Oct 22, 2013
I Interview Playwrights Part 611: Jonas Oppenheim
Photo by Diane Meyer
Hometown: Los Angeles, CA
Current Town: L.A. (there were ten years in NYC at some point)
Q: What are you working on now?
A: Revising a play, The Mother Ship, in preparation for a June 2014 world premiere at Sacred Fools in L.A. (I am a co-artistic director there). It’s a sex farce about a couple that is struggling with infertility, then they discover that their water heater is a portal into outer space, and they end up on this big space adventure, where they remember how much they love each other. It was inspired by the British farces from the ’60s, only instead of slamming doors, people are criss-crossing into an alternate dimension. I also recently finished a script that I am sending forth into the world, called What the Texas Board of Education Did On My Summer Vacation, about some ugly historical revisionism that really went down in Texas. A poor white girl with undiagnosed A.D.H.D. battles everyone in her world over the lies in her social studies book. And I’m beginning a new play, The War Fatigue Follies, that is a tripped-out, revue-type comedy about American military action abroad, P.T.S.D., and the blood that is on our hands (and, in this case, the audience). Many of us have fortified ourselves with distractions and denial, so I want to do a “don’t forget!” kind of show.
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 was acting in Julius Caesar in high school, and I was like, shoot, I can write way funnier than this guy.
Q: If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?
A: Need-dependent sliding scales for all ticket prices. We should also apply the sliding scale to paying artists. If you’re a broke playwright or actor, you should be making Hollywood movie star money to do theater, while Orlando Bloom should just get gas money and a bottle of water.
Q: Who are or were your theatrical heroes?
A: Reading Accidental Death of An Anarchist by Dario Fo as teenager helped me understand that you can write plays that are political, scathing, physical, and hilarious all at once. And then reading about Fo and Franca Rame improvising shows in factories...very influential. Also Joe Orton and Bill Irwin. Lately it’s been Tony Kushner. And the kids in the Virginia Avenue Project and 52nd Street Project who write amazing plays that leave adult stuff in the dust. Outside of theater, Abbie Hoffman, the Muppets, and rock and roll are often on my mind.
Q: What kind of theater excites you?
A: I love it when dialogue goes away and we get to see something physical happening, whether an elaborate theatrical moment or a pratfall. I like it when political theater is funny, and vice versa. I like when a production has made an extra effort to be accessible, like letting neighborhood residents in for free, or performing somewhere other than a theater and letting passersby hang out if they want—I like when the context in which we’re watching the show is taken into account.
Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
A: ABC: Always Be Cwriting. If no one else is putting your show up, find a way to do it yourself. Get a track record. Be nice, at least until you can pay people. Ask older theater people for advice. You can ask me! I’m on Facebook. I’m the Jonas Oppenheim who is not a photographer in Maine.
Q: Plugs, please:
A: I’m co-artistic director of Sacred Fools Theater (www.sacredfools.org), where we have a fine season underway that will include the world premiere of my comedy The Mother Ship. In November, I have a short piece in a festival called The Installation in London, produced by A Friend of a Friend Theatre (http://afriendofafriendtheatre.com/). You can check out evidence of Mr. Satan Goes to Wall Street, my street-theater musical that toured NYC parks and the Republican and Democratic National Conventions, at http://www.mrsatangoestowallst.com/.
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