Amanda Duarte is a Darling Killer

Chad White

To “kill your darlings” means to get rid of a writer’s favorite elements that may add nothing to the context of the writing. It’s important for writers to grow and develop a voice outside of their own. I may love to put references to the late 80’s girl band The Bangles but it doesn’t mean they always fit (which they don’t).

Playwright, comedian and host Amanda Duarte decided to turn her dead darlings – and her friends’ – into a massive show. Held in The Village, The Dead Darlings show is more than comedy; everyone is invited from set designers, to comics to storytellers alike. No one is left out of the fun of sharing the crap that didn’t make the cut. I recently spoke to Duarte about the Dead Darlings and what it’s like reading things from the cutting room floor.

I went to the [Dead Darlings] website and I noticed, when I was looking at the past shows, a lot of different interesting type of pictures for past events.

Yes! My resident graphic designer, Derek Rippe, [does them]. He and I work together on them. He, however, is the gifted genius behind the images. He is a dear friend of mine and one of the few people I know whose sensibility is as twisted and disgusting as mine. And so usually I’ll just give him the theme or concept. Then he just runs with it and comes up with something so funny I can hardly stand it.

Is he the only person that helps you with putting on the show in his own way? Or is there a whole group or team of people?

I’ve got a team. I do the show at Judson Memorial Church, which is a historical arts and activism venue in The Village. So there’s a crew of people at the church who help me put it on. There’s the minister Micah Bucey, who’s a dear friend of mine. Then I have friends who pitch in as celebrity guest bartenders. My husband, Andrew, helps with the audio visuals; he does the whole slideshow and makes it all fancy and cute. Derek does interstitial images for the slideshow, that are always very funny.

Why the decision to put it in that church? You said it was an activist church but why that venue?

It’s also a rather legendary arts venue going back to at least the 60’s if not before. I got very, very lucky. It’s a gorgeous space. We put on the show in this loft space that’s above the main assembly hall. It’s just absolutely beautiful. My friend, Micah, at the time I started doing the show, was curating the arts program. He’d always said to me “If there’s ever anything you want to do in the space, let me know and we’ll try to make it work.” I had done a few things there that were one offs. I’d done a couple of variety shows and a play reading. In fact, the first variety show I did there, Abbi Jacobson from Broad City was in it before she got famous and we all stopped seeing her around. Then, when I had the idea for Dead Darlings, I asked him and he said “Absolutely. We’ll offer you a monthly spot.”

I love the title, “Dead Darlings,” because – when I was reading on the website – “darlings” has this Shakespearean background that deals with them being, in layman’s terms, the cut part of the writings. And that’s such a beautiful sentiment to tie back to.

Yeah like the saying “Kill your darlings” that [writers] use frequently and also improv comedians. It’s just a thing people use when you have too much; you have to edit it down. Your piece is too big or too unwieldy. Just to shape something and focus it, a lot of the time you have to get rid of a lot of stuff that you really like and is great but doesn’t serve the larger piece. The reason I thought of the show – I think I was working on a play – I just kept having to cut and cut and cut. The saying kept coming into my mind: “you have to kill darlings.” And I’m like “God, there’s all these dead darlings piling up around my feet.” And I thought “I’m sure there are a lot of people, artists and creative people who feel this way. Who have all this stuff that didn’t quite fit. It’s still good but, a lot of the time, there just isn’t a venue for it. So it just sits there -- this great stuff you’ve written. What a shame that is. Why not give them a forum?

As a host, do you get to perform your own material? Or is it like an open mic event where you’re like “Here’s the next person…and here’s the next person” and you only get to do a little bit of standup-ish type stuff?

No, no, no. I’m far too ambitious and self-involved to feed the stage completely to other people. No, no. I perform.

[laughs]

I do a little bit of standup at the opening. Every once in a while, I’ll do something of my own that I’ve written that hasn’t made the cut. In fact, this month, I’m going to be doing that. More often, I’ll read an article form the New York Times or a similar publication as an example of work that did make the cut; work that was greenlit, passed what’s supposed to be a shining example to a perfect work. I’ll read something that’s really bad. The New York Times real estate section is pretty fertile ground for these articles…the style section… Just really vapid wealth porn or really fluffy celebrity puff pieces. Things that are really ridiculous and not good at all and generally are about people who take themselves much, much too seriously. In the middle of the show, we have a trivia segment which, the trivia questions are usually centered around the them of the show. They’re questions that have subjective answers. And they’re usually jokes. So I’ll ask a question with a subjective answer and if people agree with me about the answer, or even if they don’t, I throw candy at them. They shout out the answers, even if they’re wrong or they’re right, I throw candy at them. It’s great fun. It’s very cathartic for me. I get a lot of stress and tension out by throwing candy at people once a month.

That sounds like something a really bad teacher would do in order to coerce her kids to shout out anything in class.

That’s pretty much what I am. I’m a bad teacher and I will do pretty much anything to get a response out of people.

How long had you been writing plays?

I started out as an actor then did standup for a minute. And then started writing in different formats. I’ve written a couple of plays. I’ve written a couple of solo shows that I’ve done at different comedy theaters. I’ve written tumor pieces for The New Yorker, and Buzzfeed…I’ve written a lot of different stuff over the years. It’s funny. People ask what I do and I say “I’m a writer.” They’re like “what do you write” and I’m like “well, whadda ya got?” A little bit of everything.

You guys have performers from artists to comedians, cartoonists, and set designers. Was there anyone out there that surprised you?

We do have a few recurring guests that are always a delight. The New Yorker cartoonist Joe Dator – goodness does he produce a lot of work and boy is it funny. Any time I have a spot to fill on the show, I know I can just call him and he’ll bring in twenty or twenty-five hysterical New Yorker cartoons that didn’t make the cut. In fact, with The New Yorker specifically, usually they didn’t make the cut is because they’re too dirty or edgy or risky. Those are the ones we like. Those tend to be the cartoons that I like even more than the ones that make it into the magazine. My dear friend, who’s a writer, -- his name is Issac Oliver – he’s always good for a larf [sic]. We often read the articles together and he brings in his own work. He’s always a delight. We’ve seen designs for plenty of musicals where either the costumes were cut or the play just never happened. We’ve seen absolutely beautiful things. Greggory Gale, who is a Broadway costume designer, brought in this enormous skirt he hand painted for an undersea scene. I think it was twelve feet long. It was enormous and beautiful. He’d spent hours and hours and hours hand painting it and it was never even used. We were really the only people who ever saw it. Doug Wright is a Pulitzer prize winning playwright who brught in a play that he wrote in the fifth grade which was so funny and so smart. There’s nowhere else that you’ll see that. Steven Trask, who’s the composer of “Hedwig and the Angry Inch, brought in songs for musicals that never happened. He also brought in a song that was cut from “Hedwig,” which was stunning. We were all bowled over by how lucky we were to hear it.

You guys are getting these amazing gems that no one else is able to experience.

Exactly!

 

Follow Amanda on Twitter and check out the Dead Darling shows.