Tuesday, June 15, 2010
I Interview Playwrights Part 194: Brett Neveu
Hometown: I grew up in Newton, Iowa, but spent most of my adulthood in Chicago.
Current Town: Los Angeles, California
Q: Tell me please about your play coming up at the Royal Court.
A: RED BUD is about a group of forty-somethings on their annual trip to "Red Bud," a championship motocross race. The group has nearly rung their mutual friendship dry and use the overnight camping party to relive past glories, play asinine games and beat the holy hell out of each other. The fly in the ointment (or the catalyst, I suppose) is the eighteen year old "girlfriend" of one of the forty-somethings. So lots of frustration, weirdness and old baggage comes to the surface from the get-go.
Q: What else are you working on?
A: I have a play titled ODRADEK, directed by Dexter Bullard and music by Josh Schmidt, opening with The House Theatre and another play titled DO THE HUSTLE, directed by William Brown, with Writers' Theatre. Both shows open in January. I'm also working on a few TV projects in LA as well as a number of other theatre things in development with places like A Red Orchid Theatre (where I'm a ensemble member) and some other joints, too.
Q: How would you characterize the Chicago theater scene?
A: The word I've always used to describe the scene is the word "vital." Chicago theatre is vital to the progression of American theatre; it's vital to helping shape and grow sublime and smart actors, designers and audience members; it's vital in helping playwrights secure and wrangle their unique voices for Chicago and beyond. The Chicago theatre scene is where I got my start and where I'll always feel the most safe and secure. Its vitality has shaped and molded every part of my writing, as I think it does for every artist who dives head-first into it.
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 fifteen or sixteen (is that childhood? eeeh, I guess it'll have to do), my American Literature teacher, Mrs. Spiker (yeah, that was her real name) held up to the class a copy of a book called "Lyrical Iowa." "Lyrical Iowa" is an anthology of poetry put out every year for writers in Iowa and it has an open submission policy, including a "high school" category. As she held the book aloft, Mrs. Spiker went on an on about how she had a student ten years previous published in the anthology and how great and amazing and excellent and awesome that student was and that nobody in our class was even smart enough to even try to even get in that damn freakin' anthology blah blah blah.
Okay, I may be misremembering her severely harsh attitude (but I'm not), but her cruel push made me want to completely prove her wrong. Or prove to myself I could write something. Anything, in fact. So I wrote a poem and sent it in. The poem totally got into "Lyrical Iowa." Mrs. Spiker was so proud and pleased, she even smiled. But all I could mostly think was, "In your face, Mrs. Spiker! Woooooo!!!" And I also found out that I really liked writing. And I also thought maybe she did all that with the book and the cruelty to trick one of us into attempting to write. And I then thought how smart it was of her to use her harshness to get us to do something besides sit in our desks like blobby lumps. So I guess I love Mrs. Spiker and thanks, Mrs. Spiker. You were the awesome one.
Q: If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?
A: Writers continued stabs at the typical. It frustrates me to sit through plays that aren't about something or have no personal investment. Even if a writer just wants to "just write a comedy," they should give it some heft, clearly define the conflict and make bold choices. In drama, subject matter seems to be the bold choice these days but individual choices within the plays are often weak. Playwrights must do the same thing directors require of actors: discover a range of choices and pick the strongest one, fear of consequences be damned.
Q: Who are or were your theatrical heroes?
A: Pinter, Sheppard, Chekhov and Mamet. And my friend Rebecca Gilman.
Q: What kind of theater excites you?
A: The opposite thing that bothers me about theatre. When I see a show that makes bold choices all around, then I'm there. I'm engaged. It doesn't matter the size of the company or even the quality of the show. If I see theatre artists making strong, informed and clear choices, then I'm exited about what I'm experiencing. If the show commits to its world, then I as an audience member, will do the same.
Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
A: Self produce. That's pretty much how I started. In the back of a bar with a suitcase full of puppets or working with an actor friend using a slide projector for lights and then playing to three or four people. I didn't wait until somebody would eventually produce a full-length play. I wrote something small. Something shoe-string producible and did it myself. Then I saw shows at theatres (as well as sent out press releases) and invited folks to come.
So, I guess to distill my advice: do shows and see shows and let people know you exist. Make an audience and meet a community. Do both and do good.
Q: Plugs, please:
RED BUD directed by Jo McInnes at The Royal Court in London
October 25th 2010, following previews from October 21st and running to November 13th, 2010.
ODRADECK, directed by Dexter Bullard and music by Josh Schmidt, with The House Theatre at The Chopin Theatre
January 7th, 2011 to February 26th, 2011
DO THE HUSTLE, directed by William Brown, at Writers' Theatre
January 25 – March 20, 2011