Thursday, July 16, 2009

I Interview Playwrights Part 23: Tim Braun

Timothy Braun

Hometown: I usually consider my hometown the one I’m living in at the time. So…

Current Town: Austin, TX

Q:  Tell me about the plays you have going up this coming season.
A:  I have three shows I’m excited about. The Story of Jacob Murakami, or How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Realized Sacred Cows Make The Finest Cheeseburgers; The Coney Island Mermaid Parade, or My View From The Gershwin Hotel; and Lucy, The Rodeo Queen of Luling, or In The City On The Edge Of Forever in Austin, TX. All of these plays will be done in a stripped-down fashion, no real set, only a few props, few lights, ect. We’re going to use blogs, online journals, and social networks to push the plays. Each night the show will be free to the public, and each night will feature donations to a non-profit like Austin Script Works and Austin Arts Alliance. I’m also trying to get non-profits outside of the arts like the Matthew Shepard Foundation, and The Women’s Storybook Project. This project targets the children of incarcerated women and puts books into both the hands of the kids and the mothers to continue a connection. The mothers incarcerated are anything but criminals. They have made a few mistakes, like writing bad checks, and are only in jail for a year, or so. In a more conventional vein, I am hoping to workshop The Marvelous Misadventures of the Memphis Boys, or The Story of Two Brothers and a Brother in Atlanta. This was originally an adaptation of Three Sisters, but has just exploded into something else. A great deal of fun to write.  

Q:  I know you've said Austin is a great theater town. What should I check out if I'm there?
A:  It depends on what time of year you are here. If you are here in the spring, you must hit the Fusebox Festival, an international festival that has featured groups like Witness Relocation, The Debate Society, and many others. On any given night you can hit The Off-Center, Hyde Park Theater, The Blue Theater, The Zack Scott, The Vortex, or Salvage Vanguard and see something good. The theater companies I really like are Rubber Rep, The Rude Mechanicals, and Loaded Gun Theory. The folks at Loaded Gun Theory have all their ducks in row. Great people. However, if you came to visit in March I would take you to the rodeo. The rodeo is theater in its own right. With the sheep-herding contest you pay for your whole seat, but you only use the edge. Of course, if you were here in March I would take you to SXSW as well.  

Q: How did you end up in Austin? I know there is a largish playwriting community there because of the playwright program at UT Austin but how did you, who got your Masters at Columbia, end up living in Austin? Do you love it? Does your girlfriend love it?
A:  It was part of my plan. Sort of. Before I was living in New York I was getting an MA at the University of New Mexico and spent a summer in Ireland with Mac Wellman and the director David Levine. They were pushing me towards NYC. I applied to MFA schools and ended up at Columbia. My plan when I was accepted to Columbia was to hang in NYC for about ten years, make my connections, then move back west. Now, to sidetrack for a moment, I met my fiancé at Columbia. She is from Houston and wanted to move closer to her family. One day I was talking with Lisa D’Amour about Austin at HERE Arts Center. Her comment was, “You gotta move to Austin.” At this time my fiancé was working at American Ballet Theater and was not happy. She missed her family; had a hard time with NYC winters, and the people at ABT were often difficult. One night she was upset after work, and I just had it. I called everyone I knew in Austin and put the moving back west part of my plan in action. Austin, to me, is the Paris or Berlin of the red states. We have a major writer community here not because of UT’s Michener School of Writing, but because many red state artistic folk come here. I mentioned Rubber Rep. Those guys are from Kansas. We have tons of artists from Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Nebraska, just to name a few places. Austin is really known as a musician’s town. Iron and Wine live here. So does Smog (Bill Callahan). This is a great town for cinema. Richard Linklater lives here. A Scanner Darkly was filmed in my neighborhood. Robert Rodriguez lives and shoots here. The show Friday Night Lights is shot here. The Onion’s AV Club has a few writers here, like Sean O’Neal. This is a great town for food. The best New York style pizza I’ve ever had is here (a place called Homeslice). Was that enough name-dropping? The point is, Austin is happening. In Austin people do things because they want to do those things much in the way I image Berlin in the 20’s, or the West Village in the 60’s was like. When I was in New York, I felt if though many of my friends would do things less because they wanted to, and more because they could propel their career in someway. I should also mention Austin has its downsides. It is 106 degrees today with a choking humidity. To beat the heat some raccoons have invaded my attic, which is driving my dog crazy. But, yes, my fiancé loves it here, and so do I.  

Q:  You have done many, many residencies. Which would you recommend for those writers who need to get away?
A:  You need to understand the environment will color the writing, so I pick that carefully. I like being around visual artists. Being a lit guy, they open my eyes to things I haven’t seen. MacDowell was a good place for me, and one I often pimp. I just got back from the Santa Fe Art Institute, which was fantastic. I had just the right amount of isolation and community to get work done. I really push the Anderson Center in Minnesota. They know what they are doing, and pick the artists very carefully.  

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?
A:  It is much easier to write about what I don’t like. I know what I’m “not” better than I know what I like. I can’t stand straight-up-forth-wall-realism. Why do that jazz on stage when television does it so much better. I come to New York about once a year and do my best to catch what Target Margin is doing. Recently, in Austin, I saw Loaded Gun Theory do a Max Langert farce. That was really fun theatre.  

Q:  What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
A:  Get a dog. When you have a good day, when the writing goes well, and you get grants, and the reviews are good, the dog doesn’t care. The dog wants to go outside, smell things, poop, play with you, lick you, eat some peanut butter, and snuggle in bed with you, because you are the dog’s best friend. When you have a bad day, when you know the play you are writing is bad, is never gonna get produced, get rejection letters, or, my personal favorite in this economy-get a phone call from your grant people informing that they can’t give you the money you were awarded because times are rough, the dog doesn’t care. The dog wants to go outside, smell things, poop, play with you, lick you, eat some peanut butter, and snuggle in bed with you, because you are the dog’s best friend. A dog keeps you grounded. My dog’s birthday is coming up and I’m considering writing a children’s play in which my dog invites the raccoons down from the attic to have some cake, something of truce.  

Q:  You are among other things a teacher and essay writer/journalist. Where would you send me (online) to read the best of Braun?
A:  Start with an essay called “Thanksgiving With The Blonde in The Brown Jacket A lot of people like this short play, which is also being published in an A Train anthology. I wrote a play for my bathtub. You can grab that here. However, I think my best play is one of the plays I mentioned before, The Story of Jacob Murakami, or How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Realized Sacred Cows Make The Finest Cheeseburgers. I wrote that at the Anderson Center in Minnesota. You can get that on my website. You can follow Timothy Braun on his blog Federal Prisoner 30664, twitter, and facebook.


Malachy Walsh said...

I like Tim Braun.

And I'd like to get a dog, too.

Timothy Braun said...

Tim Braun likes Malachy Walsh.

Anonymous said...

I like him, his dog and how he thinks about racoons.