Jan 8, 2011
I Interview Playwrights Part 302: Paul Thureen
Hometown: Grew up on a farm 10 miles north of East Grand Forks, MN
Current Town: Greenpoint, Brooklyn
Q: Tell me about your upcoming remount of Buddy Cop 2.
A: Buddy Cop 2 is our play about Cops, Christmas and Racquetball that we premiered in May at the Ontological-Hysteric Incubator. We’re bringing it back for a quick run for PS122’s COIL festival. We’ll be at the Atlantic Theater Stage 2. It’s a super fun, dark, sad, strange play.
Q: What else are you working on?
A: Well, we have the very beginnings of three new plays so after Buddy Cop 2 we’ll hop back into development mode.
Also, Buddy Cop 2 is coming out from Samuel French in just a few weeks and we’re happy to report that Manbites Dog Theater in Durham, NC will be doing the first licensed production in June. It’s the first time someone ELSE has done one of our shows . . . which is totally exciting and bizarre because we’ve always written for ourselves as performers.
Q: How do you and Hannah write together? What's your process?
A: Once we’ve found the little thing that’s our main core starting point, we spend a period of time collecting things; research, images, objects (very important), songs . . . and that transitions into generating a big mass of text sort of riffing on these early ideas and inspirations. At this point Oliver (our director and the other third of The Debate Society) and Hannah and I are really focused on creating the world of the play which is sort of the most important thing to us; the flavor and feel of the place and its mythology.
From our feeling of what that world is and the writing we’ve done, we start to shape the story and characters. We’ll do in-rehearsal work with Oliver, then Hannah and I write and bring stuff back in, repeat repeat repeat. Hannah and I will give each other little writting assignments and when we read, we’ve usually ended up magically filling in the gaps of what was missing in the other’s writing.
It definitely starts out as a very intuitive process. As we get closer to production, then we look back at what we have, how it’s (hopefully) kind of instinctively lined up and then at that point do a little bit more shaping and building from a more intellectual/dramaturgical perspective.
Q: Tell me, if you will, a story from your childhood that explains who you are as a writer or as a person.
A: Well I guess this is more of an origin story than a single event, but my mom was a Norwegian professor and writer and my dad a farmer and I think it kind of makes sense that that made me. My mom was always SUPER creative and viewed that world with very childlike eyes for an adult . . . she still does actually. So dragons would be leaping out at us from the ditch when we’d be riding in the car and things like that. She also read to me and my sister a lot and had us do “hot pen” writing exercises from a young age. And then my dad was more quiet, super hard working, but also with a sort of dry, pragmatic Midwestern sense of humor. On the farm you just have a lot of time alone, inventing things, climbing on (dangerous) farm machinery, creating your own little word outside. I just reread your interview you did with Hannah . . . and she talked about setting up little dioramas in her mom’s antique shop window . . . so it strikes me we grew up in very similar ways in very different places. And I think that sense of play still really flavors our work . . . even when we’re making something very adult or sad or dark.
Q: Who are or were your theatrical heroes?
A: I studied for 3 months in Moscow and those guys are just such committed artists; doing what they do even in the worst of times and working so hard with much fewer resources . . . and still there’s this super commitment to playfulness and excessive creativity. There’s always a point where Oliver’s staging, and we’ve written something crazy and impossible that has to happen on stage and we can’t figure out how to make it happen and we joke, “Um, we’ll just use real magic”. And I think the Russians believe in that. So . . . “Russians” is the answer I guess.
Q: What kind of theater excites you?
A: Sometimes I see plays and think, “That was good . . . but would have been better as an episode of This American Life (or Law and Order. Or a book. Or a tone poem.) and there’s nothing really wrong with that . . . but I get so excited when I see something stunning or delicate or that really rocks me that could only happen in theater.
Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
A: “Turn on your nerves” as they’d tell us in Russia so you’re absorbing things that are interesting or make you feel a certain way in the world. Be open to finding inspiration in anything. Look places no one else looks. And be super honest and critical with yourself: Is this REALLY what I want to make, or is this something just in the style of what I think I SHOULD make. Work hard. And then . . . try to get out of the way of yourself and trust your intuition.
Q: Plugs, please:
A: Buddy Cop 2 at Atlantic Stage 2, January 8th-13th (go to thedebatesociety.org for the details)!