Friday, April 29, 2016

Honesty: Not the Best Policy, But the Clearest

By Natalie Zutter

One of the best compliments I’ve gotten is that my work is very honest. It was also, the first time it was given, a backhanded compliment—a suggestion that maybe I would be wise to scale things back, to not quite “say it like it is.” This is ironic, considering that much of my work is couched in layers of sci-fi and speculative fiction metaphor, that it explores the far reaches of outer space, the space between comic-book panels, the cracks in time.

I don’t like to bullshit; I’m good at it, but when given the opportunity, I discard that shield. Speaking directly and articulating the weird, uncomfortable stuff—especially the weird, uncomfortable stuff—helps. It’s something I do when I’m hit with anxiety; I say my irrational fears out loud because then we’ll all agree how ridiculous they actually sound. It’s the same with my writing, especially when it comes to the power dynamics I can’t help but see in almost every interaction: Let’s shine a spotlight on the difficult dichotomy of wanting to tear down other women and build them up; let’s examine the push-and-pull of a “friends with benefits” relationship when one person treats the other like more of an object than a human.

Sex With Robots. Photo by Kacey Stamats.
I’ve long struggled with my own power imbalance—the desire to tell out-of-this-dimension stories with the obligation to aim more for naturalism. My first playwriting class, I wrote a dystopian thriller set in a world where marriage was outlawed. It probably should have been a screenplay, but instead of telling me that, my professor firmly said, “I don’t get this,” as if that were the final word. For years it was, and I struggled to find interesting stories.

In the New York indie theater community, I rediscovered that sci-fi/speculative lens, through the work of Mac Rogers and Gideon Productions; through involvement with Caps Lock Theatre’s Sex With Robots Festival and The Brick’s Comic Book Theater Festival. Those uncomfortable power dynamics I highlighted found their stories in (respectively) A Real Boy, about a woman sharing her list of sexual partners with her sex robot FWB; and RETCONtroversy, one superhero’s journey through four bodies and various comic-book identities.

RETCONtroversy. Photo by Anton Nickel.
Also, the guys at Law & Order were on to something; I’ve ripped several stories from the headlines and written short plays about Twitter stalkers, Leonard Nimoy’s nude photography, the celebrity nude photos leak, and even the CIA’s secretive Starbucks. These are stories about body image, confusing and unconsciously predatory sexuality, obsession, and the simple desire to know the name of someone you see every day. They’re dark, and sad, and funny; I hope they make people laugh but then give a soft “ohh” of recognition.

The writer friend who chastised me for being too honest never saw any of my plays, and therefore never saw me as an artist. The indie theater community has.


Natalie Zutter’s plays include A Real Boy, RETCONtroversy, Drinks/The Sincerest Form, and Stealthy Starbucks. Her work has been developed/performed at The Brick’s Comic Book Theater Festival, The Tank, The Secret Theatre, True False Theatre, and TinyRhino. Her play Drinks/The Sincerest Form was further developed during True False Theatre’s inaugural The Polygraph Tests residency, and her play A Real Boy was commissioned for Caps Lock Theatre’s The Sex With Robots Festival. She is a graduate of NYU’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study (with a concentration in Serialized Storytelling and Internet Culture) and current member of the EMG Playwriting Workshop. By day, she is a staff writer for the sci-fi/fantasy website You can find her online @nataliezutter and, and on the New Play Exchange.

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