Aug 8, 2010
I Interview Playwrights Part 237: David Holstein
Hometown: New York
Current Town: Los Angeles
Q; Tell me about your show in Chicago.
A: About a year and half ago Chicago Shakespeare commissioned my good friend (and brilliant composer) Alan Schmuckler and I to write a musical for their summer family series. We decided to take on a readaptation of The Emperor's New Clothes. In the original fable, there's this kid at the end who's the only one who sees the Emperor for who he is (really naked). So we thought it would be sort of fun to take that kid and essentially make that character into the Emperor's daughter and write a show about how kids can see what their parents can't (and visa versa). I don't really know how to write a children's show. So we set out to write a story that worked at eye level for adults, but that kids could also enjoy.
Q: What is it like to write for Weeds? Isn't Carly the bomb?
A: Carly (Mensch) is the bomb. Our offices were across the hall from each other. We thought about stringing some soup cans together so we could talk to each other. Instead we bought Nerf guns and shot them at each other's doors. We even got to write an episode together (ep 9, it's the only episode with a Chekov reference in the title). But yeah, writing for Weeds is awesome. We have a license to kill when it comes to storytelling. That is, there's not a lot of things we can't do or stories we're verboten to tell. Part of that comes from writing on premium cable, but mainly we just have these great actors and ballsy writers who equally encourage us to make dark dark drama as well as slappy happy broad comedy.
Q: What else are you up to?
A: Between Weeds seasons I wrote on a new show coming out in October called Gigantic. It's a dramedy for TeenNick about kids of famous actors who run amuck in LA. The network said we could lean towards the edgier side, so I tried to insert the phrase "rickety slut" into the dialogue a lot. It appears in episode 9. I'm also working on a new play that deals with alien abductions and divorce. I'd really like to finish that.
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 15 I had a crush on a girl I was in a community musical with. I thought if I wrote her a screenplay she would fall in love with me. It didn't work.
Q: Who are or were your theatrical heroes?
A: My senior year at Northwestern, I was told we would have a guest lecturer in our creative writing program for the winter semester. His name was Tracy Letts. I'm not sure if he ever taught another class. Anywhere. He's such a fucking animal. He cursed a lot in class. Killer Joe teaches me so much every time I read it. Same with Martin McDonagh's stuff. It's funny because I don't write those types of plays, but I wish I could. Rolin Jones might be my favorite living writer.
Q: What kind of theater excites you?
A: I get excited by theater when I know that what I'm watching couldn't be anything else but a play. Or rather that it needs to be a play. Television is too often about reality, and so I really appreciate when I'm watching something on stage that has created its own reality, with its own rules that couldn't exist in any other medium.
Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
A: Keep writing. Work with your friends. Don't listen to people who yell. Keep some lemon candy in your pocket. And remember that you're never as bad as your worst reviews and never as good as your best.
Q: Plugs, please:
A: A play of mine called The B-Team was recently published. Check it out!
And if you're in Chicago this summer, The Emperor's New Clothes is playing at Chicago Shakes on Navy Pier until Aug 29.