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Falling for Bridget

Dan Hunter talks with playwright Bridget Carpenter about the rhythm of writing, the euphoria of the Lindy Hop, and the world premiere of her award-winning Fall at Trinity Rep.

By New York City
Bridget Carpenter
Bridget Carpenter
Trinity Repertory Company in Providence, Rhode Island, opens the world premiere of Bridget Carpenter's Fall on May 12, to run through June 25. Carpenter recently received the prestigious Susan Smith Blackburn Award for the play, which tells the story of 14-year-old girl who is very much not looking forward to her unusual summer camp experience. Directed by Trinity Rep's associate director Neal Baron, Fall is a contemporary coming-of-age story with a twist--and a hop--and a beat. It's a play that swings.

THEATERMANIA: Tell me about Fall.

BRIDGET CARPENTER: Fall, if I were to encapsulate, which I am going to do, is the story of Lydia, who is a very recalcitrant, brilliant, unique, 14 year old, who is forced to go to swing camp with her parents. And by swing camp, I mean swing dance camp, Lindy Hop.

TM: There are such things?

CARPENTER: There are indeed, there are indeed.

TM: Do you swing dance?

CARPENTER: I started doing a lot of swing dance--I think it was 1995-96, before the Gap ad, which really kind of caught it at its apex of media popularity. But, there was a real swing revival movement that had started in San Francisco in about the early '90s and then sort of slowly swept the country. So, I was doing a lot of swing dancing, and I heard someone say, "Oh something-something...swing camp," and I went "Whaat? Swing camp?" And that image just didn't go out of my mind. I just thought there's swing camp--that's...that's amazing. And so, because it wouldn't go away, I ended up writing about it.

TM: But, do you dance the Lindy?

CARPENTER: I do, I do. I'm a fiend. I'm a Lindy fiend.

TM: Can you describe the Lindy?

CARPENTER: Lindy Hop is a very fast, fast dance. It's about momentum and inertia, and you literally can fly. It's about aerials and a kind of wondrous connection with your partner. It's really beautiful to watch, and even more euphoria-inducing to do.

TM: Why is swing dancing so romantic?

CARPENTER: Because it's intimate. Because you have to listen to your partner, so you're communicating without talking. So, it can be romantic, but by the same token it can also just be intimate without romance. People automatically assume that dancing and sex go together, or dancing and love go together. And that's sometimes the case. But sometimes it's just about a great dance, and then two minutes are up, and you're on to the next partner.

TM: Why has there been a revival of music and dancing that's almost 70 years old?

CARPENTER: I can't really speculate. But I'm so grateful. [Laughter] I'm so grateful that it has because I am wholly passionate about partner dancing. I like all kinds of dancing. I've always been a dance nut--a student of dance. You know what swing music does to me? Forever listening to that music literally makes me crazy. My stomach twists. I just can't sit still. It's just some of the best music, a music that just has a tap right into this joy source.

TM: How does the music inform the play?

CARPENTER: Rhythm. The rhythm of relationships. The way that in swing there is a call/response, there's repetition, and there are breaks in the music. So musical structure totally informed this writing. And, in fact, it always does. I think that it always does with my plays. Usually there is certain music that I listen to as I write that will find its way more covertly, generally into the play. But this was fantastic--I could be so overt and, in fact, some of my scene titles were song titles.

TM: Such as?

CARPENTER: "Is You Is or Is You Ain't My Baby?", "Too Close for Comfort", "Patootie Pie" [laughs], "Paper Moon".

TM: Does the title refer to a fall in the Lindy Hop?

CARPENTER: It's every kind of fall; fall in every sense of the word. There are all kinds of falls. It's pathetically personal because my favorite season is fall, and I feel very romantic about the leaves and that change. Fall signifies change to me. It's fall in terms of literally falling from a great distance. It's fall for the idea of falling in love. It's fall for the sort of spiritual idea that you have to release and let go to something new, so to the idea of dancing, you have to fall into falling into the rhythm. And it's a dancer's fall. So, yes, you're right. [Laughter]


TM: It's great fun just hearing you talk about the play, you're so passionate about it.

CARPENTER: Well, I loved writing this play so much. Probably one of the best experiences of my life was being alone with this play and the characters. I feel that I poured a lot of my happiness in being a writer into this play. And the reward is now I really feel like the actors are pouring themselves into the play in turn, as are the designers and the director, Neil Baron. I'll also say that when I wrote this play--I can't say enough what a good time I had making it. But I also thought, while I was writing it, I thought: No one is ever going to do this. And I did not care, because I knew I was going to do it myself. I thought, "This is me," and I imagined, "I'm going to rent a ballroom and I'll get some of my dancer pals, and I'll just hear it the way that it's supposed to be heard, and we'll dance along." I was convinced no one was going to do this. So, it's been extremely rewarding. This is its world premiere, but you know it's been developed in five cities. I've gotten to know dozens and dozens of artists, collaborated with some wonderful people who have contributed to the ideas inside this play. So, it's very funny to me that the play that I really thought was going to be my private play has become real. You know--it's been a wild ride.

TM: Do you think the audience will feel your happiness through the actors?

CARPENTER: You know what I think? That they will through the music. That's the best thing. Because if you don't like the play, geez--listen to all the mad music and dancing. How can you not have a good time? [Laughter] I'm fail-safe. What's not to like? It's the best music ever made.

TM: What shoes are you going to wear to the opening?

CARPENTER: Well, come on--dance shoes.

Dan Hunter, a playwright/songwriter from Iowa, is currently the managing director of the Boston Playwrights' Theatre and a lecturer in creative writing at Boston University. His play, Un Tango en la Noche, won the John Cauble Short Play Award in the Kennedy Center/American College Theater Festival. He has written several plays and a musical based on postcards of the early 1900s, and is the author of two books.


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