Nov 5, 2012
I Interview Playwrights Part 521: Scott T. Barsotti
Scott T. Barsotti
Hometown: Pittsburgh, PA
Current Town: Chicago, IL
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I'm working on an adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft's THE SHADOW OVER INNSMOUTH, which if you're not familiar, features fish people. I strongly believe theatre needs more fish people. I also just finished a workshop with The Ruckus Theater to re-develop FACING ANGELA (which is the first play I ever had professionally produced back in '03), ahead of a production in the summer of 2013. FACING ANGELA was originally a drama about extreme cosmetic surgery and I've re-imagined it as a psychological/body horror about a woman whose body literally rejects itself.
Q: How would you characterize the Chicago theater scene?
A: The mentality here is very no bullshit. Many of the artists and companies I work with have a working class mindset and view theatre production as more of an industrial get-your-hands-bloody process rather than anything sacred or precious. Get the show up, do the show, take the show down. It's no less artistic or imaginative for that, quite the opposite: I think many artists here learn early to do a lot with a little, to self-produce, and to not be passive in the process. So many small companies in Chicago are itinerant, and so organizationally they're light on their feet but can really make an impact and transform a space. There is a real vigor here for new work, too, there are so many artists who are hungry to work with playwrights directly on a new piece---which as a playwright, makes Chicago kind of like a huge playground. This is a also a town where collaboration and cross-pollination are rampant, many artistic families overlap in a really exciting way. Sometimes, that can get a little small-world and insular feeling, but overall the scene to me has always felt very much egalitarian, welcoming, and unpretentious. And bountiful--there's just so much to see.
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 was really, really into the "Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark" series illustrated by Stephen Gammell. I really can't recall a time in my life when I wasn't into horror, I just loved feeling creeped out and letting my imagination go crazy. When I was in kindergarten, we had to write and illustrate a holiday-themed story, and most kids wrote about, you know, Santa, and presents, and snow and such. My story was one sentence: "It's Christmas Eve, and someone has a bomb." My teachers were very confused and concerned, but my parents were very encouraged and amused. I think that disparity in the reaction informed a lot of how I turned out, actually. So, thanks Mom & Dad.
Q: If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?
A: Well, certainly on the business side I would want lower rents and higher wages (particularly for actors), but that's kind of pie-in-the-sky. Artistically, one thing I would love to change about theatre is to rip up all those damn seats. I mean, sure, have seats, but don't bolt them to the floor; I like to alter spaces, and fixed seating theatres limit that. I'd like to see more manipulation of the viewing space as well as the playing space--not more audience interaction, but more audience immersion.
Q: Who are or were your theatrical heroes?
A: Samuel Beckett is a big one for me, he was a visionary, and each of his plays presents a unique staging and storytelling challenge. I don't endeavor to write like Beckett but I endeavor to be similarly brave and sure of my voice in my career. Beau O'Reilly is a Chicago playwright who was a major mentor to me in grad school. Beau taught nobody's gonna fuckin' do it for you, and he's one of the most prolific people I've ever encountered, he's written so many plays, stories, essays, and songs it makes my head spin to think of it. And the founders of WildClaw Theatre (Chicago's only theatre devoted to works in the horror genre) are heroes to me as well, in a very personal way. In grad school I did have nights when I worried that no one would ever produce horror plays, and WildClaw's mission validated me as an artist and my entire body of work.
Q: What kind of theater excites you?
A: I want theatre to be surprising. I want to see something I haven't seen before, or be spurred to think about something in a way I haven't considered it before. It's sounds trite, but I'm excited by theatre that is theatrical. Not that it's big and presentational, but that it owns the form, challenges the imagination, and very importantly that it doesn't try to be a movie, or a TV show, or an exclusive party. I'm most excited when I see a play and walk out thinking, "That story had to be live onstage; it shouldn't have been anywhere else."
Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
A: Be a writer every day. I don't advocate actually physically writing every day, but I do advocate being a writer every day: always be thinking, researching, inventing, problem-solving, and reading. Read your own work. Read it until you're sick of it. And also, I highly, highly recommend doing some acting. At the very least take some acting classes, but going through some production processes as an actor is extremely informative to a writer. I think it's important to understand the work that goes into actually performing a play and how actors relate to text. Acting helped create a rule for myself, too: I'll never write something into a play that I, as an actor, would not be willing to do onstage myself.
Q: Plugs, please:
A: I'm working on a lot of projects for 2013 at the moment! My play BREWED had this insane fight workshop over the summer and will be produced early next year in a Chicago co-production by The Ruckus Theater (www.ruckustheater.org) and Tympanic Theatre Company (www.tympanictheatre.org), and is also slated for a production in Boston next fall. Also, I'm developing my first ever play for kids, an adaptation of the children's book THE MYSTERY OF THE PIRATE GHOST for Lifeline Theatre (www.lifelinetheatre.com), which will open in January. And then in June, the re-developed FACING ANGELA will premiere with The Ruckus at The Athenaeum in Chicago. Finally, WildClaw Theatre's 5th annual DEATHSCRIBE Horror Radio Play Festival will be on December 3rd at the Mayne Stage; submissions open for DEATHSCRIBE annually in the early summer, so any of your readers interested in submitted for future festivals should check out www.wildclawtheatre.com for more info about WildClaw and DEATHSCRIBE. And I always post about my latest goings-on at scottbarsotti.wordpress.com!