Saturday, April 30, 2016

I Interview Playwrights Part 828: Justin Kuritzkes


Justin Kuritzkes

Hometown: Los Angeles, CA

Current Town: New York, NY

Q:  Tell me about The Sensuality Party.

A:  The Sensuality Party is about six college students -- three women and three men -- who decide to have a group sex experience together during their first semester. The night eventually goes horribly wrong, and they have to deal with the consequences. It's also about war and terror and violence and how we're all perpetually embedded in a network of violence, both physical and systemic, even when our immediate surroundings appear to be peaceful, safe, and benign. I wrote the first draft of the play a little over four years ago while I was an undergrad at Brown, and I performed it then in dorm buildings and people's apartments. Now The New Group is doing the play in college common rooms around the five boroughs of New York City. The show is directed by Danya Taymor, and it stars Catherine Combs, Jeff Cuttler, Katherine Folk-Sullivan, Jake Horowitz, Layla Khoshnoudi, and Rowan Vickers. More info and tickets here: http://www.thenewgroup.org/the-sensuality-party.html

Q:  What else are you working on now?

A:  I just finished the first draft of a screenplay about Ronald Reagan, and I've been recording a pop album called Songs About My Wife. I also recently finished a play called Bro Lyfe, which is about various kinds of "bros" trying to grow up and find their way in society. Other recent plays include: Asshole, a monologue about a doctor who works for the government and likes the smell of his own shit, and Das Naz, a play about two members of the SS who one day realize the immorality of their entire enterprise after killing a Jew Baby. Mostly, I'd really love to get a TV job.

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 really little -- maybe 5 or 6 -- my parents sent me to a sports day camp. One day after swimming, I got completely naked in the boys' locker room and ran around calling myself the "naked mascot." I would run up to people and wave my penis around at them and scream things in weird accents. I thought it was all cool and everyone was having a good time, but apparently one of the boys complained to a counselor and so when my mom came to pick me up, one of the counselors came to talk to her in the car. I immediately understood that I was in trouble, and I ran out of the car and started crying and screaming in the grass. On the drive home, my mom said: "We won't tell dad."

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

A:  Theaters tend to make choices about what to produce based on a calculation about what "their audiences" will like. I think it would be great if the big theaters had the courage to say: "Fuck 'our' audience. We don't own them and they don't own us. We'll put on whatever we want," and then start doing more of the crazy, actually interesting stuff that some of the smaller theaters are already doing. Part of the reason why so much theater in the city right now is so bland and careful and tasteful is that playwrights and directors are told -- either explicitly or implicitly -- that "the audience" has real limits to what they can handle, and so if you want to make any money as a playwright or get anywhere in your career, you'd better play by the rules. As a result, the plays stay mostly the same and so does "the audience." There's a reason why most otherwise intelligent and engaged and open-minded people my age don't go to the theater, and it's because they've accurately sniffed out that most of it just isn't being made for them -- it's being made for some condescending idea of what their parents' most boring friends might like.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  Wallace Shawn, Caryl Churchill, Sarah Kane, Maria Irene Fornes, Edward Albee, Brecht, Beckett, Martin Crimp, Mark Ravenhill, Erik Ehn, and Les Waters. In college, I was lucky enough to study with Gregory Moss and Lisa D'Amour. In high school, I was lucky enough to have mentors and friends like Michele Spears, Ted Walch, and Christopher Moore. They've all made me the writer that I am. I also think Scott Elliot and Ian Morgan are heroes for taking a chance on my play.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  Anything that's honest and not boring.

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

A:  Try writing other things too -- you'll most likely need to, and it's better to get good at that sooner rather than later. Don't try to write something that's "producible" because no one gets produced anyway, and when you do, it's a miracle and a fluke. Find directors and actors you love and hold them close. Read the news, and watch TV, and watch movies, and play video games. Mostly, I would say: try to think of yourself as a citizen and as an artist rather than as a "playwright," since almost no one gets to be a "playwright." When you're at your day job, you are no less an artist than when you're at your opening night.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  The Sensuality Party runs through May 13. Info and tickets: http://www.thenewgroup.org/the-sensuality-party.html

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