Saturday, March 29, 2014

I Interview Playwrights Part 646: Adam Scott Mazer


Adam Scott Mazer

Hometown: Birmingham, AL

Current Town: Brooklyn, NY

Q:  Tell me about The Tower.

A:  Where to even start? Hmm. About five or six years ago, I had the idea that someone (I didn't think of myself as a playwright back then) should write a play about the Donner Party, those legendary frontier settlers who got stuck in the mountains and resorted to cannibalism to survive. As I got increasingly into playwriting over the course of the last few years, the idea was always simmering in the back of my mind. After I finished Motherboard, I sorta just knew that its time had come. Early last summer, Philip Gates, Maya Rook, and I ran a developmental workshop for the show, in which Maya - who just happens to be a PhD student in American History - provided us with historical documents that we then collaboratively brought to life. We also played around with character-based improv and hallucinatory dream compositions, and I came away from those couple weeks with an amazing wealth of material and a new understanding of the project. In the fall, we visited Donner Lake, where we met with people at the historical museum and more generally were able to dive deep into the energy of the place. That trip really kick started my creativity, so I took some of the material we had generated along with certain historical documents and used those as sort of guideposts to write the play. What emerged is certainly the strangest play I've written. Both narrative and experimental, The Tower weaves in and out of reality: ostensibly set in 1846 and 1847, the arc of the play takes us not only over the Sierra Nevada’s with the desperate snowshoers, but also into the characters' minds, the future, and possibly even death itself. Titled after the tarot card for chaos, collapse, and destruction, The Tower uses one of America's most notorious myths to explore some of its foundational values: take whatever you can, kill whoever you have to, and above all else, consume, consume, consume. Sounds dark, I know, but it's actually pretty funny too!

Q:  What else are you working on now?

A:  Nothing! The Tower pretty much rules my every waking moment, save for the time I'm doing my day job. The end of this process will mark the end of a yearlong sprint in which I wrote and co-produced this play and illustrated my first book, a graphic poetry collection (with poet J. Bradley, published by YesYes Books). I'm looking forward to taking a couple months to recharge, relax, and see what kind of trouble I can get into.

Q:  Tell me, if you will, a story from your childhood that explains who you are as a writer or as a person.

A:  Oh god, I really hate telling stories from my childhood - not because it was terrible or anything, on the contrary, I have a pretty excellent family, so it was actually quite pleasant. I don't really have any Batman-esque tragic origin stories, but I can recall an event that in part informed the writing of this play. When I was maybe 10, I had a really terrible fever; to the point where I was pretty much tripping balls. I remember very vividly being inside of what I thought was a dream, frantically ripping various shirts out of my closet. After enduring a variety of other strange events and compulsions, I "woke up" in the bathtub, sitting on a bunch of wet shirts, my mother wiping my brow with a cold washcloth. Now that I think about it, that whole thing is at least partially relevant to "who I am as a writer," because so much of my writing is about the permeable membrane between what's real and what's imagined. Nothing like a little childhood fever delirium to expose the cracks in the material world.

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

A:  I only get one? Way to ask the tough questions, Adam. I have a lot of issues with the current state of theater, but I think the biggest issue - as with most other things in America - is one of money. I would change the system that prohibits those without means from creating theater - grad school costs an insane amount, self-producing requires deep pockets or deep connections, and grant money is incredibly hard to come by. I have no idea how to do it, but luckily you didn't ask me that - at base level, there's something pretty deeply wrong with an "industry" in which the makers of the product - actors, directors, and writers - can reasonably expect that they will never be appropriately paid for their work.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  Ibsen, Ionesco, Thornton Wilder, Richard Foreman, Caryl Churchill, Martin McDonagh, Qui Nguyen, and Robert Ross Parker

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  Theater that's alive. It's hard to explain what that is, but you can just feel it. Whether it's a kitchen sink drama or some crazy experimental shit, for me there are ultimately two types of theater: living and dead. Does it generate heat, or is it just sitting there rotting? I like it hot.

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

A:  Oh man, let's see. Don't just network, make friends. Ask those friends to read your work, and do the same for them. Give feedback that is supportive, but honest - if we're not helping each other be the best artists we can be, then why bother? Write and rewrite and rewrite again. Don't wait around for people to give you opportunities because they probably never will: produce your own work and prove to them that you're worth their time and attention.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:

My book The Bones of Us came out in March:

More on The Tower at http://antimattercollective.org

Prints of my artwork and more available at adamscottmazer.com
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