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1000 Playwright Interviews The first interview I posted was on June 3, 2009.  It was Jimmy Comtois.  I decided I would start interview...

Jan 31, 2017

I Interview Playwrights Part 911: Zachary Fernebok

Zachary Fernebok

Hometown: Darnestown, Maryland

Current Town: Atlanta, Georgia

Q:  Tell me about the Pirate Laureate series.

A:  In the world of Ephrata, the power of poetry trumps that of any sword, pistol, cannon, or cutlass. That’s why the Pirate Laureate is the most important member on any pirate crew!

My plays (The Pirate Laureate of Port Town and The Pirate Laureate and the King of the Sea) follow the story of Finn, the Pirate Laureate of The Chartreuse. Under the leadership of the bombastic Captain Grayscale, and with Finn’s brilliant poetry, the Chartreuse is one of the most powerful and notorious ships to ever sail the Ocean Ephrata. Also on board are first-mate Hue, Sandy the engineer, navigator Opal, and Ruby the lookout. The crew is a big family, and they get into equally big adventures together. They often have to out-smart the devilishly fancy pirate Captain Robin LeReif.

The Pirate Laureate series started off as a one-act play that I was writing for a Playwriting 101 class I took in college. Three years later, when I was the Playwright-in-Residence at American Ensemble Theatre, I dusted it off and expanded it. My longtime friend and collaborator, Jason Schlafstein, directed the first reading and I think he fell in love with the story and characters as much as I had. I think a lot of people have been warmed by the story and the characters.

The truth is, there's a lot I could say about the series as I've lived with it for much longer than I ever anticipated. The first play was a side-story of a much larger world I was creating. Now the Pirate Laureate universe is bigger than the original epic it was spun off from.

And after the first show closed, I never thought there would be a staged sequel. I had the story in mind--I even teased it at the end of Port Town. But it happened! Which was amazing. Few playwrights get the chance to see their characters evolve from one adventure to the next, and even fewer get to see those characters be re-interpreted by new and returning actors. That was one of the coolest things that ever happened to me as a playwright.

My life has been greatly enriched by the family I've made working on this series--and I'm pretty sure others in the cast and crew would say the same.

Q:  What's next for the Pirate Laureate series?

A:  Well, I have a few ideas floating around for a third installment, to make it a proper trilogy. I also have a prequel story in mind (no pirate ship racing). Most likely, I will try to tell the story of the first play in a different medium, whether that be in a comic book, in clay, or even a video game only time will tell. Maybe a movie. As you can see, I'm clearly not done with the series.

Q:  What else are you working on now?

A:  I'm actually not doing much writing these days. The various stories in my head are fighting each other to be written next. In the meantime, I've returned to sculpting, which was my art of choice before I found theatre. I'm currently enrolled in a figure sculpting class and thinking of future ways to combine storytelling with my clay creations. I don't think there'd be many objections to some claymation Pirate Laureate films!

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 a kid I was obsessed with X-Men, and I'm still a huge fan. I read the comics, watched the cartoon, and--most of all--collected the ToyBiz action figures. I would say I currently have around 350-400 living in several boxes at my dad's house. When I found the comics boring and I couldn't watch "Pryde of the X-Men" on VHS one more time, I would make up adventures with my toys. That's when I first started telling stories and developing characters. I know this not very rare behavior for a little boy, but the memories have stuck with me. And I think I played with my toys until I was far too old. In fact, I still am. So I think that's me as a writer: I create characters that are familiar to people and put them in new adventures.

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

A:  I think plays inspired by Asian stories, people, and culture are too few and far between. I would love to see more of those stories on stage.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  I would say anyone who pursues writing, acting, directing, or designing for theatre as their full-time profession is my theatrical hero. Other than that, I think I have creative/story telling heroes more than specifically theatrical ones: Stan Lee, Chris Claremont, Daniel Handler, and Eiichiro Oda immediately come to mind.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  I like plays that are bigger than the pages they're written on. Original adventures excite me, good jokes excite me. I also love shows with puppets. I am turned off by family dramas and becoming increasingly annoyed by intermissions.

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

A:  You have to write, and you have to workshop what you write. But at the very least you have to write. Just commit to ten minutes a day, at least. And take classes, even if you studied playwriting. And finally, don't hold on too tightly to your work because the warm fuzzy feelings come when you let it into the hands of directors, designers, and actors.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  I got nothin' to plug, other than support Flying V--see their next show!

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