When have you worked with the director, Beth Schachter, in the past?
Beth directed a fantastic production of my play Monkey in the Middle at Muhlenberg a few years ago. I first knew of Beth’s work from BACA downtown, this groovy Brooklyn theatre, where she had done one of Suzan Lori Parks’ plays. Then she had also worked with my friend and colleague the British Director Mark Wing Davey on a production of Mad Forest by the brilliant playwright Caryl Churchill. Beth was doing the kind of theatre that I admired, and she was working with theatre artists who had political and aesthetic chops—this interested me! So when she wanted to direct Monkey I was very happy about it—and then when I saw her production of Monkey at Muhlenberg and was really blown away.
How long has this play been in the works?
The amount of time that it takes to write something is a mystery. Especially as a playwright—the process needs both structured and unstructured time. The structured time involves developmental workshops and readings. I think I first told Beth of my idea for the play four years ago and we’ve been talking ever since. Theatre is so collaborative and a large part of making plays is finding simpatico souls. Beth has served as the dramaturg and director on all of the developmental workshops. We did a reading at Minneapolis PlayLabs, then a residence at Bard College, a workshop at Muhlenberg, then a workshop at the Blank Theatre in Los Angeles. We’ve also had readings over the years involving Muhlenberg Alumni as well – the cast in LA at the Blank involved several alumni.
How has it evolved?
It has morphed radically—it went through a very attenuated phase, then it got a bit bloated. I tend to underwrite then to overwrite. I write from Character and Idea, not from traditional narrative ideas. Yet, I am interested in the depiction of character that is based on verisimilitude, so the writing of this play in particular involved many layers.
What was the genesis of the play?
The play was inspired by my move to Hollywood from Cambridge, MA. I moved from a place where people walk around reading books—they are actually often READING while WALKING—to a place where there was no evidence of that kind of immersion in words, in language. Indeed, it was all about the surface, the image, and in my new neighborhood there were lots of guys hanging around. I thought they were dealers, but it turned out that they were paparazzi. I started talking with them, and I started to have sympathy for these people who are an underclass in Los Angeles—they are considered bottom-feeders.
What is the significance, for you, of the protagonist being a photographer? How does that relate to his difficulties in communicating?
There is a tension between the Written and the Seen that this play addresses especially through the character of Jack Riley.
What is significant for you about the late ’70s, as a setting for the play?
Jack Riley is a photojournalist who had worked in Vietnam, and so the timing was crucial. I also wanted to place it in a time and place where photography was less sophisticated as a medium. In our time, the time of the “citizen-journalist,” many of the issues are more pointed. There is probably another play to be written that will follow the daughter into her career and life as a photographer.
What has the production process been like for this show? How has it been to work with the cast? Have their insights informed the development of the play in any way?
There’s this question that writers often get asked—“Who do you write for?” Gertrude Stein famously said she wrote for herself and strangers. I write for actors. I love working with actors. I have so much respect for their capacity to posit themselves into another character—the generosity and the magnitude of that act is astonishing to me. The ability to visit Muhlenberg and to sit in on rehearsals was truly helpful. The epilogue of the play was re-written due to specific ideas from watching the rehearsal process. I also love working with designers, and seeing the permutations and ideas that the designers bring to the table is fascinating.
The Bourgeois Pig runs Nov. 28 - Dec. 2 in the Studio Theatre. Tickets are $15 general admission, and $8 for youth and Muhlenberg or LVAIC students. Order Online at http://bit.ly/TbHsL9 or by phone at 484.664.3333.