Sunday, May 08, 2016

I Interview Playwrights Part 836: Sander Gusinow

Sander Gusinow

I come from Eugene, Oregon. Which is more-or-less a hippie retirement community. We've also had some Bigfoot sightings, but I don't mean to brag.

Current Town:

Q:  What are you working on now?

A:  Right now I'm rehearsing a play called 'Lovehack,' it's about a couple who discover they fell in love as part of a research experiment.

Q:  How did you get the idea for that?

A:  I took psychotropic drugs for most of my childhood, so I've always been really into the neurology of why we do the things we do. I read about a psychologist names Arthur Aron who showed that love can be created between two strangers if they talk about themselves why maintaining eye-contact. So many people of our generation have this mantra that 'Love is the Answer' and I'm always like, 'No, love is a chemical reaction that can be both manufactured and extinguished.' That's not to say love isn't real, wonderful, and extraordinarily powerful (easily the most powerful emotion of them all), but the idea that we're all going to just wake up one day and 'love' one another, from a chemical standpoint, is pretty ridiculous. The brain can't produce enough Oxytocin to love more than 6-12 people... Without the help of drugs, anyway.

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

A:  My little brother is one of the most badass people I know. He's a former cage-fighter and Krav Maga expert, but when he was younger he would sometimes play with Barbie and Ken dolls. There was this one set he really loved because they were wearing wet-suits and he was always fascinated with scuba-diving. (Did I mention he's also a scuba-diver?) Anyway, one day these girls started to tease him for it, saying Barbie was for girls. Being the stalwart older sibling that I was I came to his defense. I got into a physical fight with the girls (I was bigger, sure, but there were two of them!) and I got in major trouble and they didn't because apparently girls were allowed to hit boys but not the other way around. It was like, BAM. A crash-course in gender norms packed into an hour and a half. I'm a diehard feminist now, and it all started that rainy afternoon.

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

A:  Man... This is going to be unpopular, but I wish there wasn't such a stigma against writing plays that could be seen as 'cinematic.' We often conflate 'realism' with 'boring' but boring writing has nothing to do with the style of the play. My soon-to-be wife isn't in the theater industry, and when I take her to see new work, she usually leaves feeling like the play was either inaccessible or trying to make her feel stupid. I know everyone thinks they need to alienate their audience because they read Brecht in college, but we're so alienated when we walk into the theater already... I want to see emotion onstage. I want you to make me give a damn. It's hard to make people give a damn in 2016.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  That would certainly be a long list of Brits and Jews. Deborah Zoe Laufer, Terry Johnson, Wendy Wasserstein, Joe Orton, Richard Greenberg, Martin McDonaugh I could hero-vomit all over this question.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  Any time I actually have to think about a play, I'm excited. I like theatre that tells the truth, regardless of how scary or upsetting (or uplifting!) that truth may be. Plays that seep into my brain, and affect my daily life, when I leave the theater an ever-so-slightly different person because of what I saw.... Those are the kind of plays I live for. If I can do that to just one person then my entire writing career has been worth it. Or at least that's what I tell myself when I get rejection letters.

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

A:  It's more important to be yourself than to be original. Lots of early-career writers (myself included) want so badly to be "fresh" that they totally entomb what makes their voices special. Also, don't write a play with Fairies. It shames us all.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  Always! Come see our 'Wright Club showcase on May 25th! Medicine Show Theater! 7:30! you can see 'Lovehack' as well as a play by my esteemed colleague Andrew Rincón!

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