Sunday, January 15, 2017

I Interview Playwrights Part 906: Jonathan Dorf




Jonathan Dorf

Hometown:  Broomall, Pennsylvania (I wasn't born there, but I moved there before third grade and did most of my important growing up there).

Current Town:  Los Angeles, CA

Q:  What are you working on now?

A:  Unfortunately, I'm working on too many things, so it feels a bit like inching an entire row of pawns forward one at a time. Most of my stage work is for teens, which is what I'm best known for. On that note, I'm nearly finished a draft of Me, My Selfie and I, a one-act play that contemplates the selfie. But I'm also working on a mash-up parody of Lord of the Flies and Lord of the Rings for a potential YouthPLAYS anthology and was asked by another publisher (hint: it's one that publishes some of my most produced works) to contribute a ten-minute play to a new anthology they're putting together. In the meantime, I'm working on a long overdue update to Young Playwrights 101, my how-to book for young writers—fingers crossed for spring sometime. I'm also hoping to work on some web series (or TV) and short film projects, and I'm polishing some scripts that I could potentially shoot later this 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:  When I was ten, we did our epic family vacation, spending nine weeks driving all over the US. It was actually supposed to be ten weeks, but we hit the wall in New Mexico and decided to drive home from there. We started in Pennsylvania and, with an emphasis on national parks (Yellowstone, Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, Bryce, Zion, etc), toured all over the country. I had a lot of back seat time, and I'd lie there—at that point being small enough to fit sideways—and read. A lot. I was reading the Great Brain series, possibly some Agatha Christie, maybe Encyclopedia Brown and probably a few others. I tore through books so quickly we actually had to stop partway through the trip to buy more. Luckily, those were the days when bookstores were still plentiful. While the obvious takeaway is that I read a lot—I still do, but I feel that too much of my reading now consists of scripts that have been submitted for consideration by YouthPLAYS, my little publishing company—the subtext, as it were, is that I'm a plugger. My dear friend and mentor, the late Thom Williams, used to say that it was a Capricorn thing, that we just put our heads down and plunged forward. The challenge for me these days is to make more of that plunging actual writing, rather than administrative work, whether for YouthPLAYS, for the Alliance of Los Angeles Playwrights (which I co-chair) or even for my own self-promotion. Sometimes I wonder "what if" I didn't do all of these other things—how much could I accomplish? Who knows—maybe one day I'll find out. Life was certainly simpler when I could fit sideways in the back seat of my parents' car.

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

A:  I'd want to change how severely underfunded theater is, both at schools and nationally. There should be opportunities for all young people to have drama classes from elementary on up, and it should be a requirement that is just as important as math or English—and it should include trips to and visits from quality theater groups. For the cost of a few high-tech fighter jets, you could fund a huge amount of theater, and it would help us turn out better, more thoughtful human beings.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  I've always been a fan of those twin towers of menace, Edward Albee and Harold Pinter. I've always thought of them as late absurdist brothers from another mother, and both of them influenced how I think about dialogue, and particularly the silence between it. And of course, both of them wrote plays that could be disturbing and unsettling, and disturbing and unsettling us is one of the theater's most important jobs. I also love the work of Suzan Zeder, who creates pure magic for young people and for many years has helped mentor playwrights and pass along her knowledge.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  I love theater that has some kind of magical, expressionist or heightened elements about it—I like to see something that shows me I'm in a theater. That could be an Angels in America or Marisol or Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? or Doubt or Mother Hicks. Or it could be a show with awesome poetry in its language (which some of those do too), or a play like Ruined, which is beautiful and shows us something we need to see that isn't part of our everyday.

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

A:  1. Plays are written to be produced. So read and see as much theater as you can, so that you can understand the relationship between what you put on the page and where it needs to go after that. And the more you see, the more ideas you get for what may be possible, and the more styles you're exposed to.

2. Remember that they're not doing you a favor by producing your play. Yes, we all want our work produced, but chances are they're not paying you enough to compromise your integrity. Get acquainted with the Dramatists Guild Bill of Rights, and don't give those up.

3. You learn by hearing your work read, and even more by seeing it on its feet in front of an audience. Whenever possible, sit behind the audience so that you can watch both the show and them watching the show.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  I'm lucky that I typically have a goodly number of productions upcoming at schools and youth theaters. While 4 A.M. is my most produced play at this point—check out its new companion, The Magic Hour, of which I'm quite proud—I've been particularly pleased that the one-act version of Rumors of Polar Bears seems to have hit people's radar of late, with a half-dozen productions scheduled from December 2016-March 2017. I hope that those looking for longer plays will look at its full-length version, as I think it's some of my strongest writing. You can visit my website at http://jonathandorf.com to learn more, as I wide range of plays, from wild comedies to more thoughtful, serious pieces.


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