Tuesday, July 29, 2014

I Interview Playwrights Part 678: Steven Fechter



Steven Fechter

Hometown: I grew up in and around the Los Angeles area. My family moved a lot, settling in then abruptly leaving about ten different towns. It was a disruptive life. The result is that I’ve always felt rootless. This feeling of rootlessness, I believe, gave me the freedom to wander the world and history searching for stories to write about.

Current Town: New York City.

Q: Tell me about Lancelot.

A: In writing Lancelot I was able to bring together themes that interest me a great deal. Those themes include the role of the artist in society, the Outsider who breaks social and sexual boundaries, and male identity in America. Lancelot is set in the American West. I have set a number of my plays in small rural towns in the Midwest and West. If you’re an Outsider the stakes always seem higher in a small town than in a big city. The Outsider just sticks out more. The things that attract me about the West are its rugged, desolate, and bleak landscapes peopled by tough, gritty, bruised characters.

In Lancelot the protagonist is Ryan, a young man who lives a quiet, ordinary life in a small, ordinary town in Oklahoma. He has a job, a girlfriend, and goes to church. On the surface Ryan represents the ideal young man of the Western heartland. But underneath there lies a very different American male icon – the artist as outlaw and sexual rebel. One day a woman from Ryan’s past arrives. She brings memories of a boy who was wild, wanton, prodigiously artistic, and recklessly in love. Ryan believed he had buried that wild boy years ago. This woman was his middle school art teacher – and lover. Now she’s back and Ryan must make the most difficult choice of his life: What kind of man will he be. Lancelot is about the transgressive power of art and love and the danger of being true to yourself.

Q: What else are you working on now?

A: I am working on theatre and film projects.

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

A: My story is during my third year in grade school. It was a year that I enjoyed school and adored my teacher. She encouraged me, recognizing a young creative mind. When I handed my report card to my mother, instead of praising my grades, she zeroed in on the teacher’s “Remarks.” She had written that I was a “sensitive” student. My mother angrily questioned what she meant by “sensitive,” as if I had done something terrible. I had no answer, which only made her angrier. I ran into my bedroom in bitter tears. Thus, I learned quite early in my life that being perceived as sensitive (i.e. artistic or strange) – in other words, different – is dangerous and will mark you as an outsider. The risks of being an outsider would become a theme throughout my work, such as Lancelot.

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

A: I’d change two things: First, our government would be much more supportive of theater, as it is done in Britain, Germany, and other European countries. Wouldn’t it be great if even small theatre companies could pay actors, directors, and playwrights a decent compensation? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if regional theaters could mount ambitious, risky productions without worrying about subscriptions going down? Second, Broadway and Off-Broadway would encourage more young audiences to come to the theatre. Students should get generous discounts. Once a month Broadway theaters would open their houses for free to people eighteen and under.

Q: Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A: I have four heroes: Anton Chekhov, Samuel Beckett, Harold Pinter, and Sam Shepard. They taught me about theatricality, form, language, rhythm, and a fearless, uncompromising vision of the world. What I love in their plays is the clashing of the comic with the tragic, ruthlessness with tenderness, and especially with Chekhov, a deep empathy for all his characters.

Q: What kind of theater excites you?

A: I am excited by theater that is dangerous, risky, stark, uncomfortably intimate, darkly comical, and truthfully shocking. I want to see something that I won’t see in the movies or on television. I am excited about characters that are complex, damaged, funny, with needs that reach down to their souls, and that challenge actors and audiences. A great example is Mark Rylance’s shattering performance as Johnny “Rooster” Byron in Jez Butterworth’s Jerusalem.

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

A: My advice is the same that I received from the late William Packard when I took his HB Studio playwriting workshop as a novice playwright: “Keep writing.”

Q: Plugs, please:

A: Come see 360 repco’s world premiere production of Lancelot that runs August 13-29 at The Gym at Judson, NYC. I am blessed with an extraordinary cast and the expansive vision of director Thom Fogarty. This will be my third collaboration with Thom. For details and tickets go to www.360repco.org.


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