Wednesday, June 20, 2012

On Interviewing Eve Ensler

(The object of Lily's hero-worship. Photo by Brigitte Lacomb.)

It's funny that people expect theater critics to double as journalists/interviewers. The personalities the two different professions require are so different: Is a loner who takes inordinate joy in sitting in the dark and writing nasty things about artists really the best person to interview those same artists? How many such meanies can conjure the social skills to get their victims to share newsworthy anecdotes?

I recently interviewed Eve Ensler, who wrote The Vagina Monologues and, more recently, Emotional Creature, which is about to premiere at Berkeley Rep. It was one of the highlights of my career as a critic. Performing in The Vagina Monologues in college was revelatory for meas a thespian, as a woman, as a sexual being, as a human. (That sentence unintentionally turned out very Ensleresque. Read the interview to see what I mean.) I venerate Ensler—perhaps not the most professional feeling to have about an interview subject. I was so nervous in the days leading up to it that I scripted the entire thing (it was a phone interview), even writing out two different openers depending on whether she said, "Hi, this is Eve," or just, "Hi." That meant I was not as present in the conversation as I should have been, even as I had to ad lib toward the end when she had answered all my questions in far less time than I was allotted. I got answers that sounded very much like the press releases and other promotional materials for the show. I should have interrupted her when she launched into an easy sound bite. I should have pressed her more. In short, I should have been a journalist. Instead, all I could manage was to hide (or try to) the heart attack I was suffering the entire time.

I still have much to learn about interviewing, and not because I'm too mean to get artists to talk to me. I think I'm too nice to really dig for the story, to ask the questions subjects secretly want to talk about, to surprise them into disclosing news. I can be friendly enough, but then I don't use my friendliness to do my job.

Still, I'm glad to have interviewed Ensler and to see my article appear the same week that this happened (in my glorious home state, no less)—which reminds me that The Vagina Monologues isn't dated, that theater has real social and political power, and that I as a critic—or a journalist—am part of a movement that matters.

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