Jul 27, 2010
I Interview Playwrights Part 222: Jonathan Blitstein
Hometown: Lincolnshire, Illinois
Current Town: Brooklyn!
Q: Tell me about your play going up at the Dream Up Festival:
A: It's called Keep Your Baggage With You (at all times). It's about two young men who allow their friendship to fall apart as they transform into different people over time, struggling against some of the familiar difficulties of the digital age. It's told in seven scenes, each one advancing about five months into the future. Daniel Talbott ("Slipping", Rattlestick/Rising Phoenix Rep) is directing. And there are some very talented and dedicated actors/crew members on board. We're showing at Theater For the New City as part of the Dream Up Festival.
Q: What else are you up to?
A: I recently bought a bike at the Brooklyn flea and I've been biking around. I freelance for an indie film company in Tribeca. I'm a script reader at Rattlestick. I go see a lot of old movies at Film Forum. I've also been trying to get some different film projects off the ground, too.
Q: You also write film. Do you have to mentally adjust when writing film vs theater?
A: Oh, absolutely. I have to mentally adjust to the fact that what I write for the theater won't pay my rent. Haha, but there are always the obvious differences, the formatting of scripts, remembering not to write INT/EXT. at the tops of scenes. Also, in film you can't get away with the silence that we love in theater. That tension-- you are forced to convey that with editing, and (hopefully) camera work, lensing.
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 fourteen I started at a high school with about 5000 students, the size of a small college campus. I was really depressed and I didn't see any of my junior high friends, anymore. There were gangs. The teachers were miserable. Everyone was miserable. My history teacher, a closet-punkrocker beneath a suit and tie, recognized my teen angst and gave me some Salinger and Camus to read. I devoured the books in a few days, and cried on and off after that, for a year. It was an awakening and turned my life in a different direction. I started to take the arts more seriously.
Q: If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?
A: I wish I could make the cost of renting a decent theater space 50 bucks a week instead of 5000 bucks.
Q: Who are or were your theatrical heroes?
A: I grew up watching musicals at a fantastic regional equity theater in the round, inside a Marriott hotel in the middle of a cornfield. I loved (and still love) Stephen Sondheim. That's how I fell in love with theater in the first place. I don't think I saw a straight play until I was 15. Around then, we moved and I started at a small public high school that had a theater program run by an inspired young Chicago playwright/actor. He introduced me to an eclectic group: Shakespeare, Eric Bogosian, Arthur Miller, Chekhov, Paula Vogel, David Mamet, Marsha Norman, Lanford Wilson and others. New heroes: Bruce Norris, Tracy Letts, Sarah Ruhl...there are too many to list, and I haven't even mentioned the directors, actors, Jimmy Slonina and Larry Yando in Chicago, Steppenwolf, The Hippocrites...right now my heroes are my contemporaries-- there are so many writers under 35 who are working their butts off and doing great work. They inspire me every day.
Q: What kind of theater excites you?
A: I'm excited when a show takes me out of myself, when the world offstage disappears, when the language is poetic, when the plot unfolds and I can't see where it's going, when the magical mixture of all the components of the play come together and create something unforgettable.
Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
A: Read everything, not just plays. Don't be afraid to start writing. Write everyday. Take care of yourself, your mind needs to be in a good place to create. Listen to criticism. Don't show anyone your first or second drafts. Know when to quit for the day. Patience, patience, patience!
Q: Plugs, please:
Bruce Norris' Clybourne Park at Playwright's Horizons!
Sam Gold and Annie Baker - sooo good!
David Mamet's RACE
Rising Phoenix Rep!
Cromer's OUR TOWN
Anne Washburn's The Small!
Bryan Scary's new album "Daffy's Elixir"
Sarah Ruhl's Passion Play at Irondale Ctr was INCREDIBLE.
Philip Roth's "Indignation" and "The Humbling"
Please come see our show at Theater for the New City.
Tickets are here: