Sep 21, 2011
I Interview Playwrights Part 384: Jeff Talbott
Hometown: Kimball, Nebraska
Current Town: Sunnyside, Queens, NYC
Q: Tell me about The Submission.
A: Hm. The Submission is a play about a guy who has a lot to learn. Hopefully. It's a play about where we are right now and conversations we should be having about how we can maybe be in a better place. Hopefully. It's a comedy for awhile, and then not a comedy at all. It's a play about a friendship and a play about being young and sure that you're right, sure that you're a good person and sure that the world is going to get all of that. And learning that none of that is 100% true. Or true at all. Hopefully.
Q: What else are you working on?
A: I just finished drafts of two new plays, one is a workplace comedy (comedy? hm. well...) about how little we know each other, and the other is a comedy about Alzheimer's and how we build a family. I am taking notes on something new that I think is about high school teachers. And something that I think will be about adoption. At least right now I think that's what they will be about.
Q: How does your acting inform your writing and vice versa?
A: I think acting informs my writing in a lot of ways, but probably the purest way is I write fairly blankly about what I think an actor is doing. I only write what they say (for the most part - obviously I have opinions about how it gets played out, and I use stage directions when I need to, but sparingly). Because my favorite part of being an actor is making up the story in my head, privately - so as a writer I want to make sure there's a strong template so an actor can do that - can interpret - without a heavy hand from me. Same for the director. It's fun to watch people figure out their own way in, and then to get to respond only if it seems to not be helping the story. And writing influencing my acting? Hm. I think it has made me much more aware of how hard every single syallable is to get right, so I try to honor that as an actor. I was always a big verbatim guy, but writing has only strengthened that.
Q: Tell me, if you will, a story from your childhood that explains who you are as a writer or as a person.
A: Wow. I dunno. I guess I'll tell this one. When I was in high school, we did The Odd Couple. I played Felix. I come from a very small town, and we had limited resources with which to produce plays. So the entire set was made up of furniture from the drama club coach's house (it's important to note we had a different drama coach each year I was in high school - it was a job nobody wanted). We did two performances and at the end of the first one we were all in the cafeteria and I realized the coach/director wasn't there, so I went back to the auditorium to get her and found her sitting on the set, in the middle of her furniture, quietly weeping. And she said to go back the party, she'd be there later. I think what that taught me is that there's a cost to what we do, and I try to honor that, or remember it, when I do it. Or it could've just been that she (a) missed her funiture, (b) hated us, (c) hated her life, (d) hated the play or some combo platter of the above. But in retrospect for me, I made it a life lesson about what we do. Not because I'm deep, just because I never forgot it.
Q: If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?
A: It would cost less to see (and pay more to do).
Q: Who are or were your theatrical heroes?
A: Gee. I have so many. Ibsen was great. It's easy to love Chekhov, but I love Ibsen as much. Less subtle but a lot of punch. If you don't know Little Eyeolf (nobody does), you should. Wow, that guy was great at what he did. I dunno. There are so many great people doing this, and some of them are my friends, so I hate to name names right now - because I'd leave somebody out and I'd feel bad. So I'm sticking with Ibsen for today.
Q: What kind of theater excites you?
A: The kind that doesn't bore me. I see a lot, and there's nothing I hate more than middle-of-the-house theatre. You know the kind. The kind that doesn't swing for the fences, just swings to get on base. I'd much rather see a terrible, awful, unendurable failure that is trying to do something than a safe, boring nothing that only wants to please.
Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
A: Write. It's the most uninspired advice in the world, only because it's good advice. Write. And get friends together to hear what you wrote. And then go home and write some more. It's hard, and lonely, and you should try to make it communal when you can. Listen to people, decide who's smart in your life and listen to them. And then go home and write some more. See plays. See as many as you can. And then go home and write some more. And drink a lot of water, because it's good for you.
Q: Plugs, please:
A: The Submission, now through Oct 22 at MCC Theater performing at the Lucille Lortel Theatre on Christopher Street.