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1000 PLAYWRIGHT INTERVIEWS

1000 Playwright Interviews The first interview I posted was on June 3, 2009.  It was Jimmy Comtois.  I decided I would start interview...

Sep 24, 2017

I Interview Playwrights Part 997: John DeVore





John DeVore

Hometown: McLean, Virginia. That's where I grew up. It's a suburb of Washington D.C. My dad worked in politics for a Texas politician. So Texas was the Promised Land. Suburban D.C. is a transient place for people who work for elected officials and it was for my family. I like to think of myself as an ethnic Texan. I have a fear that I will die in Texas because that's what Texas wants. Anyway, I haven't been back to McLean in over 20 years. I hear it's full of very rich people now.

Current Town: Brooklyn, the Paris of Long Island. But Queens is the place I most identify as home inasmuch as it is the one place I have lived the longest in my adult life.

Q:  What are you working on now? 

A:  I'm noodling with an essay about how my parents met in 1960's El Paso. It's a fable that includes Zorro and giant scorpions. Other than that, I'm just writing essays. I call them "essays" but they're actually "monologues" but shhhhh don't tell anyone.

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

A:  You know, I had problems in school. I was often separated from my peers because there was a perception that I had learning disabilities. I was not "gifted and talented." You can't have "gifted and talented" students unless some of them are "not gifted nor talented." Then, in 5th grade, I met Mrs. Crawford who gave me as many opportunities to prove myself as I could and join the class. Here's how I became a writer: upon returning from a Christmas vacation trip to the Grand Canyon I wrote a "What I Did Over Winter Break" essay that flagrantly plagiarized the narration from a movie about the Grand Canyon that played at one of the tourist centers there. I distinctly remember writing "The Grand Canyon looks as if it were carved by the Hand of God." Mrs. Crawford had to have known I couldn't write such purple prose but praised me anyway and called me "a writer." And there you go. I announced this to my father, who had once been a freelance journalist, and he said something like "Oh really?" Then proceeded to edit my book reports with red pen so I had to rewrite 50 whole words over again.

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

A:   In the pink of my youth I use to love drunken conversations with friends about how to change the theater. I was lucky to fall into a crowd of talented and idiosyncratic experimental theater makers - many of them from somewhere called "Bard" which I think is an art cult upstate? I don't know. Lucky because I've always been a terrible hack. I want to make people laugh or cry and I like to think my decade plus laboring in downtown/Brooklyn theater really changed me for the best. Anyway, change. Theater doesn't need to change, it's built to mutate anyway. People need to change. Theater is the original social network. There are so many people out there who just need one experience - one sweaty, intense, entertaining, religious experience - and then they'd get why theater is so special and vital. It is not a 2 hour nap. It is intense human connection.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes? 

A:  Get ready for something I call "stream of blabber." I had a very traditional theater education at VCU in Richmond. Lots of Greeks. Shakes. Lope de Vega. Jacobean gorefests. Ibsen. Strindberg. Brecht. The absurdists. Williams and Miller. Beckett, who I learned to love above all others. Albee. Charles Busch. Vogel and Fornes. Short funny story: I auditioned for the BFA program with one of Roy Cohn's monologues from Angels in America. Chubby 17 year old me. Ugh that play. Life changing. As a teenage boy I gravitated towards Mamet but I feel that's okay. I didn't know you could write "fuck" in a play. I think this is forgivable. I was a boy then and Mamet always will be. Sam Shepard! In NYC I learned to love, of course, Foreman. The Living Theater. Spalding Grey and Wooster. Later, Richard Maxwell, Young Jean Lee. Oh yeah Caryl Churchill! I will regret this list once I send it in because A) it jumps around and B) I could probably write a whole other different list.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you? 

A:  The weirder the better. Unless it's a wrenching tragedy or absurdist comedy. OR A MUSICAL.

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

A:  I had a writing teacher in High School who told me he didn't believe in good or bad writing. He said there is, simply, writing that should be read/shared and writing that should be kept to oneself and knowing the difference is everything. I'd add that there is writing for money and writing for love/craft and to know the difference. I have seen too many peers write for love for years and, eventually, fashion catches up to them. But I have never turned my nose up at any writing for money, even if I'm writing an article about date night at Red Lobster (sponsored by.... RED LOBSTER)

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 like to write outlines and first drafts on pen and paper. I don't like pencils. I think early drafts should preserve as much of what you wrote - even if it's scratched out - as you can. We erase and delete too easily and lose so much as a result.

Sans Serif. I like a font that I don't see as a font.

Q:  Plugs, please: 

A:  I have nothing to plug. You can follow my preening narcissism on Twitter though @johndevore. Thanks for letting me write this - I've always been a fan of the series. Longtime listener, first time caller, etc. 


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