Tuesday, February 09, 2010

I Interview Playwrights Part 117: Daniel Reitz



Daniel Reitz

Hometown: Upstate New York.

Current Town: New York City.

Q: Tell me about the play you have going up at Jimmys No. 43.

A: It's a one-man piece called Afterclap -- the title refers to the unexpected fallout that happens after an affair. It's a site-specific piece, and the third site-specific play I've done in this space in collaboration with director Daniel Talbott and produced by our company, Rising Phoenix Repertory. It was written for actor Haskell King. It's about a man, a writer, who wakes up naked at 4 a.m. on the floor of a back room of a bar where he works as a bartender. Working through the fog of alcohol and pills, he hashes his way through the circumstances that's brought him to this state. He's a kind of young-man Krapp, and the play is about, among other things, the question of culpability -- when are we directly and indirectly responsible for the things that happen to others, what is it about our nature and behavior that sets off an irrevocable chain of events? How much do we even want to prevent these things from happening, if it means denying ourselves what we want? And is the torture we feel later worth it?

Q: What else are you working on?

A: A screenplay, a couple still-to-be finished plays. Things one should never discuss in depth when they're still be worked on.

Q: I actually don't think I've asked anyone yet about New Dramatists. Can you talk a little about what they do and what it's like to be a playwright in residence there?

A: New Dramatists is a true haven, a safe house in a lousy world for playwrights. Apparently, playwrights whine too much, or so I read recently somewhere, so I'll skip the "lousy world for playwrights" stuff, as any playwright knows exactly what I'm talking about, anyway. But the existence of New Dramatists is a buffer against the abuse, the disinterest, the dismissiveness of producers, agents, all kinds of professionals for whom the interests and desires of playwrights are not a first priority. New Dramatists is a community of very talented, disparate, driven writers who come together to share, inspire, share booze and food, and occasionally get into fights. It's a place where you can do readings and workshops anytime you want, under any circumstances you choose; a place where you can live if you need or want to (temporarily); where you sometimes even get paid to develop your work and where you can work with whomever you choose, not who's chosen for you. And it's a building full of the most loving, caring staff any organization could ever claim to have. I'm not a hyperbolic person; when I say these people are loving, I mean it.

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

A: That's a good, hard question. So much stems from childhood, right? I honestly can't think of any one thing that's not too personal or intimate. Your entire childhood informs you -- where you grew up, who your parents were, what economic background you came from. Sexuality. All that.

Q: What kind of theater excites you?

A: Theatre that's not banal, not like tv or the movies, that's not written by committee or feels like it has, that's honest and takes real risks without being concerned with being "perfect," "finished," or "polished." Theatre where the writer, the actors and the director are fearless, but fearless along with possessing technique and intelligence. Theatre that employs wry, sharp, non-clichéd language. That jolts us and makes us feel acutely aware of being alive in this world, even if that's a deeply discomforting feeling, because theatre isn't necessarily supposed to make you feel pleased with yourself or happy to be alive. We don't ask that or expect that from the visual arts, from literature, from music. We often look to those art forms to elevate us, to tell us something. Why do we continually demand less from theatre?

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

A: Read and copy who you love, and eventually you will see what draws you to that person and what you have in common, and you will find your own voice -- slowly -- and then you will write for yourself. Always steal from the best, certainly from those who are better and smarter and have lived longer than you. Don't be disheartened by the lousy world that playwrights have to live in, because it is lousy -- unless you're lucky. Know that saying “no” can be a positive thing, and it won't lead to the end of everything. Stand up for yourself, because more people than you realize will try to disenfranchise you, whether or not they even mean to do it. Always proceed with a healthy spleen and very good humor. And remember that with no playwrights there would be no theatre, and no theatre business.

Q: Plugs, please:

A: Afterclap. It's a 40-minute piece about a man in misery. As Beckett said, nothing's funnier than that.


Check out Daniel's interview at the Clyde Fitch Report

1 comment:

Malachy Walsh said...

What a great description of New Dramatists.

And I like what he says what he finds exciting in theatre....

Great to meet Daniel. Thanks.