Nov 3, 2009
I Interview Playwrights Part 86: Tommy Smith
Hometown: Seattle, WA
Current Town: New York, NY
Q: You're one of those playwrights that bridges the gap between midtown and downtown theater. Where do you think your sensibilities lie?
A: I like writing plays, about all kinds of subjects and sometimes the people in them do more aggressive things, and those are the ones that make it downtown. The midtown ones are the relationship dramas and ones concerning history. But its nice to have the availability to play at different venues. Its good to learn how different audiences of different types listen to a play. And sometimes you're just sad and you have to write a play to bring everyone down to your level. It's harder to produce those ones, though, because who wants to go out in New York and get infected by someone's fictional sadness? (About 35 people a night, it turns out.)
Q: Tell me a story from your childhood that explains who you are as a writer or as a person.
A: My dad lit a bonfire in the backyard one day. This was when you could do stuff like that, just burn things in the back yard. Bonfires were pretty common. And I think he was throwing some random things on the fire, and it was getting dark, and he threw this one big can on the fire but didn't realize it was filled with gasoline, or maybe he did, but there was this big explosion -- I was standing up the hill from it and it shook me, the sudden shock of a ball of fire rocketing up into the air, and I can remember my mom screaming at my dad because she thought there was shrapnel from the explosion but he was okay.
Q: What kind of theater excites you?
A: I like stuff that makes you realize you're *there*. Richard Foreman's "Idiot Savant" and Taylor Mac's "The Lily's Revenge" are two shows that I've seen recently that really pull you into their worlds. I'm a fan of the Beckett, of course, and Pinter. I was going to rattle off all the theatre that I *don't* like, but someone else out there probably likes musical theater or political dramas so I won't say anything. Against my better judgment (and monetary status) I find myself drawn towards weirder material, confusing narratives, plays that don't work. I love watching plays or films that fail because you learn more from them. And there will always be *one* thing that you end up taking/stealing from the experience.
Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
A: You might as well keep writing what you like because the pay scale is going to stay the same. You know that weird feeling you get when you know you're writing something that you don't want to write? Listen to that. And writing a play is a really easy way to tell everyone your secrets disguised as characters talking, so take advantage of that too. Also, everyone likes songs, so be sure to put a lot of those in your plays. Try not to write with stage directions and see where that gets you.
Q: Any plugs?
A: Well I have a couple things coming up. My short play STRIP is being presented at Sticky (the plays-in-a-bar thing) on Nov. 13 at the Bowery Poetry Club @ 8:00p, starring Beth Hoyt and directed by Kip Fagan. I'm co-creating and directing DUTCH A/V with Reggie Watts for IRT Theater, Nov. 27-Dec. 2 @ 8:00p. I'm working on my play THE WIFE at Lark Theatre with May Adrales and we're presenting a workshop Dec. 10 & 11 @ 7:00p. And if you're in Seattle at the end of January, I'm workshopping my play SEXTET with Washington Ensemble Theater, directed by Roger Bennington. I have all this and other stuff (including full texts of my plays) at http://smithsmith.wordpress.com/.