Friday, April 11, 2008

Interview with Brian Thorstenson

Brian Thorstenson (ITR 2006, BAPF 2003, 2000) unveils his latest work, In the Deep, Not so Deep, in PF’s In The Rough Reading Series.  His reading will travel to Stanford University on Monday April 14th and will play at ACT’s Zeum the following day, Tuesday April 15th at 7:00pm.  Take advantage of this opportunity to see an intriguing playwright’s first stab at a promising new play.

Read More About Brian's Reading in ITR

Return to Playwrights Foundation

To give you a sneak peak at the play before it’s reading, we interviewed Brian briefly about his new work:

PF:  Please talk a little bit about the origins of this play.  Did it have a particular inspiration? What did it grow out of?

BT:  In the Deep started from a collecting of characters. I met a travel writer who told me she thought people shouldn't travel, saw an ad in a newspaper for an intuitive consultant advertising every conceivable new age technique, heard a story from a teacher about a twenty something girl who did a speech in class about how much she hated Michael Moore and didn't want to ever ever be labeled a feminist. They all started to feel like they could inhabit the same world and so I started throwing them together in different configurations.  And I've been wanting to write a comedy and these characters made me laugh.


PF:  You've done a collaboration with the Stephen Pelton Dance Theatre. What was it like to mix the medium of dance and theatre?

BT:  Stephen and I are currently working on a second collaboration and I feel like I'm still figuring out the answer to this question, that it is the question we are constantly working through in the studio. One of the differences with this form is deciding which element is carrying the narrative. Do we want to tell this part of the story with text? or with movement? or with music? or some combination? It's a constant, and fascinating, process of balancing all of the pieces. I often feel like the writing I do with Stephen is much more skeletal, that is carries more porous ness. At first that seemed like a bad thing but I'm discovering that I can bring in a fragment of a scene (and I work much more with fragments in this kind of work) and Stephen will layer in some movement and the scene comes to life.


PF:  You wrote a radio play, adapted from Sinclair Lewis's It Can't Happen Here. How was it to adapt a play instead of writing it from scratch?

BT:  It Can't Happen Here was a particular adaptation experience. When I was member of the Z Collective we did an adaptation of the novel. The play was written by Rick Hickman. So for the radio play I was working off of Rick's play, an adaptation of an adaptation. Most of the work was actually doing editing and sharpening of scenes.  I did a complete rewrite of one scene and then added old fashioned radio style introductions to most of the scene. My last play Wakefield; or, Hello Sophia was a different kind of adaptation, working from a short story by Nathaniel Hawthorne. With that adaptation I picked up where Hawthorne left off, imagining the possibility of the next set of events. One thing you get with adapting is a set of givens: the setting, the characters (and some of their back story), the plot etc. It's different for me in that I have a kind of distance from the characters as opposed to ones that come from my own imagination. It's not a bad distance, in some ways it's very useful, an objective kind of detachment. And you get the plot, which I hate hate hate, so that's always a bit of relief to me.


PF:  As a writer who has explored multiple forms of performance, can we expect In the Deep, Not so Deep to incorporate any of that?

BT:  I think working with Stephen has made me more aware of how a play moves and In the Deep reflects some of that, moving very quickly from one location to another with a kind of theatrical plasticity (thank you Marisela for that wonderful word!).  And their's a trio in the play that sing songs, play all the minor characters and create the soundscape for the play (like foley artists).  I think that comes from working in different forms and an interest I've had recently in opening up the theatrical trunk and playing with all different kinds of strategies and gestures.  I mean some one speaking with a thick french accent is funny right?

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