Wednesday, September 13, 2017

I Interview Playwrights Part 991: Dustin Chinn





Dustin Chinn

Hometown: Seattle, WA

Current Town: New York, NY in Mahattan’s Chinatown. Where They assigned me.

Q:  What are you working on now?

A:  Three different plays. The latest is a first draft that imagines the life of German boardgame designers in the ‘90s as if they all hung out like the French Impressionists or punks in 1970s NYC. My main inspiration is Klaus Teuber who went on to create the Settlers of Catan while employed as a dental hygienist.

I have a residency this November where I’ll be workshopping SNOWFLAKES, a piece that takes place in the 23rd century where white people are classified as endangered and protected by the federal government. Two of them are brought to the Museum of Natural History in Neuva New York as historical reenactors when all hell breaks loose.

The third play is COLONIALISM IS TERRIBLE, BUT PHO IS DELICIOUS which I wrote during my time at the Ground Floor at Berkeley Rep. It’s a triptych that examines food politics through the lens of Vietnamese noodles in Hanoi in 1890, Ho Chi Minh City in 1999 and present day gentrifying Brooklyn.

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

A:  In 3rd grade my teacher posted a chart on that wall that laid out the rotating schedule of Physical Education (P.E.), Music and Science and asked the class, “Can anyone tell me what P-M-S stands for?”

With a raised hand and yelled “I know! I know! Premenstrual syndrome!” which caused the teacher to double over and the rest of the kids to stare in utter confusion. I must have overheard premenstrual syndrome from a drug commercial but otherwise had no idea what it meant. Or did I have a sense that it was something we kids weren’t supposed to know?

It must have been the talk of the teachers’ lounge, because one of them came up to Mom as she picked me up, cackling “Do you know what your son said?” I don’t remember getting in trouble, probably due to the sheer entertainment value.

I also learned you can bomb horrifyingly in the moment but still have an impact beyond the room. All you need is to reach one person.

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

A:  I’d funnel the resources for revivals of dead artists and plays set in the living rooms of rich people who hate each other to subsidize the production of fresh voices.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  Admins, stage managers, sound/lighting/set/costume designers and other production staff who remain the sanest people in the community. As for playwrights:

Katori Hall for OUR LADY OF KIBEHO.

Taylor Mac for the chunk of A 24-DECADE HISTORY OF POPULAR MUSIC I managed to catch.

I once traumatized a dinner table of fellow tourists on an Australian dive boat when I tried to explain Jennifer Haley’s THE NETHER.

Qui Nguyen for managing to transport his geek aesthetic from the sweaty lofts of Brooklyn to uptown Manhattan and fine colleges across the country.

Mac Rogers for his HONEYCOMB TRILOGY, because it disproves so much of what detractors think of genre fiction.

Lloyd Suh for his monologues.

Mfoniso Udofia is in the midst a 9-play cycle about a slice of the Nigerian diaspora in America. In addition to her endurance, she might be the most hilarious writer I’ve ever met who doesn’t tell any jokes.

Peter Schaffer for AMADEUS, because that play had every accolade heaped upon it in London and New York, a culture-changing movie adaptation and homeboy still wasn’t satisfied with it.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  Whenever I feel uninspired I head over to the 52nd Street Project. Their introductory Playmaking shows are some of the best in the city, where professional adult actors perform verbatim the scripts of kids around 10 years old. The young playwrights may not know all the rules yet, but they’re aware of everything else, and usually don’t have time for polite stillness. I’ve seen interpretations of sports at the Five Angels Theater (namely table tennis and basketball) that have never been equaled on stage.

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

A:  
1. Immerse yourself in a hobby or side project that isn’t tied directly to theater, and by extension TV and film. Something that won’t break your heart.

2. Criticism and feedback are two different animals. You are free to ignore both, but it’s healthier to recognize and address feedback.

3. If you feel pressured to get a beverage at the bar or restaurant but don’t want to imbibe/spend much, order soda and bitters. It looks like a “real” drink, is genuinely refreshing and shouldn’t cost more than a Coke.

Q:  When not writing on a computer, what's your go-to paper and writing utensil?  When on computer, what's your font?

A:  I carry two MUJI products: a small lined notebook and 0.5mm gel ink ballpoint pen to jot notes, ideas and lines. My font is Times New Roman because I’m a lazy creature of habit who often relies on factory settings.

Q:  Plugs, please: 

A:  Social handles:

@Madletters

You should also follow the exploits of the Ma-Yi Writers Lab, both active and alumni members. A. Rey Pamatmat, Mike Lew (and previously Rehana Lew Mirza) have cultivated a roster that is killing the game right now in terms of artistry and advocacy. They are also brilliant writers in their own right. Guess I better revise my list of theatrical heroes.

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