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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...

Jun 28, 2019

Bold Theatre In The Big Easy


Nisa East created this really cool documentary about the NOLA project for the American Theatre Wing.  It takes place while they were rehearsing and premiering my play Stockholm Syndrome which they also commissioned from me.  Take a look.  Scrappy theater at its best. 


In the Field: Bold Theatre in the Big Easy from American Theatre Wing on Vimeo.

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I Interview Playwrights Part 1055: Aaron Ricciardi




Aaron Ricciardi

Hometown:  Coral Springs, Florida.

Current Town:  New York City

Q:  What are you working on now?

A:  I just finished my MFA in Playwriting at Indiana University, where I studied under Peter Gil-Sheridan, so one thing I’m working on right now is adjusting to being out of school again! I’m currently writing a play for young people to see and/or do, called Hanukkah Harriet. It’s a commission from the Jewish Theatre of Bloomington. I’m about to do a rewrite of my play Only Child, and I’ve been working for a while on a new musical based on a German novel from the 1930s. I also have a few ideas for new plays that I want to start working on this summer. I plan on working on a new play during my Core Apprenticeship at the Playwrights’ Center in Minneapolis, which starts in July.

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 eight, I saw the national tour of Chicago at the Jackie Gleason Theater in Miami with my mom. Velma Kelly was played by Jasmine Guy, who I knew from TV, and Billy Flynn was played by Obba Babatunde, who I knew from the movie That Thing You Do!, and sitting in front of us was some woman who was an anchor on the ten o’clock news. I felt like that theater that night was the coolest place anyone could ever find themselves. During the car ride home, I basically sang every song and recited every line—I remembered every word of the show. I particularly liked a line that Velma said to Roxie in the first act about being “shit out of luck.” That night hooked me on theatre. And I’m still that kid, knowing all the words to things, geeking out on celebrities’ credits, feeling so cool for loving something so dorky.

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

A:  I would make ticket prices cheaper, the way they are in other countries, where theatre is subsidized by the government.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  In alphabetical order: Howard Ashman, Annie Baker, J.M. Barrie, Marc Blitzstein, Bertolt Brecht, Mario Cantone, Caryl Churchill, William Finn, Maria Irene Fornes, Steven Hoggett, Larry Kramer, Lisa Kron, Tony Kushner, Steven Lutvak, Taylor Mac, Joseph Papp, Suzan-Lori Parks, Bernadette Peters, Sarah Ruhl, Laura Schellhardt, Neil Simon, Anna Deavere Smith, Stephen Sondheim, Nilaja Sun, Elizabeth Swados, Jeanine Tesori, Paula Vogel, Wendy Wasserstein, Thornton Wilder, Tennessee Williams, George C. Wolfe.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  Theater that’s shocking. Theater that’s true. Theater that’s complex. Theater that’s political. Theater that’s spectacular. Theater that’s wildly funny. Theater that makes use of its liveness. Theater that uses or manipulates style in a fun way. Theater that honors what came before it. Theater that manages to check all of the above boxes while also being able to speak to an audience beyond the typical progressive, intellectual theatergoer? That’s what really gets me going. Sometimes I feel like theater people are in a perpetual circle of making theater for other theater people, and I think we should reach for more than that.

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

A:  Do your work, and educate yourself about the profession—how it works, who’s involved, what kind of theatre is happening now, what kind of theatre came before what’s happening now. But, first, do your work. Suzan-Lori Parks has this great quote about how she only gives two prompts to herself and her students: “A) Write. B) Rewrite. These work well.”

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  I will be one of three Core Apprentices at the Playwrights’ Center for their 2019-2020 season. Next June at the Playwrights’ Center in Minneapolis, there will be a weeklong workshop and reading of a new play by me.

Hanukkah Harriet will be produced in Bloomington, Indiana, by STAGES Bloomington, this December.
 
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Jun 27, 2019

I Interview Playwrights Part 1054: Tana Sirois and Maria Swisher


                     



Tana Sirois and Maria Swisher

Hometown:

Tana is from Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and Maria is from Marshall, Missouri. We met in Liverpool, England while studying at The Liverpool Institute For Performing Arts. We founded Dirt [contained] Theatre Company in 2010.

Current Town: New York City

Q:  What are you working on now?

A:  We are in the process of producing a semi-autobiographical original play called “Crushing Baby Animals”. We decided to write this play after realizing we had been having the same recurring nightmare where we attempt to save a large number of baby animals from a tornado, but in the process, we drop them and stomp on them as we run, crushing them all. In our semi-autobiographical science fiction play, our shared dream opens up a wormhole that sucks us through space into a timeless ether, where we meet our antagonistic dopplegangers, who force us to confront our egoic identities. The play blends physical theatre, multimedia, improvisation and a healthy dose of humor for a unique artistic experience.

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

A:  Tana- I spent a large part of my childhood playing out elaborate stories that generally resulted in me tearing through the woods, throwing myself in lakes, crawling through caves and climbing massive trees. These games would go on for hours and hours, and I would come home at the end of the day covered in dirt and cuts and bruises. The funny thing is, when I wasn’t playing like that I was a very, very serious kid. Everything always held a lot of weight for me. It’s probably because I took things so seriously, that I have always craved that creative release. I want to make work that reflects those two sides of myself. The imaginative, impulsive, fearless, dirty child, and the contemplative kid who was extremely concerned with the problems of the world. That juxtaposition is certainly reflected in “Crushing Baby Animals”.

Maria- Speaking of Crushing Baby Animals, here’s one that makes an appearance in the play we just wrote: I don’t know if it was being the daughter of a minister, or some innate obsession with ritual and nature and death, but I remember doing worm funerals on the playground at school as a kid. I never got a great deal of involvement from my peers, but there was usually one or two misfits who would join in with me as we marched through a choreographed routine. (I carried the crunchy worm carcass, because to be honest they were pretty cool.) It was a play I suppose, before I ever started doing plays, one about the things I’m still interested in: nature, mystery, and the cycles of life and death.

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

A:  Maria- My answer is more about our economic system I guess. This is not just about theatre, it’s about well being, livelihood and the future of work. I wonder all the time about what would happen if people were truly enabled to find work that they are passionate about that and could support themselves in whatever field that might be, from free good quality education and healthcare on up. I want artists to have the support they need to make experimental work that is meaningful and gives back to society. And I want people to feel healthy, happy and fulfilled in whatever work they choose.

Tana- I wish it was more affordable to make theatre and to see theatre. The hustle necessary to make your own work and support yourself is extremely challenging. It always feels worth it, in the end, but it does require a good amount of sacrifice. I’ve seen how live art inspires and moves people in a very powerful way. I want to reach a wide, diverse audience with my work. I want theatre to be accessible.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  Maria- Robert Wilson, Anne Bogart, Peter Brook, Augusto Boal.

Tana- Frantic Assembly, Slung Low Theatre Company, Augusto Boal.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  Maria- I like work that surprises me and stimulates something inside me that I don’t understand. At first it is the attraction, the feeling, like that first moment meeting someone you have an instant chemical attraction with. Then I have to go away and think on it to figure out why I feel the way I do and understand it on multiple levels. If that also coincides with an important message or realization, and if it makes me laugh, that’s the holy trifecta.

Tana- I’ve always felt drawn to satire because I think comedy is a great way to speak truth. Recently, I’ve been very attracted to work that incorporates multiple theatrical genres. All of my favorite work deals with what I consider to be incredibly important topics, while incorporating a lightness and sense of play.

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

A:  Tana- Trust your ideas. Most of what you write won’t end up in the final work, but exploring all of your ideas (even if they seem crazy or impossible), and embracing that confusing, beautiful artistic journey will help you get to where you need to be to tell the story you want to tell. Collaboration is huge for me. I get very little enjoyment out of sitting in a room and writing on my own, but exploring ideas with other creatives lights me on fire.

Maria- Write from yourself. That doesn’t mean that you can only write stories where you are the protagonist (like we are for this play!) but don’t question too much whether people want to know what comes from you. This body, this one unique experience you are having is your only tool to connect to the rest of the world, so it’s a very good place to start. Make yourself write, like it’s a job, giving yourself time to not be an editor. Write in ways that aren’t just sitting in front of your computer. Stand up, talk to yourself, improvise. Find someone to share your work with, whether that is a partner, or a group of other artists, or if you’re very lucky like me...your Doppleganger.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  www.dirtcontained.com, Instagram: @dirtcontained Twitter: @dirtcontained Facebook: @dirtcontained Upcoming Performance of “Crushing Baby Animals” will premiere at The Plaxall Gallery in Long Island City (5-25 46th Ave)

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Jun 26, 2019

I Interview Playwrights Part 1053: Matthew Amendt





Matthew Amendt

Hometown: Indiana, PA.

Current Town: Brooklyn, NY

Q:  What are you working on now?

A:  A new play called THE COMEDIAN'S TRAGEDY running at the Access Theater until July 6th, an 11 actor supernatural story about Ancient Athens crashing into our time, and what, if anything, we should do with the past as it relates to our future. It's filled with love, sex, violence, comedy, grief, and a deep sense of loss and cynicism among the characters as they try to fix their world.

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

A:  That's a tough one? I suppose I'd say that I was a sick kid for awhile, in body and spirit, dealing with some health issues and a lot of death and general sadness in the adults around me. One of them handed over a book of Greek Myths, probably hoping to shut me up for a few hours, and it changed my life. It taught me that the broken places are the parts that make you human, that bad things happening to good people is, on some level, our birthright. Those heroines and heroes seemed to be saying that we all must suffer alone, but we can be alone together, if that makes any sense?

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

A:  Our obsession with buildings and institutions rather than artists and stories.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  A lot of Brits, strangely, maybe because it seems that subsidized art allows for some wackier stuff to go mainstream. People like Jez Butterworth, Sarah Kane, Mark Rylance, Stoppard. Of course the big titans of American Drama-- Lorraine Hansberry, August Wilson, Kushner, Miller, Williams, O'Neill.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  Earnest plays, even when they're hopeless. Metaphor rather than allegory.

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

A:  Make work for people to see. The workshop system doesn't make any sense; the dramatic form is about sharing your work with actors, then with an audience. If your goal is to get published, you might want to write a novel. Find your people and tell stories with them. Listen to people who are willing to collaborate with you; they know the characters better than you do almost immediately, and the best playwrights always write for actors they adore.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  Come see our show! THE COMEDIAN'S TRAGEDY, running at the Access until July 6th. It's a rare thing, 11 actors in a downtown theater telling a punked out new story inspired by an old, old world, with some truly amazing performers: Ron Menzel, Tony nominated Derek Smith, Sarah Baskin, Anna Sundberg, Gary Lowery, and many more, directed by Bill McCallum. thecomedianstragedy.com

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Jun 25, 2019

I Interview Playwrights Part 1052: Krista Eyler and Barb Nichols





Krista Eyler (Left): Music & Lyrics, Co-book writer. Barb Nichols (right): Co-book writer.


Hometowns:
Barb Nichols- St. Louis, MO
Krista Eyler-Overland Park, KS

Current Town:
Both of us: Kansas City

Q:  What are you working on now?

A:  BARB:  Currently directing Peter Pan for the White Theatre at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City

KRISTA:  Just closed a show, "Morning's At Seven," for Kansas City Actors Theatre as an actress, and am working NON-STOP on Overture the Musical to be presented at NYMF. We are also about to start writing our next musical--Title to be announced at a later date!

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

A:  BARB:  As someone who loves to direct, perform & attend theatre I will share that music and musicals (both movies & live) were a big part of my upbringing. Both my parents loved music and were always playing albums and soundtracks. It was a BIG deal when my Mom would get us tickets to go to the Muny opera in the summer and I still have the fondest memories of seeing Margaret Hamilton play the Wicked Witch in 'The Wizard of Oz', Carol Burnett & Rock Hudson perform in 'I Do, I Do' and Tommy Tune sing & dance in 'Seesaw'. That exposure set a passion that continues.

KRISTA:  I was the kid who sat in her room picking out melodies on a guitar for hours on end listening to '60s rock n' roll, Motown, late '80s hip-hop, New Orleans second line rhythms, and always SHOW TUNES. I am a singer first, writer second, so my voice always gravitated toward singers with soul (Aretha Franklin, Mavis Staples, Mahalia Jackson, Whitney Houston, Barbra Streisand, Judy Garland). I hear them in my head as a I write, and writing came about for me organically. I always had a tune running around in my noggin and eventually started playing them on piano. I like to write in all genres and styles because of the eclectic mix of music I always listened to growing up.

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

A:  BARB: It would be less expensive for audiences to attend and dirty, rotten scalpers would not be able to get their hands on tickets and resell them at ridiculous profits of which the actors, musicians, crew never see a dime.

KRISTA: I concur with Barb on the above! Also, for there to be more roles written in contemporary theatre for legit singers, and not just in revivals. Sopranos and head voice singers have to have some place to go!

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes? 
 
A:  BARB:Stephen Sondheim, Carol Burnett, Diane Paulus, Julie Taymor

KRISTA: Julie Andrews, hands down. Bernadette Peters is a close second. Audra's voice is, by itself, a hero.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you? 

BARB: I'm a sucker for big, fun production numbers but, most appealing are the quiet, honest moments on stage. Finding creative ways to tell stories and connect with an audience is the best theatre. Creating something that is for the moment and has the potential to be slightly different each time.

KRISTA: Big, theatrical dance numbers that have some key change modulation in the middle. Especially tap! I guess, in general, moments on stage which make me feel something extraordinary--tears, anger, empathy. Those moments are my favorites.

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

 BARB: Gosh, I leave this to you Krista...I'd say have a clear vision, be passionate about the story your telling, be open to changes and criticism (both positive & constructive)

KRISTA: Find someone to read your work who will tell you the truth about it--the good and the bad. You can find lots of folks to praise your work, but few will be brave enough to tell you the truth about it. Barb is a great truthteller for me. She is kind and direct. Be open to edits, but follow your own compass.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A: Plugs about 'Overture' or about ourselves?? 

BARB: Just go with "has worked extensively as a director & performer in Kansas City the past 25 years."

KRISTA: Overture just won the Anna Sosenko Trust Assist Award. We were a top ten Grand Jury Selection for NYMF.

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Jun 24, 2019

I Interview Playwrights Part 1051: Cayenne Douglass




Cayenne Douglass

Hometown:  New York City! A rare breed of Native New Yorker!

Current Town:  Back for the summer but living in Boston September-May. I’m currently at Boston University getting my MFA in Playwriting.

Q:  Tell me about your play in the EST Marathon, Oh My, Goodness.

A:  A woman calls a suicide hotline and gets the wrong number… it’s about interconnectivity and how one small act of kindness – or ‘goodness’ can change someone’s course.

Q:  What else are you working on now?

A:  So many things! There’s a play about biracial identity which also deals with deportation (my father was deported back to Trinidad in 2008 under the Bush administration) - this is my most autobiographical play, there’s also a play about Girl Scouts with a chorus and rap music. I just finished the first draft of a play called Reborns that I developed with Kirsten Greenidge that I’m really excited about. Reborns centers around women who collect silicone baby dolls that look exactly like real babies – if you Google ‘reborns’ you’ll see! People’s first reaction is usually “that’s creepy” but that’s not my interpretation, I try to see the humanity in it. People are odd, they have all sorts of attachments and coping mechanisms. The play is asking how we attribute meaning to inanimate objects and in doing so does that change their inherent value. It also deals with issues of loss and how we tend to gravitate towards less complicated relationships.

I’m also working with director, Daniella Caggiano on the book for a musical called Brewsters about beer brewing women in 15th century England and how their image got tied to our modern-day understanding of the witch archetype. I developed early drafts of this piece through The First Stage Residency at The Drama League and The Emerging Artist Residency at Tofte Lake in 2018. I also just got a travel grant through BU to go to England next summer to do further research!

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 used to want to be “a naked doctor when I grow up”! I think I’m still that in a way. Exposing my own vulnerability through writing in order to foster wellness in a world that can sometimes feel lonely and alienating.

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

A:  I see a trend in theatre to write issue plays, plays that are extremely meta, or have a great deal of self-commentary. Don’t get me wrong, there are aspects of this kind of theatre that I think are important and that I find exciting but often it turns into the playwright talking “AT” the audience rather than letting an audience grapple with the issue on their own. I don’t think theatre should dictate or pontificate. If characters are well drawn and complex, they will have issues inherent to living in this world. We can still examine the same topics but through character and we can actually go deeper because there’s more access for empathy. I want the medium to be warmer and to have more humanity through a social lens.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  I’m a lover of language so Tennessee Williams and Shakespeare rank high. More contemporarily speaking, I love Susan Lori Parks, Martyna Majok, Paula Vogel, David Auburn, Celine Song, Annie Baker, Melinda Lopez, Leah Nanako Winkler, Peter Gil Sheridan… I could go on. I’m inspired by so many different sources because everyone brings something so unique to the table. Anyone that can make me hear language in a new way and make me feel the play from the inside out. I most recently saw Plano and was really taken with the way Will Arbery used language in connection to the passage of time.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  Good dialogue with odd characters that don’t behave the way you expect them to. I also get really excited when reintegration of themes and symbols seamlessly weave themselves through a play and pop up in a way that’s surprising; and always theatre that has an element of spectacle!

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

A:  This question made me laugh! I’m just starting out myself! My first production was less than three years ago and that was a self-produced 10 min play! That said I’ll share how I’ve been able to make fast strides. Start small, celebrate the baby steps, and put up work even when it’s not perfect – I believe that the play only gets better in the rehearsal room. That’s what I did. I wrote 10-minute plays, self-produced at small festivals and used that momentum to move forward. If you can get into play development labs that have a production component that’s always a win. Just start doing it, read a lot, support your friends work and they’ll support you. Get bodies in the room to hear it read out loud as much as possible. I also think it’s good to be realistic about what you’re applying to. Look at people just ahead of you in their careers and see what they are doing then look up those opportunities and apply to those if they are applicable to your work rather than throw yourself into a pool of applicants where you aren’t going to be seriously considered. Be realistic but aim high. Chart your career for the long haul rather than wanting or expecting things to happen fast. Live life outside of theatre and listen to people and stories unlike yourself.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  I just found out that my play Maiden Voyage has been chosen for a production for Fresh Ink Theatre’s 2019-2020 season in Boston. This is my first full length production! Maiden Voyage charts the first all-female crew aboard a US Submarine and explores gender politics and how the mimicry of maleness affects the women’s ability to carry out this patrol. It’s playing May 1st -May 16th at Boston Center for the Arts. I’ll probably also do a reading in New York January 2020 of a new play TBD. If you want to stay in the loop please visit my website at www.cayennedouglass.com or follow my IG at: bruteful_theatre


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