Open Art Marriage 

Natalie Zutter 

Women in Theater Interview: Mariah MacCarthy, Leta Tremblay, and Diana Oh

by Natalie Zutter

          L to R Diana Oh, Leta Tremblay and Mariah MacCarthy

“We wouldn’t be alive without each other,” actor/writer/performer Diana Oh says near the end of our interview. Director/producer Leta Tremblay immediately chimes in with a story about driving Diana and playwright/producer/performer Mariah MacCarthy through a snowstorm. Diana adds, “Our art wouldn’t be alive without each other.” This veritable trifecta of accomplished women are each other’s muses, each other’s family, each other’s support system—informing one another’s work since their first collaboration (2012’s The Foreplay Play) and living out an open art marriage and art family that has them “sharing” each other’s talents with other artists.

Like any great love story, they met multiple times over the years: Leta and Diana at Smith College, where Leta drove Diana to the Eugene O’Neill National Theater Institute because she believed that was where Diana’s work belonged; Leta braving New York City blizzards and unbearable heat to see Mariah’s first shows. Mutual adoration and respect for each other’s craft and worldview have coalesced into an unbeatable collaboration of Leta directing Mariah’s plays, often starring Diana—important, incisive, wrenching works about sexuality, queerness, rape culture, bodily autonomy, and love.


First Collaboration: The Foreplay Play

The Foreplay Play

Ampersand was where I realized working with Leta is like breathing,” Mariah says of her queer, gender-swapped Romeo & Juliet musical, her first collaboration with Leta—though as producer, not director, at the 2011 New York City Fringe Festival. Soon after, the two founded Caps Lock Theatre and mounted the company’s first production in 2012: The Foreplay Play, about an attempted foursome that’s equal parts sexy and awkward, staged at a real NYC apartment. Diana played Isabel, one of the instigators of the foursome, which involved plenty of using the real kitchen and making out on the kitchen island.

This site-specific production had its hiccups (like when the apartment’s tenants discovered a “surprise poop” wrapped up in a bathmat), but it also put these three “on the map” within the indie theater community.

Diana Oh: I will also say that as an actor, with that being one of the first seven experiences in New York City, “Here’s a full-length play, here’s how you’re going to do it, it’s in an apartment, fifteen people at a time, we’re rehearsing wherever we can rehearse, and it’s all from the ground up, and we’re also friends, and we’re family”… You’re part of something so exciting as an actor. There’s something so gratifying about building a show together in that way.

Leta Tremblay: You were also informing the role. You were already cast in it when she was writing the full-length.

DO: That’s exciting, too, because you feel like you’re growing something so organic, and you can’t fake it. I feel like the audience knows that. They’re part of something that’s really electric in that way. It’s not like you’re a hired gun, you came in, you auditioned, you dropped your headshot, you did a monologue. No, no, we’re all informing each other so much, how to write it, how to act it…

Mariah MacCarthy: That show was the thing that introduced me to a lot of people in the indie community, especially the Gideon Productions folks. Mac Rogers and Sean Williams had never seen my work; I had never seen theirs. They came to Foreplay Play and they were just like, “Holy shit.”

Then it was nominated for IT Awards and—I’m not gonna say it put me on the map, because I had been on some people’s maps before then, but it put me on some maps. And a lot of people were coming up to me like, “Diana Oh? Holy shit” and I was like, “I know. Get on that.”

Informing Each Other’s Work

With so much focus on their tight-knit collaboration, we asked about how their art created on their own differed. But the truth is, these three are constantly inspiring one another due to their close proximity: Leta and Diana are roommates, and all three have made regular pilgrimages to Doylestown, PA, for Filling the Well, a retreat that Diana runs where you spend a weekend (in her words) “strip[ping] yourself bare, fuck social media, fuck your ego, fuck your resume, who gives a fuck, we’re all children playing.” Their values and worldviews are constantly reflected and echoed in one another’s work, from Mariah’s boundary-pushing Lysistrata Rape Play to Diana’s rape culture-fighting {my lingerie play}. We asked Mariah if she writes to Diana’s or Leta’s strengths, or if they’re the ones she trusts with the really off-the-wall stuff.

MM: Not necessarily that I couldn’t trust other people, but for instance, when we created Mrs. Mayfield[‘s Fifth-Grade Class of ’93 20-Year Reunion in 2013], there was no one else I was going to approach to direct it but Leta. It was Gchat and I was like, “Here’s the idea: We bring together ten of our favorite actors and we create a party play with them, and they’ll improvise and I’ll write the script based on what they improvise, and we’ll do it in an apartment.” And she was like, “Great.”

Sometimes Leta and Diana end up involved in projects in ways that I didn’t anticipate, and sometimes I tailor a project for them. Like, when I wrote Lysistrata Rape Play, I did not write the role of the Matriarch for Diana, but she wound up playing her, and I was like, “Oh, of course.”

{my lingerie play}

DO: That happens often to me, where people are like, “We peg you for this role” and I’m “Mmm, no, I’m gonna do this thing that I want.” When you work with your support system, it gives you strength to give no fucks. That’s the greatest thing about this collaboration, that you can’t fake it. You become the strongest, best version of yourself where you’re like, “This is what I want, I want to do it this way” and it just bleeds into every single day of your life. There’s an incredible amount of trust.

 […] The first time I ever played ukulele and sang onstage was in Magic Trick. I was like a closeted singer-songwriter, “I just have this hobby that I love to do.” But then my solo show [Diana Oh is Going ROGUE at terraNOVA Collective] was my way of saying, “Fuck the world. I sing and song-write, you guys can go fuck yourselves or sing with me.” And then festivals and shit, and then {my lingerie play} happened. Because we live together, we’re always talking, we feed off each other’s energy.

LT: We’re collaborating even when we’re not doing a show together. I run lines with Diana all the time.

DO: She helps me with all my auditions because we live together, and we’re always around each other. Mariah is a part of {my lingerie play} because of course she is, our politics are the same and I respect her as a human being and a woman on this earth. […] Our view on the world and how we want the world to be is the same. We expect things from people in the same way.

MM: We want respect and we want women to be safe, and we want the world to be queer, and beautiful and not racist. We want love in our process, first and foremost, before quote-unquote legitimacy or fanciness. All of that is very, very aligned.

DO: We want to be seen. We want to be seen for what we are. I think it’s very telling that I rarely have a sexual experience that I don’t want to tell Mariah about.

MM: And vice versa. There becomes this thing where the other person is literally in your art. […] I was working on [my solo show] Baby Mama; I wrote the first chunk of it at The Well, Diana and Leta were both there. There’s all these stories Diana is in, and a lot of them are sexual. I was using a pseudonym for her and she was like, “No, use my name! I want to own that. I was in the room for that.” I was using her name and it still felt weird to me somehow, so she’s DiDi in the show, which is a nickname for her—sort of this happy medium. Diana is literally a part of that play, not just in its formation, but I’m telling the story of our friendship in that play. […] When you tell the story of yourself and your self is so tied up in these people you love, you’re also going to be telling the story of these people.

DO: As a performer who is also creating her own work, that shit does not happen in a vacuum, in a room by yourself at a desk. If I didn’t have Mariah and Leta—obviously by now we’re friends, we’re each other’s muses, we’re each other’s inspirations, we’re each other’s sounding boards… I think it all comes down to a support system. I feel like I have the best one, the strongest one. They support me, and vice versa. We will fight to the death for each other.


Open Art Marriages and New Art Family

LT: Mariah and I are art-married. We’re art-wives, but we have an open art-marriage.

MM: Polyamorous.

LT: Meaning that we also art with other people. That was very important in our very first conversation when we formed Caps Lock Theatre.

Another amazing thing about this is, new people are becoming family all the time.

DO: The first who come to mind are [photographer] Kacey [Anisa Stamats] and [writer/performer/filmmaker] Hye Yun [Park]. I met Kacey through Mariah they met Hye-Yun through me. We’ve all worked with each other’s people—and they have their own game and their own shit. No one’s trying to put all their eggs in one basket.

MM: I think love is magnetic, and I think of the absolutely crazy things that actors have agreed to do as part of my plays, and I think that part of it is they can sense the love and it feels good to be part of it. […] The safety and trust come from a place of love. I’m just really grateful to everyone who says yes to me.

Advice for Female Artists: Self-Promote and Be Fearless

Much of these women’s success can be attributed to what some might call social media savvy—using the platform to crowdfund, sell tongue-in-cheek (and on-brand) T-shirts, and provide constant and unique updates on their productions. They share some advice for female artists on getting the word out.

LT: You have to be fearless. It’s awesome [if] you believe in yourself, but we all don’t sometimes. Everyone doubts who they are as a person, who they are as an artist, that anything they have to say is worthwhile for anybody else. The important part is being fearless and just doing it. Because you’ve decided to make the thing, to produce the play, to create these opportunities for yourself, whatever the case may be, and the marketing is just part of the process, part of the conversation with your audience. […] They could not show up, and that’s O-fucking-K. But they’re not gonna come at all if they don’t know about it.

MM: Plug your show every fucking day. Say something different about your show every day. You’ve gotta beat Facebook’s algorithm; if you post the same link every day, it’s gonna stop showing it to people. Post a status update about the show, post different links, post a fucking picture, make sure you have beautiful press and production photos, post about something awesome that happened in rehearsal. I don’t give a fuck if people are sick of hearing about it. Not everyone’s looking at your shit every day, so you’re gonna reach someone new every day. Do crowdfunding campaigns. Put some thought into it; don’t just say, “My Indiegogo is still going on.”

Always have a way for people to give you money. […] Never apologize for it. I get so many personal email or mass emails about fundraising that open with an apology: “Sorry I’m sending too many emails.”

DO: It’s about creating a community around something you’re compassionate about. My experience with it is knowing that I walk around this earth as an artist as my own political statement. That will always be my motto. I know what I look like—I’m an Asian queer woman, and that means something. So, my visibility means something, my presence mean something. When I post something online it’s like, “Here’s a cute picture of a cat” but I also agree in having a visual that you exist, please exist and stop silencing yourself.

If your art is an extension of you and your social media is an extension of you, then all your marketing is going to exist in the same space and same conversation. Like, Mac Rogers is posting about Doctor Who and the future and shit and then he writes these sci-fi plays, and that’s all of a piece. Diana and I are “feminism rah rah and rape” and then we create the art that we create, and it’s all of a piece. So, it’s not like “oh I’m being me and posting pictures of my food and that’s one thing, that’s one version of me, and then my marketing is over here, it’s this thing I have to put on.” It’s all the same thing. Just be yourself in all of that—

—and make no apologies. Be honest, be queer, be who you are.

MM: Dope photography will help you, too.

DO: That was my process with {my lingerie play}—we can’t just do it live once and that’s it, like “Wasn’t that a magical live experience?” If we don’t have a visual, a film, pictures, it’s like what are we doing? We’re trying to combat the system and not using the tools that the system uses.

LT: And expanding the conversation beyond our own network.

DO: Leta reminds me of this all the time where she’s like, “Your work is greater than you. Accept that.”


More Diversity in Theater

Magic Trick

“I often play this game when I’m watching anything, a play, a film, whatever, a music video, where I switch the genders of people,” Leta says. “So that’s also a super-fun game you can play on your own to see, ‘Oh wow, it still works.’” No surprise, these three work to fill their casts and ensembles with people of color, women, trans people, people with disabilities—anything but the straight white man.

DO: Your POC actors do not only have to play POC. And why do I respect this collaboration so much? Because I feel like these are the two people who took—I’m not even gonna say, “Omigod, they really took a chance on me”—they fucking saw me as a human being and let me play character that had nothing to do with the way I looked and everything to do with my personality. I just felt safe. And that gift as an actor of color is so priceless, and I wish every actor of color could have that experience to do their projects when they’re first starting out in New York that isn’t answering to some casting call of Asian-only. You’re building something together; you’re building a human being together. Go find your POC and use them not as just POC.

MM: When you claim that all your people are white just because they are the best people—

LT: You’re not looking. You’re being lazy.

MM: The people who cast diversely and who cast quote-unquote against type, which is bullshit because anyone can play practically everything, and who cast people with disabilities in roles that aren’t disabled or cast people of a certain ethnicity or certain body type in roles that don’t necessarily have anything to do with that—we’re not the heroes. The heroes are the artists of colors or with disabilities or of whatever marginalized bullshit they inhabit who keep pounding the pavement and making the art and hanging in there despite a really racist, sexist, ridiculous world. So I want to say thank you all, please keep doing it, the world is very very slowly catching up with you.

DO: I won’t see plays with all white people anymore.

LT: I won’t see plays with all men anymore.

MM: I’ll see it if the tickets are free and I have to for political reasons, but… it’s going to take a lot to win me over if that’s what we’re starting from.

LT: You’ve got something to prove to me. […] I think something we’re all coming back to is this idea of seeing and being seen. We are all drawn to each other because we really see each other, and we feel seen by each other. We bring that out into the world, too; we want to see you, and we want you to feel seen by us collaborators.

Required Reading/Listening/Seeing

We asked the trio to share what’s currently inspiring them:

  • The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer and Drawing Blood by Molly Crabapple
  • Get Bullish: “[For] everyone, male or female or otherwise but especially women. There’s lots of business advice in there for crunchy, weird, queer artists who are like, ‘How do I make this business plan?’”
  • Broad City: “I don’t know why someone didn’t make me watch this sooner.”

  • The Chalene Show podcast: “Granted, I think the target audience is people who want to sell their products on QVC, but for whatever reason, every time I listen to it, I’m like, ‘Yes. For sure. The power of no! Yeah, no!’ She’s just really awesome.
  • Play by Jonathan Stewart Brown: “I think it breaks down what this is and why this collaboration works. His whole thesis is, when you play, when you let yourself play, that’s when you find your authentic self, your authentic voice, your passion, your purpose, your job. It’s liberating. We don’t let ourselves play enough. I think this is a result of us playing—we just played, and we let ourselves play. Then we work, fine, but we’re all working to play.” (Leta: “Playing to work.”)

  • TED Talks by women (Mariah: “Watch the one on vulnerability if you haven’t yet.”)

And personal plugs!

  • Di & Liv & Rose: Directed by Amelia Bullmore, produced by the three actresses; June 2-19 at The Studio Theatre at Theatre Row (Indiegogo)
  • Social media: @letatremblay on Twitter and Instagram; Leta Tremblay on Facebook; website; @capslocktheatre on Twitter, Caps Lock Theatre on Facebook; website

  • {my lingerie play}: “I’m making music with [My Lingerie Band] in May, and then turning it into a documentary theater concert film. So, turning it into more of a film rather than a show that you see for one night and then we all go home and feel our feelings.”
  • Social media: @Ohyeahdiana on Twitter and Instagram, Diana Oh on Facebook, my lingerie play on Facebook, #mylingerieplay, website, SoundCloud, Vimeo; crowdfunding for #mylingerieplay

  • Baby Mama: Mariah is taking her solo show on the road to a couple of Fringe festivals this summer; more details coming soon.
  • The return of a Caps Lock Theatre tradition: “Anyone who thinks hard enough can put it together.”
  • Social media: @MariahMacCarthy on Twitter, @mariahmwrites on Instagram, Mariah MacCarthy on Facebook

For more incredible Women In Theatre, check out our April blog with posts from some of the most amazing theatre artists we know.


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