Friday, March 01, 2013

I Interview Playwrights Part 554: Cory Finley



Cory Finley

Hometown: St. Louis, MO

Current Town: Brooklyn, NY

Q:  What are you working on now?

A:  I’m working with a director friend, Ashley Rodbro, on a romantic comedy about loneliness, addiction, and illegal pharmaceutical testing. A character transforms over the course of the play from a 25-year-old man to a 61-year-old woman. I’m in the Shaping The Mess stage of writing, which is the best one.

I’m also continuing work on SUNK, a domestic horror play, and UGLY PEOPLE, about a group of friends gathering after a death and jockeying for control of the deceased’s tech startup. I’m doing research for a play about cybersecurity and Midwestern power companies.

I’m also putting in some serious time in the gym – it’s cold out now, but beach season is right around the corner.

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

A:  My elementary school used to show videos of this dude McGruff the Crime Dog, a cartoon bloodhound who wore a trenchcoat and talked about crime awareness ("Take a bite out of crime," if that rings bells for anyone)

For some reason, I created a pretend game with my little brother wherein we were secret agents working for said Crime Dog, fighting the invisible criminals living in our front yard, under our beds, behind our television, etc.

Over time, the pretend game became increasingly paranoid and hysterical, until we were stalking on our own family members, who, we’d been “told” by this anthropomorphic dog, were actually sinister lookalikes. This so rattled my brother – maybe 6 or 7 at the time – that he asked me to step out of character for a moment and reassure him that we were playing a game. I refused.

As a writer, I’m always trying to create illusions as detailed, persuasive, and unnerving as the ones that fueled those games.

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

A:  I have an impossible dream of a world where no one reads reviews and marketing blurbs, where audiences walk into plays with no expectations. I actually love reviews and learn a lot from them, but when read BEFORE playgoing, they compromise surprises and revelations. They frame the audience’s experience of the play, and therefore cripple the whole enterprise of good storytelling. I always most enjoy plays and movies (and books, and magazine articles -- and kind of even dates) when I go in without any idea what I’m about to see. I love just being along for the ride.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:   Theater that I can’t imagine coming up with myself. Plays that locate a totally surprising source of conflict and action.

Dialogue that’s full of silent menace and accidental grace. Devised work in which the elements of spectacle – light, sound, projection – are deployed not to overwhelm and astound but to punctuate, emphasize, dilate, disorient.

Stories that ask me not just to admire likeable people but also to extend my empathy to profoundly unlikeable people.

Theater that, like artfully mussed hair, works really really hard to appear effortless.

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

A:  Be humble, make bad jokes, put yourself in odd situations, run toward rather than away from worldviews you find strange and wrong, stay until the tail-ends of parties.

Basically just this.

And apply to Youngblood – you can't find better people in this city!

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  Grace, a short musical I wrote with Mark Sonnenblick and Stephen Feigenbaum about a forlorn Kansas native finding his voice in a church talent show, is running as part of Prospect Theater Company’s PORTRAITS, through this weekend.

And this Sunday is EST/Youngblood’s EINSTEIN ON THE BRUNCH, where you’re likely to find, if not the best audiences in NY theater, then certainly the best matinee audiences in NY theater.

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