Apr 3, 2012
I Interview Playwrights Part 439: Fengar Gael
Hometown: None. As a self-proclaimed resident alien in despair over the recent loss of civil liberties in this mad, militaristic, security-obsessed nation, I claim no town, no country, though my heart’s home is New York.
Current Town: New York City (where going to the theatre is a way of life)
Q: What are you working on now?
A: A full length science fiction play that takes place in The Garment District called The Draper's Eye, and I'm continuing work on a musical called Soul on Vinyl with the composer, Dennis McCarthy.
Q: Tell me, if you will, a story from your childhood that explains who you are as a writer or as a person.
A: Since my plays tend to have metaphysical dimensions and feature outcasts with megalomaniacal ideas about salvaging an endangered world, I believe my story began when I was stricken with a severe case of bronchitis and bedridden on the day of my first holy communion. Weeks later, utterly alone, wearing the traditional white dress and veil, I nervously stepped down the aisle where a kindly nun drew me aside and told me I was special, that god had singled me out for reasons that only god knew. So for years I actually believed I had a sacred mission and was convinced I’d become a Catholic missionary. But life and literature have since turned me into an atheist, weary and wary of male gods, male clerics, and religions of every kind. That said, I’ve taken enough drugs and seen enough marvels to believe their are dimensions we cannot yet perceive, including hidden realms of the spirit.
Q: If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?
A: The American Theatre’s relentless preference for domestic realism, linear “carpet-slipper plays” that tread softly, offend no one, and simply mirror or affirm our quotidian lives (which television and movies do very well). I wish that literary managers in the gate positions of theatres, as well as their artistic directors, would cease underestimating the imaginations of audiences, and start producing more creative, theatrical plays that take the audience to less familiar worlds. Also our paganistic celebrity-worshipping culture has hurt the theatre in that plays seem to be chosen to accommodate movie or television stars and not for the merit of the plays themselves. I also wish there were more plays produced that were written for women by women.
Q: What kind of theater excites you?
A: I prefer theatre that takes me to unfamiliar worlds, a theatre of heightened passions that’s imaginative, subversive, confrontational, and is a fusion of art forms, reflecting the collage of sounds and images that bombard us daily, yet is as dark, dense, and mysterious as our collective cultural myths. Since the first playwrights were poets and myth-makers, I think plays should aspire to being epic and poetic, with characters who live within the context of history and the social forces surrounding them, but are also brave, mythic protagonists willing to battle the gods. I prefer plays that communicate compelling ideas and images by employing slanted speech that risks being heretical, scenery of uncommon, even alien landscapes, and acting styles that reach beyond the confines of verisimilitude towards song and dance. I am excited by radiant language that lifts me from numbness and conformity, that dares to speak the unspeakable, to question everything, even the moral foundations that inspire our symbols and metaphors. The theatre can also be a place to escape the unrelenting presence of the Internet, FaceBook, and Twitter. I truly believe that the theatre, with its roots in myth, poetry, and spectacle, is starving for visionary creators to continue its honored purpose as the most vital and defining cultural art. But it also needs courageous producers, directors, and audiences willing to participate intellectually and emotionally so that going to the theatre becomes a creative act unto itself.
Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
A: Read poetry, drink wine, taste everything, cultivate all your aesthetic senses and sensibilities; enrich your life with fascinating friends, haunt museums and galleries, attend concerts of every kind; try to avoid social networks or the compulsion to flip to the Internet while writing, and thereby wasting hours of your precious life and causing the muse to flee; try to find sacred, solitary time for just writing as often as possible, and to quote Emily Dickinson, "Be a fire that lights itself." Don't wait for commissions or even kind words of encouragement; be your own inspiration, and it helps to join or create a group that reads and critiques plays-in-process. If playwriting is your literary form, and you possess a quixotic belief in the transforming power of language, remember that words live on the page as well as the stage, so try to make the script a pleasure to read as well as to perform (because it may takes years to find a producer). I should add that theatre can be a humbling profession and you’ll be subject to the hill-valley syndrome of great news (your play is being produced) followed by devastating news (the theatre lost its funding), which means you risk becoming a bipolar manic depressive with delusions of grandeur and multiple personality syndrome, so try to have other outlets and hobbies and take up a sport, like running. Try not to be discouraged by cruel rejection letters sent by merciless, even sadistic literary managers, and then there are those “avoidance directors” who secretly wish playwrights were deaf, dumb, blind, and preferably deceased. Also and most importantly, never police your own imagination: Just because you’re not African, Asian, Jewish, Catholic, or Muslim, or old, young, male or female, or lived through wars, experienced poverty, imprisonment, hideous cancers, and other assorted miseries, doesn’t mean you can’t imagine anything you wish. The great evolutionary triumph of the species is imagination, so to define yourself in terms of your creatureliness, your gender, age, race or ethnicity is to be forever stranded on a smaller planet, so have fun, dabble in everything at every level. I should add that it’s important to keep revising and recrafting your plays, for as the French poet, Paul Valery wrote: "A poem is never finished; it is only abandoned." The same is true of a play so as you evolve, your plays evolve, and you can reenter and refine and restructure their worlds. Although Aristotle wrote (and I tend to agree) that “the essence of drama is story,” I think that the theatre is still evolving, so be inventive, dare to break the rules and know that so much more is still possible. The great advantage of writing for the theatre is that unlike actors, directors, designers and virtually everyone else in the profession, you’re not at the mercy of opportunity. Playwrights can write plays in a prison cell in Muleshoe, Texas, miles away from an actual theatre. Also avoid people who say there’s no future in writing for the theatre. I think people will come to the theatre more than ever before, if only to heal their damaged attention spans, to finally focus on the perpetual wide screen of the stage where no bullying cameras are telling us precisely where to look, no soundtrack assaulting our ears, where we’re no longer isolated but in the company of other human beings, and where our presence actually matters, so keep writing plays. A good rehearsal with an inspired company is right up there with the great sensual pleasures of life!
Q: Who are or were your theatrical heroes?
A: You, Adam, and all the playwrights, directors actors, designers, producers, managers, audiences, ushers, and everyone everywhere struggling to create illusions in theatres today simply because they love it and believe it can be as great as it ever was in defining our culture. I’ve had the great good blessing of working with wonderful developmental and producing theatres in and out of New York, like New Jersey Rep, Playwrights Theatre of New Jersey, InterAct of Philadelphia, Seanachai in Chicago, the Rorschach Theatre in D. C., the Moxie Theatre, the Hunger Artists Theatre, South Coast Repertory, Sundance, the Axial Theatre, and in New York: MultiStages, CAP 21, the Abingdon Theatre, Playwrights Gallery, Flux Theatre Ensemble, Reverie Productions, and many others.