Apr 7, 2010
I Interview Playwrights Part 141: Courtney Baron
Hometown: Dallas, TX
Current Town: Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, NY
Q: Tell me about the play you're having read at Primary Stages soon.
A: Broken Heart Syndrome. Four years ago, I read an article about this syndrome, essentially it is heart attack symptoms brought on by an extreme stressor, often linked to the death of a loved one. After days of emotional stress and the constant surge of stress-related hormones can impair the heart’s ability to pump. The play is about two characters who experience very different kinds of heart break and their unlikely connection. I am a sucker for a mind/body medical condition.
Q: What else are you up to?
A: I’m working on a couple of screenplays, pitching TV and looking for someone who wants to workshop my play with music (songs by the supremely talented Juliana Nash) about four soldiers on leave from Iraq... Anyone?
Q: Tell me, if you will, a story from your childhood that explains who you are as a writer or as a person.
A: When I was seven or eight, there was a news blitz in Dallas about random kidnappings. I don’t know if there was actually more than one incident, but all over the news were warnings about kids being snatched. I started carrying a steak knife with me when I walked to friends houses in my neighborhood. I would try to conceal the knife up my sleeve and then hide it outside the neighbor kid’s front door before going in. The news mentioned a van, so every time a van would pass by I would immediately walk to the front door of whatever house I was passing along my path. I remember clearly that I wasn’t just afraid of some kind of nonspecific evil, I had created very specific identities for these potential kidnappers. What kind of clothes they wore, what kind of families they came from, why they wanted a kid so badly (I was only 7 or 8 so my reasons were much more about loneliness, than perversion), what they ate for dinner. I had very complete pictures and I think that’s why I was so afraid. They weren’t monsters, they were real people. And now, I think every play I’ve written was born out of reading an article or seeing a news story and then creating these specific profiles of the people who are involved. And certainly this story explains why I write the way I do and also why I can watch marathons of Law and Order: SVU.
Q: If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?
A: I feel like a lot of people I know classify going to theater, going to the movies and watching tv as similar experiences. I wish that people would say: “I have to go to theater because the experience I have in the live theater is unlike any other experience I can have anywhere else and it is exhilarating.” I think about this every time I sit down to write, and while I have far from come up with a way to make the plays I write exclusively theatrical, I think it’s important to keep trying. If people were excited to go and experience a story in a way that was completely different from the way they experience a story when they watch a movie, I think they’d go to the theater more. I also think it needs to be cheaper, but that’s a whole different problem.
Q: What kind of theater excites you?
A: If I cry in the theater, I’m thrilled. And I like to be surprised, whether it is simply about a really believable of a love scene (which I think is one of the hardest things to stage, and I don’t just mean sex) or witnessing some spectacular Robert Wilson’esque stage picture or watching one of Lucy Thurber’s plays and feeling like what is happening on stage is actually dangerous. The surprise of something on stage feeling true or beautiful in a way I never imagined.
Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
A: Read and see as many plays as you can. I’m a little obsessive, so if I find a playwright I like, I read their whole body of work immediately. But I’ll tell you there is something amazing about seeing how a playwright works his craft in different ways from play to play, like reading all of Strindberg or Caryl Churchill or all of Sarah Kane’s plays-- amazing. And you have to be nice to everyone you work with, theater is collaborative, if you can’t play nice: write a novel (although then you have to play nice with your editor, but you get my point.)
Q: Plugs, please:
A: Well, of course, the Primary Stages reading series of course, you can find info about my reading on April 20 at 4p at 59E59 Theaters and the readings of my very talented cohorts: David Caudle, Darren Canady, Tommy Smith, Adam Szymkowicz, Alex Beech and Bekah Brunstetter at www.primarystages.org. Brooke Berman has a memoir coming out called NO PLACE LIKE HOME. I haven’t seen it, but I bet Annie Baker’s new play THE ALIENS at Rattlestick will be great. And I’m pretty excited to see Michael Greif’s production of A WINTER’S TALE this summer in the park.