Thursday, August 20, 2009

I Interview Playwrights Part 39: Erin Browne

Erin Browne

Hometown: Southern California and Michigan- including but not limited to San Diego, El Centro, Palm Springs, Indio, and Dearborn

Current Town: Brooklyn, NY

Q: Tell me about your radio play and the award you just won with it.

A: It's actually a play I wrote as a stage play called Trying in a flurry of about 3 days. My family had just been staying at my apartment for Christmas and after they left I had 3 quiet alone days before going back to work. I just started writing and didn't stop until the play was almost done. I was remembering this girl I knew when I was 7 years old, who had a belt buckle scar on her forehead and wondered what had happened to her after my mom and I moved out of town. I was hoping she'd found happiness, support, and love. Part of moving so much as a kid meant that I knew a lot of people and was part of their lives for a short period of time, so I can make up any future I want for them. This was pre-Facebook and email. I could probably find them now if I thought they had computers. This is a play about a girl with scars she doesn’t really want to talk about and family, whatever that happens to mean. Anyway, after writing it - I worked through it scene by scene with some amazing actors and directors at Flux Sundays (with Flux Theater Ensemble) who really illuminated the humor and innocence of the play and made me excited about it. After that there was a reading in Actor/Producer Jody Christopherson’s living room with a small group – then a more public reading at the Saltbox Theatre in Katonah. Basically, on a whim – I submitted it to the BBC Worldservice Radio Play Contest as is. My “A Meth Play” had been a finalist last time around – and so figured it was worth a try. I was really, really shocked when “Trying” won because to me it feels so small and specific. I guess I don’t really think I know what a radio play is since we don’t have radio drama here in the same way they do in the UK. But I’m excited to see what it is and learn more about it. I’ve gotten notes from the producer that suggested nods and smiles might be changed to something more verbal – so I’ve been working on that. It will be taped in mid-October with an airdate sometime in November.

Q: And then after the taping, there's going to be a reading coming up too of that play, right, in nyc?

A: There’s going to be a reading of the play, in it’s original stage version, Monday Sept 28th at the East 13th Street Theatre with the hopes of a production sometime in February of next year. Jody Christopherson has been working really hard to make it happen and I’m getting pretty excited about the chance to see it eventually on its feet. It will be my first produced full-length play.

Q: Have you written many radio plays? Do you find them easier or harder than normal plays?

A: I guess I’ve never technically written a radio play before. I’ve written a few plays that could work on radio maybe (although it’s still hard for me to imagine how the setting and action plays out without any real examples but I’ll soon find out). I do think I write plays that have a lot of low-key overheard type conversations that reference physical action without needing it to tell a story. I love to listening to people, mimicking their dialect and cadences– I think that’s pretty typical playwright stuff -so it doesn’t take much to cross over into radio.

 Q: What are you working on next?

A: Mmmm good question, I’m at a point where I’m not quite sure. I’m headed to the Flux Retreat at Little Pond with something that’s currently called Crimes that builds off my experiences in my day job (I’m working on the A&E series The First 48, on the update show called After the First 48) and tangentially on the Strindberg play There Are Crimes and Crimes which I love. But I’m at a beginning point where I’m not sure if it’s going to take flight or go anywhere or be worth anyone’s time. I’m also hoping to organize a reading of a really dense play called Return that I finished a draft of a while back.

Q: You're a couple years out of a Columbia MFA. How was that for you? Was Eduardo still there when you were there? I'm still in a great deal of debt from that program.

A: I forgot that you went there too! Eduardo was still there when I was there. Hmmm, Eduardo. I can’t say that we really connected as teacher/student but that’s okay because I connected with other teachers and collaborators and friends – and I still think grad school was one of the most valuable experiences in my life. Just like not every play is for everyone – every teacher is not for everyone. I think it’s really important to know that when you’re studying the arts anywhere, that not every teacher’s word is gospel. Yeah, debt is really lame. I feel like I escaped a bigger portion of that because I was working full time while going to school – plus a fellowship job my 2nd year – and then turned in my thesis early and graduated early to avoid some 3rd year costs. But I also think about what I missed being sleep deprived and delirious through the whole thing… I guess the point for me is that if you want to go to grad school or undergrad or any kind of school and you don’t think you have the money – you can do it – there are always ways. Which is kind of another theme in Trying. Debt is lame but sometimes it’s worth it. It was worth it for me, I hope it was worth it for you.

 Q: What kind of theater excites you?

A: A lot of different kinds of theater, and it changes all the time. I like abstraction when it works because I don’t write like that anymore. I like theater that pushes boundaries and mixes media. I love plays mixed with dance – which was exciting to me about Pretty Theft. I really dig dance and it’s ability to be enormous and emotive and beautiful and epic. I like smart theater for children and teens. I like theater for adults that uses the magical and stretches logic in the same way those plays do. Pretty much the roster of Under the Radar at the Public makes it one of my favorite times of year. I absolutely always see any show I can directed by Anne Bogart or Robert Wilson. I’m totally obsessed with Brecht and Ibsen (especially Brand and Peer Gynt). I’m excited to see the remounting of Killers and Other Family by Lucy Thurber at the Rattlestick this Fall.

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

A: Write, write, write. Don’t worry if something’s good – just finish it. Find a group of friends who will read your stuff back to you without judgment (you’ll probably judge yourself enough). Find directors you connect with and adventurous actors who will take risks with you.

Q: Any other plugs?

 A: I have a non-theater related plug. I’ve been volunteering at an Ali Forney Center apartment for the last half year And it really makes my Wednesdays something I look forward to every week. I want to plug volunteering and donating to theater and non-theater related charities if you can because I know they are really hurting right now. NY Cares is a great way to be involved when you’re a busy New Yorker trying to work a day job and be artistic and have a life. And keep your eyes on Flux Theater Ensemble because I don’t know about your experience but in my experience is they are really the most awesomest awesome group of people.


August Schulenburg said...

Well, this interview made me happy. Thank you both.

Adam said...

me too. That is the function of these interviews

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