Wednesday, July 07, 2010

I Interview Playwrights Part 207: Ken Weitzman


Ken Weitzman

Hometown:
Great Neck, NY. I’m a Great Necker.

Current Town:
Bloomington, Indiana. I teach at IU.

Q:  What are you working on now?

A:  I’m working on an adaptation of a non-fiction book by Lars Anderson. It’s called Carlisle vs. Army. It’s about a 1912 football game between the Carlisle Industrial Indian School and the Cadets at West Point. Barely 20 years after the massacre at Wounded Knee, Native Americans and the US Army were squaring off on the football field. Jim Thorpe, arguably the first celebrity athlete, was on the Carlisle team and Dwight Eisenhower led the Army team. It’s a great story to work with. I’m also working on a play about a western water rights deal gone awry.

Q:  You've done quite a bit of teaching. How do you manage to balance your teaching and writing lives?

A:  The difficulty of time aside, I’d say they balance each other. Teaching is important to me - to support myself and my family, yes, but also for fun, for inspiration, for having to articulate in the simplest terms what I do, why I do it, and what its value is. If all I did was write, I'd go crazy.

Q:  Tell me, if you will, a story from your childhood that explains who you are as a writer or as a person.

A:  Hmm. I don’t know, lots of random stupidity. When I was around preschool age I think, my brother got a cassette recorder as a gift and he, my sister, and I made recordings. I remember at some point yelling over and over into the recorder, “sock in the eye!” I don’t know why. But it cracked up my siblings, which delighted me. There was something about the word play, the pun, the sound of those particular words together, the violence of it, the repetition, the exuberant idiocy - I’d say that’s all in my writing (and my personality I suppose.)

Though nowadays, as a father, I think more about the childhood(s) of my two sons and how to communicate to them some vision of the world and what it is to be a human being. So I’d say my writing is somewhere between that and “sock in the eye!” Perhaps the tension between the two?

Q:  If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?

A:  One thing? I’m not sure. Certainly the price to attend. But I hesitate to say that because I can’t say I know how to fix that. But less costly theatre would certainly alter many things.

Also, the critics. I wish the whole idea of the “review” was abolished or transformed at the very least. I wish those covering theatre never gave their opinions on what they liked or deemed worthy. I wish they were more like reporters in their approach - giving context, the story of the experience of being at the play, including the experience of the audience around them, interviews with them, with the artists, the artist’s peers, etc. etc.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  How about influences? Albee, Miller, Shanley, Adele Shank, Allan Havis, Les Waters, Caryl Churchill, Erik Ehn, Amy Freed, The Atlantic Theater Company, Young Playwrights Inc.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  Theatre that re-orders everyday logic, and the metaphors we use to understand our existence, so we see things in new ways. That’s a terribly written sentence but I’m leaving it anyway. I like theatre that’s for the audience, not just for the people on stage. I like plays that are energetic, exuberant, vital, playful. I dislike it when plays are lazy or take shortcuts in their storytelling. I prefer simply produced plays in smaller venues.

Q:  What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?

A:  Misinterpret your influences. Or, less coyly, don’t shy from trying to emulate those people and those works that influence you most. You couldn’t imitate or truly steal them even if you wanted to – because they’ll be filtered through the prism of your own experiences/world view/individuality. That being said, read a lot and see a lot of theatre so that you have influences. And get involved with theatre companies so you can meet people and hopefully find collaborators who help guide and inspire you, and whom you trust.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  Two productions in winter 2011.

The Catch at Denver Center: http://www.denvercenter.org/shows-and-events/Subscriptions/DenverCenterTheatreCompany.aspx#catch

Fire in the Garden at IRT: http://www.irtlive.com/shows_and_tickets/season_preview/

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