Katie Walker is a 29-year-old Cleveland, Ohio native. She is an up and coming playwright, and she teaches English at a business school. We met up for coffee on one of the last warm, autumn Ohio afternoons. Katie’s recently published play entitled Ohio is for Zombies is available on Amazon in print, or as a Kindle download.
Miss Millennia Magazine: So what inspired you to go into playwriting?
Katie Walker: It was kind of a happy accident. I thought I was an actor for a long time, but I really wasn’t that good at it. Then I thought I was a fiction writer, but I really wasn’t that good at that either. And then it took until I was in grad school that it dawned on me that “hey, what do you get when you put theater and writing together?” Playwriting! And I was kind of a natural at it, like a duck and water.
MMM: Where did you get your education?
KW: I started a journalism degree at Kent State, but then my grandma got really ill. So I came back to Cleveland and decided journalism wasn’t for me, so I switched to English and Theater [at Cleveland State], and got a bachelor’s degree. Then I stayed on at Cleveland State to get an MA in English, and I’m going back for my MFA, hopefully!
MMM: What was your thesis/final project for your master’s?
KW: I wrote a play called Ohio is for Zombies. It’s a one act play about what happens when the Perry nuclear power plant melts down and a group of people have to face a zombie apocalypse while trapped in a diner. I thought about turning it into a dinner theater, but it was a little too graphic for that! (laughs)
MMM: How many times has it been performed?
KW: There was a stage reading of it once, but I would love to see it performed more.
MMM: How many plays have you written in total?
KW: I have two completed one acts, about an hour each, and then I have about seven 10-minute plays.
MMM: Have you written any short stories?
KW: I really focus mainly on plays, but I have one that started off as a short story, and it just didn’t work. Then I put it on stage, and it totally worked.
MMM: Why so?
KW: I don’t know! I think it’s because the dialogue [of the play] just paints the picture better than if it had descriptions like in a story. And that’s what I love about playwriting: you can tell an entire story just through dialogue and acting with one another, whereas with fiction, you have all this other stuff and headspace going on… you just don’t need that on stage.
MMM: What has been your favorite project?
KW: My favorite play I’ve written is a one act called Apparitions Anonymous. It’s about a support group for ghosts who are having a hard time dealing with the fact that they’re dead.
MMM: So I’m sensing a theme here; is this what you mainly write about?
KW: Yes! I mean, I have other [kinds of] stuff, but I kind of found a niche here. I like putting horror on the stage in a way that’s funny. Specifically, if you take anything that’s supposed to be scary, there’s humor in it. Think about it: Freddie Krueger is hilarious, whether it’s intentional or not, and I think that horror and humor go hand in hand, and I really enjoy putting that on stage.
MMM: Has anything else been performed?
KW: Yes, I’m part of a theater collective called The Manhattan Project, and it’s a group of local artists and actors who every month draw names and are given prompts and teams. We’re given one week to write a play, two weeks to rehearse it, and we perform it the last week of the month.
MMM: So how do you deal with writer’s block?
KW: Because I write plays and do it primarily with dialogue, I get on the bus. You hear the craziest conversations on the bus! I just hop on, go down to Akron and back, and just listen to people. Even just one line sometimes will resonate and inspire something. It’s really silly and I’m the weird lady in the back with a notebook, but it works!
MMM: What is the hardest part about having a play performed?
KW: Hmm… is the audience going to laugh at my jokes? Are they going to think it’s funny, or will they cry when it’s sad? Because it moves you, so you hope it moves the audience. It’s that anxiety while you’re standing there watching it. Are they going to “get” it?
MMM: What’s the best part about having a play performed?
KW: Seeing talented people bring your work to life! And they bring something so fresh to it. When you write it, it’s one thing in your mind, but when they perform it, it’s like they just breathe new life into it with their interpretation of your words and their choice of how they say them, where they find meaning in certain lines. It’s almost like it rewrites itself every time it’s performed. There’s nothing that beats that.
MMM: So what is your writing process?
KW: I’m kind of a journaler, so I carry a notebook with me at all times, write stuff down and kind of marinade in it for a few days. I always am observant, looking around for ideas.
MMM: What do you do when you’re not writing?
KW: I’m an avid karaoke singer. (laughs) Actually, I’m a teacher. And I do cross-stitch. I make all kinds [of pieces], like Doctor Who stuff, Star Wars, all kinds of cheesy stuff. I have a nerd room in my house. It’s Tardis-blue, and there’s a cardboard cutout of David Tennant, and it’s half Star Wars too because my husband is a Star Wars geek. So we coexist in our fandoms.
MMM: That’s awesome. So where do you see yourself in 10 years?
KW: Teaching at a four-year school in a tenure track position, English and Creative Writing specifically. I want to see my plays published and produced nationally.
MMM: So can I ask you a little about where you’re teaching now? (Katie teaches English and Business Writing at a school where a lot of the students are starting over for various reasons.)
KW: Yeah. Um, my students are very, very brave. A lot of them come from impoverished backgrounds, places where they’ve been told that they aren’t ever going to be anything. And they work really hard to prove that wrong, and most of the time they do.
MMM: What’s the most rewarding part about teaching them?
KW: First of all, seeing them improve. By the time they’re done with me, their writing has improved. And having someone come up to you and give you a thank you card and just tell you like, that you’ve made a difference in their life, it’s just so incredibly moving, to help someone realize that they are something.
MMM: So what advice would you give to a young girl thinking of trying her hand at playwriting?
KW: Read lots of plays. You have to see how it’s done in order to do it effectively. See a lot and immerse yourself. Don’t be afraid to try. Not everything is going to be gold, but you have to keep trying. Everybody starts somewhere.