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A Closer Look: Sam Chanse

Playwrights’ Corner

Sam Chanse
The Other Instinct by Sam Chanse will be featured in a public, developmental reading at The Lark on November 1 as part of Playwrights’ Week 2017. In the play, Tara serves as a gestational surrogate in a Gujarat clinic for Denise, thousands of miles away in California. Each woman is set on realizing her dreams in a rapidly changing world, but complications only intensify as a deeply personal experience becomes a global transaction. Below, Sam’s fellow Playwrights’ Week writer Briandaniel Oglesby interviews her about technological advancements and globalization, and how they are presented in her play.

BRIANDANIEL OGLESBY:I was first struck by the global scope of your play. It’s set in both India and the Bay Area, and grapples with big issues — and represents characters from diverse backgrounds — in both locations. When we’re in India, we’re not lensed through a tourist’s point of view — we’re confronted with caste conflict; when we’re in The City, we’re similarly experiencing tensions that go beyond black versus white. What attracted you to telling such an epic story, and how did you go about developing it?

SAM CHANSE: I was really drawn to this relationship between these two women in different parts of the world who have this intensely personal connection in one powerful way, but who are also utterly disconnected from each other in a whole lot of other powerful ways — and how this relationship becomes a global transaction with all these different players and competing interests involved. The play started all over the place, though. A few years ago I was writing a series of scenes that were a sort of meditation on the promise and seduction of science and technology, and the intersection of that and our physical bodies, and women's bodies in particular. I wasn't sure where it was going, but I was thinking about how at the same time that science and tech seem to be offering unprecedented possibility and opportunity, there's also tremendous and growing inequality and disenfranchisement — and how at the same time that we seem to have unprecedented control over our bodies, there are also questions of who is able to actually exercise this control, and what does control looks like. Some of the scenes involved YouTube-disseminated beheading videos, the touring Plastinated Body Worlds Exhibit, Gamergate, and Raymond Kurzweil and some of his ideas. And then there also emerged this set of characters who were all involved in some way in international commercial surrogacy. So it was a big messy collection of (vaguely) thematically-linked scenes. But as I kept going, I found myself returning to the surrogacy scenes and wanting to focus on those characters and that story, and how it cuts across race/class/gender/nationality/biology/technology. So then I started writing this play. (I actually started those early scenes and the play at a monthly writers group at The Lark, so I'm doubly grateful to be able to work on it as part of Playwrights' Week).

BO: So much of what happens in your play could not happen ten, twenty years ago. The economies in the play are of the now now now. From the New Heartbeat surrogacy business to the tech startup guy with the ImPress juice-company. Can you talk a bit about your relationship with technology? Which I guess is also a question about your take on, I don’t know, our modern world?

SC: I guess my relationship with technology is complicated. (Realizing, of course, I am not alone in this). I covered some of this in the last question, in terms of thinking about access to technology and control, and who has and does not have it. I also find myself thinking a lot about how technology is changing how we communicate and connect with one another, and how we create and recognize meaning in our lives/the world (another play I'm working on right now, The Opportunities of Extinction, is sort of exploring those question, among other things) — and also how our brains are wired, how our science and tech developments are literally altering our brains. Something I came across while I was writing this play (which remains in it) is the idea that our technology is causing us to evolve at an accelerated rate — to the point that in another generation or two there will be a new species of hominid. (I think the first place I saw it was in a Juan Enriquez Ted Talk — that we would be seeing an evolution from Homo sapiens to a Homo evolutis). Which sounds extreme but also maybe totally possible and believable? And then I think about things like will we even be able to communicate with our own kids twenty years from now, or how will we be communicating, will our consciousness be downloaded onto computer chips, and whose consciousness, etc. But then of course there are the obvious real and immense benefits of scientific and tech advances.

On a more everyday level (with respect to my complicated feelings about technology (I feel many feelings), I'm always super conflicted about social media (again realizing of course I am not alone in this). It lets us connect in unprecedented ways and also profoundly isolates us in other (also unprecedented) ways. And then there's this genuine impulse to connect and do good and worthy things, but it's complicated by this super potent ego-driven, narcissistic side of it. I guess I'm wrestling a lot with those kinds of contradictions. Which is also where I usually start writing.

BO: Where do you see yourself in this play?

SC: In general my plays are always really personal and I'm definitely in them, but I don't locate myself in any particular character or situation — it's more that I see myself in elements of all of them. In an earlier life I performed a lot, including standup and solo shows I wrote where I played multiple characters, each of whom grew out of a fusion of questions outside of myself and personal elements. So I think that relationship to my plays and the characters in them is still there in a way, because that was really how I got started writing plays.

Join us at The Lark for a reading of Sam Chanse's THE OTHER INSTINCT on November 1 at 3pm, part of Playwrights' Week 2017. Click here to RSVP for your FREE ticket!