Mar 13, 2010
I Interview Playwrights Part 129: Richard Martin Hirsch
Richard Martin Hirsch
Hometown: Pacific Palisades, California
Current Town: Pacific Palisades, California
Q: You just won the Stanley award. Can you tell me about that?
A: A pleasing, gratifying, surprising turn of events to be sure! I had submitted to the competition several times before and once was a Semi-Finalist, but did not remotely expect to win. The play, The Restoration of Sight, is something I’ve been working on for several years. It is about a real, living person, World-renown ophthalmologist Doctor Perry Rosenthal…which is a major departure for me and difficult as hell to write, because fictional theatrics needed to be kept to a minimum. But well worth the effort. Doctor Rosenthal has developed a very special kind of contact lens that works miracles on some patients suffering from certain kinds of cornea-related disease. I spent many hours during a number of trips to his clinic in Boston and found a huge reservoir of emotion and drama to draw from, as patients who were in some cases blind and/or in excrutiating pain for decades, were instantly relieved of their pain and able to see.
Getting back to the Stanley Drama Award itself…I am preparing now to leave for New York and the presentaion at the Players Club in Grammercy Park on March 15. The award is given out yearly by the theatre department of Wagner College. Once you have won it, you may not enter the competition again. If one looks at the history of the award, some very heavy hitters have won it in the past. I am definitely humbled and, as I said, gratified, because I do work very hard at the craft and am constantly trying to do better. I am also pleased to be able to say I know three of the previous winners. I just chatted with Josh Greenfeld last night at a reading. And I recently saw Ann Noble’s new play, Sidhe, which was superbly directed by Darin Anthony, who will also be directing my play London’s Scars in May. And I also have become friends with Mary Fengar Gail, another former Stanley Award winner who has been super supportive of my work.
Q: What else are you working on?
A: The shorter answer is what else I’m NOT working on! :- )) I have four or five plays that are approaching stage-worthiness and that I hope to see produced in the near future. All of them require further tweaking and feedback, but they are getting close. Those are: Apogee + 26; The Restoration of Sight; Memorizing Rome; Beach in Winter; and House of Stone.
I am also working very hard on a new play – essentially a one-woman show – for brilliant actress Salli Saffioti, who has acted in several of my plays and who has a GREAT story to tell about being raised on a public bus. (Salli can be seen briefly in a scene with Nicole Kidman in The Rabbit Hole and on an upcoming episode of In Plain Sight).
And I have three or four plays that have had very successful first productions that I’d love to see produced again, especially in New York.
Q: Tell me, if you will, a story from your childhood that explains who you are as a writer or as a person.
A: I think, in some ways, the best illustration of who I am and how I came to be a writer is encapsulated in my new play, Apogee + 26, even though it is a work of fiction, wink, wink. Apart from that, I can’t think of a specific story at the moment. Suffice to say I was a lover of sports, but not a great athlete; a lover of stories and especially humor, but not at all articulate or outgoing; a lover of music, but not a musician or singer; a lover of women, but not particularly attractive. Probably because of all those things, I ended up being very shy and spending a lot of time inside my own head. But for my troubles, I was blessed in that I became quite adept at objectively observing the behavior of others, along with developing a pretty good ear for dialogue, if I do say so myself.
Q: What is the purpose of theater?
A: To entertain and/or stimluate thought, always. To inform, sometimes. But more specifically, to display and evoke emotion -- in one form or another -- in all those attending the event.
Q: What kind of theater excites you?
A: All kinds if it’s well-done and fresh. I love drama and comedy equally. Musicals if, well, the music is good. Though I seem to learn something from everything I see. But I am most thrilled by theatre that somehow manages to create an emotional response in me; theatre that presents material with which I can relate and identify. Though there are many fine upcoming writers who are endlessly innovative and clever, very few really impress me because they either don’t have the emtional history to draw from, or because they simply aren’t willing to go to that place in their gut to explore what is truly important to them. I may listen and laugh with/at their characters, but I seldom care about those characters. This is where an MFA or even PHD in theatre or playwriting can’t help. It’s more of a act of will and sometimes great courage that I’m not sure can even be taught.
Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
A: Don’t fall in love with your words. If you have a growth in your body that is impacting the health of your body, you have it removed. Likewise, if you have a piece of writing that is hurting the health of your play, it needs to be removed -- no matter how precious it might be to you.
Don’t take constructive criticism personally.
Don’t edit yourself on your first draft. Don’t NOT edit yourself on all the other drafts (and there should be many – this is not a weakness, it’s just part of the process).
Write from your gut! Most playwrights write from some combination of three sources: the head, the heart, and the genitals. The great ones write from one or more of those, but also from the gut. If it don’t matter to you, it ain’t gonna matter to your audience.
Most of all, don’t give up …unless you find something you are far more passionate about. Then, don’t give up on that.
Q: Plugs, please:
A: If you are in Los Angeles from May 15 through June 27, please come see my play, London’s Scars, at the Odyssey Theatre in WLA. I’m quite proud of it and it definitely represents the power of editing and developing a play based on learned feedback. And on April 24, the Stanley Drama Award winner, The Restoration of Sight, will have a staged reading at the Long Beach Playhouse, in Long Beach, California.