Dec 3, 2010
I Interview Playwrights Part 290: Philip Dawkins
Hometown: Chicago (though, full disclosure, I was born in Phoenix, AZ. But it was never my hometown.)
Current Town: Chicago
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I just finished costuming an opera, which isn't writing, but it's story telling in a way, yeah? It's called "Boojum! Nonsense, Truth, and Lewis Carroll," and it's a co-production between my company, Chicago Opera Vanguard and Caffeine Theater. It's a really whacked out existential musical trip through the brain space of Lewis Carroll, and I'm proud to have worked on it, and happy to be finished.
Writing-wise, I'm working on a children's play for a theater in NY about death and grief. (!!!) And I just finished a first draft of a new play called FAILURE: A LOVE STORY.
In the new year, I'll be gearing up for About Face's premiere production of my play, THE HOMOSEXUALS. I just honestly couldn't be more excited about that.
Also, I'm nearing a test for my black sash in Shaolin Kung Fu, and trying my darndest to train for that.
Q: How would you characterize Chicago theater?
A: Blue Collar. Chicagoans take their theatre seriously. We've had a long day at work, and we're either going to put on our duck boots and Carharts to go to the bar where it's warm and we know we can count on good conversation, good whiskey, and a good fist fight; or we can put on something nice and try to find snowy parking to see a show. So, if we choose a show, it better be worth it. Which is not to say that a Chicago audience isn't cultured. No, Chicagoans know what they like, they know what's good, and if it isn't good, they're not going to give you a standing ovation on principal. They're going to stand up and say, "So that sucked. See you at the bar?" No phoning it in with Chicago Theatre.
Also, I think, Chicago theatre is accessible in a way. The cost of putting up a show here is . . . well, let's just say it's possible. And you can afford to take a big risk, do the show that maybe most people will hate but that you desperately feel needs to be seen. Why not? You won't go bankrupt. And if the people who need to see that show get to see that show, then Yahtzee! It's a success. A financial success? Maybe not. But it got done, it got seen, and no one went to the poor house.
Q: Tell me, if you will, a story from your childhood that explains who you are as a writer or as a person.
A: Growing up in Phoenix, a lot of my friends were Mexican or Native American. But, as a kid, of course, I didn't recognize any cultural distinctions. My best friend all through grade school was a Mexican American kid named Manny. We spent pretty much every recess together, and if I remember correctly, he was one of only two kids who bothered to show up to my tenth birthday party. Manny was very, very quiet, very shy, didn't say much, but a nice nice kid. We got along great.
A few years ago I was talking about Manny with my mother, and she said, "Philip, you know that Manny didn't speak English, right?"
News to me.
All this to say, I'm pretty comfortable with monologue.
Q: If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?
A: I'd like more people to go to it.
Q: Who are or were your theatrical heroes?
A: Personal mentors. I was a child actor, and I was very very lucky to be looked after by the most amazing roster of adult performers and theatrical nurturers. I dedicated my first published play to David Wo, who was sort of my theatre father. He gave me my first professional writing gig when I was sixteen, and then died later that summer. I had no idea he was even sick. He knew, and he went out of his way to give me that experience, to show me that I really could do this with my life. I don't believe in angels, but if I did ... David Wo.
And many others. A long list. I was a very, very fortunate child of the theatre.
Currently, my heroes are my students. Not all of them. Some of them are massive chores. But most of my students are, if not heroic, then inspirational to me. I think most teachers would agree with that...
Q: What kind of theater excites you?
A: Theater with a story. There' s a lot of really excellent spectacle being done all over the place. I mean, REALLY excellent. Breath taking. But if there's no story, if there are no characters journeying against all odds toward something they want, then I'm out. Spectacle without story is, in my mind, circus. There's nothing wrong the circus, but I didn't say goodbye cruel world to join the circus. I left to join the theatre.
Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
A: Write, Listen, Relax. Repeat.
Q: Plugs, please:
A: The play at About Face
The Opera at the Department of Cultural Affairs
My published kids plays