Feb 8, 2011
I Interview Playwrights Part 315: Roland Tec
Hometown/Current Town: New York City. Born here. May die here, if I’m lucky.
Q: Tell me about The Rubber Room. How are you rehearsing? How did you and Gary Garrison write it together? What was that process?
A: Well, as we speak, there are five separate theatre companies rehearsing the play all over town. I’ve only met one cast—just yesterday, actually, when I dropped in on rehearsal for the very first time. So I can’t really say much about the rehearsal process. I hope they’re doing a very good job but, honestly, I have no idea. And that’s what’s kind of cool about it.
By having five separate companies rehearse independently and then calling one actor in from each company for each performance, it’s really a crazy wild ride… for everyone involved. I mean, any given night could either completely falter or soar. And that danger can be intoxicating.
Personally, as a writer, I’m eager to see as many of the 25 unique casts as possible because I view it as a great learning opportunity. That’s why I’m thrilled that they’ve not only scheduled the performances on every night of the week but they’ve also scheduled a 7pm and a 9:30pm every night so that when I do go, I’ll be able to experience two wildly contrasting versions of the play within a span of just a few hours.
I have a feeling the experience is going to seriously alter me as a playwright.
Oh, you asked about our writing process. It was fascinating. What was most interesting to me (and fun!) was that neither of us had a clue when we began just exactly how we were going to do this. We just knew we wanted to try. And so, literally, we had one meeting to discuss basics of character and premise and then I wrote us an opening few pages, then emailed what I’d done to Gary. A few days later, I found in my IN-Box, 7 more pages from him. A week later I sent the ball back into his court and we were up to about page 20. We continued like this a couple more times until we both agreed it was time to meet again and agree on some basics about dramatic arc. We did that, went off and continued.
We knew we wanted the final script to come in with a running time of roughly 60 min. so that helped a lot in terms of ruling out certain plot or character tangents.
In the end, I’m pretty pleased with the extent to which we’ve been able to deliver a script that doesn’t feel schizophrenic, i.e. written by two voices. We really both had a strong handle pretty early on as to how these five characters spoke and who they were, so there was rarely a problem in terms of dialogue that felt “of the playwright” rather than “of the character.” I think the biggest challenge we faced (as is often the case) was our looming deadline. We really didn’t want to lock the script but rehearsals had to begin and we had to let go.
Gary and I both agree that when the final curtain comes down Feb. 20th, we’ll most likely give the script at least one more pass, just to satisfy the nitpickers inside both of us.
Q: What else are you working on?
A: I just completed a new play (commissioned for Resonance Ensemble.) Kennedy V. It’s a wildly ambitious full-length about Teddy Kennedy’s formative years in the Senate, 1963-69. Researching the play was so much fun. In fact, I’ve so fallen in love with the entire Kennedy family history that I have on my nightstand yet another book on the subject – one that concerned areas that were outside the scope of the play but that still fascinate me. There will be a Suspects Studio reading in March (Directed by Jeremy Dobrish) at New York Theatre Workshop and I’m very excited to see what we’ve got. I was very conscious when writing this one, to not let concerns of cast-size even enter into my head. The result? A play for 11 actors playing more than 25 characters in a two-act play told in 55 scenes. (What was I thinking?!)
But after having written two 4-character single-set plays in a row, I was long overdue for a seismic shift.
The other two things on my radar are finishing the score to Katherine Burger’s hilarious musical, Legends of Batvia and producing my next feature film, which examines the friendship between artists David Hockney and Larry Stanton as told through Super 8 footage shot by Mr. Stanton on Fire Island a decade prior to his death from AIDS in 1986.
So my plate is full… for a while, at least.
Q: Tell me about your duties at the Dramatists Guild.
A: I love what I do for the Guild because, in a way, I feel like my job description could read: “Kind uncle to 6,000 playwrights, composers and lyricists.” I really enjoy helping members meet and interact with each other, as well as helping them wrestle with some of the professional challenges of being a free agent. One of things I’m most proud of having created for the Guild is: Art of the Synopsis because I think by hosting these panels and workshops, the Guild has helped to demystify something that most artists find daunting: their own PR.
Mostly I just love feeling like I’m part of a larger community and because we have members all over the world and in all 50 states, I have a rare opportunity to sample the theatre scenes in various other places by talking with folks on a daily basis about the issues and challenges they’re facing.
One of the most exciting developments at the Guild is the initiation of an annual National Conference of dramatists. The first one will be held at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia this June. And everyone at the Guild is way psyched! (Readers under age 20 may want to google “way psyched.”)
Q: Tell me, if you will, a story from your childhood that explains who you are as a writer or as a person.
A: When I was 10 or 11 my mother came out of the closet as a Holocaust survivor. Up until that time, none of her American friends knew anything more about her past than that she was “from Europe.” Actually, her way of first exploring and expressing her past was to write her memoir, Dry Tears, about her childhood in Nazi-occupied Poland where her blonde hair and blue eyes helped her survive the war by passing as a Christian.
I, of course, didn’t realize at the time, but now in looking back I’m sure that had a profound impact on me as a creative person. All my work seems to be infused with moral questions and issues of identity. I guess if I had to sum up my entire creative output—whether plays, operas or films—it has all focused on human beings wrestling with questions of who they are and how they can connect with others. Those are my obsessions.
And I’m pretty sure I have my mother to thank for that.
Q: If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?
A: I would make it more popular.
It’s emotionally draining toiling away at something that so few people in our society really care about. Why? Because, unfortunately, the more people care about a thing, the more money flows into it. Take professional sports, for instance. How many people tuned in to watch the Super Bowl yesterday? Imagine what life for a playwright might be like if we had half those numbers attending live theatre! Certainly, a new play commission would do a lot more toward putting a roof over your head and food on the table than it currently does.
And I don’t mean this merely as some flip pipe dream. I think each one of us—as members of a theatrical community—have a responsibility to do all we can to increase awareness and interest in theatre as an art form. Period. It’s as simple as that. Too many of us are so focused on our own careers that we lose sight of the big picture. If my friend’s play is a success, it helps me too. That sort of thing. I wish more of us understood that at our core.
Q: Who are or were your theatrical heroes?
A: I know I sound like a broken record but: Edward Albee, Edward Albee and—oh, did I mention, Edward Albee?
Why? Because every time he writes a play he seems to be trying something new. He pushes himself, and—by extension—us. To look at things we otherwise might not ever consider. That’s one of the most generous things an artist can do.
Plus he takes shit from no one. That’s something I wish I could say about myself but I’m way too deferential and cloying… particularly when someone’s offering to produce my work.
Q: What kind of theater excites you?
A: Theatre that makes me laugh and then shakes me to my core when I least expect it.
Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
A: I get asked this question a lot, and I always say the same thing, so, again, apologies if I sound like a broken record, because I sure feel like one.
A life in the theatre is built on collaboration and relationships. Find folks you enjoy working with and when you do, hold on for dear life and carry them to your grave. Everything is just so much easier if you don’t try to go it alone.
Q: Plugs, please:
A: Well, I’d be remiss if I didn’t plug the online group blog I moderate called Extra Criticum. Both Gary Garrison and I are contributing authors, along with a bunch of other interesting sensitive souls. Come check it out and comment! We’d love to hear from y’all! Here’s the url:
Oh, and, of course, to purchase your tickets to The Rubber Room, visit: http://www.smarttix.com
First performance is this Wednesday, February 9 and the show runs absolutely every night of the week until February 20.