Interview: Playwright Catya McMullen on the World Premiere of ARROWHEAD produced by IAMA Theatre Company

at Atwater Village Theater through March 4

By: Feb. 09, 2024
Interview: Playwright Catya McMullen on the World Premiere of ARROWHEAD produced by IAMA Theatre Company

Catya McMullen (pictured), a native New Yorker, now finds herself at home in Los Angeles. While working in film and television, her life-long love of theater inspired her to write plays. The world premiere of Arrowhead is her first being presented here, produced by IAMA at Atwater Village Theatre, directed by Jenna Worsham. I decided to speak with Catya about her journey to writing the play, why she set it in Arrowhead, its themes, and how it speaks to different generations of women about love and sexual identity.

Thank you, Catya for taking the time to speak with me today. For readers not familiar with your work, tell me how you got started writing plays.
I was a theater kid through and through growing up. One of my safe havens as a kid was performing all over and taking weekly acting classes at The Neighborhood Playhouse in NYC. It may sound trite, but writing has always been the way I make sense of the world.

Every Passover and Thanksgiving I would write musicals that I forced my jock cousins to perform, imagine eight-year-old lacrosse players pushing a plastic baby Moses down a river singing a biblical themed parody of “Row Row Row Your Boat.” I came back to writing in college, and once I started writing plays, I never looked back.

Tell me why you decided to become a writer.
The truth is, I’ve never been able or desiring of doing anything else (truly I have about four skills – my executive functioning is atrocious), so I’m glad it’s worked out. My dear friend Lucy Thurber always likes to say that after food and shelter we need stories so we’re not alone. That sums up a lot.

With a good play, or really a good piece of writing in general, the true impact is empathy. It’s what theater does best. It allows for a deeper conversation and understanding from our shared humanity as opposed to an idea.

Interview: Playwright Catya McMullen on the World Premiere of ARROWHEAD produced by IAMA Theatre Company

Kacie Rogers, Amielynn Abellera, Stefanie Black in Arrowhead. Photo by Jeff Lorch

Additionally, I’ve always been kind of a weirdo and with that comes a certain streak of being misunderstood. I had no idea if anyone would get my work, characters who showcase strange parts of myself and people I love. But I constantly find that when I just try to write honesty, people have connected to my work in ways that allow me to feel a deeper sense of belonging. Also, I absolutely love making people laugh!

What was the first play you wrote and how did it feel seeing your story played out onstage?
The first play I *count* I wrote in college was called The Collective and was totally bonkers and beautiful and wild. Ground UP Productions was a theater company formed by mostly UNC Alumni (Go Heels) who came down to do an annual residency with the undergrads. They did a staged reading of the play. Sitting in a packed house, experiencing the play work and people laugh, my life was never the same. I was done for.

The Collective was produced and I remember one of the performances, the house had emptied save two women in the front row who were crying and trying to compose themselves. The play was, in part, about complex trauma and repressed memory. Here were my insides on a platter in this production and (at least some) people not only enjoyed it, but some had a much deeper reaction I think we all felt more understood walking out that night. You can’t ask for anything else.

Interview: Playwright Catya McMullen on the World Premiere of ARROWHEAD produced by IAMA Theatre Company

Amielynn Abellera, Lindsay Coryne, Kacie Rogers and Stefanie Black in Arrowhead. Photo by Jeff Lorch
 

Look, I’m a comedy writer at heart; my artistic mission is to use humor to access vulnerability, so I want people to laugh and when they do it lights me up to no end.

How did you find IAMA and get your play produced there?
I met IAMA’s artistic director Stef Black (who is also a cast member of Arrowhead!) six years ago shortly before I moved to LA. We instantly bonded and they did a few readings of mine and ended up commissioning this play from me. It’s such a natural fit and we have a great shorthand. It’s been a blast.

Interview: Playwright Catya McMullen on the World Premiere of ARROWHEAD produced by IAMA Theatre Company

Adrián González and Nate Smith in Arrowhead. Photo by Jeff Lorch
 

How does writing plays differ from writing in film and television? And do you have a preference as to which one gives you the most joy?
I like to have a lot of pots cooking simultaneously. I think film, tv, and theater are all different beasts and are very different mediums. I’ll be doing theater for the rest of my life but I spend way less time with it than film and TV. This gives me the freedom to do theater for the joy of it. I’ve fallen in love with television, it’s so collaborative and there’s a magic to the pace and the camaraderie of a Writers Room.

Overall, I think all of it can be a headache or a joy, and a lot of it has to do with the mentality I bring to it.

Tell me about the Arrowhead story, especially why you set it there.
In honesty, I was late on my commission to IAMA and I was up at a friend’s place in Arrowhead on a little solo writer’s retreat and I just looked around and said, “this will do.”

Interview: Playwright Catya McMullen on the World Premiere of ARROWHEAD produced by IAMA Theatre Company

Kacie Rogers, Amielynn Abellera, Stefanie Black and Adrián González in Arrowhead. Photo by Jeff Lorch
 

Arrowhead is my love letter to queerness. It’s about a lesbian in a monogamous relationship who gets unexpectedly pregnant (yeah, it’s complicated) and decides to throw a secret “abortion party” with her straight friends from college at one of their lake houses. Also in attendance is her lesbian best friend, and a few other unexpected visitors show up.

While the play isn’t autobiographical, the questions it poses are intensely personal to me. What happens when what you want sexually conflicts with your identity, community, and feminism? It was not until my mid-twenties when I realized I was actually sexually attracted to men, which rocked not only my self concept, but also deeply affected so many of my most intimate queer relationships and my place in my community. In some ways, when I got into a relationship with a cis man, I became less safe to my lesbian friends, which was heartbreaking, but, I also had deep empathy for why. This play is a dialectic, it’s point is the conversation of a variety of points of view. More so than anything I’ve ever written, the experience you are having of these characters is likely vastly different than the person sitting next to you. The hope is that everyone who walks into the theater, regardless of sexuality or gender identity, is able to see at least some part of themselves reflected on stage.

Interview: Playwright Catya McMullen on the World Premiere of ARROWHEAD produced by IAMA Theatre Company

Amielynn Abellera and Kathleen Littlefield in Arrowhead. Photo by Jeff Lorch
 

It’s also not a singularly queer story. I think we all have been marred by patriarchy, regardless of sexuality and gender identity, and the play showcases several of those perspectives. My hope for an audience’s takeaway: it’s all complicated and no one is right and no one is wrong.

But…it’s a comedy. Our brilliant director Jenna always says this play is about laughing your way into a deeper conversation.

Re: the setting, I’ve had so many wonderful experiences in lake houses. There’s a coziness and an intimacy. This play requires a certain level of containment, it’s a pressure cooker and the setting really supports that. And, I realized after the fact, the title works as a nice metaphor, but that was something I stumbled upon.

Interview: Playwright Catya McMullen on the World Premiere of ARROWHEAD produced by IAMA Theatre Company

Kacie Rogers, Amielynn Abellera, Stefanie Black and Adrián González in Arrowhead. Photo by Jeff Lorch
 

Who are the main characters?
Our main characters are Gen, who has just cheated on her girlfriend with a man after spending her life as a gold star lesbian and, rightfully so, is in a bit of an identity crisis and damage control. We also have Cam, a masc of center lesbian and Gen’s best friend, who is out of place and grappling with an avalanche of questions and confusion. Gen’s best friends from college, Stacy – whose family owns the house – and Maggie. Stacy’s brother and his best friend also show up, and the play also features a series of Facetimes with Gen’s live-in long-term girlfriend Lily, who is engrossed in the building of a cat tree throughout the play and is oblivious as to the real reason for her girlfriend’s weekend away.

Are you planning to do talkbacks with audiences to gage their reaction to the story? Are there a few questions you are anticipating being asked?
Yes! This play is meant to be a conversation and we’re excited to have it with several different communities. IAMA has “pay what you can” community nights. On February 19th, which is a night specifically for the queer community (all are welcome, though) I will be in dialogue with several queer women and non binary folx. Arrowhead is very much about this moment in millennial queerness, and depending on which generation you’re in, your takeaways are very different.

On February 26th, there’s a “women+ in entertainment” night. There will be a post-show discussion with me and one of my mentors, the great titan Marti Noxon (and likely a few other special guests I’m VERY excited about). I don’t know what questions I’ll be asked, but I’m SO excited about both conversations.

 

Interview: Playwright Catya McMullen on the World Premiere of ARROWHEAD produced by IAMA Theatre Company

Amielynn Abellera, Adrián González, Kacie Rogers, Lindsay Coryne, Nate Smith in Arrowhead. Photo by Jeff Lorch
 

I heard you say that you “write what I like and if it scares me, I really get into it. From there, who I am emerges like a piece of music.”  What about writing this play scared you?
Oh boy, as I said, it’s a series of landmines. It’s a series of sometimes controversial views told with empathy (hopefully). I also think this is a real moment to explore the experience of bisexuality and biphobia. It definitely feels like a well-timed moment for it, but it’s possibly the most controversial thing I’ve ever written in some ways.

Arrowhead’s creative team includes scenic designer Carolyn Mraz; lighting designer Kai Hirota Magee; sound designer Eliza Vedar; costume designer Danae Iris McQueen; properties designer Nicole Bernardini; intimacy director Celina Surniak; and casting director Jordan Bass. Rosalind Bevan is associate director; Daniel Cyzpinski is the technical director; and Zaira ParedesVillegas is the production stage manager alongside assistant stage manager Isabella Gomez and wardrobe supervisor Athena Saxon. Quinn O’Connor produces and Katharine Means co-produces for IAMA Theatre Company.

Have you worked with any of them before? Or are they members of IAMA who usually work on their shows?
They are AMAZING! I haven’t worked with anyone but Jenna Worsham, our director. We came up together and have been working together for twelve years. I think in a lot of ways, we learned who we are as artists in rehearsal rooms with each other.

Interview: Playwright Catya McMullen on the World Premiere of ARROWHEAD produced by IAMA Theatre Company

Amielynn Abellera, Kacie Rogers, Lindsay Coryne and Stefanie Black n Arrowhead. Photo by Jeff Lorch
 

What I will say is that we have a mostly queer design team, which has been so wonderful and special to have the design come alive through a queer gaze and also celebration. It’s personal in a totally different way. And…it’s wonderful.

Since you do so much more than writing plays, tell me about your role as co-creator of The Homebound Project with Jenna Worsham (who is directing Arrowhead) a fundraising theater initiative for No Kid Hungry, which raised over $150,000 to help feed hungry children affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. Is it based in Los Angeles and still operating?
Homebound was a virtual theater fundraising initiative in 2020 to support No Kid Hungry, a campaign of
Share Our Strength, an organization committed to ending childhood hunger. We commissioned a series of short plays by some of our favorite playwrights for some of our favorite actors. We did six installments; each had their own theme. Ultimately, we raised over $150,000. No Kid Hungry is able to really stretch a dollar, and this money funded 1.5 million meals for children in need.

Homebound came about in the beginning of the pandemic. Jenna and I were going crazy. People were getting sick, our respective cities of New York and Los Angeles were falling apart, and we were faced with a feeling I think most non-first responders were faced with: a deep desire to make and do something. As artists our job has always been to reflect whatever realities we’re facing, but suddenly our jobs were to stay home.

Interview: Playwright Catya McMullen on the World Premiere of ARROWHEAD produced by IAMA Theatre Company

Amielynn Abellera, Stefanie Black, Kacie Rogers, Adrián González and Nate Smith in Arrowhead. Photo by Jeff Lorch
 

I’ve always found in difficult moments where I’ve felt helpless, especially in moments of national and international crises, I’ve had an awareness that everyone else likely feels similarly. Finding a way to create and be a part of something that both makes an impact and brings people together has always been a way I’ve found comfort. This was also true of our all-volunteer staff and the hundred+ artists who generously donated their time and talents. These included Pulitzer, Obie and Drama Desk winners, along with artists such as Amanda Seyfried, Sting, Diane Lane, Janelle Monae and many, many more. It was a really beautiful and gratifying experience. Our sixth installment was in the beginning of 2021.

How about the experience of writing the feature film adaptation of Marjorie Finnegan Temporal Criminal for Margot Robbie’s Lucky Chap Productions?
I’m still in it! It’s my greatest artistic challenge to date. I can’t say much, but it’s a time travel movie, with both Monty Python-esque trips through time with various historical figures, but at its heart it’s a complex and emotional family story. It has required almost a year of historical research, learning quantum physics, and navigating a wildly varied tone that comes together in a cohesive way. It’s been a blast. I’ve been a massive fan of Garth Ennis, who wrote the comic book, and I immediately fell in love with this story and characters, which is an added honor.

Interview: Playwright Catya McMullen on the World Premiere of ARROWHEAD produced by IAMA Theatre Company

Amielynn Abellera and Lindsay Coryne in Arrowhead. Photo by Jeff Lorch
 

I’ve had the most incredible partners in Ruben Fleischer, our amazing director, along with LuckyChap, AWA Studios and Camp Hobart, our producers. It’s a labor of love for all of us and this collaboration has been a dream.

Thanks so much! I look forward to seeing it!

Interview: Playwright Catya McMullen on the World Premiere of ARROWHEAD produced by IAMA Theatre Company

Arrowhead opened on Thursday, Feb. 8 at 8 p.m., with performances thereafter on Fridays, Saturdays, and Mondays at 8 p.m., and on Sundays at 2 p.m. through March 4 (dark Monday, February 12). All tickets are $40, except Monday. Feb. 19 and Monday, Feb. 26, which are Pay-What-You-Can, and previews February 3-7 which are $25. Performances take place at Atwater Village Theatre, located at 3269 Casitas Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90039. Free parking is available in the ATX (Atwater Crossing) lot one block south of the theater. For reservations and information, call (323) 380-8843 or go to iamatheatre.com.




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