Nov 13, 2012
I Interview Playwrights Part 525: Jayme McGhan
Current Town: Chicago. Technically, Elmwood Park, which is the first village over on the West side. I know a bunch of proud Chicagoans that would give me hell if I didn’t own up to that.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: Lots of revisions for plays I’ve written in the last few years that I haven’t had time to rewrite.
I have a reading of a show called “Damn the River Deep” at Chicago Dramatists this month.
I’m also currently writing and doing pre-production on a feature-length film for Revision Entertainment that I will be co-directing. It’s a heist/adventure/wilderness survival flick set in the Canadian Rockies. The whole film crew will be backpacking for two weeks and shooting as we go, which should prove to be either straight genius or completely moronic. There is something to be said for working on a project where you have to carry a .44 caliber cannon on your hip in case a grizzly attacks.
Q: How would you characterize the Chicago theater scene?
A: There are so many places at the theatrical table if you’re willing to work hard. Theatre artists bust their butts in this city. They go hard all the time. I love that about this place. I also love the fact that almost every Chicago theatre artist I know is talented in multiple disciplines. It’s an artistic evolution out of necessity. I don’t know anyone who is just a really good actor. I know a lot of really good actors who also happen to kill at costume design or administration or what have you.
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 a serial liar when I was a kid. And I was pretty good at it. I told my second grade class that I went to Australia to cage dive with Great White Sharks and that I was almost eaten by a twenty-footer. I must have been crazy convincing because the class talked about it for a long time. One of the kids went home and told his mom, who then called my mom to get travel advice about where to stay in Sydney. My mom was like, “Jayme’s been to the Florida panhandle. A few years ago. I wasn’t aware that he even knew Australia existed.” At some point the lies transformed themselves in to stories that needed to be told in a different medium; mostly because I was sick of being grounded.
Q: If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?
A: The American Theatre’s attempt to create a culture of celebrity. Let’s just stop that. Hollywood is really good at this. We’re not. In one month’s time my Intro to Theatre students will not be able to tell you who David Lindsay-Abaire is even after seeing his show at Steppenwolf and talking about it for two class periods. My folks really liked Joe Dowling’s production of Brian Friehl’s The Home Place at the Guthrie a few years ago but I’ll stake my yearly playwriting earnings (that was a joke) that they have no idea who Joe Dowling is--and that dude has a road named after him! My grandmother might be able to tell you who Bernadette Peters is but I seriously doubt it. You know what they can tell you? All of them can tell you who won “Dancing with the Stars” last night.
Let’s just let Hollywood keep its culture, shall we?
Q: Who are or were your theatrical heroes?
A: Shaw. Williams. O’Casey. Boucicault. Pinter. Albee. To name a few.
Gary Garrison is heroic to me. Gary is out there every day advocating for playwrights. I think every writer I know also knows and loves Gary. That pretty much says it all.
I had a dude crush on Eric Bogosian for a very long time. I still do to some extent. When I was a sophomore in college I wrote to him a few times to ask for some advice on creating solo shows. He took the time out of his no-doubt crazy busy schedule to write back to a nineteen year old kid who had all the drive in the world and absolutely no craft. That was pretty nifty.
Q: What kind of theater excites you?
A: Big, Bold, and Challenging. I love stories that hang their hat equally on both language and plot. I like words strung together in a manner that takes your breath away. If you couple that with a moving dramatic arc that has something unique to say about our collective existence then you’ll have a fan for life. I dig spectacle, style, and experimental form as much as the next theatre-goer, but if that’s all your play or production is relying on then count me out.
Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
A: Don’t spend all of your time in front of the computer. If you’ve made the decision to be a playwright then also make the decision to become a committed networker. If you can add a sound understanding of marketing and arts-related business to the pile, all the better. Also, learn how to use a drill and a circular saw. Seriously.
Q: Plugs, please:
A: I’m a Resident Playwright at Chicago Dramatists and an Associate Artist at Stage Left Theatre. Both are amazing groups of talented people. Show them some love the next time you’re in Chicago.
I’m also an Assistant Professor of Theatre at Concordia University, Chicago where I get to work with some of the brightest and most talented up-and-coming theatre artists in the city. We’ve always got something kicking around.
And because I love my hometown, check out Yellow Tree Theatre in the Twin Cities. Good friends who make lovely theatre.
And because I love my fellow Chicago writers, check out the plays of Barbara Lhota, Andrew Hinderaker, Dana Lynn Formby, Ike Holter, Randall Colburn, Rohina Malik, Steve Spencer, Mia McCullough, Martin Zimmerman, and Reggie Edmund.