Artist Profile: Colin Waitt

Artist Profile: Colin Waitt

Meet Colin Waitt, a Brooklyn-based actor, producer, and writer participating in Art House's INKubator, a year-long generative new play program. 

What was the first production you saw?
I remember our elementary school going on a field trip to a local high school's production of Snow White. I must have been in Kindergarten or the first grade. I couldn't tell you anything specific about the show itself, but two there are two things I remember vividly. One: I was fascinated by the actor playing the magic mirror because they were covered in silver paint. I had never seen someone painted silver before and thought it was the coolest thing ever. I wanted to be that person. And two: as I sat there on a mat on the gym's floor, I began to believe that magic was possible in the world...and that the magic happened in the theater. It'd be years until I'd do my first show, but after that truly unmemorable production, I was hooked.

Why are the arts important to you? 
Art makes life worth living. It can make ugly things beautiful and beautiful things ugly. It can entertain. It can delight. It can give you a window into someone else's experience or help you see that you are not alone in your own. It gives life meaning and a shape. It gives life.

What is inspiring you right now? Who are you following?
I think it's been hard for a lot of us to feel creative during this pandemic. Or to feel like we can be creative in useful, non self-serving ways. I've been inspired by theater artists who are giving right now. Suzan-Lori Parks has done Watch Me Work via The Public and Howlround on Zoom, and honestly some days it's been a lifeline. Taking part has added shape to my week and given me a little sense of purpose each day. I just watched the Richard Nelson's latest Apple Family play that was recorded on Zoom, and oh man was that something I didn't realize I needed. It was comforting to encounter those characters during this crisis and also to see something written for Zoom that worked so well on the medium. It was an unexpected balm. I've had a hard time hunkering down and reading since social distancing came into effect, but prior to it I found inspiration in memoirs set in New York that neither romanticize nor demonize the city. Things like Vivian Gornick's Fierce Attachments and The Odd Woman and the City and Patti Smith's Just Kids.

What's the elevator pitch for the play Oh God, which you're working on in INKubator?
A man who may or may not have been visited by God who may or may not have tasked him with saving us in these troubled times may or may not create a new religion that may or may not destroy us all. The road to hell is paved with good intentions in this comedy about belief, truth and Dolly Parton.

What inspired you to write Oh God
I'm constantly amazed/amused/disheartened to observe that humanity's greatest obstacle to its salvation is usually itself. I took a walk the other day and people were playing basketball. Basketball when we're supposed to avoid contact. A few weeks ago I was amazed by the furor and resistance to New York City banning plastic bags...and then when it finally happened, it was so smooth and seamless a transition it's incredible that it didn't happen sooner.  I don't remember if there was a specific thing that put religion in my head last year when I pitched this play, but I'd been wanting to write something where people are always striving to be better...and the greatest obstacle to their betterment is everything they say and do. Oh God is the result.

Where are you in the writing process for Oh God?
This is the hardest thing I've ever written. When I pitched this idea to Arthouse, it was the tiniest sliver of an idea. When they said yes, I was beyond excited...but also terrified because it meant I had to actually write this play. I'm trying to explore some big ideas--belief, truth, God--but I'm trying to do it in a way that's entertaining. That's my ethos as a writer: wanting people on the edge of their seats asking, "What comes next?" just as much as they're thinking about bigger things. It's really hard. My wish of wishes is for this play to delight as much as it challenges. I'm still trying to work out that balance.

What's your writing process like? Has your writing process changed over time? 
My process varies by project. Sometimes I start with a character or two I want to write, sometimes it's a set up, and sometimes it's a theme. In this case, I knew this would be a play about a millennial who may or may not have been visited by God and how he inadvertently starts a new religion. The explorations of class, homelessness, belief, truth, Dolly Parton...all that was discovered along the way. When I first started writing, I was very much of the mindset, "My characters will tell me how to finish the story." I.e. I'll figure it out as I go and there's no point in planning for the end until you hit it. Now, I'm much more likely to have a clearer idea of the arc of the story (even if it changes drastically in the writing process). My favorite thing about writing (weirdly) is when you share your pages for the first time. It's when you learn what works and what doesn't. It's also when your (hopefully) supportive colleagues help you figure out how to write the play you want to write. It's also when it feels like you can more easily cut what's not working or reimagine everything, compared to going through that after you've finished a full draft or two. My greatest joy in this process has been sharing pages in our monthly meetings and discovering which moments really work.

Is there anything else you'd like to share? 
As a writer, there are so few opportunities to have institutional support. You spend the majority of your time making your art in total isolation. I've spent this whole residency feeling like each day is my birthday. Feedback from talented people, a reading to work toward, an organization believing my work has value. Who could ask for anything more? I cannot thank Art House and Alex enough for their belief, resources, and deadlines. I could not have written this play without them.

Colin Waitt’s work has been produced by The PIT, The Tank, This Is Not a Theater Company, Dixon Place, Barn Arts, and The Minnesota Fringe Festival. Café Play (Co-written with Erin Mee, Jenny Lyn Bader, and Jessie Bear) was called "Best of Off-Off Broadway" by Time Out New York. His musical, Little, was a finalist for The New Victory Theater's LabWorks. His short play, The Pain of Loving You, was a finalist for the Ken Davenport Short Play Prize. Colin produced the original run of Puffs at The Peoples Improv Theater and was an Associate Producer on its record-breaking run off-Broadway at New World Stages.
Website:  www.colinwaitt.com