Nov 12, 2010
I Interview Playwrights Part 282: Julie Hebert
Hometown: Berwick, Louisiana
Current Town: Los Angeles, California
Q: What are you working on now?
A: A new play commission with choreographer Deborah Slater, on the topic of women and aging, to be premiered next fall at ODC in San Francisco. Also, a pilot for CBS.
Q: Do you have to mentally adjust when writing TV vs theater?
A: Yes, though I think it's almost automatic now. The requirements for series television are quite specific, so fitting a story into that template is almost a technical challenge. When I'm thinking up a story for television, I try to imagine what the play version of it would be like-- which frees my imagination and opens up the story in unexpected ways. Sometimes, I can use those thoughts, sometimes not. When I begin to think of a new play... there is no template, so it's much more open-ended, and consequently it takes a lot longer to settle into the story. I love writing slowly because the surprises are deeper and stranger and more organic. Writing slowly is not possible in television. I feel I at heart I am a slow, weird, small-theater playwright passing for quick and normal in TV.
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 have no iconic story that explains my impulse to write. What comes to mind is how much time I spent alone, how I craved solitude and found time for it, though I grew up in a very large family in a very small house. I remember as a child finding a hiding spot under the big Ligustrum bushes lining the fence in our backyard. I would crawl under there and just sit and listen and watch birds, wind, sky, my siblings, etc. I remember locking myself in the bathroom to read in peace. I remember taking long, long walks on the levee along the river. I still love sitting in trees and thinking of absolutely nothing.
Q: If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?
A: That the artists be paid as well and as consistently as the administrators.
Q: Who are or were your theatrical heroes?
A: Irene Fornes, Sam Shepard, Sam Beckett.
Q: What kind of theater excites you?
A: Bold, unexpected theatricality with a point of view and heart.
Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
A: Write, write, write. Write, write, write. Repeat.
Q: Plugs, please:
A: My play, TREE, will be performed at Victory Gardens in Chicago next spring, directed by Andrea Diamond. TREE just won the PEN Center West Award for Drama. Also, check out www.juliehebert.com, for periodic updates. (Thanks for asking!)