Thursday, August 04, 2016

I Interview Playwrights Part 866: J. Stephen Brantley



J. Stephen Brantley

Hometown: San Antonio, Texas

Current Town: New York City

Q:  Tell me about The Jamb.

A:  The Jamb is a coming-of-middle-age story about Tuffer and Roderick, two gay punks turning forty. I wrote it – its first incarnation, anyway – in 2008, because I wanted to see queer characters onstage that were more like me. Everything was pretty liminal at the time. I was a few years clean of drugs, the glue was drying on what became a long-term relationship, I was leaving behind my misspent youth and coming up on forty…while the story is definitely fiction, it’s also deeply personal. I’m also acting in this production, so I’m really feeling that.

Q:  What else are you working on now?

A:  A sequel! Seven years of revisions on a play will get you wondering what its characters might be up to now. In Double Negative, Roderick and Tuffer return to the desert, this time to bring Roderick’s ailing mother to see a monumental earthwork in the middle of nowhere Nevada. It takes place in 2015, the same day as the SCOTUS ruling on marriage equality, so it has to do with that. We’re doing a reading on September 17th, before the closing performance of The Jamb.

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

A:  There was a kid in my elementary school, total class clown, called Scott Wolf. In fifth grade Scott found himself in leg braces. Actually a strange A-framed contraption that kept his legs constantly splayed. This was around the time I started writing plays – sprawling monomyths, fantasy stuff – and I imagined Scott playing a wise-cracking dragon. I had it all worked out: we’d cover his leg braces in green satin, and he’d wave his crutches like wings. It never actually happened, but so what. Decades later, I’m still doing it, writing weird plays with bizarre props for my brilliant actor-friends.

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

A:  I wish commercial theatre could be as brave as we are in the indie trenches. And I would like theatre in general to be as accessible – in every sense – as television. I don’t quite understand why a nation that loves sports and loves movies doesn’t also love theatre, which is, at its best, a combination of both. I’d like to change the way theatre is thought of as something that only appeals to ‘theatre people’.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  Reza Abdoh, for the way he fused dance-theatre with political playwriting in immersive productions before anyone was doing that, and told timely stories with such passion and urgency. And Lanford Wilson, because each play he wrote was completely different to the one that came before it.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  Adventure theatre. Theatre that never tries to be film. Theatre that constantly reminds you it’s ephemeral – and so are you.

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

A:  Produce your own work. Direct your own work. Perform your own work. Muck in with set construction if the designers will let you. Do each of these things at least once and learn something about every aspect of how a story gets staged. I think it makes you a better writer, not to mention a more grateful artist. Don’t wait for someone else to make your plays happen. Get in a room with actors as soon and as often as you can, and listen to them.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  The Jamb opens September 1st at The Kraine! And then next March, Hard Sparks has a residency at IRT. We’re working with playwrights Bob Bartlett and Melody Bates. Official announcement coming soon!

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