Monday, April 12, 2010
I Interview Playwrights Part 144: Aaron Carter
Hometown: Bowling Green, OH
Current Town: Chicago
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I'm working on the second draft of my play THE BOOK OF ASTAROTH. It's about a young mixed-race kid obsessed with a graphic novel called, yep, The Book of Astaroth. In the play, he tells the story of how he meets the author the the novel. In the process, he reveals the story of his parents divorce and the roles that race and religion play in his life.
I've also started research for a possible new play triggered by reading about the recent cancer cluster at The Acerage. I think it will be about the intersection of private enterprise and government. We'll see.
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 remember the first Christmas after my parents divorce. My father had bought us three kids matching bikes. This was a very expensive thing for him to do - our family income had suddenly been split into two single incomes, and my dad faced periodic layoffs at the factory. The only problem? None of us really wanted bikes. But I remember running interference with my brother and sister and making sure that we acted like it was the best Christmas ever. That it was perfect and was exactly what my father had hoped/planned it would be.
That role as mediator --whether it be between my siblings and my parents, between my black heritage and my white heritage, between religion and the secular-- and the need for a mediator to be able to access other points of view... that is at the heart of my playwriting.
Q: If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?
A: Well, if I could magically move us closer to the center of the cultural conversation, I would. I don't necessarily want to be as central as television or pop music. There's some freedom in operating at the fringes. But if theater was considered more of a vital part of how we as a culture figure out who we are and what we do, that'd be exciting. Somehow related is my desire to overcome that part of theater's self image that can confuse political speech with political action. Maybe if we were actually closer to being a vital part of the cultural conversation we wouldn't feel the need to make grand statements about how theater can foment revolution. Don't get me wrong: I love politically engaged theater. I just think if we're serious about change, our work starts by performing a challenging play, it doesn't end there.
Q: You're the Literary Manager at Victor Gardens which means you probably read a lot of plays. Has the way you write changed since you took on this job? How? What plays have you read recently that you've fallen in love with?
A: Yes, I do read a lot of plays. I think the biggest change to my writing process (besides having far less time to write than I used to) is that I am a lot harder on myself. I have a much clearer sense of what it takes to stand out in the giant stack of slowly churning submissions, and frankly I'm not sure that I've written something yet that reaches that level. I remember the first year on the job, I had the opportunity to revisit a play of mine for a workshop unrelated to VG. When I re-read the play, I had a mind-bending moment when I realized that I would've passed on my own play had it been submitted to me. I didn't make my own cut.
I've recently been quite taken by The Aliens by Annie Baker. I also re-read Evie's Waltz by Carter Lewis and found it even more emotionally penetrating on the second read. And I'm really hoping that Joel Drake Johnson's The Boys Room will be on a Chicago stage soon.
Q: What kind of theater excites you?
A: Visual, theatrical, intelligent and honest theater excites me. I also like theater that complicates or challenges the social-political status quo. I'm talking the status quo of the theater world, by the way. I think far too many of us have a far too low of an opinion about the views of the "masses." And as a result, we create pieces that embody viewpoints that we in theater take for granted and assume that we're "challenging" the "everyday folk." Work that actually reflects the complex and contradictory political and personal lives of working class folk (as opposed to what trust fund kids who have spent their entire lives in unpaid theater internships followed by a funded bohemian lifestyle THINK of working folk) is exciting to me.
The most amazing thing I've seen recently was The Method Gun at Humana. Developed by The Rude Mechanicals, it was a stunning feat of emotional and physical risk. I don't know if there will be other opportunities to see it, but if you get a chance: SEE IT.
Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
A: I'm not sure about self-production (I mean, I think its a great idea but I don't do it myself so I can't very well advise it). At the very least, find good actors you trust to read your work out loud. You've got to hear it a few times before you start submitting it. Target your submissions - be honest about whether or not the work has anything to do with the theater's production history. If you work in theater as your day job, find a way to make non-theater experiences, people and work a part of your life. Stay informed, but don't just hear an NPR story and write a play. (Yes, I'm talking to me there). If you're writing about something outside your experience, do enough research to earn the right to write about it. If you're young and just starting out, do an internship if you can afford one. Its worth noting that a diverse background of non-theatrical experiences always outweights theater experience when it comes to my review of internship applications at VG.
Q: Plugs, please:
A: I wouldn't be a good lit manager if I didn't plug our current show at VG: The Lost Boys of Sudan by Lonnie Carter. Gorgeously realized, a lyrical beat-poet blizzard of language and imagery. Check it out. And if you miss that, up next is the hilarious Jacob and Jack by James Sherman.