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1000 PLAYWRIGHT INTERVIEWS

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

May 30, 2017

I Interview Playwrights Part 945: Alex Riad





Alex Riad

Hometown:  Campbell, CA

Current Town:  Washington Heights in New York, NY

Q:  Tell me about The Floor is Lava:

A:  Lava started because I was having a real hard time going home. There's a routine about visiting your hometown, especially when you've moved so far away. For me it's family time during the day and drinking scotch with friends at night. Those two activities are very different, but they have one thing in common: everyone constantly investigating your success and happiness with a simple question: "How are you doing?" In college it was easy; I was a straight A student. My first couple years in New York were simple too; I could successfully pay my rent and I was writing. But after those first few years, life in New York started to feel like walking up a down escalator. I could be honest with my family for the most part, but when I was having scotch with friends at night it was just so much easier to lie because that question became so difficult: "How are you doing?" The Floor is Lava is about being asked that question and feeling completely hollow, while you lie and say amazing. It's about struggling to overcome your own pride and be honest with the people you love. It's about trying to be happy with where you are and what you actually want. Then I mixed social media into this exploration because no other technological invention has had more to do with answering the question: "How are you doing?"

Q:  What else are you working on now?

A:  I’m tackling two writing projects on top this production. One is a first draft of a new play about a former political activist preparing for Armageddon because he believes Donald Trump became president to save America from an asteroid. The second is a Web Series I co-wrote with Molly Collier (one of the actors in Lava) entitled “What Am I Doing Here?”, which focuses on a young woman and all the terrible side jobs she juggles, while trying to make it as an actor in New York. We just finished writing the first season and will be going into pre-production soon.

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

A:  When I was in junior high, I went to some Christian youth group’s rafting retreat because I had a crush on the girl who played the flute at my friend’s church. Being isolated in the woods with a bunch of religious people for a week is enough to brainwash any twelve year old, so I came back home “saved” (I’ve never seen my mother so disappointed). I continued to be saved for another two weeks until I was discussing heaven and hell with this woman who ran the church bible study. She said anyone who hears “the good news,” but doesn’t become a Christian will go straight to hell when they die. I brought up a variety of non-Christian, dead activists like Malcolm X and Gandhi, asking if they were in hell despite all the good they did for the world. She answered with a resounding and heartless “Yes.” I stopped having faith in God from that point on and decided I would just have faith in people, which I think is at the core of everything I write. I don’t believe any one thing can damn or save a person; people aren’t black and white. However, I found out later in life that Gandhi was a terrible human, so maybe she wasn’t totally wrong.

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

A:  Ticket prices. I’m really tired of seeing primarily silver haired, wealthy, white audiences when I go see a play Off or on Broadway. The audiences in New York should be just as diverse as the rest of the city and making tickets accessible to the average person is the first step in making that happen. I am the biggest fan of both Signature and Rattlestick theaters because not only are they producing challenging plays, but they make a point of providing affordable tickets for these productions.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  When I first started writing I would always say Arthur Miller and David Mamet: Miller for structure and Mamet for dialogue. But since moving to New York, I’ve gravitated most to contemporary playwrights that capture real life and people with hyper-accuracy. I look up to Annie Baker the most right now because she specializes in turning the mundane into gut wrenching tragedy by using sincere naturalism. Also, the fact that she has created and continues to create such meaningful work at such a young age really inspires me.

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

A:  Find a community. Actors, directors, technicians, and writers with whom you want to work and hangout. I did Labyrinth Theater Company’s Intensive Ensemble right before I moved to New York. Six years later, I can trace every friend, colleague, and opportunity I’ve had in the city from that artist retreat. In fact, early on in the process of developing Lava, if it weren’t for some actor friends from Lab conducting an impromptu reading of an unfinished draft when we were hanging at a bar one night, I might not have finished the play because I was on the verge of scrapping it. Also, The Farm Theater is producing Lava because Padraic Lillis (the Artistic Director) has been my mentor ever since I finished the Lab Intensive. There are so many ways to find your community. You could volunteer with a theatre company that excites you. You could participate in a playwriting program or group. You could go to an artist retreat out in the woods like me. Once you find your people, nurture those connections and always branch out to make more. You’ll create great art and feel fulfilled while doing it.

Q:  Plugs, please: 

A:  My play The Floor is Lava will be presented at the Planet Connections Theatre Festivity, June 15-July 8. Visit www.thefarmtheater.org for more info!

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