Thursday, April 15, 2010

Interview with a Playwright: Tanya Shaffer

1) Where do you most often find inspiration?
The inspiration for most of my major projects has come from international travel. For me, the richness of entering into another culture is fascinating because it shows me alternatives to even the most basic ways of viewing the world which we take for granted. It shakes up my worldview and puts everything in perspective. Within that framework, the inspiration comes from individuals I’ve met in my travels and the dynamics of the relationships that have sprung up between us.
Apart from travel, I’ve drawn inspiration from my own relationships and from political/historical figures and events which I find inspiring. I work very slowly, so it takes a long time for an idea to germinate. I am currently working on a piece inspired by the life of the Buddha, which percolated in my head for about five years before I actually started working on it. With a subject as big as that, it took a long time to figure out what perspective I could bring to it that would be uniquely my own.

2) What one tip can you offer aspiring playwrights? 
Write rather than thinking about writing. Find groups of people, ideally fellow writers, whom you can go to regularly for feedback and support. Form relationships with local theatre companies to the greatest extent possible. And produce your work. If no one will produce it for you, figure out how to produce it yourself, even if it’s on a shoestring, even if it’s just a few performances. Plays need to be performed. You learn so much by getting things up on their feet, and learning that you can produce your own work is tremendously empowering.

3) How did you get your start in playwriting? Where and when was this seed planted?
My parents took me to see a lot of theatre when I was growing up. I acted in my first show when I was eight, and pretty much didn’t stop for the next twenty-five years. I also wrote regularly in my journal since early childhood. At age nine, I wrote in my journal, “I want to be an actor and a writer on the side.” It wasn’t until my last year of college, though, that I started putting theatre and writing together, initially in the form of a solo show. I toured my first solo show for a couple of years right out of college. Then I went on a trip to Central America, and when I started to write a solo show about it I quickly discovered that it didn’t want to be a solo show – it wanted to be a multi-actor play. Now that I’m a mom of two young kids I don’t act much anymore, and the writing has taken center stage, career-wise. I find that very satisfying.

4)What was your most embarrassing high school moment?
I swear to you I don’t remember.

5)Beckett or Stoppard? One word only please.

Tanya Shaffer's [Incoming Resident 09/10] plays and original solo performances include Baby Taj, Let My Enemy Live Long!, Brigadista, Miss America’s Daughters, and The People in the Park. Her work has been produced by TheatreWorks...

To read more about Tanya, visit the PF website at

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