Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Interview with Deirdre O'Connor

New York City playwright Deirdre O'Connor is coming to the Bay Area this May to workshop her new play Assisted Living as part of our in the ROUGH series. PF Associate Artistic Director Jonathan Spector spoke with O'Connor about her career and Assisted Living.

Jonathan Spector: Your play Jailbait recently finished a run at the Cherry Lane in New York. The play was developed through the Cherry Lane Mentor Project and then went on to full production. What about that development model did you find useful as you were working on the play?

Deirdre O'Connor: The best part of the Mentor Project was getting to know my mentor, Michael Weller, who is an exceptionally talented writer, and a very generous person. Michael encouraged me to take great care with the revisions of Jailbait and to spend a lot of time listening to the play both in rehearsal with the actors and in the theatre with the audience. When we put up the workshop production of Jailbait last year, I was shocked by how much I learned about the play sitting in the back row of the theatre listening to the audience respond. I made the strongest revisions to the play after that workshop production, and as a result Jailbait was a much richer play going into the full production this year.

JS: You've been developing Assisted Living this year at the Lark's Playwrights Workshop, and it will have it's first public reading next on the in the ROUGH Series. What was your jumping off point for this play?

DO: Assisted Living is about Jimmy and Jane, a brother and sister whose relationship begins to unravel because of the difficulty of caring for their aging mother. I have always been fascinated by the relationship between adult siblings. I think that our roles within our families are defined at a pretty young age. We are told who is the smart one, the goody two shoes, the troublemaker, etc. And no matter how we may change as we grow older, we often see our siblings only in those childhood roles. With Assisted Living, I really wanted to explore two siblings who think they know each other, but are forced to look at each other anew.

JS: Whose work among your playwriting peers are you most excited about at the moment?

DO: After spending the past seven months in the Lark Playwrights Workshop and getting to know Lisa Kron, Sam Hunter and Thomas Bradshaw I would have to say that I’m currently most excited by their work. We all have very different approaches to playwriting, but I have found our differences to be both challenging and inspiring. It’s been amazing to encounter their unique voices and see their plays slowly come to life week by week.

JS: What's up next for you?

DO: Well, I still feel that I’m pretty early on in the process of developing Assisted Living. I’m really looking forward to hearing it in front of the audiences because I’m sure I’m going to discover a great deal about the play through that experience. And on top of that I’ve got my hands full writing about robots and aliens for the children’s television show, The Electric Company.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Interview with Thomas Bradshaw

New York City playwright Thomas Bradshaw is coming to the Bay Area this April to workshop his new play Job as part of our in the ROUGH series. He'll also be teaching a class, Provocative Playwriting in our New Play Institute. PF Associate Artistic Director Jonathan Spector spoke with Bradshaw about his career and his goals as a writer.

JONATHAN SPECTOR: You've garnered a reputation over the past few years as a "provocateur" playwright, with characters who behave in shocking, outrageous ways. For instance in PROPHET a character gets a message from God telling him to enslave women, and he attempts to follow through, or in PURITY, two professors travel to Ecuador and "rent" a 9 year-old girl. Yet no matter how terrible the actions of characters in your plays, you never seem to pass judgment on them. How do you approach creating characters with such extreme moral stances?

THOMAS BRADSHAW: First of all the issues that I'm dealing with are part of the landscape of our world. We had a president for eight years that claimed that god told him to do things, including going into Iraq, then on the flip side, we have people who want to blow up the western world in the name of god.

So yes, one might say that my characters behave in shocking, outrageous ways, but I would say that they're frighteningly real.The involuntary prostitution of young girls, teenagers, and women is our modern form of slavery. It wouldn't be a problem if there weren't a high demand for it. Look at the show “To Catch A Predator.” It shows men trying to have sex with young girls and boys by the drove — and the people who were caught engaging in this behavior were rabbis, policeman, priests, doctors, lawyers and teachers. My plays deal forthrightly with serious issues that many people don't care to face. I categorize my plays as hyperrealism. They are like reality on crack — reality with out the boring parts.

Most plays make characters fit neatly into clear moral categories. This is pure artifice. No person is pure good or evil. Everyone fits somewhere in between. To stuff a character into a clear moral category is to make that character inhuman. I try to show the human side of characters that people might rather call monsters.

JS: Do you have an ideal audience in mind for your work?

TB: I think everyone should see my plays.

JS: You studied playwriting with Mac Wellman at Brooklyn college and collaborated a number of times with Young Jean Lee. How have they've influenced your work?

TB: I think we all have a desire to push the boundaries of what theater is and what theater can do.

JS: What's up next for you?

TB: My play The Bereaved is opening in New York at The Wild Project in September. I'm currently working on a commission from The Goodman Theater.