Hometown: The Bay Area, California
Current Town: Brooklyn
Q: Tell me about the play you have going up at Rattlestick.
A; It’s the first play I ever tried to write and it’s called Slipping. It’s about this kid Eli who has recently lost his father in a car accident and then moves to Iowa with his mother from San Francisco to try to make a fresh start. I’m hoping it’s a simple love story about two guys and how getting what you want and being loved is actually sometimes the hardest thing. Having someone say I’m cool with you the way you are and I’m going to try to be there no matter what can often be the catalyst for the dam breaking and having to finally let go of stuff and deal with your life. It’s a play I’ve been working on and developing with a bunch of really cool peeps since 2001 and I feel like I finally have a small, simple play that focuses on the actors. I really hope it has a good honest heart to it and that people dig it.
Q: When did you write this play?
A: I started working on it during my third year at school and I can’t even remember why I started writing it other than I’d read an article in the New York Times about Sarah Kane and was so inspired by her story and her age and her writing that I wanted to try to write something myself, so I just dove in and gave it a shot and my first thought was like Damn, this is fuckin hard. As a young actor I hope I already had an immense respect for playwrights, but trying to do it myself gave me a whole new understanding of just how remarkable actual playwrights are and how insanely difficult it is to write a play, much less attempt to write a decent one.
Q: Isn't it true that while you were studying acting at Juilliard they did this play at the Royal Court in London? What was that like? Did you have to miss classes here to see your play there?
A: It was weird cause I didn’t know what the Royal Court really was until I started reading a lot about Sarah Kane, and then I found out they had a young writers program and that Sarah Kane I think had worked there, so I thought what the hell I’ll send it over to them and if they hate it and it sucks at least it was across the Atlantic and hopefully no one will give me a hard time for it being crappy. So I submitted it to them and then was so wrapped up in school that I kind of forgot about it until I got a call from them to be a part of Workers Writes and their Young Writers Programme. And to be honest when they called I actually thought it was one of my classmates fucking with me cause they all knew how obsessed I’d become with the writing over there and what was going on at the Royal Court and I thought they’d just left me a message to screw with me. So I went to class and was like, Ha ha you all are funny, and they thought I was insane, so finally Ola Animashawun called back and I literally almost passed out I was so excited.
Juilliard was so supportive and cool about the whole thing and they actually helped work my rep season rehearsal around the time at the Royal Court so I didn’t miss anything, and I got to go back and forth about three times for rehearsals and opening and stuff. It was really amazing and Addie and I got to spend a week in London together in this amazing place in Sloane Square and it was just completely extraordinary and fun.
Q: You are one of those renaissance men of theater. You act, you direct, you write and you have your own theater company. How do you do all those things? Do you ever set about to direct say and an acting job comes along and you have to do that instead?
A: I’ve always just been in love with the theatre and said to myself that no matter what, whether I suck, or people think I’m bad or good, that this is it and I’ve always wanted to do as much in the theatre as I possibly can. I know this sounds dorky but it’s my life, along with my friends and my family, and there are so many aspects of it and I want to do as much of it as possible. I think that the more I do in the theatre the more I understand it from all these different angles and I think all of it’s helped to make me a better actor, director, artistic director, etc. When I work as an actor I think I understand directing better, and vice versa – it just opens me up and makes me a little less afraid of things, which is always my biggest battle.
They way I deal with juggling stuff right now is that I’m first and foremost an actor and artistic director, and now one of the three literary managers at Rattlestick along with Julie Kline and Denis Butkus. So that helps me make decisions and so far I’ve been really lucky with being able to balance things, and my wife Addie and the rest of the RPRers have been insanely great about helping me do that. We all pitch in and pick up each others’ slack and I think are a really really wonderful team together.
Q: Right now you're in St. Louis acting in the Merry Wives of Windsor and Bailey and Addie are with you, are they not? How old is your son now? Do you find it hard to balance raising a kid with your artistic endeavors. (I'm sure Addie, your wife, gets much credit too) Do you go everywhere together every time you get an out-of-town job?
A: Yeah, we’ve been out in St. Louis working on Merry Wives with one of my favorite people on earth, Jesse Berger, for the last seven weeks or so and it’s been a really really great time with an awesome group of actors and Addie and B are both out here for the whole time. We try to go everywhere together and to not be apart as a family as much as possible. It kills me to be away from either of them for that long and I really didn’t want to get married and then spend half of each year away from each other. I think it’s a tough balance that most of the theatre folk I know go through, and I think we’re all trying to balance it and deal with it in the best way possible, and it can be hard. But I’m really lucky to have an extraordinary wife and son who really prop me up and are there for me and I hope I’m also there for them and they make me fight harder to hopefully be a better human being and man. I really struggle with confidence and fear and having them around reminds me of the important things and helps me be a tad more brave hopefully. B’s also three and half right now and school hasn’t fully come into play yet, so I think it will be even harder once he starts full time. I’ve actually been trying to do like one play out of town and then one play in town as much as possible so we can be home and stuff and also be working with RPR and with Rattlestick. At the same time though I tend to make a lot more money in regional theatre and we have to be able to pay our bills, and especially with not being able to sing most of what I go up for in town with theatre stuff is Off-Broadway which I love but doesn’t pay much. So the balance of the two makes it possible for us to make our living and hopefully get to be home and yet see a lot of the country too which is cool. I’m also not one of those actors that looks down on regional theatre. I love being able to travel around and work in a lot of different places and go with my family. I also believe in the regional theater and think it’s one of the great movements in American theatre history. I think it’s so extraordinarily important for theatre to be happening everywhere and it makes me sad when people rip on it, or act like it’s sub-par in some way. Theatre is theatre and there’s great and not-so-great theatre happening everywhere.
Q: What kind of theater excites you?
A: I love theatre that’s fucking with something and really trying to go there. I hate smug, cool theatre and theatre that’s hiding behind past achievements or snobbery. I think theatre has to have a great driving heart behind it and an extraordinary imagination and a searching for truth. I also like theatre that’s ugly and really risking something, not just pretending to. I think we all can dig deeper and work harder and have to do that as storytellers. It’s not about us, or our careers, and that can be really hard to remember sometimes but all that stuff can get in the way if you’re not careful. Not that we all don’t want to be successful, I mean we’d be crazy not to want that, but hopefully we all fight for it for the right reasons. I’ve been really impressed with Marin Ireland, Tommy Sadoski, David Adjmi, Mark Schultz, Lucy Thurber and Jessica Dickey this year and how all of their successes, at least to me, have come from the quality of their work and how hard they strive and how much they care about being artists and dedicate themselves. It’s so cool to see all that work pay off in such brilliant ways, and that their success comes from such humanity and quality.
I think I also really love the way the Sarah Kane answered this same question: I love experiential theatre.
Q: I notice that your theater, Rising Phoenix does a lot of ghost story plays. Would you care to comment on your obsession with ghosts?
A: I’m actually not sure what that is other than that I love the supernatural and the unexplained. I love things that are mysteries; I kind of hate that so much of the time people need to know everything, or at least try to know everything. I love imagining the many, many things out there that we don’t know and that science and technology really can’t stake a claim to yet. I love the spiritual and the unknown, and I guess that means I love the supernatural. There’s got to be something bigger than you and me and something that’s not just blood and dirt, hopefully.
Q: What advice do you have for a young playwright starting out? (or a young theater artist of any ilk for that matter)
A: Do it with your heart and your work and be yourself. You also don’t have to be an asshole, no matter what certain people tell you and no matter how other people are acting. Be good to other people and it will hopefully empower them to do their best work which in turn will only make you better. Never think you’re better than someone else and/or look down on other peeps. We’ve all been good and we’ve all been bad and we’re all in this together as a team.
Q: Where can people go to get tickets to your play at Rattlestick? (link please)
A: Ticks will be on sale soon on SmartTix and it would rock to have you all come check out the play.