Wednesday, March 30, 2016

I Interview Playwrights Part 822: McFeely Sam Goodman



McFeely Sam Goodman

Hometown: New York, NY, by way of Princeton, NJ and Brookline and Cambridge, MA

Current Town: Jersey City, NJ

Q:  Tell me about Afterward.

A:  Afterward is my MFA thesis at Columbia University. The piece tells the story of my experience as a childhood cancer survivor through a series of monologues in my own voice. Interspersed with the monologues are scenes from an unfinished screenplay for a superhero movie which would have explored the same themes of anxiety, vulnerability, and survivorship through a very different lens.

The whole thing is performed by five performers who share the text and play the roles in the movie. It’s set on the movie set, so that the conceit is that all of the people working on the movie are telling each other their stories which are all actually my story.

It’s being performed April 21st-24th in The Pershing Square Signature Center’s Ford Studio as part of the Columbia New Plays Festival.

Q:  What else are you working on now?

A:  I have a couple of projects that are in their early stages. One is about the prehistoric women who invented math. Another is about the way that late 20th/early 21st century US capitalism has shaped our ideas about worth and what we might be able to do to change that.

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 a kid, every time we visited my grandparents, my brother and I would watch the Marx Brothers’ A Night At The Opera which my grandparents had taped off of a WGBH telethon. At the end of the tape, after the movie ended, if no one stopped the tape, the next thing to come on WGBH was Allen Ginsberg reciting a poem. I probably watched that tape at least a dozen times between the ages of eight and eighteen.

Afterward is also a story from my childhood that explains who I am as a person and as a writer.

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

A:  I think the not-for-profit theater model is no longer serving us. Almost all of the money going into theater is going into the running of these institutions that then become too big too fail. A theater company can’t take the same kinds of risks when it has employees who count on it for salaries and benefits. So we end up with companies that become more cautious as they grow. And when they do take risks, there’s this sense that failure can’t be acknowledged, that if a company tries something and it doesn’t work we have to pretend it did or else the company won’t be able to survive. But I think failure is a really vital part of art making. We have to let artists fail without it endangering people’s livelihoods and so I think we need a new system, one that doesn’t work on a corporate model (not-for-profit corporations are still corporations).

I think we have other models emerging. 13P is one of the more prominent examples. There are also artist who are just making their work without incorporating. I think that things that don’t seem related to theater, like single-payer healthcare and saving and strengthening social security and other social safety nets, are also really important in this context. If every artist had healthcare, for example, the cost of making theater would plummet.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  I’m not crazy about the term hero, but Elevator Repair Service has had a huge influence on my work. Sibyl Kempson, Julia Jarcho, and Toshiki Okada are playwrights who have inspired and influenced me. Fences, Waiting for Godot, and True West were all at different times my favorite play. And not to get cheesy, but the artists I work with are pretty inspiring.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  I get excited by theater that couldn’t possibly be tv or film. I’m a homebody, so I think theater that’s based in character or plot has to be so good and so electric for me to not to feel like I could have enjoyed what I’m seeing much more at home on my couch on Netflix. So, I like theater where the appeal is that what’s happening is happening live in front of me. That could mean dynamic design that needs to be experienced in person, but it could also mean the pleasure of watching a human body or listening to a human voice.

I like theater that wears its ideas on its sleeve, that has a conversation with its audience rather than having a conversation in front of an audience. I like theater that makes me think, theater that keeps bugging me a week later or a month later. I’m also a sucker for talking animals, especially rabbits.

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

A:  Keep writing. It’s the only way to get better.

If you’re not satisfied, don’t be afraid to start from scratch, but get to the end first. You’ll learn more from a draft that you finish, even if you know it’s not right, than from a draft that’s incomplete.

Imitate writers you admire and not just playwrights. Steal their style and make it your own. Don’t steal their plots or their ideas; you don’t need those. Use the things you steal to say the things that only you can say and tell the stories only you can tell.

Don’t be afraid to break rules, but know why you’re breaking them.

A writer is someone who writes. As long as you keep writing, you will be a writer.

When someone asks you to give advice to playwrights just starting out, repeat things other writers have told you that have worked for you. When reading advice for playwrights just starting out, try everything and figure out which advice is the right advice for you. Ignore the rest.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  Afterward is at The Signature’s Ford Studio April 21st at 3pm, April 23rd at 7:30pm, and April 24th at 2:30 pm. Tickets are available here and are FREE (ticket prices listed are for directing thesis projects): http://columbiastages.org/tickets.html

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