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1100 Playwright Interviews

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Jul 7, 2022

I Interview Playwrights Part 1113: Isaac Byrne

Isaac Byrne


Oh, I grew up moving constantly. If you get count all the times I lived with extended family, I think I moved about 21 times by the time I was 18. I was born in Riverton Wyoming, but I grew up mostly in Louisiana and Texas. If I had to pick a “hometown” it would probably be Austin, Texas. Good music, easy vibes, and great breakfast tacos.

Current Town:

I live up in Holmes NY, but I’m in NYC constantly.

Q:  What are you working on now?

A:  Too many things!

I’m in the middle of directing Under the Dragon’s Tail, four short plays written by….me! It’s terrifying and exhilarating to be putting myself out there like this. I’ve been developing new plays for almost 20 years now as a director, but this step feels like skydiving into the abyss. I wrote these plays in Erika Phoebus’ playwriting class (it’s incredible!) as a series of exercises in between working on full length plays. As I worked on each of them, I started to realize I was writing about the grief, loss, and the absolute comic absurdity of the last 4 years of my life. What started as unrelated little scenes grew into these interrelated, funny, and frequently scary examinations of mental health and emotional coping mechanisms in extreme circumstances—both physically and emotionally.

I’m rewriting my first full length play, Outlaw Wedding, which was inspired by my mother’s illegal lesbian wedding in Texas eleven years ago, which had drag queens, Muslims, and some local religious and police interference. That play used to feel like a bit of a period piece, and I’m sad to say it’s starting to feel unsettlingly timely again.

I’m also finishing up the first draft of a wild fever dream comedy about a group of actors trying to rehearse Miss Julie and Doll’s House over and over again—Think a satirical 15 Minute Hamlet/Noises Off that explodes into a haunted house of misogyny, revenge, and buried ghosts.

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 7 years old, I convinced a group of would be bullies to leave me alone because “I knew karate!” I scared them off, and they left me alone. I didn’t know karate, but I had watched Karate Kid a lot. I guess I was pretty convincing. They were the tough older kids, and they harassed everyone in the neighborhood. But they left me alone after that. That was when I realized that sometimes a make believe story could save your life.

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

A:  Oh, so many things should be changed. Stop making artists jump through so many hoops just to work. Someone who writes a great artist statement, isn’t necessarily the best playwright. Look past the “best schools” and look at the actual artist. I’m so sick of classist gatekeeping. I guess that’s the main thing for me. I didn’t come from a well to do family. I didn’t go to an Ivy League school. There’s a lot of long overdue upheaval and shift today towards a more diverse group of theatre artists, and I am all for it. But I still don’t see economic class being part of that change. We need to shift how theatre gets made, and make sure it’s not just a new different looking group of trust fund kids that get to make theatre.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  I love Lanford Wilson and Marshall Mason. I got to meet both of them. 16 years ago, I stood outside of Phebe’s with Lanford and talked theatre with him for hours one night while he bummed cigarettes off of me and told stories about Cafe Cino. It was amazing. Right now, Jackie Sibblies Drury is writing on another level. Every play she writes blows my mind a little. I love Anne Washburn’s weird strange plays, they’re so deeply satisfyingly…unsatisfying. I love them.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  Risky theater is what I love. When the audience starts to look around at each other with wide eyes and a real sense of danger in their body. Whether if it’s because something is emotionally dangerous or because there’s a new wild idea happening in front of us that disrupts what we think we know.

When a play feels like it’s dangerously close to careening off the rails, that’s when I fall in love with it.

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

A:  Write the thing that scares you. The scene that you write that you think will embarrass you and make everyone hate your play? That’s where the good stuff is. Write the thing that you’re scared will ruin your play. It’s where you’ll find the real heart of it. And if no one is producing your work, produce it yourself. Find a way. Don’t let other people decide your career for you.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  Under the Dragon’s Tail opens at the Matthew Corozine Studio Theatre July 20th and runs till August 14th.

Snakes, mythological heroes, cosmonauts, self help, and philosophy collide and hijinks ensue!

You can find out more about it here at www.theatre4thepeople.org

Or just buy tickets here!


Also take Erika Phoebus’ writing workshops!

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