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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...

Mar 25, 2017

I Interview Playwrights Part 919: W.M. Akers

W.M. Akers

Hometown:  I grew up in Nashville, Tennessee, home of Bobby's Dairy Dip.

Current Town: Since 2006, I've lived in New York City, which must be home to something as notable as Bobby's Dairy Dip, but I can't think what.

Q:  Tell me about your upcoming show.

A:  Dead Man's Dinner is a very dark comedy about starvation, cannibalism and rent control. At least, I think it's a comedy. The last time I thought a play was a comedy, it turned out it was actually just really sad, and it's possible the same thing will happen here. Dead Man's Dinner is being produced by the exceptionally excellent women of Squeaky Bicycle, whom I've been working with since 2011. Directed by Kathryn McConnell, who is my favorite director I've ever worked with, bar none, it runs from March 23 to April 9 at Theater For The New City. (That's the theater on First Avenue in Manhattan—not Theater For a New Audience, which is in Brooklyn. FWIW, TNC had the name first.)

Q:  What else are you working on now?

A:  When we were auditioning the women of Dead Man's Dinner, I had an experience I've had several times before—seeing ten or fifteen amazing actresses, and being frustrated that we couldn't cast them all. I told Kate that I was going to write a six woman farce, so that the next time we do auditions, we wouldn't have to make so many hard decisions about who not to cast. Last week, I started writing it! It's tentatively called Body Snatchers, and it's set in a half-finished apartment building on the Upper West Side in 1880. I was halfway through it when I realized that it probably takes place in the same building as Dead Man's Dinner. Maybe we can use the same sets…

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

A:  I love that question! When I was in high school, I had a bad habit of assuming that anything that interested me would interest everyone. This meant that I wrote a lot of fiction that contained duels, just because I thought duels were amusing and neat. But I didn't realize that just because something amused me didn't mean anyone else would care, and that throwing esoteric nonsense at an audience is a really good way to turn them off. I still like to write about esoteric nonsense, but now I know that you have to sell the audience on it, or you're just writing for yourself.

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

A:  I wish there were an online service, like Netflix or Filmstruck, that offered a streaming library of great recorded plays. I wish it was combined with a Spotify-like service featuring an infinite number of original cast recordings, and LPs of straight plays, which used to be a thing. And I wish it also offered an online rental service that let you read every play published by Dramatist's Play Service. Shoot, I'd pay a ton for that.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  The first name that comes to mind is Joe Papp. Anyone who went toe to toe with Robert Moses is an automatic legend, whether or not they were successful, and Papp was fighting for the right to do free Shakespeare. That's cool.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  I like plays that don't waste my time. You can tell in five minutes if a play is going to be well-constructed or not, and there's nothing worse than the slow, sickening realization that you're in for 2:30 of tedium. A play should go off like a cannon and never slow down. Every writer is given the same advice—start a scene as late as possible, end it as early as possible, and cut every wasted word—for a reason. Those are invaluable cliches! But really following that advice is hard, and so you end up with a lot of really boring plays.

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

A:  Well, see above. Also, read Lajos Egri. His writing is amazingly over-the-top, but everything he says is valid and surprisingly practical, once you penetrate the bluster. Read books that you find on the street—it's a good way to get ideas from a totally unexpected source. When you can't sleep, try to break stories in your head. And whenever you finish something you really love, take a half hour to write down everything that went into writing—all the little tricks you used to keep yourself motivated, everything you learned about character and drama from working your way through the play, all the mistakes you made and how you solved them. The next time you start something, you will reach a point where you look longingly at the prior work, and think, "How did I make something so perfect? It seemed so easy at the time." Having the old document to read over will remind you both of how hard it really was, and of the ways you dragged yourself through it.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  Besides Dead Man's Dinner, which you should really go see because it is wonderful, I'm currently running a Kickstarter to raise money for a board game called Deadball: Baseball With Dice. It's fun as hell, and you should check it out. You'd be surprised how many theater people love baseball.
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