WHITE BEAR LAKE — This is a big year for White Bear Lake playwright Claudia I. Haas. Currently, Haas is in Utah, developing her play “Almost Mary” at Utah Valley University, where she was a winner of the Old Miner's Children's Playwriting Contest. This play tells the story of the first female paleontologist, Mary Anning.
Originally from New York City, Haas came to Minnesota while her father was employed at EcoLab. She was planning to make only a temporary stop before moving on to her dream destination, California. However, she got a job and rented an apartment on Grand Avenue in St. Paul, then met her husband Paul. She's lived in White Bear Lake for the last 28 years, where she has worked closely with Lakeshore Players Theatre.
At Lakeshore, she often wrote youth plays and found after a while that the story lines were getting a bit too similar from play to play. To keep herself interested, she began to tackle more serious themes that featured teens, such as their connection to events like the 9/11 disaster and the moon landing.
“It turns out they were more engaging than silly comedies,” Haas said. “But it's the silly comedies that pay the bills.”
Haas said she writes approximately three plays a year, varying from one-acts to 10-minute plays to full-length scripts. Currently, she has published approximately 50 plays; seven to eight more are in development. She said she often chooses topics based on stories she sees in the news, or topics that she'd like to learn more about. She felt that the story of Mary Anning was relatively unknown, which made it an exciting idea to tackle for stage adaptation.
“It's fun for me to get some of the women scientists up in front of kids,” Haas said. “They don't get a lot of that in school.”
The play is still in progress, so Haas will work with students as she finishes the process in Utah.
“This one's kind of heavy duty, so I'm going to teach a youth playwriting class, and part of the reason is to develop the play,” she said. “It's in really early stages, so I have a list of rewrites and character studies so I will work with college students.”
“Almost Mary” isn't the only thing Haas has going on in 2016. In February, Eldridge Publishers picked up her play “Wild Island Adventure.” After her time in Utah is over, she will go directly to Chicago, where Purple Crayon Players at Northwestern University will be developing her play “Bound by Stardust” (an adventure about coming to terms with grief with the help of astronomy and the Russian Arctic Explorer Otto Schmidt). After Chicago, she will travel to Independence, Kansas to the William Inge Theatre Festival, where her play “A Paper Forest” (about climate change on Minnesota’s North Shore) will be given a staged reading. In July, Little Lifeboats Theatre (in the Twin Cities) will be featuring a scene from her play “Making Some Noise” (about three sisters finally coming to term with their mother’s death on 9/11) in their annual T.E.A.S.E. (The Easy Access Script Experience) festival featuring Twin Cities playwrights. This will take place July 8 at the Phoenix Theatre.
Haas said she likes to focus on a Minnesota north woods settings because it is underrepresented in theater, and she has a very personal connection with areas of northern Minnesota such as Grand Marais, where her one-act play “Paper Forests” is set.
“I'm trying to do something in Two Harbors about an amateur astronomer, but I want a trilogy, three one acts set on the North Shore,” she said. “There's a lot of stuff in New York and California, so it'd be nice to introduce the world to Minnesota. When the rest of the world looks at Minnesota, they think of Mary Tyler Moore and ask how cold is it in International Falls, and nobody knows about this little gem except for Minnesotans. When you're trying to write about things you don't know about, you use things you do know about. And I think it makes for good drama.”
To learn more about Haas's plays, visit www.claudiahaas.com.