Monday, October 31, 2011
I Interview Playwrights Part 398: David Wiener
Hometown: Irvine, California
Current Town: Hoboken, New Jersey
Q: What are you working on now?
A: Right now, I'm working on a new play about the relationship between loneliness and political violence in America. And I sold a TV pilot recently, so I should probably get cracking on 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: When I was nineteen, I saw Robert Stevens perform as King Lear at Stratford on Avon. It was a luminous production and a truly magnificent performance. Stevens was pitiable and potent all at once. Anyway, the play ended and the house went dark for about six seconds. And during that six seconds the audience was completely, absolutely, silent. I felt electrified and shaken just knowing that somewhere in that darkness, a thousand other humans were simultaneously processing the sheer beauty and power of what we had all just communally witnessed. Then, the lights came on and, as if a single organism, everyone stood. I've never recovered from that. I suppose I've spent the past 15 years of my life chasing those six seconds in the dark.
Q: If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?
A: Theater, is perfect. It's a dynamic art form that, I think more than any other, has the capacity to engender empathy. It's not a one-way transmission like film or TV or visual art. Theater is a communication-- an ephemeral conversation between play and audience, performer and play. I think the live communal dynamic is magnificent. And we're lucky to have it.
Q: Who are or were your theatrical heroes?
A: I think anyone who endeavors to do this lonely, unyielding, difficult thing is heroic in some sense.
Q: What kind of theater excites you?
A; I love good storytelling. And I gravitate towards theater in which the story proceeds from emotional causality rather than the explication of plot. In my own writing, I try to focus on the emotional needs of my characters and allow them to dictate what happens next. Perhaps that sounds a little odd, but I’ve found that, somehow, if I can relax enough to simply feel and listen without editing, then these emotional needs lead my characters to action. I should say that, even with a lot of practice, it's very difficult to achieve that level of relaxation. But it does occur. And when it does, I experience a mode of writing in which I'm transcribing rather than composing. In other words, I'm not ahead of the action. I am, or rather, my characters are, just reacting on the basis of their emotional needs. The result is a story in which mystery and revelation coexist. And what they say and do becomes surprising-- Even to me. Especially to me. In spite of my otherwise practical, rational, logical thinking, writing plays has made me a big believer in the power of the unconscious mind. I think relaxation allows the unconscious to confront those aspects of ourselves about which we are unresolved. And at the point of that confrontation, creativity occurs.
Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
A: 1. Ask for help. No one ever does this alone. The theater is full of generous, experienced, artists who embrace the responsibility of helping the next generation of artists to grow and find their own voices-- these people are the true care-takers of our art form. Personally, I've been fortunate to have had many remarkable mentors throughout my career. I owe a lot to writers like David Henry Hwang, Lisa Kron, Frank Pugliese, Theresa Rebeck and Arthur Kopit, to name only a few.
2. Seek out forums where you can engage with your colleagues about your work. There are a multitude of groups, fellowships, theaters, colonies, etc. that bring writers together around the development process. Some involve directors and actors as well. Each has it's own energy and method. Find the ones that work for you and go. And work. And listen. Personally I’ve benefitted tremendously from working at the Soho Rep Writer Director Lab, The Lark Fellowship, The Ojai Playwrights’ Conference, and New Dramatists.
3. Finally, relax, be patient, and remove the word “Deserve” from your vocabulary.
Q: Plugs, please:
A: My play, CASSIOPEIA is being presented at Boston Court in LA at their PLAY/Ground festival December 10th-12th.
My new play, GOLIATH, is having its first reading at New Dramatists November 14th.