Thursday, September 01, 2016

I Interview Playwrights Part 871: Niccolo Aeed



Niccolo Aeed

Hometown: New York City

Current Town: Still New York, I haven't managed to escape yet.

Q:  Tell me about Room 4.

A:  It's a weird one. Basically, four black actors keep auditioning for the same drug dealer role over and over until they realize they're stuck in a time loop. It's unpredictable, strange, and very funny.

Marina initially had the idea of several black actors in a waiting room wondering if a fourth was going to come or if he had booked a part in The Lion King. That those were the two options for these actors -- you were in The Lion King or you were going to try to book this bit crime TV show part. I'm not exactly sure where the time loop idea came from, but lately our writing has been more heightened and absurd. We've been writing more about ghosts and twilight-zone-type twists, and I think we were interested in doing something bizarre. At first maybe the time loop seemed interesting as a metaphor -- there's something about race in America that feels repetitive and cyclical, like we've had these conversations before but still done nothing about them. Then after that I think we were interested in seeing what it would be like to actually live in a time loop.

Marina and I are also generally thinking about what kind of stories we tell. Probably most people in theater or entertainment are, but it often feels like you're telling someone else's story. Maybe this is an inevitable part of writing or acting or directing, but the story you're hired to work on can feel untrue or at worst downright offensive. So we're definitely interested in artists' relationship to the thing they are performing, how it effects them or changes them or messes with their heads.

Q:  Tell me about your 6 month residency at the PIT.

A:  Marina and I started mostly doing sketch comedy. Our sketches were usually pretty short and not necessarily connected to each other. But in the past couple of years we've been interested in creating longer narratives, longer comedic plays. At the same time I think the People's Improv Theater was also having some success with more narrative shows, rather than the usual sketch and improv. So it came together at a great moment. The residency really allowed us to work on longer more complex stories while also applying the quick turn around of comedy. Though we had a little head start on the writing, by midway through the residency we really were writing a play a month. It was exhausting but it was a blast.

Q:  What else are you working on now?

A:  We're very excited to continue to develop a number of the plays that we workshopped during our residency, so over this year and next we'll hopefully bring a few back. In addition, we'll of course be releasing new sketches online and we're developing a web series about an online dating site, and the people who are begging the site's customer service to solve all their relationship problems.

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

A:  I can't really think of a specific story. Sometimes when I think of where my humor comes from, I think it lands somewhere between Calvin and Hobbes, the Boondocks and The Far Side. I had all those comic strip collections and I never stopped reading them through middle school. Those three comic strips may have influenced my humor the most.

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

A:  It would pay me more money. I probably should say more diversity, but really I just want that money. Though come to think of it I probably can't get hired till there's more diversity, so maybe it's like a tie, more diversity and theater paying me more money.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  So many! The first theater company I remember loving when I was in high school was The Classical Theater of Harlem. It was the first theater company whose work made me realize what powerful things you could do with live theater. I still watch and love all the plays they make. In college I learned about Pig Iron Theater Company and I think the way they create work physically always seems magical to me. I'm in awe of the actors when I watch them. Once I saw a Shakespeare play they did, and a kid was in the audience -- he must've been younger than 10 years old. During intermission his dad asked him if he wanted to explain the plot to him, and the kid said no he was enjoying it as it is. Which is really incredible. That you can make shakespeare accessible and funny even for young kids who can't understand the language.

Recently as a playwright I've been in love with the plays Dominique Morisseau has been writing and I was blown away by Radha Black's Seed, which was partially written in this hip hop verse and it was so lyrical and flowing and incredible. Both of their work is just so powerful to watch and just makes me want to be a better writer.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  I really like immersive theater, I know sometimes people get exhausted by it, but I always love it. Basically I love it when watching a play you feel like you could have only experienced this story in this way, with these actors in this exact moment.

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

A:  First write and find people to write with, I could never have written a word without Marina. Then find a stage that will allow you to put something up. The PIT has really been a blessing for us, it has allowed us to try some really fun things. Find actors who are game to help you develop new work. With the residency and this play we've worked with such talented people and having those actors develop characters with us has been so helpful to our writing.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  If you haven't seen our work before, check out our videos here:

http://www.marinaandnicco.com/ videos/

They're really good. You'll like them a lot!

Or check out our murder mystery radio show we wrote last year

http://www.marinaandnicco.com/ murder/

Or you can find it on iTunes or Stitcher. 


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