Interview | Sarah Kosar

On 12th March we premiere our first full length production, Hot Dog, at The Last Refuge. As with all our productions Hot Dog began its Descent life with a script. A truly fantastic, absurdist, funny, heartbreaking script.

Set in small town America, the play’s star is The Dog, an old woman with the head of a dog, whose dependence on her daughters has pushed their relationship to breaking point.

We loved it from first read and can’t wait to get it on a stage. Playwright Sarah Kosar is pretty excited too…

We’re so delighted to be producing Hot Dog! What are you most looking forward to about the production?
Thank you for producing it! Descent has been such a great company to collaborate with, and especially on my first production! I’m so thrilled to see my characters come to life after being alone with them under a red duvet for so long. I’m happy to see proper actors play the characters and not just my husband doing a dog impression at me! I’m also really looking forward to watching The Dog saying “weiner water”.

What inspired you to write the play?
It felt really wrong and very right to make an old woman a dog on stage. And that inspired and scared me.
I think no matter how old you get, you are always a child to your parents and there is always a certain obligation that comes along with that. On the other hand, we will all be old one day, and the way that we will be or expect to be taken care of is something that I think is really in question now. Parents are living longer, and children are busier. How long or how much care is necessary, is something that many people are struggling and feeling guilty about today.
And selfishly, I wanted a dog head on stage.

All of the characters in the play are facing difficult choices for one reason or another, but Maryanne in particular is in the horrible position of having to choose between her life and her mother’s. Do you think this is a situation the audience may be able to relate to?
Hopefully! I don’t think it is particular to just these characters, it is a story that we will all have a part to play in, whether we are a parent or a child. One day we will have to choose whether we are able to take care of our parents, and our parents will have to decide whether our choice was selfish or loving whether it’s for them to move in to our personal home or to nursing care. It’s going to be a different feeling and response from each person on what is right and wrong, but I think it’s something we all need to confront and discuss.

Do you see the treatment of The Dog by her two daughters as a comment on the treatment of old people in society more generally?
I definitely do, but it’s more about the power struggles within the family than how society as a whole views the elderly.

You wrote Hot Dog whilst on the Royal Court Young Writers programme. Can you tell us a bit about how the play developed through that course from first idea to final draft?
The play began on the first night of The Royal Court Young Writers Programme. Leo Butler prompted us by asking us a series of questions and then asked us to write a short scene inspired by the answers. Out came a short scene about a woman that didn’t care if her Mother died. The next day in the shower I realized the Mother had to be half dog, I ate a hot dog that afternoon, and then the play was born! (Food is always an influence!). I wrote and redrafted the play throughout the programme and was greatly helped by my fellow writers and the literary department in tightening it up. When I discovered that she was a dog the morning after I wrote that initial scene, it came out easier than anything else I’ve ever written. After I submitted Hot Dog to the Royal Court, they then invited me to take part in their Invitation Studio Group, which I’ll be starting in March.

There is a clear element of the absurd in the character of The Dog and in the play as a whole. Has the absurd often inspired your writing?
Yes. I love writing about the world that we live in, but with a metaphor on top. Those metaphors are what help me get to the core of the question on whatever I’m writing about. My question when writing Hot Dog was whether old people are human beings and the head of a dog was my way in to finding an answer. I need a certain way into a work in order to crack inside, and for me that’s some type of big or small absurd element.

As an American playwright now working in London, can you tell us how the new writing scene is different in the UK to the US, and how has this affected your career?
I knew when I decided that I wanted to write, that I could only do that in one place: London. The difference in being a writer in the UK to the US is the level of opportunity. I’ve been really lucky to have worked with such exciting organizations as the Royal Court, Lyric Hammersmith, Soho, BBC, Theatre Centre, Hampstead Theatre, and Roundhouse Radio. There are less opportunities in the States as there is no equivalent to the Arts Council or subsidies that enable the quantity of engagement and production of new writing. I’ve found the London writing community to be incredibly warm, exciting, and helpful. I never thought I would get to actually speak to some writers I admire and get their first hand experience or encouragement. It’s a tangible community, and I don’t think that the US has anything comparable. There is much more of a reading/workshopping culture compared to the British idea of “a writer can only learn once their work has been performed.” I am extremely honoured to have work on and learn from it (well, let’s hope!). Now I just want the accent! I intend to never leave London as long as I’m a playwright.

You also work full time as an actor’s agent (Sarah is the Senior Agent of I.N.C Artist Management), do you find it difficult to have time for writing?
Luckily, no. I can be a bit obsessive: I have my entire life blocked in coordinating colors on my Google Calendar. I love my job as an agent. It’s a great balance to support and search for work for my clients, and then come home and do my own personal creative escape. I have a great bunch of clients and wouldn’t want to do anything else during my days.  But when I have something to write, all of my free time becomes one big block of blue ‘writing time’ on the calendar.  My writing feeds off the rest of my life, the busier I am, the more productive I become.

How did you get into writing?
I was always a dramatist. My husband thinks that means a liar, but I’m not sure.
I thought I was Belle from Beauty and the Beast, then Britney Spears, then an emo singer/songwriter, and then an actor. I was none of these things. I was an over-organized writer and agent. I figured out I was a writer at Penn State University after a bad breakup when my advisor said I should take a playwriting class to get over it. I did this with the help of my professor Susan Russell and wrote a black comedy about a trip to the gynaecologist. It was then immediately clear that I was not Britney Spears. I was a writer, and I needed to move to London to write about the things I wanted to.

Which writers inspire you?
Lucy Prebble, Sarah Kane, Tracey Letts, Marius Von Mayenburg, and Simon Stephens.

What is your favourite play and why?
Enron by Lucy Prebble.
As a girl in University having to learn way too much Shakespeare and having America think that Arthur Miller is still “new writing” (really!), this play was a game-changer for me. I had it shipped to State College, PA from The Royal Court and missed class because nothing was half as educating as this play for me. I saw it in performance on the closing night in the front row on Broadway. I jumped on the stage, crying, and screaming “don’t take this away, America, you don’t know what good theatre you have!” I was quickly dragged off by the ushers and issued a fine. Not really, but my heart was so broken that it closed (early!) that it was all I wanted to do.
She put dinosaurs in a play about a cultural financial disaster. She inspired me with her form, dialogue and freedom. If she could put a metaphor in her play, then maybe I could too.

Hot Dog is at The Last Refuge from 12-17 March. More info

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