A Dysfunctional Family Roadtrip: Playwright Valentine Wulf on "Welcome to the Landfill"
Written by Katrina Filer | January 25, 2022
Meet Valentine Wulf: writer, artist, actress, and aspiring costume designer. Valentine joined Penguin for the Bonfire New Works Festival, where we first saw the script for our winter play, Welcome to the Landfill—a dark comedic tale of a disastrous road trip, featuring three generations of liars whose secrets have the potential to tear a family apart (or bring it back together).
Valentine was also featured in Encore Spotlight by TeenTix writer Esha Potharaju! Read the full article here.
Katrina: Tell me about Welcome to the Landfill! How did you start writing it?
Valentine: I’ve written a couple of plays before, but this is the first full-length one that I’ve completed. It’s all based on a true story. A similar situation happened with my family: my grandpa died, and his estranged kids got a call from the funeral home, saying they needed to pay for the funeral. When my dad sent them the money, he thought it could have been a scam. So then he told me “you should write a play about that!”
Katrina: I’ve also heard that the car in this play, the 1994 Geo Prizm, is based on your grandma’s car.
Valentine: Yes, the car is my grandma’s car. She’s had that car since the 90’s and she’s very emotionally attached to it. She named it Laverne. Recently, it got stolen, and we had this whole dramatic road trip to find it or get her a new car. There was this Ukranian mobster car salesman involved, there was a Spirit Halloween—I combined a lot of these things that happened to me in the play.
Katrina: What about the characters? Are they inspired by your family too?
Valentine: For the character elements, I created what I thought was a dysfunctional family. My dad gets along with his family, but I thought it would be really funny if I not only wrote about this disaster road trip, but the family also all hated each other and didn’t get along. Ultimately, they come together. It’s kind of a darkly wholesome ending.
Katrina: Darkly wholesome seems to be a theme in a lot of your work. How do you define your style?
Valentine: I like the juxtaposition of dark and violent themes with very colorful, pastel aesthetics. A lot of my work is inspired by 1950s WWII propaganda posters, which is very dark subject matter with a positive, upbeat tone. I think that’s an interesting contrast, especially incorporating this stereotype of the happy, suburban American dream family.
Katrina: How did you get involved with playwrighting? Did you have any previous experience?
Valentine: In my 8th grade year, we had to write a short play, and I decided to write an entire musical. I don’t know why I did that, but it was really fun. We did an adaptation of the game Little Inferno, and wrote a whole jukebox style musical with Klezmer songs. Now, I’m working on a novel, and it’s in the final stages of editing. I find playwrighting a lot easier than writing prose. A lot of my stories are very dialogue-focused, so it’s actually easier for me to write out these exchanges first, and then add the action in between.
Katrina: Since Welcome to the Landfill will be your first play to be produced, is there anything you’re particularly excited for or nervous about?
Valentine: When I wrote “The Mediocre Beyond” for the Bonfire festival, I didn’t direct it. That was the first time I actually saw it performed. Jamie and Hersh, the actors, were exactly what I pictured for the characters—but they also put their own spin on it. I wouldn’t have even thought of doing that blocking, but it worked so well. I intentionally left the stage directions of Landfill pretty open to interpretation because I would love to see where it ends up going. A lot of it is out of my hands, which is actually really exciting!
Katrina: Are you picturing anything specific for the show’s design?
Valentine: I can picture the costumes pretty clearly since I’m into costume design. I imagine them very colorful, very suburban—like the dad in a polo shirt and khaki pants, or Jeremy the hockey kid in neon basketball shorts. The dog Karl Barx will be a puppet that I’ve made!
Katrina: I’m especially excited to see Karl Barx! Why is this play what people need to see right now?
Valentine: It’s a very cynical show, and I think that’s how a lot of people are feeling right now. People are tired of their families. The pandemic started with everyone saying “We’re all in this together!” There was this very positive unification at the beginning of it, and I think that’s all devolved. Everyone is sick of the pandemic and just waiting for it to be over now. This cynical show about hating your family but being forced to reunite and spend an extended period of time with each other is a bit relatable right now—but has an uplifting twist!
Katrina: What do you think is most exciting about Landfill from an acting perspective?
Valentine: You get the chance to be in a brand-new play! This is the first time it’s ever been performed, so actors have the chance to shape the future of Welcome to the Landfill, because I will be making changes. If you do something that’s funny, I’ll probably add it to the script. As this process goes on, things will be edited and added according to what works, so it’s a unique opportunity to be a part of that!
Katrina: Is there anything else we should know about your experience writing Welcome to the Landfill?
Valentine: A word to other young writers: if you want to have your work produced, just ask! I joined Bonfire and brought my script, everyone read it, and I got feedback. A lot of people want to get their work out there, and you just have to do it. Don’t worry about looking stupid or people thinking it’s bad. Either people are going to say yes or they’re going to say no. Being good at writing is less important than chutzpah is.
Teen actors are still needed for the world premiere of Valentine’s play, Welcome to the Landfill! Rehearsals start on January 31, every Monday and Wednesday evening at UCUCC. Performances are March 19 & 20 at Taproot’s Isaac Studio. Registration is free—so sign up today to bring this dark comedic romp to life on stage!