Friday, November 01, 2013

I Interview Playwrights Part 616: Andrew Farmer



Andrew Farmer

Hometown: It's a split between Laconia, New Hampshire and Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. As a result, I'm very resilient to the cold but I'm also terrified of getting stung by Portuguese Man o' War.

Current Town:  Brooklyn, NY.

Q:  Tell me about your current and upcoming shows.

A:  I'm just finishing up a workshop production run of my ghost story play, "The Gray Man" at HERE Arts through the writers group Smith + Tinker. I've been developing it with one of my favorite directors, Andrew Neisler, and a killer group of actors, for a couple years now and this has been our first chance staging it and seeing how the pieces work in front of an audience. It's a bit of a departure for me. It started out as an out and out horror play and ended up a piece about a lonely man who's just lost his mother, stranded in turn-of-the-century Manhattan. There's a bogeyman involved too, so rest assured, there are definitely still moments of horror. I like to think it's become a ghost story with a heart beating inside of it.

Coming up is a very different play called "The Fall of Hotel Mudafier to The Toltecs" directed by ANOTHER one of my favorite directors, Annie Tippe. We're doing a one night experiment of it at Swift Hibernian Lounge on Sunday, November 10th at 7PM. It's been so fun. It began as a scene that Annie directed at Williamstown about two women discussing one's imminent wedding in an upscale hotel cafe while everyone around them is being surreptitiously killed by poison blow darts. It was so strange and in an odd way, kind of joyful too, so we came up with an idea to make an anthology play around it. I picked 19 actors who I love, randomly split them up and then wrote scenes for each of them. What we ended up with is a glimpse into the quasi-future in which the whole world has turned into a vicious jungle, forcing the remaining cultural elites to hide out in the last beacon of luxury, Hotel Mudafier.

Q:  What else are you working on now?

A:  Oh loads of stuff. This December, Neisler is directing Ryann Weir and I in a two person incarnation of "A Christmas Carol." But there won't be any Cockney accents. Ryann and I play a young couple who decide to read a bit of "A Christmas Carol" every day in December and we learn about their lives through the telling of a story that everyone knows. The goal for the show is to start a holiday tradition. We want the experience to be intimate and warm and more than a little boozy.

I've also been developing another piece with Claire Rothrock, Ryann Weir and Annie Tippe called "I Heard Sex Noises: A Glimpse at Gardening on Roosevelt Island." It's inspired by this insane New York Times article about a political coup within a senior citizen garden club. There's so much intrigue, I can't even begin to talk about it. All I can say is arson and bullfrogs are involved.

Some other things in the works include a folk-song storytelling piece I'm writing with Andrew R. Butler, a new sketch and improv show with my comedy group Gentlemen Party, and a one man play about The Wolf Man.

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 had a lot of surgeries as a kid, so I spent quite a bit of time reading, drawing and watching E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial on repeat. Before I could write, I would draw stories. When I was four, I drew a story titled They Weren't Themselves. They Were Mice. It was an oddly sobering tale about two boys who woke up one morning to find they no longer humans, they were now mice. There was no reasoning behind it or any identifiable cause, they were just mice now and there was nothing they could do about it. The story followed their exploits in which they were pursued by a giant that had living alligator shoes. One of the mice was desperate to return to his previous state while the other was relieved to be free from human obligations, so there was a lot of tension between the two that they'd occasionally have to put aside in order to escape various dangers. I'm not sure that that came across in the drawings but it was definitely going on in my head.

Anyway, I don't think my interests as a writer have changed much since then.

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

A:  This isn't so much something that needs to be changed, but rather something that IS changing and I want us all to keep it up. I'm SO happy to see risky, ambitious and complicated stuff like Ann Washburn's Mr. Burns and Dave Malloy's Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 get exposure on a wider scale. They're pieces of theater that NEED to be be theater. And man, that's just the best.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  Oh God. Too many to name. But here goes!

The first play I saw in New York was The Pillowman by Martin McDonagh. He made the audience scream and laugh and cry all within 90 minutes and that was the first time I realized a story can do that to people. David Cromer's productions of Our Town and Tribes just destroyed me: how he doesn't need to throw a concept on top of a play to make it his. He goes back to the text and let's it reveal itself. Rachel Chavkin and the TEAM. Their work always seems to glow with excitement and wonder and humanity. It never feels crafted as much as it feels like it's bursting from the minds of all the collaborators for the first time. Sam Hunter, Young Jean Lee, Annie Baker, Wallace Shawn, Tom Stoppard, Suzan Lori Parks and every other playwright I go to when my battery needs recharging.

Then of course the heroes I'm surrounded by. Young theater companies like Fresh Ground Pepper, AGGROCRAG, Theater Reconstruction Ensemble, Pipeline Theatre Company; who find a way to put out SO much incredible work, while at the same time providing development resources to artists just starting out. And of course the good people at Ars Nova and id Theater who help new work get seen.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  Anything that makes good on the promise that I couldn't have the same experience watching it on a TV or computer screen in my pajamas at home. Anything that makes me say "Thank God I went OUT!"

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

A:  Write the play you're dying to see. Write a lot of them actually. Then find people you love working with and put those plays up.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  The Gray Man runs one more night at Smith + Tinker's "Ladder to the Moon"! (Saturday, November 2nd, at 8:30PM) And I absolutely recommend you check out the other plays by Francis Weiss Rabkin, Jerry Lieblich, Amanda Szeglowski and Ryann Weir. http://here.org/shows/detail/1300/ for details and tickets!

The Fall of Hotel Mudafier to the Toltecs has a one night only showing at Swift Hibernian Lounge (34 E. 4th St, 10003) on Sunday, November 10th at 7PM!

And A Christmas Carol is coming this December! Feel free to email me for updates! andrewduncanfarmer@gmail.com.
 
 
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