Tuesday, December 29, 2009

my 2009 in review

In ’09 I had a total of eight productions of six different full length plays.  I was able to attend six of them.  Four of the productions were from published plays.   I also had another play published in ’09 and managed to get my first TV job.

For the first half of 2009 I was still living in Minneapolis looking for 12 dollar an hour temp work, riding my bike everywhere so I didn’t have to pay two dollars for the bus. I was also in New York twice for extended periods because of two shows I had that went up.  We left MN at the end of June and I was in CT for about two weeks and then I headed to Atlanta to work on that TV show and was there for about five months working extremely long hours and getting paid two to three times more than I ever made as an administrative assistant in New York. Now I’m in a cottage on a lake in Connecticut.  It’s been kind of a crazy year.

Oh, and I interviewed 100 playwrights, many of whom are friends of mine.  What else?  I wrote a couple new plays and five or so episodes of that show.   Kristen and I bought a car.  Again, I have the feeling like I didn’t do enough this year.  I’m impatient at how long it takes to do everything.  I have a lot to write and don’t know when I will get to it. 

Anyway, Happy New Year.  I don’t know what is next for any of us but I hope for an adventure.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Stop Whatever You're Doing

and read this book!!



Are you a playwright or an artistic director?  Thinking of starting a theater company?  Thinking about going to grad school for playwriting?  Read this first.

It's depressing, surprising, astounding and a must-read.

(full disclosure:  I was one of the 30 playwrights interviewed for it in a round table a little while back.)

Thursday, December 24, 2009

100 Playwright Interviews

Me
Arlene Hutton
Jorge Ignacio Cortiñas
Lucas Hnath
Enrique Urueta
Tarell Alvin McCraney
Anne Washburn 
Julia Jarcho
Lisa D'Amour
Rajiv Joseph
Carly Mensch
Marielle Heller
Larry Kunofsky
Edith Freni
Tommy Smith
Jeremy Kareken
Rob Handel
Stephen Adly Guirgis
Kara Manning
Libby Emmons
Adam Bock
Lin-Manuel Miranda
Liz Duffy Adams
Winter Miller
Jenny Schwartz
Kristen Palmer
Patrick Gabridge
Mike Batistick
Mariah MacCarthy
Jay Bernzweig
Gina Gionfriddo
Darren Canady
Alejandro Morales
Ann Marie Healy
Christopher Shinn
Sam Forman
Erin Courtney
Gary Winter
J. Holtham
Caridad Svich
Samuel Brett Williams
Trista Baldwin
Mat Smart
Bathsheba Doran
August Schulenburg
Jeff Lewonczyk
Rehana Mirza
Peter Sinn Nachtrieb
David Johnston
Dan Dietz
Mark Schultz
Lucy Thurber
George Brant
Brooke Berman
Julia Jordan
Joshua Conkel
Kyle Jarrow
Christina Ham
Rachel Axler
Laura Lynn MacDonald
Steve Patterson
Erin Browne
Annie Baker
Crystal Skillman
Blair Singer
Daniel Goldfarb
Heidi Schreck
Itamar Moses
EM Lewis
Bekah Brunstetter
Mac Rogers
Cusi Cram
Michael Puzzo
Megan Mostyn-Brown
Andrea Ciannavei
Sarah Gubbins
Kim Rosenstock
Tim Braun
Rachel Shukert
Kristoffer Diaz
Jason Grote
Dan Trujillo
Marisa Wegrzyn
Ken Urban
Callie Kimball
Deborah Stein
Qui Nguyen
Victoria Stewart
Malachy Walsh
Jessica Dickey
Kara Lee Corthron
Zayd Dohrn
Madeleine George
Sheila Callaghan
Daniel Talbott
David Adjmi
Dominic Orlando
Matthew Freeman
Anna Ziegler
James Comtois

I have a ten min play in this




This year, Smith and Kraus has combined its two annual ten-minute play books into this one volume, divided into three sections: Plays for Two Actors, Plays for Three or Four Actors, and Plays for Five or Six Actors. Now, you can get the best ten-minute plays produced during the 2008 2009 theatrical season all in one book!

In this volume you will find fifty-one ten-minute plays. All have been produced successfully. Some have even won awards. These plays are written in a wide variety of styles. Some are realistic, some are not. Some are comic (laughs); some are dramatic (no laughs).

There are a few plays in this book by playwrights who are pretty well established (Don Nigro, Jacquelyn Reingold, and Eduardo Machado are three examples); but most are by terrific new writers you never heard of, playwrights destined without a doubt to become far better known when their full-length work gets produced by major theaters. And you read their work first here!


Plays for Two Actors

Plays for One Man and One Woman
All Good Cretins Go to Heaven, Kathleen Warnock
The Can Can, Kelly Younger
Deja Vu All Over Again, Robin Rice Lichtig
Feeding Time at the Human House, David Wiener
Life Coming Up, Sharyn Rothstein
Novices, Monica Raymond
The Pain in the Poetry, Glen Alterman
Quarks, William Borden
Road Kill, William Crosby Wells
A Short History of Weather, Jonathan Yukich
Super versus Bacara Resort and Spa, Stephanie Hutchinson
The Transfiguration of Linda, S. W. Senek
Valentine s Play, Jenny Lyn Bader
A Very Very Short Play, Jacquelyn Reingold
Whistling in the Dark, Rosanna Yamagiwa Alfaro
Plays for Two Men
Crossing the Border, Eduardo Machado
Crows over Wheatfield (or The Nuance of the Leap), Gregory Hischak
Fragment of a Paper Airplane, Carlos Murillo
Marilyn Gets Ice Cream, Don Nigro
Plays for Two Women
Counting Rita, Patrick Gabridge
Critical Care, Bara Swain
The Grand Scheme, Jack Neary
Plays for Any Combination of Men and Women
A Figment, Ron Weaver
Tech Support, Henry Meyerson
What s the Meta?, Andrew Biss

Plays for Three or Four Actors
Plays for One Man and Two Women
The Chocolate Affair, Stephanie Allison Walker
Life Is Just a Bowl of Cellos, Ann L. Gibbs
More Precious Than Diamonds, Stephanie Hutchinson
Stuffed Grape Leaves, Damon Chua
Plays for Two Men and One Woman
After Godot, George Freek
Daddy Took My Debt Away, Bekah Brunstetter
Enter the Naked Woman, Brendon Etter
Poor Shem, Gregory Hischak
Transpiration, Vincent Delaney
Reverse Evolution, Brian Polak
Plays for Two Men and Two Women
Beautiful Noises, Scott C. Sickles
Cate Blanchett Wants to Be My Friend on Facebook, Alex Broun
Letters from Quebec to Providence in the Rain, Don Nigro
Snow, Adam Szymkowicz
Stick and Move, Greg Lam
Theft, Jerrod Bogard
Yin Yang, Rosanna Yamagiwa Alfaro
Play for Three Men and One Woman
A Gravedigger s Tale, Mark Borkowski
Play for Four Women
Parkersburg, Laura Jacqmin

Plays for Five or Six Actors
(Various Combinations)
The Blues Street Jazz Club Rehearses, William Borden
Cabman, William Orem
An Epic Story of Love and Sex in Ten Minutes: Chapter One, Richard Vet
Good Girl, Julia Brownell
Open House, Michael J. Grady
The Real Story, Neil Olson

Get it here.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Monday, December 21, 2009

Playwright Interview Part 100: James Comtois Interviews Me

James Comtois was the first playwright I interviewed for this series so I thought it would be fun if he interviewed me for #100.  (Many people suggested I be interviewed for #100.  I resisted out of modesty and then realized I wasn't modest.  So here you go.)


Adam Szymkowicz 


Hometown:  Colchester, CT
Q:  What originally got you into writing plays? 
A:  I was an actor for years and then in college when I started writing, I started writing plays. I got addicted to theater but found acting scary and unsatisfying, so writing for theater seemed like a good idea.  It still does, sometimes.  I don’t feel the urge to act except when I see an actor not doing something as well as I know I could.  That happens less these days.  Most actors are better than me.
Q:  You’re also a graduate of Columbia and Juilliard.  Have you noticed an effect, positive or negative, on having post-graduate degrees with your writing and/or career? 
A:  Yes. 
Negative includes 88 thou or so of debilitating debt from Columbia.  Positive includes that I wrote a lot of plays during my years in grad school.  In addition, Juilliard has definitely helped me a great deal careerwise, although I'm still not yet where I want to be.
Q:  You spent the last five months writing for a television show.  Can you tell us a little bit about the show, what writing for it has been like and what writing for television has been like for you in general? 
A:  I signed a three page confidentiality agreement so I’m not sure what I can actually say about the show.  What I can tell you probably, without getting in trouble, is that on an average network show, you write 22 episodes over 9 months.  On a cable show (like HBO or Showtime) they write 12 or 13 episodes over 5 months.  On the show I was writing for, we wrote 46 episodes in 5 months.  We were taping three shows a week and once we started taping there was no break.  It was exhausting.
Q:  Although there are some self-evident differences, what are the biggest differences you’ve found with writing for television versus writing for the stage? 
A:  Keep in mind, I only wrote for this one atypical show.  But... it’s sort of like writing in a different but similar language.  The expectations are different.  What is considered good is different. It has also made me appreciate what can be done with 6 minds working on something as opposed to one mind.  At the same time that the voice can be diluted, other things get sharper.  It’s why some sitcoms are so funny.  In theory, you’re using the funniest joke that the room can come up with.
Q:    I’ve been making a living writing for various trade newspapers, so on one hand, I’ve been making a living as a writer, but on the other, my day job writing is so different from my playwriting I see no connection.  Do you find there’s a link between writing for television and writing for the stage, or do you find the two jobs to be completely disparate (as Andrew O’Heir once said, like “comparing apples to hyenas”)? 
A:  They’re different.  In this case, this show is vastly different from what I normally write if for no other reason than I’m a white kid from small town Connecticut and it’s about African Americans in Atlanta.  But there are other reasons too.  The 30 min format (24 min really)  is vastly different.  The structure is different.  You have to think about what your act break is and how to end each scene.  A scene is this many pages generally and there are this many of them.  It’s more like being a mechanic in some ways.  There is a lot of problem solving.  Some of the things I know how to do from playwriting are useless in the writing room and some of them are very helpful.
Q:   You’ve been pretty tenacious about getting your plays produced regionally.  You had five plays of yours staged around the country in 2009 alone (that’s not including the staged readings or having two plays published this year).  Although you covered this a bit in the comments section of one of your blog entries, can you give a little more detail about how you go about getting your work staged so frequently? 
A:  In 2009, I had 8 full length plays produced and one play published.  At this point, I don’t send out as many plays as I used to.  I do still email theaters sometimes to promote my published plays but I’m not sure how much that helps.  My agent is sending out my new plays.  I need to start doing more of that myself.  I’ve been working 12-15 hour days the past 5 months so a lot of things I would submit to normally got by me this year. 
But advice-wise, playwrights need to get their stuff out there and up on a stage.  Do whatever you have to to get your plays out there.  Send to as many places as you can.  Give your plays to directors and actors you like.  If it's not working, put the play up yourself and repeat.  And repeat.
Q:  Although you have relationships with different companies, you don’t have your own theatre company.  What are the pros and cons of being a “free agent,” so to speak? 
A:  I don’t like being a free agent.  It means I have to work harder to get people to put my plays up.  I have to show them to more people. I do have some great relationships but yeah, I wish I had my own theater.  On the other hand, I would probably be working a lot harder if I were producing my own plays.  Ideally, some theater would adopt me and produce every new play I write, preferably an off Broadway or large regional theater.
Q:   I’ll now go to one question you’ve asked all of your interview subjects: what type of theatre excites you? 
A:  I want to have a good time.  I want to laugh, I want to be engaged, I want to care.  I like plays about things.  I like crazy off the wall experiments and I like naturalism too.   Most importantly, I like a narrative.  If you’re not telling me a story, I get bored and I hate your play.  I dont' want to hate your play.  I want you to show me somethign new.  I get excited by something I haven’t seen before.
Q:    Let’s do another one of your old standards: what advice do you have for a playwright just starting out?
A:  I wrote a long post about that once.  You can find it here:
Q:   Finally, whatcha got in store for us in 2010?  New plays you’re working on?  New productions?  You’ve got beans, Adam.  Spill ‘em. 
A:  I have a couple readings coming up in January and 2 or 3 productions that I know of in March.  I have a couple films I want to write, a pilot or two I’m working on and a whole list of plays I plan to write.  Oh, and a couple novels I’ve been working on.  I just have to figure out when I can do all the things I want to do.

Friday, December 11, 2009

I Interview Playwrights Part 99: Arlene Hutton




Arlene Hutton

Hometown: Gosh, I never know how to answer that question! Although I was born in Bogalusa, Louisiana, I lived the first few years of my life in Mississippi. We moved to Florida when I was eight. But my parents always called Kentucky “home.” I’m the daughter of hillbillies. There’s a lot of material there.

Current Town: New York City

Q: Tell me about your recent readings at The Barrow Group and Ensemble Studio Theatre.

A: I like writing for specific actors. I wrote RUNNING some years ago, for Seth Barrish and Lee Brock, and put it away to work on other pieces, completely forgetting about it. Actor David Arrow reminded me of it and he did a wonderful reading for me at The Players which led me to more revisions. The first public reading was at The Barrow Group with Seth and Lee, on the day of the New York City Marathon, and we’re now discussing how to develop it further. VACUUM was begun in the Catskills a year ago, at a ‘pataphysics retreat with Erik Ehn, written for Polly Adams for Octoberfest at EST and we did a workshop at HERE. It’s quite different from anything I’ve ever written, so who knows what will happen with it.
For years I developed my work at New Dramatists and 78th Street Theatre Lab. Now that I’m an alumna, or “Old Dramatist,” and things have changed at 78th Street Theatre Lab, due to real estate and economics, I’m happy to have other sandboxes to play in, happy to be developing work at HERE, EST and The Barrow Group.

Q: What else are you working on?


A: I have a commission beginning in the spring of 2010, but I can’t talk about it yet.

Q: You and Craig Pospisil wrote a play together over email.


A: Yes, we did!

Q: Can you describe how that worked?


A: For years Craig and I have talked about working together, but we’ve always been too busy. In the late summer of 2008 I e-mailed him, saying “let’s write a play together on-line.” I would e-mail him a line of dialogue and he’d e-mail back. We started with nothing planned, just lines of dialogue, sort of like an e-mailed “T. J. & Dave.” I played two of the characters and he played two others. We had met years ago in an improv workshop and we’ve worked together many times on TheATrainPlays, so this was like improvising. We were having a good time, e-mailing back and forth. And then one day he wrote and said, hey, do you know what? We have forty pages. Let’s read it. We did and kept going. It’s called OUT OF THE FRYING PAN. It’s wonderfully silly, partly because of Craigs’ terrific sense of humor and partly because we would try to trick each other at times, or set up challenges to be fixed. Once I took both my characters out of the room so he had to continue on his own for a while. Craig is one of the smartest and funniest people I know, so it’s been like playing tennis with someone better than you and seeing your own game improve.

Q: Have you heard it out loud?


A: Yes! After we finally wrote “end of play” we had a reading with some wonderful actors, including Stephanie D’Abruzzo (AVENUE Q), Ryan Duncan (SHREK), Dennis Holland (DRIFT) and Margot Avery (NICKEL AND DIMED).

Q: What is the revision process going to be like?


A: We haven’t figured that out yet! We’ve both been busy, but we hope to get back to it.

Q: You are probably best known for THE NIBROC TRILOGY. Can you talk a little about those plays?


A: Well, first of all, I never set out to write a trilogy, but I loved the characters so much that I wanted to keep spending time with them. LAST TRAIN TO NIBROC started as a one-act, just the scene on the train, written for Alexandra Geis. I wrote two more scenes and produced the full-length myself for the second New York Fringe Festival, directed by Michael Montel. That production moved to the 78th Street Theatre Lab, traveled to Edinburgh and then ran Off-Broadway. SEE ROCK CITY was written years later, at the Australian National Playwright’s Conference because I needed to write something there and I knew the characters well. There were two extra actresses available in my time slot, so I wrote them in as the mothers. That play was chosen for development at the New Harmony Project. I wrote a proposal for the third play so I could go back there again as a writer-in-residence. Each play in the TRILOGY was written in less than two weeks and then revised and workshopped over a period of time, at New Harmony, at Orlando Playfest, at the Actor’s Coop. Director Eric Nightengale has been an important part of the process and we co-produced the TRILOGY at 78th Street in 2007. Several theatres around the country have presented the entire cycle, including B Street in Sacramento and Echo Theatre in Dallas. LAST TRAIN TO NIBROC has had, what, close to two hundred productions around the country maybe, most recently at The Kitchen and Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park. I’m not kidding myself, though. Its popularity probably has a lot to do with the economy. The play is two characters and a bench. Only a solo show would be less expensive.

Q: What kind of theater excites you?


A: Anything with purpose and authenticity. It can be BLACK WATCH from Scotland or an elementary school doing FIDDLER ON THE ROOF.


I like physical theatre – especially the sort of work I see from international companies at the Edinburgh Fringe, at BAM, at the Lincoln Center summer festival or at St. Anne’s Warehouse. Although some of my own pieces can almost be (and have been) presented as radio plays, what I especially seek out are strong visual works.

Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?


A: Well, I personally “started out” after working for years on and off stage, so I had a lot of experience in the theatre before I began writing my first play. So here’s what I say to young playwrights when I teach at colleges and conferences: Learn to do everything – act, direct, make costumes, build sets – and do it for other people’s plays. Work with the best people you can find, those that both support you and challenge you to be your best. See as many plays as you can see. See readings of plays (they’re usually free!) Read every play you can. Don’t be afraid to produce or co-produce your plays yourself. Take the Commercial Theatre Institute’s weekend intensive on producing and learn everything you can about the business. Keep applying to New Dramatists and the MacDowell Colony and the New Harmony Project and all those wonderful places that serve writers and give you community. Join the Dramatists’ Guild.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

I Interview Playwrights Part 98: Jorge Ignacio Cortiñas




photo by Marlene Ramirez-Cancio

Jorge Ignacio Cortiñas

Hometown: Miami, FL.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I'm getting my play BLIND MOUTH SINGING ready for a production in Havana. A talented Mexican writer by the name of Rodrigo Vargas handled the translation into Spanish. Even translating the title was hard. We came up with CANTO DEL POZO NEGRO. This is the first time that a Cuban theater company is producing a play by a Cuban-American playwright and I'm very pleased. I see the production as part of the ongoing process of strengthening ties and relaxing tensions between Cubans who live on the island and Cubans who live outside the island. The fact that we're able to do this today owes a lot to the bridge building work done by Cuban-American artists as varied as Ana Mendieta, Dolores Prida and Achy Obejas. I'm walking in their footsteps.

Q:  Do you find there are different challenges when writing fiction than writing plays? Which comes easier to you?

A:  Both genres are exacting for a writer. With fiction, well, getting it out into the world is less work of  course. Sometimes it feels great not to have to explain a text to, I don't know, yet another designer. But other times I feel very lucky to be able to get a text out of my head and into an actor's body. It feels less lonely. Sometimes I think that's the biggest advantage that writing plays has over writing novels, the playwright gets to hangout with actors. But ultimately I believe genre chooses the material, not the other way around. This is maybe why adaptations always make me a little sad. When I sit down to write, a mood or tone establishes itself and that almost always seems to insist on its ideal genre. Interiority, reflection, the confessional impulse -- all of that seems best suited to the page. Playfulness, affection, ghosts, history -- to me that seems better suited for the stage. It depends on the material. Interestingly though I've never had a question about where a particular text belongs. That always seems obvious. The text insists on the genre it needs. The rest of it, the differences in process between publishing and staging, those are just the lucky consequences.

Q:  Can you talk about what it's like to be a NYTW Creative Resident Fellow?
A:  I don't know of a theater that supports artists more than NYTW. The folks over there really seem to take seriously the idea that we should run our organizations in an artist-centric way. Every decision they make -- scheduling, design choices, casting, choosing collaborators -- it's all driven by artistic needs. There is an openness, an accessibility to that theater that you feel the minute you walk in. Also a kind of restless curiosity about the theatrical form and also the world. New York would be
infinitely impoverished without them. I've benefitted handsomely from their generosity, they supported me and my work during a two year residency. So many of my favorite theater artists in New York are people I've met at NYTW. I could go on.

Q:  Tell me a story from your childhood that explains who you are as a writer or as a person.
A:  María Irene Fornés once asked me if I played with dolls when I was a child. When I told her I, in fact, had not, she looked at me with wonder and asked, Then how did you ever learn how to write plays? I remember this incident fondly because it speaks volumes about Irene's wondrous, idiosyncratic methods but also because it confirms my general allergy to trying to understand art by examining the childhood of the artist who created it. If you really want to pursue this line of inquiry I'd be happy to send you my father's mailing address (he's serving time in a federal penitentiary in Indiana and likes to get mail). And let me know what theories he comes up with, I'm curious.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?
A:  The surprising kind.

Q:  Is it true you make your playwriting students read books on architecture or visual art before they even start talking about theater?

A:  It's true. Those terrible books on how scripts should be written have done such a successful job of shrinking the vocabulary of our theater. There is a certain kind of well educated, middle class student who comes to theater with all of this baggage, all of these rules. Conflict, psychology, the moral of the story, the most reductive ideals about symbolism. Stuff they learned by watching the Sundance channel or listening to too many post-show talk backs. But what I also find is that those same young people have this other vocabulary around mood, environment, spatial relationships, a more visceral relationship to art that they've experienced when listening to music, walking through great buildings, falling in love or even traveling. And so part of what I try to do is get young people to see that all those other ways they have of describing experience or thinking about art, all those more mysterious and idiosyncratic insights they don't think apply to theater, well they apply.

Q:  What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?

A:  Remember that you aren't competing against anyone, that's the beauty of art. If you like competition try Wall Street. Be fearless. See everything. Try everything. Stay up late. Kiss people. Of both genders. Commit an act of civil disobedience in defense of a cause you care about. Make as many friends outside of the theater scene as you can. Live the kind of life that gives you something to write about -- even if that means you spend your twenties living dangerously and fully and with no time to write.

Q:  Any plugs?

A:  This has been a exciting season in New York. Standouts for me include Liz Duffy Adams's play OR, at the Women's Project (lots of cross dressing and a three-way), Tarell Alvin McCraney's trilogy at the Public (the world just seems bigger when you walk out of that theater) and Sarah Ruhl's IN THE NEXT ROOM, OR THE VIBRATOR PLAY (a play that makes you very happy you have a body). I'm looking forward to Packawallop's production of Alejandro Morales's MAREA. What a bold writer he is. Also Katie Pearl and Lisa D'Amour's collaboration this December at PS 122. Those two are visionaries and New York is lucky to be hosting their piece.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

I Interview Playwrights Part 97: Lucas Hnath



Lucas Hnath

Hometown:  Orlando, Florida.

Current Town:  New York, NY.

Q:  What are you working on now?

A: Working on a couple of things right now. I’m currently finishing up work on a commission from Ensemble Studio Theatre and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. The play is called Isaac’s Eye. It’s about Isaac Newton and the day he decided to figure out what light was made of by sticking a needle into his eye. It’s a comedy.

The Actors Theatre of Louisville is producing my ten-minute play, " The Courtship of Anna Nicole Smith." It’s about one of J. Howard Marshall’s many attempts to convince Anna Nicole to marry him.

There are also a couple of other plays and screenplays I’m finishing up or rewriting. Probably the most interesting of those is a play called sake tasting with a seance to follow. The play was first produced a little over a year ago. It’s an attempt to re-imagine an 18th century Chikamatsu love suicide play called, “Love Suicides at the Women’s Temple.” Instead of just adapting the original, we ("we" = Jyana Browne, Andrew Grusetskie, Kristine Kuroiwa, and myself) stage an open rehearsal of the Chikamatsu play, and at a certain point the actors begin channeling the dead Japanese youngsters depicted in the original story. From that point on, you’re watching a seance, complete with some pretty trippy magic tricks. I was really happy with the first “experimental run” of the play, and now I’m reworking it to make it tighter and scarier. Once I’m done and once we can reassemble the original creative team, we’ll probably do it again.

Q:  Can you talk about the play you were working on when we were in the 24 SEVEN workshop together?

A:  Odile’s Ordeal  – it might be my favorite play. I basically set out to write a re-imagining of Cocteau’s play, “Orphee,” as though it were written by Gertrude Stein and cast with the trio of hipsters from Godard’s Band of Outsiders. On top of all of that, the play is written to entirely be lip-synced. And it's a comedy.

When I brought the play to 24Seven, it was just a bunch of moments and scraps of dialogue. During those weeks in the lab, I was able to turn it into a decent working draft. And then after that, director Linsay Firman came in and gave me a lot of feedback that helped take it to the next level. Now the next step is to find a theatre where we can workshop the play, experiment with the play's technical aspects, and tweak those aspects to further enhance the dramatic content of the play.

Q:  You went to NYU for grad school, didn't you? How did you like that? Their program is not in playwriting or in screenwriting but in both. Did you feel pulled in one direction or another at the time?

A:  I loved NYU. I did both my B.F.A. and M.F.A in the Department of Dramatic Writing.
I do think that the program is what you make of it. There aren’t many opportunities to get your full-length plays produced by the school. Instead, you need to go out into the world and make it happen yourself.

That said, all of us who were at NYU got amazing story training. Teachers like Paul Selig and Martin Epstein would help you figure out why you're writing and your aesthetic. And then a screenwriting teacher like Mark Dickerman would put you through storytelling boot camp. So I never felt pulled in one direction or another. Rather, I felt like the two sides of the department complimented each other.

It’s also kind of amazing when I think back on who my classmates were over the course of those years – folks like Edith Freni, Ethan Youngerman, Jason Grote, Annie Baker, Liz Flahive, Itamar Moses, Anne Washburn, Rinne Groff, Gary Winter, Madeleine George, Jim Knable, etc. And I think if you look at the work of those writers, you'll notice a great balance between solid story-telling and theatrical invention.
Q:  When you write screenplays, do you have to get in a different mindset than when you write plays?

A:  Only until very recently my screenplays were all action thrillers. Very little dialogue. A lot of violence and gore. And in a weird way, to me, this feels more like writing a play than it would were I writing an indie drama walk-and-talk. When I write a play, I’m first and foremost thinking about the theatrical environment and how characters interact with it, and I find that’s what you have to think about when you write an action sequence.

On the other hand, typically my screenwriting experience has involved a lot of collaboration with and input from a producer, so that makes the writing experience very different. I find myself thinking a lot more about how the screenplay will interact with the movie marketplace.

Also, my dialogue writing skills were harder to transfer to the screen. When I write a play I’m generally letting the language get really awkward. It’s as though I’m pretending that I don’t speak English very well. That doesn’t translate so well to screenplays. That said, I think I’ve finally figured out a way to take what I do with theatrical dialogue and translate it to the screen. We'll see...

Q:  Tell me a story from your childhood that describes who you are as a writer or as a person.

A:  Which story to tell... I grew up in Orlando, Florida in a Buckminster Fuller geodesic dome house. We had no neighbors. We were surrounded by orange groves and there was a gun range across the street. The setting of my childhood was pretty surreal, and I think it informs a lot of my work.

On top of that, for much of my childhood my family attended an evangelical mega-church. The sanctuary where the kids' church service was held was bigger than most Broadway houses. When I was 8 or 9, I became interested in becoming a preacher and I was also really into magic. I started writing sermons that featured stage illusions – we'd called them “object lessons.” They began letting me perform these sermons, so I became something of a "minor celebrity" at the church and people would come to me to pray for them when they were sick or had problems, etc.

And then one day, someone, I forget who, had claimed that I prayed for her and that her disease (it was something really serious like cancer) went away. So after that, there was a stretch of time where more people were coming to me to be healed. It was a pretty strange experience, because I had no idea what I had done in the first place and now I was being asked to reproduce something I didn’t understand. And I wondered: What if the “power” went away? What if I also had the power to harm? There was something kind of terrifying about it.

 Most of my plays have a moment like that: A character is forced to deal with something they’ve done or created over which they have very little control, but it's something they must control or else the consequences will be dire.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  What I like to see and what I aspire to are plays that can generate contradictory emotional responses in the audience. Specifically, I like it when a play has a moment that makes the audience member feel repulsed (ewww), affectionate (awww), and then laugh all at once. I genuinely believe those types of moments are good for the brain. In the world of modern theatre, I think people like Richard Foreman, Jeffrey M. Jones, Marie Irene Fornes, Suzan-Lori Parks, and David Greenspan are great at crafting those types of moments.

Q:  What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?

A:  Three things:

1. Find a director. Collaborating with a director can give you new tools for your theatrical bag of tricks. And directors can also be useful in getting your work introduced to producers and theatre companies.

2. Direct your own work. Every playwright should try this at least once. There’s a weird prejudice against playwrights directing their own work and I think it’s really dangerous. Playwrights are expected to just write the text and not to think about how the play works on stage? That’s ridiculous. I think that crafting your play's theatricality is as important as writing the text and building the narrative. Directing helps you develop your theatrical sensibility.

3. Study the brain. Seriously. At the end of the day, the receptacle for a play is the collective audience brain; therefore, it’s really important to understand how the brain works. I try to read as much as I can on neurology. On my stack of books-to-read I always have stuff on everything from video game design, magic theory, theme park design – anything that will help me understand how people engage with visual and aural stimuli. When all is said and done, a playwright is just using a series of old carny tricks to manipulate audience brains.

Q:  Any Plugs?

A:  Sure. “The Courtship of Anne Nicole Smith” will happen at the Actor’s Theatre of Louisville, starting January 13. www.actorstheatre.org

And I’d also like to plug the 24Seven Lab and the awesomeness of its founders, Sarah Hayon, Edith Freni, Sharon Freedman. Playwrights should definitely check out their website and join their mailing list. And people with big checkbooks should support them. www.24sevenlab.com