Monday, February 08, 2010

I Interview Playwrights Part 116: Alan Berks





Alan Berks

Hometown: Chicago, Illinois

Current Town: Minneapolis, MN

Q:  Tell me about Music Lovers coming up in March.

A:  It's a love-triangle, romantic comedy thing about two musicians and a record executive, and the Workhaus Collective is producing at the Playwrights Center in March. I get to direct it too with an incredible cast and a set that will transform the rectangle that is the theater into a bar/coffee shop/art gallery/stage. I'm very excited. Come see it.

Q:  What else are you working on?

A:  I started writing a novel. Seriously. (I think you and I had a conversation about novels when you were in Minnesota. Branching out.) I just felt like I wanted to deal with a wider range of subjects, more characters, bigger picture, and – as we all pretty much know – considering the economics of theater – you can't do that in theater.

Q:  Tell me about Minnesota Playlist.

A:  MinnesotaPlaylist.com is the website that my wife, Leah Cooper, and a friend, Matthew Foster, started in October of 2008 to fill the void in the Twin Cities for a more comprehensive source for information on Twin Cities performing arts. For such a large cultural scene, we thought there should be a trade publication of some kind. Also, we thought it would be fun. Sometimes, it's fun. Sometimes, it's a lot more work than we bargained for. But we're a central source for audition notices and a comprehensive performance calendar. We aggregate all the critic's reviews on the site and also provide a searchable database of talent in the Twin Cities. We also do monthly issues on various topics in the performing arts and get artists and arts journalists to write thought-provoking, or how-to, or memoir essays over the course of the month. . . What does it say that I can write more about this publication than I can about the show I'm so excited to be doing in March? It frightens me a little.

Q:  If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?

A:  I would actually fire every Artistic Director at every non-profit regional theater across the country, whether they were thought to be doing a good job or not, and replace them with someone fifteen years younger who has been running a completely independent but successful small theater in the same town.

Why the hell not? People keep talking about theater dying; maybe it's because theater leaders have bad taste, or are too set in their ways, or too isolated, or something. Seems to me we should do something more dramatic than have another conference about how we can improve our social networking marketing. Let's change something real and dramatic, something about the content that gets produced. In a way, I don't care what one thing it is as long as it's big.

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

A:  This is a great question. I think that if this were the question on grant applications that I was asked – instead of the describe-your-vision-as-an-artist question (Answer: depends on the time of day. . . ) – I might get more grants. . . And yet, now that I sit down to write about it, I go blank. . .

Here's one: The first script I ever wrote was a three-part sketch for the variety show in my high school. It was a parody of old-fashioned noir films, working on which I met the guy who would quickly become my best friend. Then, on opening night, I stepped out on stage in a trench-coat with a bubble gum cigarette dangling from my mouth and a fedora on my head and before I even opened my mouth to speak I heard a girl in the front row say, "He's cute." Then I started the monologue, and everyone started laughing, and kept laughing at all the right places. . . I think theater people are sometimes idealists because sometimes life in the theater is ideal.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  I like anything that is done well in any style on any subject though generally I enjoy active stories about adult people who actually do stuff in the world more than I like miniscule psychological analysis about people overwhelmed by their lives or archetypal abstraction that aren't about people at all. I like both language and very physical styles of theater. I like dance a lot these days. I like when theater makers remember that the theater is three-dimensional, that actors have bodies, and people – even in script-based plays - communicate with more than their tongues, teeth, and the location of their feet in relation to the fourth wall.

I get excited by plays where the playwright thinks that people other than him or herself are dumb, by plays that substitute clever for compassionate, or think that compassion is actually discovering that other people actually exist and they suffer. But that's a negative kind of excitement.

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

A:  I'd like to say, don't do it, but that's clearly not going to stop anyone really. Instead, I'd say that you shouldn't expect to make a living at it, and you should see that as allowing you the freedom to make the kind of theater you really like rather than the kind of theater that other people tell you is supposedly more commercially viable. No one, even the big regional theaters, is making commercially viable theater, so fuck 'em. There's always a bunch of serious or committed other theater artists to collaborate with. Find them and do what you want. . . Unless you're into musical theater. Then I don't know what you should do. Your theater is apparently commercially viable.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  Looks like a play I wrote a few years back called "Almost Exactly Like Us" will be produced by an off-off Broadway theater company called Theater of the Expendable. I wrote it for a theater company in the Twin Cities called Gremlin Theater, and it came in wild and woolly and just barely in time for opening, so I'm happy that I'll get another chance to see it done. I actually became pretty proud of it in the end. (That's a plug for Gremlin Theater too.)

A bunch of Workhaus playwrights are doing a show at the Humana Festival this year with Dominique Serrand, formerly of Theatre de la Jeune Lune. I'm happy to plug them. They're friends.

Send us topic suggestions for MinnesotaPlaylist.com. That's also a plug.

if you're in Minnesota for the Fringe Festival in August, I'll probably be doing an ensemble-created, site-specific piece called "Ringtone." Come check that out.

1 comment:

sonyaberlovitz said...

Younger artistic directors or different? I know many good artists in the AARP crowd.:)