Jul 6, 2012
I Interview Playwrights Part 476: Greg Pierotti
Hometown: Alexandria, VA. A seemingly harmless place that has created a lot of very weird people.
Current Town: New York.
Q: Tell me about Apology.
A: Apology is a play based on hundreds of hours of Apologies that the artist Allan Bridge collected on his home answering machine. The Apology Line, as his project was called, had 5 distinct iterations.
1. In 1980 Bridge put up posters around the worst neighborhoods in New York, which were all pretty bad at that time, challenging criminals to apologize for their misdeeds. "Attention Criminals! you have wronged individuals. It is to individuals you must apologize not to the state, not to god. Apology is a private experiment. It’s sole purpose is to provide a new avenue of communication. It is not associated in any way with any police, governmental, religious, or other organization. Get your misdeeds off your chest. Call Apology." A surprisingly large number wrongdoers called to leave their often weirdly moving apologies on his machine. At this point callers were just lone voices talking into the void.
2. Bridge had a "show" at the new museum in 1983 and felt very dissatisfied with the disconnect between the subjects who were apologizing and the "viewers" who were listening. He decided to cut out the art world as middle man and began editing programs of the best calls. He played the programs on his outgoing message and changed them monthly at first, then biweekly. Now callers to the line could listen to each other, make comments, and even have conversations if they had the patience to wait a month for a response. About ten years before the internet became the thing, Allan created a virtual community of criminals in his apartment.
3. This second period lasted 11 years but was interrupted by a particular caller, Richie the serial killer. Richie called between 1985 and 1990. He completely consumed Allan's attention, and eclipsed all of the other callers. Allan's obsession and identification with Richie almost destroyed the line as well as Allan's marriage. When Allan let on that he and a friend, following a lead from one of Richie's messages, had been out on the streets in Times Square looking for him, Richie stopped calling and was never heard from again.
4. In 1992, in a failed attempt to make some money off the project, Allan created a Zine that featured the most interesting calls of the quarter and some fantastic outsider art solicited from the community. There were ten issues in all.
5. Finally, in 1993, The Line switched to a computerized answering system. Callers could skip over the content and go straight to leaving their apology. Or alternatively, they could spend hours navigating the touch tone menu, selecting from amongst the subject matter they wanted to hear. Ie. For murder press 1, for incest press 2, for complaints and commentary 3, for religious zealotry press 4, for grand and petty larceny press 5 etc.
Allan and his wife Marissa were deep sea divers, and their relationship with diving and with the sea is an important aspect of their story. In 1995, Allan Bridge was killed in a diving accident bringing the line to a close after 15 years wild and rich years.
Q: What else are you working on now?
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 very young I had a toy, I think it was called creepy crawlers? - You would squeeze colored jelly into metal molds and which you would then bake to create different bouncy gelatinous creatures - eye balls and centipedes and so forth. I used to love to smell the chemicals as they baked and I also would poke my fingers inside the little cooker sometimes, which would give me a little shock. I am still drawn to toxic material and enjoy putting my fingers in the metaphorical socket.
Q: If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?
A: I would somehow make the state value the arts in general and theater in particular so that they created many well funded state theaters across America. I recently watched Pina again and I was just so discouraged by it. Pina Bausch was this incredible genius, and had she been born in the United States, she could never have created the body of work that she did nor could she have gathered that amazing company of artists around her. It wasn't just Pina Bausch and the company that created the work. It was the city of Wuppertal and the German Government. The for profit model and the for profit criteria we have here in the states to support the creation of new theatrical works, can sometimes produce a good play, but it doesn't allow time or space for great art that sheds light on the human heart.
Q: Who are or were your theatrical heroes?
A: Leigh Fondawoski and Moises Kaufman are more colleagues than heroes, but I have learned so much from them about making good theater that I need to mention them here.
The Wooster Group, because they are so theatrical and funny and have such a sense of play, they make me very happy.
Reza Abdoh, Pina Bausch, Shakepeare, Shaw, Pinter, Beckett, O'Neill, Wilde, Williams.
Q: What kind of theater excites you?
A: Theater that understands itself as a unique art form distinct from televisions and film, and that seeks to create the kind of magic that only can be created in live performance. I have certainly appreciated well crafted pieces of theater in the naturalistic living room style, but I wouldn't say I've been excited by them. And I always think, "but i could have stayed home and watched that on TV if they had chosen the right form."
Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
A: Start now to connect to other writers directors actors designers who share your aesthetics and values and try to create community with them, try to create work together, and then stick together when you get a little attention.
Q: Plugs, please:
A: Heading To Berkeley Rep in two weeks to develop Apology.
Laramie: 10 years later recently out through DPS.