Tuesday, September 06, 2011
I Interview Playwrights Part 381: Paul Cohen
Hometown: New York City
Current Town: New York City
Q: Tell me about the Tenant. How did you all collaborate on this project?
A: There wasn't a ton of collaboration that I know of between playwrights. There was one very general meeting early on with all of us, but after that we just took our assigned tracks and wrote them, and then the Woodshed Collective took these tracks and formed them into a cohesive whole. This actually made it a lot more fun to watch, because most of the play was completely new to me both times I went to see it.
Q: What else are you working on?
A: I've got a play that's been called Untitled Genocide Comedy (that won't be the actual name) that has been bouncing around for a while, and almost got done a few times. There's one based on a Henry James short story. There are various others at various stages of development.
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 a friend of mine yelled "Vaginas" in the middle of class. Out of nowhere. It actually didn't get a huge laugh, and I didn't think it was funny, but I did think it was a good thing to say. I still like that he went plural rather than singular with it. I guess I learned a lot about the power of words (he wouldn't have gotten in as much trouble if he'd used a different word) and about the power of performance (he wouldn't have gotten in trouble at all if he'd whispered "vaginas" quietly to himself.) Years later (maybe fifth grade) I asked him why he'd done it. He said, "Man, times were different."
Q: If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?
A: It would be good if people wanted to watch plays, especially new plays. Let's say 160 million people watch television in the United States on an average night. I would make it so that a quarter of them would want to watch a play (the other 120 million would still watch TV.) This brings up some serious logistical problems, but we'd deal with them.
Q: What kind of theater excites you?
A: I like good writing and good acting.
Q: If you had to compare Adam Szymkowicz to a bird which bird would it be?
A: The Golden Eagle: majestic and cunning.
Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
A: For at least a year work a job that is illegal (doesn't have to be drug-dealing, but something like that.) The situations are inherently dramatic, with lots of vivid characters, plus all the regular officeplace politics. Also there are many excellent writing/theater programs in prison, especially in New York and Massachusetts. I'm pretty sure Tony Kushner killed a guy--but that's taking things too far.