May 22, 2010
I Interview Playwrights Part 175: Andrew Rosendorf
Hometown: McLean, VA.
Current Town: West Palm Beach, FL.
Q: Word on the street is you have a play at Florida Stage in the fall. Tell me about that.
A: That street is all about getting the word out. I have to be careful what I tell it.
Last May, Florida Stage commissioned me to examine the water shortage in South Florida. I’m not from Florida so I knew very little about its history. Essentially, I had to go from being an ignorant American to someone who understands the complexity of the political and environmental issues that face Florida, the United States, and the world. The result is Cane – a play that examines how a state that was once drowning in water is now so dry. If I’ve done my job, the issues all take a backseat to a very specific human story i.e. no talking heads. And, I’m using Florida as a microcosm for the issues involving water that are currently facing the world.
Q: What else are you working on?
A: There are a few things I’ve been kicking around at various stages. I’ve worked at a sleep-away summer camp for more than half my life, so I (like many) have a camp play in me. I do feel summer camp has been romanticized while the truth of the situation gets lost. I’m getting close to being finally able to write my version.
I’ve also become fascinated by social media. I’m interested in how it affects the way we now are touching one another. Is it bringing us closer together or actually isolating us further?
Lastly, I’m bandying about a short film that I haven’t found the right way to describe yet. It has to do with how we derive pleasure from pain...I know how that sounds... It scares me...on many levels...why I feel I have to write this...
Q: Tell me, if you will, a story from your childhood that explains who you are as a writer or as a person.
A: Oh man. My childhood. Does that mean I can no longer claim that I’m a child? You know, I’ll share this because I think it is my way of answering this question: I don’t remember much of my childhood. I had thought that this was common for most people, but only within the last five years have I learned that it’s not. I remember images or get flashes of moments when I see something or hear something or smell something that reminds me of a moment, but as quickly as it appeared it disappears. I think this inherently influences – consciously & subconsciously – why writing was the way I had to go.
Q: If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?
A: The worry of producibility. I understand it. I get it. I wish it wasn’t there.
Q: Who are or were your theatrical heroes?
A: This is going to be an uncreative list: Arthur Miller, Eugene Ionesco, Edward Albee, Tennessee Williams, Eugene O’Neill, Samuel Beckett, Sarah Kane, Tony Kushner, Sarah Ruhl, & Aaron Sorkin
Q: What kind of theater excites you?
A: Playwrights that have a handle on their story and find the best theatrical way to tell it. Knowing that the story could be told no other way. That the structure is influenced by the story. And theater that uses everything at its disposal – not for spectacle but because it’s in support of the emotion.
Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
A: Two things. The first is to emotionally risk in your work. When this was first told to me, it seemed as if I was stupid. Why hadn’t I figured that out? The more vulnerable you are in your writing the more it will connect with an audience. The more it will set your writing apart.
The other is not to preplan. Do your character work. Know what you want to explore. Research when you need. Have some plot ideas and signposts. But as soon as you start writing trust the subconscious. Just be there with the characters. Don’t impose or impede them. It’s worrisome, exhilarating, frightening. Inevitably your characters will take over and say something or do something that is a hundred times better than if I had their every moment planned out.
Q: Plugs, please:
A: Jack’s Precious Moment by Sam Hunter which is now being produced through P73. I’ve only just begun to get to know his work and man am I blown away and inspired by what he’s doing. And Janine Nabers. Full disclosure – she and I went to grad school together. She’s sorta been all over the place this year from the Soho Writer/Director Lab to a Dramatists Guild Fellowship to Sundance. Amazing writer...taught me so much. I’m a wee bit in awe, but don’t tell her I said so.