Hometown: I've moved a lot.
Current Town: Brookline, MA (Boston)
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I'm feverishly working on rewrites of Constant State of Panic, a new full-length play that will be produced by the Madcap Players in DC in January. I was just out there for a weekend-long workshop that was tremendously helpful. I'm always trying to explore different models to develop new plays, and the Madcap weekend was especially well run and thoughtful.
As soon as the rewrites are done, I'm hoping to start on a new novel, a young adult historical piece (set in the Civil War) (it does not have any vampires or werewolves). Plus, I'm part of a playwrights group, Rhombus, that meets every two weeks and we're required to bring in material to every session. So if I want to keep playing with my pals, I need to write a new play. I'm stumbling my way into a new full-length play--I'm curious to see what happens with it.
Q: If I came to Boston tomorrow, what theater companies or shows would you suggest I check out?
A: Boston Playwrights Theatre is one of the hotspots for exciting new work. I'm off to see a new play by Ronan Noone tomorrow night, Little Black Dress. The American Repertory Theatre is working with with Punchdrunk, a British company, on this odd site-specific treatment of Macbeth in an old school near my house. I'm pretty excited about that one--I think it's the first time they've worked in the U.S.
Company One is a young company that does some interesting new plays. And the Beau Jest company does some amazing physical theatre work that knocks me over. There's a lot happening in Boston.
Q: Can you tell me about the playwright binge and how it came about?
A: I'm always looking for ways to make the chore of marketing more fun (and easier) (which is why I started Market InSight for Playwrights back in the early 90s). So, I'd heard about a whole town that went on a diet together, and it worked, because there was a whole social, community aspect to it. So I thought, what if we sort of did the opposite? Rather than diet, we'll binge on sending out our plays--a play a day for 30 days. So I e-mailed playwrights that I knew on a bunch of lists and asked if they wanted to join. I think for the first one, we maybe had a dozen writers. Word got out that it was a helpful thing and more people joined. And everyone was incredibly generous about sharing information. Then an article or two got written about it, and membership jumped. As of today, we have 520 members from around the world, and we binge twice a year (and there's an associated "purge" group that writes every day for 30 days). The cool thing is that it's turned into this very active, very supportive year-round online community.
Q: Is writing a novel anything like writing a play?
A: Not really, though I did make a conscious effort when I started writing novels to use some of my playwriting strengths--so my first two novels (I've written three) were first person stories, so I could look at them like extended monologues. But the development of a play is so different from a novel. A novel is much, much longer. There are just so many damn words to write--my latest adult novel runs around 84,000 words. That's the equivalent of about 3-4 full-length plays. So they take a lot longer to write, which makes it even more important to have a certain level of discipline when it comes plugging away at a first draft.
For a play, the development process is so much more external and social. I do have a writer's group where I bring my fiction, but other than that I'll just have a couple other readers. For a play, getting it down on paper is just the start. I'm constantly working on material with actors in Rhombus, and then in readings, and then in production there will be more changes, and even in subsequent productions. The upside is that you keep getting chances to fix problems in a script, the downside is that the blasted thing is never done. When I have a novel published, and someone comes up to me and says, "Oh, that part didn't work for me, I wish they'd done so and so," well, I can smile and nod and think, "Oh, well." and not worry about it. But with a play, I might think, "Oh, crap, maybe I should go back and fix that."
Q: You recently got rid of your car. How are you adjusting to life without a motorized vehicle?
A: It's been fun. We live in the city, so we have the subway, buses, and Zipcar, which is great. We ride our bikes a lot--my kids are old enough now (9 and 14) to ride most places. We figured if we couldn't do it here, we could never do it. It gets us lots of exercise and saves us a bunch of money. What's not to like? (See how I feel at the end of the winter.)
Q: What kind of theater excites you?
A: I like plays that don't make me fall asleep. Seriously. That's my basic criteria (and I fall asleep easily). I like plays where stuff happens on stage--it can be physical, psychological, internal/external, I don't care, but I don't want to just listen to a long conversation. I want to see or experience something interesting.
I'm involved in leading some workshops here for StageSource called Playwriting in 3D--basically panel discussions with designers, to engage them with writers in an extended conversation about how we can make our plays more fully theatrical. The last one we did was with two lighting and two sound designers. Next up is an afternoon with costume and set designers. Soon, I hope to have one where we bring in some magicians to talk to us about the principles of what makes magic work for an audience. How can playwrights and directors and producers expand our tool box? I'm not interested in seeing something on stage that could have been done on TV.
Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
A: Get your hands dirty. Start a theatre company or join up some up-and-coming group of theatre folk and learn every aspect of theatre. Act, direct, design a set, tear tickets, design programs, run lights. Produce some shows. You might not be good at all of these things, but trying them helps you to fully understand the whole theatrical package, which is what you need if you want to write something that comes life on stage (and actually is chosen by theatres). And realize that playwriting is a very slow process--when you're just starting out, you want everything to happen right now. But plays can take a long time to develop, and it takes a while to build your skillset and a body of work.
Q: Any plugs?
A: I have a couple short plays in Los Angeles, being done in coffee shops by Theatre Unleashed. I wish I could be there, because I get a kick out of site specific work. And on January 14, Constant State of Panic opens in DC at the H Street Playhouse. I'm excited to see how it turns out--we've got a great team for the show.
Read more from Patrick here.