May 4, 2013
I Interview Playwrights Part 576: Eliza Bent
Hometown: Brookline, MA
Current Town: Brooklyn, NY
Q: Tell me about The Hotel Colors.
A: Allora. I wrote The Hotel Colors my first semester at Brooklyn College. I was impressed by those beautiful poetic Beckett plays and how he was translating from French into English. My teacher, Mac Wellman, suggested I try using a similar technique with Italian. So I ended up writing a play set at a hostel in Rome where the characters speak in a very direct literal translation from Italian into English.
So there’s a strong language device happening in the play (and the result is not at all like Beckett) but underneath the language game a gentle story emerges about these weirdos coming together and spending a night with each other at a hostel. Nothing super monumental happens… the group eats pizza, they play drinking games, someone turns a year older, an ex-lover appears, but the evening is memorable to these characters for the same reasons you might remember certain vibrant nights while traveling more than others.
Incidentally, I have stayed at a place called Colors Hotel. I lived there for a few weeks when I landed in Rome after graduating from college. (Clearly, I’m not very original with titles…!) This play is loosely inspired from time spent there and at other hostels, mostly in Italy.
Q: What else are you working on?
A: I’m working on a show about wizards who live in a modern and mundane age. It’s called Blue Wizard/Black Wizard and it’ll be at the Incubator Arts Project in December 2013 directed by Dan Safer. I’ll play the Blue Wizard and Dave Malloy, who is writing the music, will play the Black Wizard. It’s staged like a sporting event and Nikki Calonge and Mikéah Ernest Jennings, preside over the ongoings.
But one of the referees used to be a wizard. And the wizards misbehave and one of the referees quits and leaves the theatre. Plus, there’s a trombone player jester. And video sequences. So there’s a lot. And the referees and wizards must do an elaborate series of warm ups that takes them in and out of epic historic moments and quotidian life. They battle each other via song. There is a series of contests. The audience will have to pick a side when they enter the theatre. It’s ultimately kind of a “philosophy-off” where the wizards and referees duel over ancient ideals in order to save the world from the Great Mediocrity. Or something like that.
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 will tell you about three movies which contribute to my personality. The 1986 PBS version of Anne of Green Gables starring Megan Follows, Wayne’s World and Cinema Paradiso. Anne sparked to my love of words and florid vocabulary, Wayne affirmed my deep commitment to scatology, while Toto and Alfredo introduced me to the most musical and beautiful language, Italian.
Q: If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?
A: One thing? Hmm. I love to complain—and I excel at all manners of lamentation— but I would probably like all us theatre artists to moan a little less. Making theatre can be sucky but it’s also pretty amaze. We are lucky to make theatre!
Q: Who are or were your theatrical heroes?
A: I only have anti-heros. They include Anne Brenner who is directing The Hotel Colors, all my Half Straddle compatriots, Brooklyn College peeps, Oma-whores (ie people that attend the Great Plains Theatre Conference), the Fusebox Festival folks, Dave Malloy and Rachel Chavkin, and anyone who runs a theatre space, and also those old playwrights like Chekhov and Tennesse Williams and Lorraine Hansberry.
Q: What kind of theater excites you?
A: I am very excited by theatre that plays with theatrical convention and form. I am thrilled when I see a show that could have only been performed as theatre (as opposed to something on TV). I like it when theatre has good visual design and also interesting words and that manages to make me feel and think and laugh.
Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
A: Don’t do it!
I would advise young playwrights to find people who they enjoy working with and who inspire them. I’d also recommend maintaining a non-theatre life. Keep up with other interests and friends. I am terrified by theatre theatre people, whose only interests are theatre, how myopic! Oh and it doesn’t hurt to figure out a way of making money that can maintain your theatre habit.
Q: Plugs, please:
A: As the great Becca Blackwell says, “Butt plug hugs!”
The Hotel Colors runs May 8-25 at the Bushwick Starr.
Books by Adam