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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 28, 2017

I Interview Playwrights Part 998: Rae Binstock

Rae Binstock

Hometown: Cambridge, MA

Current Town: Brooklyn, NY

Q:  What are you working on now?

A:  My latest project is a Top Girls-inspired play about American women from a massive range of experience (including different time periods) arguing about Hillary Clinton, and then suddenly it’s about the Nazi riots in Charlottesville. On deck to write next are a play that takes a transgender angle of Twelfth Night and a play about the second coming of a Great Flood. And then I’m writing a cluster of pilots for development. (I haven’t learned how to sleep yet.)

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 about three years old, my babysitter Sarah took her boyfriend and myself to the green in front of MIT. It was a beautiful day for a picnic, and we spread our blanket in the middle of dozens of college students, professors, and other family groups enjoying the weather. After a little while, I started walking around to other people’s blankets. Sarah knew I was a very outgoing kid, so she let me explore, keeping a watchful eye for trouble. I seemed to be making friends everywhere I went, and Sarah relaxed.

Finally, one of my new friends got up and came over to our blanket. He asked if I belonged to her and she confirmed I did; with this assurance, he held out Sarah’s boyfriend’s wallet and said “Your toddler tried to give this to me. She’s been trying to give it to a bunch of people out here. I thought you should know.”

And that is the story of how, at the tender age of three, I stole a wallet and tried to hawk it on the street. Nobody knows if I was driven by sweet childhood innocence or by a darker, more cunning force. But making people guessing has kind of become my Thing.

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

A:  I would have the theater made mandatory in every state and every country on Earth. There is much that desperately needs changing in the theater—more diversity on- and off-stage, more stories from oppressed and silenced communities, more production of new work—but those problems can be fixed, in time, by dedicated individuals from within the theater world. Theater in its most imperfect form is still invaluable, because it inspires empathy in practitioners and audience alike. Actors have to inhabit characters, audience members have to listen to those characters speak, writers and directors and designers have to create an unreal world with the heavy tools of reality. Theater forces a person to examine a perspective outside of their own, and our failure to do exactly that is killing our country. Bigotry and prejudice are so much harder to truly believe in when you have taken even a tiny step outside of your own world and seen things a different way, through another’s eyes; the effort to do so alone stretches your soul out of its factory-issue shape. The theater may not be able to cure the world’s ills, but it sure as hell can make us more inclined to do it ourselves.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  David Henry Hwang and Ellen McLaughlin are my heroes for many reasons, only one of which is the brilliance of both their work. David has shown me generosity, kindness, and support beyond anything I could expect from someone with their own legendary career to manage; Ellen was my first great playwriting teacher, whose passion for writing, quiet respect for an overeager student, and warm friendship continues to serve as an inspiration to me. Ellen and David’s guidance as mentors and friends have changed my life, but their most valuable gift to me, however, is the faith they have shown in me and my work. That means more than I can ever say—and moreover, it’s taught me how essential that kind of faith and encouragement are in the theater world. Wherever I go and whatever I do, I will always be trying to honor David and Ellen, and their extraordinary capacity to give more than they have to, over and over again.

(And then of course Tony Kushner, the author of Angels in America, which beat a sixteen-year-old me over the head with the utter miracles of which playwriting is capable. I’m really into that play. I got a tattoo.)

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  Innovative theater. Honestly, nothing is more boring than a play made up of recycled ideas. Do whatever you want as long as it’s exploring something new. We’re at a point where literally putting people of color onstage and including their narratives is innovative, so I think that should be requisite for new and exciting work, but there’s so much more as well! The weirdest things are the most exciting, because who knows how they’re going to turn out?

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

A:  Dig in. Because at any given moment, there are a thousand and six things trying to convince you not to be a playwright, and your only defense against them is pure force of will. Bury yourself in your work and refuse to let rejections and bad reviews and professional indifference tear you away. Be sure of yourself past the point of reason, removed from any other aspects of self-confidence, even when you feel the most invisible. Be sure that this is who you are.

And write as much as you possibly can. If you aren’t at your most alive when you’re writing, then figure out why or consider a career with more dignity and a better health plan.

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 hate writing on paper because my handwriting looks like a lot of drunk letters and punctuation fighting each other. When I have to do it, my preferred method is lined notebook paper and a black pen. I feel pencil writing lacks a certain gravitas and elegance; also, it smudges.

On my computer, I write in Times New Roman. I once went maverick and used Garamond. Recovery has been difficult.

Q:  Plugs, please:
A:  Upcoming reading of my play Watch Me Burn with Crashbox Theater Company on November 27th! I’m also a member of The Lark’s 2017-18 Rita Goldberg Playwrights Workshop, so come see our readings in May and ask me about readings/workshops I’ll be doing at The Lark in the meantime.

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