Thursday, July 17, 2014

Interview with a Playwright: Rob Melrose

Our final playwright to be interviewed is the fabulous Rob Melrose, artistic director of The Cutting Ball Theater -- and not really the 'playwright' but rather adaptor, book writer, librettist, as if that's not enough!  He makes his writing debut at the Bay Area Playwrights Festival with his truly hilarious, trip-hop musical, Ozma of Oz.
Rob Melrose

Natasha Brown: Thanks for letting me interview you! First question, is your style distinct or does is change depending on the play?

Rob Melrose:  I always gravitate towards projects with lots of imagination so in that way I’m consistent. However, the ways in which I’m creative are very different depending on whether I’m directing, translating or adapting a text. Each project has its own place and style.

NB: That makes sense. How did this piece came into being?

RM: The idea of doing something with Z.O.N.K. and the book Ozma of Oz came to me when I was directing Happy Days at the Guthrie Theater.  Downstairs they were presenting a new musical version of Little House on the Prairie.  People from all over the state of Minnesota came to see this book brought to life on stage.  And, I asked myself, if this is the Minnesotan Regional Theater way of reaching new audiences, what is the San Francisco Experimental Theater version? At the same time, I was reading all of the Wizard of Oz books to my daughter.  Ozma of Oz plays on identity and I thought about  San Francisco, I found my version.   

San Franciscans

NB: Yep, San Francisco is a pretty great place. I am interested in how the play explores themes of gender and sexuality through the structure of a children’s story. Can you tell me more about why you chose to take that route?
RM: Ozma was born a woman but grew up thinking she was a boy called Tip. Only later does Tip realize that he’s really a girl; Princess Langwidere has 30 different heads that she switches between, and it is clear that there is a sense of attraction between Dorothy and Ozma.  As a musical, we have found ways to highlight those already existing themes in this new context.

NB: Why do you think trip-hop as a musical style was best for this other than typical show tunes?

RM: I grew up really liking West Side Story, Grease and A Chorus Line, but the music of contemporary musicals generally isn’t a sound that I enjoy, so I stopped liking musicals all that much. However,  I loved the idea of U2 writing music for Spiderman the musical and a collaboration between popular music and the musical genre was exciting. My good friend Dave L has a band called Z.O.N.K. that produces trip-hop music, and I just knew that I had to get them to write the music to Ozma.


NB: Do you think audiences outside of the Bay Area will be as receptive as San Francisco to this musical?

RM: I was a little worried that maybe we’ve gone too far, but at a reading of the play last December these two guys from the International Oz Society came and they loved it. Then there's Lady Gaga and Kesha. Both artists are very open about their sexuality so, while a lot of the themes are very “San Francisco”, they’re actually national and international issues in pop culture that speaks to the evolving identity of a new generation. 

NB: Yeah, I've definitely noticed that a lot more in the last few years. Okay, last question; whose work would you recommend for emerging writers to study?

RM:  Well, I’ve got to say Shakespeare for sure.
People would say of Joseph Papp, founder of the New York Shakespeare Festival, that one of the reasons he was so good at working on new plays is because he had Shakespeare’s plays at the back of his mind all the time. I also love Suzan-Lori Parks and I’ve done a lot of her plays. She just has it all – a great sense of language that is risky and daring, an incredible sense of character. She’s a big hero of mine. I love Beckett but he can be incredibly daunting and sort of unapproachable. A person we don’t give a lot of credit or time to is Ionesco. He was such a playful writer and starts every play with a big imaginative leap and goes from there. I wish more people today were influenced by him because I think he’s wonderful.

NB: Thanks, Rob!

Ozma of Oz is showing on July 19th at 12pm and July 25th at 8pm. Get your tickets here!

The Bay Area Playwrights Festival gives voice to emerging and established playwrights who are pushing boundaries and have the potential to shape the future of American theater and culture. The festival runs from July 18-27. Click here for the calendar and special event details for the whole festival. 

*Edited for content on July 18th 2014.


No comments: