Oct 17, 2010
I Interview Playwrights Part 270: Ben Snyder
Hometown: Bay Area, CA (Tam Valley in southern Marin)
Current Town: Austin, TX
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I'm working on a new play Rivers of January, about three old friends meeting in Rio de Janeiro for New Years Eve.
I'm also working on a musical based on the novel You Can't Win. (I've mainly been writing screenplays these days and beginning to produce films as well.)
Q: After Juilliard you went to Austin to get your MFA. How do you like Austin?
A: Austin is a great place to go to grad school. It's a really livable town. Not a city city, but being in an overgrown town has a lot advantages. Cheap rent. Good weather. Fresh water pools. I'm definitely writing more then I was ever able to in NY.
Q: Tell me, if you will, a story from your childhood that explains who you are as a writer or as a person.
A: As a kid in the 80s I was part of a Capoeira group that performed at culture events around the Bay Area. This was my introduction to the stage. The community center we practiced at was also home to a local chapter of the Nation of Islam. Being a Jewish kid in this environment was also my introduction to race politics. The theater I have created as an adult has always been about the intersections of race, class, culture and power.
Q: If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?
A: I'd like to find a way for theater to be relevant. Not just in its content but in its presentation. I wish HBO or someone smart produced theater for live audiences but also taped really well so it could be shown on TV or in movie theaters as well. Like what Spike Lee did for Passing Strange. That shit was beautiful. Maybe that would be the death of theater. I dunno.
Q: Who are or were your theatrical heroes?
A: My main theatrical hero would have to be Harry Belafonte. He's the best role model I know of as far as fusing arts and activism.
Q: What kind of theater excites you?
A: That's a hard one. It's not really a kind of theater, but specific shows. Passing Strange was amazing to me. I thought August Osage County was pretty exciting. Nilaja Sun is exciting. Danny Hoch is exciting. I loved Billy Elliot the musical. I'd have to say I'm most excited by old shows that are new to me. Ain't Supposed to Die a Natural Death is exciting theater to me, but it came out in 1971. All My Sons is probably my all time favorite play.
Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
A: Advice, hmmm... If you're going to grad schools look into the ones that are funded. Also, realize this will most likely be a hobby your entire life, in that really nobody makes a living as a playwright, so be sure you love it, and figure out how you're going to subsidize your theater habit. Is that advice?
Q: Plugs, please.
A: I'm afraid of plugging shows. I have a few things coming up but if I talk about them too much maybe they'll get cancelled. (I have had some problems with that in the past)