May 4, 2011
I Interview Playwrights Part 348: David West Read
David West Read
Hometown: Markham, Ontario, Canada
Current Town: New York, New York
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I’m working on a commission for the Roundabout about the “golden age” of children’s television performers. The play delves into the private life of one such icon, who’s trying to make his comeback in the face of Barney and Dora the Explorer while dealing with some personal issues. It marks the first time I’ve written for puppets.
I’m also developing a commissioned screenplay called THE ROCKETTE, which is inspired by my grandmother, who spent many years performing jazz and tap with an all-seniors’ dance troupe. It’s kind of like Little Miss Sunshine, except the little girl is 76-years-old.
Q: Tell me, if you will, a story from your childhood that explains who you are as a writer or as a person.
A: For the most part, Canadians watch American TV, but when I was growing up, I was deeply inspired by the Canadian programming for kids (which explains the play I’m writing). I watched shows like Polka Dot Door, Mr. Dressup, Under the Umbrella Tree, Fred Penner’s Place and Today’s Special. This makes it sounds like I was a TV junkie, but I think I just experienced and remembered TV much more vividly then, whereas now, I tend to forget everything I experience as soon as it’s over.
I was extremely shy, and rarely spoke in public, but I used to like to imitate what I’d seen on TV around the house. I think my playwriting is an extension of that; I’m still just imitating things that inspire me.
My ability to regurgitate what I’d learned on television almost got me in trouble when I was about 4-years-old. I was on the elevator at the doctor’s office, with my mom, when a black man stepped onto the all-white car. Being a big fan of Sesame Street, I started singing “One of These Things is Not Like the Others.” Fortunately, the man had a sense of humor. I don’t think I could get away with that now.
Q: If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?
A: It seemed like a lot of people were vomiting onstage last year. I don’t know if that’s factual or not, but I seem to remember seeing three plays in a week, all of which featured someone puking. I think we could do with less of that.
Q: Who are or were your theatrical heroes?
A: I wouldn’t be writing plays if not for the encouragement of my teachers at Juilliard and NYU – especially Marsha Norman, Christopher Durang, and Daniel Goldfarb. They’re my heroes because I know how much I hate reading other people’s work, and they do it all the time, with such generosity and care.
Q: What kind of theater excites you?
A: I like big-hearted plays. I like the idea that the playwright might be sitting in the back, crying his or her eyes out, even if the audience is bored to tears. I like to think that it really means something to the person writing it, and that that “something” isn’t praise, or recognition, or money. Also, when the turtle started walking in Arcadia, I basically freaked out. I also really liked the chickens in Jerusalem. So, I guess I should add “moving animals” to the list.
Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
A: I think it’s more important to be a nice and respectful person. More important than being really persistent, or schmoozy, or a great networker. I might just be telling myself this because I’m shy and terrified of mingling, but I think it’s true.
Q: Plugs, please:
A: The Dream of the Burning Boy is in its last weeks at the Roundabout Underground, and will close on May 15th. I am incredibly proud of this production, and it’s well worth $20 to see Reed Birney’s incredible performance.