Wednesday, May 06, 2015

I Interview Playwrights Part 738: Abby Rosebrock

Abby Rosebrock

Hometown:  Summerville, South Carolina. And two years in glorious, burgeoning Greenville, South Carolina.

Current Town:  BROOKLYN!


A:  SINGLES IN AGRICULTURE takes place on the last night of an annual dating convention for farmers in Texas. A South Carolina army widow who loves MODERN FAMILY and talks to her pygmy goats angles for romance with a fundamentalist dairy farmer from Oklahoma. It's dark and sad and not a little erotic. But most importantly, it's hilarious.

I've been developing the play with some phenomenal actors and director Stephanie Ward of Beth Dies, Inc., the company behind Chiara Atik's hit play WOMEN. After readings with IRT and Marrow's Edge, we're bringing SINGLES IN AGRICULTURE to The Brick's summer festival in Williamsburg this June and to Dixon Place in September. The cast includes myself and Graeme Gillis of Ensemble Studio Theatre in the lead role of Joel.

Q:  What else are you working on now?

A:  I always try to act and write in equal measure; otherwise I'd go insane. I get to wear both hats for the webseries MY EX IS TRENDING, which I make with the brilliant actress and my artistic soulmate, Layla Khoshnoudi. As far as plays go, I'm writing an adaptation of the ancient story of Dido and Aeneas. Biscuit, my alter ago who is also a puppy (and who cameos as a goat in SIA), is playing Hitler's dog in Mac Wellman's play THE OFFENDING GESTURE.

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

A:  One of my earliest memories is locking myself in a closet when I was five or six and crying all afternoon. When my mom found me and asked what was wrong, I told her I had just realized I was the youngest person in my family and might be the last to die. She told me not to worry; “that's why people grow up and get married, so they don't die alone.”

Then I think we watched I Love Lucy.

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

A:  As most of your readers know, a lot of producing organizations operate under the bizarre misconception that a play will be more successful if it involves "name talent" than if it retains the artists who built it from the ground up. "Bizarre," because name talent in this context usually refers to actors who are only marginally recognizable at most. This model makes producers feel safe and keeps casting directors in business. But it's poisonous to artists, their partnerships and the work they make. I also strongly believe that it's economically short-sighted. Nurturing fiercely committed ensembles and prioritizing artistic integrity and raw expression would make plays more popular and profitable in the long term and would help revive theatre as an industry. Superior TV networks and platforms have realized how important it is to let creators control their own projects and ensembles. If theatre wants to enjoy a golden age like the one happening in television, more large and powerful producing organizations need to risk doing the same.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  Chekhov and Ibsen may be a boring answer, but their plays do exactly what I want my plays to do. They mine contemporary suffering for truthful, precisely timed and often uproarious comedy. The uproarious part isn't always achieved in translation or performance, but it's there.

Chaucer is huge for me, too. I studied medieval poetry for several years, and the greatest thing I got out of that experience was the chance to spend time with Chaucer's comedy. It's rooted in hyper-specific and multidimensional character studies, a special sensitivity to the intelligence of women, and minute attention to language and cultural context. Chaucer taught me that, paradoxically, you have to polish the hell out of written language in order to make something honest and raw out of it. I can't think of a more masterful performance piece than THE WIFE OF BATH'S PROLOGUE.

More heroes: Amy Poehler and other innovators of longform improv, Madonna as a live performer, the actress Layla Khoshnoudi and the director Stephanie Ward.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  Writing that's crafted and acting that's raw. Fierce ensembles like The Debate Society and Lesser America, who prioritize clarity in storytelling. The playwright Chiara Atik for infusing her twenty-first-century comedies with literary tradition. DAISY, her recent adaptation of Henry James' DAISY MILLER, makes me giddy.

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

A:  I'm going to steal Amy Herzog's succinct answer, because I couldn't have said it better: “Be patient. Be happy for your friends and colleagues. Avoid reading theater news; read novels instead.”

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  For tickets to SINGLES IN AGRICULTURE at The Brick this June, check or call 866-811-4111, and keep an eye out for us in September at You're gonna love it.

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