Tuesday, October 11, 2016

I Interview Playwrights Part 881: Jonathan Josephson

Jonathan Josephson

Hometown: Los Angeles, CA

Current Town: Pasadena, CA

Q:  What are you working on now? 

A:  On the adaptation side, I have a reading of my Sherlockian mash-up Holmes, Sherlock and The Consulting Detective coming up in November at the LA Arboretum, this will be the 4th public reading of the play (production pending with Unbound Productions, for whom I serve as Founding Executive Director). The piece features three Sherlock Holmes detectives investigating three seemingly unrelated crimes, until they all crash into one another....hilarity ensues. In December, I'll have a reading of my three Dickens inspired holiday one-acts called Charles Dickens' Christmas Tree at the Pasadena Central Library. I'm also tinkering with new works based on the works of Louisa May Alcott, The Brothers Grimm and a few others. In terms of original plays, I'm putting the finishing polish on Grandpa and the Gay Rabbi which was one of the winners of the 2016 Sam French Off-Off Broadway Play Festival before it's published next year and also tinkering with a two-act play, Four Sons, which I had shelved for a while but am recently interested to dive back into. That one is a Passover comedy about four sons who find out that one of them is adopted by they don't know which one. I'm also part of the writers pool for Playground-LA so I'll be writing a 10-minute play each month for the next five months for enhanced-staged-reading consideration at the Zephyr Theatre in Hollywood.

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

A:  One time, when I was a Cub Scout, in uniform, I literally helped a little old lady cross a street. I just thought that was the bees knees. Still do.

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

A:  I'd love to see more major regional theatres produce short plays. There is incredible writing done in the short form and outside a handful of champions, 10-30 minutes plays are almost exclusively produced by small professional theatres, community theatres and in academic settings. Why not have a slot, even a second stage slot, for excellent short work that exposes more audiences to the form, tells more varied kinds of stories from more varied kinds of writers, and engages more diverse/early career/local directors, designers and other theatre artists? It works for Actors Theatre of Louisville, Milwaukee Rep, definitely City Theatre, why not more? Why not all?

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  In no particular order: Moss Hart, Stephen Sondhiem, Dr. Jorge Huerta, Suzan-Lori Parks, Moises Kaufman, Neil Simon, David Mamet, Tennessee Williams, Mark Maltby, Jane Anderson, Freddie Mercury, Will Eno, Emursive, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Adele Shank, Bill Rauch, Gary Garrison

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  I love watching a play and thinking to myself oh, I see where this is going... and then all of a sudden, boom, that's not where we're going at all! I love being lulled into a sense of being safe and ordinary and then it explodes into the OH MY G-D I'M ON FIRE! EVERYONE DANCE! DANCE I TELL YOU! You know, into the extraordinary. Or the weird. Both is best. Both are best? I don't know - more is more in my book. I love thoughtful, smart (sometimes even too-smart) dart-like writing as dialogue, and stage directions too. I love the line in Theresa Rebeck's Seminar "The way you talk about writing is stupid." I love A Christmas Carol but none of the adaptations where the Fezzywig party is a giant dance number or Dickens is a character (Lazy! Except for The Muppet Christmas Carol, that's amazing, because - Gonzo). I love having no idea if there are gunshots, strobe lights, more than six characters (or fewer), bad language or great language in a play before I see it. When I read a program before a show I only read the ads and then I go out of my way to patronize those businesses if I can. I love theatre that is tied into its physical community, it's neighborhood. I LOVE site-specific theatre when it's truly specific to the site; I love immersive theatre when it makes me feel and do and think things that I could never do from the seat of a chair. I love seeing, nay, feeling imagination come alive on stage - planets being plucked from the ceiling like apples or a dead daughter speaking to her grieving mother through a mystical red ball. I don't like living room sets, unless something or someone gets really trashed among the ottomans. I do like sets made of trash, especially when then ultimately reveal something counterintutive. I like bold design - sound, lights, costume, special effects, puppets, fights - all of it. I like noise and fireworks and magic tricks. "Bump it with a trumpet." "More frogs and dogs and bears and chickens and... and whatever!!" I like theatre that's fun - serious can be fun; tragic can be fun when it's fiction because having my thoughts provoked is fun, to me. I love a killer 11:00 number. I love a killer cameo or callback. I love an inside joke. I love being reminded that I know very little about most things and lots of other people know lots about many things. I love theatre that compels me to talk about it the whole ride home and think about it the next day. My best theatre experiences make me question if I'm even worthy to judge what I just saw, let alone try to make my own work come to life.

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

A:  Life is long, playwriting lives are long, don't rush to get your work considered and assessed before both it and you are ready. The biggest creative mistakes that I've made were rushing the process of getting a script or an idea out to a decision maker too soon - before I had answered all of my own questions about the piece, let alone was prepared for the scrutiny of an outsider. Lean on a trusted friend or group of friends or mentor to respond to your work honestly. Hear that feedback, then decide to submit. Ignore those people if they're wrong, but hear them first. And do yourself and whoever you're submitting to a favor and don't send out first drafts (unless you have to. I mean sometimes you have to...). Second drafts are always better, even if they're just more thoroughly proof-read. But they're generally more streamlined, more thought-out and trimmed of gristle.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  On October 23, Little Candle Productions is presenting a staged reading of my evening-length piece That Laurence Fishburne Play in Pasadena - the play is two-years in the making and is inspired by my Humana 10-minute 27 Ways I Didn't Say "Hi" to Laurence Fishburne. Deets here. Wicked Lit 2016 runs through November 12 at Mountain View Mausoleum and Cemetery, the immersive theatre event features adaptations of classic horror literature as a moving theatre event (through the hallways of the mausoleuma dn among the headstones in the cemetery). Two of my pieces are included in the evening: Anansi and the Demons drawn from West African folklore and proverbs and Camp Mountain View is the interactive pre-show, intermission performances and curtain call. Tickets and info at www.wickedlit.org. And if Wicked Lit is something that you might want to bring to your town - 13 plays that originated with Unbound Productions (including six of mine) are available for licensing with Steele Spring Stage Rights.

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