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Carrie Behrens: In Her Own Words
May, 18, 2021
Carrie Behrens: In Her Own Words
According to local writer and illustrator Carrie Behrens, her teenage years growing up in the Valley of the Sun were pretty tame. But her award-winning radio-play series set at Ronald Reagan Junior High? Well, there’s nothing tame about it.
Performed onstage at Space 55 in downtown Phoenix and described as “cheeky” and “hilarious,” Night of the Chicken is a family friendly series that chronicles the adventures of teenager Andrea Deandrea Hafferton, who survives a science lab incident only to find she now mutates into a ferocious “werechicken” at unexpected times. Behrens began the series in 2010, and in 2020, it took home multiple awards, including Best Overall Production, at the ariZoni Theatre Awards of Excellence—an annual event that celebrates the vibrant Arizona theatre scene. We spoke with Carrie to learn about what inspired Night of the Chicken, her journey to becoming a playwright, and how the pandemic has reawakened her love of drawing.
Here’s Carrie Behrens, in her own words.
“Most of what I write centers around young teenagers. I think that’s a really fun age to write about. My own teenage years were kind of a drag, so I sometimes wonder if I am trying to give myself a more fun teenage experience.”
Carrie Behrens (left) and Annika Cline; foley artists from Night of the Chicken: Origin of the Subspecies, January 2018. Photo credit Rodrigo Izquierdo.
PhxArt: Tell us about your background. When did your interest in art develop, and when did you know you wanted to be a playwright?
Carrie Behrens: I have been interested in writing and drawing since I was a young child. My first inspirations were animated cartoons and comics. I really wanted to be either a cartoonist or a storyboard artist (for Disney) when I was younger. Turns out those are really competitive fields. By my mid-20s, I had pretty much faced the fact that I just didn’t have the skill to be able to make a living from drawing, so I focused more on writing. I fell into playwriting by accident. I joined a novel writing group, and after a couple of years, another friend from that group talked me into taking a playwriting class with her. I had zero interest in playwriting, but I thought it might be a good experience to learn about a different type of writing. By the end of that class, I was totally hooked.
PhxArt: What genres do you focus on?
Behrens: I’m not sure exactly what genre my stuff falls into. I guess comedy/adventure/family? Pretty much everything I write has some sort of monster in it, but it isn’t really scary and it’s usually clean enough to bring the kids. Most of what I write centers around young teenagers. I think that’s a really fun age to write about. My own teenage years were kind of a drag, so I sometimes wonder if I am trying to give myself a more fun teenage experience.
(From left to right) Puneet Bajwa, Javier Gilmore and Amy Carpenter. Night of the Chicken: The Venda Gram of Doom, February 2019. Photo credit Rodrigo Izquierdo.
PhxArt: Tell us about your Zoni award-winning Night of the Chicken series. What inspired it?
Behrens: When I was a kid, my grandma told me about the radio shows she listened to when she was growing up, and we found some tapes of them at the library. I started listening to them and just thought they were so cool. I thought it would be awesome to write one myself, but back then, we did not have the technology we have now that makes so many creative endeavors possible. Then around the same time that I was taking that playwriting class, I discovered podcasts. I had just gotten this new computer that had all this audio editing software, and I thought, “Wow, I could make a radio show with just this computer.”
I had always loved werewolf movies and stories, so I wanted to write something like that, but funny. I got this idea about a teenage werechicken, and that seemed so hilarious to me. Thus, Night of the Chicken was born.
I thought I would just write short little scripts and record them on my computer. I had no big plans for it, other than a fun project to amuse myself with. But a local theatre called Space 55 would do these play readings once a month to give a local writer a chance to hear their work in progress and get feedback. They had a playwright back out on them at the last minute, so they asked around if someone had a play they could read. My friend Kim recommended me, and we had the reading a couple of days later. The artistic director from Space 55, Shawna Franks, called and said she loved it and wanted to produce it. So once again, I sort of fell into it by accident. That was in 2010, and I have been writing and producing Night of the Chicken episodes ever since.
PhxArt: How is writing for a live-radio play different than writing for a live-action play?
Behrens: Writing for a live-radio play is way harder than writing a regular play. With live-radio plays, you have to write so that if someone were only hearing it, they would understand what is going on. That means dialogue has to be more exposition-y than it would be for a regular play, but not so exposition-y that it’s weird and distracting. At the same time, the audience actually is seeing the show in person, so it has to be visually interesting, too. We present it in the style of an old-time radio play, which means the cast stands at music stands and reads from scripts, but most people watching forget that within a few minutes. Our director, Kim Porter, does such an amazing job of making the show look cool while still staying true to the live-radio concept. Over the years, we’ve had cool lighting effects and a lot of really creative blocking. Each cast member plays multiple characters, and we have rules—like each character can have only one (or two) accessories but not a full costume. And the actors can move around somewhat, but they need to carry their scripts, remain standing, and face the audience. They also can’t stray from their music stand for very long. We additionally have two foley artists, one of which is me. Foley is the process of creating sounds, usually for film or video, and a foley artist is the person who creates those sounds, typically using tools, props, or materials that have nothing to do with the thing you are creating the sound of. So, as foley artists, we perform live sound effects on stage using various props like an umbrella, which we open and close really fast to create the sound of wings flapping. Or if there is a crack of thunder, we’ll shake a big piece of sheet metal.
I like writing “normal” plays, but I think I prefer writing radio plays because it has really forced me to do some creative problem-solving that I would not have to do with a regular production.
Carrie Behrens, Sharkie Duck, 2019. Alcohol marker on paper. Courtesy of the artist.
PhxArt: Who are your greatest artistic influences?
Behrens: It’s so hard to name names. I am a huge fan of hundreds of artists and writers, but I don’t know that I could point to anyone specifically and say that they had a big influence on my work. My biggest influences are people I know in real life. Probably the biggest one would be my friend Kim Porter. She is an actor, director, writer, and teacher. I share everything I write with her and get feedback. She also directs Night of the Chicken. The other major influences have been people in my writer’s groups and friends I’ve met in art classes. I secretly see most of my friends as my mentors.
PhxArt: What are some projects you’re currently working on or that have recently been released or published?
Behrens: Thanks to the pandemic, I have (like everyone else) had to totally change things up. Normally, I am pretty busy with theater and improv, but now that all that stuff is on hold, I’ve had more time to focus on drawing, which has been really cool. Lately, I have taken a dive back into my interest in comics and have been working on a non-fiction comic story about a trip I took to Italy when I was 23. It is a story that I have been wanting to write for many years but never knew what format to tell it in until now.
Carrie Behrens, Salome, 2020. Alcohol marker on paper. Courtesy of the artist.
PhxArt: What can our community expect to see next from you?
Behrens: A lot more drawings. For the first time in many years, I don’t have any playwriting deadlines staring me down, and I am really enjoying just making art and not having any stakes attached to it.
PhxArt: What advice would you give writers just beginning to hone their craft?
Behrens: I think when it comes to learning anything new, the best thing you can do—aside from practicing as much as you can—is to NEVER compare yourself to the people you look up to who have been doing it much longer than you have. Not only is it a totally unfair expectation to put on yourself, but it’s also quite insulting to those people who have been working hard at their thing for so many years. To think a newcomer could/should be as good as those people is to ignore all the hard work and time they put into it. Just put your head down and do your thing. The only person you should compare yourself to is your past self.
Carrie Behrens, Weary Bird, 2020. Alcohol marker on paper. Courtesy of the artist.
We’re curious how creatives are navigating the time of coronavirus. Carrie Behrens shares what’s giving her life as a creative during quarantine.
Behrens: I have kind of been getting into birdwatching. I downloaded a couple of birdwatching apps on my phone and have been trying to identify the birds I see in my backyard or around the library where I work. It’s something that I had always thought would be fun to do but never did. Then when the pandemic hit, I started noticing birds everywhere, and suddenly, I had the time to pay attention to them. I’ve only just started, but I think it’s kind of helped me to slow down and be patient and notice things that I never would have before. I befriended a hummingbird that lives in our neighbor’s tree, and now I can get him to drink from a small feeder in my hand several times a day. It’s so cool—and has a really calming effect, too. If you are ever getting freaked out by the news, just go feed a hummingbird, and it will calm you right down. I never even realized that we had hummingbirds in our neighborhood before, and now I see them all the time. It’s so weird to think that they were always there, but I just didn’t bother to see them.