An Interview with Karen Siff Exkorn

Karen Siff Exkorn is the playwright of Do This, opening this weekend.

  1. You are a very successful non-fiction author. What is it about theatre as a medium that drew you to turn your story into a play?

Just to clarify, my play is a fictionalized version of my personal journey (I want to make sure my mother knows this…).  In answer to your question, I’ve always loved the theater.  In fact, after founding a dance company as an undergrad at Brown University, I moved to NYC to dance on Broadway. Instead, after a brief stint as a modern jazz dancer and performer, I entered the business world as a corporate training consultant.  My corporate work offered me many creative opportunities, but I found that I missed creative writing.  So I began writing books and developing other projects on the side. One of those “side projects” became my play, Do This.  I think the reason that it became a play rather than a book was because I knew I wanted to give voice to the different characters. There’s a certain vibrancy that you can achieve in live theater when you actually see and hear an actor or actress onstage that is different from the way we imagine characters in books.

  1. Can you give us a hint of your writing process? What challenges and successes have you met along the way?

My writing process is purely organic and intuitive.  I never took a course on how to write a book or a play—I’ve always just written from my gut.

Photograph By LUSH PhotographyKaren Exkorn

Karen Siff Exkorn

My play didn’t actually start out as a play.  It began as a creative writing exercise that organically morphed into a play.  Characters formed that were based on people I’d met in my own life, or people I wished I had met!  The writing process itself was not exactly what I’d expected. In the movies, the writer sits with a glass of wine at her fabulous beach house, or in a Parisian café surrounded by fabulous writers.  I did not experience that romanticized version (and I later learned, neither do most writers). Rather, I did experience many sleepless nights trying to meet my deadline for my book for HarperCollins or trying to finish my play in time for it to be sent out to actresses.  I’ve had writers tell me that “It is better to have written than to write.”  But I must confess, even after having experienced my fair share of dreaded writer’s block, when my writing flows, it is truly an awesome experience.

3.We all come from different walks of life but we are often able to see ourselves in people who are very different from ourselves. What do you hope audiences will relate to in this story, even if their story is very different from this one? 

I remember one night I was doing an informal reading of part of my play in a theatre in NYC.  At the end, two men in their 20’s approached me and said, “We weren’t so sure we wanted to see your play, because we’re single and don’t have kids, but our friend made us come.” They went on to say that they were hooked.  They could relate to the theme of trying to help out someone you love and finding your sense of humor along the way. Before leaving, the men asked, “So you gotta tell us, how does the play end?”  That was probably one of the best experiences for me as a playwright, because it taught me that no matter what specific life events we’ve endured, there are certain universal emotional states that we all experience and can relate to—love, loss, loneliness and the overwhelming need for hope in the face of hopelessness. It’s that universality that connects us as human beings, and the theater is a great way to bring us all together to share that connection.

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Karen, her husband, and their son, Jake, at age 2. 

 

KAREN SIFF EXKORN is a playwright and author.  Do This was a semi-finalist in the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center’s 2015 National Playwrights Conference.  Karen’s multi-media performance piece, Body & Soul, was performed at the Gene Frankel Theatre in NYC and her solo play, Who’s They, was performed at the Knitting Factory in NYC.  She is author of the bestselling book, The Autism Sourcebook: Everything You Need to Know About Diagnosis, Treatment, Coping and Healing—From a Mother Whose Child Recovered (HarperCollins 2005).  Karen has been featured on Good Morning America, Today Show, CNN, CBS, The View, NBC Nightly News, Nightline, and in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal.

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