Sunday, May 31, 2015

I Interview Playwrights Part 746: Ryan King

Ryan King

Hometown: Austin, TX

Current Town: Brooklyn, NY

Q:  Tell me about the play you're taking to the Cape Cod Theater Project.

A:  It’s called Loveshack in ’87. It takes place in Times Square in 1987. In a porn rental store.

I was thinking about how New York was changing. Lots of music venues and art spaces that I used to frequent were closing up. I tried to write about it directly, but nothing was sticking. Maybe I was too close to it.

I’ve always been interested in New York history, specifically the late ‘70’s and ‘80’s, because a lot of bands I like existed around then. It’s a period of time that is probably a bit idealized in my mind. I’d just finished the book Our Band Could Be Your Life, which covers a lot of punk/indie bands from the ‘70’s and ‘80’s. I think it planted the seed of writing about that era. At some point, it became more focused on Times Square, because the transition from old to new there was so extreme. I ended up doing a lot of research and lots of pieces of it show up in the play. It gave me a way to write about the idea of a community that’s disappearing with a little bit of distance.

At a certain point, it became a porn rental store. Not sure when. A place where people who might not normally meet would come together. It was the first time that that ever happened for me, where I knew the situation/setting of the play first.

It took a while for me to figure out who the people were in the space. As an actor, I’d usually find the characters first, so this was a shift for me. But at the time I was getting physical therapy for my back, and my chiropractor had lived in Times Square in the ‘80’s. He would tell me stories every time I would visit. A few of them are still references in the play. My favorite was about some Irish landlords that rented him his first apartment. They would get drunk and forget to collect rent every other month.

He ended up setting me up with some friends of his that’d been around then. That’s when things started to come together. The guy who runs the store in the play came directly from one of those interviews. I also remembered a guy I knew in college that worked at a porn video store in Austin. We were all working our way through college, and he was psyched because he got that job, and it paid really well. But we saw him a few years later, and you could tell the psychic effect that place was having on him. He was really dark. He kind of became the loose model for one of the other guys in the play.

The exact year in which the play is set changed a lot too. Every time it shifted, I’d go back and change all the references. There’s a scene where the main character serenades a girl with a pop song from the time period. I had to go back multiple times and figure out what songs were on the radio then. Luckily, in 1987 we have Tiffany. It was going to be late ‘70’s at one point. All the dudes would have mustaches, wear ‘70s’ clothes. But then eventually it settled into 1987, right as things are tipping into Disney.

Q:  What else are you working on now?

A:  Lots of stuff! I’ll keep it brief.

I just finished writing my first screenplay. Since it probably won’t get made for years, I’m not going to tell you what it’s about, so nobody can steal the idea. Ha.

I’m working on a play about a futuristic SeaWorld-type place that gets attacked by eco-terrorists. I’m spending some time at Ryder Farm in June to finish that up.

I just finished a play that takes place in a bowling alley in Virginia.

And I just finished up a play for the Clubbed Thumb Early Career Writers Group. Since you tell me to plug a few questions down, I’ll plug it then.

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

A:  I was alone a lot as a kid. It was mostly just me and my mom during elementary school and middle school. I was a weird kid and didn’t have tons of friends. Maybe that made me live in my head?

I didn’t write when I was little, but I would make intricate role-playing games where I’d obsess over every detail. I remember making a game about some mercenary alligators. I was so obviously ripping off the Ninja Turtles.

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

A:  I’d lower rents in Manhattan so that theaters in the city could take more chances in terms of plays, playwrights, and casting. Or maybe we can just start more theaters in Brooklyn. The Brick seems to have it pretty well figured out. Maybe we can just form a theater in my neighborhood, Ditmas Park. David Lindsay-Abaire lives nearby. He’d probably give us some money.

Q:  Who were your theatrical heroes?

A:  I went to college in Austin in the late ‘90’s, an inspiring time to be there. I find myself always returning to that time for inspiration. Salvage Vanguard and the Rude Mechanicals were just getting started. It was a total trip to get to see the Rude Mechs at LCT 3 a few years ago, because I always loved their stuff. And it was great to see Kirk Lynn’s play at Playwrights Horizons last year; I loved that play.

As I remember it, there weren’t many Equity actors. Everyone worked day jobs and made art happen at night. I worked at a fairly well known Austin restaurant, Kerbey Lane Café, where lots of artists worked. You worked next to fellow actors, bandmates. You’d work the morning shift, then go to school, then do rehearsals or shows at night. I came to admire that kind of working-class aesthetic of making art happen when you can.

There was an imaginative looseness in the plays that stuck with me from that period. I feel like I’ve spent the last ten years trying to bring that to my work – imagination rooted in something real. Dan Dietz was having plays produced that I loved. I still think about Dan’s play Dirigible, which starts as a lecture about the Hindenburg disaster and then goes wild. I got to act in Dan’s playwriting thesis at UT Austin – a play about Jesse James’s last moments alive. The play was a vaudeville-inspired play that takes place in the second between him hearing the gun cock and him getting shot. It’s the kind of play you wish you’d come up with. David Bucci had some great plays done by Salvage Vanguard that I still think about today. W David Hancock. I think I went to see The Race of the Ark Tattoo three times when it played in Austin.

Austin hadn’t completely gotten big yet. You could still find space and rent it and put up a play with tips you saved from your waiter job. There was something very immediate about it. I always missed that kind of DIY aesthetic after I left.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  I like things that feel like they could go wrong at any second.

I spend a lot of time going to concerts. I like plays that make me feel like those concerts.

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

A:  I guess it would be to trust your subconscious (unconscious?). I feel like the plays of mine that people respond to most strongly are the plays that came from ideas that I dismissed as too weird or crazy. I’d get fixated on an idea that I thought couldn’t be a play. Then I’d give up and just write it.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  I’m not sure when this is coming out, but…

Our Clubbed Thumb Early Career Writer’s Group (Blood Pinata) is having readings of the plays we developed this past year. They’ll be at the Wild Project at 3pm. Some of them will have already happened by the time you read this, but Xavier Galva is having his on June 10th and Sarah Delappe is having one on June 12th. Both are amazing plays. And mine is June 11th. It’s called Always On. It’s about a woman who answers an ad for an apartment and finds herself stumbling into a commune-type situation. Check it out if you can:

And if you are in Cape Cod in late July, come see Loveshack in ’87! It’s July 23rd, 24th, and 25th at 8pm. It’s directed by Stella Powell-Jones, who I am very excited to work with, and we are gathering a stellar cast of actors.

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