Tuesday, March 17, 2015

I Interview Playwrights Part 726: Barry Rowell



Hometown: Fort Worth, TX

Current Town: New York, NY

Q:  Tell me about Floydada.

A:  Floydada is something I wrote for Catherine Porter and Nomi Tichman, two of my favorite actors. It’s about two sisters in 1926 Texas: one of them left home a couple of decades before and has traveled the world while the other stayed home and took care of their parents and managed the family’s dry goods business. Out in the world, Dalia (Nomi) has lived in big cities and encountered the Dada art movement. A terminal illness has forced her to return home so that she can be cared for by Ada (Catherine). But she doesn’t want to just sit around and wait to die so she convinces Ada to start a Dada cabaret in their store.

Q:  What else are you working on right now?

A:  Actively, I’m planning a site-specific play about bar life to be performed in bars; we’ll start workshopping that again in the late spring and summer, I hope. I’ve also got a few projects that we (Peculiar Works) have already produced that I want to go back and develop further: Manna-Hata from 2013,; a play about the militant separatists movement in the U.S. that we presented in 1996; and a multi-artist event adapted from the novel, Don Quixote—we’d really like to do that one in Spain next year. There are others that are just ideas but those are the most concrete…

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

A:  My dad likes to remind me of the time that I came home and told my parents that I gotten a job mopping the floors at a local diner on Saturday afternoons. I was in middle school so probably about 12 or so. At the time, he couldn’t imagine what had possessed me to go and ask about the job but it wasn’t really all that surprising: my dad had often talked about having to work when he was a kid—growing up in West Texas in the ‘40s, he had to pick cotton—and I figured that I was supposed to find some work, too. I don’t remember how long I had the job—a few months, maybe—before the café closed (or maybe I got bored and quit before that… I really don’t remember). But I think that sort of impulsiveness continues to be one part of who I am. Not always, of course, but often: when I moved to New York, when I started writing plays, several of the projects we’ve done over the years.

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

A:  Movies adapted into musicals would be abolished and the composers would not be allowed to write those McMusical Ballads. The stifling of imagination is my biggest complaint about commercial theater—especially since I know so many incredible writers, directors, composers, actors and designers working for no money with no money and accomplishing extraordinary things.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  There are hundreds. As a writer, I probably hear Harold Pinter in my head more than anyone else—I wish I had his way with silence. But I’m also a big fan of more poetic, image-filled writing. Catherine and I did a workshop with The Drama League in Bulgaria last summer and Gabriel Shanks recommended we bring the Bulgarian directors work by 20th century American writers whose work is in that vein, and they’re some of my favorite authors: Gertrude Stein, Richard Foreman, Charles L. Mee, Mac Wellman and Ruth Margraff. If I had the ability, I would be writing like that… but that’s just not how I hear language. I also love directors like Elizabeth LeCompte and Emma Rice, and companies like Kneehigh Theatre (probably my all-time favorite) and Rude Mechanicals in Austin. If there is reincarnation, I want to be a choreographer in the next life: I love David Parker/The Bang Group, Yanira Castro and Monica Bill Barnes (and lots and lots of others).

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  Imaginative—show me something I haven’t seen a hundred times before. I don’t mean plots: I mean creativity. The best productions I’ve seen in recent years were full of surprises. Rude Mechs’ Method Gun—blew me away; Kneehigh’s The Bacchae (and almost every show of theirs I’ve seen since 2004); Rainpan 43’s machines machines machines machines and Elephant Room; Forced Entertainment’s Club of No Regrets (which Catherine and I saw on our honeymoon in 1993 and I can still see vividly); and dozens of others. And loads of people here in NYC. I think there’s so much great work going on today and I’m excited to see what’s still to come.

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

A:  Write. I should definitely write more. Rewrite: I do that better than I write, I sometimes think. Go see work: I heard Richard Foreman say that he doesn’t go see theater and I think that’s too bad—I get great ideas from other people (and I even remember most of them). Meet other artists: it’s a collaborative medium and the more people you know, the better.

Q:  Plugs, please.

A: Floydada: March 26 – April 11 at 7pm. A found space at 40 Worth Street at West Broadway. We’ve got a great space for the production and my collaborators on the project are all amazing—the play is going to look and sound better than I could ever have hoped. When I’ve sat in production meetings with director David Vining and the rest of the team and hear them talk about the play, I’m so thrilled: the entire team all talk about my play the way every playwright HOPES they will—they get it and they understand what to highlight and how and, more importantly, why. Tickets at peculiarworks.org and the previews are only $10!


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