Monday, February 27, 2017

I Interview Playwrights Part 916: Hollis James




Hollis James

Hometown:  Queens, New York

Current Town:  Manhattan, New York

Q:  Tell me about KYLE:

A:  KYLE is a comedy about addiction, destructive urges and the little voice in our head that can be either our best friend or our worst enemy. We follow a writer named Jack’s downward spiral during an ill-fated love affair with cocaine.

Q:  What else are you working on now?

A:  My screenwriting partner and I are working on a holiday movie that I’m very excited about, but unfortunately it’s in the “hush-hush” stage right now.

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 about ten I got in trouble for cursing. I believe I said, "Oh, shit." My mother hit me with the old, "Wait till your father gets home." I was shaking in my garanimals. My father was a big, scary guy to me. He had a booming voice that always seemed to be angry. I spent the next few hours in fear waiting for him to come home from work. From my room I heard the front door downstairs, the muffled quick conversation between my parents, and the heavy footsteps on the staircase getting louder as he got closer. When he opened the door to my room, I was nearly catatonic. He asked me to explain what Mom had told him, and I just began babbling. I weaved the tale as I remembered it, recounting the odd, overwhelming confluence of events that resulted in ten-year-old me not being able to come to any other result but to utter, "Oh, shit." In doing so I must have re-iterated the offending word about fifty times--explaining how you might after you dropped an ice-cream cone or missed the bus or forgot your homework. I kept on cursing and couldn't stop as I told my tale. My father didn't yell or spank me, but rather gave me a quick, "Well, don't let it happen again," and sped out of my room. I couldn't believe my luck. My adrenaline left me and I immediately fell asleep. I forgot that story completely until my father told it to me about six months ago, and I immediately remembered it all. My father surprised me when he told me that while I was spinning my web of explanation, he was suppressing laughter the entire time. That's why he had to run out of my room without punishing me. Looking back, I wonder if that moment didn't subconsciously show me the power of storytelling.

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

A:  Lately it seems to me that there’s a separation between entertainment plays and message plays. Ideally I love to see theatre that combines the two.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  My theatrical heroes are most of the same artists that spoke to me in high school and college: John Patrick Shanley, John Guare, Howard Korder, Sam Shepherd and David Mamet. I learned a lot about stakes, economy and pragmatism from them. But I also learned a lot about dialogue and structure from the films and shows I grew up loving, and I write very cinematically to this day thanks to the influence of Terry Southern, William Goldman, Michael O’Donoghue, Woody Allen, Orson Welles, Neil Simon, and Norman Lear.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  I'm excited anytime that a show can surprise me. At a very jaded time, where it can sometimes feel as if everything's been done before, I'm bowled over by inventiveness. If the show is not only surprising, but has realistic characters and snappy dialogue, it just doesn't get better than that for me. I love to leave a theater feeling as if I just read a great book, and muttering, "I wish I wrote that!"

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

A:  Being a first-time playwright, I wouldn't presume to be any authority on playwriting. But I would offer some basic advice to any writer, and that is to put as much of yourself as you can into everything you write. Our unique set of experiences and our own twisted view on the world is the only thing that sets all writers apart. There's always someone who writes better dialogue or is better at structure or who is more prolific--but if you can weave your personal experiences and idiosyncrasies into your work, you've instantly set yourself apart from the pack and have a unique voice to offer. Being specific is the real trick to making your writing universal.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  KYLE runs March 9 - 25 at UNDER St. Marks (94 St. Marks Place between 1st Avenue and Avenue A), Thursday through Saturday at 7:30pm. Tickets ($25) are available at www.HotTrampProductions.com


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