Mar 21, 2011
I Interview Playwrights Part 329: Oliver Mayer
Hometown: I'm born and bred here in LA, grew up in North Hollywood/Studio City. For awhile I lived in Echo Park and loved it.
Current Town: Now I live at USC, where I am a resident faculty master of the Parkside International Residential College. It's amazing to live on campus where I work. I live with my wife Marlene Forte, our daughter Giselle, our dog Don Aldo, and two cats. It's a great place.
Q: Tell me about your new play with Son of Semele. How do you create shows together?
A: This is my first show with SOSE. Don Boughton invited me in to work on this nearly two years ago. Usually, when I write plays I do the work at home alone, then present it to directors and actors. This time Don had me join the rehearsals with the ensemble and watch them work on improvs, exercises and story theater techniques. Then I would go home and write a scene or character based on what I learned from them. We did this a little at a time, but the piece came together organically and in record time. I still work this way, receiving notes from Don, watching the work, then going home to rewrite or create new stuff. It's addictive.
Q: What else are you working on?
A: I have a play in workshop at The Blank Theatre in Hollywood of a new play called DARK MATTERS. My wife Marlene Forte is in it, along with Arye Gross and Pedro Pascal. The play is about two particle physicists trying to unmask the mysteries of dark matter via the idea of supersymmetry breaking. My wife plays the non-physicist, and gets to sing bits of Leonard Cohen and Donna Summer throughout. It was super fun to write.
Q: Tell me, if you will, a story from your childhood that explains who you are as a writer or as a person.
A: I was a bus boy at Vitiello's Italian Ristorante in Studio City for a grand total of two weeks when I was a teenager. I was a lousy bus boy, and the head bus boy was really pissed off with me. One evening with all the tables full, he came up and said rather loudly that he was going to kill me (I'll never know why). I had plates on both arms and said, "why don't you wait to kill me till I put these plates down." The diners who heard this laughed. I set the plates down in the kitchen, turned around, and the guy hit me. I was a boxer then, so I hit him back. We were pretty well matched and started going at it. The owners pulled us apart, and since he was a valuable bus boy and I wasn't, they fired me. I went home fuming, saying I would never go back to that restaurant ever again. My dad responded quietly and firmly, "Yes you are. We'll go tomorrow night." And we did. They all had to serve us. Turned out I became friends with the owners for years afterward. That was my last restaurant job.
Q: If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?
A: The best plays in town, and in the nation, are coming from smaller theaters. I'd like to see more attention paid to those of us striving to find the voice of our moment. I don't necessarily want us to move small company shows to the Taper (it's a tough space to play); rather, I want to celebrate the good work and full houses and high quality writing and acting that takes place at theaters like SOSE. I'm proud to be part of it.
Q: Who are or were your theatrical heroes?
A: Luis Valdez, William Saroyan, Tennessee Williams and Wallace Shawn are my fab four.
Q: What kind of theater excites you?
A: I like total theatre -- live song and music, dance, violence, sex, humor and drama. Can't be beat.
Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
A: Open your heart and take advantage of every moment in your story to find the drama, and to ask what's really going on in your life, my life, our lives.
Q: Plugs, please:
A: Plug who? SOSE? I adore them. Plug you? How shall I do so? Tell me what to plug and I'll do so.