Thursday, June 17, 2010
I Interview Playwrights Part 196: Dan LeFranc
Hometown: Dana Point, CA
Current Town: Brooklyn, NY
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I’m working on commissions for Yale Rep and Berkeley Rep as well as adapting my play Night Surf into a rock musical in collaboration with Nathan Allen, artistic director of The House Theater of Chicago. Meanwhile, I’m gearing up for a production of my latest play The Big Meal at American Theatre Company in Chicago, directed by Dexter Bullard. So I’m doing a lot of work in Chicago at the moment which is wonderful because I have a lot of family there who hasn’t seen my work yet. They’re very excited and I’m very scared. But that’s how it’s always worked! Besides that I’m continuing to develop a number of other plays that are at various stages of completion.
Q: You just won the New York Times Outstanding Playwright Award. Congrats! What can you tell me about that and about the play you won it with?
A: Thanks! The New York Times Outstanding Playwright Award is awarded annually to a playwright who’s recently received her or his New York debut. It’s an incredible and humbling honor and a cool way to give recognition to playwrights who might otherwise fall under the radar.
The play is called Sixty Miles to Silver Lake and it was produced last winter by Page 73 Productions and Soho Rep. It’s about a divorced father and his teenage son on a weekend ritual that’s probably familiar to many children of divorce like myself—the car ride from one parent’s house to another’s. In this case, the drive is from the son’s soccer games in Orange County to the father’s new apartment in Los Angeles. But what we initially perceive to be a single ride soon reveals itself to be a much larger journey. Time and space isn’t necessarily moving at the same pace as the car, it’s more slippery than we originally suspect. Anne Kauffman directed the hell out of the original production with two amazing actors—Joseph Adams and Dane DeHaan. The whole thing was a terrific experience.
Q: Tell me, if you will, a story from your childhood that explains who you are as a writer or as a person.
A: Well, I grew up in Orange County, a suburb about an hour south of Los Angeles, and that landscape is featured prominently in many of my plays. The beaches, the stucco, the endless stretches of freeways and strip malls. But that doesn’t really explain much about who I am, I guess. Landscape is important to me but it’s only a backdrop. I wish I had a snappy story that neatly summed me up, but I don’t.
However, I will say that I grew up in a simultaneously nurturing and destructive environment. Lots of love and support but also a ton of friction and fear. And I guess looking back that tension was critical in making me the kind of writer and person I am today. I learned early on that when the outside world proved too much to handle, I could retreat into my imagination and find solace there. I’m sure a lot of artists had a similar experience at a young age.
So, my creativity was born out of wounds, but what I discovered there was absolutely joyous. Not only an escape, but a treasure, a gift, a balm. And so a number of my plays, while investigating people and landscapes and ideas, also serve as a kind of celebration of the imagination and its enormous powers for healing and hope and wonder and destruction. But I’m not interested in imagination for imagination’s sake—I’m interested in the way it relates to our most visceral needs and desires. Imagination with blood, sweat, tears, heart, humor, and teeth. Not the whimsical variety. The Hamlet variety. The Fefu and Her Friends, Buried Child, Glass Menagerie variety.
Quite frankly, imagination of this kind is at a premium in the American theater. Works of powerful imaginative and visceral force are often dismissed in favor of the comfortable and familiar—works of modest creativity, ambition, and temperament. I do everything in my power to create works in the spirit of the former. I haven’t succeeded yet—not even close!—but it’s what I strive for every day I sit down to write. And if the American theater is going to remain culturally relevant in the face of more compelling material being developed for television and film and the internet, it’s what theaters across the country should strive to nurture and produce.
Q: Who are or were your theatrical heroes?
A: I have so many theatrical heroes—writers, directors, actors, designers, etc. who have rocked my world over the years. There are way too many to list here, but at the moment I’ve got a big old crush on Thornton Wilder.
Also, I’ve been blessed with a host of incredible mentors, true heroes in my life, people who pushed me closer to my passions and obsessions and the ways in which I can best shape them—Paula Vogel, Naomi Iizuka, Erin Cressida Wilson, and Bonnie Metzgar, to name a few. Each of them changed my life enormously.
Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
A: Write your truth, whatever that is, however that manifests itself on stage. No matter the style or content or whatever—just be true to yourself and the stories you carry with you. Everything else will follow.