May 4, 2010
I Interview Playwrights Part 163: David Caudle
photo by Laura Marie Duncan of LMD Photography
Hometown: Miami, FL
Current Town: New York, NY
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I'm working on a new comedy about the world of Yoga called DOWNWARD FACING DEBBIE, commissioned by Outcast Productions. I'm also really close to completion of a screenplay adapted from the book, MAJOR CONFLICT, by retired US Army Major Jeffrey McGowan. It's a great story, honestly told, about a gay officer's experiences in the military before and during Don't Ask Don't Tell.
Q: You have an MFA in set design and set painting is your day job. How does your
design work inform your playwriting and vice-versa?
A: I automatically think of the setting as virtually another character. In THE SUNKEN LIVING ROOM, the set is the title character. Hopefully, being so sensitive to the physical world of the play helps me specify the mood and deepen the content of a piece. Technical knowledge gives me the confidence to commit to a setting, already knowing at least one way to achieve it. In production, I don't step on the designer's toes, though. I love seeing their interpretations of the world. Only on a couple of occasions I gave a tiny note to the director about a visual cue that might be misleading. By the way I also painted the costumes for all the shows at Lincoln Center for the last six years. I distressed the peasants on the Coast of Utopia, rusted armor for Henry V, sweatied up the Seabees in South Pacific, and most recently mucked up the Scottsboro Boys. It's great being able to support my writing with another art form I love. You can see some of my set designs and paintings on my website. www.davidcaudle.org
Q: Are there any themes you tend to explore over and over?
A: For me, it's almost always about human connection. Our impact on one another and the earth by virtue of our existence. One thing I've felt strongly about is telling the stories of gay characters whose sexuality is incidental to the conflict. I guess it's a newly-identified trend, but I've been putting gay characters in universal situations since I started writing plays. SUNKEN's main character is a gay teen who on this particular night is dealing with his older brother's drug-induced melt-down after his girlfriend's abortion. VISITING HOURS is about a longtime Lesbian couple whose adult son is in trouble with the law. They're parents, going through a nightmare all parents dread. They make mistakes, blame themselves and one another, but try desperately to hold their family together. They're not exemplary in a way that paints an unrealistically rosy picture of a gay family to a doubting straight world. VISITING HOURS was a finalist at Premiere Stages last year. I hope somebody picks it up, I feel it's a story that anyone can really take in. The hope isn't necessarily in the outcome, but in the compassion the audience would feel for the family.
Q: Who are or were your theatrical heroes?
A: Tennessee Williams is up there. And Oscar Wilde. And the late great Jose Quintero. I acted in a scene from Equus in a directing workshop he led at FSU. I played Alan. Jose assumed the role of the horse to coax some semblance of a performance out of me. He'd had a tracheotomy due to cancer, so he spoke utterly monotone, through a voice box held to his throat. But he was so brilliantly expressive, that I remember his words full of intonation and power. It was the only time I think I really was an actor. The world premiere of SUNKEN introduced me to a few personal heroes. Ryan Rilette had cast the premiere at Southern Rep in New Orleans when he was a/d there. Then Katrina hit. The production was cancelled, but Rem Cabrera, in Miami's Bureau of Cultural Affairs, contacted the a/d at the time of New Theatre, Rafael de Acha. He gave the show a slot in New Theatre's season. Ryan went down to my hometown to direct the show, then worked tirelessly to get Southern Rep back up and running, then brought the show to New Orleans nine months later. And his wife Christy had adorable twin girls opening weekend. That was amazing. Another hero would be Ricky J. Martinez at New Theatre, who succeeded Rafael, and produced and directed two other of my plays, LIKENESS and IN DEVELOPMENT. Ricky has kept up New Theatre's mission to produce world premieres of sometimes unknown writers despite the abysmal economy. The New Harmony Project, Sewanee Writers' Conference and Primary Stages' Dorothy Strelsin New American Writers' Group are heroes. Their support has kept me going and growing in my voice and career in a field that can sometimes feel really lonely. Gary Garrison of the Dramatists Guild is a dear friend and a personal hero, for his fierce honesty and generosity of spirit.
Q: What kind of theater excites you?
A: Theater that surprises me, that gives the audience work to do, that lets us live in the world onstage and feel the characters' heartbeats. Theater that doesn't assume everyone has a short attention span. Theater I can't stop thinking about. Theater that makes me feel like a total schlub. I know that sounds general but any genre of theatre can achieve those things.
Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
A: There's no one path. Find people who believe in your voice and take all the help you're offered. Take praise and criticism both with a grain of salt. I've heard people say we shouldn't be too grateful, but I don't know why not. I guess, also, get into a good grad school if you can. My play IN DEVELOPMENT is a dark comic ghost story set at a playwright's conference for young hopefuls being mentored by a brilliant but eccentric playwriting legend. It explores a lot of the ideas everyone's talking about these days, about development and nurturing of new plays and new writers, and which writers are nurtured and why. It's like a dramatized nightmare version of Todd London's book Outrageous Fortune. The play might seem fairly cynical but the common link between all the characters is a real passion for playwriting and love of the audience. And the mentor gives some great craft lectures. I'd advise newer playwrights to keep their passion alive and their wits about them.
Q: Plugs, please:
A: THE SECOND HOUSE is coming up this summer in FringeNYC, directed by Michelle Bossy (Assoc. Artistic Director of Primary Stages); THE SUNKEN LIVING ROOM (Samuel French) will be presented in the HOWL! Festival in September, directed by a terrific Italian director, Enrico LaManna. If all goes well, he'll be taking the play to Rome, in Italian afterward. Samuel French and Smith & Kraus both recently published monologues from the play as well. This will be the first performance of SUNKEN in NYC, though it has been a Play of the Week at the Drama Bookshop. The talented Toybox Theatre Company is planning a production of THE SHORT FALL in Spring 2011. And anyone who's curious can read THE COMMON SWALLOW in the online literary journal, Blackbird. http://www.blackbird.vcu.edu/v8n2/