Dec 5, 2012
I Interview Playwrights Part 534: Stephen Spotswood
Hometown: North East, MD (it's not a compass point; it's the name of an actual town)
Current Town: Washington, D.C.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I have a tendency to work on multiple projects at once so, in an effort to keep myself from rambling, I'm going to keep this to work I'm doing on the actual day I filled out this interview (Nov. 27th--happy birthday to me!). I spent the morning working on a short play for the HeyDay Players--a troupe of senior citizens who take classes at Round House Theatre's Education Center and tour readings of short plays to nearby nursing homes and senior centers. I've been lucky to write for them for three years now, and it's a joy to write for an age group that you rarely see on stage.
I'll be spending the first half of the afternoon at Woolly Mammoth Theatre recording a podcast play I was commissioned to write for the National New Play Network's Showcase which, in my timestream, is this coming weekend. I'm one of four D.C. playwrights commissioned by NNPN to craft short audio plays that people will listen to on iPods as they walk in one of four directions from the theatre. My play will be taking folks South to the National Mall. The Washington Monument? Best set piece ever.
And this evening, prior to celebrating my 35th, I'll be (hopefully) finishing the tweaks on new marketing art for WE TIRESIAS, which won Best Drama at the 2012 Capital Fringe, and is being remounted courtesy of Forum Theatre.
Then there will be drinking.
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 kid I used to go to church with my parents on Sunday evening services. When it let out, I would run right to the car to turn on the radio, because on Sunday evenings 1210 AM ran recordings of old radio shows. So while my parents were talking with their friends in the church parking lot, I was sitting in a dark car, radio glowing, listening to stories of The Shadow, Jack Benny, The Green Hornet, The Outer Limits, etc. Does this explain me as a writer or a person? Not entirely. But a lot of my work is heavily narrative, with as much direct storytelling as dialogue. And the topic of religion and people coming to terms with/struggling against it comes up more times than I can count.
Q: If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?
A: I would take everyone’s definition of theatre (even my own), throw it in an oil barrel, and set it on fire.
Q: Who are or were your theatrical heroes?
A: A lot of my theatrical heroes create work at that intersection of traditional theatre, music, performance, and storytelling. Amanda Palmer, Taylor Mac, Mike Daisey and Eric Ehn to name a few.
Q: What kind of theater excites you?
A: I love theatre that takes chances—where actors, writers, designers, whole companies are trying things they don’t know they’re capable of. Punching above their weight class, so to speak. I like to walk out of a show not wanting to ever write another word because I could never do something that brilliant. And then, a few hours later, wanting to outdo it.
Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
A: See all the theatre you possibly can. Meet the people that make it—the actors, the directors, the designers, the other writers. Take them out for coffee or beer or wine or whiskey. Find out about them; tell them about yourself; see their work; show them yours if they ask. Write a play. Then write another one. Then write another one. And if you can’t find somebody to produce the first three, write a fourth and produce it yourself. Ask the other artists you’ve befriended to help. Invite everyone you know and everyone they know and as many strangers to come and see it. Then do it all over again. And if people like your work and like working with you, things begin to move of their own volition.
Q: Plugs, please:
A: WE TIRESIAS opens at Round House Silver Spring on January 3. It’s a story about the future and doomed love and old tragedies told from the point of view of a boy who becomes a woman who becomes the old, blind man destined to give Oedipus the bad news.