Friday, February 04, 2011

I Interview Playwrights Part 312: Ashlin Halfnight

Ashlin Halfnight

Born: London
Grew up: Toronto

Current Town:  New York

Q: Tell me about your shows up right now.

A:  There are three plays running right now under the umbrella title, Theater in the Dark, With Lights. Lathem Prince is an overtly sexualized adaptation of Hamlet, Laws of Motion follows 4 New York stories during the 2008 financial free-fall, and God's Waiting Room is a purgatory play, loosely inspired by Master and Margarita.

Kristjan Thor is directing all three... I'm really incredibly lucky to have such a brilliant collaborator at the helm, and the casts are filled with such amazing, talented people... generous and intelligent artists who are a privilege to have on board.

Q: What else are you working on?

A:  Well, I'm really excited about a few things - first, a holocaust survivor play that I hope to finish this spring, and second, a play that stars mostly child actors that I've been working on for about a year... and I have a film that's in negotiations up in Toronto - a road trip movie that's set partially in Northern Ontario.

Q:  Can you tell me a little bit about Electric Pear, who you are, what your mission is, how you came to be?

A:  Electric Pear was started when Melanie Sylvan and I had a good collaborative experience with God's Waiting Room the first time around - in 2005, with PL115 at the Fringe, and in Budapest. Electric Pear has been around for five years, and I'm really proud of the work we've done, both developmentally and production-wise. We try to be open, inclusive, and welcoming in our approach - to build community and foster connections between artists. In terms of material, we tend to be just outside the mainstream, accessible, but with a twist - say, an international influence, a cross-genre collaboration or influence, or just something unexpected.

Q:   Have you written at all about your career as a pro hockey player? Adam Bock has a hockey play.

A:  Actually, I have never written about my career in hockey. And I've never read or seen (or heard about) Adam's play... I'll have to look into that! I'm woefully disconnected from the theatrical hockey world! Resolution for 2011, I guess....

Q:  Tell me a story from your childhood that explains who you are as a writer or as a person.

A:  As an 8th grader, I peed my pants in a downtown Toronto video arcade... and went from trying to be cool and tough to suddenly wanting my mom and dad.

I value family and friends. I try to see the humor in things. And I try to be humble, to remember that our bodies do (and will) fail us... that nobody is too cool or smart or powerful to find themselves standing in a pool of their own urine at some point or another.

Q:  What is the purpose of theater?

A:  Tough question. Does it come with a free soapbox? I think, these days, the purpose of theater is to gather people in a room to experience something first hand, together. It used to be that theater provided the primary outlet for the dissemination of dangerous ideas; it was a great stage for commentary, the avenue of rebellion - but these days, the internet, television, movies, political speeches, philosophy books, and historical documentaries all do the grunt work of changing, challenging, or educating the world in a more effective and wide-spread fashion than theater can.... it's a question of sheer numbers... the instantaneous and pervasive nature of these other media (and the fact that Actors Equity bars any of its members from appearing on the internet or in filmed versions of plays) dictates that the reach of theater is ever-lessening.

This is not to say that plays about social issues are a waste of time - they aren't - but if we're honest with ourselves, the actual reach of these plays - the actual effect - is minute compared to, well, a YouTube video of a young man testifying about something like the legitimacy of his two-mother family. And that's okay... because we shouldn't demand that kind of "coverage" from our theater...

What theater is, perhaps, is the last bastion - along with live music and dance - where people gather to go through something together. This is rare and important, in my view; it might not be an overstatement to say that it is a crucial component in the survival of compassion, communication, and accountability in our society.

Theater has already died a thousand deaths, and lived to tell about it. But with conversation, debate, storytelling, shared meals, listening, and even human touch being eradicated from the daily existence of the majority of the world's technologically enabled societies, theater stands increasingly alone, really, as one of a very few places where people are present and generous, and attentive to the details of the human experience...

Or not... but either way, I really like Shakespeare in the Park.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  I like to be surprised and challenged. I don't care if it's funny, disgusting, crude, horribly sad, or whatever else... I like to be in the moment - for the duration - and then I like something to think about afterward.

Q:  What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?

A:  Develop a trade that pays cold hard cash. You need to eat. And you need to be free of financial anxiety in order to write. Plus, it will keep you connected to the world at large, which is pretty much essential to a playwright.

Q:  Any plugs?

A:  Come check out the shows! Time Out called our casts "a downtown supergroup of actors" and Martin Denton gave both Laws of Motion and Lathem Prince a rave review...a very wise, very compassionate, and unexpectedly and joltingly profound play.-

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