WHAT WE DO Interview Series: Calamity West

WHAT WE DO is a visual interview series where we briefly talk to Chicago theatre artists about their art — what they do, why they do it, and what their creative process is like, even as it shifts in the midst of a pandemic. We’ve given each artist 8 written questions, as well as 3 prompts for photographs that capture their current headspace. 

We start with Calamity West, Chicago-based award-winning playwright, and professor of playwriting at the University of Chicago and Webster University.

SELF-CAPTURE: A selfie, self timer portrait, a baby photo, or just a really awesome picture of yourself that you love.

Pre-pandemic, how would you have described your job, in a sentence?

I am a playwright / professor of playwriting and literature.


How is it different now?

Both vocations have intensified.

Most days it feels like I’m working against a doomsday clock.


– No turning back now.

– There is always work to do.

((And I’m doing it. I hope you are too.))


What’s something most people might not know about your job?

I have to give as much as I get in order for this to work. That’s the trick. That’s the magic.


Who or what inspires you?

Anyone who wears a f*cking mask, is registered to vote, and donates to Bail Funds.


What’s one tool that is central to your work?

My Mind.


How are you resisting?

I resist by writing.

I resist by looking behind the curtain.

I resist by leaning on The Big Picture.

I resist by instilling confidence in the Artists around me.

I resist by elevating the Artists around me.

I resist through Hope.

I resist through Kindness.


How are you taking care of yourself?

Writing. Sex. Sleep. Water. Coffee. Therapy. Facial masks. Marco Polo (sometimes).


What’s something about your community that needs to change moving forward?

Part One:

Racism and misogyny are best friends.

We cannot eradicate one without eradicating the other.

Yes, there have been moments where the powers that be in the Chicago Theatre Community have appeared as if they are letting go of one. But if you look closely, you’ll see they’re clinging on to the other for dear life.

So we’re going to have to make them irradiate both.

By whatever means possible.

(Don’t turn me into Cassandra with this one.)

Part Two:

We. Don’t. Need. Permission. To. Make. Or. Produce. Our. Art.

We’ve always known this.

But now we know it.

We don’t need them. They need US.

And I’m not letting a single person forget it.

Ever. Again.


SOUL CAPTURE: A picture of something that is making you feel good, or bringing your soul inspiration.

SURROUNDING CAPTURE: Show us where you’ve been spending your time, whether it’s your workspace or the place you unwind.

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