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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 20, 2017

I Interview Playwrights Part 995: John J. Caswell, Jr.

John J. Caswell, Jr.

Hometown: Phoenix, AZ

Current Town: New York City

Q:  What are you working on now?

A:  With the help of my current fellowship at Page 73, I'm revising a draft for workshop of my play called CREAM! which converts homophobic bakers to tolerant allies on national television. A talking wedding cake presides as ringmaster and all-seeing eye. I'm also working on a play called THE THREE BEARS which I wrote from start to finish under the guidance of Erik Ehn at LaMama Umbria this summer. It's set in my home state of Arizona in a tourist-driven "ghost town" called Jerome. And I'm going back to my roots with an untitled play about four Mexican-American women who gather together to save their dying friend.

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

A:  At the age of 17 (that's childhood), I had no idea that I wanted to write and direct theater. But I did know that I loved sneaking away in the middle of the night to abandoned warehouses and wide open desert spaces to dance all night at raves. I was so taken by the theatricality of these trippy, themed events that I put off going to college at NYU and dedicated the following four years of my life to organizing elaborate dance parties with world-class DJ's, massive set pieces, detailed props. It was a labor of love until it wasn't. After attending the school of hard knocks and taking some blows financially and physically, I put down the glow sticks and realized that what I really was after was a theater where I could make anything happen. My mother was relieved.

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

A:  Theater and the arts must become more affordable, but they won't in the United States. Obvious answer, and seemingly irrelevant at this particular point in our pickle. I went to Amsterdam and saw John Adams conduct an incredible symphony at the Royal Concertgebouw and it cost something absurdly cheap like 10 dollars and it included a drink and snacks, no sippy cups involved. We need to build representation that believes in subsidizing the arts and holding up cultural institutions as vital to our national health and wellbeing. With a cheaper ticket, people would be more daring in both the things they choose to produce and the things they choose to see.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  Tadeusz Kantor and Richard Foreman were two people I latched onto early, the latter of which I got to spend time with in production for six months which was pretty thrilling. Anne Bogart and the way she thinks about time and space, she has always moved me. The plays of Caryl Churchill, Sarah Kane, Beckett, Lorca, Fornés — those have had the largest impact. And some contemporaries that I look up to and admire include Tina Satter/Half Straddle, Annie Baker, Young Jean Lee, Mac Wellman, Erik Ehn, Tarrel Alvin McCraney + so many more.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  I like seeing work that makes me feel slightly unsafe or unsettled, work that feels like there is some sort of risk involved in its very performance and my watching it. I like theater that almost seems compulsory in its presentation, like it just burst into being right now, at this moment. I love spectacle, or failed attempts at it.

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

A:  I've been making devised plays through my company Progressive Theatre Workshop since 2007. Only recently did I begin exploring text from a more writerly place, that place being alone in my office hoping that others might produce the plays eventually rather than myself. So in that sense, I'm just starting out. I try really hard to stay in my own lane, keep my eyes on my own paper. It's very easy to get caught in the rat race, especially in NYC, and to start comparing your progress to others. No path is the same. Figure out what you do well, practice doing it, share with people. Make your own opportunities. Be generous and open. Really understand why you write plays. Figure out how to be in love with doing it.

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 almost exclusively write on screen in Times New Roman. If I do write on paper, it's in whatever notebook or post-it pad I can grab first and usually with these fine point Sharpie markers someone bought me for adult coloring books.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  Page 73 is presenting a workshop of my play CREAM! at Theater for the New City on October 19and 20th. Their website: www.page73.org

Also, I'm beginning work on a new piece through my company soon. More info to be found eventually here: www.progressivetheatreworkshop.org.

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