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Chiara Atik Reflects on HBO’s “Girls” and Her Play “Women” Four Years Later

HBO’s Girls returns this month for its sixth and final season. We spoke with playwright Chiara Atik about her 2013 mashup play Womenthe ongoing legacy of the landmark series, and writing.

What inspired you to explore the parallels between Girls and Little Women? How was your play, Women, born?

I think mostly the enduring “four women” archetype: we saw it in Little Women, we saw it in Sex and the City, and then again in Girls. And it’s a model that really works, because the instinct to align or compare yourself with one girl (“I’m a Jo,” “I’m a Miranda,” “I’m a Marnie,” etc) is irresistible. When I wrote the play, Girls was I think in its second or third season? And I’d long been obsessed with Louisa May Alcott / the Little Women story, so it was really the perfect time to do a crossover.

Did you find any challenges blending a modern voice with an older story?

It was mostly just fun. My favorite type of humor is goofy humor that deals in anachronisms, so I really dove into the discrepancies between the time periods head-on. (“Has anyone offered you Opium?” etc.) But jokes aside, Hannah’s journey on Girls is so similar to Jo’s. They both really do think they could be the “voice of their generation”—it’s just a matter of finding the right conduit.

How did you discover Little Women?

I don’t know!! It feels like something I’ve always known, but it must have been via my mom or my aunt. I discovered it very, very early in life, though, and read it many times as I grew up.

Why do you think the story of Little Women still resonates with audiences and readers almost 150 years after it was written?

Because Little Women is essentially about trying to grow up—that last bridge between adolescence and adulthood. I don’t think that struggle has changed much in the past century-and-a-half, even if the circumstances obviously have. What’s more relatable than Jo’s desperate attempt to be taken seriously in a world run by adult men? Than Amy wanting to look pretty and be well-liked, despite knowing that might be superficial? And the bittersweet nostalgia involved with leaving your childhood home, or seeing things change, and your peers grow up around you while you feel stuck in place—all that felt very, very real to me when I was in my 20s. I don’t think American girlhood is that different now than it was back then.

As anybody with an internet connection knows, Girls has been both very popular and very controversial over the last six years. Why do you think everybody loves talking about this show so much?

Probably because it shines a light on an American experience that people either recognize and identify with as their own, or vehemently reject as not their own.

How do you feel about Girls? Are you a fan?

It was interesting being the exact same age/position as Hannah Horvath when the show came out. I was a recent college graduate living in New York and trying to be a writer, so I will always think of it as emblematic of a certain time in my life, and a specific era in New York as well. And Girls put things on TV that I had never seen portrayed before—depictions of female sexuality, and bodies. I absolutely think it broke ground.

Enough time has passed that we all know the legacy of Little Women. How do you think Girls will be remembered in the future? What do you think its legacy will be?

Like I said, I definitely think it will be emblematic of a specific time in New York, and a specific time in the country. I will always associate it with my twenties, even though I don’t think the lives of the characters necessarily paralleled mine. Also, when Girls came out, it really was the show about being post-college but sort of pre-adult. Happily there are now so many shows that depict women of that age, that we don’t have to put so much critical focus onto one: Girls (or a Girls-like show) no longer has to represent all girls. But I think at the time there was definitely a little bit of pressure for it to speak for all women, to be (sorry to use this again, but) the voice of a generation.

What projects are you working on now?

This winter I’ve been writing for the NBC show, Superstore, and I sold my first screenplay, about a fairy godmother who falls in love with the prince. In theater, I’m working on getting my latest play, “I Gained Five Pounds,” up. It’s another comedy that deals with the American female experience—I’m excited about sharing it with an audience! And as soon as my TV job is over, I’m looking forward to going back to work on a play about a young fundamentalist woman who breaks out of her bubble. And there are a few screenplays I’m excited to write next! I have a lot I want to do this year!

Whose writing is exciting to you right now?

In addition to like, literally everyone who was in Youngblood with me, and whose work I not only admire but strive to live up to, I’d say one of the plays that comes to mind is Kevin Armento’s Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally, which was so cool the way it made use of both modern technology/texting and also the greek chorus. Sarah DeLappe’s The Wolves, obviously—I mean so much has been said about that play, I think, but I really liked just seeing a soccer field onstage. That was exciting! I’ve got to get my hands on Adam Bock’s A Life—I missed it at Playwrights, but I’m a big fan of his, and everything I’ve read about that play seems very very exciting! I know I’m missing things! This is a stressful question!

What motivates you to write?

Whenever I think of something funny, like a funny situation between two people, or a funny comparison (a la Little Women and Girls) I get excited to write it down. And when I see really good theater, it really motivates me to write!

Do you have any tricks you use to combat writer’s block?

A trip always does the trick! Isolating myself and going somewhere different helps me get in the zone when I’m struggling to do so at home. But I still have lots and lots of days of “writers block,” which for me means days of just looking at my phone with a blank page of Final Draft up on my computer.

If you had a time machine, what is one piece of advice you would give to your younger self?

Just the mantra, “Everything is going to take 10x longer than you think.” And always be writing a new play while you’re waiting for something to happen to the one you’ve just finished!

Chiara Atik‘s plays include Daisy and Five Times in One Night. She is the author of numerous articles for Cosmopolitan Magazine, Glamour Magazine, New York, and many online blogs, as well as the book, Modern Dating: A Field Guide. Her screenplay, Fairy Godmother, was on the 2016 Blacklist, and will be produced by MGM. Television: Superstore.

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