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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...

May 19, 2017

I Interview Playwrights Part 942: Alexis Roblan

Alexis Roblan

Hometown: Coos Bay, Oregon

Current Town: Brooklyn, New York

Q:  Tell me about Samuel.

A:  Samuel is what I would call a horror play, about family and memory. In a literal sense, it’s about four adult sisters who can’t seem to agree on anything, past or present – but it’s really about the anxiety of realizing that your memory is fallible. I’m not sure how many people have this experience, but I remember as a kid, my mom used to occasionally ask me if anyone had touched me inappropriately or done anything to make me uncomfortable – just doing her due diligence as a parent and early childhood educator. And I would always have this moment of internal terror, like… Did something happen to me? What if I don’t remember it?

In a lot of ways, Samuel is about that. It’s also about trauma and grief and the ways we construct reality. And about what happens to our relationships when we don’t have shared stories anymore.

It’s also a comedy.

I’ve been developing it in the Clubbed Thumb Early Career Writer’s Group this year, and in June, it’s going to have a reading at The Wild Project as part of the Summerworks 2017 Reading Series, directed by Jess Chayes.

Q:  What else are you working on now?

A:  The biggest thing is a project called Red Emma & The Mad Monk, which is going up in June as part of Ars Nova’s ANT Fest. It’s a crazy anachronism of a play about Rasputin, Emma Goldman, and an American 12-year-old who spends too much time on the internet. My director, Katie Lindsay, and I originally came up with the idea after a couple months of conversations about what exactly “political action” means – what’s the difference between speech and action? Why do we make fun of Twitter “slacktivism,” but admire protestors, when both things are essentially speech? The questions of the play have evolved a bit from there, and are honestly being driven by a lot of the deep questioning we’re all doing of our own politics, tactics, and worldviews these days. This one’s also funny, by the way! And it has music! I’ve been collaborating on songs with composer / playwright Teresa Lotz, which is a first for me, and it’s been a blast.

I’m also delving into some new creative territory by devising a piece with Dara Malina (who directed the very first reading of Samuel!), Eunyoung Bona Jung, Gina Manziello, Kea Trevett, and Kenard Jackson for The Brick’s This Is Not Normal Festival. Our piece is called This Is a Protest of What Happened, and we’re in the midst of using Futurism, Phantom of the Opera, and a million think pieces to engage with the idea of the deconstruction of the administrative state.

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 started having pretty intense panic attacks when I was 7 years old – about a second after I first realized that I was going to die. A lot of my creativity is driven by a sense of existential anxiety, and by my own experience of ideas creating visceral emotional and physiological responses in me. It was pretty lonely to realize, at a certain point, that most people don’t have the same relationship to things they perceive as “intellectual.” So I think a lot of my writing is an attempt to bridge that gap. How do you make someone feel an idea?

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  John Guare was my first honest hero. I became obsessed with him when I was an 18-year-old college actor and his work is a huge part of the reason I became a playwright. To this day, every time I engage with his writing I feel like I’m taking a master class in what theatre is supposed to be able to do. I’m also a big fan of Jean Genet, Strindberg, Amiri Baraka. Contemporary heroes are Lisa Kron, Sheila Callaghan, Annie Baker, Anne Washburn, Kate Benson. Richard Maxwell. All for different reasons, but a lot of it’s about finding new ways use theatricality.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  I get most excited when I don’t immediately understand my response to something. That moment when you start crying or get CRAZY GIDDY and you have no idea why and it takes months to unpack it, or maybe you never do.

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

A:  This is a career path like any other. It’s built out of working every day for a very long time, because that work is what you want to be doing with your time anyway, even if no one notices.

Q:  Plugs, please:

Clubbed Thumb Summerworks Reading
Wed, June 14, 3pm
RSVP - http://www.clubbedthumb.org/readings/

Red Emma & The Mad Monk
Part of Ars Nova’s ANT Fest
Fri, June 16, 7pm
Tickets & info - http://arsnovanyc.com/antfest/6.16

This Is A Protest of What Happened
Part of The Brick’s This Is Not Normal Festival
Sat June 24 @ 7pm, Sun June 25 @ 3pm
Info - http://bricktheater.com
Tickets - https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/pr/973528

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