Sunday, July 06, 2014

I Interview Playwrights Part 672: Will Connolly

Will Connolly

Hometown:  Montclair, New Jersey

Current Town:  Brooklyn, NYC

Q:  Tell me about Fly By Night.

A:  "Fly By Night" is a musical I co-wrote with former Yale Drama classmates Michael Mitnick and Kim Rosenstock. I believe it's described as a "darkly comic rock fable". We just finished our run at Playwrights Horizons. The story centers around a group of New Yorkers preceding and during the great Northeast Blackout of 1965. It's about life & death, light & darkness, the extraordinary & the mundane, and the ability to feel both tiny and immense in a universe that is random and chaotic but also incomprehensibly vast and beautiful. And it's a story about music - How the rhythms we adopt (or break) in our lives can come to define us, and how something as seemingly invisible as music can possess very real healing powers and create connections to the people around us.

Q:  How did the three of you make this musical together?

A:  Kim & Michael were in the playwriting program at Yale School of Drama, and I was in the Acting program. Kim applied for and eventually received Artistic Directorship of the Yale Summer Cabaret, and she proposed writing an original musical to conclude the season. Meanwhile, Michael and I were becoming fast friends, working on plays and songs together throughout the school year. When Kim approached Michael about writing a musical, he suggested adding me to the team. Kim and I had never worked together, but we had both admired each other from afar and were eager to create something new together. So the initial decision was a pretty easy one to make. From there, we developed an "all hands on deck" type of process, where every creative decision - book, music, and lyrics - filtered through all three of us, and nothing was put on stage that wasn't approved by all three writers. Over time, we worked to make our three voices feel like a singular unit. It required compromise, patience, and rigorous thought from all three of us to maintain the checks and balances and create something we could all stand behind.

Q:  What else are you working on now?

A:  I actually have some down time for a change! While writing "Fly By Night", I was also in the original company of "Once", which was a beautiful experience on multiple levels. That said, it was also a massive commitment. Between performing in "Once" and writing "Fly By Night", my schedule has been pretty packed since graduating from school. Now that both experiences have concluded for me, I am excited and terrified by the open landscape that lays ahead. In the meantime, I'm writing and recording an album of my own original songs, playing music gigs at various venues around the city, I'm participating in all kinds of readings and workshops (including one by some guy named Adam Szymkowicz), auditioning, and hustling just like everybody else.

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

A:  I would make it affordable for everyone - audiences and artists alike. It's pretty depressing how expensive and exclusive theater is today. I tend to only see shows where I can get a comp, or I know someone involved with the production who can sneak me in somehow. Very rarely, a show will come along that I am so eager to see I will just say "fuck it!" and buy a ticket. But for the most part, it's just impossible and/or wasteful to participate. Even the term "non-profit" has evolved into an oxymoron. Also, it would be nice if playwrights had a union, right?

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  I am lucky to have had many inspirations over the course of my life, and in many different fields. Because I come from an acting background, I have to say Mark Rylance, Bill Irwin, Dianne Wiest, the late Philip Seymour Hoffman. That's an obvious answer, I suppose. I'm afraid my playwriting heroes are equally cliched - like Beckett, Chekhov, Albee, Martin McDonough. Steve Martin is a wonderful writer and composer, among other things. More recently, I think Amy Herzog and Annie Baker are doing really beautiful work. I'm a bit biased, but the creative team on "Once" were some of the most astounding individuals I have ever met. John Tiffany, Steven Hoggett, Enda Walsh and Martin Lowe are all endlessly inventive artists. Their work has been consistently brilliant for years now, and somehow they continue to get better and better. Musically, I think Dave Malloy is the most exciting composer / songwriter in the game today, and probably in many years. Nico Muhly is really wonderful too. Who else...? Oh! When I was a teenager I LOVED Mary Zimmerman's production of "Metamorphoses". More recently, I think David Cromer and Sam Gold have staged a handful of fantastic pieces. Sonya Tayeh is a poet of the human body. I've been fortunate to work with some terrific designers as well, like Natasha Katz, Bob Crowley, David Korins, Jeff Croiter, Paloma Young, Clive Goodwin, and so many others. What they do is simply masterful. I have also had a number of teachers, especially at NYU Tisch and Yale School of Drama, who are certainly heroes to me. And my friends! I have so many brilliant friends - actors, musicians, songwriters, playwrights, directors, dramaturgs, designers, managers, professors - they are all amazing and they inspire me every single day. And finally my sister, Kristen Connolly. She's my hero.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  Anything that's fearless, and anything that's truthful. I also like to laugh. And I enjoy watching people play musical instruments. Simplicity is elegance. Less is always more.

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

A:  I feel like I should be asking this question rather than answering it. But like anything, I'd say it takes constant practice and repetition to make any real progress. Failure is the foundation for all learning. If you're afraid to fail, or preoccupied with trying to create a product that will please everybody, you're just digging yourself into a ditch. Also, be careful who you let into your world - there are a lot of judgmental jerks out there who get off on bringing people down, and conversely, you don't want to be surrounded by "yes" men/women either. The best collaborators (and friends, for that matter) will be encouraging but never dishonest. Recognize that some things may be out of your control, but you do have the power to pick and choose who you want orbiting your little universe. Then, just try to honor your truest sensibilities, work hard, don't be a dick to people, and allow the chips to fall where they may.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  I love this part! Of course "Fly By Night" (duh). We should have a cast recording out this fall. My friends at Lesser America just closed a show called "Carnival Kids", which was great. I encourage people to keep an eye on them because they are relatively new and doing really terrific work. And of course, Studio 42! Moritz and co. are super heroes of the theater world! And that goes for my friends at Ars Nova as well - they take chances on new artists, and in our current climate that takes real courage. I'm also a newly appointed artistic advisor for the Fourth Street Bar Association through New York Theater Workshop, which is really exciting because I have loved NYTW for many years, so I gotta give them a shout out. And for the folks on the west coast, my sister is playing Desdemona in "Othello" at The Old Globe! Go see her! She's amazing.

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