Sarah Gubbins on “Cocked” and her new TV series with Jill Soloway

With the world premiere of her new play Cocked currently onstage at Victory Gardens Theater in Chicago and the recent announcement of her pilot I Love Dick to be produced by Jill Soloway for Amazon, it is no stretch to say that playwright Sarah Gubbins is having a moment right now. The out Chicago-born playwright’s work includes The Kid Thing, I Am Bradley Manning, and Fair Use, among several others. Now based in Los Angeles, her work has been read, developed, and premiered at theaters throughout New York and Chicago.


We spoke with Sarah about her career, her art, and her perspective on where LGBT representation is headed in theater and television. Could you tell us a bit about your background and how you came into playwriting?

Sarah Gubbins: I was at Northwestern as an actor and was not very good—and thankfully realized that very quickly. I had taken a playwriting class in my last year, and that was kind of the first time I started playwriting. I spent 10 years in Chicago doing new work dramaturgy, and I also had a theater company where I did literary management and did a lot of work on new plays with established writers. And I think being a witness to the new play process is what started giving me the confidence, later on, to start writing my own stuff. I was strongly encouraged by the writers I was working with to pursue my own writing—and so I did! It was a longer road to writing for me. And then I wrote a play and decided to go back to graduate school. My first play Fair Use was picked up to do at [Steppenwolf Theater Company’s] First Look. I walked out of graduate school and right into that. And you think, “Oh this is it,” and it’s not “it” entirely, it’s just the next step on the journey.


AE: In looking at playwriting along with television and film writing—the climate these days seems to dictate that you have to be able to do it all. What’s been your experience with that? Because obviously, you are breaking into TV now.

SG: I think it’s about finding the story and finding where it fits rather than saying there are finite media—television, film, plays. There are so many varieties of television, so many different kinds of movies. You look at a show like Transparent, and it’s a five-hour film. But then you watch Broad City, and that’s not your typical half-hour. And then you see some of Amy Schumer’s work and some of it looks like 10-minute plays. Storytelling is storytelling and creating characters and worlds and having points of view on your society—it’s less about breaking into television for me and more about keeping curious and expansive about where those stories can live. And then getting a lot of help from a lot of wonderful people to bring those stories to life.


AE: Going to back to theater, can you speak to the trend in your work of lesbianism acting as a central theme, given the huge lack of lesbian representation in mainstream theater?

SG: I don’t know that I would say lesbianism is central to it—and that’s not backing off it at all. I just populate my writing with a gender presence, a queer presence, a class presence in the creation of character, for me, these are ways in which people experience the world. And so to draw a character is to address their gender presentation, their gender expression—but I wouldn’t ever say there’s a hierarchy. I think the great thing about including gender in your storytelling is that you have an opportunity to try to write various experiences that queer people have in the world. And in Cocked yes there’s these relationships, but there’s also a queer character concerned about taking care of an older parent. Or in The Kid Thing, about becoming a parent. I’m excited by the fact that these plays have been received and that audiences can maybe experience something more than a coming out story, though that’s not to say that those stories aren’t still necessary.