DARREN CAULLEY made his New York theatrical debut in 2012 at the Cabrini Repertory Theatre with Very Important Problems, a horrible family comedy. Then in December of the same year, he produced Unhealthy at the HERE Arts Center. An alumnus of New York University, Darren writes plays, comics, and television scripts. He also designs games from time to time. On his site, darrencaulley.com you can read his writing samples, email him, and keep up to date on the most recent news about his projects.
Please explain what "Unhealthy", Kulak" and "Force" are.
Unhealthy is a play I wrote that Chris Bellant and I produced about a year ago. It's essentially about dependance and what obsession can do to a person. The first half focuses on a young woman (played by Caitlin Kinnunen) desperately trying to find a handle on her life. The second half takes a look at her roommate (played by Allison Scagliotti), who appears to have everything a person could want and who is still struggling to deal with the lives of those around her. It's a very desperate play altogether.
I started working on Kulak last year with a whole bunch of strangers who turned into some of my favorite people I met at NYU. Kulak is a board game where players have to choose between working together to take down an evil Baron or selling out and becoming wealthy by themselves, becoming the Kulak. "Kulak" is a Russian word used to describe a wealthy farmer in Soviet Russia. It's not a very kind word, and Kulak is not a very kind game.
Force is a comic I've been working on for the better portion of this year with Thomas Constantine Moore and Tiahnan Trent. It is about a girl named Rachel who goes from being especially vulnerable and anxious to suddenly having more power than she knows what to do with. Right now we're working out a lot of the kinks with the site and the schedule, so we're taking a hiatus while we plan our next moves. It's a story we're all really invested in and one that we want to tell the right way. So we're not going to rush it out with a product that we're not fully satisfied with.
What inspires you to create plays, games and comics?
Well, plays and comics have always been my favorite modes of storytelling. Both rely a lot on asking the audience to take part in the story themselves, and that always engaged me as a reader and a viewer. I've been writing plays since high school, but it's taken me a lot longer to find my comfort writing comics. It's an immensely complex medium.
As for games, games keep me sane. They always have. I don't know how else to really explain my relationship with games. They're an art form for sure, and in an abstract way (or not, depending on the game) they are another way to tell a story, perhaps the most engaging way.
What is the key to a very successful Kickstarter campaign?
I think it comes down to what you want out of the Kickstarter. If you are using Kickstarter just because you want people's money, potential backers can sense that. They can sense whether you want to produce a quality project and give your backers what you can or whether you just want to use it to make some money easily. I've seen some people try to use it as a store. I've seen those projects fail for that reason.
One of the reasons so many Kickstarters are so successful is that by having one you're saying "If I can't do this right, if I can't do this 100%, if there's not enough of an interest in what I have to offer, then I am okay with getting nothing." That's a powerful statement to make, and if you truly believe that I think that many Kickstarter users really respect that mindset.
Oh, and also before you make a Kickstarter, give to a few. You need to understand what it feels like to be a backer if you want to connect with yours. That's really important.
What was the casting process like for "Unhealthy"?
Chris Bellant (Maycomb) was attached from the beginning, and I owe the credit for the rest of the cast to my friend, Julia Bicknell, another (incredibly talented) writer from NYU. She is close friends with the two female leads and knew they'd both be perfect in the roles. And finally it was Allison who brought in Josh Breslow, the final piece of the puzzle.
What causes someone to be obsessed?
You know, something recent I've realized about my work is how much of it has to do with obsession. Unhealthy is certainly the darkest piece I've written and it's also the most directly related to the subject of obsession. Obsession is dark. I think obsession comes from having a particular need that goes unsatisfied for too long. Whether that is attention, friendship, love, power, excitement, anything. When you deplete a person of something fundamental, they tend to latch on to the first trace of it that comes their way, and then they never let go.
How did you chose your collaborators to create "Kulak" and "Force"?
I did not pick my collaborators at all for Kulak actually. Kulak started off with a simple prompt: Make a game that elicits anger. And the people that liked that challenge came together and made Kulak. It worked out very nicely because we have a bunch of people with different backgrounds able to bring a lot to the table. We'll be relying on everyone's talents when it comes time to take Kulak to the next level.
As for Force, well... Force is one of my favorite stories I've had in my mind. And so I picked my favorite people. My girlfriend, Tiahnan Trent is a terrific artist and my exceptional friend Thomas Constantine Moore is my favorite collaborator for anything. We play off each other very well creatively. Unfortunately, despite Thomas being an incredibly talented actor, I've never managed to get him on stage for one of my plays. But I'm planning to change that.
How is "Kulak" different from other table top games?
Kulak is different mostly because it's imbalanced. At the start of the game there are 24 acres of land between all the players and the Baron starts the game off with twelve of them. Asymmetry is a really difficult concept to pull off in a game, but it is much more realistic. Most game designers want balance, but my teammates and I wanted something that began unfairly. When you only have start off the game so close to defeat and one player is already winning by a large margin, things get tense immediately.
Why did you choose to have "Force" take place in Seattle?
Force originally was going to take place in New York City, but then everyone decided that too much takes place there anyway. Seattle has a really interesting political climate. Very liberal, very atheist all on the west, and then much less so in the east. Force takes place in a Seattle where godlike beings walk the earth, where people live in fear of the unknown, and where guns are everywhere. It's a very different Seattle than the one that Thomas, Tiahnan, and I grew up in. We wanted a city that knows who it is in the real world, and then we wanted to see what it would take to make Seattle unsure of itself.
Is there anything you'd like to add?
Right now the two main projects I am working on are Kulak and Trickster, a theatrical anthology of Trickster gods in mythology. So those are the big things to look out for soon. I'm also working with the incredibly prolific Chris Bellant on a project that he's taking the lead on, so I don't know if I can really talk about it. But hopefully, fun things will happen there too! Thanks so much for your interest in my work. It's been a real pleasure to speak with you.
Thank You for doing the interview Darren. I was you all the best with Force, Kulak, Trickster and all your future projects.