Director of dramaturgy Sara Keats spoke to writer-performer duo Claire Koleske and Roland Carette-Meyers about their first collaboration, “Ways in Which We’ve Failed to Manage Our Anxiety” and their upcoming show, “42 Things You Need to Know About My Day.” The conversation spanned mental health, fatherhood and developing new work together in Seattle.
Sara Keats: So are you guys writing partners? How did you meet and how did you start writing together?
Roland Carette-Meyers: We were hired within days of each other for our first big deal theater jobs [at Seattle Repertory Theatre] and from first getting to know each other we wanted to work together — we’ve wanted to build something for years.
Claire Koleske: I think on day two, we were getting our photos taken at the Rep and you went, “Do you wanna do a show together eventually sometime?” And I was like, “Yeah.” [chuckle] And here we are—
Roland Carette-Meyers: It took four years.
Claire Koleske: It only took four years.
Roland Carette-Meyers: It took four years to find a project that made sense for us to collaborate on. It started with an idea, a seed of a show that I was kind of building over here and it was a bad show and I felt like it was missing something and it turns out that thing it was missing was Claire and her brain. And so, we did one [Ways in Which We’ve Failed to Manage Our Anxiety] and that was great, and we’re gonna do the next one [42 Things You Should Know About My Dad] and we’re doing this other one later. Until she gets tired of working with me, I think it’s a thing.
Claire Koleske: Most of the time I write fiction, which is pretty solitary. This work is so deeply autobiographical that having a collaborator to be brave with is a big help. All of my practice interviews with Ellen in the shower are going somewhere—they’re going into this work.
Roland Carette-Meyers: Most of my writing since 2014 has been academic, which has been so rewarding, but there’s something about Claire’s sensibility as a storyteller and skills that have helped me re-discover my ability to tell a story without having to cite any sources. And I don’t know if it would be any other type of show that we could write together other than this one that is so very specific in its shape. That being said, I do still want to write a Great British Bake-Off musical and I can’t imagine a better collaborator on that. [chuckle] That will be my bucket list show and then I’ll be done with theater.
Sara Keats: What is the elevator pitch for Ways [in Which We’ve Learned to Manage Our Anxiety]?
Claire Koleske: Two millennials walk into a theater space and proceed to talk about their anxiety.
Roland Carette-Meyers: Yeah, it’s Claire and me stressing out in public.
Claire Koleske: Oh, I love that! Literally stressing out in public.
Roland Carette-Meyers: But it is a uniquely millennial flavor of stress.
Claire Koleske: The thing that I walked away from the show with, the biggest piece of—not feedback, but the most common interaction was, “Oh my gosh, it was so relatable.”
Roland Carette-Meyers: There’s this common trope of the stressed out millennial who, it’s like: “Oh, you’re saddled with student debt and you won’t buy a house until you’re a hundred and your generation isn’t going to have any kids and you’re gonna have a bunch of dogs and…” all of these things necessarily being problems.”
Sara Keats: Right. Avocado toast.
Roland Carette-Meyers: Avocado toast and AOC and that’s all we care about!
Claire Koleske: Pretty much.
Roland Carette-Meyers: And there’s a lot of humor in that, but it’s also really, really true. It’s a unique type of stress.
Sara Keats: All those things are emblematic., right?
Roland Carette-Meyers: Right. Sometimes I actually am really stressed out about things like student debt, for example, and I get mad that I have to worry about that because my parents never had to worry about that, my kids probably won’t have to… and there’s all of the things that are needling at me and not being able to do anything about it.
Sara Keats: So was the start of the process, like “Okay, we’re gonna tell a story about millennials,” or was it like “We’re gonna do some introspective stuff,” and then it resulted in something that felt more emblematic on our generation?
Claire Koleske: I think when we set off it was two very unique stories about who we are deeply as people. My half of the story related very much to my experience growing up and being bullied, my experience finding a community in theater, my experience losing a community in theater, my high school ex-boyfriend and a lot of moments that I felt like were so deeply personal to me, but then stepping back, I realized had this broader truth in them.
Roland Carette-Meyers: My part of the show was born when I decided to start training to run a marathon and started keeping a training journal to document, “On Tuesday, I ran four miles and it took this long, and there were this many hills and it felt like this.” It was supposed to be a very technical thing, because that’s how you hold yourself accountable. I stopped holding myself accountable in that way and started writing, “I did four miles and here’s a paragraph about how that felt, and here’s how that run or the meals I ate during the day or the fact that I didn’t drink any water started to hit the narrative of my day.” Suddenly I’ve got this training journal that’s helping draw a very clear line between my physical health and my mental health.
Claire Koleske: Basically the crux of that show is like, “What are your anxiety management strategies? How have they failed?” So there’s one bit where I talk about just lists and how much I love lists and I talked about my bucket list… which led to this just bit of me playing the accordion…
Roland Carette-Meyers: My mom and dad and little brother were there, and they had never ever heard me tell a story about a time that I tried to kill myself, or a time that I struggled with drinking too much and not doing anything else. And I figured like, “Oh great, perfect. My parents are going to be uncomfortable with this. This is going to cause some tension between us.” And then my dad comes up to me [after the show] and he’s like, “Yeah, me too.”
What’s Next for Ways
Sara Keats: What’s next for this show? I know you’re writing another one, but what’s next for Ways?
Claire Koleske: I would like to see a further character layer, particularly on my piece. We’re already separating our real selves from the characters we play in the show, but I think that could go further.
Roland Carette-Meyers: It gave permission enough to fictionalize some of the details. It keeps the play from being like, “Oh, here’s this timeline of our mental health crises.” timeline and so that we don’t put anyone else in an uncomfortable position.
Claire Koleske: Oh, but like and I call out my middle school bully in the play and I use her full name, [chuckle] which I probably shouldn’t do.
Roland Carette-Meyers: Some people deserve it.
There’s more! Read Part 2 here.
42 Things You Need to Know About My Dad plays May 16 and May 31 at 7:30 PM at the Copious Love space in Ballard. Tickets are available now at www.copious.art.