Tuesday, September 01, 2009
I Interview Playwrights Part 47: Brooke Berman
photo by Jennie Livingston
Hometown: Born in Detroit, raised in the North Shore suburbs of Chicago, re-raised in New York City, where I have lived ever since.
Current Town: Los Angeles
Q: Tell me about your book coming out. Can it be preordered?
A: The book becomes available this Spring, publication date is Summer 2010. There will absolutely be pre-ordering through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Borders.com, but probably not for a few more months. It's being published by Harmony Books at Random House. In addition, I am going to build a website, which will have links to those e-commerce sites. But if you notice, if you go to say, brookeberman.com, I have not yet built said website. (actually, brookeberman.com links you to an art gallery in texas. no joke.) The book is a memior about coming of age in New York City and trying to find one's way as an artist and person, but really, it's about the 30-odd apartments that I have lived in over the past 20 years. My fiance calls it "Eat Pray Move." And it's been a joy to write. I'd been wanting to write about The East Village in the early 90's (I arrived in 1988) for some time, trying to figure out what story to tell, whether it was a play or a movie -- and then, the book came, and my love for that time and place could be channeled effectively.
Q: What else are you working on?
A: I'm finishing a new play called CASUAL ENCOUNTERS, about people who meet through NSA sex sites. The play posits that no encounter is ever really "casual" and that the people who think you know are often the ones who wind up feeling the most like strangers, while actual strangers can provide startling insights and intimacy. And I'm working on the second draft of a movie for Steve Shainberg's company, Vox films. It's an adaptation of a beautiful Jane Hamilton novel, DISOBEDIENCE.
Q: Can you tell me a little about your experiences writing for film or your time in LA?
A: First of all, I love LA. I live in an arts colony here, a converted PBR Brewery downtown -- something like Westbeth in New York -- in a loft. So, there's that. But also, working in film has taught me how to think about structure differently and how to write from a more ordered and linear part of my brain. It's like calling one's shots in a pool game. In playwriting, I don't call my shots - I just write. But in screenwriting, there's this sense of needing to know where you're going to end up, or at least, being able to project, for the other people involved, producers and whatnot, where you think the game will go, before you ever write a word of the script. So this has been a great education. The two divergent processes ("let the writing guide you" versus "call your shots") have a lot to say to one another -- neither presents a full picture. Anyway, once I realized I had to learn some new tricks, it became less frustrating and a whole lot more fun. And now I'm having a blast learning. I've developed a great deal of respect for what screenwriters do. They're like detectives, looking for clues, building plots; I'm more of a dream analyst, interpreting what the unconscious mind presents. I could say way more about this, because I love process, but we'd be here all day.
Q: Are you teaching now? If so, where? What do you like most about teaching writing?
A: I just taught a two-day workshop with Karen Hartman in New York City called "Pleasure and Risk". I plan to do another (with her) the next time I'm in New York for an extended period. I also teach roughly once or twice a year with Anne Garcia Romero in LA. And occasionally I do workshops through Primary Stages Theater School. At the moment, I'm immersed in finishing all three projects - book, play and movie - and have to put teaching on hold. But I'll probably teach somewhere this winter. January is always a good time for a workshop. New Years resolutions and all that. What I like most about teaching writing is the chance to engage directly in the creative process, both mine and my students. It's my favorite thing in the whole world. In class, we are explorers, astronauts, spiritual seekers looking for new terrain, new states of consciousness, excavating the imagery and sensibility of the unconscious mind and then, sharing what we find there. It's exciting! It's where everything starts.
Q: What kind of theater excites you?
A: Well, I'll tell you what excited me last year: Becky Shaw. And Trip Cullman's revival of "Six Degrees of Separation" at the Old Globe. I also have a great love for very physical imagistic theater. Meredith Monk. The late Pina Bausch. Pippo Del Bono. And theater that deals with the transcendent/sacred and the physical as part of the same conversation. Tony Kushner's work thrills me. Irene Fornes. Caryl Churchill. I really, really wish I'd been able to see "Wig Out." I loved reading that. I love drag.
Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
A: Write, write, write, write, write. And self-produce, so that you can see what your work looks like in three-dimensional space, with design and lights and sound and all that, before you start to get produced by institutional theater. Hear your work out loud, however and wherever you can. Work with actors. And have faith. Despite what everyone says, if you keep at it long enough, you do get somewhere.