Thursday, January 07, 2016

I Interview Playwrights Part 810: James Anthony Tyler



James Anthony Tyler

Hometown: Las Vegas, Nevada

Current Town: Harlem, NYC and Minneapolis

Q:  Tell me about Dolphins and Sharks?

A:  “Dolphins and Sharks” is a play that started off as a 10-minute play that was produced in The Fire This Time Festival in January 2015. After the festival, I expanded the play into a full-length. It’s set in a copy and print shop called Harlem Office on 125th Street, in Harlem of course! It is the story of three employees Isabel, Yusuf and Xiomara.

Yusuf is the new employee. He is a Nigerian-American that follows the rules and eventually wants a raise based on his outstanding work performance. Isabel is the veteran employee. She is African-American and she bends the rules and just wants to get by. Xiomara has worked her way up to become the store manager. She is Dominican-American and she wants to keep order in the hope of further climbing up the Harlem Office ladder. The installation of an expensive new state of the art printer is the impetus for an upheaval that brings all three employees to a painful realization. The play explores how economically disadvantaged people function and collide in a capitalistic society.

I’m so excited about an upcoming reading of Dolphins and Sharks on February 1st as part of Labyrinth Theatre Company’s Up Next Series. The extremely talented Charlotte Brathwaite is directing, and the cast includes Pernell Walker, Chinaza Uche, and I was just told today that Raúl Castillo has agreed to be involved in this reading.

Q:  What else are you working on?

A:  I have two projects in progress now. I will once again be involved with The Fire This Time Festival this year where a reading of my newest play titled “Stewart and Lamb” will take place on Wednesday February 3rd. “Stewart and Lamb” is set in the year 1994 in a video store called Primary Video in my hometown Las Vegas.

The protagonist of the play is Zack Lawson, a 63-year-old African American military veteran who works at Primary Video. Zack's supervisor is the owner's 25-year-old white son Ian Philipps, who Zack trained. The play is set in the time where 24-hour coverage of the O.J. Simpson murder case dominated the news, so the racial tension that grips the nation also starts to take hold of Primary Video, and when Zack finds out a secret about Ian he uses it to his advantage and it sets up a battle the leads to (what I hope is) a heartbreaking conclusion. Stewart and Lamb explores issues of race, addiction, and redemption.

I’m also working on a play titled “hop tha A” for Broken Watch Theatre Company. The h in hop is intentionally lower-case; I know it’s silly as hell but whatever. This play is about a lonely New York City nightclub doorman and his rides home on the A trains late at night after he gets off work. The play explores the need for intimacy and what happens when that need is not met.

I should be actually working on that play now instead of using this interview as an excuse to procrastinate!

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 5th grade I was delusional enough to think I was an actor, so I auditioned for the lead role of Santa Claus in the Christmas play at my elementary school. Somehow I got the part, and I remember being so nervous before the 1st performance that my teach Mrs. Champagne pulled me into a classroom and gave me a Coach Phil Jackson like pep-talk, she said something along the lines of, “You can do this. Believe in yourself and when you’re on that stage just keep going. If you forget a line just move on to the next one that you remember, just keep going and don’t stop. Everything’s going to turn out just fine!” Anyone that was in the audience at Lincoln Elementary School would tell you that the highlight of the show was when my bright red Santa Claus pants fell down mid-performance exposing my tighty whities (I didn’t buy my own underwear in 5th grade, thanks mom!). I quickly pulled them back up and continued to perform. The pants fell down again; I pulled them back up and continued to perform. The pants fell a 3rd time! (I really hope whoever was in charge of costumes received a tongue lashing) I pulled the pants up a 3rd time and just kept going.

This is how I approach being a writer. Keep writing, keep submitting, keep seeing shows, keep reading plays, keep supporting fellow playwrights, fall down, get back up and just keep going!

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

A:  It would be fun to poll an audience after a play on if they enjoyed it or if they were bored to tears. If the audience enjoyed the play then the playwrights should be rewarded with 50-80% (this would be negotiated in advance) of the box office. If the play bored the audience them immediate execution of the playwright on stage!

Okay, my serious answer is that I don’t think theater in New York is as diverse both on stage and in key positions off-stage, so making theater more diverse is something that I would change.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  I wouldn’t write plays today if I didn’t study with Janet Neipris, Liz Diggs, Richard Wesley, and Gary Garrison. For putting my on the playwriting path they are my heroes.

These are playwright heroes that I don’t know, most I won’t know because they are dead, but their work inspires me; Lorraine Hansberry, August Wilson, Alice Childress, Charles Gordone, Ed Bullins, Caryl Churchill, Annie Baker, Rajiv Joseph, Dominque Morrisseau, Tarell Alvin McCraney.

These are playwrights that I do know and am friends with who inspire me, Christina Ham, Andrea Lepcio, Diana Son, Tracey Scott Wilson, Tanya Barfield, Laura Marks, Dan McCabe, Martyna Majok, Jessica Moss, Ted Malawar, Camille Darby, Aurin Squire, Naveen Choudhury, Kristine Reyes, Sandra Daley, Bernard Tarver, Mark Green, Stacey Rose, Cerstin Johnson, Cesi Davidson, Charlie Sohne, Tim Rosser, Mark Sonnenblick, Ben Wexler, Sophie Jaff, Kathleen Tagg, Dana Levinson, Stacey Weingarten.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  What excites me is a clear story with lots of believable conflict. I know this sounds horrible, but I just don’t want to work that hard when I’m in the audience for a show. I don’t want to be confused either. That doesn’t mean that I need to know everything immediately, but I absolutely hate when a show confuses me. I’m like a grumpy old man, “I want clear old fashion storytelling!”

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

A:  Write everyday, try to read and see as many plays as possible, and most importantly stay true to yourself and your own voice. Don’t shy away from writing about the people and things that you are most familiar with. Be truthful!

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  The 10-minutes version of “Dolphins and Sharks” on Saturday January 16, 2015 @ 6pm @ Casa De Beverley
Link to Event: http://www.eventbrite.com/e/one-acts-and-snacks-january-dolphins-and-sharks-by-james-anthony-tyler-and-upstairs-by-erin-lane-tickets-18641129119

“Dolphins and Sharks” (full-length) reading Monday, Feb 1, 2015 @ 4pm Labyrinth Theater Company
http://labtheater.org/up-next/

“Stewart and Lamb” reading Wednesday, Feb 3, 2015 @ 7pm, 7th Annual Fire This Time Festival
http://www.firethistimefestival.com/

“Some Old Black Man” production presented this summer 2016 by Berkshire Playwrights Lab.
http://www.berkshireplaywrightslab.org/

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