Saturday, October 20, 2012

I Interview Playwrights Part 508: Bilal Dardai

 
Bilal Dardai

Hometown: Downers Grove, IL

Current Town: Chicago, IL

Q:  What are you working on now?

A:  Currently performing in The Neo-Futurists' production of 44 Plays for 44 Presidents and working on a first draft of a play called The Abacus for Stage Left Theatre, both in Chicago.

Q:  Tell me, if you will, a story from your childhood that explains who you are as a writer or as a person.

A:  Around my house we had, I would guess, over a dozen separate decks of playing cards, most of them incomplete, many of them souvenirs from gift shops at vacation spots. My favorite game was to take all of these decks and build sprawling card-labyrinths out of them on the living room floor, including a roof, and place tiny plastic figurines into different parts of the structure. I'd then stand a few feet away and toss marbles at it, causing it to collapse in sections, occasionally discovering a figurine among the rubble. I always made up a small story for each character in the maze--what they were doing in the maze when they met their untimely end--as well as a reason that I was bombarding the maze in the first place.

I did this for other games as well...I invented a highly complicated scenario of gangland warfare in a city setting to spice up Parcheesi, including rational justifications for many of its otherwise unexplained rules, such as the reason a pawn couldn't leave its starting point without a die roll of six. Generally speaking, I'm unsatisfied when I don't have a "why" for a situation in front of me, and I'll dig as deep as I can to find one...but In the absence of that explanation, I make one up.

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

A: I occasionally feel like there's just too much preciousness about what is and is not considered "theater" and it leads to a distasteful negativity about the art form. That is, a few people decide what is and is not legitimately theater and then wring their hands when they see work that fails to meet these standards. As far as I'm concerned an act of theater is an act of one person telling another person a story, live and in real time. It's still theater if that story doesn't make it to Broadway, or if the storyteller didn't get their MFA from Yale. It's still theater even if you don't like the story. Theater cannot die until there are less than two people alive in the world, so I'm tired of hearing that the art form is on its way out. Certain versions may be fading away, but theater itself is robust.

Q: Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A: I feel like I learn at least a little something from every theater artist I encounter, but if I had to name a a few names from whom I learned a lot--Lanford Wilson for his experiments in narrative (such as The Rimers of Eldritch and Balm in Gilead); Harold Pinter for showing me the power of words unwritten and unspoken; Aaron Sorkin for making me understand how you can discuss very large things by applying principles of rhythm and music. Among artists I know, I'm deeply grateful for the work of Mickle Maher and my Neo-Futurist colleague John Pierson--the former for the ways he has combined heart and head in his writing, the latter for a performance art aesthetic that consistently seeks out personal risks and occasionally traffics in elliptical storytelling but which celebrates and invites the audience into whatever notions are being explored.

Q: What kind of theater excites you?

A: Theater that finds ways to make me think about the world a little differently than I did before. Escapism and pure fiction are fine with me, but I really love stories that give me something new to consider. I've heard some people say that they go to the theater to see people who are just like them. I want to see people I don't know that well and hear stories I don't often hear.

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

A: Remember that above all else the form is collaborative, so be open to the ideas of other artists, who have the advantage of living outside of your own head. I know that you poured your blood into the script and you want it exactly the way you envisioned it, but when you find those actors, directors, and designers who completely understand your voice and ideas, they will do to your work what you are not capable of doing alone. If you're unwilling to let anybody else add their voice to the production, you should be writing novels.

Q: Plugs, please:

A: 44 Plays for 44 Presidents runs through November 10 at The Neo-Futurarium in Chicago. I also regularly write and perform in the company's late night show Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind, which runs 50 weeks a year on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays.

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