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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 31, 2018

I Interview Playwrights Part 1010: Dorian Palumbo

Dorian Palumbo

Hometown: Woodbridge, New Jersey

Current Town: New York, New York

Q:  Tell me about Divination. 

A: Divination takes place in a crystal shop somewhere down on the Jersey shore. It’s a cast of six women, and the characters some from all sorts of backgrounds and stages of life, all getting together to take a class in “Psychic Mediumship”. Each one of them is battling something personal, whether it’s disease in the family, racial attacks from the neighbors, coming out – they all need to take their power back, in some way, when they’re joined by a new classmate who’s really had life smack her in the face and needs to find her tribe. It’s about the supernatural, and psychic phenomena, and new age philosophy, but, ultimately, it’s about female friendships.

And, if I can get on a soapbox here for a second, it’s not about a bunch of women getting together to complain about how they’re treated, or not treated, by men. It has virtually nothing to do with men. This is the second of two ensemble female shows I’ve written, and not having any male characters on the stage to throw their weight around and drive plot is a very freeing experience.

Q:  What else are you working on now? 

A:  Like a lot of writers, I have a queue of things that I’ve sketched out, and things that are half-finished – and I’m likely to ignore all of them and keep working on a screenplay I’ve just started to break story on. You have things you doodle on until something else catches fire and you get obsessed with that new thing. I can already tell this new screenplay’s going to be a big lift, because it’s a period piece and a comedy, but I don’t really care because it’s making me happy to work on it. I also plan another play that’s kind of in the research phase right now.

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 in sixth grade, I decided to write a play about Santa Claus. Don’t ask me what the story was – I’m old, this was probably 1972 or something, so I don’t remember – but I remember there was this kid in my class that was kind of bigger than all the other kids, and a bit awkward, and the other kids used to give him kind of a hard time, so I made him the star of my play and asked if we could rehearse it a little bit and present it to the rest of the class. Everything was going fine, and then one day when we were supposed to rehearse the play, Paul, the kid playing Santa was sick, so this other kid, called Patrick, tried to bully his way into the lead part. I let him read, and then Patrick spent an hour trying to convince me that he was better in the part, and that I should kick Paul to the curb. Well, of course Patrick was better in the part – he could read better, was way smarter, and he was a total ham. And he was also an asshole, so I said “no.”

When we did the play for the class, Paul’s Mom had made him a really cool Santa costume, and even though he couldn’t stand still and never got “off book”, he had a great time, and so did the class. And it made being at school suck just a little less for Paul, so I was happy about that.

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

A: I think this idea of talkbacks has to be applied a little more judiciously. I’m not going to go all Mamet or anything like that. But it’s one thing for me to do a staged reading for a room full of theatre professionals who ask incisive questions and take me to task; it’s kind of another to have some rando stand up in the audience and yell at me for putting too many curse words in my play. Yes, that really happened. If a play has controversial subject matter, like Bryony Lavery’s “Frozen”, for example, it’s perfectly appropriate to do a moderated talkback afterward with the cast if people are into it. Honestly, one of the best parts about theatre for me is having a drink afterward with a friend and talking about what we just saw, so if the show is over, I’m not hanging around to listen to strangers “process” the experience together. I’m pretty much going to the bar.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes? 

A: Theresa Rebeck, Samuel Beckett, Alan Bennett, Paula Vogel, Stephen Adly Guirgis, Harvey Fierstein, Thornton Wilder, Wendy Wasserstein

Q:  What kind of theater excites you? 

A:  I love to see a really masterful actor at the top of their game, like Fiona Shaw, or Janet McTeer. Laurie Metcalf. I saw Alan Rickman a few times and was mesmerized. I once saw Jerry Ohrbach walk out onto a stage that was miles away and I could still feel that star-powered prana out in the cheap seats. And when really terrific actors are supported by an outstanding play and really artful direction, that’s the triple-threat of course. “Indecent”, for example, had me absolutely gobsmacked. But something else I really love, love most of all in theatre in fact, is when a playwright takes me into a world I’ve never peered into before – not in documentaries, not in the news – and makes me take on a perspective that’s brand new to me. Broaden my perspective without lecturing me or, god forbid, boring me, and I’m yours for life.

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

A: Find your trusted readers. Whenever you finish something new, you’re going to need to be able to solicit feedback from people who know how to give it. They can’t be competitive with you, they have to know the form you’re working in inside-and-out, and they have to be honest without being snarky.

I have four trusted readers in my life now, and even though two of them are personal friends, I always pay them a fee when I ask them to give me notes because, hey, we’re all broke, and we can all use a little cash now and then. Nobody’s that much of a genius that they don’t need notes. Maybe Tom Stoppard doesn’t need notes. Everybody else needs them. When you’re starting out, you’re going to get lots, so start getting used to getting them from people whose opinions you respect.

Q:  Plugs, please: 

A:   “Divination” will be opening on Hallowe’en night, Wednesday, 10/31, 2018, at 8 PM, at the American Theatre of Actors (americantheatreofactors.org) and running Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8 PM (10/31, 11/1, 11/2, 11/3 and 11/7, 11/8, 11/8, 11/10), and Sundays (11/4 and 11/11 @ 3PM) Tickets are available at smarttix.com (https://smarttix.com/Modules/Sales/SalesMainTabsPage.aspx?SalesEventId=8348)

If you come on Sundays, we’ll have a guest Q&A from actual psychic intuitive Veronica Moya. Or you can come on the weekdays, and you come early, you might be able to get a quick Tarot card reading from me before the show. It calms my nerves.
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