Tuesday, August 08, 2017

I Interview Playwrights Part 968: Pete McElligott




Pete McElligott

Hometown: Lemont, IL.

Current Town: Brooklyn, NY.

Q:  Tell me about In a Little Room:

A:  I used to work in the radiology department of an emergency room when I was younger, and the thing I remember most about it was how it was simultaneously way too real and yet incredibly unreal. Way too real in that there is death everywhere with a little bit of birth and at least one Starbucks. Just incredibly unreal in that most people there have had their lives stopped. "I broke my ankle!" "My kid ate a poisonous plant!" "I think I'm having a baby!" All the patients and friends and family are just frozen in this strange purgatory of mortality where their life is not in their hands anymore. It doesn't feel like anywhere else. So I wrote a comedy about it! Which is to say, I wrote a story about what happens when two strangers who have both suffered a great loss bump into each other in a waiting room and try incredibly hard to act like normal human beings. They don't succeed. And it's kind of sad. But it's also really absurdly funny.

Q:  What else are you working on now?

A:  I'm working on an adaptation of Three Musketeers for The NOLA Project in New Orleans. I've adapted Alice in Wonderland and Don Quixote for them and both were a blast so I'm really looking forward to it. I've also written a ten-minute play that's about to get a production at the Stella Adler Studio. It's about how Santa Claus is actually an 18 year old girl. I had a lot of fun writing it so I'm excited to see the actors have fun with it.

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

A:  First off, I'm a twin. Which probably explains a bit of me. I remember when my twin brother and I were very little and we were convinced that at some point we were going to be forced to be married. I don't know why we became convinced of this, but we did. Clearly this was the way the world worked. People were born in pairs. One magically transformed into a woman. They got married. The cycle continued. That was fact. So we would argue over which one of us was going to be transformed into the woman. Imagine two five year old twin brothers, convinced of the certainty of this world, arguing vehemently over why the other one was the one that had to be magically transformed. That's pretty much what my brain as a writer looks like. I pick a topic, hand those five year olds the imaginary circumstances, and then just transcribe their passionate discourse.

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

A:  The audience's expectation of it.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  I'd say the biggest one is probably Tom Mula. My parents were pretty fantastic in terms of making sure that I got out of the basement and actually did something with myself as a kid. And every year they would take us to see A Christmas Carol at The Goodman Theater in Chicago. And every year we went it was Tom Mula playing Scrooge. And that guy was just so good. And I remember the year we went and it wasn't him anymore. And I remember walking away thinking, "There is an art to this. Because that wasn't good." It was the first time that I actually started to think beyond just good and bad and start to think about why. What was it that Tom Mula did that this new guy didn't do? Or was it the director? Or was this a different adaptation? The following year we saw "Jacob Marley's Christmas Carol," a one man show written and performed by Tom Mula. Seeing that show and seeing James Sie's adaptation of "The Snarkout Boys and the Avacado of Death" pretty much started my career as a very young writer. They were just too creative and fun for me to not want to join in.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  I think of theater the way I think of food. Seeing a movie is like watching Food Network (and I love Food Network). Seeing bad Theatre is like going to a Wendy's. It's a guilty pleasure with no focus on experience (and I say that as someone who loves Wendy's). Great Theatre is like a fancy restaurant. They're thinking about the audience's palate. What's happening now is meant to change how you reflect on what happened before and what's about to happen next. They're trying to communicate something. They make sure that the audience is getting different flavors, different colors, and most importantly they're trying to get the audience to experience things they know, or think they know, in a new way. So to finally answer the question, theater that excites me is theater that plays like a tasting menu. It challenges my assumptions a little, it gives me something I'm unfamiliar with, gives me something that I'm excited for, and it offers me something I may or may not actually like. All building towards a specific experience. And maybe it comes with wine.

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

A:  I wrote two plays right out of college. One that was for me and one that I thought would get produced. The one that was for me had an insane plot and impossible stage directions and would have cost a lot to produce has been produced across the country. The one that I wrote because I thought it was producible hasn't.

Q:  Plugs, please: 

A:   Come see "In a Little Room" at the Wild Project starting September 9th! It is my wife's favorite show of mine. And she's a woman of very good taste. Tickets are available at www.tenbones.org. And if you're in the New Orleans area next summer, Three Musketeers is going to be a pretty funny adventure. Keep an eye on The NOLA Project. www.nolaproject.com

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