When did you first become interested in writing?
I became interested in writing for the stage when I got a job working for a touring sketch comedy troupe in Connecticut called The Second Step Players. There were three of us who worked full-time for the theater company. I was hired as the technical director because I had a background in stage management and stage design. But because we were small, everybody had to do a little of everything. To write the comedy we brainstormed ideas and then divvied up the narratives and wrote. Then we read them together and would pitch joke ideas. That started my interest, because it was my job.
What was the first play that you ever saw/read, and what, if anything, do you remember about it?
My first full-fledged-play-going experience was a community theater production of SHOWBOAT by the Pfizer Players performed at New London High School. I was eight years old and I went because my father had a pair of tickets and my mother had the flu. My father wore a yellow blazer with steamships printed on the lining, which is a weird thing to remember so vividly, but there it is. I remember the size of the cast, how bright the costumes were, and I was very impressed when the ship actually appeared from stage left and docked. I also remember the song WE COULD MAKEBELIEVE and thought that it was beautiful. What a painful love story. The scene where Gay pricks Julie’s finger and drinks a drop of her blood so that he’ll have her blood in him has stayed with me.
Where do you derive most of your inspiration?
Inspiration is everywhere, which is why I always try to have a pad and pen with me.
What effect does your background (hometown, friends, family, childhood) have on your playwriting?
I still live near the place where I grew up, so it is the place where I make theater. I’m very community based, and I’m committed to bringing the world of the community and the world of the professional theater in the area into the same room together.
What is your favorite play that is not your own? Why? Who is your favorite playwright?
I find it much easier to have a favorite movie than a favorite play. maybe that’s because you can have a terrible production of a great play, or an inspired production of less than thrilling material.
For stunning beauty on the page, I love A MOON FOR THE MISBEGOTTEN – it is haunting to me – perhaps in part because I’ve been to O’Neill’s boyhood home so many times and feel a kinship, and understand the landscape and the people that he’s describing so well in that play.
I cry everytime I see WEST SIDE STORY. It was also one of the first plays that I ever read alongside ROMEO AND JULIET in a flip edition I had of the plays when I was 13.
As for playwrights, Thornton Wilder is one of my great inspirations. Both OUR TOWN and THE SKIN OF OUR TEETH are brilliant plays on the page and have inspired striking productions when I’ve seen them performed.
What are you currently studying at Brown? Do you plan on applying this to your writing in any way?
I am an Ancient Studies concentrator at Brown, which is a cross-departmental course of study that operates under the umbrella of the Classics department. My focus is on ancient performance styles, including plays, epic poetry, and music of Greco-Roman and Indian Sanskrit traditions. I guess I’ll have to see what effect it has on my playwriting. It has already had a profound effect on my play-reading skills.
How do you develop the ideas behind each play? Do you sit and wait for them to come to you? Do you just write ideas down when they hit you? or do you inspiration from life experiences?
All of the above. Sometimes the idea comes fast and complete so I sit and write it. Some ideas take years to find all of the pieces.
Do you write plays to satisfy your own need to write? To please your audience? To persuade critical thinking? To get published? To win awards?
I write what I would like to see, or what I would like to perform. Sometimes I write specifically for actors I love. Then we get to work together on it. I write because I want to watch actors have something fun and compelling to work on, and I want a director who loves solving he problem to figure it out and make things happen in ways that I never imagined. I want my play to inspire create people to have to act them.
What has been the highlight of your career?
It was actually a very small thing – but when I was on a playwright retreat as part of my fellowship from Ensemble Studio Theater at their workshop space in the Catskills the director of the company Kurt Dempster (who has since passed away) came up from the city to visit with us. He wanted to meet with us and run some of the workshop. When he got there it was lunch time and the group of five playwrights was seated at a table. Kurt came by with his tray and said, “Here’s the playwrights,” and sat down with us. I dug the fact that I was at the table with the “playwrights” at that center. That was pretty cool.
Who has been your biggest influence? not only in writing, but in life.
The Dalai Lama as a public and spiritual figure. As far as someone from my life, my fifth grade teacher Mr. Pier who taught me the rules of sportsmanship and love of the underdog.
What do all good plays have in common?
Enthusiasm and great passion.
Do you have a preferable work environment? Do you feel more comfortable
writing at home? outdoors? Shut off from distractions, etc.?
I can write just about anywhere.
How would you define creativity? Are you born with it or is it something that one developes over time and how?
Growing up I was a visual artist. I majored in art in high school, and it was going to be my career, until I got diverted by theater (where I began as an actor). Because I’ve been in the “artist” category from the age of six, creativity was always expected and was cultivated by my parents and by my teachers. What I had as a young person was a lot of talent. I could draw, paint, write, sing, act – just about anything in the arts field came naturally for me. What I lacked was understanding how to really make things happen beyond what was easy. That took many years and lots of trial and error mixed with failure. Creativity is easy. Turning it into something substantial and satisfying is what takes skill and discipline.
What do you still want to achieve as a playwright? Once you do will you continue to write?
I’m what is categorized as an “emerging playwright” – so I still have a long way to go with playwriting as a career. What I want to achieve is creating a theater company in my hometown that workshops new plays – mine and the work of local colleagues. I want to make sure I get a chance to see my plays. After that, if other places do them great, if they don’t – then “oh well”. I want to do the work for myself. Everything else is cool if it happens, but not essential.
What advice would you give beginning playwrights?
Read plays, go to plays. Find an up and coming playwright or two like yourself whose plays you really dig and be their champion. Champion the work of others because it’ll raise you up with it. Love what you do, make things that you love.