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An interview with playwright, Olivia Z. Cote; director, Jasmine Brooks; and dramaturg, Elena Toppo of the World Premiere of Final Flight

Final Flight is a new play by Olivia Z. Cote that is being produced as apart of the Senior Theatre Arts Majors Productions’ season at Boston University, School of Theatre. I conducted the following interview with my thesis partners, Olivia and Elena, as a way for us to discover more about this play, Olivia’s process and Olivia as a playwright in general. For more information on Final Flight, visit our Facebook event page here.

Show Dates:
Friday, April 27, 7:30pm
Sunday, April 29, 4pm
Monday, April 30, 9:30pm
855 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston
College of Fine Arts, “Jewels 1” Miller Studio Theatre 352

Jasmine Brooks: Who and what are some of your big inspirations as a writer?

Olivia Z. Cote: David Sedaris, Wes Anderson, Yoko Ono. I think those might be the top three right now. I think David Sedaris has a really fun way of making horrible things really, really fun. Like anytime something really bad or embarrassing happens to me, the way I calm myself down is like “one day I’m going to write a David Sedaris style essay about this.” He is hysterical. I’ve been a slut for Wes Anderson since like high school. His films are beautiful, aesthetically, also my dad sent me the screenplay for The Grand Budapest Hotel, which is like one of my favorite movies, and it is so specific and the words that he chooses all have a purpose. Yoko Ono I just like because she’s weird. All of her art seems purposeless, but it is entirely imbued with purpose. Like her book, Grapefruit, it’s a book of instructions and some of them are like roll an empty baby carriage around a city and that’s it and I just think, like her images are really poignant and she also does weird shit like screaming into a microphone for 15 minutes. I think she what she has given me is like the idea that there are no rules in art and your art doesn’t have to be any one thing. I’m really into the fact that she doesn’t follow rules.


JB: Are there any things that aren’t necessarily people, like a movie or a book or stuff like that, that inspires your writing as well?

OZC: The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster is my favorite book in the world. I have a tattoo of an illustration from it. It’s the book that made me want to be a writer. Norton Juster invents this whole intricate world. I’m really interested in children’s fiction that does that. There’s this book The 13 ½ Lives of Captain Bluebear that did that really well and there’s this book May Bird and the Ever After that’s still one of my favorite books and I haven’t read it in a million years because it’s for children, but it’s about a girl who accidentally falls into the underworld. All of their worlds are really full. Lately I’ve been thinking about The Wolves (by Sarah DeLappe) a lot, because it’s so good. It’s structured in a way that I don’t structure my plays, like there’s no punctuation, it’s lowercase and none of the characters have names, there are very, very minimal stage directions. I’ve just been thinking, now that I’ve been writing this new play, how to mirror the content of a play with the way that it is formatted on the page.

Elena Toppo: What do you mean the content of the play?

OZC: Like how does the way the play is presented physically or even the style in which the play is written, mirror the story that needs to be told. Annalise is really good at this actually, like the way she decided to write Hunchback of Camden Maine was after rereading the manifesto of Charles Ludlum for Theatre of the Ridiculous. She structured her entire play off of this specific genre. There’s that and putting something on the page, like the way that The Wolves is written is like really fast and really colloquial, so it’s like everyone is speaking right on top of each other and you understand that this is like a real, true human interaction between a large group of people. And there is something fast paced about it that almost mirrors a soccer game, which I think is really interesting. So that’s something I’m really intrigued by because it’s something I didn’t do with Final Flight, and it may or may not lend itself to Final Flight.


JB: How would you describe your writing style either for Final Flight or in general?

OZC: Existential. I once told someone that my writing, the core of my writing, was “everything sucks so much that even therapy sucks.” I keep writing about the end of the world because I feel like that’s the only thing that I can think about anymore. That’s the story that needs to be told, I feel, at this moment— it has to do with the world ending and the various ways the world can end and why the world is ending and what we do when the world is ending. And new beginnings, spawning from that ending.


JB: Why is that?

OZC: Part of its like the political climate, part of its like the actual climate. I just feel like, to write about something that doesn’t encapsulate that much breath seems trivial to me, like to write a rom-com right now would be bullshit. I can try to write something that’s like not the end of the world, but ultimately it’s not what interests me. I want to make people think about the way that they interact with the world, and I want to force people to recognize both the brevity of existence and also what they have to fill that with. I don’t know. I want to make people feel things and the easiest way to do that is to scare people.

I don’t know if I have a distinct writing style. Dark humor. I’m thinking about the rejection letter that I got from Playwright’s Horizons where they called Final Flight… what was the quote? It was something like, “an intimate, apocalyptic drama that glows with delightfully idiosyncratic dialogue.” It was my favorite rejection letter.


JB: What sparked writing Final Flight?

Trump had just been elected and so that was when I started really thinking about everything really falling apart. I write little tidbits of things a lot, like I’ll start writing a scene and it won’t really have a world or I won’t have an idea of who these characters are and I’ll just be writing an interaction. So I started writing the first scene of Final Flight when I was backstage during rehearsal of Director’s Project and I was like “oh, there’s something interesting about everything falling apart.” I, at that point, wasn’t seeing a therapist, and so I had a very specific relationship with therapy at that moment when I didn’t really like it. I hadn’t had a good therapist. Gabbi is loosely based off of me… because I’m a narcissist. I had wrote this scene that was basically me talking to a therapist I had that I didn’t like. And I just kept writing because I just liked this because it scares me. Then I wrote a sentence about a mom that was dying and I was like “where’d that come from! Who is she?”


JB: Thinking about Trump being elected, and the general climate and climate change, what drew you to climate change in particular and an asteroid?

OZC: Well, an asteroid is like the ultimate destruction. It’s like, there are natural disasters and then there’s the natural disaster. When we think about asteroids crashing into earth, or at least when I think about asteroids crashing into earth, I think about the extinction of the dinosaurs. So, there’s something full circle about an asteroid decimating earth. There’s something almost like… we deserve it. We’ve earned a global cleansing, a complete destruction because we don’t do anything take care of the planet. I need to get better at taking care of the planet because I’m really bad at it. I lost my train of thought… what was the question?

ET: Why an asteroid?

OZC: Oh, because it’s big. I think if we’re going to be killed by something cosmic, it’d probably going to be the sun swallowing earth, but I don’t think that is as dramatically interesting as something that is moving towards us at a high velocity compared to something that is slowly consuming us. The climax of this play isn’t a glow growth: the climax of this play is a bang.


JB: How do you feel about Amelia Earhart? Why did she come to you and why is she special?

OZC: I didn’t know anything about Amelia Earhart when I started writing this play, but I knew that Catherine was reading a book about prominent American women and I was like “okay, who are prominent American women?” and Amelia is undeniably prominent American women, so I wrote her. Initially I did not write her ghost, she was not going to be in the play. So I included the first Catherine monologue where she’s like “I’m reading a book about prominent American women. Amelia Earhart is 39, I’m 39.” I didn’t realize Catherine was 39 until I saw that Amelia Earhart died at 39. Then I was like “okay, this makes sense” I didn’t’ know if I was going to, at that point, include other prominent American, but I figured it was much more poignant if I just left it at [Amelia Earhart]. I vaguely remember doing a Google search of “who are prominent American women who died at 39 years old?” and Amelia Earhart kept coming up, so I was like “oh this is out girl.” I got stuck writing, somewhere in the 2/3rd ways into this play and I went to my dad and he was like “just put in her ghost” and I was like “that is the stupidest idea I’ve ever heard” and then I did and it wasn’t. Now that I have written her, I feel camaraderie with her, or at least the idea of her and I don’t know how similar we truly are as people. This isn’t like a Lin-Manuel, Alexander Hamilton situation where he was like this is my soul, historical figure. I feel like I know her better now and I’m excited to keep doing research and get to know her. She’s a super cool lady. She nearly circumvented the world in a plane. She was like the first woman ever to do that. She’s just dope as hell. I get really excited thinking about her and sometimes when I’m feeling weird and wonky, I’ll watch this great video of her on some like radio show that they taped, and she’s talking to the host of this show and pointing on a map, showing where she flew her plane from the East Coast of the United States, across the Atlantic to Europe. Her voice is so, has that 1930’s cadence.


JB: What do you want audiences to take away from this play?

OZC: To value every moment that they have been handed and to find happiness in all of the cracks and corner for the intimate moments and also to gain awareness of what they’re doing now that is going to affect the future, a future they might not be apart of. So, I think an awareness of the present and the future.


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