Jun 21, 2011
I Interview Playwrights Part 362: Tom Jacobson
Hometown: Oklahoma City
Current Town: Los Angeles
Q: What are you working on now?
A: Just finished a poltergeist incest musical and will next tackle the second play in The Vesuvius Trilogy. I finished the first in February--it's about a Roman family that puts on a fake Greek play in their private theatre on August 24, 79 AD. The second is Clytemnestra, the fake play they put on. And the third will be about the American archeologists who find the family 2000 years later.
Q: How many plays have you written?
A: 50 full lengths.
Q: What is your process like?
A: 10 page outline, many drafts, review by a playwrights group and smart director friends.
Q: Do you work on more than one play at a time?
A: I can be researching one play while writing dialogue for another, but I couldn't be at the same stage of two plays simultaneously.
Q: How would you characterize the LA theater scene?
A: Very vibrant, best kept secret. More plays than anywhere, thanks to the largest acting pool in the world and the 99 Seat Theatre Plan that allows the best Equity actors to appear in tiny venues for almost no money (with the notion that they'll get attention that leads to paid work in TV and film, which actually works sometimes).
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 high school we spent three months deceiving our classmates with fake devil worship at an abandoned farm outside of town: stage blood, giant candles, pentagrams, machetes, burned bones, notes signed in blood, cow skulls, creepy blue lights, black hoods, stolen cars, etc. We finally had to quit when other kids in our school scared themselves so badly they drove away without looking and had a bad wreck. No one was hurt (they were just drunk) but when we arrived to check out our handiwork we saw ambulances and police cars. The driver of one of those cars only found out it was fake last summer at our 30-year high school reunion.
Q: If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?
A: Create a strong link between regional and Off Broadway theatres and the 99 Seat Theatres of Los Angeles. The intimate theatres here could be a fantastic spawning grown for plays that could quickly move to larger venues across the country. It's inexpensive to put on a play in a small theatre here, but the quality is extremely high (most of the time). If plays could be launched nationally or internationally here, that would be ideal. The audiences are smart, daring, and younger than in large regional theatres. The plays are being done here already. If only we could find the missing link.
Q: Who are or were your theatrical heroes?
A: Most of them are writers: Sophocles, Shakespeare, Moliere, Chekhov, Wilde, Miller, Churchill, Kushner.
Q: What kind of theater excites you?
A: Good, complicated storytelling that grabs me emotionally and makes me think. I like narrative and get impatient with unstructured images and characters that don't engage me. I like seeing something I've never seen before. I love to laugh and cry in the theatre--if I do either to the point of embarrassment, I'm a happy theatre-goer.
Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
A: Sleep with everyone. Or at least have lots of friendships with actors, directors, designers and other playwights. Actually, it's probably best not to sleep with them. But fall in love with them, definitely. Those are the people who will get your work on stage and make sure it's great. They will literally get you productions. And once you've found great collaborators, nurture those relationships--nothing will serve you and your plays better.
Q: Plugs, please:
A: I've had terrific reviews for the following shows in Los Angeles in the last 10 years, but little luck getting productions elsewhere. Because they've already been done by wonderful actors working with terrific directors, they're pretty polished scripts. It would be fabulous if a regional theatre would pick one of them up!
Bunbury (3 women, 3 men; 1 set) When he discovers he is only a fictitious character in The Importance of Being Earnest, Bunbury joins forces with Rosaline, Romeo’s never-seen obsession from Romeo and Juliet. Together, they win back their loves and change the world by changing classic literature. Winner of a Ticketholder Award and Garland Award for Best New Play, Critic’s Choice in the Los Angeles Times.
The Friendly Hour (5 women) Based on the actual minutes of a women’s club formed in rural South Dakota in 1934, this poignant comedy charts 70 years of personal and national history, from skinning skunks and julebukking in the 30s to restoring native prairie in the new millennium. Soon to be a short film entitled Prairie Sonata.
House of the Rising Son (4 men) When Trent brings Felix home to New Orleans to meet his father and homophobic grandfather, the family’s demons come slithering into the light. Watchful ghosts, sinister hustlers, and a myriad of parasites lead Felix on a Southern Gothic journey to St. Louis Cemetery No. 1. Critic's Choice in the Los Angeles Times.
The Orange Grove (4 women, 5 men) A small Lutheran choir in its death-throes provides the backdrop for this Chekhovian warning of the impending doom of mainline Protestantism in America . Laughter through tears with nice lemon bars. Critic’s Choice in the Los Angeles Times.
Ouroboros (2 women, 3 men) Two American couples get caught in a chronological palindrome on a trip to Italy . Stigmata, alchemy, adultery and St. Catherine of Siena ’s severed head plague a nun and a minister in this circular love story that is a comedy if performed forward and a tragedy if performed backward. Winner of Best New Play and Production of the Year LA Weekly Awards.
Sperm adapted from Jacques Miroir’s 18th-century play (2 women, 5 men) Pulled from the stomach of a whale, an American whaler is bleached blind and becomes a modern Tiresias in the court of Louis XVI. He seduces Marie Antoinette and sets the king on a path to destroy France and ultimately humankind. A tragicomedy in rhymed couplets. Critic’s Choice in the Los Angeles Times.
Tainted Blood (3 women, 5 men) Oscar Wilde, Bram Stoker, and Arthur Conan Doyle use logic and religion to fend off a seductive vampire in this fang-in-cheek comedy/thriller. Pick of the Week in the LA Weekly, and winner of seven Valley Theatre League Awards.
The Twentieth-Century Way (2 men) is the true story of two actors who hired themselves out to the Long Beach Police Department in 1914 to entrap "social vagrants" in public restrooms. Thirty-one men were arrested, and the ensuing scandal led to an ordinance against "oral sodomy" in California. Nominated for five Ovation Awards, a GLAAD Award and four LA Drama Critics Circle Awards, winner of Outstanding Production of a Play (New York International Fringe Festival), and a 2010 Agnes Moorehead Award (Top Ten Live Performances, Gay City News).
And then I have 25 plays not yet produced--world premieres available! The most recently written are:
The Rosy Fingers of Dawn (2 women, 3 men) Not even the eruption of Mount Vesuvius can stop an inventive and theatrical Roman family from putting on their production of a lost Greek classic, Menander's Clytemnestra. The show must go on!
The Journeys of Yuzu adapted from the ancient Pali manuscript (1 woman, 5 men) A young assassin seeks clues to his origin and discovers a secret that changes the world. Pure evil pursues impure good in this irreverent verse drama about the ultimate action hero.
Los York (3 men) UCLA or NYU? Seduction and betrayal or self-sacrificing love? Otis is stuck between two coasts and his two gay uncles, in the middle of an America living in terror. Choosing a grad school was never this hard.
The Lock of the Five Keys (2 men) An American professor pursuing a lost letter by E.M. Forster disappears in India, provoking a manhunt across three millennia in a play within a play within a play within a play within a play.