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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...

Oct 9, 2018

I Interview Playwrights Part 1002: Sean Williams

Sean Williams

Hometown:  Technically born in San Jose, California but moved almost every year of my life growing up, including overseas, so... everywhere/nowhere.

Current Town:  Astoria, New York and LOVING IT.

Q:  Tell me about Almelem.

A:  The play came about because of two ideas that crashed into each other.

In our world, you can't really get even two theater people together without them telling anecdotes about shows they've done. It's impossible, we're all totally obsessed - especially with the stories where somehow we pulled it off even though it seems totally impossible. Almost all the plays I've produced have some sort of backstager aspect to them, it's almost always the story of a group of people who create something amazing even though it seems impossible.

That idea was bouncing around in the back of my head when I went to an Easter Service at Judson Memorial Church two years ago. Judson is the only kind of Christianity I can stomach - radical leftist activism combined with a celebration of queerness and a dedication to kindness. It's the only place where a progressive atheist like me can find a home, especially when Micah Bucey is leading services. At that Easter Service, Micah talked NOT about the resurrection but about the Empty Tomb, about what that space full of questions could mean to us. Within two months of being at that service, I had the rough outline of Act One done.

Almelem is the story of a group of Jewish radicals trying to overthrow the Roman Government by creating street theater and their own pop culture. Also, by finding the Messiah and creating the right story around him. Also, it's funny. Or... I mean, I think it's funny. Anyone who thinks I'm funny will probably think this is funny.

It might not be funny.

Q:  What else are you working on now?

A:  Gideon has been working in audio drama fiction and we've got an *armload* of irons in about twelve separate fires right now. But the two things I can definitely talk about are 1) we're releasing an audio version of Mac Rogers' play "God Of Obsidian" (the plan is to drop that on November 1st) and 2) we're producing Mac Rogers play "Musical Chairs" on our off-nights at The Brick during the run of Almelem. (Tickets for that are at https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/pr/1000126)

Q:  How long have you been making plays with Gideon? How many plays have you done?

A:  Mac Rogers and I created an almost endless version of As You Like It in the summer of 1996 and that's when we came up with the name "Gideon Productions". When Jordana Williams came on board and we actually raised some money and started the company for real in 2000, we kept the name because... I actually don't know. I think we just couldn't think of another one and we're pretty lazy.

We've done a lot of plays, and it's hard to figure out how many because it's hard to know what counts. Big-ass mainstage shows? Probably about fifteen, but we've also produced runs of one-acts and festivals and stuff, so it's a lot. We basically don't know who we are if we're not producing theater, so we just sorta keep doing it.

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

A:  My dad is a symphony conductor and growing up I always thought our family were the big mucky-mucks in town. Everyone knew us, everyone knew my dad and mom and I thought we were probably pretty famous. It didn't occur to me that famous people probably lived in better houses in better neighborhoods. My dad's face was on the cover of the newspapers I delivered, so I thought we were probably very, very fancy.

When there was a post-show party at the theater for The Board and the big money people, my dad would always bring a second tux to change into after the show. He'd sweat through the first one. We were milling about amid the drinks and the hors d'oeuvres at one of these parties and I said to my dad, "everyone looks so amazing! Everyone in their suits and ball gowns!" and my dad smirked at me and leaned down.

"Everyone else is dressed beautifully, BUT... look who's wearing tuxedos. It's only the musicians and the waiters. And all of these people in the nice dresses and beautiful suits? They came in the front door. The musicians and the waiters? We had to come in through the back."

Being an artist is a blue-collar job, one that requires a lifetime of thankless work, only *part* of which is spent smiling and being nice to the folks in the nice clothes. And we used different doors to get into the same room.

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

A:  Radical, full-throated socialism. Our shows should be allowed to be bad. Our theatrical institutions should be able to produce actually challenging theater - plays with uncomfortable characters, written by marginalized people. These artists shouldn't have to go to work during the day, they should spend their days in rehearsal or getting better at making plays. The ticket price should be insanely low, the artists' compensation should be a living wage and it should all be provided by the government of the United States. The NEA should have 100X its current funding and the art that it pays for should make conservative assholes shit themselves in fear.

Just, like... just that one thing, really. It's more of a tweak than a change, if you think about it.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  Mac Rogers and Jordana Williams. I'm embarrassed by that answer, but I strive every day to earn a spot in any room where they are. And both of them are exemplary human beings. Whenever I feel lost, artistically or personally, I often think to myself, "what would Mac or Jordana do?" and then I try my best to do that. I'm really glad that both of them have established theatrical heroes, so I can learn whatever I need to by being close to them.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  Honest, lived-in living room comedies that have moments so true that you cry. I love seeing shows where the sets are so good that the sinks work, where the design is so good you can hear a toilet flush off stage or know what time of day it is by the lights. And I love watching great actors talk to each other using language that's better than we use when we're just coming up with stuff in our own living rooms.

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

A:  Don't try to make money. Get a job and assume you'll have it forever, then write as many bad plays as you can. You might never leave the job, but you've made peace with that anyway. What you *will* do is eventually start writing really great plays. And if you end up leaving that job? Fine. But don't make that a reason for what you're doing.

Q:  Plugs, please:


Almelem - https://www.eventbrite.com/e/almelem-fringebyov-tickets-49873135892
Musical Chairs - https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/pr/1000126
Steal The Stars Audio Drama - https://tor-labs.com/

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