Apr 2, 2013
I Interview Playwrights Part 567: Jona Tarlin
Hometown: Palo Alto, CA
Current Town: New York City
Q: What are you working on now?
A: A play called Black Dicks. It’s about a 15-year-old girl, Erin, who finds her dad’s very large collection of interracial cuckolding porn. She corners her neighbor, Vivienne, after ballet practice to get a second opinion on whether her father is racist. Vivienne suggests she create a fake boyfriend named Dante who plays on the basketball team and see what her father says.
Q: Tell me, if you will, a story from your childhood that explains who you are as a writer or as a person.
A: In 5th grade my teacher asked a group of student volunteers to help write a play about the Revolutionary War. I don’t remember if we divvied up scenes from an outline or we just wrote whatever but I wrote a scene about a sewing circle gossiping while blood from the war splashed against the window behind them.
I have always had twisted sense of humor and a love of stage blood.
Q: If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?
A: Beyond lowering tickets prices and livable wages for artists, I would say no more plays that hinge on a large secret coming out. I think it’s lazy storytelling and ultimately much less satisfying than building solid characters that deal with circumstances in the present with the audience.
Q: Who are or were your theatrical heroes?
A: My first hero was Michael Litfin who directed and wrote most of the productions at the Palo Alto Children’s Theater. He cast me in my first play and was my introduction to theater. He showed me that playwrights were living breathing people and not just names on scripts.
The playwrights who are heroic to me are Tony Kushner, Edward Albee, Eric Overmyer, Gina Gianfriddo, Robert O’Hara, Sam Hunter, Annie Baker, and The Debate Society.
My writing is also influenced by the work of William Gibson, Penn and Teller, John Darnielle, Woody Allen, Quentin Tarantino, Paul Verhoeven, Bill Waterson, Jim Henson, Trey Parker and Matt Stone.
Q: What kind of theater excites you?
A: I am excited by anything dark and funny with a distinct voice. Plays with rich characters struggling with extreme situations in a realistic fashion. Plays where a character can behave horribly and I will still love them.
Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
A: Celebrate when you finish a draft. You accomplished a huge, awesome thing and it’s easy to lose sight of that. After you celebrate, take some time away so the play is fresh again when you’re ready to start rewriting.
Work with the smartest actors you can. They’re gonna fight for their characters and force you to think about your play differently.
Q: Plugs, please:
A: I have a reading of my play In Antarctica, Where It Is Very Warm coming up in May with Blowout Theater Company. You can find out more information about that and any of my other plays at jonatarlin.wordpress.com
Books by Adam