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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...

Sep 7, 2017

I Interview Playwrights Part 985: Naveen Bahar Choudhury

Naveen Bahar Choudhury

Hometown: Born in Washington, D.C. and raised ten miles away in the Maryland suburbs

Current Town: New York, NY

Q:  What are you working on now?

A: I’m working on the first draft of a new play that is partly a subversive retelling of the Abraham and Isaac story, and partly about a family celebrating the Muslim holiday which commemorates this story, Eid al-Adha (which is Arabic for “Feast of the Sacrifice”). I’m also working on rewrites for several plays, including a play commissioned by the Ensemble Studio Theatre/Alfred P. Sloan Project that I’ve been working on for a looong time, and a few other plays that are in varying states of disrepair. I made up a rule that I wouldn’t start any new plays this year until I finished rewriting all of my old ones. I didn’t follow the rule. I just kept having ideas.

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 really little, I was crazy shy – whatever picture you have in your mind right now of a shy little kid, I was way shier than that. I basically refused to speak unless it was a life-or-death (or pee-in-the-pants) situation. I remember at least one person asked my mom if I was mute (I wasn’t). As soon as I could read the Dr. Seuss books, I started writing simple rhyming poems and stories to give to my parents as a way to communicate my feelings, or things that were too scary to say out loud (everything was too scary to say out loud). My parents were very encouraging of my writing – mostly because they valued the arts and creativity – but also because it was probably the only way they could get some insight into what was going on with their weird little kid! As an adult, I’m no longer shy, but I do still see storytelling as a way to talk about things that we can’t talk about in everyday life.

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

A: More (like a LOT more) productions of plays by living playwrights, playwrights of color, and women playwrights – preferably all three! And really more plays from all communities whose voices are routinely ignored and/or oppressed: LGBTQ writers, differently-abled writers, and many more. I love Shakespeare, Chekhov, and Tennessee Williams as much as anyone; but if you want to get an age diverse and race diverse and otherwise diverse audience, you must produce plays that are directly relevant to this moment, and directly relevant to the audience you are trying to attract. And everyone should want to attract a diverse audience – that is the only way theatre will survive.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A: Dael Orlandersmith, Stephen Adly Guirgis, David Henry Hwang, Kristoffer Diaz, Suzan-Lori Parks, Diana Son, Lynn Nottage, Caryl Churchill, Tony Kushner, Craig Wright, Gina Gionfriddo, August Wilson, Paula Vogel, Rajiv Joseph, Heather Raffo, Quiara Alegría Hudes, Tennessee Williams, Chekhov, María Irene Fornés, Theresa Rebeck, Qui Nguyen, Itamar Moses, Oscar Wilde, Anna Deavere Smith, Lisa Kron, Lloyd Suh, Ionesco... Gaaaah, so many more people!!!! This question is bananas. I could keep naming people all day.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  The kind that makes me remember that a play can be about anything... plays that can’t be easily adapted into some other form, because they are specifically theatrical in some way or another... Plays that make me think, “oh, I’ve never seen it done this way before.”

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

A:  Try to write the play that only you can write. Don’t worry about things like networking or submitting your work to a million places until after you’ve written something and rewritten it and heard a group of talented actors read it for you, so that you can rewrite it again after that... until it starts to sound like you. In other words, don’t put the cart before the horse. Put finding your voice ahead of the horse. In fact, don’t even get horses involved; Equus has already been written. Am I doing this analogy right?

Q:  When not writing on a computer, what's your go-to paper and writing utensil? What other devices do you use?

A:  I like legal pads for when I’m writing quick and dirty; Moleskines for slower writing – like if I’m writing in a meadow. Ballpoint pens, always. I often write on the train (because I’m almost always on a train... In fact, I’m writing this very sentence on a train!), and most of my train writing is with the Notes app on my iPhone. I use the voice memo app a lot as well, when I get ideas while I’m walking, which is a lot. (It’s kind of a long walk to the train).

Q: Who is the adorable dog in your photo?

A: That would be Chester, the Drama Book Shop dog.

Q:  What’s coming up? And where can we learn more about you?

A:  I will have readings of the things I’m writing and rewriting this fall! With the Ma-Yi Theatre Writers Lab and elsewhere. Stay tuned. Learn more about me here: http://ma-yitheatre.org/labbies/naveen-bahar-choudhury/

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