Jul 15, 2009
I Interview Playwrights Part 22: Rachel Shukert
Hometown: Omaha, Ne
Current Town: New York, NY
Q: I'm sorry I didn't get to see the shows you and Nick Jones did in New York. I heard great things. Can you tell me a little about them?
A; Thanks! They were a lot of fun, and I think we learned a lot about collaboration and the best ways to write together, which we plan to do more often. Nick and I have a really similar sense of humor and sensibility in a lot of ways, but we're also very different, and I think our strengths and weaknesses compliment each other well. The shows were part of our new theatrical venture, Terrible Baby Theater Co., a kind of inaugural project, if that doesn't sound too pretentious. The Nosemaker's Apprentice, which Nick and I wrote together, came out of this insane idea we had one night while drinking heavily and trying to come up with something to fill the slot that the Brick very kindly offered us in which to do something. Does it sound obscene, to use the word slot? I think I've been watching too much NYC Prep. Anyway. What we came up with was a sort of medieval adventure story/hagiography about the origins of plastic surgery, and through our grandiosity and kind of Monty Python slapsticky historical nonsense, I think (hope) raised some interesting questions about aesthetics, beauty, and self-image. The other show, The Colonists, was a puppet show that Nick conceived with Raj Azar. It was about bees. I didn't have anything to do with that creatively, but I loved watching it--the puppets, by Robin Frohardt and company, were gorgeous, and I'm always in awe of people who can make them come alive.
Q; How many times have you and Nick collaborated now? How do you write together? Is one of you at the keyboard or do you pass it back and forth? What is the revision process like?
A: We've written two plays together now, Nosemaker and another play called "The Sporting Life," a true story about a famous brothel in Chicago at the turn of the century, which we're still developing. Basically, when we write together, we come up with a sort of outline of the story--or at least, most of it, becaue obviously things change--and then pass it back and forth, scene by scene, and edit each others work. I find that you get a first draft much faster than when you write on your own, which is exciting, but then the revision process becomes more important...which can be good too--it can be really helpful to have someone to challenge you on things. But negotiating that is really the trick, I think. We learned a lot on this last project, so I'm feeling good about moving forward on future things.
Q: When does your new book come out?
A; As of now, they are thinking June of 2010
Q; What are you working on next?
A: Oh my God. A million things. I'm working on screenplay for a new production company in LA, which I can't talk too much about yet, but I'm enjoying. I'm also working on a play for Studio 42, which is a great theater company in New York. And I'm developing something else, apropos of nothing, that's an idea I've had rattling around for a while about exploring the relationships between sisters--it involves the Three Sisters (as in Chekov), and other famous sisterly combos throughout history, including the Shukert sisters: me, my sister Ariel, and a third fictional sister. I've been looking for ways in which I can kind of integrate the autobiographical prose writing I've been doing with my theater work--it seems such a shame to let these two elements be kind of disparate and not allow them to inspire each other. I think it could be really interesting.
Q: How was that Jews and Comedy panel? Were you hilarious?
A: What was probably most hilarious is that I later realized that my bra was showing the entire time. You're married to a non-theater person. Would you recommend that whole marrying a non-theater person as a good thing to do? Yes. But you'll have to find you own husband. Mine is busy. Seriously, it's great. But that's just me--I would hate to be married to someone who does the same thing as me, as I am competitive, insecure, and resentful, but for other people, it works out fine. I'm married to a non-theater person solely because of my own personality flaws.
Q: What kind of theater excites you?
A: This may surprise you, but my favorite thing I saw last year was the stage version of "White Christmas," with all the Irving Berlin songs. And the Rockettes Christmas spectacular. I also like seeing school plays and community theater.
Q: I'm not surprised. I think David Ives wrote that. What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
A: Write a lot. It's the only way you figure anything out. And make sure you get some stuff up, even if you have to do it yourself for no money. Nothing will kill the creative mind faster than the traditional development process.
Q; Plugs and links please for your columns and books and anything else.
A; I'm writing a new column at the brand new web newspaper, The Faster Times, which is sort of a hip answer to the HuffPo. I'm doing an unsolicited advice column, telling various belabored celebrities how to live their lives. Here's the link to the latest: http://thefastertimes.com/unsolicitedadvice/2009/07/14/not-that-you-asked-ruth-madoff-edition/ Everyone who reads this should buy my book, "Have You No Shame?" http://www.amazon.com/Have-You-No-Shame-Regrettable/dp/0345498615/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1233000479&sr=8-1 I need the royalties. Also, keep an eye out for my upcoming book, The Grand Tour, next summer. It's going to change everything.