Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Inside SCR: Learning to Embrace Change

Kat Zukaitis, South Coast Repertory Literary Associate

Life is unpredictable and, often, moments of unexpected change can have the biggest impact on the course of our lives. Sandra Tsing Loh details one of her own upheavals in The Madwoman in the Volvo—a trip to Burning Man and a midlife crisis which sends her life up in flames.

Everyone tackles change differently. For Kat Zukaitis, SCR’s literary associate and assistant dramaturg for The Madwoman in the Volvo, it’s about embracing that change. Just a few months ago, she took a big leap and accepted her current position at SCR, relocating to Southern California from Chicago.

What’s your background before SCR?
I grew up in the great state of Nebraska and never really wanted to leave home. But I did, and then I kept on moving. I majored in comparative literature at Haverford College and went on to get a master’s in religion and literature at Yale Divinity School.

I also spent a couple of delightful years teaching high school English classes in France and Austria. Finally, I decided that I could best combine my interests in literature, performance, culture, and language through a career in dramaturgy and literary management.

I spent the last few years in Chicago and Louisville, balancing literary internships, freelance dramaturgy work, dance rehearsals and a variety of day jobs (including stints as a cathedral administrator, server, ballet teacher, babysitter and orthodontic equipment sterilizer).

What first drew you into theatre? 
I started performing in local musicals as a kid and never really grew out of the habit. The problem was that I got “hooked” on just about everything growing up—I was equally enthusiastic about ballet, fencing, student council, chemistry, church, tennis, reading and the list goes on.

I have incredibly fond memories of choreographing summer shows during college and dragging my friends to foreign language improv classes, but I knew that I wanted a career that involved some kind of research or literary analysis, rather than performance.

It wasn’t until I was in divinity school that I first heard of dramaturgy and realized that theatre might be more than a beloved hobby for me. Dramaturgy affords me the chance to participate in the collective life of texts and to collaborate on the creation and analysis of new additions to the theatrical canon.

Kat leading a post-show discussion for Abundance
What do you like best about working as SCR's literary associate?
I get paid to read plays, which is miraculous! I particularly appreciate how often we get to work with living playwrights at SCR. Playwrights, as a rule, are the best.

What was it like to make a big move for the job at SCR? 
Full-time literary positions are few and far between, so I always knew that moving was a strong possibility if I wanted to work in this field. SCR has been on my radar for several years because of the Pacific Playwrights Festival—if you work in new play development, this is one of the best places to be.

I only had about three weeks to quit my job in Chicago, pack my bags, drive across the country and settle in, so it was a bit of a whirlwind departure. I was teaching dance in Chicago at the time and convinced my sister to take over my classes for the rest of the summer—and it turns out that the younger students couldn’t tell the difference between us anyway!

Were you nervous about the move?
In the last 10 years, I’ve lived in 10 different cities, spread across four countries (that adds up to 16 apartments and about 27 roommates). When I arrived in Germany, I didn’t even speak the language! I could say “the cat is on the table” and sing a drinking song, and that was it. So after that move, all the rest have seemed pretty easy.

What has settling in been like? 
I’ve got moving down to an art form. Basically, you need a long game and a short game, and the short game is easy. Find entertainment, find artistic or athletic fulfillment and find friends.

In my case, this boils down to finding a ballet studio, a trivia team, a language class or discussion group and a swing & blues dancing venue. Once those elements are in place, I have a solid base from which to branch out socially and creatively, and work on the long game.

My other rule is to shrug and seize the moment. You’re at your most vulnerable during big changes, but that also means that you’re uniquely willing to meet new people and try new things. I treat moving like improv. Unless you’ve got a solid reason to say no, try starting with “yes, and…?”

How do you suggest approaching big decisions that can change your life? 
I grew up hating change and never wanting to leave Nebraska. But each move got easier, and each time I had to leave something I loved behind, I realized that there was something else I could grow to love ahead of me—and that if there wasn’t, it was in my power to change my life again. Your life is going to go through big changes no matter what you do, so you might as well embrace that potential.

But, it’s worth acknowledging that I’ve been extremely fortunate to be in a position where I’m able to take risks. I can’t overstate what a gift it is to get to ask myself, over and over, what opportunities I would regret passing up. That’s a degree of freedom that is rare, and I try to recognize it and cherish the opportunities I have, realizing that they are a product of youth, able-bodiedness, economic stability, family support and relative independence.

Most big changes are not ones that we get to choose: they’re a death in the family or a mass layoff, an unexpected child or the onset of age… and it seems to me that the real test in life is not taking a leap, but getting back to your feet after the unexpected fall.

And that ability to get back up on your feet after the fall factors heavily in the storyline of The Madwoman in the Volvo. Whether it's uprooting your life in Kat's case or a midlife crisis in Sandra's, change is just another part of life that everyone can conquer.

Learn more about The Madwoman in the Volvo

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