Wednesday, December 11, 2013

I Interview Playwrights Part 624: Eric Rudnick

Eric Rudnick

Hometown: Born in Washington D.C. Raised in Massapequa, NY.

Current Town: Los Angeles, CA

Q:  Tell me about Day Trader.

A:  Day Trader is a story about how far people will go to get what they think they have coming. The Los Angeles we depict is a shadowy world, the opposite side of glamour. And the morality tale that plays out has the highest stakes of anything I’ve ever written.

The director of the play is Steven Williford, and he has had an unwavering enthusiasm for the play since he read it about two years ago. We’ve been describing the tone of the piece as Comic Noir. There are laugh out loud moments, as well as reveals and twists that we’re working on to have that ripple-through-the-audience affect that can only be achieved in the theatre.

The play was a finalist at HotCity Theatre’s Greenhouse New Play Festival in St. Louis. I will always be indebted to everyone there, because they helped me make a huge leap forward with the play, and with my continuing development as a playwright. Director Carter Lewis and Dramaturg Liz Engelman brought out the goodness and helped me to sharpen every aspect of the script. And getting to know the other finalists, David L. Williams and Gwydion Suilebhan, was a fantastic part of the experience.

The next “big lucky thing” to happen was when I went to see Gary Lennon’s play, A Family Thing, here in town. He asked me what was going on with Day Trader. I said “Nothing!” He suggested two places he thought might be receptive to it. One of those was The Bootleg Theater, and when Alicia Adams and Jessica Hanna said yes, I was completely over the moon. I am co-producing the show, and it’s the best kind of work – being involved in everything from when I first started writing the play to working with the actors and designers, to brainstorming with our PR and Social Media teams. It’s a great space, a sprawling former bra factory that has just the right feel for the play. And The Bootleg has a great reputation for putting on all kinds of amazing shows: Plays, Musicals, Dance, Performance Art, Bands, Comedy, Ladies Arm Wrestling, and the monthly battle between writers called Write Club.

Q:  What else are you working on now?

A:  I’m in the middle of a piece about women working in a government-funded lab. Their budget gets cut, and then one of them invents something that could possibly change the world. It addresses the ethical questions about who truly owns an idea. I’m writing the stage play and the screenplay simultaneously. I’ll know in a little while whether or not that’s a good idea.

I also have a few TV pilots that are making the rounds. One of them was a Second Rounder at the Austin Film Festival this year. I went to some great panels and interview sessions there, and most of the TV show runners said that they read plays and look for playwrights when they are hiring. Good to hear, right?

I’m also looking forward to making more episodes of the web series I created, “The Edge Of Allegiance.” We have a few episodes and some teasers on the internet now. It started out as a stage play. It’s a show about Mount Rushmore getting its own TV news show. It could also be called “Four Actors In Old-Timey Makeup Crammed Into A Rock.”

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 in elementary school, we were given an assignment to write the rest of a story, the first sentence of which was assigned by the teacher. Every kid got the same opening sentence, which went something like: “This is your Captain speaking, the ship is going to explode in five minutes…” So I wrote down that sentence and under it I drew a picture of a cruise ship exploding, with little stick figure people flying off in every direction. In the middle of the explosion I wrote, in very colorful magic markers, one word: BOOM! And I thought it was pretty good, because it is definitely one of the most exciting things that I could think of happening after that sentence. But I was also a little worried that the teacher really wanted us to write some kind of essay, and that it would look like I was not following the unspoken rules of the homework. This concern proved to be misplaced, because it turned out to be one of the ten or so assignments that the teacher stapled to the bulletin board. This taught me two valuable lessons: Don’t stop yourself when you’ve got an idea that excites you, and your work can look pretty cool when someone has the courage to put it where other people can see it.

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

A:  I’d love to see more playwrights producing their own work. Unlike so many other types of writing, the theatre is a place where a script is not automatically assumed to need notes, or to need other writers to come in and make it better. So it would be great if writers took the sovereignty that the theatre provides and helped their collaborators to create the type of play that they themselves want to show to the world. It’s very satisfying to have some skin in the game, and to collaborate with other theatre artists in a way that is not just about the text, but how the play is ultimately presented for an audience.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  Tom Stoppard, Edward Albee, Tennessee Williams, Larry Kramer. Mark Rylance. David and Amy Sedaris, as The Talent Family, did some of the funniest, most devastatingly satirical plays in New York in the mid-90s. If a company is looking for a breakout kind of season, I recommend doing all of those Talent Family plays. There are about five or six of them. Defiant Theatre in Chicago blew my head off with “Action Movie: The Play” – a crazily inventive show that I still reference fourteen years later. Then there are people who have made a huge difference for me as an artistic person. I’ve been to the Edinburgh Festival twice, once as an actor in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” I’m in love with everyone who works to put that on every year. When I was living in Manhattan, my mom and I used to meet for Wednesday matinees on Broadway, and we would alternate who got to pick the show each time. So she was a big influence - getting me to see amazing shows, a lot of them musicals that we would talk about afterwards. My dad also took me to see a lot of things when I was growing up – plays, opera, jazz – that were really eye-opening and helped me understand different kinds of creativity. Richard Pinter of The Neighborhood Playhouse taught me how to act, and at the same time really taught me how to write because of the way he teaches an approach to the text. Liz Engelman was the first Dramaturg I ever got to work with, and she inspired me to look at a play as an ever-evolving puzzle, as opposed to a fixed thing that you just add to or take away from. Larry Fineberg and Gary Lennon are friends who I admire - two great writers who have had success in other mediums, but who keep coming back and creating new, interesting work for the theatre. Also Gwydion Suilebhan does a tremendous amount for the community of playwrights across the country. And Roger Guenveur Smith and Anna Deavere Smith, who in my dream production would just take turns reading aloud from the menu at Jerry’s Deli.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  There are so many things I enjoy seeing onstage, and the common thread is that it gets to me on a gut level. I feel it, experience it emotionally, whether it delights me or terrifies me or depresses me. If when the lights come up, I turn to the person next to me and just say “Wow” or sit there in silence, rather than saying, “Where do you want to go eat?” – that means it’s been a good night at the theatre.

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

A:  Go to plays! I know this sounds obvious, but I meet a fair amount of playwrights who don’t go to the theatre on a regular basis. Read plays. Go to museums, ballgames, concerts – take in all kinds of culture, and watch how you and the people around you interact with what’s out there. Be a patron of culture, and support the people and places you appreciate, whether that means following someone on twitter or leaving a thoughtful review on Goldstar. Also, work quickly and efficiently - if you can manage having two projects at the same time, you’ll seldom stop writing, because what’s giving you trouble in one story is probably not an issue, and may even be compelling, in the world of your other story. Pick a few people who you respect as writers or directors and ask them for feedback. Try not to be defensive when they’re kind enough to take the time to give it. Don’t take yourself too seriously, but do take your work to heart. Enjoy the collaboration with everyone you get a chance to work with – they are giving their time, talent, and good will to your imagination.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  My play Day Trader opens at The Bootleg Theater in Los Angeles on January 11, 2013 for five weeks. We have an amazing group of people working on this, including a stellar cast featuring Danton Stone, Brighid Fleming, Tim Meinelschmidt, and Sarah Ries. You can see the other project that I collaborated on with director Steven Williford, The Edge Of Allegiance, on


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