Sunday, January 17, 2010

I Interview Playwrights Part 104: Nick Jones

Nick Jones

Hometown: Anchorage, Alaska

Current Town: Brooklyn, New York

Q:  Your rock pirate puppet musical Jollyship the Whiz-Bang just had another run at the Public.  How was that? 

A:  It went great, but it was intense. We never even got to run through the show in the space. We loaded in the day of, did a cue to cue, and then they let in several hundred important people.  But we knew it was going to be like that, and I think we were all mentally prepared. I watched the Tyson documentary a few nights before and I took great inspiration from that.  I didn't have sex that morning, then worked myself into a frenzy before the show, and went out there prepared to bite ears off! 

Q:  Are there any other performances of it coming up or of your band?

A:  There continue to be interested parties in JOLLYSHIP, but as usual, it's a matter of financing that will determine where we go next.  I don't think we'll play out as just a band anymore. After our Ars Nova run, we did a few shows just as a band, and I felt like people were disappointed, because they wanted the whole extraganza. Fair enough... We'll only do the full version of the show from now on, if we're able.  We're trying to get over to Europe this summer. 

Q:  What else are you working on?

A:  I have a commission from Center Theater Group for a new musical called HOMUNCULUS, which is a fake German folktale about an innkeeper who makes a little man from the notes of an alchemist who dies in this lodge.  Everybody is incredibly awful to the little man; they make him fight chickens and sneak into ladies' homes to spy on them, and then he grows up with serious...issues. I've just started writing it, but I'm imagining it like Pinnochio, as told by Bukowski or Kroetz. Dave Malloy is doing the music and Sam Gold is directing.

Q:  You're at Juilliard right now.  Who are the other playwrights there at the moment?

A:  My esteemed colleagues include: Fernanda Coppel, Fia Alvarez, Greg Keller, Andrea Ciannavei, Joshua Allen, Molly Smith Metzler and Jon Caren. We all go sledding together every Sunday.  They're all great writers. 

Q:  Tell me, if you will, a story from your childhood that explains who you are as a writer or as a person.

A:  Okay well I grew up in Alaska, and when I moved to New York I realized I wasn't nearly Alaskan enough.  I mean, people seemed interested in my being from such an exotic place, but I didn't have very many experiences climbing mountains and fighting bears and whatnot.  I hadn't even seen very much of the state. So when I went home for the summer, I decided I wanted to stock up on Alaskan experiences.  This ended up meaning taking a bus to Fairbanks by myself, then hitchhiking to a random mountain I found on a map in the Park and Game office.  I had wanted to go with friends, but couldn't find any who didn't have to work, or who weren't more interested in hanging out in Anchorage smoking pot.  The first 3 guys who picked me up asked me to show them my gun before getting in the car.  I didn't have one.  They did, every single one.  They all wanted to show me their guns.  One of them even stopped the car in the middle of nowhere so he could shoot off a few rounds.  He told me it would be "short and sweet" so I assumed there was a chance I was about to be murdered, but he only sprayed a bunch of bullets into the trees, with a machine gun, and I was grateful, because that was actually pretty exciting.  I can't remember his name, but he said he was in Vietnam, and that he ate porcupines.  Anyhow, eventually I went so far north that I couldn't really hitchhike anymore, because there were no cars passing, which is when I realized how stupid my whole idea had been.  The Vietnam guy let me off at some kind of trailhead, and I pitched my tent for the night, planning to hike in the next morning.  It doesn't get dark in the summer in Alaska, so I spent most of the night staring at the silhouettes of 2 million mosquitos trying to stick me through the walls of the tent.  And the sound of them!  My god, it was deafening!  In the morning, I walked about 100 yards and then freaked out. I ran back to the road where the Vietnam guy was waiting in his truck to take me back to Fairbanks (he must have had a good read on me).

So, I think that was supposed to be my rite of passage into manhood, and I failed it.  So now I remain eternally youthful, immature, and fancy free.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  Right now I'm trying to see as much as possible of the Under the Radar shows, and I'm having a great time.   I loved "L'Effet de Serge" and "Once and For All We're Going to Tell You Who We Are... (the thing with the Belgian teenagers).  Both of these shows are really smart without being pretentious.  They are humble, and they express joy, in a way you can only really appreciate as a live experience. I try to see all kinds of things, but I try to get recommendations first, before seeing things with pretentious sounding titles.  I'm a little scared of titles with parentheses and slashes in them. I think seeing a bad play is about the worst bad art experience you can have, because you're stuck in it, and in most cases, you paid a lot to be there, too. Seeing bad self-indulgent experimental theater is a whole another level of awful - its total torture.  But anything that I leave feeling it could have gone on longer...I think is brilliant.  And I saw "Gatz" in Portland which was at least 6 hours long, and that was one of the most amazing things ever.

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

A:  Do a lot of different things, work in a lot of different fields.  Don't just write; act, and direct and play the ukulele. All those things reinforce each other, and they get you out in the world where real things actually happen (off the laptop, out of your head).  Most importantly, don't just wait around for someone to do your play.  Why would anyone want to do that?  You're the one who wants your play done, so you go do it!  You can fail as many times as you want while nobody cares. Do so. Those pie in the sky mythical producers aren't going to help you with your play until it's already a proven commodity (or you are).   Make plays to entertain yourself and your friends, and if you keep doing it (like if you keep doing anything long enough) you will develop, and you will wake up one day and realize you have a THING...a THING you do which is your own, that you do really well.  Don't be ashamed by that thing, just keep developing it until its too huge and awesome to be ignored, even by the square old people we all so desperately want to impress, so we get a BIG SHOW produced somewhere. 

Q:  Any plugs?

A:   "STRAIGHT UP VAMPIRE: The History of Vampires in Colonial Pennsylvania as Performed to the Music of Paula Abdul" is performing 2 shows at Joe's Pub on February 10 and 11th. This is a co-written show, with serious copyright issues, so was never meant to be more than a one-off lark.  We've brought it back at least once a year for over 3 years because people like it so much, and its so easy to stage.  A great, fun, totally retarded ("but surprisingly intricate" - the New Yorker) play for Valentine's Day.  The great Corn Mo plays Benjamin Franklin. 

Also, the JOLLYSHIP CD "It's Not the Moon's Fault" is finally finished and available for purchase through paypal (  It will be on Itunes in a few weeks...

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