A chat with The Caretakers Playwright

Noelle Viñas wrote the play specifically for Westtown

Playwright Noelle Viñas.

Photo courtesy of Viñas.

Playwright Noelle Viñas.

Camden Chin '22, Author

Noelle Viñas is a published playwright based out of the Los Angeles, California area. She recently penned The Caretakers, a science-fiction play being performed for the first time at Westtown School this winter. The play was made for Westtown’s theater program, and has characters modeled after the spirit of Westtown’s students. I sat down with Noelle one afternoon this November to talk about her creative process.

You wrote The Caretakers, I was hoping you could talk about your process for writing that play.

Noelle Viñas: Yeah. I will say first off that every process is different. It depends on what the play writing subject matter is. Like, is it a research play? Is it a drama? Are you working–in my case, I was working with you all. I really wanted to base the play off of Westtown, the spirit I was getting from the grounds. So my process involved watching students. I was curious about what they were interested in. We did early interviews about that in May. We talked about dreams, and stress. I also did interviews with faculty and staff. What part of the Westtown campus feels magical? And I had this impulse that it would be time travel or magic or something. How do legends of Westtown of the past affect it now? I had this sense that there would be different timelines that would be converging. I was also thinking about the Quaker idea of community. I started creating a utopia in the future that was clearly not Quaker, but had some Quaker ideas.  


What do you think is special about playwriting? Why did you choose this as your medium?

Viñas: I was a theater actor. I was the theater teacher. I just love that – I love theater. One thing that’s special is that it’s different every night. Actors can say the same thing every night and it literally can change from night to night. I think if you really love words and like to see how they can be different …You can really geek out about lines. Like, now the story has a different meaning to me because tonight the actor did this to me. [Federico García] Lorca, who was a famous Spanish writer, said “a play is a poem standing up.” Yeah.


What makes a good actor?

Viñas: A good actor is someone who makes the scene not about themselves, but about the other person.


I’ve heard that acting is reacting.

Viñas: Yeah! For example, a way for this conversation to go terrible would be me just responding to your questions and not asking how you’re feeling. With acting, the reaction can be more intense. If you’re just waiting on your cue line, or if you’re just choosing your acting choices from inside of yourself, that’s not about the other person. So for me, when I’m auditioning actors for things, I look for an extra sense of awareness. Like are they playing off of what other people do?


How did COVID affect play writing?

Viñas: It was brutal. People were so used to seeing shows. Theater is so extroverted. Everyone, even the writers like to go see people. People started making little things online. I remember Contagious Closet Dramas. In the first month of the pandemic, this Instagram account created a bunch of little plays … adapting to plays on Zoom. I wrote two plays on Zoom. I wrote a ten-minute script about a mother telling her son that he couldn’t be with her because she was at risk for COVID and he had an addiction. That all took place in a Zoom window. I wrote another Zoom play about a church…trying to hold sessions over Zoom. But, I got really tired from it. I felt really bored from this little box. You don’t get to see people after the show is over and ask them, how was it? What do you think? You do little things with your body that you can’t see over Zoom.


 If you could see any theater show throughout all time – and you had your pick – what would you go see?

Viñas: I would go see Zoot Suit. It was kind of the first play about Mexican American Theater. It took a lot of Mexican American culture in California and made it look really cool. I would love to watch it premiere in Los Angeles. It’s something all of the theater mentors that have been mentors to me always talk about… Also, what would it be like to see Ibsen’s Doll House, which ends, spoiler alert with a woman walking out on her husband and children? The scandal! What was that like? That is so interesting to me. I would love to see people losing it.