Saturday, May 01, 2010

I Interview Playwrights Part 161: Christopher Chen




Christopher Chen

Hometown: San Francisco

Current Town: San Francisco

Q:  What are you working on now?

A:  A big surrealist epic about a group of theater artists working on a play about Mao Tse-Tung. I know, the play-within-a-play thing has been done to death, but I think I have a unique spin on it. I hope to make this an Asian Marat/Sade.

Q:  You're a Resident Playwright at the Playwright's Foundation. Can you tell me what that's like?
A:  It’s really great. I’m really inspired by this diverse and brilliant group. I am inspired by their writing and feedback, and we also give each other practical support, like keeping each other on top of deadlines, etc. So it’s a really nurturing environment- a refuge from the normally heartless, competitive, cut-throat, dog-eat-dog, uber-capitalist world of playwriting.

Q:  If I came to SF tomorrow, what plays or theaters would you suggest i check out?

A:  Marcus Gardley’s Jesus Moonwalks the Mississippi was amazing. It was Shakespearean. But I think it just closed. Anything by Cutting Ball Theater, Crowded Fire, and Berkeley Rep.

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 a child, I would put on extravagant puppet shows for my parents, and also write short stories that always ended with someone dying. I definitely have not grown past these impulses. All of my plays seem to be spectacles of mortality.

Q:  If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?
A:  I would want lots more money pumped into it. Yes, there is the magic of the homegrown, but if you look at what someone like Robert LePage can do with a large budget, then you realize that infinite resources sometimes does mean infinite innovation.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  I am always excited by theater that experiments with new ways of exploring the subconscious. If a writer has to invent new forms of language to get at more hidden parts of the psyche, or if a director needs to have actors move slowly in meditative silence for 5 unbroken minutes in order to put the audience in a trance-like, vulnerable state that unlocks hidden nostalgic emotions, then I’m all for that. I think theater has the unique potential of truly displacing people from their normal ways of thinking and feeling, so I’m always inspired by theater artists who have that as their goal.

Q:  What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
A:  I think the trick is to commit fully and rigorously to your instincts. If you have a wisp of a creative idea you think might be cool, run with it to the finish line before you get a lot of feedback and other ideas muddying the waters. I think you’ll find the more you trust in yourself, and really take yourself seriously, the more rewards you will reap.

Q:  Plugs, please:
A:  I was just in New York and saw the Marina Abramovic exhibit at the MOMA. If her work doesn’t qualify as theater, I don’t know what does. Incredibly powerful and incredibly transcendental. I also saw the Big Art Group there, a group that fellow playwright Mr. Enrique Urueta enthusiastically introduced me to some time ago. They seem to travel a lot, so I urge anyone who has a chance to catch their brilliant insanity to do so.

4 comments:

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