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1000 Playwright Interviews The first interview I posted was on June 3, 2009.  It was Jimmy Comtois.  I decided I would start interview...

Jan 6, 2014

I Interview Playwrights Part 628: Louise Munson

Louise Munson

Hometown: Princeton, NJ

Current Town: Los Angeles, CA

Q:  What are you working on now?

A:  I'm just starting to work on a new full-length that's inspired by a one-act I wrote that went up last June called Montana. I wrote the one-act for three amazing actresses: Melissa Stephens, Katie Lowes, and Amy Rosoff. The play is about three women in their early 30's and their last night, their graduation night from an MFA program, in the middle of nowhere. They're about to go their separate ways for forever, and it's about storytelling, the complications and joys of female friendships and being really smart at certain things while having no clue how to do certain adult things that, unfortunately, are necessary to learn in order to grow up.

I'm also writing a lot of notes (procrastinating) for a rewrite I'm gathering up the strength to do for my play called Luigi, which will have its premiere with L.A.'s Inkwell Theatre Co. in July. It sounds like a long time away, but a lot of the play is in Italian, and I just got back from visiting my family there, so I feel like I should do it before I forget everything they said and more importantly how they said it. They're all great storytellers, and just being around them is exciting as a writer. I'm pretty sure they're the reason I'm so attracted to being around actors, because, well, every single one is a performer in their own way.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  Chekhov. I spent two years at Bennington just reading and rereading his stories and plays. I had these long reading lists with all these gaps in my education, and instead of filling those gaps, I would just keep going back to him. I don't think I'm wrong, either. I read his stuff anytime I'm feeling petty or small; he's the best bullshit detector I know of. Also, actors. I love great actors, I think it's good for a playwright to fall in love with actors. The actors I write for make me a million times better. They're the reason I can be so hard on my work and not be precious about it. I cut, rewrite mercilessly because I know if my work is not as good as they are, it's not as fun for them or for me. And there's nothing more fun or joyful than being in a rehearsal room where the writer, director and actors are working at their best.

But my real heroes are writers, always have been, only most of them are not playwrights. There's Deborah Eisenberg, Grace Paley (her short stories are an amazing study in dialogue), Tillie Olsen, Louis C.K., Joan Didion, John Cage, Salinger, George Saunders (as a writer and human being), Nabokov, Beckett, Pirandello, Calvino, Woody Allen, Emily Dickinson, Elizabeth Bishop. That's a lot, and there's more, but finding those writers that tug on something inside of you are the best mentors you can have. I remember when I was little my brother told me that the best mentors are dead, so I better start reading. I always think of that. The best thing you can do is get permission to write from your heroes, permission to get out of your own way, and then give that permission to others as well as you can with your own work.

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

A:  I wish I had better advice than just keep writing, keep doing it, keep getting better and truer and closer to your own voice. Good work does get noticed, I've seen it happen to others and experienced it myself, and it takes a long time to make good work, so be okay with that, push hard but be patient. Try to get produced, and if necessary produce your stuff yourself. You'll be exhausted and broke but you'll learn more sitting in the back of an actual audience watching your words than you will any other way. Try your best to put blinders on and find the joy in making stuff and find people you love to create with and be loyal to them while widening your circle at the same time. Be kind, while learning to protect your work (this can sometimes be a difficult balance, but it's worth the effort to try to get it right). After a production or project is done, give yourself the space and time to be alone with yourself and your work, even if the work means daydreaming.

Trust your imagination and protect it from your impatience. Also, this seems obvious but READ! Read everything--fiction, poetry, non-fiction, plays--that you're even remotely curious about, you have no idea how it might influence your work or hit you in a certain way that may end up influencing your work in that magical, unexpected way that can make a piece of work sing. I have to remind myself of this stuff everyday, I think it's part of the deal no matter where you are on the road. Avoid people who just say, "Wow that's really hard," or whatever. I've seen people become totally discouraged because of the people they choose to surround themselves with. Try to be selective and generous at once. Life is hard, might as well find something worthwhile that's bigger than you and devote yourself to it. In short: No matter what, keep going.

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