Monday, June 01, 2015

I Interview Playwrights Part 747: Ian McWethy


Ian McWethy

Hometown: Arlington, VA

Current Town: New York, NY

Q:  What are you working on now?

A:  I just finished two one act plays for Playscripts Inc. and a short play they asked me to write about bullying.

I'm also finishing up two screenplays, starting to do research on a third, and developing a "pitch" for a TV show.

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 don't know if there is one story. But there were a lot of instances growing up where my parents, or teachers, or friends would be like "Ian, where are you? What are you thinking?!" and I'd be spacing off, clearly enacting some sort of story or conversation in my head. My grandparents thought something was really wrong with me, and that I should "get tested." (and honestly, I probably should have).

Luckily, my parents never medicated me and now I use this distracting imagination to write plays.

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

A:  Ticket prices for Broadway shows, and Broadway tours, and a lot of regional theatre are WAY too expensive. It's become a luxury item for the super rich and it shouldn't be.

Q:  Who are or were the biggest influences on your writing?

A:  Tony Kushner, Martin McDonaugh, Christopher Durang, and early Mamet were the playwrights that had the biggest impact on me.

But if I'm being really honest I think TV had a much bigger influence on my voice as a writer. I watch way more TV then I do theatre, which probably means I don't belong on this blog but... here we are. Adam asked me. Anyway, particularly influential shows were The Simpsons, Arrested Development, South Park, The West Wing, The Daily Show, and The Colbert Report.

And then if I'm being really REALLY honest, my friends and collaborators when I was 14 - 25, had undoubtedly the biggest influence on my writing. Either from their support, feedback, or by allowing me to steal from them. Josh Halloway, Jason Pizzarello, Brendan Conheady, Isaac Oliver, David Ruttura, Michael Kimmel and my wife Carrie McCrossen, among many other teachers and friends, have shaped my writing in ways I'm probably not even conscious of.

Q:  What lessons have learned recently about writing or art in general?

A:  I feel like every day I learn a new lesson about writing. It's amazing how little I know. Here are 3.

1. Here's a practical one. Having characters with similar sounding names or that start with the same first letter can be a bummer to read. Mix it up. I mean you can do it. You can name the five characters in your play Joe, Jo, Jose, Joss, and Joey even it's really important to you. But your reader will get very confused (or at least I would).

2. If you're giving a friend or colleague feedback on their script, especially if you don't know the person very well, before you give notes say the sentence "You don't have to take this if you don't want to." Writing is a free form, creative enterprise, and just because you have a brilliant idea about how to "fix a script" doesn't it mean it's right for them or what they want to do. I'm much more responsive to notes that are respectful of the work I've done, and truly want to make the piece better (and not just to mold it to you what you want it to be).

3. Some times, when you get down to actually writing... it flows and is fun and life affirming. A lot of times, it's a slog, and it feels terrible. When it feels terrible, just try to sit down and keep writing. It almost always turns out better than it feels in the moment.

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

A:  Finding a good writer's group really helped me. For me, it was about finding 2 to 3 other people committed to meeting every week to share their work and experiences. Writing groups were also fundamental in helping me do the aspects of writing I hate, like applying to grants and writing contests, bugging my managers, or updating my website (which I still don't do enough). It's been an invaluable asset for me.

Bigger writing groups I've found less helpful. Groups with like 9 people where the sole purpose is to hear drafts of work and critique it. If a group like that works for you great! Keep doing it. But I've found it more helpful to have a smaller group, that's 1/3 therapy session, 1/3 sharing/feedback of your writing projects, 1/3 hang out with good friends. Smaller means you have more time to be indulgent, and not just talk about the writing.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  I have two new one act plays published in this year by Playscripts Inc. If you're looking for a new one act play for young actors, give 'em a read. I particularly like THE INTERNET IS DISTRACT -- OH LOOK A KITTEN! I've seen it performed twice now and it seems to really work (and I think say something about ever distracting world we live in). You can read a free sample here.

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