Friday, February 12, 2010

I Interview Playwrights Part 120: Stanton Wood


Stanton Wood

Hometown:  Southern California

Current Town:  Brooklyn, NY

Q:  Tell me about these one person shows you wrote for library tours. What are they about and how did you come to write them? Where can I go to see them?

A:  I’ve written three shows specifically for Urban Stages on Tour, which is a program that tours small-cast plays and arts-in-education projects throughout the New York City public library system (New York Public Library, Brooklyn Public Library, and Queens Public Library). At the Pole is about the discovery of the North Pole; Gates of Equality is about Martin Luther King; The Silkie is a collaboration with director Jon Levin that uses shadow and hand puppets and live music to tell a modern Brooklyn version of the Celtic legend about the sea people – seals who can shed their skin and walk around as people. The first two are monologue plays, and The Silkie is basically a story theatre piece with two actors and a violinist. Each show is about 30-40 minutes long and has to be simple and self-composed in its theatricality. It has to be transportable on the subway or a car, and the spaces radically vary – some performances are basically in a corner of the stacks, while some libraries actually have theatres with stages, and an audience can number anywhere from 9 to 130.

I ended up writing these because of my ongoing relationship with the company. Urban Stages produced several of my plays for young audiences on their main stage. One of those plays, my adaptation of The Snow Queen, had already toured the libraries as a staged reading, so I was familiar with the program and a natural fit when they decided to commission new work. You can find dates/times/locations on the web sites of the specific library systems (Queens: http://www.queenslibrary.org

Brooklyn: http://www.brooklynpubliclibrary.org


and New York: http://www.nypl.org

I try to keep a list on my web site (http://www.stantonwood.com ), and Urban Stages also keeps a list. I’m very fond of these projects. They probably have a truer cultural impact on my community than anything else I do.

Q:  What else are you working on?

A:  I’m working on an adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein for director Edward Elefterion and Rabbit Hole Ensemble, where I’m a resident artist. This is my third adaptation for them – I did a version of Dracula (The Night of Nosferatu) and last summer a version of Voltaire’s Candide (Candide Americana). My goal is to have half the audience running out screaming and waving their arms in the air and the other half quietly rushing home to clone their cousin. I’m not even sure I’m kidding about that. It’s a great story, and I’m excited to put my own spin on it.

I’m also developing a play with director Matt Morrow called An Apology for the Life of Leni Reifenstahl. That’s a multimedia project that explores the life of “Hitler’s film maker” - as an artist, as a fascist propagandist, her political identity, her relationship with Hitler, her claims of art for art’s sake, and her relentless quest to define her own identity, often in contrast to reality. The woman is grotesquely fascinating, and working on this play is like staring at a really strange half-dead bug on my kitchen floor.

I’m also working on a novel, and a play for young audiences, and I have a monologue play I’m trying to put together. I also have this interactive narrative fairy tale annotation project I’ve been desperately wanting to do, and I’d also really like to do some radio drama in podcast form or as performance art.

Q:  Tell me about the Garden Project.

A:  I like to do little side projects that force me to think differently and collaborate with other types of artists, and I’d been doodling with the idea of doing a blog, but I didn’t want to do a real theatre blog because I’m too obsessive and passionate and would spend the entire day crafting complex manifestos that I would then eventually delete before posting.

So I opted for a fake blog, instead. I asked Chris Bonnell, who’s a visual artist and illustrator, if he’d be interested in collaborating, and we cooked up this project called The Unbelievably Strange Wildlife Garden(which you can access from my web site if you’re interested). With absolutely no guidance from me, Chris draws an unbelievably strange creature (quite literally), and then I take his illustration and name it and write up a description of it in a phony Wikipedia style, fictionally integrating it into history, culture, literature, art, the movies, etc. We’re not trying to fool anybody really, it’s more like documenting a completely parallel universe all our own. In addition to the blog posts, sometimes we’ll bring the blog into the “real world” through flyers and leaflets, like when we posted flyers in Park Slope asking people to help us find Gurgles, our missing pet Abyssinian Leaf Sneezer. I also came across these hilarious mid-20th Century black and white photos of the Iowa State Fair a while ago, so they became my vacation photos from a recent trip to a phony European country, which I also documented in the Garden. It’s completely silly, but what the heck. I just hope some Middle School student is not plagiarizing a homework assignment using a description of the Hump Backed Arctic Snake Dog:



Q:  What is it like creating characters in the gaming industry?

A:  It varies by game and genre, of course, and the level of involvement of the writer in the design process. Sometimes writers are brought in at the tail end to buff up the dialogue and create more interesting personalities for minor characters. At the other extreme, you’re involved in the design process, in which case you have the opportunity to make character choices that actually contribute to the gameplay and story.

Part of narrative game design is giving players meaningful choices, so that means that secondary characters you create have to respond dynamically to those decisions. It becomes more like contributing characters and dialogue to a play where you don’t have complete control over the main character, a dramatic story universe. What choices you allow the player, and how the characters respond to those choices in the context of their own goals, becomes part of the writing process.

For instance, some games feature traveling companions with whom you build relationships - as a player, over the course of the game you can make game decisions and dialogue choices that can either piss them off to the point where they abandon you, or make them fall in love with you. Crafting that dynamic universe of character, story, behavior and dialogue - that potentiality - is what’s exciting. You have a lot more control over the whole character because you deal with many more possibilities, but you have less control over how a player/audience experiences that character because they basically choose the content. It’s interesting, because theatre artists seem to be increasingly experimenting with theatrical experiences that respond dynamically to audience input in a meaningful way. We’re all going to be writing for the holodeck eventually.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  I like story, and strong characters, and physicality. I like to enter a world and be transported, but I also like when the show is intensely and passionately relevant to the community. I love it when the audience is acknowledged, even if it’s not breaking the fourth wall, but where we’re included, where there’s generosity. I like to see physicality, actors using their whole body, not just their head and their hands, where a universe can be sketched with a specific gesture or bodies moving in space. I enjoy when I have to engage imaginatively with a piece - when there’s puppets, or music, or actors playing many roles, or the performance invites me to use my imagination. I love it when a show uses the whole space, when actors get on the ground or fly around in the sky. I love great writing, great insight, great ideas that haunt me after the show is over - meaningful experiences, where a writer dug deep, was brave, experimented, and where a director and actors made bold, confident choices.

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

A:  Plastics. No, but seriously: Diversify. Even successful playwrights augment their income by other kinds of writing and by teaching.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  Well, Rabbit Hole Ensemble will be producing my version of Frankenstein (as yet no title) in October in Manhattan. I’m doing a workshop of my play Ramona’s Kidnapper in late May at Urban Stages, which theoretically culminates in a staged reading. Gates of Equality, At the Pole, and The Silkie are touring the New York City libraries this spring. Also, something I’m very excited about, the New York Public Library is doing a 250th anniversary celebration of Voltaire’s Candide, and they’ve asked the Candide Americana team to be involved. I’m annotating an online version of the book (Chapters 3 and 20), and director Edward Eleferion and I and the cast will be blogging. The public will be able to add content also, I believe. It’s basically designed to be a big group dialogue and celebration of a great book, and I can’t wait to see how it plays out. Part of it is live already, although perhaps not the part I’ve contributed to. But don’t let that stop you. I’m not sure, but I believe the address is http://candide.nypl.org