Hometown: Mostly St. Paul Minn. But we moved around a lot. England and back.
Current Town: Just above the Bronx, Fleetwood, NY
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I'm working on two musicals. One is about the closing of the N. Orleans red light district just as we were entering WWI, with a hopefully juicy melodramatic story... One is an adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's first published story, BERNICE BOBS HER HAIR. It's set in the same time period. I'm not sure why I keep going back to the turn of the last century. It's my favorite short story ever, bar none. And I'm working on a film version of my last produced play, DARK YELLOW. The film however is called TELL ME SOMETHING I DON"T KNOW which is a vastly better title. And it has become a very different narrative.
Q: According to Wikipedia, you were a painter, CNN copywriter and actor before you started writing for the stage. How did you become a playwright?
A: I was a mediocre to bad painter, a mediocre to bad actress, and a mediocre to bad journalist. I just kept trying things. I always tell my students that it's almost more important to know where you talents do not lie. I turned to writing while in acting school at the Neighborhood Playhouse. They had us write personal monologues to perform. I just didn't feel comfortable letting my personal demons out or spilling any deep dark secrets in that venue, so I made one up. Went over gangbusters. Made my teacher cry. I enjoyed it immensely.
Q: You've also done some film and TV. Can you talk a little about what that was like?
A: Didn't love the TV writing. But that was probably more to do with the shows I worked on. I'm really enjoying this film script, but its kind of an ideal situation. The director and I are completely in tune and our producer has worked on some of my favorite films so I trust him completely. Plus, he loves theater, and he was a jeopardy contestant, so I know he's smart.
Q: How does musical book writing compare to playwriting?
A: Musical bookwriting is more concrete. You have to be crystal clear about who is doing what when and why. Music is many things but it is better at expanding a moment than progressing the plot. That said, when in the hands of certain composers and lyricists it can be done beautifully. I adore plot. I think it's the hardest thing to do well and the most delicious. Plot with music, double delicious.
Q: Why do you think there aren't as many women as men being produced on American stages?
A: Okay so here's the deal. We can prove bias is at work. It's been proven over and over and over again in many different fields. When respondents believe work, or a resume, belongs to a male they rate it higher, are more likely to produce or hire than when they believe it to belong to a woman. Men and women both hold this bias, though possibly, I think probably for different reasons. In Emily Sands' study of theater, she only found bias by women. This doesn't mean that she found that men don't hold bias. Not finding something means little to nothing in economics. You can't prove a null hypothesis. Bias is easy to hide. Finding something however means that there is AT LEAST as much as was found.
What Emily found was that the female respondents rated scripts purportedly by women as having overall lower value, but it was entirely due to their belief that others would discriminate against the work. They rated the artistic excellence the same whether they thought the script was written by a man or woman. They thought however that audiences wouldn't buy tickets, that awards committees wouldn't honor the work and that the theater would suffer financially if they produced scripts by women (and specifically scripts they thought were by women that had female protagonists) so ultimately they said that though they would like to produce them they would not. This has been entirely missed in the media... They reported women hate women.
So there's bias, and then there is discouragement. Just as in all cases of discrimination, whenever the possibility of making a living is lessened you will have fewer people going in to a profession, and those already in will be more likely to leave or to stay in only part time. So fewer women become writers, fewer are able to find representation (agents know they don't make as much money) fewer are produced, fewer find work in TV and Film (the numbers in hollywood appear to be worse that theater and have taken a dip in recent years.) So for more women than men, writing becomes something on the side or is given up completely. As much as we seem to love the idea that the truly talented write no matter what, I find it hard to believe. Economics plays a huge part in everyone's lives. Only so many folks have trust funds. We need health insurance and roofs and food. And even for those who are independent of these concerns, writing plays that never get produced is obviously discouraging and... pointless.
Its hard for anyone to be a playwright. But it's easier if you are male. So it's a vicious circle. The theaters are getting fewer scripts from women, and they are producing even fewer, and of the ones they do produce, they are usually off on the second stages without the degree of talent and names and money afforded mainstage work. The bar is set higher for women's work. And the proof of that is in the simple fact that though less that 20 percent of the productions are by women, around 40 percent of the most successful plays in the past ten years were by women. Basically there are two choices, women are vastly better playwrights than men OR only the best women are being produced and the men's average is being dragged down by lesser works by men. I don't think men or women are inherently more talented by virtue of their gender. There are just way too many excellent male writers out there and thru history.
All this bias is largely unconscious and maybe a bit willfully misunderstood. There is comfort in stasis. And a lot less work involved. A lot fewer scripts to read. So there's my two cents and then some. I find the whole thing endlessly fascinating.
Q: What kind of theater excites you?
A: What kind of theater do I like? I like plot. And I love a little political intrigue. And a good fight. And bad language. Martin McDonagh is a huge favorite. And a guy.
Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
A: Advice... Send out your plays yourself. Move to Chicago, LA or New York. I think being present is an even bigger factor than gender in whether or not you get produced. Know what kind of theater you hate and address it in your work. When you are young, go ahead and be reactionary. It's not the time to emulate, its the time to create something new, something else.