Fiction, Monologues, Plays & More
Interview by Eclectic Voices Writer Jason Britt
With Emily Charouhas, the author of the play Artificial Flowers playing at Zombie Joe’s Underground March 3 & 4 and March 11 & 12, 2017 at 8:30 pm
After rehearsal one night we sat down in the back patio at Idle Hour and enjoyed some beverages where I attempted to conduct some kind of formal interview.
Me: So … This is my first attempt at interviewing anyone.
Emily: I think it’s just, you ask questions and I answer them.
Me: Ok. So is this your first play?
E: No, it’s not. Are we talking, in terms of full on one-acts? What counts?
Me: Uh… When did you first start writing?
E: I started writing, just stories, when I was… I don’t know…probably…. five? I used to write and illustrate picture books all the time when I was a kid. Most of which were very strange and involved some sort of horrible tragedy or like somebody getting pregnant or something like… y’know….when i was very small. I wrote my first play when I was fourteen to submit to a new works festival. The submission process was anonymous. So I did that and it ended up getting chosen to be a part of that festival. And so the first play that I wrote was also the first play that I ever saw produced of mine, which was kinda cool. I’ve written a couple other ones since then that I haven’t really done anything with, just kind of written them for fun.
Me: What made you want to produce this one?
E: I guess the subject matter is pretty dear to me. It’s definitely the only thing I’ve ever written about myself, which is kind of narcissistic, but y’know… I don’t know… I felt it was a really interesting dynamic that I shared with the person that I wrote it about and that’s why I wanted to write it in the first place, was just kind of like…. y’know, not only would writing it provide a kind of catharsis for me, I guess, but I also thought it would be relatable to other people. I thought other people could find something of themselves in it. Which is, I guess, what made me want to seek out a venue to produce it through.
Me: The play that you wrote when you were fourteen. What was it about and how does it hold up?
E: It was about a community theatre that was being run by this director whom was very washed up. Like he used to be really hot shit early in his career, like had done some Broadway and that kind of thing, and now was kind of relegated to this bullshit little community theatre. And he still had this kind of lacky assistant who was madly in love with him and therefore just kind of stuck around to be at his beckon call. It was about them and this motley crew of actors that they had amassed, and this Christmas pageant that they were trying to put up, but everything was kind of just going very poorly. I guess it was kind of a farce. It was really interesting seeing it put together especially as someone so young at that point, because the only thing I knew of theatre was the theatre I had been in. It was just really different being on the other side of things. And being a part of this new works festival meant you had to take this course at this college. So I was also enrolled in these college courses while I was doing this. So I was fourteen surrounded by people in their early-to-mid-to-late twenties as well as some people who were in separate age ranges altogether… But I was the only child. Seeing what all of them contributed to the play was pretty fucking cool, because it was the first time I’d seen someone else’s interpretation to something I had written. Which I didn’t even necessarily think about. I didn’t think that that would be a huge part of it when I submitted for that thing, because I had submitted just to see if I could do it. But it was really cool and really rewarding to see how it had changed from what I had envisioned when I wrote it to this thing that came together out of everyone else’s visions of it. Is that what you were asking me? Is that a reasonable answer?
Me: Very reasonable. Does it hold up? Now that you’re older? The writing?
E: I don’t know. I haven’t read it in years. It was locked away in a computer that I think is gathering dust in my mother’s garage. I would like to dig it up and reread it, because I literally haven’t read it in probably seven years… something like that, but I would be interested to see if it held up. I don’t think it would. I think I’d be kinda mortified by it, but I’m mortified by things I wrote last month, but that just kinda goes with the territory.
Me: Artificial Flowers. The title serves as some sort of symbol or euphemism towards what exactly?
E: Honestly, I thought of the title because there’s a song by Bobby Darin that I love, that I want to have in the show at some point called Artificial Flowers. The song reminded me of these two people in the story, the whole time I was writing it, and I would listen to it over and over and over again. Then I started to think about the title of it and it, to me, kind of reflects who they are as people. These two very sensitive and very likely creative and smart human beings who are also completely, completely fucked and completely terrible people in a lot of ways, and in a lot of other ways they’re not, but there are a lot of things about them that are really shitty, and I think they explore a lot of those things throughout this play. So I was just thinking about them as flowers and thinking about all the ways in which they are these delicate little fucking flowers, and they are also incredibly artificial at the same time. And it just kinda makes sense to me. Just kinda worked in my mind.
Me: The two characters come across as kind of elitist, wouldn’t you say?
E: Yeah, I can see that.
Me: Figuratively and literally they are up above everyone in a high rise apartment. Was that symbolic in any way?
E: No. The situation and what it’s about, the character that it’s about, he quite literally lives in this very high up loft apartment that has this massive window that covers one entire wall of this apartment. The whole wall is just a window. It’s amazing. The view is spectacular, and he lives downtown so you can see for fucking ever, I mean, it’s crazy. But, no, that’s just how it was in really life, and I didn’t even think about that symbolism, but I like it anyway, so great.
Me: So the relationship between the two characters is very volatile.
Me: Your character is perceived as having, “daddy issues”. In my experience, people with those kind of issues try and recreate certain experiences or dynamics they had with their father. Did you have a very volatile relationship with your father? Where he would try and “challenge” you and get to your core?
E: Yeah. Absolutely. There’s a big part of my dad that is is like that, and I absolutely inherited that from him. There were a lot times growing up where he’d say something where I almost think that he said it just to kind of needle me. To get to me ever so slightly. Just a series of all these tiny micro-aggressions that would kind of build up on each other for a long time. Just because my dad has this kind of feeling in him where he… does kind of like to play with people. And that’s still something that I think he does sometimes. Sometimes I think he will do or say something just to… plant a seed in my brain. Which is frustrating to say the least, but it’s something that I’ve grown to love about him, because he’s my dad, and I adore him. And we do have a great relationship at this point and I can see when he’s doing these things, so I can call him on his bullshit now, which I think is relatively healthy. Obviously, my dad has never been nearly aggressive with it as Phelix’s character is in the play.
Me: Your dad doesn’t do it out of any sort of Malice, probably it’s-
Me: It’s just their own neurosis.
E: Yes. They’re own neurosis. Absolutely.
Me: Like the relationship Indiana Jones has with his father.
E: Yeah. Sure. Yeah.
Me: Unlike preying upon someone who wants to be preyed upon.
E: Yeah. My relationship with my dad never felt like that. My relationship with whom Phelix is based on did feel like that in a lot of ways. He was preying upon someone who wanted to be preyed upon, because at that point in my life I totally did want to be preyed upon. I think that it was something that I was kinda seeking out, but I never had that dynamic with my dad to such a severity.
Me: Did he drink, your dad?
E: Yeah, absolutely.
Me: Any other recreational…
E: Yeah. Yeah… There was some… stuff. I… I’m not sure if I should talk about this. I feel like he’ll get mad at me when he reads this. Uhh… he went to rehab in 2007, when I was… thirteen… for opiate abuse. He had an addiction to vicadin… and I think there was some other pill use as well… and he went to rehab for that.
Me: When did you discover that type of drug abuse?
E: In him? Or myself?
Me: At what age did you discover he was using opiates?
E: Just then. He told me and my sister the morning he left for rehab.
Me: So you had no idea?
E: No. The drinking we saw, but the pill abuse was a complete surprise. I had no idea. No idea at all. And my younger sister, Natalie, she had no idea, either. And we didn’t really know that he was a drinker either. He always had a handle on it. He’s never been a violent drunk or anything. He was never abusive or anything. Nothing ever ever close or anything… but he definitely liked to drink. I tried tequila when I was two, because he was like; “here, try some of this”, y’know, that kind of thing.
Me: You have a memory of that?
E: Yes. I do.
Me: Like your first memory?
E: My first memory was of my birthday party. Big Bird was there.
Me: Big Bird?
E: Yes. My second birthday, Big Bird was there. But I do remember being that young and him giving me Scotch and Tequila. Just a tiny, tiny little nip. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. I’ll probably do that with my kids when they’re small, “here, try this!” Y’know it never negatively impacted me or felt weird at all or anything like that.
Me: Oh, no. Not at all. (Laughing)
E: (Laughing) I don’t like your tone.
Me: You turned out completely normal.
E: (Still Laughing) Normal enough to write a piece like this. To answer your question; yes, my dad drank.
After attempting to smoke, we were let known, by the staff, that we weren’t allowed to smoke on the back patio till after ten, where there is this two hour period that you’re allowed to smoke back there before they kick everyone out of the patio completely. So we took out drinks to the front patio and continued. Very strange rules at the Idle Hour.
Me: So how long have the two characters known each other?
E: A few months.
Me: How did you meet?
E: I had just got out of a failed relationship and I was newly dating and wasn’t looking for anything remotely serious and was just trying to meet new people and-
Me: On a dating website?
E: Yeah. I was on… I was using OK Cupid at that point, which was very interesting. He sent me a message, and it was something like: “you have great taste in books and you might be the only woman left in Los Angeles who smokes, so I’d like to take you to dinner.” And I was like, “okay”… And we didn’t end up going to dinner. We ended up going to a wine bar, and he was very attractive… the attraction was very immediate, and I think we ended up making out with each other within twenty minutes of meeting… and we just kept on making out at various different places in the city of Los Angeles. We went to Tiki Ti’s in Los Feliz and he tackled me to the pavement out in front of that bar which was just very appealing to me for some reason, and we ended up at his very high gorgeous loft apartment and just talking for a really long time. That kind of became our dynamic. I would just come over to his apartment in the middle of the night. I usually wouldn’t show up before midnight or something like that, and we would spend several hours, and by several, I mean, like twelve, just talking about ourselves and about any number of different things, but from the get go there was this dynamic of him challenging me on everything. On him. On everything. He made me really think about everything… Every part of my life in a very different way. Generally he was pretty fucking ruthless with it. He said a lot if things to me that I think anyone else would have been too afraid to say to anybody. Just because I’ve never met anyone who was so unafraid of confrontation as him. One night I was spending the night at his apartment and we were falling asleep… and I had been wanting to write a play for awhile, but I didn’t know what to write about… and I just kind of opened my eyes at one point at it was like…”Oh! This! This is what I should write about! Oh my god! I’m going to write about this!” And then I started writing about it. And then the next time that I think he and I got together we just kind of went on a fucking bender…we were like together for three days, just drinking and snorting adderall the whole time… and it kind of ended up culminating in him being particularly fucking mean to me one point which…. it was the first time that he really hurt me… in a way. So that became what I thought the plot development of this play should be. We had spent a lot of time together, learning about each other up until this point and I generally think to this day that he knows me better than anyone else in the world. I don’t know anybody that knows me on an intimate level as he does.
Me: So even though you were looking to be “challenged”, he challenged you to a height you weren’t prepared to experience?
Me: Let me put it a different way. Were you looking for someone to actually break you down to the point that you couldn’t take anymore? Was it something you were conscious of? Was it a subconscious thing that you maybe discovered about yourself?
E: I think that was what I was looking for… in him. It was definitely was a big part of why I appreciated and pursued our… friendship. I think that I was completely unprepared for the level that he took it to. I don’t think I was necessarily looking for someone to get that intense with it, which is why I was upset by it… in that situation. I didn’t expect to feel at any point that he genuinely disapproved of me, because no matter what he said to me throughout our time together I always felt that he… approved of me as a human being and thought that I was smart and interesting and special, which is something that I really wanted at that point. I was coming out of a relationship where I felt so completely ordinary and unappreciated and unvalued and I was genuinely looking for someone to return that value to me. Even as he picked me apart there was always this feeling that he was impressed with me, which I really fucking loved, because he was so impressive to me as a human being. On this particular evening, it was as if all that was all gone. He found something out about me that was so deplorable that he…. he made it very clear that he was completely unimpressed by this thing that I had told him… and that was what hurt more that anything else. I don’t think I was looking for someone to pick me apart to the level that he did, but I do think in a way it ultimately helped me… In a strange kind of way.
Me: Given the dynamic of the relationship, how can you not expect him to keep going further and further, escalating things until he came to some inevitable conclusion? Was it a surprise?
E: I don’t know that it was a surprise, necessarily. I think the reason that we got together with the irregularity that we did was because of that possibility. We only got together once every three or so weeks for one night and that was it, because that was just the time frame that worked for our dynamic because otherwise it would escalate to that level, which is what happened on the one occasion that we did hang out for several days with no break, just continuously doing this thing that we did for three days, it did result in things escalating far beyond what they usually did. And I think I was kind of anticipating it, to be honest. I was kind of watching the way he was speaking to me… how it was developing… and I think I almost brought it on myself. I brought certain things up that I knew would probably result in a more confrontational conversation than we had had before, but I don’t think I was prepared for the depths that it would go to. Which was naive on my part.
Me: Subconsciously feeding the beast?
E: Yeah, absolutely, but absolutely unprepared for it.
Me: You bite into more that you can chew sometimes?
E: Absolutely. On a regular basis. I bite off way more than I can chew, and that was just a prime example of that. I literally do that all the time, so that was just another case of that. It just happened to be a more psychologically impactful situation than most of the other times that I have bitten off more than I can chew.
Me: Is that inherently done to… feel alive?
E: Yeah. Absolutely. There are a lot of questionable things that I do just in my everyday life that link directly to a need to feel alive. It hasn’t translated into drug use or anything like that as of yet, but there are a lot of things I do with that specific goal, and not all of them are healthy… some of them are, but not all of them.
Me: So these sessions that you would have with this person were more or less mental or psychological BDSM sessions, kinda, right?
E: Yeah. I would agree with that.
Me: Something that you would need on a semi-regular basis… You would need that sort of outlet?
Me: How did it differ from an actual physical BDSM session? And did you ever mix the two?
E: It differed in that it felt more clinical… I guess. It felt more like therapy, I guess. It was something that I was able to tell myself was very healthy. Not to say sexual BDSM is not healthy, but I was able to tell myself that it had a greater purpose.
Me: Greater purpose? As in you were challenging yourself mentally?
E: Yes. I was challenging myself mentally. He is someone I saw as someone so much smarter than I. Still do. He is one of the smartest people I have ever met, and it felt like an exercise to try to match wits with him. To try to outsmart him in some ways, I guess. That was a huge goal of mine the entire time… to be smart enough to not be his victim even though I genuinely enjoyed being a victim in a lot of ways.
Me: But if you could get in a good rub or two his way… It was a good day…?
E: Yes, exactly. A victory. If I could say something that made him feel the way I did most of the time. That was a victory for me. Hi, mom! Yes… that was an element to it. We were sleeping together the whole time… that’s not exactly a secret or anything, but it was definitely mostly psychological. When we were sleeping together there was definitely an element of violence to it. We never took it to a bondage point, but it was definitely…
Me: Spanking? Choking?
E: Sure. Stuff like that?
Me: Maybe some candle wax?
E: No, actually. We never did the candle wax.
Me: That’s too bad.
E: That’s a little bit of a surprise to be honest.
Me: It’s messy.
E: It’s messy. Y’know, you’ve got to lay down the fat towels… But I think the psychological side to it is what fueled our sexual relationship. I think that it was a huge turn on, just the things that we said to each other, and like he says in the play there were a number of times where he would say, “No. we’re not sleeping together anymore. That’s done. We’re not going to have sex anymore. It’s not a good idea.” And I always knew full well he was full of shit and that he was using that to toy with me.
Me: How’d you know?
E: Because we would always end up having sex.
Me: He might have meant it at the time…
E: Maybe, but he seems like a person of greater conviction than that.
Me: Maybe he meant it at the time, but then during your psychological duel that you were having… the duel could be an aphrodisiac to some people.
E: Sure. But I guess I was always coming from a stand point of knowing that he was always going to change his mind. Whether or not it had something to do with me or not, I just kind of always felt like he would change his mind… and he always did.
Me: Every time?
E: Every time.
E: I don’t think I ever went over to his apartment without having sex. I think we had sex every time. But it was always almost an afterthought, every time. It was very not obviously not the point of why I was there, because we spent so much more talking than we did having sex. Y’know, eventually we would decide to go to sleep… and then we would have sex. There was one evening where he spent the whole time saying that we weren’t going to have sex. And then we had sex. It made me feel like I had a lot of power. That was one of the only instances where I felt like he handed power over to me.
Me: What if on one of these occasions he truly decided not to have sex with you?
E: I think I would have been disappointed in one way or another, because I enjoyed having sex with him, but that was so not the point of why we were spending time together. And it would have only been disappointing to me, because I wouldn’t have had that shift of power. I wouldn’t have had that momentary feeling of being the person in control. Sadomasochism and BDSM and all that is all really about a balance of control, and it’s about lending control over to another person, but at the same time if you don’t have any balance in it whatsoever it’s not nearly as appealing. To me at least. Which is not to say I’m never a dominant person, but the balance is something very appealing.
Me: So, if perchance, he wouldn’t have had sex with you… that would mean, basically, that he was keeping all of the control.
E: Absolutely. He would have completely retained all of his power in that situation. I think.
Me: How would that make you respond, in turn?
E: Well, just to briefly elaborate a little more…When I say it’s about the balance of power… when he would say that he didn’t want to have sex with me… it’s like he was handing me this power so that I could hand it back to him. Does that make sense? You’re throwing it back and forth and if I am never handed it, it doesn’t feel nearly as fun to give it back. By giving in to having sex, despite that fact that he said he didn’t, he’s handing me that control for a brief moment, and in turn when we had sex that was handing it back to him. That’s where this BDSM element came in. But to answer your question, I think I would have valued our time strictly for the psychological side of it. I never went over to his apartment because I wanted to have sex. I was never looking to get laid. I mean, a part of me knew that that was a part of it, but that was never the reason why I went over there. There was something completely different that I got out of that relationship. As much as I enjoyed sleeping with him that was certainly not the most important part of it, by any means.