Tuesday, July 30, 2013

I Interview Playwrights Part 601: Jay Stull

Jay Stull

Hometown: Chesapeake, Virginia

Current Town: Brooklyn, New York

Q:  Tell me about The Capables.

A:  The Capables is a play about a family buried beneath the matriarch's hoard. Her daughter enlists a reality television show to come and remove the hoard, but their agenda is less about cleaning house than about getting folks to cry on camera. It's about what we do for the people we love and how we try to soften, if not heal, their specific pain.

Q:  What else are you working on now?

A:  I'm working on the AmoraLABs for the fall and winter season with The Amoralists. AmoraLABs are semi-regular gatherings at which the ensemble reads selections from four or five plays by writers new to the company. It's less a development series than a showcase. It serves a dual purpose - one of surveying some work by writers with whom we share an aesthetic and whose work may be something we include in future seasons; alternatively it's meant for writers who are close to our aesthetic but different enough from it to give the ensemble something new with which to work. It gives the playwright an opportunity to work with our ensemble and our actors an opportunity to perform for excellent playwrights.

I'm also working on a play about psychics and 9/11, which involves me getting my palm read at as many different psychics as I can afford.

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 thirteen, I spent the summer with my parents' video camera making parodies of a Regis and Kathy Lee type variety show. My cousin Jenn, visiting from out of town, was my all-too willing co-star and on the first day of her visit I worked us for so many hours and did so many takes to get it right that Jenn's pony tail, which she had pulled tightly onto the top of her head for the sake of verisimilitude, incapacitated her with a headache the next day. I'm still apologizing. But we did get the take and it was awesome.

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

A:  I still feel very new to this "club" and still, oddly, see it through rose-tinted glasses. It's tough for me to have a specific thing about theater I'd like to change since doing the work and making it at all are such liberating and soul-filling tasks aside other things like accounting, or corporate litigation. It's not that I'm blinded to its problems as much as it's that I can't believe my luck that I'm doing this instead of getting pear-shaped in an Aeron chair in midtown.

If I were to say one thing, though, I wish theater spaces in New York City were less expensive to rent.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  I didn't grow up in the theater, or even around it so this question makes me a little self-conscious. Like, in the same way that it's very hard for me to go to Marie's Crisis and not feel like a complete failure. Still, I have a few playwrights whose works have changed what I think is possible in performance. Terrence McNally, Conor McPherson, Young Jean Lee, Jackie Sibblies Drury, Stew, and Larry Kramer are a few of my favorite theater artists so far based on their work. I'd also say that so many of my heroes are people that I make theater with, friends whose crafts are still growing and in sometimes astounding, unpredictable ways, friends who inspire awe by their dedication and development.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  I like to be afraid, terrified, unsettled. I also like to cry; I find it transformative to be silenced by overwhelming emotion. I've only ever experienced that in the theater, though, felt grabbed by the throat, and completely inhabited by an experience that can linger and incapacitate and change a person.

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

A:  Hmmm...I'm still starting out and, I'll be honest, I spend a lot of time reading this section from other interviews on this site, so the first piece of advice I have is:

Read Adam's blog.

And, if they're helpful, (and I'm not sure they will be) these are the things that I tell myself to when I'm feeling pretty pessimistic about my own art-making:

Remember neuroplasticity. Keep in mind that if your brain can change and grow (and in some cases regenerate) then the determinism of innate ability might not really apply, either. You can teach yourself a new skill, like playwriting, if you're observant, and if you practice enough, and if you're open to change.

Remember that skills (like playwriting) take many years to learn and those years are measured not in time but in pages.

Remember that the act of making something that can't sell thousands of tickets or make someone (if not yourself) rich, is itself a radical act in our society. Therefore, nearly all theater is itself radical and there is a reason for it that can't be measured in coin.

Remember that making theater is SO MUCH BETTER than doing nearly anything else, even if those other things reward you handsomely. You'll still just be daydreaming about making theater.

Commit to writing. Stop checking out other degree programs for jobs that offer you a 9 to 5 work schedule and weekends. You're an artist, not a social worker!

Remember art-making is arduous. Not every moment will be blissful. Maybe 1% of moments are blissful. But those 1% offer more bliss than doing anything else. And for others, others who aren't doing stuff they like, maybe no percent of moments are blissful. Bliss = rare.

Read things that give you big ideas. Maybe not plays. Read things other than plays. But read plays, too.




Take an acting class.


See the work of others.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  My play, The Capables, is in its final week of performance at the Gym at Judson in Washington Square Park: 7pm on Tuesday and Wednesday and 8pm on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.

AmoraLAB is this Wednesday, July 31st, 7:30pm at The Counting Room in Williamsburg.

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