Hometown: Los Angeles, CA
Current Town: At this moment I don't even know... Los Angeles I think?
Q: Tell me about SHINER.
A: SHINER is a grunge rock teen love story within a suicide pact. It's set in 1994 and these two outcast kids meet and start to bond over their crappy home lives and grunge rock and Nirvana and the release that the music gives them that young people so desperately need. Then one spirals faster into the negative side effects of that subculture and the other begins to pull out of the suicide pact. Then Kurt Cobain beats them to the punch.
I'd always wanted to write a play about Kurt Cobain. He was my first idol that I'd found outside of my parents' guidance. Nevermind was the first tape I ever purchased. When I first listened to that album the world just opened up for me. I was also going through puberty and trying to figure out who I was IN that world. Then my idol goes and blows his brains out. And I was like, "okay, so is that what we're all doing here?"
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I'm writing a six part mini series for HBO Asia that chronicles the rise and fall of two prominent families in Singapore between World War II and present day.
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 played soccer for nine years and I was not good at the sport. In nine years I think I only scored two goals. It wasn't until all my soccer friends made the high school Varsity team and I didn't that I really understood the athletic discrepancy between myself and the others. I went on to the drama club instead. Looking back, I often wish I'd been in some theatre or art camp rather than at soccer practice, but I think it was helpful to do something for so long because I liked it and not because I got any recognition for it.
Q: If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?
A: Ticket prices. It's prohibitively expensive to cultivate new audiences. Broadway is already out of control. But even the retail ticket price of an off-off house can be north of fifty bucks. It's hard to get new audiences to come out for that when they can stay home, turn on Netflix for ten bucks a month and watch TV shows that some of America's best playwrights are writing for anyway.
Q: Who are or were your theatrical heroes?
A: All of the dead guys, of course: Shakespeare, Chekhov, Tennessee Williams, Eugene O'Neill. I also adore Tracy Letts, Adam Rapp, Sarah Ruhl. They've all made me cry in dark theatres or in my room reading their work. So has Leslye Headland, Dan LeFranc, Halley Feiffer, Rajiv Joseph.
The whole early 90's grunge movement in Seattle, too. Seriously. Those bands made music the way I think theatre artists should make theatre. They were just nuts for it and no one was thinking about their career. They rehearsed in basements and played shows in parking lots when they couldn't book even tiny venues. It was all about the music. They were theatrical, they literally lit stages on fire (not exactly pyrotechnics either, closer to arson). The kind of energy in that movement changed rock and roll forever. The bands from that era are definitely among my theatrical heroes.
Q: What kind of theater excites you?
A: Theatre that really goes to the end of the line and then a little further. I love it when I can't believe I'm witnessing what I'm witnessing. Bold actions make strong characters. "She's not about to... no... no!" Those kinds of moments really turn me on. Unlike film or tv where we are kind of desensitized to action, it really carries in the theatre.
Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
A: First of all, advice isn't worth much. Everyone has their own backgrounds, resources, ways of working, tastes, their own luck and timing. And full disclosure, I still feel like I'm just starting out myself. But I think it is worth mentioning that you're better off writing about that really ugly secret inside of you that you're so sure no one is going to want to see on stage. You already know what that subject or topic or event is. You've thought about it a thousand times and probably experienced shame or regret whenever it comes up. And that thing that pulls at you in those moments...? ...that's your voice. Tame that motherfucker and trap it on the page. Let it scream on that blank white paper. Because whatever it is, your secret is far more universal that you probably think. Dress it in solid dramatic action and a bit of structure and you'll connect people into feeling less alone with their own secrets.
Also: The Pandora Ambient station is bad ass writing music.
Q: Plugs, please:
A: FaultLine is doing a run of SHINER at San Francisco's new Piano Fight theater in April 2014 to mark the 20 year anniversary of Cobain's death.
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