Skip to main content Skip to footer site map

Interview: Emily Schwend and UTILITY Presented by The Amoralists

The Amoralists will present the World Premiere of UTILITY, written by Emily Schwend and directed by Jay Stull. The play will be performed at Rattlesnake Playwrights Theater from January 28th to February 20th. The cast includes James Kautz, Vanessa Vache, Alex Grubbs, and Melissa Hurst. had the opportunity to interview playwright, Emily Schwend about the show and her career.

In UTILITY, Amber has two jobs, three kids and an eight-year-old's birthday party to plan. The house needs fixing up and her on-again, off-again husband Chris just can't help but make things worse. As Amber struggles to keep things from boiling over, she finds herself a stranger to the person she once was and the person she thought she might be.

Emily Schwend's plays include THE OTHER THING (2015 Uptown Series at Second Stage Theatre), TAKE ME BACK (Walkerspace in NY, New York Times Critics' Pick, The Poor Theatre in Chicago), SOUTH OF SETTLING (Next Up Rep at Steppenwolf), SPLINTERS (CUDC Source Festival), ROUTE ONE OFF, CARTHAGE and BEHIND THE MOTEL. She was the 2014 Tow Foundation playwright-in-residence at Second Stage Theatre. Emily is the recipient of the Lecomte du Nouy Prize, a MacDowell Fellowship, the 2013 Heideman Prize, the 2011 ACT New Play Award, and the 2009 David Calicchio Emerging American Playwrights Prize. She is a frequent contributor to Christine Jones's Theatre for One booth. Recently, her work has been commissioned by Ensemble Studio Theatre through the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and by the Old Vic in London. Emily is from Texas, and she's a proud alumna of the playwriting programs at Juilliard and Tisch.

Tell us about your earliest interest in writing.

I didn't grow up seeing theater, but my parents did take me to see the musical CATS when I was eight years old. I loved it, and I went home and wrote an extremely derivative play that my second grade teacher put up one afternoon in the school cafeteria. I thought I had invented something new -- a musical without music -- but later discovered that wasn't true and that plays had existed for millennia. Stuck with it, though.

Who have been some of your important mentors?

I've had many, but the person I hear in my head when I'm dealing with conflict, rehearsal stress or writers block is Marsha Norman, who taught me the importance of respecting myself as a playwright and demanding that respect from everyone else.

Favorite writers?

My favorite writers are Kazuo Ishiguro, Alice Munro, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and Elizabeth Strout. I love Flannery O'Connor's short story "A Good Man Is Hard to Find." The narrative journalism of RANDOM FAMILY by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc is my favorite piece of nonfiction. Dan Savage is my favorite advice columnist. Mallory Ortberg is my favorite blogger. My favorite play is TOP GIRLS by Caryl Churchill.

Your inspiration for UTILITY.

I was sitting in an okay bar in Brooklyn with Jay Stull, talking through the beginning of an idea I had about how problems can impact people so differently depending on their financial security. How something one person thinks of as replaceable or easily fixable is frustrating or heartbreaking to someone else in different circumstances. That was the inspiration for one small moment of this play, but that idea shapes the entire worldview of Utility. Also, I'm from Texas, and I find myself frequently drawn to the southern midwest when I'm starting new projects.

Tell us a little about the cast and creative of UTILITY.

The majority of our cast and creative team have ties to Texas in some form or another. It's a charmed room, because there's a shorthand with the text that everyone brought to the table. Our sound designer told me she read the play three times this winter-- and once out loud to her mother in the kitchen of her home in Texas.

About working with The Amoralists?

This is my first time working with the Amoralists in a formal capacity, but this is my third production in New York that James Kautz (Artistic Director of the Amoralists) has been cast in. Also my director Jay Stull (oft Amoralists director and former lit manager) is a frequent collaborator of mine, and he unofficially dramaturgs everything I write. So, working with the Amoralists is like working with family.

For more information on Emily Schwend, visit

UTILITY runs from January 28 - February 20, 2016 in a limited engagement at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, located at 224 Waverly Place between Perry & West 11th Streets in New York City. Previews begin January 28 for a February 1 opening. Performances are Thursdays - Saturdays 8pm with additional shows on Sun, Jan 31 at 8pm, Sun, Feb 14 at 3pm, and Wed, Feb 17 at 8pm. Opening night is Mon, Feb 1 at 8pm. Tickets are $18 and can be purchased online at or by calling 1-866-811-4111.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Emily Schwend

Related Articles View More Off-Off-Broadway Stories

From This Author - Marina Kennedy