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1000 PLAYWRIGHT INTERVIEWS

1000 Playwright Interviews The first interview I posted was on June 3, 2009.  It was Jimmy Comtois.  I decided I would start interview...

Aug 19, 2019

I Interview Playwrights Part 1057: Brenda Withers




Brenda Withers

Hometown: Merrick, NY

Current Town: Wellfleet, MA

Q:  What are you working on now?

A:  I'm in the middle of a play about eugenics, IVF, and shelter dogs.

Q:  Tell me, if you will, a story from your childhood that explains who you are as a writer or as a person.

A:  I remember in fourth grade making (what I thought was) a huge mistake by telling my Mom about a girl at school who had no friends. At lunch, while everyone else was doing something sporty or braiding hair, she would walk in slow circles around the perimeter of the field, totally alone, until the bell rang to call us back inside.

My mother made it made clear immediately, unequivocally, that I was to spend lunch with that girl from then on-- I could either convince the other kids to invite her into a larger group activity or walk that perimeter with her myself, but either way I was not to leave her on her own. This made me very nervous, as hanging with outcasts requires a certain insouciance my 10-year-old self had not yet mastered, but I knew my mom was right.

I wish I could say the outcome of this story involved the girl and I becoming champion field-walkers or even just actual friends, but really it was just a lot of me keeping her company next to a chain link fence. I do think having a companion made her feel better, which made me feel better. That was a big, tangible lesson for me-- that our collective well-being is impacted by the welfare of individuals, that we owe it to our community (and ourselves) to look out for each other, even when it seems hard or futile or unfair. I know my parents taught me this lesson in a thousand more significant ways, so I'm not sure why this instance sticks out. But it definitely encapsulates my current worldview-- most of my plays are about the ramifications of upping (or abdicating) personal responsibility.

Q:  If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?

A:  Fix the money! Ticket prices need a radical drop, big donors need to stop wielding influence over artistic directors, and artists might want to get on board with theater as vocation instead of cutthroat career. If you're not in this for love, it usually shows, and not in a good way.

Who are or were your theatrical heroes? Ken Branagh, Caryl Churchill, Martha Graham, Tom Stoppard, Ariane Mnouchkine, Joe Papp, Ivo van Hove, Eugene Ionesco. And all artists toiling in obscurity who maintain a sense of humor and service.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  Theater that has layers, good jokes, danger, and poetry. Plays that are actually new (in structure, content, style), not just recently written.

Q:  What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?

A:  Do a crossword puzzle at the start of a writing session. Or read a poem. Aim really, really high, then take the shot.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  I have a few projects happening this Fall: my play Jordan is premiering at Northern Stage in Vermont, my very loose riff on Jarry's Ubu Roi is going up at the Modern Theatre in Boston, and the adaptation Jason O'Connell and I did of Cyrano is traveling to Two River in NJ. I must also mention our little-theater-that-could, the Harbor Stage Company, which I've been running with a stellar team of misfits for eight years on Cape Cod. I take everyone who visits for a swim.


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Aug 16, 2019

A thing I wrote about Kodachrome


Here is a short essay I wrote for Sam French's magazine about my play Kodachrome.





My Town: Adam Szymkowicz on Kodachrome

Most of us have lost someone. Some of us a lot of someones. The longer you hang around the earth, the more people you lose. So when I see a young woman crying during intermission during a D.C. workshop production, I assume someone she loved died recently, because the play is in part about grief. And that monologue towards the end of the first act of Kodachrome drops shivers down my spine every time and I assume her tears have something to do with that part. Although, honestly it's not the only part where people cry.



PHOTOGRAPHER

It was never supposed to happen. Or it was never supposed to last long. When I asked him out, he said yes to make her mad. Probably. I wasn’t supposed to get pregnant. Definitely. We got married right away. Quickly, quietly. Days turned to weeks. Weeks turned to love.


HARDWARE STORE OWNER

Love.

PHOTOGRAPHER

He turned down his scholarship. He took over the family business. The future Librarian went to college. And then my baby came and she was stillborn. We mourned. Instead of driving us apart, we grew closer together. After two more miscarriages, we stopped trying. The future Librarian came back from college and got a job at the library. And then life and life and life. Until four years ago when I came down with bone cancer and then two years ago when I stopped being alive.




I wonder sometimes why I write so much about grieving. I've had some death, but not as much as many people. I guess I think about tragedy more than most people and live in a somewhat constant fear of something happening to my loved ones. I also think and write about love a lot — new love and long-lasting love and love that never was. I guess these to me are what being human is — having love and losing love and wanting love and connecting to other people. Kodachrome deals with a lot of different people falling in and out of love at different times in their lives. It’s a play that takes place in my home town of Colchester, CT and the locations described are real places that you could visit. You probably wont be able to find the people from my play walking around town, but part of what the play believes is that there is magic in the mundane so you may be able to find folks like this wherever you are right now.

I started writing plays over twenty years ago. I am currently writing my 50th play. And some of these plays are hard to write and some of them come easy. Some of them, especially early on, were not so good. Kodachrome is, I think, the best play I’ve written. It also came to me pretty quickly and was mostly enjoyable to write. Maybe because I love these people and maybe because I tapped into a nostalgia inside me I didn't know was there. “The Perfume Maker” was a character I thought of long before the play but I never knew what to do with him and when this play came along it turned out, he lived in it. Everyone else was already there waiting for me to finally write, I suppose, about the world I grew up in, albeit with a slightly magical lens.

I’m very excited this play has already had so many productions, at high schools and colleges and in small theaters and professionally in a very beautiful production at Portland Center Stage. This play is most often compared to Our Town but if we are making comparisons, I liken it more to Almost, Maine because of both subject matter and flexible cast size. But I see what they are saying. Structurally, Our Town is a more apt comparison, although Kodachrome is less existentially bleak.

I'm very fond of this play and of the productions I've seen so far. The producers and actors and directors and designers and crew who have built this world have come with full gentle open hearts and I'm grateful to them and excited for you to see it too. I don’t know. I like it. I hope you will too.

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Aug 15, 2019

I Interview Playwrights Part 1056: Richard Ploetz




Richard Ploetz

Hometown: Metuchen, NJ

Current Town: New York City – Manhattan – East Village

Q: What are you working on now?

A: TRYPTCH – set in the Whitney Museum of American Art during a Picasso and the American artists he influenced show.

We’re also currently in rehearsal for an evening of my one-acts, Dining with Ploetz, which opens next month at Theater for the New City.

Q: Tell me, if you will, a story from your childhood that explains who you are as a writer or as a person.

A: While serving at a Naval Air Station in Morocco I wrote long homesick letters home describing my experiences – my mother responded in long descriptive letters telling of life back home. The letters became my Journal which I keep to this day – the primary source of all my writing.

Q: If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?

A: Nothing. It’s always been hard getting your work out. Unfortunately, it’s very expensive putting a show up these days. But you can do it with friends and determination.

Q: Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A: Samuel Beckett; Harold Pinter

Q: What kind of theater excites you?

A: I love quirky, well-written dialogue – strange but ordinary stories that slide off the stage and lodge in your head.

Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?

A: Write, write, write – listen to good actors saying your words – revise, revise – no matter how convincing a critic or friend – trust yourself. Of course, don’t write to fashion, write for yourself. Only a very very few, by luck and bulldog perseverance, manage to make a living at this game. So, what.

Q: Plugs, please:

A: My new plays DINING WITH PLOETZ runs September 5 – 22 at Theater for the New City. Tickets and info are available at http://nedworksproductions.org

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Aug 12, 2019

UPCOMING

PRODUCTIONS


Production #1 of The Wooden Heart
Lafayette, LA
Opens September 6, 2019.

Clown Bar 2
Production #1 of CB2
Majestic Rep
Las Vegas, NV

Production #21 of Marian
Spirit Gum Theatre Company
Winston Salem, NC
Opens October 11, 2019.

Production #22 of Marian
Blue Ridge Community College
Flat Rock, NC
Opens November 13, 2019.

Production #23 of Marian
The Breck School
Golden Valley, MN
Opens March 5, 2020

Production #24 of Marian
Michigan State Univeristy
East Lansing, MI
Opens April 10, 2020

Production #37 of Clown Bar
Theatre Downtown
Birmingham, AL
Opens September 19, 2019.

Production #38 of Clown Bar
Elon University
Elon, NC
Opens October 3, 2019.

Production #39 of Clown Bar
University of Wisconsin,
Stevens Point, WI.
Opens November 8, 2019.


Production #43 of HLF
Anchorage, AK
Opens Sept 19, 2019.

Production #44 of HLF
Christopher Newport University
Newport News, VA.
Opens April 3, 2020.


Production #10 of Kodachrome
Monett High School
Monett, MO
Opens November 11, 2019


Production #24 of Nerve
MAD Acting Studios
Valley Village, CA
Opens August 17, 2019.

a night of short plays

Production #34 of 7 Ways
Fountain Central Jr-Sr High
Veedersburg, IN
Opens November 22, 2019


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Jun 28, 2019

Bold Theatre In The Big Easy


Nisa East created this really cool documentary about the NOLA project for the American Theatre Wing.  It takes place while they were rehearsing and premiering my play Stockholm Syndrome which they also commissioned from me.  Take a look.  Scrappy theater at its best. 


In the Field: Bold Theatre in the Big Easy from American Theatre Wing on Vimeo.

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I Interview Playwrights Part 1055: Aaron Ricciardi




Aaron Ricciardi

Hometown:  Coral Springs, Florida.

Current Town:  New York City

Q:  What are you working on now?

A:  I just finished my MFA in Playwriting at Indiana University, where I studied under Peter Gil-Sheridan, so one thing I’m working on right now is adjusting to being out of school again! I’m currently writing a play for young people to see and/or do, called Hanukkah Harriet. It’s a commission from the Jewish Theatre of Bloomington. I’m about to do a rewrite of my play Only Child, and I’ve been working for a while on a new musical based on a German novel from the 1930s. I also have a few ideas for new plays that I want to start working on this summer. I plan on working on a new play during my Core Apprenticeship at the Playwrights’ Center in Minneapolis, which starts in July.

Q:  Tell me, if you will, a story from your childhood that explains who you are as a writer or as a person.

A:  When I was eight, I saw the national tour of Chicago at the Jackie Gleason Theater in Miami with my mom. Velma Kelly was played by Jasmine Guy, who I knew from TV, and Billy Flynn was played by Obba Babatunde, who I knew from the movie That Thing You Do!, and sitting in front of us was some woman who was an anchor on the ten o’clock news. I felt like that theater that night was the coolest place anyone could ever find themselves. During the car ride home, I basically sang every song and recited every line—I remembered every word of the show. I particularly liked a line that Velma said to Roxie in the first act about being “shit out of luck.” That night hooked me on theatre. And I’m still that kid, knowing all the words to things, geeking out on celebrities’ credits, feeling so cool for loving something so dorky.

Q:  If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?

A:  I would make ticket prices cheaper, the way they are in other countries, where theatre is subsidized by the government.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  In alphabetical order: Howard Ashman, Annie Baker, J.M. Barrie, Marc Blitzstein, Bertolt Brecht, Mario Cantone, Caryl Churchill, William Finn, Maria Irene Fornes, Steven Hoggett, Larry Kramer, Lisa Kron, Tony Kushner, Steven Lutvak, Taylor Mac, Joseph Papp, Suzan-Lori Parks, Bernadette Peters, Sarah Ruhl, Laura Schellhardt, Neil Simon, Anna Deavere Smith, Stephen Sondheim, Nilaja Sun, Elizabeth Swados, Jeanine Tesori, Paula Vogel, Wendy Wasserstein, Thornton Wilder, Tennessee Williams, George C. Wolfe.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  Theater that’s shocking. Theater that’s true. Theater that’s complex. Theater that’s political. Theater that’s spectacular. Theater that’s wildly funny. Theater that makes use of its liveness. Theater that uses or manipulates style in a fun way. Theater that honors what came before it. Theater that manages to check all of the above boxes while also being able to speak to an audience beyond the typical progressive, intellectual theatergoer? That’s what really gets me going. Sometimes I feel like theater people are in a perpetual circle of making theater for other theater people, and I think we should reach for more than that.

Q:  What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?

A:  Do your work, and educate yourself about the profession—how it works, who’s involved, what kind of theatre is happening now, what kind of theatre came before what’s happening now. But, first, do your work. Suzan-Lori Parks has this great quote about how she only gives two prompts to herself and her students: “A) Write. B) Rewrite. These work well.”

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  I will be one of three Core Apprentices at the Playwrights’ Center for their 2019-2020 season. Next June at the Playwrights’ Center in Minneapolis, there will be a weeklong workshop and reading of a new play by me.

Hanukkah Harriet will be produced in Bloomington, Indiana, by STAGES Bloomington, this December.
 
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