Hometown: Park Ridge, Illinois
Current Town: Providence, RI
Q: Tell me a little about your show Elephant's Graveyard going up at Balaban Theater in Seattle.
A: Elephant’s Graveyard is the unfortunately true story of Mary, an elephant who went berserk during a parade through the middle of a small town in Tennessee in 1916. The townspeople demanded justice for her actions, which led to a very unfortunate set of circumstances. The play combines historical fact and legend, exploring the deep-seated American craving for spectacle, violence and revenge.
Q: What are you working on next?
A: Next up is Any Other Name, a very different play, one about identity theft in Victorian England. Any Other Name actually makes its debut at Premiere Stages the same day as the Balagan production of Elephant’s Graveyard – it’s quite thrilling to have two plays opening on the same night!
Q: How did you like the playwriting program at the Michener Center at UT Austin?
A: My time at the Michener Center and UT was a truly transformative experience. In my fellow students, I was surrounded by wonderful and generous playwrights, as well as poets, novelists, and screenwriters – having all that creativity and energy around me was inspirational. I was also fortunate enough to study under four very different but equally wonderful professors: Suzan Zeder, Steven Dietz, Daniel Alexander Jones, and Sherry Kramer. I miss Austin daily!
Q: You've written scripts for a clamation company. What is that like? Is it much different than writing plays?
A: A great experience. That was when I was in Chicago – I was the head writer for Bix Pix Entertainment, a claymation company. It’s very different than writing for theatre, primarily in its length. We had a few programs that made their way onto the Disney channel, and some of them were as short as 30 seconds! It was quite a challenge to tell a story and get a joke or two in there in such a short time. Another big basic difference was the visual aspect of claymation, or any kind of animation, I suppose – it was all about telling the story with as little dialogue as possible. Looking back, I think that the work probably taught me a lot about the use of rhythm in writing, which definitely is a major component of Elephant’s Graveyard.
Q: What kind of theater excites you?
A: I’d say anything that respects its audience, that engages them and doesn’t leave them out of the room. That could be as varied as keeping us guessing like Pillowman or acknowledging our shared experience of existence like Our Town. But once you get the sense that a play could exist without you there, you’ve lost me. It all happens in the audience.
Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
A: Write what you want to write, what engages you, excites you. I’ve certainly found in my own work that the surest way to write a lifeless play is to write one for an imagined audience that doesn’t include you.
The Balagan production of Elephant’s Graveyard: www.balagantheatre.org
The Premiere Stages production of Any Other Name: www.kean.edu/premierestages/