Mar 19, 2011
I Interview Playwrights Part 328: Jessica Brickman
Hometown: New York, NY
Current Town: New York, NY
Q: Tell me about your upcoming show.
A: An LA-based theater company is producing The Insomnia Play. It’s about how weird insomnia can be (it often has no cause and no cure) and also the ups and downs of sleeping in a bed with someone you love. My hope is that it will keep the audience awake. And then the title won’t be in vain.
Q: What else are you working on?
A: I’m working on a play that takes place in a Kinkos at 2 am. There’s an old joke: A guy goes into a deli and asks for a chicken sandwich. And the guy behind the counter says: We’re out of chicken. So the guy says: Okay, make it a turkey sandwich. And the guy behind the counter says: Listen, if we had turkey we’d have chicken. In a way that sums up what the play’s about. Right now it’s about ritual, the perversion of the ritual – and imitating and copying in all senses. And it’s a love story. It started out as a play about the monks who were scribes and mis-copied the bible (i.e. Oh! That was celibRate not celibate. Damn.) so who knows what it will be about next month.
I just finished writing a screenplay for hire. And this past year I directed two short films. Never had so much fun in my life. The plan for this summer is to use this new-fangled digital technology to make a feature on the fly in NY.
Q: Tell me, if you will, a story from your childhood that explains who you are as a writer or as a person.
A: In second grade we did a play about the sun rising and setting and I guess to go along with it there were a few lessons about theater. On the way home from school Nina Pike (the gorgeous babysitter/struggling artist) asked what I had learned in “drama class” and I announced that “Every good story has a cornflake” Without dropping a beat my younger sister, Sophie, chimed in disgusted with “Conflict”. (Sophie is four years younger but four inches taller – probably by force of will.) I guess that story says more about who my second grade teacher is as a person. But, I’m still looking for good cornflakes.
Q: If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?
A: As in Ancient Greece: in order to be a citizen and run for office you gotta go to the theater. Also: Tickets to every show, no matter where it is, are 10 bucks. Every revival produced has to be coupled with a new play. And if you own a theater and you don’t produce a new show every three months it is taken away from you.
It seems like everyone’s always saying: The theater is dying. But no matter how hard they try they can’t seem to kill it off. So, maybe it should just keep going on as it has.
Q: Who are or were your theatrical heroes?
A: Actors. And I think Bill Goldman said that the thing that interests writers most is how other writers do it. So, too many writer heroes to mention.
Q: What kind of theater excites you?
A: I get unbelievably excited every time a theater gets dark before a show. Can’t help it. Always have. What that means I guess is that I can be unnecessarily furious a few minutes later if it’s not as good as I’d hoped. (I suppose if I’m gonna be a cliché of something I’d rather be a cliché theatery person then say, a cliché of a Republican Nazi Comptroller.) At this point a well-structured story excites me. Probably because I’m not sure how to create one and I’m constantly trying to figure that out. That said, I don’t like it when everything is tied up with a nice bow. A good absurdist play has, at its heart, a clear story that can be explained in a few un-absurd sentences. I suppose for me a good piece of theater starts with a question and ends with another one that lingers.
Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
A: I feel that I’m just starting out so I’m not sure I would take my advice. I’d say: Follow your instincts (harder than you think). Find some good friends who you believe in and who believe in you. And if you get stuck take a walk, it’s not a faucet. You can sit in front of a computer for hours struggling and then get up to brush your teeth and as the water’s running you realize – oh! That’s what I’m trying to do. I guess you can only have the tooth brushing moment if you have the struggle first. Glenn Gould said in an interview that when he couldn’t get a phrase right he’d turn on seven radios and then just play through the section without listening to what he was playing. He said it allowed his sub-or-unconscious to absorb what he was doing. Kind of like a misdirection in a magic trick. Look over here, but the real thing is happening over there. And usually when he turned the radios off whatever he was practicing had gotten into his fingers. So, hold on tightly, let go lightly.
Q: Plugs, please:
A: Come see The Insomnia Play at the Lyric Hyperion Theater in LA. March 18-April 10. Link here:
And you, Adam S. I’ve always loved your writing and I’m very excited to be part of this.