turtle Shell Productions in New York. I brought in the first draft of the play. When the actors read it aloud, I knew I had something.