Tuesday, November 24, 2015

I Interview Playwrights Part 805: Ryan Fogarty

Ryan Fogarty

Hometown: Bay Shore, NY

Current Town: Sunnyside, Qns

Q:  What are you working on now?

A:  I'm currently working on a few plays.

The first is Code: Anchor which is based on some crazy kids I knew working in the toll booths at Robert Moses State Beach when I was in high school/college. My fourth and last summer there, three kids stole thousands of dollars by slipping money into books they were reading. It's the first time I’m using my hometown as a setting for a play.

The second is an EST/Sloan commission that centers on a programmer who is developing an education gaming platform and runs out of money. He releases a phone game app to rectify that and it takes off and usurps his original plans. I'm thinking about technology and how our level of empathy has changed because of our phones.

I have a few ideas swimming around in my head that I plan on tackling during a residency this summer - including a play that takes place over the course of the next five decades. It’s set at a series of happy hours at an Applebees featuring a group of high school teachers. I'm using education in America as a small lens and having fun predicting our future.

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

A:  When I was little both of my parents worked and my sister, Cait, and I used to spend a lot of time with our grandparents. My Mom's Dad watched a lot of old movies on AMC (when they actually aired them...) and TCM. Seven Brides for Seven Brothers was one of my jams and I later figured out it’s a musicalization of the Rape of the Sabine Women...oof. I saw Peyton Place at seven, The Lost Weekend at eight, Psycho at nine... So, pretty much one of the first on-screen rapes, hardcore alcoholism, and, well, Norman Bates, respectively. Yay…Where was my Disney? It was all formative though...in a positive way. Old movies are very theatrical - back lot sets, styled to a T, and overly dramatic talk (Lynn Nottage's By the Way Meet Vera Stark and Rinne Groff's Ruby Sunrise were a lot of fun for me). When I got my hands on a camera in high school I made a few short films (I think there's a music video of Green Day's "Brain Stew" I made on my old laptop). But, I didn't feel I had a good eye for film and wanted more intimacy and smaller spaces. I wasn't good at orchestrating people either so directing was out of the question. Among other reasons, that's when I started working on writing scripts and I applied to NYU.

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

A:  I would love to see change in how artists are supported financially. I feel like fiscal-sponsorship only covers so much for individual artists and gets you so many grant opportunities. There are crowd funding opportunities, yes, but people burn out on that or expend their pool after a few projects. Few institutions give major awards or individual project grants nowadays (and if they do it’s usually with restrictions). The President of a major foundation was recently boasting in an interview about past (in the 60s and 70s) individual grants they gave to people who made GIANT contributions to their fields. Why would that stop if they made such strides? Why can't they bring that back? Why would a large organization that may run healthy surpluses get a five-figure grant to mount a production that doesn't ostensibly need that support? Why not split it five ways between five artists to create something individually? I’m sure there is a way to measure the impact of that sort of change. The positive effect for the artist would obviously happen over the long-term but it could possibly be more meaningful. I know it's not just individuals – many small theatres and companies feel the pain too.

I don't have the power (or the money) to change support for artists in this country but I think it needs serious consideration. I find the artists who are able to make the most notable contributions are the ones who can write without working full-time and/or can pay to travel. I don't begrudge anyone the ability to do that and at some point I hope I'll be in that place. But, someone who is sagged in debt (school, moving to New York City, etc.) is going to be more concerned with finding a day job and paying off that degree or pay their rent than taking the time to go write or make sure they can self-produce. We talk a lot about money and who has it in this country, and theatre is a microcosm of that. I've seen this topic brought up minutely in the "all artists should be paid for their work" discussion but I wish individual artists had a greater platform to make this struggle known or promote better practices.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  There are so many playwrights I admire. Churchill, Pinter, Hare, Ruhl, Herzog. Gina Gionfriddo is a hero of mine. I saw After Ashleigh at The Vineyard when I was a freshman and I had been so used to the Greeks, Shakespeare, Ibsen, Miller, and Williams up to that point. I saw Gina's play and was like, "What is going on here? This is very different. This is fucking awesome." After I graduated, when I was the Artistic Assistant at Second Stage and wasn't writing much they produced Becky Shaw. I watched that show sooo many times, not because I had to but because I really wanted to. Watching the whole process of that play made a huge impression on me. That play made me want to write more and write really well.

I've also been very lucky to have very personal heroes in my life whose work I was introduced to early on and magically I have befriended/been mentored by over the years: Anton Dudley, Chris Shinn, Doug Wright, and Chris Burney, who I think is one of the great champions of young writers and new plays out there.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  Work that is unlike my own in either style, form, content, and/or theme. Recent (last few years) work that’s excited me: Lucas Hnath’s The Christians, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ An Octoroon, 600 Highwaymen's Employee of the Year, SITI Company, Bill T. Jones, and Janet Wong’s A Rite, Jackie Sibblies Drury's We Are Proud to Present..., Jenny Schwartz's Iowa, The Civilians’ Paris Commune. I’m really looking forward to Under the Radar this year. Other past impactful nights of theatre for me have been David Lindsay-Abaire's Rabbit Hole (which I saw two weeks after my grandfather was killed in an accident by a teenage driver), Dan LeFranc's The Big Meal, David Hare's Skylight, Adrienne Kennedy's Ohio State Murders, The Young Vic’s production of A Doll’s House in 2014. There are also plays that I haven't seen productions of that I love: Emily Schwend's Behind the Motel, Clarence Coo's Beautiful Provence, MJ Kaufman's Sagittarius Ponderosa (which my friend Ben is directing right now in San Francisco at NCTC!), Daniel Pearle's Remote Viewing, Claire Kiechel's Some Dark Places, Nick Gandiello's Sunrise Highway (Long Island playwrights! Woo!), and Steve Yockey's Pluto or Bliss or Octopus...

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

A:  Ha. I feel like I'm always just starting out. One of my mentors said to me, "It only takes one person to read your play." I've sort of clung to that notion.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  Look out for my reading of Code: Anchor in May at the Drama League.

Enter Your Email To Have New Blog Posts Sent To You

Support The Blog
Mailing list to be invited to Adam's events

Books by Adam (Amazon)

No comments: