Samuel Brett Williams
I was born and raised in Hot Springs, Arkansas. At eighteen, I moved to Arkadelphia, Arkansas, and lived there until I moved to the New York City area just over four years ago at the age of twenty-three.
Hoboken, New Jersey
Q: Tell me about this reading you have coming up at Ars Nova. What's the play about?
A: I’ve wanted to write about corporations and fraternities for a while, but I couldn't find a story to support either topic. Then, I was in Italy last summer -- literally on the steps of the Coliseum, wishing it was run more like a corporate enterprise. No joke, I was in a long line with my uncle (who is from Sicily) and I was thinking a corporation would make the process a little more efficient. They would have specific windows for tours and specific windows for walk-throughs. They would have some process that moved us along a little faster -- I mean, Disney World kind of sucks, but they do keep the lines moving! Anyhow, long story long, once I could take the corporate side -- argue for and against big business -- then I knew I could start. I didn't want the play to be a one dimensional diatribe against Wall Street -- we have blogs for that. That's part of the reason I set it in a Frat House. I see those places as kind of breeding grounds for the big swinging dicks, or vaginas, on Wall Street. I read somewhere that every CEO from the financial district who was fired during the whole meltdown was a former Frat Boy. Also, there is something exciting and disgusting about fraternities -- two prerequisites I always need to write!
Q: Isn't Ars Nova great!?
A: Right out of grad school I went to the O'Neill with my play THE WOODPECKER. That was the first time I felt the theatre community saying, "Welcome." Emily Shooltz was my dramaturg there and when I saw the application for Play Group online, I knew I wanted to be involved. I have been overwhelmed with how nurturing and supportive they have been. They in a sense have welcomed me into New York theatre.
Q: Can you talk a little about your Playwright in Residence status in New Jersey last year?
A: The National New Play Network is amazing. Every young playwright should find a way to get involved. In 2007-2008 they gave me a residency at Playwrights Theatre of New Jersey -- that coupled with some other money from writing allowed me to live off of theatre for a year or two, which was not something I thought I was going to be able to do right out of grad school. The NNPN also sent me to the Kennedy Center to workshop my play THE REVIVAL (which Project Y will produce in the city this summer, hopefully at 59e59). And, I'm currently just finishing a commission they gave me to adapt the New Testament book of Revelation into a play.
Q: Can you talk a little about the Helen Merrill Award you won last year?
A: I was in rehearsals for THE WOODPECKER -- more specifically I was at a bar across the street from Cherry Lane -- when I received a call from a woman, who began explaining the Helen Merrill Award to me. I thought she was asking for money, so I almost hung up, but then she got to the point where I was getting twenty thousand dollars. I will never receive a call like that again. I cried. I mean, three years earlier I was working in a bookstore in Arkadelphia, Arkansas. I could only work thirty-nine and a half hours a week, because they didn't want to give me benefits. I bet I didn't make twenty grand that entire year. I went to the Algonquin where Chris Durang talked about my writing and gave me an award. I guarantee I will never have a happier moment in my life.
Q: You write a lot about where you grew up. I'm someone who can never really write about a place. Places just don't stick with me in the way they stick with some people. Can you describe what it is about that place that keeps you writing about it?
A: I write a lot about where I'm from, because I'm still trying to figure a lot of things out. I went to a Methodist Church, I was enrolled in a Southern Baptist school from kindergarten to my senior year, then I went to a Southern Baptist University for undergrad. My family is VERY religious. I remember going Soul Saving with my friends after basketball practice just because it was the thing to do at the time. I wouldn't trade my childhood for anything -- it made me who I am -- but, I am still trying to understand it, and that certainly comes out in my writing.
Q: Tell me a story from your childhood that explains who you are as a person or as a writer.
A: When I was in junior high I first started writing, really writing, and it confused me. I didn't know where the words were coming from or why I was doing it. The work wasn't any good, but it was honest and violent and pretty disturbing for a twelve year old. I would hide my notebooks under my bed, like they were pornography, because I was scared I was going to hell for what I was doing.
Q: What kind of theater excites you?
A: I love pointed irreverence, like McDonagh or Mamet.
I love the experience of Fornes.
And my king of kings is Kushner. I love, absolutely love, to experience the power of his mind. Sometimes I just pick up his plays and sit inside them, if that makes any sense.
Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
A: I don't buy into the whole magical aspect of writing. Like anything truly rewarding, it's hard work. You can not control whether other people will like what you have written or not. You can only control the words (in LA you can't even control that). Do it every day, and do it well -- respect the integrity of the story, and do not write just to get produced. Admit that if you don't know what your play is about, you might not have anything to say.
Q: Details about your reading with Ars Nova, please:
October 5 at 7pm. The brilliant Sam Gold will be directing. Come and have a beer with us!