“Let’s ironically move to where Twin Peaks was”: An Interview with Eva Anderson
Under a very rare blood moon, I catch a ride to Bootleg Theater, located towards the east-side of Los Angeles, resting on a relatively quiet part of Beverly Blvd. The party is already in full swing. I grab my wristband and stroll through a DIY carnival for dreamers—tea readers, ring tosses, live music, couples dancing. It’s a benefit party for three well-respected theater companies—Sacred Fools, Note, and Rogue.
I grab a beer and poke my head outside. There, on the patio, is a red-headed woman looking super casual in a not too quirky tan and white jumpsuit. It’s Eva Anderson, who some might call a tour de force.
Having known Eva for years now, I can say with certainty that she fits the bill. For instance, one prerequisite of being a tour de force entails thinking such a title is complete bullshit. There is no rewarding label for simply being yourself—a daring person who gets it done, and if there is, that’s not the point . . . nor that rewarding.
Yes, Eva is a playwright, veteran Upright Citizen’s Brigade performer, and writer for FXX critically acclaimed You’re the Worst. But, all this doesn’t describe her heart, stamina, or intuition, which by far is much more interesting. It’s what she leads with.
What do you love about Los Angeles and the theater scene here?
It’s been kind to me. This place we’re at right now— Jessica Hanna at the Bootleg saw my plays and was like I’m gonna produce your work. It was the first time I ever didn’t have to pay for my own plays. I felt supported. It was amazing. Even though LA is a TV and film place, there’s a dedicated community of people who exclusively do theater—sound designers, costume designers, lighting designers. They just do 99 seat theater and nothing else— that’s how they make their living—and they’re so talented and so amazing. They are happy just doing that for their entire lives. People don’t know that about LA.
People shit on the theater scene here in LA sometimes.
They don’t get it. When this place was the Evidence Room, I would come here and see plays with Nick Offerman and Mike Cassady, who’s in my sketch group now. I was like—LA theater is amazing. I would come all the time and just see crazy plays.
You were born in LA, right?
Yes. My parents were club magicians. When I was five, my dad got work on television— he would be on talk shows or SNL and he got Cheers, but before, he was basically a street performer. He met my mom and looped her into his act. They were scrappy magicians. We would go to the Hermosa Comedy & Magic Club and I would get babysat by the comedians there. I would be on stage with my parents.
That sounds very romantic. Any favorite babysitters?
I have some pictures of me as a baby with Kenny Rogers in Vegas.
When I was 8, my dad had been on TV for a while. We moved to Fall City, Washington. It was nice to be in a rural place. It was dark and beautiful. It was hard. I was socially awkward.
Was this incubation period great for your writing process?
Yes, being a loner is good for anybody. I definitely spent some time alone. I think my parents moved there because they liked Twin Peaks. It was over and they were like—let’s ironically move to where Twin Peaks was.
In high school, did you put on weird plays for your family?
I was never a writer when I was younger. I never thought I would be one because I can’t maintain a journal. I thought that was writing.
Describe the first daydream that you had about being a writer, or when you were younger what did you think the life of a professional writer would look or feel like?
I never imagined that I would ever be a writer.
Even at age twenty, going to NYC, did you have a fantasy like—I’m going to wear blazers.
When I was in Young Playwrights, one of our prizes was having dinner with Alfred Uhry who wrote Driving Miss Daisy. We went to his house. It was just the tiniest apartment, crammed with books. We ate Chinese food. It was so magical. He won a Pulitzer and he just lived in this small house with his wife. It was like the type of writer I wanted to be. It wasn’t money. It was this always scrappy existence, that was really romantic to me. Is that weird?
No, I feel the same way. How does that experience sit with you now—thinking about your own career and your own life choices?
I took a series of jobs after college that were all reality show jobs. They were silly shows I didn’t care about. I made enough money to live. In the meantime, I did Upright Citizens Brigade Comedy or my plays. My focus was always on my freedom. It wasn’t a fancy house. It was that you wrote a thing you liked, lived in the little apartment with Chinese food, and were Alfred Uhry. That’s the end game. You get to work with your friends and have fun.
It’s about the grit of the experience.
Many of my peers worry about being taken seriously. I never cared about that. As long as I’m doing things I find interesting with people that I like, I don’t care if anyone takes me seriously. It’s about the actual process. If it’s enjoyable and the art that comes out is enjoyable, then I am happy.
That’s admirable. Do you think that certain daydreams of “becoming” something else are detrimental or beneficial to the creative process?
I agree that they are detrimental. There’s a book called Art and Fear. It says if you have an end goal— like “when I get this, I’ll be happy”—when you reach that, and there’s literally nothing beyond it, you’re just done.
A lot of people reach their artistic goals and they never make art again because the actual process of being an artist is like making art forever, but falling flat and most of it being disappointing with occasional success. I think goals are good for short term, but they have to be flexible, and you have to have new ones. Happiness has to be your own. It can’t be just because you got a prize. The process has to be positive.
You write for both theater and television. How does the act of writing scenes feed your creative spirit? Or maybe you rely more on experience to feed your creative spirit and writing to release it?
I’m in an interesting place. My writing for television is really like an assignment, like being in school, like the script is due by this date. If you don’t do it, then you have to do something I’ve never done in my life—which is like not do your work.
It’s tough to decide that your own writing or creative spirit is worth it when it’s not tied to a job, but I’ve had this weird realization that—I’ve always fed my creative experiences. I’m someone who goes on weird tours. I read a lot of books. I travel by myself.
Where? Tell me a few places.
China, Peru, Estonia, and Mexico. I’ve realized that there’s a creative part of myself that comes from the anxiety of feeling alone and scared. Also, there’s a social anxiety that is relieved by writing about it. So, I think some of my early work, my early plays, came out of that anxiety. I would sit alone.
At the Young Playwrights Contest, I was in NYC alone. I would go to TGI Fridays and write a play on a napkin in a big empty place full of people I was scared to talk to. I feel like that was a really creative place for me because I was able to channel the social anxiety into something.
So, traveling alone does that. It forces me to reckon with how huge the world is and how little I matter within it. It’s an uncomfortable space to live in, but good work comes from it.
Through the act of writing do you become comfortable?
No, but I come to enjoy my discomfort. I live in it and I am like, Woo! I’m so uncomfortable now.
When you watch a play, where does your mind go? Do you start to think about your own work, how you would alter the work you are watching, or do you try to stay completely inside the world of the play without judgment?
I like to lean forward in my seat. I like to experience plays as plays. I like to dissect them later and talk about them, but seeing live theater— there’s no better thing in the world. In the moment, I’m fully living with the people on stage.
We saw that play, La Mélancolie des Dragons, together. It was so good and my favorite part was that we sat so close. I never do that. The stage itself was full of snow and it was a mystical ambience. Being that close made me feel nice. How would you describe that play to people?
It’s like watching children show art that they love to their mom, but they’re metal heads, and she’s a homely older woman. It’s so baffling, but sweet and kind.
All the questions we were asking each other earlier that night, we were like, oh this play is about all of our questions. When you make art, you’re just making the thing you like and then showing your mom.
I have to say that conversation we had freed me. I was like, I can just make whatever, and I don’t give a shit anymore.
I felt that way too. I thought about it all day. I read all the reviews—it said the same thing. How it was a freeing weird piece of art.
I felt like that play gives its audience the permission to be a teenager about making art—where you’re just making things to make them, to share the joy of making it with other people, even just one person. It’s so simple.
There’s nothing worse than seeing art where you don’t think the person likes this thing they made. There’s nothing better than—that’s why I like the show I’m working on, You’re The Worst. The reason it’s so fun to work on is that we’re all making what we like. Art is sharing experience, not anticipating other people’s desires or what they want to see.
Was that the last play that really struck you or is there another one?
Oh, I’ll talk about Hand to God. It’s about how these kids do a Jesus ministry with puppets. One of the puppets starts speaking with this devil voice. So, is it actually possessed or is just the kid? He’s a sweet kid, but the puppet is evil. It goes from the height of comedy to the height of horror.
I met the director in October. His name is Moritz von Stuelpnagel. He described this thing that feels like all pieces of art should do—“Complete the gesture.”
So, at the beginning of your play, even if it’s a silly play, there is an initial idea that needs to be taken to where everyone knows it has to go.
Hand to God is about a possessed hand puppet. By the end of the play, you know this kid has to beat his hand with a hammer until he breaks all his fingers on stage and it’s… when you start watching it, in your heart, you know this is how it has to end.
I think about this when I’m creating art. What is my gesture and how do I complete it?
Then, is the drama a resistance you feel towards completing the gesture?
I don’t know. You don’t really know. Someone said the best ending is completely surprising but you knew it all along. When it happens in the play, you didn’t really know, but when it happens, it doesn’t feel out of nowhere— you’re like oh, of course, this is how this play ends.
I think it’s about catharsis. You’re building all this tension and then you are releasing it—it might be in a horrible way, but you have to do it. It has to happen.
When you say gesture, I love the phrase because it’s concrete.
It’s used in Anne Bogart’s company—SITI Company. It’s a physical thing she uses to fill theater. It’s a theatrical term, but he uses it in a larger sense.
It’s concrete but conceptual. The smashing of the hand is something you knew all along would happen, but it’s representative of something else.
Yeah. It’s like early off, you think, he should get rid of his hand; it’s ruining his life. But, you don’t really want to see that happen. Then, when it does, you’re like, we’re all here.
We are all complicit in this happening, and it’s so great.
Theater can create that moment—it’s really important.
What I admire the most about you, Eva, is that you constantly are on the go and ready to try a new adventure or learn a new skill. For instance, you recently travelled to Cuba. You sew your own dresses. You enter pie contests at the County Fair. You have a true passion for living. Would you ever abandon writing for another adventure? How do you daydream about twenty years from now?
I always want to be creative—collaborating with other people. I hope I’ll be creating things. I think all my ambitious projects that I do—I see a subculture, I want to know what it’s like to be in the subculture. The County Fair—I went there, and I was like, oh, people here have a point of view that I don’t understand. I’ll do it and then I’ll understand it. So, I entered the County Fair for five years. It was never about winning. I just wanted to know what it was like.
But you did win.
I won a blue ribbon and a red ribbon. But it took a long time. My category is bundt cakes.
It sounds like you want to empathize— to really feel the space and not judge it.
I want to understand it. This year, I also made a deal with myself to go to one thing I might hate.
That’s great. Even if something is terrible, I still sorta like it. I think it’s important to see how other people are communing with it.
Who cares if you’re bored for two hours? Are you a baby? This is me talking to myself. Just deal with being bored for two hours. Yeah, I like to be bored. I like doing things I hate because I’m not a baby who gets to do all the things she likes all the time.
What’s more interesting to you, truth or fiction?
In the moment, neither matters. It’s all about how it becomes the story.
Eva Anderson is a writer for You’re the Worst (FXX) and previously wrote for Comedy Bang! Bang! (IFC). She teaches sketch comedy at the Upright Citizens Brigade in Los Angeles, where she has also written and performed in a monthly show with her sketch group A Kiss From Daddy since 2007. As a playwright, her work has been published by Playscripts, inc. and nominated for the LA Weekly Theatre award for Playwriting.
Stacy Elaine Dacheux’s work has been shown at studio 1.1 in London, featured in the Los Angeles Times, and presented at Radio Picture Show. Previous publications include: Los Angeles Review of Books, The Awl, Flavorwire, and BUST. Most recently, she was a special guest on IFC’s Comedy Bang! Bang! Anthony Mattero at Foundry Literary + Media is her agent.