Thursday, August 27, 2009

I Interview Playwrights Part 42: Rachel Axler

Rachel Axler

Hometown: New York

Current Town: Los Angeles

Q: What are you working on now?

A: Right now, I'm writing for a sitcom, which doesn't afford me a ton of time to do playwriting. But my play, Smudge, will be produced at The Women's Project in January, which is tremendously exciting. And I do have the beginnings of two new plays...one's a farce and one is kind of about an atheist's late-life potential conversion. Other than that, I write a lot of useless cartoony things on index cards.

Q: How long did you write for the Daily Show? What was that like?

A: I wrote for the show from May of 2005 through the conventions this past September, so that's...math years & something months. Figuringggg... it... ouuuttt... Okay, about 3 and a third years. Actually, almost exactly that, to the day. Is this answer too specific? Have you stopped caring? I find this very interesting. The job was amazing, and I adored it. Not only did I get to work with some of the brightest, quickest, funniest people I've ever met, but I was in the enviable position (especially, I think, for television) of truly, truly believing in the quality of our output. A lot of people ask why I left -- like, how anyone could ever leave a job like that? My background is in theatre and playwriting, and I started to feel a strong desire to combine joke-writing with writing for characters and working with story again. So while I certainly wasn't looking to leave, when the opportunity came along to be on the original writing staff of a new sitcom, I was excited to try my hand at it.

Q: You write for Parks and Rec now, right? What's that like?

A: I do! It's fun, and very different -- far more collaborative than it was at The Daily Show. We actually have a writers' room here, in which the bulk of our day is spent, and although we're all in front of computer screens all day (that part's the same), the joke/dialogue pitching process is primarily out loud, rather than turning in a written packet of work. So while I used to think of something, work it out on paper, craft the sentence, make it as funny and concise as possible, etc...I don't have the luxury of doing that, now. I'm working on censoring my thoughts less, and just spitting out the raw joke idea -- recognizing that the editorial process is split among numerous brains, rather than taking place in mine alone.

 Q: I just started writing for TV about a month ago. It's so tiring. How do you find time to work on your own stuff?

A: I don't. I wrote a bit during our last hiatus, which was several months ago. Annnnd now I'm pretty much waiting for the next one, to finish drafts of these new plays. But here's where I got lucky: In New York, I had a wonderful writing group, and we'd get together to read each other's work every few weeks. (I also had The Lark for a year, which was how I got SMUDGE finished.) When I arrived here last September, I was contacted by this amazing chick named Jennifer Haley, who was starting an LA-based group called The Playwrights Union (http://www.playwrightsunion.com/). We've met numerous times, now, to read each other's work out loud, and it's definitely kept me somewhat moored to the world of playwriting, even when I can't submerge myself fully. ...What's up, boat metaphors!

Q: What theaters or shows would you recommend for someone who just moved to LA?

A: Have you heard the expression, "Aaaaaaauuuugh?" If there were theatre in my office or my apartment, I'd be able to recommend it. As is, I don't get out enough. Oh, but several friends of mine (and fellow UCSD MFA alums) have started a theatre company called Chalk Rep (http://www.chalkrep.com/), which does site-specific work -- new and classical plays. You should check them out. And I've seen readings at The Black Dahlia Theatre (http://www.thedahlia.com/), which I think always chooses good new scripts -- and they're doing my friend Ruth McKee's wonderful new play, STRAY, this fall. But if anyone's reading this who lives in LA and wants to recommend theatre or shows to me, please do! I...probably won't be able to go. But I want to know about it.

 Q: Tell me a story about your childhood that explains who you are as a writer or as a person. A: I used to fill out credit card and college applications, with all fake/pun information, for fun. Q: What kind of theater excites you?

A: Stuff with music. Stuff without fixed walls. Funny stuff, but with real emotion.

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

A: I'm still just starting out, too. But for people, say, writing a play for the first time: Find a playwright you love. Copy his/her style. Never show this play to anyone, but learn from it. Let it mature/grow/evolve into something that's yours.

Q: Tell me about Smudge, the play you having coming up this season.

A: I'm so, so, so excited about it. It's a play that began, in seedling-idea form, during my last quarter of grad school. For a long time, I had a draft with ten excellent pages, followed by about 50 pages of dreck. Then I scrapped everything but those ten pages, added a third character, and turned what was initially an argument about what constitutes a life into a play. I workshopped pieces of it at The Lark, then had my first readings of it through The Playwrights Foundation in San Francisco, where I discovered that people really responded to it. It was at The O'Neill two summers ago, which was an absolutely amazing experience. And now it's going to have its first full production at The Women's Project. It's about a young couple having their first child, and learning to be parents. It's also sort of about what might happen if a mother hated her first child. It's sort of about developing a relationship with something you've created. I hope it comes off funny, and a little creepy, and a little sweet, and a little sad. And it should have, if all goes well, some uber-cool lighting and sound. Go see it!!

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

That girl sounds like an amazing talent. I can't wait to see her work in production. Beautiful, too.

Her Dad

Burner said...

I agree with her Dad. She makes the world a better place.

ebony said...

thanks for this. reading about how plays go from the notebook or laptop screen to the stage is very helpful. i've been writing plays pretty much in private for years and I'm finally sending them out (one is going to the Lark). Again. Thank you.

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