Contributed by Kevin Hopps
Updated on August 4, 2021
Chiara Atik, whose new play Poor Clare is set to have its world premiere at The Echo Theater Company with previews starting Sept. 8, grew up in San Diego knowing she wanted to be a writer. “I wrote short stories, funny stories, just for friends. My goal was to write something that would make my friends laugh.” They did. And, so, she kept writing.
In high school, she took some theater classes. “But I was never the best actor. I was never the lead.” Yet, she enjoyed theater. And this, no doubt, led her to combine her passion for writing with her interest in plays, which, in turn, led her to NYU to study playwriting.
While in New York, she met up with the screenwriter and family friend Michael Berg, who became, in her words, “like a mentor,” encouraging her to keep up with her writing. And keep up she did.
After college, Atik worked for various publications as a “night-life” reporter. She also became a “dating writer” for various blogs. “I didn’t choose dating as my niche,” Atik says, explaining that she just sort of fell into it. “And I was always writing plays.”
As the dating blogger for HowAboutWe, Atik kept honing her writing skills. “Blogging teaches you to write quickly and learn what people want,” Atik says, referring to the instant feedback blogs tend to receive through readers’ comments. “And you learn to write conversationally.”
Since then, Atik has written several plays, magazine articles, TV shows, a book, and sold a spec screenplay. And, now, she’s getting paid to write more screenplays. In fact, thanks to this film work Atik feels she can finally call herself a full-time writer.
And even though she’s been busy writing for film, Atik still finds time for playwriting. “A couple of years ago, I started thinking about the premise for Poor Clare. Then, I joined a playwriting group, which forces you to write, ten pages once a week; gives you enough momentum so you can finish.”
Atik was inspired by the story of Saint Clare, but she didn’t have everything worked out at first. “I knew I wanted a contemporary-sounding St. Clare, knew she was going to start out rich, knew she’d become radicalized, knew it would be a comedy,” Atik says, explaining about her writing process for this play. “About halfway through, around sixty pages, I kinda figured out the end moment, and then, I was able to write to that.”
The real Saint Clare was an Italian saint and one of the first followers of Saint Francis of Assisi. And, although St. Clare’s father was wealthy, owning both a palace and a castle, she took a vow of poverty and joined a monastery. There were many temptations over the years for her to give up her vow, but St. Clare had the conviction to continue to live a life of poverty.
It’s not surprising that Atik would have St. Clare bouncing around in her head. For one thing, she has family in Italy, in a town not far from Assisi. For another, Atik’s first name, Chiara, was St. Clare’s birth name (Chiara Offreduccio).
And, of course, there’s St. Clare’s vow of poverty (Atik might not make this comparison herself, but as a fellow writer, it’s hard not to see the similarities). “Starting out, I lived in a convent, $300 a month in Chelsea, I babysat, sold hot dogs at 2 a.m.,” Atik says, explaining that like most writers, at first, she couldn’t make a living just by writing. “The reality: I don’t know a single playwright who isn’t also working at something else… a lot teach.” Again, Atik expresses her thankfulness for her film work.
Living in New York, Atik’s workday starts with a twelve-minute walk to a Brooklyn writers’ space, basically a big room with cubicles. “I work through the morning, take a break for lunch, and then work some more,” Atik says, before referencing John Irving, one of her favorite authors, who once said that he rarely takes breaks. Atik confesses she’s not there yet. “My whole workday is breaks, with working in between.”
Atik says she won’t work at home. “I find it too hard, I need ‘nothing else to do.’ At home, I’ll go sit on the couch, I can’t crackdown,” Atik says. And even here in Los Angeles, where Atik is now attending rehearsals for Poor Clare, readying it for The Echo Theater Company opening night, she has the same problem with distractions. “Even in L.A., I write in my car in a garage.”
Although Atik may profess to be easily distracted, her conviction to write is clearly every bit as strong as St. Clare’s conviction to her vows of poverty. And Atik knows that after the run of her play in L.A., she’ll continue to do what she loves. “I’ll be back in New York, writing a new movie; a new play.”
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