Hometown: Annandale, Virginia
Current Town: New York City. Specifically: Astoria, Queens.
Q: Tell me about Spermicide.
A: Spermicide is a multi-character solo show about despicable, depraved and strange men in America circa right now. In terms of the content of the show: There’s a street catcaller character that voices his interior monologue (“Damn girl! I sincerely believe that telling you this on 6th Avenue at 9AM while you’re heading to work is the kinda praise that will make for an amazing start to your day.”) There’s a Starbucks employee who feels his “religious freedom” has been violated because he is fired for sharing his Jennifer Lawrence/Pokemon mashup sex fantasy in the break room. There’s a Brony. There’s a guy doing “showtime!” on the subway…except it’s musical theatre. Yvonne Hartung is directing the show. It’ll be a fun, strange, dirty time.
Most notable about the development of Spermicide is that I’ve been working on the show by performing at “character slams” at UCBeast and the People’s Improv Theatre. Those venues have these open mic nights that are for character monologues as opposed to stand-up or storytelling. I thought they presented a great way to develop a multi-character solo performance.
Q: What else are you working on now?
A: A new solo show I wrote called Insomnia in Space. I’m working with director Lillian Meredith on it. We’re calling it “an immersive, solo-performance piece contrasting the vastness of the universe with the minutiae of everyday life.” I’ve been an insomniac since I was thirteen and the thing that has always helped me finally sleep or calmed me down on sleepless nights has been meditating on thoughts of outer space. I’m also working on a play called The Algeria Alternative, about a woman who works at an office facilitating data from drone strikes and how she decides to leak information that’s detrimental to the company. I have been bringing in pages to The Propulsion Lab, the playwriting group of the Queens arts collective Mission to dit(MARS). Director Leta Tremblay will be directing a reading of that one soon.
Q: Tell me, if you will, a story from your childhood that explains who you are as a writer or as a person.
A: For most of elementary school I was a loudmouth, hyperactive, disruptive little shit. It often went to darker places than just being “class clown.” In 3rd grade after I had learned about the word “FUCK” I decided to write it down in huge letters on a piece of paper and show it off to the class. I got suspended from school. In 4thgrade I forged a kids report card (sloppily, might I add) to be all Fs with stuff like “This kid is totally pointless. His parents should just quit.” I got suspended again. I spent half of my elementary school experience in “time out.”
Then two things happened that changed me. First: I saw The Truman Show when I was twelve. I had a huge epiphany. Because Jim Carrey…the ultimate loudmouth hyperactive disruptive little shit…had brought some nuance into what he did. The connection was clear to me: If the hyperactive kid behaves, they can do something truly great. Like give a compelling performance in a great movie. Second: My sixth grade teacher named Brett Heflin made a deal with me. If I could behave during class, I could put on a little two minute show every morning before class. It worked like a charm. I behaved because I so badly wanted to write and perform that show every morning. Those two things were the first of many, many times art made me change the way I lived my life.
Q: If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?
A: Picking one is so tough. So I’ll spitball a few for you. I wish companies would budget things so 25% of the entire run of every production was “pay what you can.” I wish Lincoln Center would work out a revenue stream with all the unions and turn that amazing archive of professionally filmed theatre into a online, streaming “Netflix for theatre.” I wish theatres would adopt the “never be dark” ethos. Because we have these huge expensive theatres that sit completely empty way too often. Why not fill those spaces? 6PM shows. 10PMshows. Midnight shows. Year round. Every night. Even if they’re simple, super low tech productions. I’d love to see a major theatre have a fundraising campaign to pay every artist that comes through the building a living wage instead of just funding construction for the building.
Most personally for me: My favorite parts of being a teenager were 3PM to 6PM in my high school’s theatre. Those hours planted the bug in me to go out to places where I’d learn about folks like August Wilson, Tony Kushner, Anne Bogart, Bertolt Brecht and so much other stuff I would have never discovered if I didn’t have that bug planted. The more money and resources we have towards arts education in public schools, the more bugs we are going to plant.
Q: What kind of theater excites you?
A: The kind that makes me laugh really hard at things that are painful, true, dark, terrible and dirty. The kind I walk out of thinking "Wow, I never thought of it THAT WAY." The kind that makes me feel the feelings I get when I'm heartbroken, depressed and frustrated and thus, I believe, leaves me better equipped to deal with those same emotions when they arise in real life situations.
Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
A: Go out. Go out to shows and readings, Q&As and all sorts of other theatre events. Money’s an issue? You can find plenty of stuff for free or cheaper than a movie ticket. If that fails you can probably volunteer as an usher and see something for free. So do it. And when you’re there say hi to people. Strike up conversations. Ask older, more successful artists “What were you doing when you were my age?” I’ve always learned a lot asking that question. If you see someone who once created something that blew your socks off, tell them.
Find a way to fund your work and stage it. Someone told me when I was 21 I would always need “at least $20,000 dollars.” That’s a load of bullshit. You can find a way to put your work up on a budget of a hundred or fifty or zero dollars. Even if you don’t do it at a "theatre theatre" and it’s only a single performance or two or three performances. Do it. Because the only way you’re going to learn to write for the stage is by having your plays actually existing in time and space.
Understand that an experience you hate in the moment could pay massive positive dividends down the line. Understand that those folks you read about in some New York Times profile? Ya know what, sometimes even they have to check coats or sling drinks or lift boxes.
Most importantly have good friends. Good friends to work with. Good friends for mutual emotional support. Good friends to laugh, drink, run around, scream and shoot the shit with. Good friends that you trust to tell you what they honestly think of your work. Those “flaming arrows” they throw at your work are gonna hurt like hell sometimes…but they will help you get better. Love the success of your friends in the same way baseball players celebrate together at home plate when one of their teammates hits a walk off home run…despite the fact that they themselves didn’t hit it.
Be kind. Be patient. Keep creating.
Q: Plugs, please:
A: Spermicide goes up on March 14th and 15th at the Brooklyn LaunchPad in a double bill with a multi-character solo show by Melissa Gordon called Fresh. My solo show VCR Love is published through Original Works Publishing and my plays Gloves for Guns, Thanks for Traveling and Turning Atomic Tricks are published on Indie Theater Now. I'm online at www.dtlawson.com and I'm @dtlawson on Twitter. Say hello would ya?
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