Who’s Next: Stephen Karam, Playwright

Playbill Pride   Who’s Next: Stephen Karam, Playwright
As part of Playbill Pride 2016, we set our sights on the next generation of LGBTQ artists. Meet playwright Stephen Karam.
Stephen Karam
Stephen Karam Jenny Anderson

Stephen Karam

Tony Award winner Stephen Karam is a two-time finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Sons of Prophet, about two brothers who are left alone after their father dies of a heart attack, was a finalist in 2012; and The Humans, a family drama set over Thanksgiving dinner was just awarded the 2016 Tony Award for Best Play. The production marks his Broadway debut. The work, currently at the Helen Hayes Theatre, quickly transferred to Broadway after producer Scott Rudin saw its Off-Broadway incarnation with Roundabout Theatre Company. All of Karam’s work have featured gay characters. Yet, his stories aren’t necessarily about the LGBT experience; rather, they are about the world of today—which, of course, includes people of all backgrounds, ethnicities and experiences.

In a work such as The Humans, is it important to you to create gay characters without this being the crux of your story or the sole quality that defines them?
Well, without a conscious effort, all of my plays have all featured gay characters. I’m proud of that. I’d say a character like Aimee, from The Humans, can exist onstage without “coming out” scenes because of the work of Larry Kramer and Craig Lucas and Tony Kushner and many others who blazed the trail...

You've said before that your work is deeply autobiographical.
No, no—I've said it's "emotional autobiography.” Meaning not literal autobiography. But I’m always trying to tell the truth behind a shield of fiction.

How has your sexuality and/or your coming out process shaped the pieces you’ve created?
Well, I think being gay has resulted in gay characters standing front and center in all of my work.

What is your earliest memory of theatre?
My older sister’s production of Little Shop of Horrors at North Scranton Intermediate School. I was in first grade. I loved it.

Who has been especially crucial in your creative development?
Because I didn’t go to graduate school or have mentorship out of college, meeting other playwrights and developing those friendships as a result of being a "grown up” playwright—that’s become an essential community for me. My contemporaries are all my mentors whether they know it or not.

LGBTQ theatrical moment that most impressed me:
Seeing Joe Mantello in the revival of The Normal Heart. Reading The Dying Gaul by Craig Lucas.

I wish the theatre had more…
Health insurance for playwrights and subsidized tickets.

The next challenge I want to take on is…
A new play, of course! But not ready to share details yet…

I hope my legacy as an artist will be…
I hope to be known as a writer who told the truth.

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