Saturday, August 15, 2015

I Interview Playwrights Part 772: Barbara Pease Weber



Barbara Pease Weber

Home Town: I'm a Philly girl, through and through.

Current Town: I've been spending more and more time at the South Jersey seashore. I pretty much live at the beach nowadays.

Q:  What are some of the plays that you’ve written? Where have they been performed?

A:  I've written five comedies that are published by Samuel French and have been performed across the USA, in Canada, and some as far away as Australia and South Africa. My first is an all woman comedy, Delval Divas, about four incredibly bright, successful, professional women, who find themselves co-habitating at the fictional Delaware Valley ("Delval") Federal Correctional Institution, for committing a variety of non-violent "pink" collar crimes. Most recently, Samuel French published my 6W/2M comedy, The Witch in 204 ,which is a sequel (of sorts) to my earlier comedy entitled Seniors of the Sahara, centering around Sylvie Goldberg, a sweet, respectable, retired school teacher who returns home from her grandson's wedding in Israel with an unusual souvenir - a teapot/watering can that is actually a priceless relic containing a geriatric genie with a bad back and a penchant for vodka and V8. It's a quirky and unusual love story that culminates in The Witch in 204, when Sylvie's and Eugene's (the genie's) wedding plans are foiled by their sexy, sultry, and totally wicked new neighbor (Eugene's former paramour) a/k/a, The Witch in 204, who ruins their wedding day by poisoning one of their wedding guests (thinking she was Sylvie) with a lethal "brew" of pills and booze, and who tries to hijack the groom (Eugene) who leaves town leaving Sylvie with a dire warning to "Beware of The Witch in 204". My other comedies published by Samuel French are HOGWASH!, and A Crock of Schnitzel. My newest script (not yet published but it's had several productions) entitled Foolish Fishgirls and The Pearl, is about a trio of flat broke, middle age former mermaids living at the South Jersey seashore, whose lives didn't quite have that happily ever after storybook ending they had hoped for when then rescued their handsome young sailors and swam ashore 30 years ago. Suffice to say, all that chocolate I've consumed before bedtime over the years has resulted in some pretty bizarre dreams, fueling my already wild imagination, and resulting in a heck of a lot of fun.

Q:  What are you working on now?

A:  I’ve got at least a half dozen script ideas twirling around in my head, all waiting for the right moment to explode onto a page (should that moment actually ever again occur) and let me run wild with those that may ultimately take some sort of shape in what resembles a play or a story in some form or fashion. One involves Christmas (no, not another family reunion story, but something very different), one involves politics (no, not about boring battles of the Ds and Rs)s, one about the perils and aftermath of a reality TV show, another about my dear old (now departed) dad and his infamous wish (known only to family members) were he lucky enough to be reincarnated, and another about something that keeps coming to me at the oddest times then, poof, like right now, that I inexplicably seem to forget. (With age comes forgetfulness!) The common thread is that they’re all comedies, which is pretty much all I write.

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

A:  I actually have a couple totally different stories, one from my early childhood and one from my late teen/young adult years. While my dream for as far back as I can remember was to be an actor, which I am as well as a playwright, I wrote my first play, using characters from the Peanuts comic strip when I was nine, in fourth grade, for some sort of an extra-curricular writing or English class that was taught by one of the fifth grade teachers, who had a reputation of being strict, scary, and sometimes downright mean! Turns out, she got a pretty bad and undeserved rap from the fifth graders. The teacher wasn't in the least strict, scary or mean, at least in my book. She read my little script, which couldn't have been more than five or six pages at most, and which was chock full of typos having been pecked by me one finger at a time on my father's clunky manual typewriter, I'll never forget - she announced to the entire class that she loved it - and she insisted that it be performed "script in hand" in front of the entire school during some sort of assembly by a cast that I got to hand pick. Never being what anyone would ever dub as shy type, I cast myself as Lucy (who, of course, had the most lines). Coincidentally, I actually got to play Lucy again about ten years later, when I was 19, in a production of You're A Good Man Charlie Brown. I continued to act on and off throughout the years, but didn't write my "next" play until I was around 40 or so, thanks to my husband who more or less cajoled me into sitting down and doing it.

Which brings me to another crazy and wonderful thing that happened when I was cast in a play when I was 18 in 1976, as was a totally cute young fellow named John, also 18, who - fast forward - now happens to be my husband of almost 34 years, and the father of our two grown daughters (ironically neither of whom are remotely interested in performing! Where did we go wrong???) I get so much material from John, directly and indirectly. The things he says, his idiosyncrasies (such as, when we go out to lunch, triple checking, then making me check, that all of the toothpicks are removed from his sandwich before he eats it) turn into to some pretty funny stuff that I've managed to incorporate into my scripts. By way of example, early in our marriage when our girls were small, John had a black velour hoodie bathrobe that I probably got for him as a Christmas gift, and he would put on the robe and somehow tuck our eldest daughter (then about 5) inside with her head popping out, and he'd carry our younger daughter in one arm, and hold a hairdryer in his other hand, and he'd put a dish towel over his head (who knows why? there is no explanation!), and the three of them would chase me around our tiny condo in Ocean City laughing and screaming, "There's a Witch in 204" (our apartment was #204 and, of course, I was "The Witch"). Back then I would have never in a million years dreamed that one day I would write, or that Samuel French would publish, The Witch in 204. The last scene of the play pretty much recreates my treasured memories of oh so many years ago because my character, Herman, disguised as a Wizard (long black robe, etc.), chases Bella (short for Jezebella) The Witch around the South Jersey apartment, pointing at her a hairdryer wrapped in a colorful dish towel which is supposed to be the lethal witch whacking weapon that will throw off enough volts to electrocute even wickedest of witches, so as to scare her off. As they say, art imitates life, crazy and wonderful as it may be.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heros?

A:  I have always loved to make people laugh and have thoroughly enjoyed portraying characters in Neil Simon's The Odd Couple (Female Version), Last of the Red Hot Lovers, The Sunshine Boys, and Ken Ludwig's Moon Over Buffalo and Lend Me a Tenor. So, I'd have to say Simon and Ludwig are probably my playwright heroes, if for no other reason, I have such fond memories of portraying their characters. I wrote my first play, Delval Divas, shortly after portraying Florence Unger in The ( Female) Odd Couple, in part because my husband would not take no for an answer and insisted that I could and should try my hand at writing, and also because I had such a great time acting in all female shows like Steel Magnolias and The Odd Couple. I've been in more than my fair share of dramas, but the most fun (and, to me, that's what this is all about, or why do it?) are my memories of the comedies and the laughter, on stage, back stage, and of course, from the audience.

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

A:  Oh, that's an easy one! Do it cause you love it. Do it cause you want to do it. Do it cause it's YOUR story and you HAVE to tell it. Don't force yourself to write every day, every week, or even every month. Do write when the spirit moves you, when you have an idea, a line, a character, a scene, and your brain will just explode into a zillion particles and pieces if you don't stop whatever it is you happen to be doing at that very moment to get it down on "virtual" paper. Be grateful, humble, and appreciative to all who read your work, perform your work, sweep up the stage after your work, pull the curtain in between your scenes, and clean bathrooms of the theaters that perform your work (and offer to help!) And, of course be humble, understanding, kind, and courteous, to those who don't. Be thoroughly and utterly amazed by all of the great playwrights of the past who wrote their masterpieces without a computer! Become involved in the many aspects of theater as an actor, director, producer, stage manager, house manager, ticket taker, usher, because every time you are involved in a production you can't help but learn something from the experience. Make as many friends along the way as you can. And, the most important thing of all, HAVE FUN!

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