Nov 14, 2012
I Interview Playwrights Part 526: Ron Hirsen
Current town: Chicago
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I'm preparing to self-produce a play of mine in Chicago next year. The play, Elegy, has had readings in Chicago and New York and was produced in Philadelphia a number of years ago but has never had a production in Chicago. I am confident that there is an audience for this play here, and, to paraphrase the old saying, if you want something done-- at all, you have to do it yourself. So, here I go.
Q: How would you characterize the Chicago theater scene?
A: Theater people in Chicago are enormously generous and supportive of their fellow theater artists. We all want each other have the chance to do work, to get produced, to succeed and feel satisfied with our work. I don't think this goes on in quite the same way anywhere else, certainly not in New York or LA.
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 a child, my mother would take my brother and me to the Goodman Children's Theater, which is now called Chicago Playworks at DePaul's Merle Reskin Theater. The productions featured students of what was then the Goodman School of Drama, and I thought they were wonderful. I remember Rip Van Winkle waking after years of slumber, Tom and Huck hiding under a bench as they attended their own funeral, and other delightful moments in the theater. The old Goodman Theater had a gold asbestos curtain, which remained lowered, masking the set behind it, until right before each performance was about to begin. Before the house lights would dim, the gold curtain would begin slowly to rise. I used to love to watch that curtain ascend ever so slowly and wait in eager anticipation to see what was behind it. That curiousity about what's about to take place has remained with me ever since. Whenever I am sitting in a theater waiting for a play to begin, the sense of the wondrous possibilities is palpable and exciting. I will never tire of it, and I try always to keep it in mind as I imagine and write plays.
Q: If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?
A: American theater needs vastly greater government subsidy. It costs way too much to see a play, theater artists struggle way too hard to earn even a modest living, and way too many worthy plays never see the light of day because no one will risk producing them when costs are so high.
Q: Who are or were your theatrical heroes?
A: Writers, mostly. Anton Chekhov because of his enormous compassion for his characters, Eugene O'Neill because of the magnitude of his vision and the depth of his emotion, Tom Stoppard because he's so damn smart, August Wilson because he completed such an ambitious cycle of plays (he could really write a scene, too), Arthur Miller because he wrote Death of a Salesman, and Tony Kushner because he wrote Angels in America.
Q: What kind of theater excites you?
A: Theater has to be intimate, human in scale, immediate and communal. The most exciting moments in the theater occur when everyone in the room, actors, musicians, audience, all think the same thought or feel the same passion at the same instant. When that instant occurs, it is most thrilling, inspiring, uplifting, and delightful. It doesn't happen often, but whenever it does, it renews my enthusiasm for the theater and makes me want to go see a play.
Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
A: Don't do it. If there is anything else in the world that can make you happy, do that instead. If not, read as many plays as you can, see as many plays as you can, and act.
A: Please keep your eye out for Elegy about a year from now, in a production directed by Victory Gardens Artistic Director Emeritus Dennis Zacek featuring a strong cast of accomplished Chicago actors. The play, about a Holocaust survivor and his son, will be presented as a Holocaust and survivor awareness program in part as a benefit for the Illinois Holocaust Museum in Skokie. The production will coincide with the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the November Pogroms of 1938.
Those interested in supporting this enterprise can make tax-deductibe contributions to The Elegy Project, Inc. Just contact me by email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you.