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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...

Mar 26, 2020

I Interview Playwrights Part 1084: David Hansen







David Hansen

Hometown: Bay Village, Ohio. Class of 1986.

Current Town: Cleveland Heights, the City of Great Writers.

Q:  Tell me about your short play project.

A:  The Short Play Project is a social distance art experiment, in which people are invited to make videos from my short play scripts which I then post on social media.

A couple weeks ago, when all the theaters were closing, Rubber City Theatre, a small company in Akron was putting on one more performance of “Love’s Labour’s Lost” which they intended to livestream. I was fortunate enough to be part of the very small, invitation-only audience. I mean, it was a comedy, they needed laughers, and they got them.

Even while I was enjoying the show, I was thinking, what next? I had written a play that was due to be workshopped at Cleveland Public Theater next month as part of their Test Flight new works series, but I was already pretty certain that wasn’t happening.

I have, since last fall, been writing one short play, almost every single day. I’ve always been impressed by all these playwrights posting very short works, ten-minute plays, one-minute plays. I felt like I had been letting myself down not creating some myself.

So, I found some writing prompts I liked, made it a morning duty and now it’s a compulsion. I have banked nearly 150 two-to-three-page plays at New Play Exchange.

And I thought, I have all the tools. I have pages on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, I have an outlet. And like most of us I have a boundless number of creative friends who are suddenly without much to do. The day after the Rubber City show I put out a call for folks to make short videos from my scripts. To date I have handed out over eighty scripts and have posted over a dozen short plays.

What is most inspiring about the videos my friends and colleagues have been creating is the manner in which they are doing so, in quarantine. With loved ones, children, over the phone, via Zoom and other platforms, or entirely on their own. Several of my pieces have taken on unexpected significance in their new context.

Q:  What else are you working on now?

A:  The piece I mentioned, the one which was to receive a weekend of performances in April, is The Witches. It’s about a Witch Panic-themed tourist attraction in a city near Salem, run by a small staff of women of varying ages and backgrounds.

The inspiration for this piece are those people who have taught me the most; the women in non-profit who have been my managers, my bosses, and my mentors. This play is my opportunity to show them how much I love them and have learned from them. It’s also a comedy.

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 nine, our family took a vacation in England. The whole family, including my grandfather, who was already in his eighties. We did all the requisite touristy things, and Mom got tickets to the hot new show, the West End run of A Chorus Line at the Drury Lane Theatre.

I thought it was amazing. A lot of it was over my head, to be sure. I knew nothing about sex, puberty, “the life.” I was a little embarrassed to be sitting next to my mom, taking all of this in. It was only much later that I realized how humiliated she must have felt, sitting between her son and her father for this racy show that she had chosen.

For better or for worse, however, it was the stories that stuck with me. The direct, confessional narrative of those characters, telling their stories. Just telling them. But also the manipulative way in which they were arrived at. Zach is an asshole. He’s casting a show, what right does he have to probe so deeply into the personal lives of these professional performers? That’s some old school theater bullshit, right there.

It was bad wisdom for a nine year-old with a future in the arts, and it took me a long time to understand the difference. Between the artist and the art.

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

A:  Significant public funding for the arts, in general. Theater in particular. I’d feel threatened by it, honestly, if people with real talent were vying for my position, because the pay was good? Seriously, though. Imagine theater tickets that could compete with the price of movie tickets, or internet. Small houses that could afford professional-grade sound and video. Health care. It’s a dream imaginable only to pretty much everyone else in the industrialized world.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  Sam Wanamaker was accused of being elitist when he, an American, led a campaign to create a new Globe Theatre on the south bank in London. It would be a museum, just a tourist attraction, not artistically significant. Instead, Shakespeare’s Globe is at the forefront of reinterpreting classic text for a new millennium, employing a diverse company of performers and commissioning and producing exciting new play scripts written by and about woman-identified actors and persons of color.

Lauren Gunderson has broken the paradigm of big city legitimacy, rising to become the most produced playwright of recent years by creating the kind of work that speaks to the widest American audience; adventurous, progressive, and grounded. She makes me want to write more and more plays.

And I still think Hamilton is pretty astonishing.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  I love the underdog. I love storefront theater. I love being in a capacity audience of forty. I have seen the Neo-Futurists dozens of times over the past thirty years, yes, thirty years, Jesus Christ, almost thirty years, most recently last October, and I never get tired of it. I want to be surprised, I want to be connected. I want to be the living part of a live audience.

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

A:  Writing is the exercise, it’s not the product. I wish someone had told me that. You think, I’m going to write a play, and then you don’t know how, because you never have. Like, I’m going to run a marathon, but you can’t just head out one day and run one. You run every day, to get to know what running is, and how you run best, and then you run a race and that’s a play. Because you ran a little every day. You knew how, and you were trained for it.

Then once you’ve written one, you write another one. And then another. And then you look back and you realize you’ve been a playwright all along.

Q: Plugs, please:

A: Yeah! Check out the Short Play Project on YouTube (https://bit.ly/39fmgxG) and join my Facebook page (http://facebook.com/David.Hansen.playwright). I have work published at Playscripts, Inc. YouthPLAYS, and on Amazon, and if you want to read one of my full-length works at New Play Exchange, I recommend “The Way I Danced With You (The George Michael Play).”


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Mar 25, 2020

I Interview Playwrights Part 1083: Katrin Arefy




Photo by Hagit Caspi


Katrin Arefy


Hometown:  I was born and grew up in Tehran, Iran.

Current Town: Berkeley, California

Q:  Tell me about your show that was canceled because of the coronavirus.

A:  We had been rehearsing my trilogy of absurd plays called Peace, a Massacre, and the Umbrella, which was scheduled to be performed in early June at Central Stage. The project is now on pause.

Each part of the trilogy examines the idea of xenophobia in a different environment: a surreal distant civilization that is a potential danger, a pile of dead bodies in an office that becomes the subject of an uncaring, casual discussion, and an enemy-identifying machine that causes a cacophony of mad unreason between a group of pseudointellectuals.

The cast and director who were working on the play are amazing artists. Ali Kamran, the director of the play is a dream-come-true director for me. He understands my work one hundred percent, and he has a deep understanding and a lot of experience with absurd theater. The cast is a group of incredible, talented actors: Mattye O’Connor, Rae Laine, Nathan Emly, Paul Bisesi, Aubrey Wynn, Benjy Wachter, Sean Orion, and others I didn’t have a chance to ask permission to mention their names here.

Q:  What else are you working on now?

A:  I just finished a full-length play, Scenes from Lovehood. It is a two-person play that is like a love poem with Judaism as the background.

Now, I am working on expanding my ten-minute play The Shoe and the Dog and the Window. This experimental play touches on the idea of breaking a status quo and expands from there.

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

A:  It’s rather a memory, not a story, of my paternal grandfather who would entertain his guests by taking a biography or history book from his library and then passionately point out some really controversial ideas that were very radical for his time. As a child, it was inspiring for me to watch him. I believe that my father has followed his example and continued his heritage, and I hope that I can carry it on.

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

A:  Theater is a cultural tool that can have a great impact, but not if most theatergoers are from an elite group of the society. I would bring the theater to the audience rather than waiting for the audience to come to the theater. I know that is already happening. I would love to see more of that.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  I love the complexity of Samuel Beckett’s plays and the brilliant simplicity of Eugène Ionesco’s plays.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  Theater that is idea oriented rather than plot oriented.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  My plays are on New Play Exchange https://newplayexchange.org/users/37177/katrin-arefy

And my previous productions are listed on my website katrinarefy.com




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Mar 23, 2020

I Interview Playwrights Part 1082: David Beardsley





David Beardsley


Hometown: Bellingham, Washington

Current Town: Boston, Massachusetts


Q:  What are you working on now?

A:  I’m actually writing two plays at the moment:

The script that I am literally going to go work on after I finish answering these questions is a full-length comedy about a married couple whose only child has left for college. As new empty nesters, they’re facing a marriage that is, for the first time in years, just them. There’s nothing autobiographical about it at all. Why would you even think that?

I’m also in the midst of rewriting a full-length drama called Cursetown. It’s my Boston play: baseball and racism. I love the story, but I’ve put it on the shelf for a couple of months. Right now, parts of it don’t feel like my story to tell. As a white writer, I feel an obligation to confront racism, but I don’t want to appropriate or retraumatize. I’m going to ask some friends to read it, listen to a lot of feedback, and then go back to work on it. I may look for a collaborator.

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

A:  I was a very good baseball player as a kid. It’s just about all I did from about the age of seven through college. My problem as a baseball player, the thing that kept me from playing at the highest levels in college or beyond, was perfectionism. Hitting a baseball is one of those activities that’s mostly about failure (playwriting is another one). If you hit .300, you’re a hall of famer, right? Except hitting .300 means you fail as a hitter 70 percent of the time. Being willing to accept that much failure takes a level of mental toughness that I didn’t have when I was younger, and that’s one reason I struggled as a young writer. I lacked the discipline and determination to stick with a short story or a novel until rewrites made it good. Finally, in my 50s, I feel like I’ve become comfortable enough with myself to deal with the failure and rejection that goes along with being a writer. It still bothers me to get those rejection emails, and I’m constantly comparing myself to more established writers who seem to have success after success, but I don’t let strikeouts paralyze me anymore. I keep writing, and I keep submitting.

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

A:  More audiences would demand and pay top dollar for new work by writers they don’t know. I think most theaters want to do new work by emerging writers, but they can’t afford to risk too much on it. So, we get development purgatory, plays that have multiple staged readings and a few awards under their belt, but no productions. Theatres follow the money. They have to. Audiences bring the money. I wish they'd bring more of it to new plays.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  I actually don’t have a lot of them. I’m pretty new to the theater. I started writing my first play in 2017 because I had an idea for a story that just felt like it should be a play. I’m envious of people with MFAs who’ve been immersed in playwriting since high school or college and who know playwrights and plays inside and out. That’s not me. One reason I got excited about writing plays was the fact that my teenage daughter was into acting. We were seeing a lot of theater together and, as a writer, I saw writing plays as another way to connect with her. Turns out, I really love writing plays, so I guess my daughter is my theatrical hero.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A: I love plays that you can just tell came from a place of brutal honesty, plays where it’s just so clear that some writer is facing down his/her/their demons with the kind of courage that I’m not sure I could muster. I think of Fukt by Emma Goldman-Sherman or Paletas de Coco by Franky Gonzalez. I also love satires that refuse ever to turn down the heat. America 2.1: The Sad Demise and Eventual Extinction of the American Negro by Stacey Rose is a great example. Oh, and I like to laugh. I have been reading Neil Simon lately. A lot of his plays are dated to the point of being cringeworthy, but he sure could land a joke.

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

A:  I’m a playwright just starting out, so here’s what I tell myself: It’s okay for first drafts to be rough, maybe even second drafts. You can’t give up. You’ve got to roll up your sleeves and do the work. To paraphrase James Carville: It’s the rewriting, stupid.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  Check out Holy and Unruly on New Play Exchange. It’s my full-length historical drama about the 1593 meeting between Queen Elizabeth and Irish Pirate Grace O’Malley. It explores gender inequity, especially the way society expects women to make choices and sacrifices not asked of men. I don’t think many writers have dealt with this side of Queen Elizabeth’s character and story.

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Mar 20, 2020

I Interview Playwrights Part 1081: James Odin Wade




James Odin Wade


Hometown: Calgary, Alberta

Current Town: Brooklyn, New York

Q:  Tell me about In Tongues.


A:  In Tongues is about the death of a true crime author and her husband and little sister trying to understand what, if anything, the case she was investigating had to do with her death. More broadly, it's about grief and how we move on when we don't have the answers that could give us closure. What if we don't actually want the answers we're looking for? Also, why are we seemingly all obsessed with true crime these days? These are some of the things the play is dealing with. But it's funny too, I swear.

The play was supposed to open on March 17, at the University of Lethbridge, in Alberta. It's been understandably postponed due to COVID-19. but there are plans to remount in the fall.


Q:  What else are you working on now?

A:  I'm working on a one-woman comedy about the inconvenience of falling in love while preparing for the end of the world. I'm also developing a play about how friendships fall apart because of the way we internalize class and status. I have a few drafts, but it remains mostly a fuzzy-but-urgent-mess in my head. Janelle Monae says, in one of her songs, "everything is just sex, except sex, which is power" and that has something to do with it, too. Oh, and the devil! Working on a creepy, fun show about the devil.


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

A:  This isn't exactly a story, but it's an observation that I think relates to who I am. I was a fairly sensitive, introverted kid and I was always, always drawing. It was something I could obsess over, and pretty quickly I learned that it had enormous social benefits. People would want to be friends with me if I was good at drawing, which was a pretty good reason to keep doing it. I still struggle to relate to people, and sublimate many of my deeper feelings through my writing, which is problematic in some ways, I'm sure, but makes it all the more meaningful when others see something of themselves in the work.

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

A:  I'm gonna cheat and say two things.
1. I want to see more theaters produce more new work by a more diverse array of writers.
2. I want federally-imposed limits on how much Shakespeare is produced. Like, every municipality gets two a year, ideally both in a park.


Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  Tony Kushner is the first name that jumps to mind. Every time I read Angels in America, the play changes, like it's a living thing. It got me invested in what playwriting can do. It's full of big moral arguments, yet at the same time is so achingly human. I still marvel that it exists. I love the work of Lynn Nottage, Tracey Letts, Annie Baker and Judith Thompson. Shout out to my Canadian playwriting heroes who have helped me and inspired me personally: Clem Martini, Sharon Pollock and Daniel MacIvor.


Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  That kind of theater that is not resolved: where the creators are struggling with the essential problems associated with being people and trying to figure it out *in the work*. When you do that, the theater becomes a place of communion and that's when it's most powerful.


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

A:  Two things: write a lot and find your people. Writing is the best teacher, so do it a bunch and then show it to your people. Showing your work to others is a difficult thing to do, and a delicate relationship in the early stages. Find the people who inspire you show them your work. Collaborate. And some very specific advice: do some acting. I'm not an actor, but getting on stage every so often really helps me when I'm writing dialogue.


Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  If you're a New Play Exchange user, you can read my work at https://newplayexchange.org/users/7107/james-odin-wade

Otherwise, see what I'm up to at jamesodinwade.com or on Twitter at @jamesodinwade. I fancy myself funny, but it is a contested claim.

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Mar 19, 2020

I Interview Playwrights Part 1080: Ann Timmons








Ann Timmons


Hometown:Akron, Ohio

Current Town: Brooklyn, NY

Q:  Tell me about your show that was cancelled because of the coronavirus.

A:  It’s My Party! tells the story of the women who fought for the passage of the 19th Amendment, ensuring U.S. women had the right to vote. It tells of the political maneuverings and popular protests that the two major factions, National American Woman Suffrage Association (the old guard) and the National Woman's Party (the upstarts) engaged in. Also their dismissal of the efforts of their black sisters. It deals with broken promises, institutional racism, and pervasive misogyny. It’s a play very much for our time. It’s also a hopeful story about citizen activism. And a celebration of the Suffrage Centennial of 2020. March 21st was to have been my university premiere at Bellarmine University in Louisville. I was able to Zoom in to several rehearsals, and was so impressed with what the cast was doing onstage, and the vision of the director, Megan Burnett. It is heat breaking that they will never hear the audience applaud their terrific work!

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

A:  Theatre is going to change a lot, in the face of our New Normal. Last month I would have said we need more government and corporate support, as an acknowledgment of the importance of arts, story-telling, and the connectional nature of theatre to people everywhere. Now I am thinking that the economic and political leaders of our reshaped world must prioritize all arts. It should be one of the first things they do. Theatre, especially, will provide a healing balm— a place for stressed, weary people to come together in community, to dream of better days ahead, and to find new reserves of imagination and empathy.


Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  Theresa Rebeck and all the founding members of Honor Roll!, an advocacy and action group of women+ playwrights over forty - and their allies - whose goal is inclusion of these playwrights in theater.


Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  Theatre that makes me think is what I like best. And that can take many forms—non-realistic plays; retellings/restagings of well known stories; even “well-made plays” if they have a strong argument. I also love musicals, and keep searching for my own way to convey character, theme, and plot in the same kind of magical shorthand as a good song.


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

A:  Find a writing group that reads your pages aloud. You need to hear them. Get some actor friends together, too. Listen to comments, but learn to separate the ones that involve personal taste from those that ask more craft-related questions. The first you can disregard, but the latter will lead to discoveries. Be steadfast, and be guided by your own inner vision.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  It’s My Party! is scheduled to have its Southwestern Regional Premiere at Echo Theatre in Dallas in September. 

My play Becoming Calvin is available on Amazon.com 

My one-woman show, Off the Wall: The Life and Works of Charlotte Perkins Gilman is available on Stageplays.com

And you can read my other plays on New Play Exchange!

My website:  www.annntimmons.com

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Mar 18, 2020

I Interview Playwrights Part 1079: Kyle Smith





Kyle Smith


Hometown:  I’m originally from a small town in the San Francisco Bay Area called Orinda.

Current Town:  Brooklyn. I’ve been living in NY for the last 11 years. Right now, my whole family is quarantined on one side of the country, and I’m under self-quarantine on the other.

Q:  Tell me about your show that was cancelled because of the coronavirus:

A:  The play is called Unstuck in Time. It was my second full length to ever be fully produced, by five days. I’ve had tons of short plays produced since I started writing, but these two were the first full lengths. The first was called The Part of Me, which was produced at MadLab in Columbus, OH, which they are still figuring out how they want to proceed for the rest of the run; they’re thinking about putting it up on YouTube.

Unstuck in Time follows Billy as he travels his timeline, trying to find a way to save the life of his wife. There’s kind of three threads that you are following in the show: his relationship with his wife in the deep past and how they fell in love (1950s), him processing his grief with his children after his wife has died (1960s-70s), and his present-self trying to find a way to change his past, and save his wife (1992).

The inspiration for it came from the loss of my grandparents, the loss of my uncle in law’s father, a little bit of Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, a bit of the final season of Legion, a bit of Arthur Miller, and a bit of Doctor Who. All these things came together in what is my tenth full length play I’ve ever written, and my second full length produced.

The production was being done by No Frill’s Theatre Collective, a friend’s theatre company in NYC that I’ve worked with the past two seasons of their short play festival. I honestly consider myself very lucky, as I had an opening for both full lengths before we had to shut the doors. So many playwrights didn’t even get that opening and just had to face their shows being cancelled or postponed.

Q:  What else are you working on now?

A:  I just wrote a short play for the Covid-19 bake-off about a guy who breaks into a church looking for supplies, and a janitor who pretends to be a priest. One of the elements in that bake off was “a moment of mass panic” so I thought I’d give my characters a (Catholic) mass to panic during.

I am also working on a screenplay about a 17-year-old girl at a Bible Drill competition. The drive of the screenplay is she’s competing to win this Bible competition and her “error” (if we go by Aristotle) is that she feels like she has to keep performing, doing things, at all times or else she’s a failure, an “error” that I feel strongly myself. I’m just fifteen pages in, but I’m feeling good about it.

For my next full-length play, I’m still working out the details. It is a horror play which plays with sleep paralysis and depression, set on a king-size bed. I had just seen Lucas Hnath’s The Thin Place, and it got me in that horror mood. Still working out the arcs on this one, but if I can scare myself, I’ll consider it a success.

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

A:  Growing up, my family would take me to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. There were a series of traditions that we observed, including an initiation where we would make the new comer drink out of the water fountain in the town square that shot out the worst water anyone’s ever tasted (they might have fixed that by now).

I remember my first play I saw there, there was this sound of a rattlesnake repeated throughout. That sound stuck in my head, and got the gears of my mind working, and eventually I think a guy got fully nude, and I was like “holy shit, you can do this in theatre?” At the time I thought Theatre was “Annie” and “The Sound of Music”, but here was this play, that blew up everything I thought you could do on stage. And I think it was the first time I seriously considered being a writer, because if a play could affect me like that, then maybe I could do the same for someone else.

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

A:  The audience. Too often I go to a play and I’m in an audience full of elderly white people. I saw “Collective Rage: a Play in 5 Betties” a couple years back, and I was laughing uproariously (as one should, that play is one of the funniest I’ve ever seen), and all these older white people were turning around to glare at me. Apparently, Lin Manuel Miranda has had similar experiences, and I’m sure many theatre goers with unique laughs have as well. So much of Theatre is written to be enjoyed by the masses, but because Theatre’s don’t really have a safety net (as I think we’ll see even more during this Covid-19 crisis), they have to jack up the prices and the people who can afford to go are the ones who see going to the theatre as a status symbol. As a writer, I want young people seeing my plays, I want to reach populations who don’t go to plays often. I want Theatre to go back to being for the masses.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  Edward Albee, Simon Stephens, Sarah Kane, Eugene Ionesco, and Martin McDonagh are the big ones. I find myself admiring Arthur Miller more the older I get. He’s got excellent scaffolding holding up his plays and Unstuck in Time has some things I borrowed from him.

Out of newer writers, I enormously admire Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, Halley Feiffer, Noah Haidle, and Jen Silverman. There’s something to be said of having a strong voice, and I feel like I could identify each of these playwrights just by the way they write.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  Theatre that keeps me engaged. Theatre with strong scaffolding that says something or asks a question I had not considered before. Theatre that can make me laugh and cry within minutes of each other.

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

A:  Read plays that excite you, read theatre theory to know how they work, and submit to everything. I jump started my career by trying to amass 100 rejections in a year. In total I got 130 rejections, but over 30 positive responses (semi finalists, finalists, productions, awards, etc.).

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  If you want, you can check out some of my plays at https://newplayexchange.org/users/1696/kyle-smith

Or go to my website at https://Kyleanthonysmith.com

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