Hometown: A town called Moscow in northern Idaho.
Current Town: New York.
Q: Tell me about the play you have coming up with P73.
A: It’s a play that for a long time was called GOD OF MEAT—now it’s called JACK’S PRECIOUS MOMENT (I seem to frequently do this thing where I have an initial title which is replaced by a better one later on). It was the first play that I wrote during my PONY Fellowship year with the Lark, and I developed it in the Lark Playwrights Workshop and with the Playwrights Foundation in San Francisco. Page 73 eventually got a hold of it, and I got to know them a bit better last summer at their Yale Residency. That’s also where I got to know Kip Fagan, who is directing the show and is one of my new favorite people.
The story centers the family of a man from Idaho who went to Iraq for contract work and ended up being beheaded on video. The play takes place shortly after the release of the video and centers around his fundamentalist Christian family who travel to the Precious Moments Chapel in Missouri to find a solution to their grief.
Q: What else are you up to?
A: I’m just starting rehearsals for my play FIVE GENOCIDES which will be in Clubbed Thumb’s Summerworks Festival, and directed by the amazing and talented Davis McCallum. Also, my play THE WHALE is being workshopped in PlayPenn in July with Hal Brooks at the helm, and I’m working on a commission for Partial Comfort Productions that will be produced in September.
Also, I’m officiating a wedding in July in Idaho for my best friend from high school—my third wedding as an officiant!
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’ll tell three, but I’ll keep them short.
When I was about 12, I was riding my bike home from the video rental store and when I didn’t slow down as I approached a blind alley, I got hit by a pickup. My bike went under the front wheel and I was thrown over the hood and rolled off onto the ground. Moments later, I stood up—not a single scratch on me—and carried my bike and VHS tape home.
Five years later, I had just transferred to a different high school, and one of my first days there I ate a sandwich from a food co-op a few blocks away. I didn’t realize it had a whole bunch of peanut sauce in it. Now, I knew I was allergic to peanuts at the time, but having never had a truly severe reaction to them, I wasn’t as careful as I should have been. I immediately went into anaphylactic shock; my lungs filled up with fluid, and I suffocated. I was entirely purple by the time the ambulance got there. I don’t remember much, but I do remember the moment of letting go—and the moment of being revived thanks to an obscene amount of epinephrine being pumped into my veins. The peanuts eventually worked their way through my system and I got through it, luckily without permanent brain damage.
Five years after that, I was in a refugee camp outside of Hebron working with these guys named Mohammed and Ihab who were part of a theater company there. Around 3 AM, the Israeli Army raided the camp and we all hid. My curiosity got the better of me though, and I went out onto the deck to look. As one of the armored jeeps rode by, there was a huge explosion and I fell down to the floor. I looked up and Mohammed and Ihab were making fun of me, because it was just a sound bomb.
Point is, both in terms of my life and my writing, I often feel very stupid, and very, very lucky.
Q: If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?
A: First and foremost, speaking as someone who shops in the big-and-tall section, the seats are too small. Second, I’d love to see more playwrights-in-residence at theaters in NYC and around the country. There are so many great theaters out there, and so many playwrights in those communities who need artistic homes.
Also: health insurance, please.
Q: What kind of theater excites you?
A: The second I try to identify the kinds of plays that I like and don’t like, I immediately see a play that proves me wrong. Normally I might say that I don’t really care for subtle naturalism, but the brilliance of writers like Emily Schwend and Annie Baker quickly prove me wrong. I think the one thing that is a requirement for me is guts and originality. Guts meaning the willingness to take chances in form and content, and originality meaning offering something more than what I can get for free from a good movie on the Hallmark Channel.
Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
A: Stop it. No, just kidding.
First, business-wise: buy a laser printer. Seriously. The most important thing I ever did when I was just starting out was buy a printer that could handle me printing out the five to ten scripts a week that I was printing out to send to every single developmental and workshop opportunity I was eligible for. My first year at the Iowa Playwrights Workshop, the lovely Sarah Hammond showed me a spreadsheet she had made where she listed all the places she had sent her scripts, and it taught me a valuable lesson. You have to be your own agent. The first few applications and artist statements are going to be incredibly annoying and time-consuming, but it gets easier as you do more and more of them. Back in the day I could throw a full application together in less than 20 minutes. The trick is to send out so many applications that when the rejection letters come, you barely remember submitting and therefore don’t really care.
Second, artsy-wise: be careful about labeling yourself. The moment you decide what kind of writer you are, you limit your writing. Don’t be scared to write the kinds of plays you may think you don’t like.
Q: Plugs, please:
A: Go see Greg Keller’s fantastic play DUTCH MASTERS, produced by Labyrinth at the Cherry Pit. Greg and I were classmates at Juilliard and apart from being a kind and generous guy, he’s a crazy talented writer.
Also, if you find yourself in Connecticut this Summer, go see Molly Smith Metzler’s funny and devastating play CLOSE UP SPACE at the O’Neill.
And some shameless self-serving plugs: Go see my play JACK’S PRECIOUS MOMENT, produced by Page 73 and directed by wonderful Kip Fagan, at 59E59. Performances start May 21st. Also, go see FIVE GENOCIDES, directed by the amazing Davis McCallum, produced as part of Clubbed Thumb’s Summerworks 2010 at the Ohio (perhaps your last chance to see something there), starting June 13th. Also in Summerworks this year: DOT by Kate E. Ryan and THE SMALL by Anne Washburn. Finally, Partial Comfort has commissioned me to write their Season 8 show, which will open in September at the Wild Project.