Friday, February 24, 2012
I Interview Playwrights Part 430: Aaron Landsman
Hometown: Minneapolis, MN
Current Town: Towns actually. I live part time in Urbana, IL, while my wife Johanna Meyer is in grad school, and part time in Brooklyn, NY.
Q: Tell me about City Council Meeting.
A: City Council Meeting is somewhere between theater and a kind of conceptual art performance. It's an interactive piece where audience members perform transcriptions of city council meetings from around the country, creating a fictional city that lives in the space as long as it's spoken. Audience members can choose to participate, or not, in several ways. The goal is, in part, to allow people to speak another person's words, often someone who is or believes much differently than they do. It's about both holding a mirror up to power, and learning to empathize with a stranger, in a room full of strangers. The piece is being developed concurrently at HERE in New York, DiverseWorks in Houston, ASU/Gammage in Tempe, AZ, and Zspace in San Francisco, with local cohorts of artists and non artists. It's not political theater as much as the theater of politics. In each city we're building the piece with a local cohort of artists, non-artists, politicians or their staff, and other citizens.
Q: What else are you working on?
A: I have two more play-like plays that I am trying to get into production. One is called Running Away From The One With The Knife, about suicide and religious faith. The other is Special Tonight, which is about intimacy, voyeurism, nostalgia and something I can't put my finger on, in contemporary urban existence.
Q: Tell me, if you will, a story from your childhood that explains who you are as a writer or as a person.
A: Here is a triptych. 1) My mother started writing seriously when I was a kid, getting up at 5 AM to write for an hour, before everyone else was awake, before she had to go to work teaching high school. That made me understand the writing life in a way that made sense early. Later, when I was in high school, my friend Carl and I would sneak out of our houses at night to sit up at Embers' Grille on Lake Street, drinking coffee, plotting adventures and writing. Even now I find the best time to write is when everyone else is asleep, or is supposed to be. 2) I came to theater as both an actor and a writer, and the misfits and punks I encountered in the little Minneapolis church-basement theater troupe I was part of were the first community I ever belonged to, felt welcomed in. 3) I tried a lot of drugs in high school, and writing helped keep me from following several friends down a path of serious usage. I found myself the chronicler of our misadventures, and that demanded too much of my time to get hooked
Q: If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?
A: I would make it less formally conservative - I'd want more theater artists to think conceptually as much as narratively. I'd make it braver about formal risk and provocation.
Q: Who are or were your theatrical heroes?
A: In no particular order: The Wooster Group, Roger Guenevere Smith, John Collins and ERS, Richard Maxwell, Tanya Barfield, Anton Chekhov, Mallory Catlett, April Matthis, Melanie Joseph, David Hancock, Rude Mechs, Free Theater Belarus.
Q: What kind of theater excites you?
A: Theater that seems like it might derail at any moment. Theater that makes something abstract palpable. Work that can't quite contain itself, that doesn't explain itself fully, but that is just as carefully wrought as the most narrative fourth-wall play. Theater that finds the sweet spot of allowing me to suspend my disbelief while honoring the fact that we are all in the room together, now.
Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
A: Write a lot. Find ways to hear the work read out loud so you can hear your habits. Learn whose advice is helpful and whose is bullshit. Nod whenever people give you feedback and write it down.
Q: Plugs, please:
A: City Council Meeting in 2013, all over NYC!