“Quantum Debt” is a new play that examines the current student debt crises. Created by Silver Glass Productions, the drama was conceived, written and directed by Suzanne Willett. Previews begin December 2 at Off-Broadway’s Players Theatre and the opening is set for December 9.
“Quantum Debt” takes the unusual approach of looking at debt through the lens of quantum physics. The plot focuses on a first-generation college student who is struggling with incredible college debt who she must returns home to help the family which leads her to question her sense of self-worth. This movement-based piece is rooted in the differing realities of the American Dream for GenXers and Millennials.
Suzanne Willett is an award-winning playwright who recently discussed this work via an exclusive interview.
Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you discover your talent for theater and what was it about plays and the theater that most interests you?
Suzanne Willett (SW): I don’t know if I have a talent, but I realized that I could write a good joke. Then I realized that I wanted to say something more, so went into solo work. Later, I realized that I also wanted to tell socially relevant stories and that would require a cast and a play. What interests me the most about theatre and plays are their ability to have an impact on the audience and perhaps give them a new point of view to consider. I also like theatre’s ‘sparseness’–theatre’s inability to show complete locations or furnishings requires the audience to engage their imaginations more than when you engage in film.
MM: How did you break into the performing industry, especially in New York?
SW: I started with standup comedy and solo work, PAIN: So Funny It Hurts, touring the US and Canada. I then debuted The Feminazi in 2008 and was also doing standup in clubs around the city, The Comic Strip, The Stand, Dangerfields. During this time, I debuted theatrical work at Dixon Place, Metropolitan Playhouse and The Players Theatre.
MM: Why did you decide to create a play about student debt?
SW: When I started developing my comedy on the mic, I would hear from college students that they couldn’t finish college. I asked them why they couldn’t get an NDSL or Perkins Loan and they stated that those didn’t exist anymore. As I looked into it, I was appalled that the student loan industry was being privatized and therefore locking people out on a shot at the American Dream.
MM: How did quantum physics influence you creatively?
SW: As in the early 20th century, quantum reality punctured Newtonian reality. Likewise, in the latter part of the 20th-century, the reality of predatory student lending has punctured the reality of achieving the American Dream. In quantum mechanics, there is a phenomenon called Wave Particle duality, that is a photon can be seen as either a wave or a particle; likewise, students I have talked to express a duality, such as, “I am not quite an adult or a child” due to their student debt. Quantum discoveries brought about uncertainty about the reality we live in which is also a characteristic of the lives of those carrying high loads of debt.
MM: What are some of the multi-layered complexities in it?
SW: The Wave-Particle duality is complex, and I have attempted to create a character and condition that shows how she struggles with this dichotomy. I also am incorporating movement that represents this complexity on a visceral level. The chorus itself represents the energy of debt, i.e., debt never rests and the visceral reactions we have to debt.
MM: What’s your favorite part of this piece and why?
SW: When the two main characters, Rick and Lisa, meet each other for the first time, the elephant in the room is how much debt they each carry. One wants to ask the other, but they are both afraid to. So, they do this dance, kind of like an entangled pair, trying to sync up, but they fail to do so. Once Rick realizes Lisa is 120K in debt, he doesn’t want anything to do with her.
MM: What other projects are you working on right now and what themes might you like to explore in future works?
SW: I am looking to do a project on climate change (rising water levels) and also on the amplification of hate on social media and its effect on society.
MM: What are your ultimate goals for the future and is there anything else that you would like to mention?
SW: My goal for the future is to keep practicing my art, i.e., to keep developing and producing science-inspired, movement-based shows. Science-inspired because I think many scientific concepts can be translated into the psycho-social domain, and movement-based because information exchanged between bodies has an immediate impact on the viewer. I would like for #meToo and #BLM to keep shifting the POV in American theatre.
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QUANTUM DEBT runs December 2-19 at Off-Broadway’s The Players Theatre
in the West Village. For tickets and more information, visit
Photos: Caitlin Ferguson and Collin McConnell in Quantum Debt. Photos by Julia Clark.