Saturday, May 12, 2012

I Interview Playwrights Part 450: Zack Calhoon


Zack Calhoon

Hometown: Salem, Oregon

Current Town: New York City

Q:  Tell me about RINO.

A:  RINO is a new play that is getting produced in association with Core Creative Productions and Resonance Ensemble which will be part of the Brick Theater’s Democracy Festival this June. In 2010, Resonance Ensemble commissioned me to write a play that was inspired by Henry IV, Part 1. RINO explores several themes: What does it mean to be a citizen? How far is a person willing to go to achieve their goals? The term RINO (Republican in Name Only) is actually a slur within the party proper, referring to someone who does not pass the purity test as a conservative. Shakespeare’s play Henriad takes place during an English Civil War. I decided to write a comedy that would explore the civil war being waged within the Republican party. I also thought that trying to write a modern day equivalent of Falstaff (one of the most complex characters in Shakespeare’s canon next to Hamlet) was a fool’s errand, so the leads in my play are women.

When the play begins, Senator Henry Harrison has just won the Utah Primary, clinching the Republican nomination for President only to discover that the tabloids are broadcasting footage of his party-girl daughter, Halley and her entourage (including the larger than life Isabella Castellucci) in a state of intoxication. Harrison’s campaign staff (and the GOP at large) are waging a civil war for the identity and soul of the party’s future.

The play will go up right before the Republican National Convention, and like the GOP primaries, it is a rip-roaring farce and will be a lot of fun to watch.

Q:  What else are you working on now?

A:  I am working on a new play commission for Rising Phoenix Rep, and I am about to begin rehearsals to play the title role in Boomerang Theatre’s upcoming production of HAMLET.

Q:  Tell me about Visible Soul and People You Should Know.

A:  I started my blog, when I was doing SUBURBAN PEEPSHOW with Nosedive Productions. It seemed like something all the cool theatre geeks were doing. Then over the years, my opinions about theatre and our community have evolved.

I’ve always been a huge fan of autobiographies written by actors, writers, directors, etc., and often lamented the sycophantic tone of the show Inside The Actors Studio. I’d have to say Howard Sherman is one of the best theatre interviewers there is on the planet. I listen to his interviews on the American Theatre Wing’s Downstage Center podcast all the time. He always manages to get his subjects to share insight, anecdotes and secrets about their craft. I wish he was still doing them. Anyway, one day, I started my little feature, People You Should Know. The only thought that occurred to me when I posted the first interview was, “Maybe I could pimp a few of my friends so that people might cast them.” This segment like the rest of the blog, evolved into something very different. Now, these interviews are read all over the world, and I am able to showcase the work of hundreds of different kinds of artists every month.

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 third grade I attended the closing performances of a public summer theatre program called Children’s Educational Theater in Salem, Oregon. I came home to my mother and told her that I might like to enroll in the program the following year. Since she was a single parent, she thought it solved having me running around all summer unsupervised.

C.E.T. was a very popular program and also very difficult to get into. My mom stayed up all night standing outside in the cold so that she could register me for the program. Thankfully, I got in. After the five-week program ended, I decided then and there that I wanted to be an actor. With a withered smile, my mother said, “Okay, but you’re going to be an educated one.” From then on, I had her encouragement and support - taking dance and singing lessons, you name it.

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

A:  I would encourage producing organizations to do more than “take chances” on established and recognized talent.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  Sir Antony Sher, Mark Rylance, Harold Pinter, Joe Penhall, Eugene O’Neill, Daniel Talbott, Sam McMurray, Sarah Kane, Kathleen Chalfant, Buzz Goodbody, Derek Jacobi, Kenneth Branagh, Samuel Beckett, and Susan Ferrara.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  Theatre that makes me lean forward in my seat. Theatre that avoids being precious. I love theatre that is visceral, honest, and personal.

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

A:  Read everything you again: plays, novels, teleplays, and especially the news. Have opinions about things. Healthy addiction to reading will help any writer. Try to write everyday. Even if that means journaling. See everything you can. Take everything in.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  

1 comment:

migwar said...

I hope I am not sitting behind him when Zack is inspired to lean forward in his seat. It is hard enough for a short person like me to see over the folks seated in front of me when they are "sitting properly," as Zack's late Aunt Dorothy used to put it. Disclaimer: Zack is my cousin.