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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...

Nov 14, 2018

I Interview Playwrights Part 1017: Aladdin Ullah



Aladdin Ullah

Hometown: New York City

Current Town: New York City

Q:  Tell me about Dishwasher Dreams.

A:  It was developed at the Public Theater while I was a member of the Inaugural Emerging Writers Group. Man I really loved that group. Some super talented writers, talented artists were in that group- Ethan Lipton, Radha Blank, Raul Castillo and quite a few more. A little before that time, I was really frustrated about 15 years ago being a comedian. I was a bit burned out, comedy can be grueling. I was tired of the grind and constantly auditioning for stereotypical roles. So I saw Lackawaana Blues by Ruben Santiago Hudson and it was life altering. I cried in the lobby of the Public Theater because it was so moving, so real, I felt like a voyeur watching the humanity of that play along with the blues guitar scoring the scenes. Some solo shows are just a showcase for the actor with no story but Ruben had such a moving story. It inspired me to write my solo play Dishwasher Dreams with an amazing Tabla Player- Avi Sharma. 

The play is about me preparing to audition for the role of a Muslim terrorist as I reminisce about my dad arriving from Bangladesh to land in Spanish Harlem during the 1940's in pursuit of the American Dream. I wanted to do something original with music that was both hilarious and moving. There weren't a lot of plays that addressed immigrants from the perspective of first generation and second generation clashing, as well as addressing various themes. I think this play is a very original play. I'm trying to show the authentic voice of immigrants that are Muslim along with their children like myself who grew up right in the thick of hip hop during the late 70's and 80's. I think people have one view of Muslims. I'd like to write plays that show audiences we are more than just the cliche of caricatures you see everyday. There are folks who grew up in Muslim households that are not the stereotype, there are muslims who rebel, are defiant, some smoke weed, some practice the religion, some do not , but most of all we are human. Sometimes people forget that. I'm trying to just write stories that bring that truth, that diversity to the stage and screen with nuance. There is very anti-immigrant sentiment right now. It's actually nothing new because racism is American as apple pie. Arts is a great weapon to combat that-- especially comedy. The theater is best place to tell the truth, that kind of captivating experience is what makes me fall in love with live performance.

Q:  What else are you working on now?

A:  I'm hoping to finish my next play Halal Brothers about two brothers from Bangladesh that own a Halal store in Harlem with events taking place the day of Malcolm X's assassination in 1965. I wrote it really for Aasif Manvi who is brilliant. I'm also working on finishing editing my documentary in Search of Bengali Harlem. It's about the first wave of Bengali Muslims that arrived in Harlem from 1880's to present day.

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 a little kid I lived in the projects and never thought writers existed. I read a book called Down These Mean Streets by Piri Thomas. That book took place on my block on 104th street. I was fascinated that anyone who wrote about my neighborhood. When I read this book he created a vivid picture of places I walked in daily. I couldn't believe that you could write about where you lived. I was 11 years old and inspired to write. I attended the boys's club on 111th street and as fate would have it the photography teacher there knew Piri Thomas. I told him I wrote a few short stories. So he took me out to Piri Thomas' house by Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn to meet him. I was about 11 years old. I was a bit starstruck by Piri Thomas as I loved that book. It was a bit overwhelming as all these adults were there. Later in the night people were playing congas and they were reciting poetry. Piri Thomas told me to get up and read one of my stories. I kept nodding my head saying, "no, no, no!" Piri told me he would read one piece and he would be next to me and persuaded me to read my short. Piri said his piece and then I took a deep breath and read my short piece as my knees were shaking. It was about me looking out my window on 104th and Park Avenue wondering where the metro north trains were going. Were they going to a place where people didn't have to walk up 15 flights when the elevator broke? Or was it a place where people were going to get chocolate like in willa wonka world and on on and on. After I finished people were cheering and Piri bear hugged me. Not only did writng captivate me but I got the satisfying feeling of what live performance was like at age 11. Maybe that day a solo performer was born.

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

A:  Wished Playwrights of color who don't have many grants or obies, or tonys could get a fair share of being produced and not shut out of the conversation. Bureaucracy is what I'd love to change. The politics of this hustle of being produced is what I wish we could change. It's a damn shame how politics play a huge part in how one gets produced but in the land of the blind the one eyed man is king. It sure would be nice if it were a level playing field. So if you don't come from a fancy MFA program they look at you like they are watching paint dry. That is a conversation that could take days to discuss so I'll leave it there.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  August Wilson. Ruben Santiago Hudson, Eugene O'Neil, Arthur Miller. David Henry Hwang, Liesl Tommy, Dominique Morriseau, Lynn Nottage, Stephen Adly Guirguis.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  The kind that moves you. I could watch August Wilson plays nonstop. I really like new playwrights that challenge the status quo that really show you the humanity of folks people ignore. There is nothing more exhilarating than creating theater, art that challenges audiences to think, to look out of a window they are not looking out of. I love plays that put on the gloves and punch audiences in the gut with truth, the way a boxer fights in the ring. Theater possesses the potential to tell the truth. Playwrights from Odetts to Beckett, from O'Neill to August Wilson, from David Henry Hwang to Dominique Morriseau. Each bring a no BS authenticity to the stage and make audiences see the injustice as they root for the underdog. That's the kind of theater I want to be a part of. You can keep your BS theater for tourists on Broadway, I want theater that rocks peoples world, that challenges them to hear voices from people that have been marginalized. That's what I'm talking  about. I love that. That's the theater that NEEDS to be seen.

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

A:  Writing is rewriting so keep writing. Find a place where you can develop find actors that you trust, create your own space and don't wait for any theater, or artistic director to validate you. Keep it moving keep it busy, stay inspired, write stories that resonate with your heart and keep getting up when you fall, rejection is not the end of the world if you love it embrace it and enjoy the f-g journey!

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  Dishwasher Dreams
written and directed by:
Aladdin Ullah
Tabla accompaniment-Avi Sharma
Directed by Gabriel Vega Weissman
543 W 42nd Street
Playing till Nov. 18th.
more info:
http://www.dishwasherdreams.com/?fbclid=IwAR1xlnttrR6a3VVi1wjZ-hKNe_iRodCwvwzKkO1eIGdnfjsRgVN7dfpPi2g

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Nov 8, 2018

I Interview Playwrights Part 1016: Tyler English-Beckwith



Tyler English-Beckwith

Hometown: Dallas, Texas

Current Town: Brooklyn, NY

Q:  What are you working on now? 

A:  Currently working on the first draft of a new play called Young Mammy, and working on a project with Meow Wolf out of Santa Fe, NM.


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

A:  At my pre-school graduation, I was allowed to walk across the stage to celebrate my matriculation from the 3 year old class into the 4 year old class. I got my certificate and sat back down, but then I saw that the 5 year olds who were going to kindergarten got to give one-line speeches. I left my mother's side and demanded that the microphone be passed to me. I gave a speech that was much longer than the other speeches that were actually on the program. Then I bowed and got a standing ovation. When my mom tells the story she says that it was all gibberish, but I was very intentional with what I had to say. It was urgent to me. Whatever I said needed to be said immediately. In front of an audience.

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

A:  Critics should be practitioners.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  Since she passed, I've been thinking about Ntozake Shange every day and the ways that she sacrificed her body. Also Karen Cogdill, Elly Lindsay, and Vickie Washington, my former teachers from Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts. They laid the foundation for everything I've learned.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  Theater that tells a truth you know but are afraid to speak out loud.

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

A:  I always think of this Octavia Butler nugget of truth. "First forget inspiration. Habit is more dependable. Habit will sustain you whether you're inspired or not. Habit will help you finish and polish your stories. Inspiration won't.  Habit is persistence in practice.

Q:  Plugs, please

A:  I can be found on New Play Exchange.

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Nov 7, 2018

I Interview Playwrights Part 1015: Rachel Bublitz



Rachel Bublitz

Hometown: San Diego, California

Current Town: Salt Lake City, Utah

Q:  What are you working on now?

A:  Right now I'm working on a play commissioned by the Egyptian Youtheatre about the first women to fly combat missions called Night Witches. They flew planes for Russia during World War 2 and were named the Night Witches by the Germans. Their planes were made out of wood and canvas, mostly, they flew every fifteen minutes at night, to keep the Germans from sleeping, and they'd often cut their engines before dropping their bombs so they wouldn't be heard by their enemy. A lot of them were under twenty years old, and since I think there's a lack of exciting TYA material out there, especially with great roles for young women, I think it's a perfect fit for high school and youth theaters. My ultimate plan is to have a triptych of historical plays about women set during WW 2, the first of which I've already written, about a spy named Nancy Wake (Once A Spy). Night Witches has me stepping outside of my comfort zone a lot, it incorporates a lot of movement and lyrical choral elements, which is both exciting and really terrifying... Like all good things!

Q:  Tell me about 31 plays in 31 days.

A:  After I wrote my first full-length play I realized that I had a lot of learning to do if I was going to do this as a profession. I thrive on crazy challenges and so I decided to write a play a day during the month of August (when my kids would both be in pre-school for the first time). I mentioned this to a playwright pal of mine, Tracy Held Potter, and she insisted that we make it a big thing and invite playwrights from around the world to join us. I thought she was totally crazy, I honestly didn't think anyone else would want to do it. And I was so, so wrong! 31 Plays in 31 Days has been going strong for SEVEN years now, and it still amazes me how many playwrights from all over the world still take on this huge challenge each year. It's now being run by the phenomenal Topher Cusumano who uses all his energize to excite hundreds and hundreds of playwrights to join him in this annual undertaking.

And, by the way, it worked for me. I haven't participated each year, but every time I do it stretches and pushes me as a writer and really strengthens my craft. I love it.

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

A:  This is kinda silly but I think it's mostly because I was alone a lot as a kid. I was a latch-key kid, and between school and when my mom got off I fended for myself. This typically took the form of my playing board games by myself, creating different characters who played against one another, playing tons of solitaire, since I'd assigned characteristics and back stories to all the face cards, so that each game involved a pretty epic fantasy to go along with how the cards fell, and tons of reading. My dad lived far away and sent strange books constantly. I read King Lear in sixth grade and loved it, but he also sent Grendel, In Watermelon Sugar, and lots and lots of Vonnegut.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  Paula Vogel, Lynn Nottage, Marsha Norman, Quiara Alegría Hudes, Lorraine Hansbury, Dominique Morisseau, Anna Deavere Smith, Pam Gems, and Susan Glaspell, to name a few.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  I like theater that makes me laugh and cry, that puts me in another person's shoes, that pushes and makes me question my own values. I like messy and complicated characters and stories that don't have easy (or any) answers. I think right now we're all being shoved so hard into separate and very specific boxes, I'm most excited about theater that takes people out of those box and reminds us that above everything else we're all human.

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

A:  Read and write a lot. See lots of theater, even bad theater, maybe especially bad theater... It helps you develop your own taste and you can start the fun experiment of how you'd fix it (after you've left the show, of course!). Read for a theater, I read for Berkeley Rep for a few years, I earned free tickets and had tons of brand new plays at my finger tips. Let your writing be bad, trust in your craft and in process, we draft for a reason. I'm not a write-every-day type, but I do think structure is key. To writing and writing habits. Oh, and read, read, read!! Get on New Play Exchange, it's the best investment EVER for anyone interested in new plays. And after you put up some of your work, read plays from other playwrights.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  I've been lucky enough this year to have at least one public performance in every month! Happening right now in November I have two plays in the Utah New Works Festival, Employee of the Month as a full production, and The Garden as a reading. My play Mom's Ham will also be produced in San Diego with Clairemont Act One Community Theater.

In December I have a workshop of Mom's Ham with Phoenix Theatre Ensemble and a developmental reading of my play Ripped with Athena Theatre, both in New York City.

And I have tons of work up on my New Play Exchange page here: https://newplayexchange.org/users/275/rachel-bublitz

And my website: https://rachelbublitz.com/

Also, in case any of your readers teach high school or college and are looking for material, I have another TYA play that I'm looking for a second production of right now, a super fun and glittery full length called Cheerleaders VS. Aliens, which is up on my New Play Exchange page.

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Nov 6, 2018

I Interview Playwrights Part 1014: Danielle Deadwyler


Danielle Deadwyler 

Hometown: Atlanta, GA

Current Town: Atlanta, GA

Q:  What are you working on now? 

A:  Auditioning and revising/editing a collection of poems.

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 have few stories from childhood that I’m able to automatically remember these days. I’m making it all up as I go. I gather that’s why fragmentation is so engaging to me, compositions that are more interested in moments (and memory) than a long-winding-road-form of writing. How do many moments speak for a whole? This is what I seek to get to the heart of as a writer, art maker.

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

A:  The funding!!! And more time to build in/work the process. We’ve lost the developmental (rehearsal) time for work. It has shrunken since I began professionally, which my mentors say had been shortened for them. From four to three to two weeks sometimes. Allowing marination truly yields a more flavorful, rich meal.

Q:   Who are or were your theatrical heroes? 

A:  Donald Griffin, Crystal Fox, Andrea Frye, Jasmine Guy, Ntozake Shange, that I can think of now. Most of these folks I could touch. They actually pore into me. Our heroes are closer than we think.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you? 

A:  Raw. Honest. Surprising. Theatre that pushes humanity in both directions on the spectrum. I love work that fills the space and shrinks it simultaneously. I love to feel a part of a world.

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

A:  Listen carefully. Quietude is valuable in a sensorially busy world. Writers are like spiritual healers/leaders...we have to be hyper-aware of the world’s happenings (well read) and adult to be synthesizers of such experiences. And more questions than answers.

Q:  Plugs, please: 

A:  I’m actually in a film currently playing the west coast, JANE & EMMA. Other things are pending, so mums the zipped lips.

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Nov 5, 2018

I Interview Playwrights Part 1013: Hank Kimmel



Hank Kimmel

Hometowns: Pittsburgh, PA; Sands Point, NY; Lakeville, CT

Current town: Atlanta, GA

Q:  What are you working on now?

A:  I am working on writing honorably, where, as a playwright, I am there to serve the characters rather than the other way around. I want to make sure my characters have the ability to charm, even those whose external circumstances may make them un-likable. (I often write about distressed lawyers, former athletes, and religious strays.) I also continue to work on making sure that all my characters have some kind of driving “want,” something they’re either going to get (or not) by the end of the play. I know this is basic, but within the trappings of theme and purpose, I find it’s easy to lose sight of this.

More tangibly, I am working on Confessions of A Hit Man, a first reunion of two ex-football players 15 years after one permanently paralyzed the other in an otherwise meaningless game. I received a Reiser Lab grant from the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta to develop this play, and my team (Eric Little, Tisha Whitaker, Daphne Mintz, Kathi Frankel) and I have a showcase reading in December. I am also working on developing salon type readings that are meant to be shared in non-traditional theatre settings. My colleague Mira Hirsch and I have lined up our first gig, Hank Kimmel’s Holiday Shorts, at Kitchen Six Restaurant in early December.

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 at sleepaway camp, one of the campers was having a miserable summer. Our counselor, Mark Antonucci, a most generous and gracious person, asked me and my bunkmates if we could make room in our cabin for this distraught camper. Our bunk, at least to us, already seemed crowded, and we said no. That answer still haunts me to this day. By being more flexible and open, we could have helped this camper rescue his summer. Instead we placed our convenience over his needs. As a result, to this day, I try to make my default answer “yes” to requests that might create momentary discomfort to me but that may become deeply meaningful to someone else. It’s part of the reason why I remain fully committed to the inclusive practices of Working Title Playwrights, an Atlanta-based theatre company dedicated to the development of playwrights and new work.

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

A:  I would like to see more plays that challenge our basic assumptions of what we believe, and when I say “we,” I suppose I’m talking about the apparent monolith of beliefs help by those of us who practice theatre. When I first started in theatre, I was exposed to a play (by Karen Klami) that depicted the early life of Adolph Hitler, and his failures as an artist. As a person and Jew, I find nothing redeeming about Hitler, but the play, against my will, made me feel empathy for his shortcomings. This is why Amadeus is one of my favorite plays. I find myself loving Scaleri, who, on the surface, is someone I would naturally detest.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  
Spalding Gray.
Gary Garrison.
Paula Vogel.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  Ever since I saw the Broadway version of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to The Forum as an eight-year-old, I love comedies and the chance to laugh. Even so, I am most drawn to plays that can make me cry, though I am a person who is not naturally drawn to tears. Most recently, I was brought to tears by A Band’s Visit and Dear Evan Hansen.

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

A:  Love the process, the results are incidental.
Be a playwright all the time. Think dramatically.
Become a part of a community. Those who give are also those who receive.
Consider Jonathan Winters quote: “If your ship doesn’t come in, swim out to it.”

Q:  Plugs, please.

A:  I currently serve as Board President of both Working Title Playwrights (www.workingtileplaywrights.com) and the Alliance for Jewish Theatre (www.alljewishtheatre.org) and I am always eager to embrace those who want to join our communities (or who want to help underwrite our wonderful programs!!!!)

My web site is www.hankkimmel.com

I can also be found on the New Play Exchange.

I also have a law practice that focuses exclusively on mediation, and I am always willing to help those who have some kind of dispute involving divorce, landlord-tenant issues, and non-profit management   
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Nov 2, 2018

I Interview Playwrights Part 1012: Annie Harrison Elliott



Annie Harrison Elliott

Hometown: Kennesaw, Georgia

Current Town: Atlanta, Georgia

Q:  What are you working on now? 

A:  Many projects involving powerful women in unusual situations. Traditional plays include a thriller, The Handprint, inspired by one of my ancestors who was killed during the Molly Maguire trials in 1860’s-70’s America. Also on the docket is a modern day look at Hedda Gabler.
I’m co-writing or co-creating two projects. The first is an immersive Frankenstein with Found Stages Theatre. I’m working on the Mary Shelley character, which fits in well with my “powerful women in unusual situations” theme. The second is a dance theatre piece co-created by Amber Bradshaw and Danielle Deadwyler entitled Unknown Woman, which is about women who dressed as men in order to fight in the Civil War. 

Writing for children is also a big interest, and something I plan to continue. I published my first children’s play this year, Math Problems, with YOUTHplays. I’m also working on my first TV project with a development company here in Atlanta, and I’m learning a lot about that industry, which is new and challenging.

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 a small child, I was easily scared. Swim class terrified me. Until one day I got tired of being scared and threw myself into the deep end of the pool-- to the shock of everyone around me.

I feel like my experiences as a writer are just me continuing to throw myself into the deep end of the pool and learning to swim as I go. To be honest, that’s what I prefer. I thrive by learning from experience.

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

A:  Some theatre companies do a GREAT job at nourishing their artists and communities. But I do think theatre can easily breed toxic environments, and that’s something to always be aware of and question.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes? 

A:  I’m impressed by people who are both talented and kind. I’m personally over the whole “tyrannical genius” trend we’ve had in the arts. I look for people as role models that represent an entirely new definition of “genius” than we’ve sometimes had in the past.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you? 

A:  Plays that have their own unique structures. Plays with a unique voice I’ve never heard before.

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

A:  Listen. Listen to other people. Listen to your own voice. Ask yourself tons of questions.

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