Wednesday, October 12, 2016

I Interview Playwrights Part 882: Andy Bragen

Andy Bragen

Hometown: New York City

Current Town: New York City

Q:  Tell me about Don't You F**king Say a Word.

A:  Loosely based on an actual incident, the title is a quote from me, a time when my inner eight year old emerged. DYFSAW is a four-character comedy about two middle-aged men who come to blows at the end of a long tennis match. The play is told from the perspective of the two men’s girlfriends, who try to make sense of the incident, and to figure out who these men are, and why they love them. The play, set on and off the crumbling public tennis courts on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, uses tennis as a lens to explore deeper questions about love, friendship and competition. We’re about to enter rehearsals and begin performances at 59e59 Theaters on November 4th, running through December 4th.

Q:  What else are you working on now?

A:  I’m excited about a new play, “Monster”, loosely inspired by “Beowulf”, set in a small town that’s been consumed by a big box store, have a workshop of that piece upcoming at New Dramatists in January. Primarily, I’m focused on building my new theatre company, Andy Bragen Theatre Projects. I hope, through my work, and through advocacy, to make a strong case for the value and importance of writer-led companies.

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

A:  It’s less story than a sense of place. I’ve spent my entire life on the Lower East Side, living just across the street from the apartment I grew up in. I have a young daughter, and go to the same playgrounds that I went to as a small child. The Lower East Side/East Village has changed immensely since my early childhood in the 1970’s, and yet there is also, for those of us who have remained, a great deal of continuity. The evolution of the neighborhood, its shifting communities, my own personal history there – these have been significant themes in my work over the years.

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

A:  I remain deeply inspired by the work of companies like 13P, and those that have followed in their path. I feel like we theatre artists (playwrights, directors, actors, etc.) can and should take the lead, and find ways to present our work individually or collectively. Part of the challenge of this is about money - foundations are inclined to provided funding for established organizations over emerging nonprofits. Often grant-seeking organizations are required to have a number of years of programming under their belt before they will even be considered. Part of it also about our mindset as artists. Can we, and I’m talking primarily about playwrights, take more responsibility for the presentation of our own work? Can we take the initiative, as opposed to waiting for someone to select us? Personally, I have found this path to be deeply empowering and satisfying. It’s hard, but it’s worth it.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  Eugene Ionesco, for his antic playfulness, moral compass, and imagination. Sarah Ruhl for her mind, language, and deep theatricality. Many others, but those two stand out because they are both interested in transformation (be it from man to rhinoceros, or woman to almond), which I find interesting and important. Wallace Shawn.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  Plays that shift my sense of time. Daniel Fish’ work comes immediately to mind. And there was that amazing Mnouchkine piece a few years back, “Les Ephémères”, which I’m still thinking about. Just about everything I’ve seen by Wallace Shawn. “Grasses of a Thousand Colors” – wow!

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

A:  Write, write, write. Read, read, read. Find your collaborators, and produce your own work. Focus on creation and production, as opposed to career. Be generous and kind toward your colleagues. Everyone is working hard, and loves the field, wants the best. It’s hard to make theatre, so we need to support each other.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  A plug for all of the actors fighting for a living wage off-Broadway; #fairwageonstage. As writers we owe them support, and solidarity.

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