In this week’s Spotlight on the Playwright focuses on Peter Sinn Nachtrieb, author of Hunter Gathers, which was developed on the 2005 BAPF, and went on to win the Glickman Award and Steinberg National Theatre Critics Awards for it’s Bay Area world premiere with Killing My Lobster. He is currently a member of PF’s new Resident Playwright Initiative and will soon be teaching a class on Funny Theatre in PF’s New Play Institute. At this moment, Peter is in New York opening the world premiere of boom at Ars Nova, developed in PF’s In The Rough Reading Series last year.
We decided to ask Peter about his success and his experience as a playwright in the Bay Area and New York. Here’s what he shared with us:
PN: It's been exhiliarting, a little surreal at times, and I'm thrilled to be emerging. (I think all playwrights are considered emerging until they are in their 50s). I am so proud of the success of Hunter Gatherers and I am somewhat relieved that my next play (boom) has been well received and I'm not just a one trick pony. For me, I really do hope that every new play I write challenges me and my writing craft in some way. Whatever play I'm working on has got to be stimulating, somehow unique and riskilly challenging (terrible english, I'm sorry) for me to be willing to spend the next twenty four months of my life shaping it, loving it, hating it, and trying to make it something people want to mount and/or watch. I hope the personal challenges I set continue to be the most important thing with regards to the work I'm doing as opposed to thinking whether or
not it will be "successful."
But, I do feel a sense of pressure and expectation that I hadn't felt before. Unlike before, I am actively working on more than one project at a time (3 right now, all at different stages) I have to write 5-6 days a week (not 8 hours a day, mind you. My brain is usually creatively cooked after 3. Especially when writing a first draft) A lot of the new pieces I'm writing are for a particular theater company and results are expected at a certain time. Deadlines and accountability are a good thing for me and my motivation. Also, since (at least for the last 14 months) writing (along with acting) has been my primary source of income playwriting has, in a good way, felt a bit more like it's my job. It's the job I absolutely passionately love, but now I have to do it on the days where I'm not necessarily feelin the love.
PF: What does it mean for you to be a Bay Area Playwright? What are the advantages or disadvantages to being here as opposed to New York or LA?
PN: I love San Francisco and the Bay Area! I love the theater community we have here which is so passionately devoted to new work. I love that we have theater companies with national prominence, and theater companies with grassroots "only in the Bay Area" attitudes and many in between. I love that theater companies talk to each other in the Bay Area. There is a spirit of collaboration, that we're all in this together. There is a lot of energy and self motivation in the Bay Area, a lot of talented and very smart people, and it feels like a safe place to develop bold fun new shit.
The Bay Area's advantages are also its disadvantages. The challenge as a writer is how to be able to reach out beyond our local ecology and make inroads into others. This has been a gradual and long term process for me. Email is helpful. But so does travel, and meeting people face to face.
I don't think being a playwright in New York is necessarily easier, except that when you do get produced there, you don't have to find a sublet. And you do get to meet everyone face to face and get drunk and/or sleep with them, but you are also feeling more financial and competitive pressure. Being a playwright in LA sounds pretty great if you are interested in working on television. TV is the place where writers are king, and playwrights are making television awesome.
PF: How have your experiences studying playwrighting, both as an undergrad at Brown and in grad school at SF State influenced your work?
PN: I studied theater at Brown and was acting, directing and writing. I find that my skills as a performer and director play important roles in my writing of a play. Undergrad is where I learned the brunt of my theater vocabulary that I use. Grad school at SF State was great for me to transition from being a more "jack of all trades" to focusing more exclusively on writing. I found the classes and teachers to be mind expanding and challenging. My decision to go back to school was my decision of career and it was a wonderful way to launch that.
PF: Who are the playwrights whose work most excites you right now?
PN: Well I really loved Tracy Letts' August: Osage County that I just saw here in NYC. It was exciting, engaging, thoughtful and fun! In their discussion of the play on the NY Times, Frank Rich (i think) celebrated the play's simultaneous feeling of "high" and "low,"(brow) and how that collision is a particular American form. I think that's an aesthetic I really really gravitate towards. I also saw this awesome musical version of The Adding Machine out here which was so bleak and hopeless that it was oddly touching and funny.
PF: You're about to teach a class for PF's New Play Institute focusing on funny theatre. What would you say has been your biggest challenge when writing comedy?
PN: Cutting funny lines because they don't work in the flow of the play. That really hurts.
PF: What's next up for you?
PN: I'm in New York right now for previews and opening of boom at Ars Nova, a wonderful theater that is devoted to the work of emerging artists. They are doing a delightful and careful job. I'm thrilled. Then I got a play for Encore Theatre called T.I.C. that I just had my first reading of at Marin Theatre Company. I have another commission beyond that with South Coast Rep, am continuing to tweak Hunter Gatherers, and I'm getting ready for the class at Playwrights Foundation, which I hope will be a fun exploratory and invigorating several weeks.