May 26, 2012
I Interview Playwrights Part 457: Kendall Sherwood
Hometown: Madison, GA
Current Town: Los Angeles, CA
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I'm honored to be working for 10 great writers on "Major Crimes" (TNT's new crime drama, a spin-off of "The Closer"), so I'm soaking up lots of knowledge about screenwriting and playwrighting, both. But as far as my own writing goes, I'm thinking about a new play - an absurdist drama about a woman who refuses to give birth to her baby when labor pains bring up suppressed memories. Unfortunately, I've been stuck in the thinking phase for a long time -- maybe I'm scared to tackle some of those issues. To balance it out, I'm working on an action-adventure Buffy-style TV pilot, which is so far out of my pocket that it's just a thrill to be able to write a single page.
Q: Tell me, if you will, a story from your childhood that explains who you are as a writer or as a person.
A: I have to tell a story about church, as a lot of my writing centers on organized religion, particularly of the down-home, rural Southern variety. I have a distinct memory of being in the basement of the baptist church for "Bible Drills." For those who are unfamiliar, you memorize bible verses and perform them for a judge, competing with your classmates (or - if you're lucky - against the whole county!). The teacher left the room for a minute and, in some conversation that I've now forgotten, I used the word "hell." Not even in a "go to hell" sort of way -- more like a "I don't know what the hell Ezekiel 14:3 is." Of course, the room erupted in a chorus of "oooos" and I was immediately humiliated and felt so, so, so much shame. I think it may have been the first time I ever cursed. I tried to explain myself - that I didn't mean to say it, I didn't know WHY I said it. Yikes, I'm practically blushing now, remembering it. So much shame over 4 letters. There's something in there about the power of language, I guess. And it's probably needless to say, but these days I swear like a sailor and stay out of churches.
Q: If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?
A: It should be free. I also think everything should be free.
Q: Who are or were your theatrical heroes?
A: So glad I get to answer this in writing. In person, when I'm asked this, every name and title immediately leaves my head. It's like I've never read or seen a single play. At different times, I've found myself drawn to the works of Martin McDonagh, Edward Albee, Caryl Churchill, Rajiv Joseph, Lynn Nottage, Sarah Ruhl, and Rebecca Gilman, who I had the honor of learning from at Northwestern.
Q: What kind of theater excites you?
A: To be honest, I'm fascinated by simple stories that are interrupted by horrible acts of violence. The intersection of the mundane with that kind of mortality is kind of the definition of humanity, I think. I also dig plays by chicks. They are much too few and far between.
Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
A: I want to say that a broke writer's best tool is a box of wine, but I also don't want to leave out people who don't enjoy alcohol. What I mean to say is: use whatever method you can to keep perfectionism at bay. Whatever seems perfect today will read like shit tomorrow. And vice versa. So trust your words and just keep going.
Q: Plugs, please:
A: My play, THE RECORD BREAKERS, will be featured in the Athena Project Festival in Denver July 12-29. Find info here: http://www.athenaprojectfestival.org/events.html
And check out "Major Crimes," which premieres August 13th on TNT.