Training Theatre Artists to Make a Difference
An interview with MFA in Playwriting Candidate Amanda Zeitler about her upcoming thesis production of ‘The Mage Knights of the Eternal Light’
By: Tori Boutin
Familial bond is a strong unifying element of Mage Knights. What common familial problems does your play address?
One of the main conflicts of the play is that Dawn is under the impression that her mother was involved or at least partially responsible for the death of her father. This naturally causes a huge rift between the two and while I don’t think that there are very many teens out there who have to deal with this is exact problem, I think this major conflict serves as a launching pad to highlight a lot of common problems between parents and teens – a lack of communication, differences in priorities, differences in culture, what happens to a family in times of hardship and tragedy, etc. I would also like to point out that the play also deals with family bonding though! It’s not all dark. Before the main action of the play Dawn has a relatively healthy and trusting relationship with her parents. I think anyway!
You’ve said that you’ve primarily written this play for teens. What made you want to write a play for a younger audience? What elements of Mage Knights do you think speak particularly to a teen audience?
Actually when I first started writing this play, I didn’t have teens in mind at all. I know so many adults in their 20s and 30s who are fascinated by the fantasy/sci-fi genres. My generation grew up on Harry Potter. I originally just wanted to celebrate that upbringing. But then Jon was like “Teens will love this!” And I was like “Yeah. Yeah they would!” And then I realized that there is not a lot of teen theatre out there. There is a healthy range of children’s theatre and there is TONS of “adult” theatre that I think I lot of teenagers appreciate, but there are not many plays that really address teen issues genuinely and without talking down to them. That’s really important to me – that no one feels talked down to. Everyone feels respected.
When I was in high school, it wasn’t “cool” to be super into fantasy – sure everyone and their mother (or in my case, my father) read Harry Potter, but besides that, it was really hard to find a good fantasy series that was original and genuine and not ridiculously cheesy. Then Twilight happened and that genre just exploded. So I think teens will really connect to that. And I think (or at least I hope) that I’ve managed to write something that realistically portrays teenagers – characters that the audience will look at (hopefully) say “Yeah, that’s me. I relate to that” or “I know that person.” There’s nothing worse than seeing or reading something about teenagers and just seeing some sort of caricature.
What do you hope will happen to your play through the production process? How has it changed so far?
I suppose I hope it just gets better? Is that a cop out answer? I was already really happy with it when we started the rehearsal process, but over the past couple weeks it’s continued to improve. I have an amazing director and really smart actors who aren’t afraid to point out inconsistencies or plot holes. I think I’ve managed to patch a lot of those up by now. At this point, there’s just a lot of refining to be done.
What sort of conversations have you had with the director, designers, dramaturge, and cast? How have these conversations affected the world of your play?
There have been many conversations about the world of the play – the actors for the fantasy characters have come up with an incredible back story that I wish I had room to work into the play! Unfortunately, we’re already pushing 2 hours of playing time. There’s also been a lot of talk about “What kind of fantasy world is this?” Maybe it’s bad, but I’ve done my best to leave that open. I don’t like to dictate design and direction too much in my writing – I like to leave room for collaborators to come up with cool ideas. Because most of the time, they are better than anything I could have come up with myself. We’ve also had a ridiculous number of conversations about how magic works. Which is weird because part of me is like “It’s magic! It just does stuff – it works! Wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey!” But it’s such a big part of the show that everyone really does need to be on the same page. As a group we’ve had to come up with these “Laws” of how it works and lore and all sorts of stuff. Which is mostly fun, but occasionally frustrating. What makes it harder is that my director and one of my cast members haven’t read Harry Potter. So when I try to make a comparison (“They’re like Death Eaters.”) it totally goes over their heads. That said, since I have to explain all this stuff to a pair of novices (for lack of a better term) it means that I’ve simplified the rules and the script enough that I think everyone who sees the show will be able to follow all the rules, even if they don’t have fantastical background knowledge.
Your play feeds off the prevalent fantasy culture we see in America today. There are references to other works of fiction like Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter. Was there a story or fantasy world that particularly inspired your play?
There wasn’t just one really. I LOVE fantasy and I’ve read a lot and I mix up a bunch ideas in the play. I’ve wanted to write something fantasy-ish for a while. Part of the goal when I started writing it was to use as many tropes as possible. I had to cut back a little because sometimes I went overboard. It’s a little embarrassing to admit, but part of where the story stems from is from a fantasy I had in high school where I could jump into my favorite books and join fantasy characters on their adventures. I know. I should tatoo “Cheesy” onto my forehead.
The Mage Knights of the Eternal Light plays February 13th, 19th, and 21st at 7:30pm and 14th and 22nd at 2pm in the Hartke Theatre