Playwright Profile

Isabel Estelle


ANPF 2023 Winner

October 19 and 21, 2023

Playwright Bio

Play Details

Isabel Estelle 4by6

Currently residing: Minneapolis, MN

Grew up in: Ashland, Oregon

Creative beginnings: I always assumed I would hate theater because I hated improv games and the skits we were required to perform in classes as a kid. I loved writing stories, but my scope of experience for theater was limited to educational grade-school plays and Shakespeare - neither of which I really liked - and CATS the Musical - which existed as a sort of singular, living phenomenon in my mind; like mushrooms, or the ocean. Once I got to high school and was introduced to musicals other than CATS, and non-musicals, it was fairly uneventful journey from: “Oh that’s cool,” to: “I bet I could do that.” And after I realized that plays were primarily character interaction and dialogue (my favorite parts of writing) I was a goner.

Playwriting inspiration: Having the opportunity to feed my curiosity about the world. Every new piece of knowledge I gain gets added to a strange little mycelial network of ideas that might eventually sprout into a play somewhere down the line. Honest practical answer: access to stable housing, finances, and medical care. Nothing has killed my creativity faster than the times it was necessary to put all my energy into fighting for one or multiple of those things.

Writing process: A thought like “Wouldn’t it be interesting if…” appears in my head, 2. I kick it around my skull for about two years until a story and characters start to stick to it. 3. I spend an eternity researching background information and making an accompanying textbook’s worth of incomprehensible notes. 4. I turn those incomprehensible notes into a first draft somehow. 5. I re-read it a thousand times and change minuscule details each time. 6. I stuff it in my closet and don’t make eye contact with it for three months. 7. I take it back out and continue re-reading and editing until I’m more-or-less satisfied. 8. I give it to a few trusted people to read and provide feedback, while I pretend to be normal and chill and definitely not anxiously pacing behind them. 9. I take their feedback into account or don’t. 10. Re-read, edit. Re-read edit. Re-read edit. 11. End of play..

Ashland's origin: The simplest answer is that I got a bee in my bonnet about how to write a death scene where the character never closes their eyes, and I had done several academic projects about medical aid in dying. The more complicated answer is my lifelong connection/preoccupation with death and our relationship to it. Death is one of the things that makes me feel like I can momentarily see the thousands of years worth of people that came before me, all of them bending and moving in sync as we bury and burn our dead. I wanted to write a play that captured the feeling of how insurmountable grief is, while somehow being so stupid and mundane at the same time. Like, what do you mean I still have to clean cat puke off the carpet? My sibling just died, shouldn’t things stop for a second? Grief and humor are inseparable to me because dying is such an absurd, unceremonious thing, it’s impossible for it not to be funny.

Favorite moment or line: The majority of my favorite moments aren’t technically in the script at all. I guess you could call them subtext, but that doesn’t quite capture the full extent of it for me; they are unspoken interactions that reveal a brief window into the inner life of a character. The moments are designed to be invisible and pass by without notice if the actors don’t play it, but there will be a quiet breath of something extra if the actors do. It’s like leaving a scavenger hunt for the creative team, and I can always tell when they’ve found it. 

Most looking forward to at ANPF: I love getting to sit back and see how other people’s minds interact with my work without any direction from me. I am very aware of my limited perspective when writing - I frequently agonize over trying to make my characters speak differently from each other and from me- so watching a creative team bring their various opinions and experiences to the script is magical. They breathe life into the story in ways that had never even occurred to me. It’s like spending years sewing the most beautiful, expressive costume you could possibly make and finally getting to see someone dance in it for the first time. 

Audience experience: I hope that audiences will experience what it’s like holding two things to be true at once. Death is blunt, unfair, and unceremonious. It is also sacred, tender, and magical. Life exists as a series of experiences laid on top of each other like plates of glass, and I have found great comfort in learning how to look through all of them at once, without trying to pull them apart. I also hope that people are reminded how many others have grieved like they have, and how many of them will be sitting in the same room, watching the same play.

Click here to learn more