Thursday, April 19, 2012

I Interview Playwrights Part 443: Michael Elyanow

Michael Elyanow

Hometown: Randolph, MA

Current Town(s): Minneapolis & LA

Q:  Tell me about The Children.

A:  It's a re-imagining of the Medea myth, about a member of the Greek chorus who kidnaps Medea's children to save them from their murderous mom. She uses Medea's sorcery book to transport them all away to the ancient city of Athens, but she gets the magic wrong and they all end up in present-day Athens, Maine. The play combines Greek tragedy, broad comedy, and puppetry to tell a story about how we survive through telling stories.

Q:  What else are you working on now?

A:  A play about sociologist Laud Humphreys who, in 1960's St. Louis, did research on the private lives of men who have sex in public restrooms. It was a study that was as controversial for its subject matter as it was for its research method, which was all about voyeurism and deception and disguise. I'm also developing an animated feature film as well as a TV pilot.

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 little and my parents went out for the night and left me and my two brothers with a babysitter, I used to write treasure hunts for my parents to come home to. I'd leave a note on the kitchen table that read something like, "Go To The Fireplace." And they'd go to the fireplace and there'd be another note waiting for them that read, "Good Job! Now Go To The Sink." And I'd leave a note for them there. And this went on and on until, after walking all over the house, they'd reach the last note which would declare "I Love You" or "We're Out Of Cereal." I don't know why, but I've always gotten a thrill in taking an audience on a journey. As a middle child, maybe I was so used to having to share all my toys that sharing my imagination was the next logical step...

Q:  If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?

A;  More women! More onstage and behind the scenes and in positions of power and decision. I wrote my most recent play, ROBYN IS HAPPY, simply because I miss seeing women being funny and fierce and physical onstage.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  Alan Ayckbourn for his craft. Peter Brooks for The Empty Space. Frank Galati, who taught me how to teach. Any organization (like The Playwrights' Center, The Lark, New Dramatists, TCG) that supports the development of playwrights, plays, and theater artists.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  I love a good story well told. But the kind that really feeds my needy creative soul is the kind that fully takes advantage of the theatrical medium itself, that says Here's what you can do with imagination and space and it's something you won't find anywhere else. Suli Holum & Deborah Stein's CHIMERA is a great example of that. So is Dan O'Brien's THE BODY OF AN AMERICAN. And Marcus Gardley's DANCE OF THE HOLY GHOSTS.

Q:  What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?

A:  Read a lot of plays. See a lot of plays. Build relationships, both in the theater and out. Send your material around only when it's ready.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  "The Children" is at The Theatre @ Boston Court, May 3 - June 10. Go to or for more.

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