Director of Outreach at
The Artist’s Laboratory Theatre
Interviewed on 28 December 2017
1. Tell us a little bit about yourself.
The daughter of a Cambodian refugee and a Marine Corps Vietnam Veteran, Simone Cottrell is the Director of Outreach for Artist’s Laboratory Theatre, Fayetteville, Arkansas. Simone earned her B.A. in Communication-Theatre from Mississippi State University (MSU) in 2008 and then trained at Lexington Children’s Theatre. She later studied English and creative writing at MSU and received further training at Martha’s Vineyard Institute for Creative Writing. Simone has held positions with MSU’s College of Arts & Sciences (research, graduate studies) and with Trike Theatre. Simone was nominated by the Tishman Review for the 2016 PEN America/Robert J. Dau Short Story Prize for Emerging Writers.
2. What types of work you produce in the community, and why?
I exist in so many communities – as many of us do – so I thrive in finding the common bonds in each community in my career as the Director of Outreach with The Artist’s Laboratory Theatre (a community-based, site specific professional theatre) and as a writer. Artist’s Lab has over 20 programs working with the VA, Latinx immigrants, black poets, homeless youth, the Marshallese community, and the list goes on. We begin devising theatre with creative writing first. We don’t expect the groups that we work with to have years of experience in the arts. What we do recognize is that each person has a story to tell and we use their stories to raise awareness in the community.
I can pretty much tell you that almost every message from each community or in-group has been the same – to be noticed and respected for who they are. Humans are complicated creatures and as much as we’d like to ignore ours or others’ emotional, mental, spiritual, and physical nuances, they exist. So, specifically the work that I like to produce is to bring these differences up to the surface, create a narrative or strengthen one that is already exists into creative writing that may or may not be transformed into a production. I want to be able to use my artistic strengths to manifest a brave and safe space for healthy dialogue.
3. What were your early influences, and how does this manifest in your work today?
If we’re talking about what I enjoyed most as a child, hands-down The Babysitters Club series. Claudia Kishi was the only Asian American character in ALL of the books I read. She’s the reason why I kept trying to join an elite visual arts club for gifted students and I finally made it in the 4th grade. She’s also the reason why I tried to start a neighborhood babysitting club in my old trailer park, but that place was rough and we kids could take care of ourselves by the time we were 9.
As I grew, so did my reading choices. I had a recent boyfriend tell me, after looking at my book collection, that I am highly attracted to misfit characters. He wasn’t wrong. I like the underdogs. I like imperfection and flaws. There’s something magically human about a flawed character. Could explain why I’m not longer with the boyfriend who liked to read me through my book choices.
4. Are there aspects of the craft that excite you more than others?
I guess this is the teaching side of me, but I love editing, especially other people’s work. There’s something satisfying about providing a different perspective. It’s like, “Thank you for welcoming into your creative writing home and here’s a word gift that I think would look great next to your window.” I think editing is an encouraging and supportive experience.
5. What are your go-to places when searching for inspiration?
No joke? Bars. You get the best characters in bars. Try it some time. Go to the same bar at three different times – Sunday early afternoon, Wednesday when you get off of work, and Friday at midnight – and you’ll get three different crowds. I also flirt with the bartenders to hand over some dish about their regulars or to overhear bar conversations for me. If you’re also single, you automatically create mystery and intrigue with your notebook (in my case, bar napkins) and pen.
6. Tell us about your writing space (music/snacks/interruptions/etc.)
I love working on the floor, tummy down. I’ve done this since I was a kid – to color, read, play checkers. It’s my comfort zone for creativity. Sometimes I listen to podcasts (FriendsLikeUs is my current fave), cello, and jazz. No snacks. I will snack myself to death if I had the choice of immortality. I creative write for 2 – 3 hours and I need my industry standard of a 15 minute break. Sometimes I’ve forgotten to take breaks and will go for 8 hours without eating, drinking, or the bathroom. Turns out? That’s not okay.
7. Tell us about your current project(s).
My last personal project was writing two historical monologues for the Fayetteville, Arkansas, Evergreen Cemetery tour in November 2017. That was the first time I’d written monologues that were performed by professional actors. One of the actors asked me if I was upset with her portrayal of Lessie Stringfellow Read. I told her, “No. That was me trying not to puke all over the a headstone because I was so nervous!” But it was beautiful and lovely and everything I could’ve hoped for.
Currently, I’m quite the busy creative writing teaching bee for the local VA – Veterans Healthcare System of the Ozarks. Artist’s Lab partners with the VA under the national program Healing Arts, which provides four different components of the arts to in-patients and out-patients. As Director of Outreach, I teach the creative writing for the in-patient mental health ward. My Artistic Director, the amazing Erika Wilhite, teaches ensemble acting classes with the out-patients, and we hire an art therapist and a creative writing teaching artist to also lead mask workshops and creative writing at another campus location. Because we are the only theatre to be doing this kind of work in the region, we are now looking forward to partnering with our Arkansas senators to have support in joining the Library of Congress’s Veteran Storytelling Project. We are on the cusp of something huge and I can’t wait to see how the foundations now will serve so many in the future.
Curious to know more about Simone and The Artist’s Laboratory Theatre? Here’s how:
“So, I’m super sorry to say this, but I don’t place my creative writing on the internet. I’m old-school and private like that. Having said that, I’m also a Gen-x’er/Millenial and will definitely overshare the heck out of my progress as a human in her 30s, Artist’s Lab’s progress, or just a funny cat photo now and again. Definitely feel free to say “HEEEEY GIRL HEEEY!” on my Twitter – @Sim1_Says. I’d love to know what acts of #radicalcompassion you’re into these days and let’s collaborate! You can also reach me at email@example.com to learn more about what we do or find The Artist’s Laboratory Theatre on ye olde Facebook to keep up with our programs and how we’re making social change in Northwestern Arkansas.”
Don’t forget to check out this year’s Winterviews and partner interviews.