Tuesday, October 25, 2011
I Interview Playwrights Part 397: M.Z. Ribalow
Hometown: New York City.
Current Town: New York City.
Q: Tell me about Peanuts and Crackerjacks.
A: It’s a novel (my first to be published) about a young pitching coach for a major league team in Buffalo who discovers that baseball, his great true love, has changed in ways that reflect our constantly evolving society. Tradition clashes with modernity both on and off the baseball diamond in hilarious, ironic and unexpected ways. I’m obviously honored that Pulitzer Prize Laureate N. Scott Momaday wrote that “Ribalow has written a book that truly belongs among the monuments of baseball literature. It is full of learning and lore, wit and wisdom.” Can’t ask for more appreciation than that, can you?
Q: What else are you working on?
A: A new play, a new novel, a new poetry collection (my first one, Chasing Ghosts, was just published), and a non-fiction book about how films reflect our values. And Plays from New River 2, the second in our annual series of published new plays that emerge from New River Dramatists. I’m Series Editor.
Q: What was it like reading scripts at the Public for Joe Papp?
A: Fascinating, but it’s worth noting that Joe asked me to start a Literary Department; there hadn’t been one at The Public. So I wasn’t just reading scripts, I was creating a mechanism for evaluating around a thousand plays a year that were submitted to us, making sure that every single play was read fairly and at least twice before deciding on its disposition. Gave me not only a phenomenal education on how to read plays, but enormous empathy for people pouring so much energy and dedication into writing them. At that point in my life, I was mostly directing, and writing, as I always had, fiction and poetry. I didn’t start writing plays until my last year working at The NY Shakespeare Festival.
Q: Tell me about New River.
A: Mark Woods and I started New River Dramatists because we both had the same dream: to create a haven for gifted playwrights where they would be encouraged to write the best work of which they were capable. The creative partnership has worked out well, because Mark wanted to build it and I wanted to establish the process and run the room. Mark found this paradise in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina: in the woods, on the river, beautiful cabins, fantastic food, and we pay writers to come down and work with actors, writing whatever they want. We don’t care what each writer writes, because we don’t produce, so we’re not looking for plays to present; we’re looking for talent to nurture. We see our mision as doing what we can to raise the level of storytelling. The results have been pretty impressive: since we began a dozen years ago, we’ve developed nearly 400 new plays and screenplays, almost half have been produced or optioned all over the world, and our writers have won all sorts of major awards. So it’s nice to be validated. But this is a labor of love and, we both feel, of necessity. We badly need better stories to tell and by which to live. Anyway, it went so well artistically that it seemed natural to add New River Fiction and New River Poetry to our public presentations in NYC (at The Players) and elsewhere. So now we present evenings of all three genres, put all three on our New River Radio Show on Art International Radio (AIR) online (the URL is http://urls.artonair.org/newriver) and I’m now editing not only the Plays from New River series but also publications of Currents: New River Fiction (2012), and Capturing Chaos: New River Poetry.
Q: If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?
A: I yearn for a theatre based more on true artistic excellence and less on trendy mediocrity and perceived commerciality.
Q: Who are or were your theatrical heroes?
A: Shakespeare, Pinter, Chekhov, Ibsen, Moliere, Tennessee Williams, Eugene O’Neill, Joe Papp, Jose Ferrer.
Q: What kind of theater excites you?
A: An original voice on a timeless subject. I prefer ambitious (not to be confused with pretentious) theatre, and I’d rather read a flawed play that no one else but that writer would have written than a beautifully done play that’s just a variation of something I’ve seen a hundred times.
Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
A: If you are writing out of love and passion and a deep need to write, don’t let anyone discourage you. They can’t keep you from writing, so keep doing it. Remember, you’re not writing for the Madding Crowd; you’re writing for yourself, God and The Unknown Friend.
Q: Plugs, please:
A: Please listen to our radio show (http://urls.artonair.org/newriver). We’re proud of the work, and it’s free 24/7.
Check out New River at www.newriverdramatists.org.
New River Facebook page:
New River Twitter:
Twitter, New River Dramatists (@Newriverdrama)!
Meir Ribalow Facebook page:
Information on Peanuts and Crackerjacks (a novel):
Information on Chasing Ghosts (poetry):