Hometown: Chicago, the theatrical heart of the nation.
Current Town: Murphysboro, Illinois. I used to work at SIUC.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: A couple things: a new play which is going slowly, and a book which is tentatively titled THE PLAYWRIGHT IN THE ROOM, which is about how to collaborate with one. I’m also looking for a composer to collaborate with me on an opera I’m playing with. And I’ve picked up some freelance content writing jobs.
Q: Tell me about your guide to play analysis.
A: For years I taught an undergraduate course in the subject, required of all majors and minors. One day I realized that if I put my lectures into a book, I’d never have to lecture again. So I did. The book is a self-contained one-semester course, looking at plays through various critical windows: a typical well-made play structure (using Freytag and Aristotle as models), classes of genres (tragedy, comedy, farce, melodrama and Chekov), and styles (the “isms”.) It also has a chapter on post-modernism, so you can get through Mac Wellman if you need to. They tell me it’s required reading in over a dozen schools. I think it’s particularly useful for playwrights, since it can provide you with templates to help jumpstart your creative flow.
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 in high school, I skipped classes one afternoon to sneak into the city to see a matinee performance of a touring production of “The Skin of Our Teeth,” starring Mary Martin, Helen Hayes, and George Abbot. There’s a spot in the last act when Wilder breaks down the 4th wall and presents a scene which is too complicated to explain here, but creates that magical sense of awe and wonder that great theater uses so well when it works. And it worked on that 17-year old kid. I was crying when I left the theater because I had been touched by beauty. And it was then I knew I would be a playwright. All the rest has been filling in the blanks with the rest of my life.
Q: If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?
A: (Does it have to be only one?)
I assume you mean theater as it’s practiced in the USA today? If so, here’s a brief list:
. I would find a way to legislate more government support. The Brits do it very well.
. I would eliminate age-ism from play buyers.
. I would make dramaturgs who work with new plays have to take some sort of exam to get licensed. They do that with horse doctors, people doctors, and finance doctors; why not with play doctors just as well. There’s a reason the Hippocratic oath says something about “do no harm.”
Q: Who are or were your theatrical heroes?
A: Thornton Wilder, Eugene O’Neil, Chekov, Tennessee Williams, Eric Overmeyer of “On the Verge,” Russ Tutterow.
Q: What kind of theater excites you?
A: Theater that demands the audience join in. I don’t mean 60’s style “Get-up-and-hug-me” theater, nor do I mean “Sing along” theater. I mean theater that makes you pay attention so you don’t miss the
wonder that’s coming in just another minute.
Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
A: Several things:
When I teach, I write three words on the board: “Crap Is Good,” and I elaborate by telling my students to eliminate fear when they sit down. Fear of “not being good” is a destroyer. Write it as best you can because you can always get rid of it. Even Shakespeare must have shredded garbage. After all, it’s why God made delete keys.
I also tell them to keep in mind that NOBODY EVER IN THE HISTORY OF THEATER has written or will ever write the kind of plays they will. They are unique. Discover what that means and go with it.
I also tell them to be very careful whom they show their plays to. Keep in mind that everybody in the world will see your play through THEIR eyes and not yours. Learn how to read their critics to understand whether or not their advice is any good.
Q: Plugs, please:
A: I got accepted as one of the mainstage plays at this year’s Great Plains Theater Conference. There are some other potentially nice things in the wings I can’t talk about just yet. And I'm looking for a