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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...

Aug 27, 2017

I Interview Playwrights Part 974: Brenton Lengel

Brenton Lengel

Hometown:  Naples, Italy

Current Town:  Manhattan, NYC

Q:  What are you working on now?

A:  My two biggest projects at the moment are Afterall, a fantasy adventure through the afterlife that begins with the main character's death, and NPCs, a workplace comedy about the lives of Non-Player Characters in roleplaying games. I'm also in the early stages of a page-1 rewrite for an upcoming play called "No Gods, No Kings," which is set during the Spanish Civil War.

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 very young, my dad used to take me camping, which at the time meant setting up an old pup-tent in the backyard of our home in Allentown, PA. He'd tell me stories, usually about "The Cowboys and the Indians" or "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" (which I didn't realize was a movie until I was like, thirty), and one night he told me about the Appalachian Trail, explaining that it was an unbroken two-thousand-mile footpath through the mountains that ran from Maine to Georgia. Right there in that tent, little four-year-old Brent declared that he'd hike it all one day, and some twenty years later, he did exactly that and then wrote the first play ever about the experience, which is called North to Maine and is probably my most famous work to date.

In a number of ways, that gets to the core of who I am. I have an adventurous streak in me, and I'm definitely a capital "R" Romantic with a number of high ideals and strange notions, and that doesn't always mesh well with mundane reality. Luckily I'm patient and stubborn enough to force these "airy nothings" into reality, and once I've done that, I write about it. I've been accused of being a "method writer" more than once, and I think that's as good a descriptor as any.

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

A:  Theatre has a culture that is, at times, particularly snobbish and stifling. It's kind of a paradox because most of us grew up as nerds and outcasts and we think that theatre is a safe place for people to be different and to think differently, but I find that's often not the case. It's like theatre allows for a very select, very formulaic kind of weirdness, which leads to the big stages and companies reproducing the same tired old plays that they've been producing for fifty years, just with the words and the characters scrambled. Sure, they're penned by different authors, but when you consider the sheer breadth of creativity that can be done on a stage, it is staggering how many times we all wind up watching three to six characters savage each other around a couch for ninety minutes to an hour.

So I'd like to say I'd get rid of couches, but it's not really the couches' fault, and sometimes, despite the fact that it's being done for the umpteen-bajillionth time, sometimes - it's still a good play. So really, what I'd like to get rid of is that attitude, the attitude that plays are only about a certain type of thing and for a certain type of people. I think the more diversity we have, not just of identity but also of thought, the more relevant and interesting theatre will be as an art form.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  Arthur Miller is probably my biggest influence; I love the way he writes, and the fact that he stood up to the House of Un-American Activities Committee is hugely inspiring and gets to the heart of what I think an artist should be--not just an entertainer but also someone who lives in the world and actively works to make it a better place. I like Eugene O'Neill for the same reason: he was a member of the IWW, the Wobblies - the same group Heather Heyer was marching with in Charlottesville before she was run down by that Nazi. Though I've never had occasion to see his work staged, Spanish playwright Fredrico Lorca is also a hero of mine; he was killed by the fascists at the start of his country's civil war for being gay and also an outspoken socialist. The fact that he did what he did and said what he said in a society as oppressive as 1930's Spain and in the face of all that darkness continued to create art is hugely inspiring - so yeah, for those three and for Lorca in particular, I'd use the term "hero" to describe them.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  The kind that takes me somewhere else, and teaches me something new, and gets me to care for something or someone that I might have previously dismissed. I was in DC recently and I saw The Originalist at Arena Stage, which was a play about Antonin Scalia, who I'd previously seen as little more than a monster, to be completely honest. To see him posthumously humanized really touched me. Art is often an exercise in empathy and communication, and if a play can get me to feel compassion for someone whose death I may very well have celebrated...well, that's good art, and exciting theatre.

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

A:  The best thing you can do is put words on paper and then show them to people. Writing is a skill, and every time you do it, you get better. Don't worry if they aren't the right words, and don't worry that people won't like them. Even if your work is initially terrible--and it won't be, but if it is--well then, people are going to like it anyway, because a lot of us are terrible at a lot of things and that's human. That's a part of ourselves that is arguably the most worthy of love specifically because it's the part that we most often neglect. Have faith that who you are and what you have to say is valuable and interesting because, I guarantee you, it is. It's a very scary thing to put yourself out there and express yourself honestly, but the alternative is way worse than someone else not liking what they see. So if you have a story inside yourself, don't keep it hidden; share it. If you do that, you will be successful--maybe not in the way that you imagine, but I find that often times when all is said and done, imagination can fall short of reality.

Q:  You mentioned one of your biggest projects is with The Crüxshadows. What's it like collaborating with a rockstar?

A:  It's simultaneously one of the most amazing and annoying experiences I've ever had. Rogue is one of the smartest and hardest working artists I've ever met, and easily the most successful. I was a fan for years before I approached him with the project, and it's a miracle that he even responded to my email. The flipside of it is, he approaches writing a play or a novel or a screenplay in much the same way he approaches writing a song, so every word, every syllable, is of the utmost importance. When you consider just how many words and syllables there are in a script or a manuscript compared to lyrics in a song...well, the process is slow-going to say the least. Then again, I'm also the kid who decided he was going to hike the entire AT before he was even in the first grade, and then grew up to do it, so I'm uniquely suited to this sort of collaboration. It's super cool to meet your idols and find out they really are awesome people who think you're cool and talented too, and what's coming out of our work together is better than either of us could do on our own, so I'm really excited about it.

Q:  Any upcoming projects we should look out for?

A:  My 2012 play Snow White Zombie Apocalypse is being turned into a comic book as we speak. It'll be published by Scout Comics and illustrated by Dark Horse Alumnus Hyeondo Park. I'm about to launch a crowdfunding campaign for NPCs, which is being produced and directed by my good friend Levi Wilson of Maybe Sunshine and in association with my theatre company State of Play Productions Inc. Also, I have something VERY big on the horizon regarding Afterall, which will be announced at this year's Dragoncon, so keep an eye on that.

Finally, The Crüxshadows just released their newest song Singularities (Calling Heaven) I highly recommend people check that out, and if you like it, their new album AstroMythology is being released at Dragoncon and will be available to purchase soon!

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