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1100 Playwright Interviews

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Nov 11, 2011

I Interview Playwrights Part 402: Hilary Bettis

Hilary Bettis

Hometown:  I've lived in seven different states so I never know how to answer this one. I suppose I can list them alphabetically:

California, Colorado, Georgia, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina

The older I get, the more grateful I am to have lived in so many different places. They've all showed me such different perspectives of humanity in ways that forced me to question my own assumptions and prejudices at a young age.

Current Town:  Brooklyn, NY- Bushwick to be exact

Q:  Tell me about ALLIGATOR.

A:   I love dirty, grungy rock clubs. In another life I would totally be a musician! I wanted to take the raw, visceral energy of that world and mesh it with a story. Two and a half years later, and with the help of some amazing artists and organizations (Morgan Gould, an amazing and dedicated actors, New Georges, The Lark, EST, New River Dramatists, Carolina Coastal University, Great Plains Theatre Conference) I have a play. I'm currently working with an awesome indie rock musician on an original score. Below is a synopsis:

Emerald and her twin brother, Ty, are orphaned teenagers living in the backwoods of the Florida Everglades. For as long as they’ve been alive, they’ve made money by wrestling ‘gators in a roadside attraction, but their sideshow days are close to an end when a doe-eyed runaway, Lucy, shows up on their porch.

Ty is immediately weary of the stranger. With promises of unlimited whiskey, Emerald’s only weakness, Lucy burrows her way into the lives of the twins and the lives of the town. As Lucy’s desperation to win Emerald over intensifies, she will do whatever it takes to please her…even if it leads to murder. The only hope left rests on Emerald who must ultimately face the demon that haunts her every waking moment.

ALLIGATOR is a play that weaves together realism and surrealism, rock music and Seminole legends, sex and enemies, blood and whiskey, hope and murder. It is a play that asks the question: How do we truly love one another in the face of our deepest, darkest monsters?

Q:  What are you working on now?

A:  DAKOTA ATOLL is a full-length play commissioned by EST/Alfred P. Sloan foundation. The play is a 1960s Western set on a cattle ranch near the Badlands during the Cuban Missile Crisis. It's full of cowboys, gunfights, horses, and a mysterious Lakota woman. But the play is really about honor and integrity in an increasingly modern and apathetic world.

I'm working on another full-length play commissioned by Carol Ostrow Productions

I'm also working on a feature film with some lovely producers- Mara Kassin and Christina Brucato.

In my free time, I've been learning violin for about two years. I really love it! It's sort of the perfect thing to do when I have writer's block and need to walk away from a scene.

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

A:  Everyone's childhood is hard and cruel and amazing and profound. No one wants to hear about my childhood any more than they want to watch paint dry. I think that borders on self-indulgence.

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

A: I'd love to see theater as a whole take more risks on unknown artists or unusual productions. I think audiences are hungry for diversity, and if theater is going to entice younger generations it has to evolve with a world bombarded with instant entertainment at every turn. This isn't to say that theater should be superficial or commercial for the sake of entertainment, but it should find new ways to stay relevant while giving audiences depth and new perspectives of humanity.

Q: Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  Chekhov, Shepard, Albee, Wasserstien, Pinter, Shakespeare, Odets, Inge, Wilder, Sarah Kane, Paula Vogel, Caryl Chruchill, Martin McDonagh and on and on...

Hitchcock, Kurosawa, Kubrick, Scorsese, Coen Brothers, Tarantino, Taymor, Jane Campion, Cormac McCarthy, Larry McMurtry, Murakami, Virginia Woolf, Maya Angelou, Joan Miro (while not technically theater, their work has greatly influenced my style of playwriting.)

And I've been blessed with some wonderful mentors: Romulus Linney, Gene Frankel, Adam Hirsch, Meir Ribalow, Jan Buttram, Susan Bernfield, James McLure, My Parents

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  Something that hits me in the gut. Something that shows me the world from a new perspective. Something that lingers with me long after the production.

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

A:  "The first draft of anything is shit." Ernest Hemingway

I always remind myself of this quote because it gives me permission to throw caution to the wind and let my instincts run wild. You can always cut, change, rewrite, or burn anything later. But you never really know what is brewing in your guts until you let go of the steering wheel.

Q:  Anything else you want to share?

A:  My other life passion is horses. I've been riding my entire life- everything from barrel racing to hunters and jumpers- and I am a certified trainer. One of my first jobs was working as a riding instructor for disabled children. It was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. Someday I want to move back to Colorado and have a big ranch full of horses and rescue animals, compete in a few local shows, and give riding lessons. There is no better smell in the world than a barn!

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  ALLIGATOR will be developed at the O'Neill National Playwrights Conference this summer.

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