Monday, August 30, 2010
I Interview Playwrights Part 253: Anthony Weigh
Hometown: Brisbane, Australia.
Current Town: New York.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: New commissions for The National Theatre, the Sydney Theatre Company, the Melbourne Theatre Company and Malthouse Theatre. Hopefully they won't all end up as one big really awful play.
Q: What was it like being in residence at the National?
A: Absolutely terrific. I was writer in residence at the NT for a year. I learnt a huge amount. Part of the position requires that you sit on the associates panel which aides and advises on repertoire etc. Wonderful to see how such a huge and important company operates from the insides.
But, the best bit was, I had my own office there for a year. Provided me the physical and psychological space to work. I will never work from home again!
Q: How would you characterise English theater?
A: Well, for a start, they spell it differently.
Secondly, English theater can tend to be preoccupied by a kind of politically topical social realism. John Osbourne casts a long shadow in England. There are exceptions to the rule, but they are rare. Churchill is NOT the norm. Quite a lot of plays set in living rooms on housing estates about two young lads smoking drugs, while one of their sisters comes of age, and another of their sisters struggles with obesity, and an uncle who's a bit of a paedo, a father trying in vain to get a job and/or come out of the closet, and a Mother who's battling the bottle and attempting to save the planet from global warming while breeding fighting dogs.
Also, the staged landscape is often benign. It's not for nothing that Pinters' plays happen in kitchens and living rooms and attics. The English natural environment is soft, toothless. There is nothing dangerous about place in England as there can be in Scotland or Russia or Canada or Australia. This is reflected in the writing. As a result you will almost always encounter a sofa in a room somewhere in an English play. One of the best English plays of the last few years was Jez Butterworths' Jerusalem and that was remarkable because he took the sofa and put it outside! Still a sofa though.
Having said all that, the English have a wonderful ear for the unsaid. Drama as a kind of dance of longing and unfulfilled hopes. The excruciating pain of the fumbled encounter. The badly handled joke. The silently cooling cup of tea placed on the kitchen table. The half remembered slight that led to the death of a child. No one does that better.
Finally, the nature of the funding structure there means that if you've written a half decent play it'll get on somewhere. That's pretty amazing.
Q: Tell me, if you will, a story from your childhood that explains who you are as a writer or as a person.
A: I told my next door neighbour that if he didn't let me kiss him he'd get pregnant. He agreed and to my knowledge has not fallen pregnant.
Q: If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?
A: Attendance would guarantee you had a lot of really great sex? Would certainly boost box office.
Q: Who are or were your theatrical heroes?
A: Christoph Martaler, John Adams, Erik Ehn, Ontroerend Goed, Caryl Churchill, David Harrower, Bertolt Brecht, Kleist, Chekov.
Q: What kind of theater excites you?
A: Sadly, most theatre. I'm a slut to it. Even the bad stuff.
Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
A: Think about keeping that MFA thesis play in the bottom drawer.
Do not allow anyone to have input into your work until they have agreed to produce it.
A reading is not a production.
Ask yourself; "What is theatre?", then "Is this thing I've written theatre?", then "Why does this have to be performed by bodies in space to other bodies in space?"
Q: Plugs, please: