Playwright Laura Eason chats with Curious’ Playwright in Residence, Emily Dendinger, about writing and rewriting.

Where did the characters of Olivia and Ethan come from?
I started writing this play a few years after I moved to New York. I was artistic director of Lookingglass Theatre in Chicago, and it was a remarkable experience, but I came to the realization I wanted to focus on my writing. My then-boyfriend/ now-husband moved to New York, so I decided to move there.

I moved with no agents or productions, and virtually no contacts. I started cold calling people and slowly getting a foothold. However, it’s a huge city, and there were people a lot younger than me already having major in-roads. I thought, “Is anyone going to hear my voice here?” From my apartment, I could see the Brooklyn Bridge out one window and the Statue of Liberty out of the other. These icons of New York were both inspiring and taunting me everyday. Was I going to be lost in the immensity of talent in this city? A lot of this musing contributed to the voice of Olivia. The other part of me was Ethan, always on the phone or email, using every contact I had to get an agent and connections. Out of this big life change, the seeds of the plays were born.

Sex With Strangers deals with a relationship between Generation X and Generation Y. How do think relationships are different in the digital age?
We are all in triangulated relationships with whoever we are talking to and our handheld device. The question used to be are we going to engage, and now it’s how are going to engage. It’s an essential part of our lives now. Both the upside and downside of technology are explored in this play. I’m not as brave as I wish I was, and thankfully I got to cold email people instead of cold call them. The downside of technology is that print never goes away now. You can make a terrible error, and the way the Internet works, your life can be gone.

Almost every scene ends with the stage direction “Sex is imminent.” How is writing sex for the stage different?
Sex onstage is tricky because you are in the room, as opposed to film and TV, where you have the distance of the screen. For the stage, you need amazing chemistry between the actors…and when it works, it is really exciting. Sex is such a part of our lives, but we don’t see it very often onstage. I am not very descriptive in my stage directions and leave the sex in the play open to interpretation— however that manifests for those actors and director. I do think that in all the productions that I have seen, it’s never just a quick kiss and black out. All the productions have really tried to explore a physical relationship and establish the romance and connection between these two characters.

What are your connections to Colorado and Curious Theatre Company?
I grew up in Evanston, but I spent my last three years of high school at Cherry Creek. It was great for me to see plays at the Denver Center and smaller theatres. I recently had a commission at the Denver Center and taught at Curious New Voices, [Curious’ educational program for young playwrights] so it’s been nice to reconnect.

What have you experienced with different productions of this play?
The only way I can really develop work is through a production and those opportunities are few and far between. The advantage of Steppenwolf’s First Look Program [where this play was initially developed] is the play received a full production, but it never opens. I got to be in the hot seat of rewriting, but didn’t have the stress of being reviewed. I did massive rewrites for First Look, and then it was on the main stage, and I did more rewrites. The curve of technology and e-books was not as popular then. In 2010, audiences weren’t used to seeing iPads at all. Now they are ubiquitous. I did significant rewrites before the New York production and more before the Australian production. And then even more rewrites before the 2014 production in New York. By the time I got to that production, there was nothing happening onstage that I was sitting there, thinking, “I don’t know how to fix it”.

You are well-known as both a playwight and as a writer for House of Cards on TV. What are the differences for writing for the two mediums of TV and theatre?
The process [of writing for TV] is more like adaptation. I am stepping into a pre-existing world. Inevitably, I bring my own voice, but what I am trying to do is create new material where the seams don’t show between what I am generating and what exists. It’s incredibly collaborative. I was working with six writers [on House of Cards] and getting to know how their brains work and what ideas they generate was a gift.

What advice would you give to writers just starting out?
I was the beneficiary of a lot of people saying yes, and I also got a huge amount of no’s, but I didn’t pay attention to those. The one bit of inspiration I have at my desk is a fortunate cookie that says, “keep on keeping on”. This is the key. I kept leaning in, and no opportunity was too small, and I listened to the people who were encouraging.

You have such an eclectic range of stories. What are you working on now?
I’m working on a pilot, and I recently wrote a feature film. I also just finished working on season four of House of Cards, and an adaptation of Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates in Philadelphia.