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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...

May 19, 2020

I Interview Playwrights Part 1086: Jeesun Choi





Jeesun Choi

Hometown: Seoul, South Korea & Bangkok, Thailand

Current Town: New York City

Q:  What are you working on now?

A:  I'm writing this from the Great Pandemic of 2020 so writing has been an off-and-on endeavor, but here are the two on my desk. First off, I'm working on Lost Coast, a seven-protagonist play about isolation, community, and wildfires. I've often experienced that plays that deal with "community" tend to romanticize the very concept. But communities can be difficult, fractured, are not always the comforting place of rest we envision. I'm trying to capture both the beauty and ugliness of the individuals that form imperfect communities. I've been developing at Nashville Rep's Ingram New Works and they've been wonderfully supportive.

The second project is called BUST (working title) that I am co-creating with director Bryn Herdrich with support from Soho Rep's Writer/Director Lab. It's about the concept of money, the myths that keep money alive, and our relationship with wealth. Our hope is that we will get to present something from it in a theatre in early 2021 so stay tuned. Oh, and one fun fact (related to the play) - did you know that approximately 6,000 tons of gold currently sits in the Manhattan bedrock storage of New York Federal Reserve?

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

A:  Well, the pandemic will probably change MANY things about theatre, though we don't know what its lasting impacts will be yet.

As it stands, I would personally would like to change many things about theatre (accessibility, structure, cultural and ethnic representations, etc), but if I HAD to pick ONE - 

I would change the industry's idea of artistic development for early-career artists. It's very much, "get us a script, we'll do the cheapest/least committal reading and see what it is." Nothing wrong with that model, but it's sad that it's the most prevalent model. And because it is the most prevalent model, it encourages a very specific kind of plays to be written, ones that thrive in that environment. I would love to see more diversity in the kinds of plays we see on off-Broadway. That means that the theatres may need to rethink the kinds of resources they make available to the artists. And allow artists to dictate their needs without worrying about how this will affect their relationship with the organizations. Soho Rep and EST/Youngblood come to mind as places that are doing a good job of providing meaningful support, despite the limitations.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  Physical theatre came before playwriting for me and the physical body and world is still the main consideration in my writing process. The founders of Theatre de la Jeune Lune are one of my perennial sources of inspiration. They did the co-Artistic Director thing before it was a thing. The way they worked, and the kinds of work they created forever changed the landscape of theatre in the city.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  Theatre that truly takes a comprehensive consideration of all of its elements. I've been watching Met Opera's live stream the past few weeks, and I was able to catch Benjamin Britten's Peter Grimes, a libretto adapted by Montagu Slate from the narrative poem, "Peter Grimes", in George Crabbe's book The Borough. It was maybe the first time where I saw an opera use both its sound, musicality AND text to create a complete theatrical rendering of a fisherman pushed to the edge by his community. Just because it's an opera, it can't rely on beautiful sounds all the time. 

It's the same for the theatre. It can't just rely on spoken text. When I see a work that shows the people so organically embodied with the text, I become enthralled. My quarantine brain is forgetting some, but some recent shows I loved are Passage, A Strange Loop, Fefu and Her Friends.

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

A:  I think giving advice is tricky because everyone "starts out" in such different situations. But what I found to be most helpful for me is to really focus on my point of view, my perspective as a theatre artist. Especially in New York, going to shows and interacting with all sorts of artists, it can be disorienting. But as much as possible, focus on where you are coming from and where you want to go as a writer. What do you want to know more about? What is that weird, untold, mundane thing that captures your attention? If you find it fascinating, there is a good chance that others will too (I'm stealing that sentiment from Haruki Murakami). Then obsess over it and write about it.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  It's still quarantine season so things are so up in the air but hopefully, people can turn into a virtual Zoom reading of Lost Coast, arranged by EST/Youngblood. BUST will also have a workshop showing in early 2021 at Soho Rep! Come join the fun that is dismantling our financial systems.

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May 14, 2020

I Interview Playwrights Part 1085: Jason Schafer









Jason Schafer

Hometown: Sacramento, California

Current Town: Brooklyn!

Q:  Tell me about Bleeding Love?

A:  Bleeding Love is a post-apocalyptic musical. It started as an assignment that I gave myself. I realized the books and movies and plays that stuck with me the most, the stories I returned to again and again and loved above all the rest, were the ones that gave me a big emotional experience. I wanted to write something that did that, so I started making a list of anything that elicited a big response in me. I thought back as far back as I could remember and worked my way up to the present, filling up several pages of a notebook--the more personal, the more idiosyncratic, the more ridiculous, the better. My favorite musical instrument: the cello… New York City brownstones… my childhood piano teacher, Mrs. Grabner… punk goddess Nina Hagen… guys in trapper trooper hats (or maybe just one guy I saw once on the subway in a trapper trooper hat)… greenhouses… Klaus von Brucker in Bruce LaBruce’s film No Skin Off My Ass... Oscar Wilde’s fairytale “The Nightingale and the Rose”. These are some of the items I came up with.

I started shaping all these ideas into a story. As an exercise, I tried to use everything. The Word doc on my computer grew and grew and grew. Then, about ten years ago, songwriting team Harris Doran and Arthur Lafrentz Bacon suggested the three of us write a musical. They asked if I had any ideas, and I pitched them the story that would become Bleeding Love. At the time, it was overstuffed and even more odd. They said they’d prefer to do something commercial, which sort of shocked me because I hadn’t thought about the project in terms of its commerciality, but I also loved that they were honest! The story clearly struck a chord with them, however, because, about a year after that, Harris reached out, asking, “What was that story about a rose again?”

We stripped it down to its essence, smoothing out some of the lumpier elements, and began writing. From the first piece of music Art composed, it was clear that they “got” it. Then, during our heaviest writing phase, they were writing a song a week. And the songs were able to tap into the operatic emotionality of the characters and the situation, amplifying what was there and taking it beyond my expectations. It was thrilling. And, I think, without losing any of the story’s peculiarities, we started seeing it as a show that could have broad, commercial appeal.

The show was presented at the National Alliance of Musical Theatre Festival of New Musicals, which led to a couple of workshops and a couple productions, including our official premiere at the Fredericia Teater in Denmark. When the current pandemic started, many of the show’s themes were suddenly, eerily relevant, and, very quickly, Broadway Podcast Network, along with our producers Kent Nicholson, Katie Rosin and Steve Saporito, were able to pull together a three-part audio drama of the show with a dream cast of Broadway talent.

Q:  What else are you working on now?

A:  I’m adapting another stage play as an audio drama. It’s called I google myself, and it’s about three guys with the same name. I’m also working on a novel, and I’m a professor in the Film & Television Program at LaGuardia Community College.

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

A:  My family used to take a camping trip every summer. I remember several vacations to Yosemite National Park in which I took along pens and notebooks. I was eleven, but I had to write! I didn’t think that was strange at all, but I recall it baffled one of my cousins!

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

A:  Less commercial! Kidding! …and sort of not. There are so many stories that deserve to be seen by audiences, stories that—I feel—audiences actually want, but in order to get to that point, someone has to put up the money. And the amount it costs to mount a play keeps going up, which means the commercial considerations keep going up as well.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  I don’t think in terms of heroes, but when I find something I love, I like to experience it over and over and deconstruct it. Annie Baker’s plays are incredible. I will see anything she writes, and Circle Mirror Transformation is one of my favorite plays ever. I love Lorraine Hansbury’s A Raisin in the Sun and Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes. That’s all women, which I didn’t plan! Clifford Odets' dialog is the best.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you? 

A:  When I was at NYU, an agent described playwriting as creating an event. That’s what good shows do! It doesn’t matter if it’s a one-person show in a 99-seat theater or a twenty-million dollar Broadway musical; it doesn’t matter if it’s a well-made play or something experimental. I’m excited by anything that gives me an emotional experience.

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

A:  Be weird. Be you. Find your voice, but without watering it down, make it connect with an audience. Also, a small production can feed your soul just as much as a big one.

Q:  Plugs, please: 

A:  Listen to Bleeding Love: a post-apocalyptic new musical at Broadway Podcast Network or on Apple Podcast/iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts.



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May 9, 2020

The Amazing Keith Claverie


Keith Claverie who played Dusty in NOLA Project's Clown Bar and originated the role of Brian in Stockholm Syndrome perfoms a monologue from East Haddam.



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The Charming Genius Sharonlee Mclean

Sharonlee, who was in the premiere of Kodachrome posted these two monologues of mine:




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Apr 24, 2020

Video Interview

with Sasha Bratt for Playhouse on Park

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tzsabRxK4hY&feature=youtu.be&fbclid=IwAR1vo_yANCxkyNpgSwMxruLiPgmHvocRfx6ipaMqI193EBU0YfbZaUxmRA8



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Apr 17, 2020

Podcast: Bullpen Sessions



Padraic Lillis and I talked when we were both at SETC this year.  It was a really fun conversation.  I know I mentioned how many times Marsha Norman changed my life which I'm thinking about a lot right now because she's retiring from Juilliard this year.

Listen here

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Mar 26, 2020

I Interview Playwrights Part 1084: David Hansen







David Hansen

Hometown: Bay Village, Ohio. Class of 1986.

Current Town: Cleveland Heights, the City of Great Writers.

Q:  Tell me about your short play project.

A:  The Short Play Project is a social distance art experiment, in which people are invited to make videos from my short play scripts which I then post on social media.

A couple weeks ago, when all the theaters were closing, Rubber City Theatre, a small company in Akron was putting on one more performance of “Love’s Labour’s Lost” which they intended to livestream. I was fortunate enough to be part of the very small, invitation-only audience. I mean, it was a comedy, they needed laughers, and they got them.

Even while I was enjoying the show, I was thinking, what next? I had written a play that was due to be workshopped at Cleveland Public Theater next month as part of their Test Flight new works series, but I was already pretty certain that wasn’t happening.

I have, since last fall, been writing one short play, almost every single day. I’ve always been impressed by all these playwrights posting very short works, ten-minute plays, one-minute plays. I felt like I had been letting myself down not creating some myself.

So, I found some writing prompts I liked, made it a morning duty and now it’s a compulsion. I have banked nearly 150 two-to-three-page plays at New Play Exchange.

And I thought, I have all the tools. I have pages on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, I have an outlet. And like most of us I have a boundless number of creative friends who are suddenly without much to do. The day after the Rubber City show I put out a call for folks to make short videos from my scripts. To date I have handed out over eighty scripts and have posted over a dozen short plays.

What is most inspiring about the videos my friends and colleagues have been creating is the manner in which they are doing so, in quarantine. With loved ones, children, over the phone, via Zoom and other platforms, or entirely on their own. Several of my pieces have taken on unexpected significance in their new context.

Q:  What else are you working on now?

A:  The piece I mentioned, the one which was to receive a weekend of performances in April, is The Witches. It’s about a Witch Panic-themed tourist attraction in a city near Salem, run by a small staff of women of varying ages and backgrounds.

The inspiration for this piece are those people who have taught me the most; the women in non-profit who have been my managers, my bosses, and my mentors. This play is my opportunity to show them how much I love them and have learned from them. It’s also a comedy.

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 nine, our family took a vacation in England. The whole family, including my grandfather, who was already in his eighties. We did all the requisite touristy things, and Mom got tickets to the hot new show, the West End run of A Chorus Line at the Drury Lane Theatre.

I thought it was amazing. A lot of it was over my head, to be sure. I knew nothing about sex, puberty, “the life.” I was a little embarrassed to be sitting next to my mom, taking all of this in. It was only much later that I realized how humiliated she must have felt, sitting between her son and her father for this racy show that she had chosen.

For better or for worse, however, it was the stories that stuck with me. The direct, confessional narrative of those characters, telling their stories. Just telling them. But also the manipulative way in which they were arrived at. Zach is an asshole. He’s casting a show, what right does he have to probe so deeply into the personal lives of these professional performers? That’s some old school theater bullshit, right there.

It was bad wisdom for a nine year-old with a future in the arts, and it took me a long time to understand the difference. Between the artist and the art.

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

A:  Significant public funding for the arts, in general. Theater in particular. I’d feel threatened by it, honestly, if people with real talent were vying for my position, because the pay was good? Seriously, though. Imagine theater tickets that could compete with the price of movie tickets, or internet. Small houses that could afford professional-grade sound and video. Health care. It’s a dream imaginable only to pretty much everyone else in the industrialized world.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  Sam Wanamaker was accused of being elitist when he, an American, led a campaign to create a new Globe Theatre on the south bank in London. It would be a museum, just a tourist attraction, not artistically significant. Instead, Shakespeare’s Globe is at the forefront of reinterpreting classic text for a new millennium, employing a diverse company of performers and commissioning and producing exciting new play scripts written by and about woman-identified actors and persons of color.

Lauren Gunderson has broken the paradigm of big city legitimacy, rising to become the most produced playwright of recent years by creating the kind of work that speaks to the widest American audience; adventurous, progressive, and grounded. She makes me want to write more and more plays.

And I still think Hamilton is pretty astonishing.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  I love the underdog. I love storefront theater. I love being in a capacity audience of forty. I have seen the Neo-Futurists dozens of times over the past thirty years, yes, thirty years, Jesus Christ, almost thirty years, most recently last October, and I never get tired of it. I want to be surprised, I want to be connected. I want to be the living part of a live audience.

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

A:  Writing is the exercise, it’s not the product. I wish someone had told me that. You think, I’m going to write a play, and then you don’t know how, because you never have. Like, I’m going to run a marathon, but you can’t just head out one day and run one. You run every day, to get to know what running is, and how you run best, and then you run a race and that’s a play. Because you ran a little every day. You knew how, and you were trained for it.

Then once you’ve written one, you write another one. And then another. And then you look back and you realize you’ve been a playwright all along.

Q: Plugs, please:

A: Yeah! Check out the Short Play Project on YouTube (https://bit.ly/39fmgxG) and join my Facebook page (http://facebook.com/David.Hansen.playwright). I have work published at Playscripts, Inc. YouthPLAYS, and on Amazon, and if you want to read one of my full-length works at New Play Exchange, I recommend “The Way I Danced With You (The George Michael Play).”


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