Issue 12  •  Spring 2013

Diary of a Teenage Girl

Written by Vanessa Bombardieri
An Interview With Playwright Marielle Heller

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Diary of a Teenage Girl is a new play and a glimpse inside the world of fifteen-year-old Minnie Goezte.  Minnie is creative, honest and most of all utterly confused.  Oh yeah, and she has just started having an affair with her mother’s boyfriend Monroe, age 34.        

  
An Interview With Playwright Marielle Heller
 
Diary of a Teenage Girl  is a new play and a glimpse inside the world of fifteen-year-old Minnie Goezte.  Minnie is creative, honest and most of all utterly confused.  Oh yeah, and she has just started having an affair with her mother’s boyfriend Monroe, age 34.   The play is adapted by Marielle Heller from the graphic novel by Phoebe Gloeckner.   

You are both actor and playwright of Diary.  I want to start by asking about your writing.  What made you decide to take on this project?  I read that you found the experience of reading the book to be a “jarring and life changing experience.”  Can you explain this to our readers?

Reading the book was incredible.  My sister gave it to me for Christmas.  It hit me as one of the most honest books. There are so many books about that awkward time being a teenager that are funny, heart breaking and honest but I had never come across one about girl that resonates in same way. Having never read anything like before, it hit me as ton of bricks, as poignant and sad and funny.  I think the day I finished the book, I literally called the publisher – I didn’t even know what I was talking about.  Luckily, she didn’t laugh in face. 

What was the process of trying to get the rights?

I was passed around a lot  - with lots of people saying no.  I think because I had never done anything like this before, nobody was taking me seriously.   Finally I got mad.  I didn’t have anything to loose.  And realized, I am not going to take ‘no’ for an answer.  I called up Phoebe’s agent and said “I don’t think you gave me chance.” She eventually let me give her a presentation, which was twenty-five pages of what I want to do with the play.  It turned into a three hour lunch.  It took about ten months of fighting through the nose to get the rights.

Is this your first play?

Yes. I have always been an actor, but I always knew I was going to write.  It feels cheesy to say – but I just knew it was going to happen.  This story just moved me so much.  This experience has gotten me writing.  Now I work on screenplays four or five days a week.

Can you talk a little about the challenges of transforming a graphic novel, made-up of diary entries, letters and illustrations, into a multi-media theatrical experience? What were you setting out to do?

I would say that at first it was not clear to me how it would be a play.  First thing I did was access my experience as a reader.  I had gotten totally sucked into her world and it worked.  I even at times rooted for Minnie to do things that were not appropriate.  At some moments I would pull out too.  I asked myself: what was my experience as I read the book?  What stories in my own life did the book get me in touch with? Then I asked myself how I could make the audience go through this journey.  In the book, this world is revealed to us in multiple ways via drawings, letters and diary entries. But how can that be expanded?  How can that be multiple ways in the theater?  It is different for an audience to see a play.  I wanted to create an environment where the audience felt that Minnie was confiding in them.  

I don’t think it is giving away too much to ask you about the tape recorder, which acts as the theatrical embodiment of the diary, Minnie’s confidant and our guide through the play.  I must admit – I thought it was genius.

That was one of the first things that I came to.  I knew that theatrical version of this was not a typewriter.  I wanted to share something out loud with somebody.  How many more layers, intonation can one create? But I was not sure if it would work.  I was always stuck and connected to the part of Minnie that makes projects out her life.  I was the kind of child that was always stringing gadgets up in my room, making art projects.  I think in a bigger way, she does this to cope with the hard parts of her life. She draws, takes super 8 film, photographs, records things, and turns things to poems.   Minnie feels like the character that would grab anything and make it into a project.

The website has footage of you going to Phoebe Gloekner’s home in search of her real diaries.  This leads me to my “fact vs. fiction” question, especially when the subject is a Diary.  What can you tell us about this issue? 

This question is more about Phoebe.  She has taken an interesting position. She does not really understand why people care whether or not it is real.  She worked for years turning her stories into a piece of art.  For her, it has always been about that piece of art and trying to make that piece of art as universal and relatable as possible.  She does not deny that it is based on her life. I was talking about it once with her and related it this way: she took her life and put it into a meat grinder and out came Diary, and then I put through another meat grinder.

At one point Minnie says “I don’t think my mother likes me very much…I was unwanted.” Arguably, the relationship between Minnie and her mother, Charlotte, is particularly strained.  Throughout the play, Charlotte alternates between drunkenness and half-hearted discipline towards Minnie.  Can you elaborate on this tension in the play?

The relationship between Minnie and her mother is the catalyst for her life.  It was important to me that none of these characters are portrayed as all good or all bad.  It is very easy to judge Minnie’s mother for turning the blind eye. She is obviously has a huge issues in her life, but you can also sympathize with her.  She has moved from Philadelphia to San Francisco where her horizons have expanded. She had a daughter when she was 16 and two kids by 30.  She missed out on a lot and now she is letting loose.  It is interesting because you don’t want to pull punches on how absent she is. It could not be more complicated – it is this relationship that makes me the sadist. It is something I can relate to because no matter how she treats her, Minnie loves and needs her. 

I read the graphic novel in preparation for this article.  Like you, I found that I was really with her along her journey but I also found that there was one very specific moment where I turned on her.  I no longer found her reliable as my narrator and I could not justify going along with her actions.  And I’m just wondering if you had a moment like that?

There were times when I thought to myself oh my god, I was thinking she was an adult and it becomes so clear that she is not an adult.  But I always trusted that Minnie was honest in who she was.  There is something so genuine about her.  She stays true to who she is through everything.  I was just speaking with this group of teens and one of them asked me, ‘what would you do if all this stuff happned to you?’  I said I really don’t know.  What I love about Minnie is that she is always her self with opinions and questions and she does change herself in any way.

Diary of a Teenage Girl by Marielle Heller, adapted from the graphic novel by Phoebe Gloeckner, is produced by Aaron Louis in association with New Georges and The Essentials. The play has just been extended, running now through May 1st, at 3LD Art and Technology Center.  

 

 

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