Saturday, June 06, 2015

I Interview Playwrights Part 751: Dave Malloy



photo by Michael De Angelis

Dave Malloy

​Hometown:  Lakewood, OH

Current Town:  Brooklyn, NY​

Tell me about Preludes.

​Q:  Preludes​ is a "musical fantasia set in the hypnotized mind of Sergei Rachmaninoff"; it's a dreamlike piece based on a 3-year period in Rach's life, when he suffered severe depression and writer's block following the disastrous premiere of his First Symphony. He eventually began to work again after seeing a hypnotherapist, Nikolai Dahl, to whom he ended up dedicating his famous Second Piano Concerto, written during this period.

It's a pretty different piece for me; it's closer to Three Pianos than Great Comet or Ghost Quartet, but more than any of those this is really a proper "play with music," and most of the music is Rachmaninoff's; I've only written like 6-7 traditional songs, and even those are mostly based on themes of Rachmaninoff's. And I've written these bizarre things where two or three people just talk to each other, with no singing at all; these are called "scenes." But music of course plays a huge role in the piece, with many scenes meticulously choreographed to Rach's piano works, all being played onstage by our amazing pianist, Or Matias. He and actor Gabriel Ebert play two halves of Rachmaninoff; so the piece is also about their relationship, and all the dichotomies they may or may not be representing: composer/pianist, writer/muse, action/inaction, success/failure, passion/sloth. It also deals with Rachmaninoff negotiating his own dubious position in classical music history, and how he deals with criticism, expectation, work ethic and inspiration.

Q:  What else are you working on now?

A:  A little bit too much! A teenage dance-a-thon​ musical  with Krista Knight and YMTC ​in Berkeley, CA is next, called Don't Stop Me; a​nd​ I have 3 collaborations ​in development ​with director Rachel Chavkin: a Moby Dick adaptation, a Prince Hal adaptation (compressing Henry IV 1 ​and​ 2 and Henry V), and a piece about Taoism, evolution and debate called The Happiness of Fish​ at ACT​. Plus Ghost Quartet is going on tour, and the four of us have talked a bit about making a new piece...

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 spent a lot of my childhood watching old science fiction TV shows and reading Stephen King and Ray Bradbury; so I think much of my aesthetic actually comes from that world, even when the material is not overtly fantasy or sci-fi; I just love the weird and dreamy.

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

​A:  We change things all the time!​ So maybe: I would like to change the the persistent belief that there are meta-institutional things that need to be changed.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  The first thing I saw in NYC that blew me away and made me certain I wanted to do theater forever and ever was Richard Foreman's​ The Gods Are Pounding On My Head!; I just had no idea you could make such surreal spectacle til then. Among theatrical composers, Sondheim of course, Meredith Wilson, early ALW, Schönberg & Boublil, Robert Ashley, Robert Crumb, Tom Waits, Björk, Prince and Beyoncé. Contemporary theater favorites include Young Jean Lee, Anne Washburn, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, ERS, Half Straddle, Nature Theatre of Oklahoma, and Lin-Manuel Miranda; and of course I'm constantly inspired by my many lovely and amazing collaborators, including Rachel Chavkin, Alec Duffy, Rick Burkhardt, the Ghost Quartet folks, Banana Bag & Bodice and Eliza Bent.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:​ Anything that plays with and breaks the form: durational pieces, music/theater hybrids, immersive pieces. Pieces with booze and hooting but impeccable craft. Vastness and darkness and echoes. But I'm a sucker for an old fashioned musical or well-made play too.​

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

​A: I would focus on self-producing work, rather than chasing readings, grants, retreats, fellowships, writers groups etc.​ You can learn so much just making a ton of terrible messes for no money. Plus it's way more fun.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:   JACK is celebrating 3 years this summer and keep getting better and better. James Harrison Monaco has a show at Ars Nova's ANTFest, Tales For Telling, that I can't wait to see. I'm going to see Anne Washburn's 10 out of 12 at Soho Rep next week and am super psyched. And Ghost Quartet is headed up to Mt. Tremper Arts this summer, where there are a ton of other amazing things happening too.

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