Thursday, November 17, 2016

I Interview Playwrights Part 890: Steven McCasland




Steven McCasland 
 
Hometown: Dix Hills, New York

Current Town: Astoria, New York

Q:  What are you working on now?

A:  I'm currently in the very early stages on a new musical with composer Keith Herrmann (Romance, Romance) and lyricist James Horan. My play Memorare, about a New York City convent during the 1964 Harlem race riots, is in development for a production here in New York early next year.

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

A:  As a kid, I battled a lot of health problems and had to have multiple reconstructive sinus surgeries. I'm more than fine now, but I spent a lot of time in bed and in the hospital during the third and fourth grades. I became rather addicted to You've Got Mail, watching it on a near-constant loop. My love affair with Nora Ephron was just beginning. A few years later, I asked my parents to take me to see her play Imaginary Friends. I was only a teenager and had never heard of Mary McCarthy, let alone Dick Cavett. I only knew who Lillian Hellman was because we had to read The Children's Hour for an English class. But once again, Nora Ephron wormed her way into my brain. Nearly 15 years later, my play, loosely inspired by the famous feud she wrote about in Imaginary Friends. It hadn't occurred to me that the plays were related until a few months after Ephron passed. A woman at the theatre asked me, "Did you ever see that play about Lillian Hellman and Mary McCarthy Nora Ephron wrote?" Needless to say, I felt a little heartburn in that moment... But the good kind.

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

A:  I'd like to see more diversity in characters, not just playwrights and cast. For example, we rarely see stories about transgendered characters. Though we've recently seen Taylor Mac's Hir and the musical Southern Comfort, or Robert Callely's On A Stool At The End of The Bar, they are late arrivals in a conversation we should be having. Additionally, I hope that artists are able to use their frustration with this long election cycle to create important and challenging art.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  Nora Ephron, Lanford Wilson, Tennessee Williams, August Wilson, George C. Wolfe and most especially Edward Albee - the artists who helped me find my own voice.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  The kind that makes me ask questions. Most recently, I was mystified by Simon McBurney's The Encounter. Half-mesmerized by its originality and audacity, half-stupefied by the way it made me re-examine my own life, I traveled home in a daze. I'm looking forward to seeing Lynn Nottage's Sweat in a few weeks, which seems to be raising a lot of interesting and deeply probing questions.

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

A:  As an employee at The Drama Book Shop, I'm often asked if I can recommend books on playwriting. But I can't. I've never really been good at giving out advice either. One day, I wanted to write a play. It wasn't very good. And neither was the one after that. But the more I wrote and the further I explored, eventually, the plays got better. For me, the greatest education was reading and seeing as many plays as possible. Long before I started working at the book shop, I was a regular customer, buying 4 plays a week, and devouring them all before returning a week later and buying another 4 more. READ! SEE THEATRE! Make it your breakfast, lunch and dinner. ...And keep writing. No matter what, keep writing.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  Several of my plays have recently been published and are available on Amazon.com and at www.dramabookshop.com (please shop small!). Little Wars will see two productions in 2017: one in Minneapolis with PRIME Productions, and one at The Little Theatre Group of Costa Rica. My blog, The Bone Orchard Monologues, is a collection of original monologues inspired by famous figures from history. www.http://boneorchardmonologues.wordpress.com.

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