Jul 16, 2010
I Interview Playwrights Part 211: Jonathan Caren
Hometown: Los Angeles
Current Town: New York
Q: Tell me about Three.
A: It’s a play about a couple having a baby, dealing with fears of the unknown, and a spiritual healer who tries to right their ship. I just read it at The Partial Comfort Retreat and it’s being done at the PTP/NYC AFTER DARK SERIES at the Atlantic Theater’s 2nd Stage Tuesday July 20th at 10:30PM, directed by Kate Pines. I’ve never had a baby, but I’ve certainly been afraid of birthing things, like plays for instance.
Q: What else are you working on?
A: Evan Cabnet will be directing my play Friends In Transient Places this fall at Juilliard. It’s a series of interwoven stories that take place on an airplane journey from one terminal to another. It’s an experiment in theatricality, something I tend to usually shy away from, but I’m excited for the ride.
Q: You have a background in TV. Most people usually transition the other way.
A: I tend to do things backwards, though I don't see TV as the end-all. I co-wrote a pilot in 2008 and worked on a CW show before coming to Juilliard. But I was still doing local theater in LA for years (in fact, I produced one of YOUR plays, Adam) and my play Catch The Fish, won Best Play at the NY Fringe in 2007. Writing for TV is hard as hell and requires a different skill set. I admire TV writers' abilities to re-write and try to carry over that mentality to playwriting.
Q: If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?
A: In an ideal world, going to the theater would be like going to group therapy. You watch a play, talk about it after, hang out, and decompress from your daily grind. I think Ars Nova does that best.
The thing I’m loving most about theater in New York is the sense of community here. A lot of people seem to know each other and “hanging out” means “working on a play.” That doesn’t happen as much in Los Angeles. For me, doing a reading, or putting on a production is an excuse to socialize in a creative environment. So I guess if I were in charge, I’d slash ticket prices in half, and turn every lobby into a bar that offers free Eugene O’Neill Jello Shots, whatever that means. And if you don’t feel like you’re a part of the community, put your ego aside and go volunteer somewhere. Everyone needs help. Trust me, you’re needed—as long as you’re not creepy and trying to force your agenda onto the people you’re helping.
Q: Who are or were your theatrical heroes?
A: Winnie Holzman, taught me everything I know. She wrote Wicked, and created My So-Called Life. I was her assistant for two and a half years. I’m pretty enamored with my class at Juilliard. Josh Allen, Nick Jones, Fia Alvarez and Fernanda Coppel.
Q: What kind of theater excites you?
A: Stuff that makes me want to call my ex-girlfriends and apologize for being an douche bag. Also, Greg Keller’s Dutch Masters’ blew me away.
Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
A: I’m just starting out! I spent years afraid of being a playwright. So my advice is, don’t do anything I do, like worry about how much your play sucks and waste time comparing yourself to everyone else.
There are two caps to wear, the business cap and the creative cap. You can’t wear them both at the same time. If you wear your creative cap while doing business, you get too emotional over all the rejection you’re going to face. If you wear your business cap while being creative, your writing will sound like you’re trying to sell it and you won’t write what you love. So literally, imagine you’re wearing different caps. I will say from a practical standpoint, I recommend getting involved at ANY level you can and trying to find the people who you fall in love with and to have creative babies with. Then get yourself a healer.
Q: Plugs, please:
A: Go see the play Fia is directing, Notice Me! Come to my play Friends in Transient Places in the fall. And read Adam Szymkowicz’s blog!