Monday, January 30, 2017

Theater Family Values with Playwright Lawrence Dial

"Theater is one of the odd professions where you can find an above average percentage of middle-age couples without kids, and it often seeps into what we eventually see on the stage."
Playwright 









What is your play DANNYKRISDONNAVERONICA about?

I wrote DKDV in response to two great plays I’d seen earlier that year: DETROIT by Lisa D’Amour, and THE REALISTIC JONESES by Will Eno.  Both plays featured two heterosexual couples coming together, becoming friends, and collectively dealing with life issues.  I loved each play, but upon introspection there was an obvious omission:  neither play even remotely mentioned children.  I thought ‘In what world could four married heterosexual couples throughout two different plays, each character in their mid to late thirties, not at some point when discussing various life issues, mention children?’  I know a lot of mid-thirties couples who do not have kids, but all of them mention it quite often, but lament that because of their choice to pursue theater, doubt they’ll never be financially stable enough to raise a family.  In truth, theater is one of the odd professions where you can find an above average percentage of middle-age couples without kids, and it often seeps into what we eventually see on the stage.

I have two children, and the premise for DKDV at first seemed very simple:  write a play with two married couples (a later draft nixed the heterosexual part) dealing with life issues while ALSO being parents.  I looked to DINNER WITH FRIENDS for inspiration, but didn’t relate to the class-level of that play (they’ve got a goddam summer house—who’s got a summer house?), and also, GOD OF CARNAGE, but felt uncomfortable with that play’s missing kindness I’d experienced from almost every parenting couple I’ve ever met.

So the formula for me was PARENTS + CHILDREN + LOWER/MIDDLE CLASS + KINDNESS = DANNYKRISDONNAVERONICA.  I added the setting of a Brooklyn Park, and then waited to see what happened.  If you’ve ever tried to write a play with kindness in mind, real quick you realize kindness and drama do not go together.  So I struggled for two years with it.  It was harder to write than I prefer.



How did you decide on the title?

Oh man, this is a long story I’ll try keep short, and not talk too much smack.  I had gone up to YALE to interview for their playwriting program, and the first interview with Jeanie O-hare went amazing; she seemed to like the play, and enjoyed that I was writing about parents and the difficulty of parenthood etc.  It was very encouraging.  I wasn’t entirely sure how I was going to move my family up to New Haven, have my wife quit her job, re-enroll my kids into another school etc… but she didn’t seem super fazed by this, and the interview ended positively.

Next, I met with Sarah Ruhl, and the entire experience was like slowly letting air out of a balloon.

She asked me important, but from my perspective, inappropriate questions:
What does your wife do for a living?
And I told her, and then somehow answering her own question she hadn’t yet asked, she responded with “Yeah, I married a doctor…”  The subtext was That’s how I survived.

I got the hint fast, and became a little gloomy, because Sarah’s got her own kids, and I had expected us to bond on this, for her to have loved my play about the difficulties of parenthood, but what she was showing me was she felt threatened somehow.  Or was just unable to disguise how doomed she believed I was.  Which I get, honestly.  Being a parent and a playwright and living in NY—it’s doom.  And most grad schools don’t want doom in their programs; they want diversity of voice, and ease.  They want the safest bets they can place, and a stay-at-home parent is not one of them.

But at some point Sarah says:  “Talk to me about your title.  What’s up with it?”  I tell her it’s called THROUGH THE TREES, which is part of the saying 'You can’t see the forest through the trees.' the idea being you’re too close to a thing to see what it actually is.  Which I thought was a wonderful metaphor for the conflicting emotions parenthood can inspire (there’s also a fallen tree in the play; wind through the trees etc.).

She shook her head slightly, nope.  “It’s doesn’t have the heart of your play in it.   It doesn’t capture what your play is about.”    Uh…  I mean, what do you say to that?  This is Sarah Ruhl telling a perspective grad student, a playwright who is so excited just to be sitting in New Haven even being considered for this program, that his title doesn’t work.

I’d like to say that I didn’t change the title from THROUGH THE TREES to DANNYKRISDONNAVERONICA entirely because of Sarah Ruhl (nevermind if it’s even a better or worse title or more fully captures the heart of the play), but she’s probably part of it.  I left the interview and bought a six-pack and rode the train home; I was not surprised when a three-sentence form-letter rejection showed up in my inbox a week later.  I think Sarah’s a great playwright, and I imagine an even better mother, but I can say with confidence she’s a reckless interviewer, and I can’t speak on her abilities as a teacher.



What was its development?

The first person to really believe in DKDV was Tessa LaNeve at Primary Stages.  I had been workshopping the play through ESPA with Julian Sheppard (who also liked it; a great teacher and playwright), and I later submitted it to ESPA’s drills program (twice actually; they rejected the first draft), and Tessa and Sarah and Miranda all liked it.  We took it up to Teresa Rebeck’s summer home (Teresa Rebeck has a summer home, that’s who) and workshopped it for a week.  Later, we did a very successful reading of it at the Duke, and a lot of people came to me afterwards and gushed about it, but no one wanted to produced it.   It’s a play about parents and kids, and Theater (with a  capital T), unfortunately, doesn’t really relate to that.  That is until Jeff Wise came around…

How did you hook up with Wheelhouse Theater Company?

Only three months ago I had another play up called IN THE ROOM, and we had cast Matt Harrington in the lead male role.  Matt’s a great actor, and a founding member of Wheelhouse Theater Company, who were looking for another producing credit, and we were glad to have them onboard.  Near the end of the run on the show, Jeff Wise (one of Wheelhouse’s Artistic Directors) came to me and asked if I had any other plays he could consider for production.  At the time I didn’t realize that Jeff was a stay-at-home father to three kids, and skeptically I forwarded him DKDV, not really thinking he’d be very interested in it; it’s very different than IN THE ROOM.  But he read it and love it, and I encouraged him to direct the production based on his presence during IN THE ROOM, and the insight he could bring to these characters I’d written.  I’m not sure anyone else could have seen what I was going for with this play, other than Jeff.

What is your writing schedule?

When I’m working on a project I’m writing six days a week, and I’m usually working on something. Only when I’ve got a play in production do I slow down.  Or between projects sometimes.  But generally, more than anything, I enjoy writing and love getting lost in it.



How do you organize yourself?

Kids do it for you.  It becomes very easy to see what little time you have available after you have children.  You can look at your day and see the exact time you have to write, and that’s useful because you know if you don’t do it right then, it won’t happen until the next day.  With DKDV (roughly four years ago) both my kids were home with me all day, and I was writing only about 45 minutes or maybe an hour and half each day.  So it took a while, around two years.  I remember lamenting this to Stephen Guirgis, and he told me he had a buddy who wrote a whole novel at only one hour per day. And sometimes, that’s really useful.  When you can’t move too fast, it forces you to slow down and think about each interaction with great detail.  But you can also get bogged-down this way, and stop seeing the bigger picture of what you’re writing.   So you have to find the right balance.



Who inspires you?

I think I value perseverance over talent or success.  I enjoy my friends' work the most.  I’m inspired by the off-off Broadway plays that mostly go unnoticed by the big names out there.  Struggle inspires me, I think.

What's next?

I HAVE TO WRITE A TELEVISION PILOT.  There’s no way I can sustain playwriting and a family without another income, and my waiter job is killing me.  So this year I’m focusing on TV.  And maybe a play about a climbing gym.  Or a driverless car.

Anything you'd like to add?

I didn’t get to mention Padraic Lillis; he helped me a lot with the first draft of this play.  I can sit in the audience tonight and hear some lines and remember some things Pad had suggested during one of his writing classes.  Pad’s a great teacher, if you see a writing class of his out there, sign up.  Also, check out my website.  Most of my plays are on there:  lawrencedial.com

Production Photo Credits: Steve Fallon

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Baby Mama: Mariah MacCarthy's Bold Journey Into the Heart

 “You’re gonna cry, you're gonna have a good time, and you’re also gonna feel things and maybe call your mom."
-Mariah MacCarthy
playwright, performer & producer


The Award-winning Baby Mama: One Woman’s Quest to Give Her Child to Gay People tracks Mariah MacCarthy's true-to-life adoption journey, from accidental conception to the placement of her child with the gay couple of her dreams. All the while MacCarthy manages to live her life, date, and even attend the occasional orgy. 

What made you decide to write and perform this show?

Diana Oh. I saw her first solo show, Diana Oh Is Going Rogue, at IRT (where Baby Mama is happening!) in 2013 - about six months after I'd had my son. (She also makes a number of appearances in Baby Mama, as "Didi.") For most of my life, pretty much anytime I'd seen a solo show, I'd always thought, "This would be better as a traditional play with characters played by different actors who talk to each other." The only exceptions were Mike Daisey's work and I Am My Own Wife. But with Diana's show, I saw, "Oh. The medium IS the message, and she is her own medium." I saw how simple a solo show could be: just tell your story and be honest and open.

I also talk a great deal in the show about feeling profoundly alone with this experience, because no one around me knew what I was going through and despite the incredible love and support I was shown, it was still really isolating. I feel like this show is the closest that I can come to making people really know what it was like for me. And a huge part of that is that they're looking at the person who went through it - that it's a true story.

Many people may know you as a playwright primarily. Do you have performance/acting in your background?

Not to brag, but I won "Best Actress" my senior year of high school for playing Frenchy in Grease, so you're looking at a pro here. Actually, that was the last time I performed something longer than ten minutes; I did The Vagina Monologues and some scene study in college, and occasionally I'll get onstage and rap about vegetarian girls or do some burlesque, but I didn't really get back into acting until Baby Mama. And now that I'm here, I've got even more respect for actors than I already did. This shit is exhausting.

What has been the biggest challenge/obstacle in creating this piece?
- also, in performing it?

Talking for that long. Seriously. Try it sometime. Your tongue dries out. Honestly, writing it was the easiest part, because I have very little filter as it is, and I don't mind writing down the words "and then I went to an orgy" or "then I cried for a month" or whatever. Performing it is infinitely harder. I've got to, like, stop eating pizza for a month and not drink alcohol and be very very conscious about every single thing I do to my body. I can't believe that actors have the willpower to live this way all the time.

What has been the unexpected rewards in both?

Hearing a whole audience sniffle in unison. God, it's the beeeessssstttt. Or the stories I get afterwards. "You made me want to find my birth mother." "I would've had a kid by now if I'd had the money; thank you for talking about the financial aspect of this." "I lost custody of my daughter in the divorce and I felt just like that." People respond to heart-opening with heart-opening and it's really really moving.

You recently launched your Patreon profile. Tell us a little about that.

Patreon is amazing! Patreon is the future! For those who don't know what Patreon is, it basically takes the crowdfunding model of Kickstarter or Indiegogo and makes it ongoing and sustainable. So people sign up to support you on a monthly basis (or sometimes per thing that you make, per song or per video or whatever). Right now I've got 55 patrons and I'm getting $167/month from them, or $2000/year. In exchange, they're getting Cool Insider Shit. Behind-the-scenes photos and videos, exclusive pictures of my cat, postcards in the mail, deleted scenes or works-in-progress, and if you pledge $10/month or more you get a video of me singing a song of your choosing. They're supporting me because they believe in me and they want me to keep Making All the Things. It's also a way to circumvent the antiquated, gatekeeper-guarded, not-remotely-artist-centered venues and structures for Making Things. Go straight to the people who want to see you succeed, rather than keep competing with a million people fighting for the same, like, ten opportunities. It's way more efficient and way more connected.



This was something I wanted to start for years before I did, and part of why it took me so long to start was because I couldn't see how the platform could work for playwrights. How do you create an online, virtual support system (and reward patrons appropriately) with an art form that is so stubbornly and relentlessly live? Only once I started really spending a lot of time on forms of writing other than theater - namely, fiction and nonfiction - did I feel like, OK, it makes sense to ask for pledges for this. Here are some forms of writing I can share with my patrons that aren't, like, paling in comparison to the way it's actually supposed to be consumed. I do think that Patreon would be a fantastic platform for theater companies who make work on a more consistent basis than mine does. Like, I think Flux Theatre Ensemble is a prime candidate for Patreon. Talk to me, Flux!

(And if you wanna support me on Patreon and be part of the revolution, you can do so here!)

Who are your inspirations?

Taylor Mac. Amanda Palmer. Monica Byrne. Diana Oh. Leta Tremblay. Jody Christopherson. Leah Nanako Winkler. Kevin R. Free. Naomi Elizabeth. Jen Dziura, Daniella LaPorte. Stoya. My son. His parents. Social workers and nurses. The Obamas.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

I'll be 35, my cat will be nearly 6, and my son will be NINE OH MY GOD. I hope the answer is
"financially stable, traveling a lot, and doing only the things I want to do," but I have no idea. Anything between "famous show runner" and "still temping" is possible. I just did a "Plan Your 2017" worksheet thingie, and it looks like last year I did approximately half the things I wanted to do, so if I keep up that rate of success I'm probably in really great shape!

How do you organize your days since you run a theater company, are writing a YA book, performing and the myriad of other things you're doing?

It's SOOOOO HAAARRRRRD. Champagne problems, for sure. I no longer have a "day job"; I quit a year ago and now I'm freelance full-time, working from home, 100% my own boss. It's AMAZING. It's exactly what I want. But it's SO HARD. It's hard to prioritize, it's hard to keep all the balls in the air, it's hard not to get bogged down with busywork. I have a project management app (Asana) which I just use as a to-do list. And I use the "snooze" function in Google Inbox a lot, so emails come back when I need them instead of just sitting in my inbox staring at me and taking up valuable space. But, I don't really "organize" my days, I just wake up and start flailing around. I have an amazing daily planner and I'm just not using it at all. I really do want to get organized. I did a time-tracker spreadsheet yesterday, tracking how I was spending my time every fifteen minutes. It definitely helped me see where I was wasting time. There was too much Facebook on that spreadsheet.

What's next?

Right after we finish the NYC run, Baby Mama is heading to Cincinnati for a couple performances. Then my YA novel, Squad (about a cheerleader whose relationship with her best friend falls apart), is due to the publishers on March 15th, so I'll be spending February in a mad dash to get that done. I'm also taking Baby Mama to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August. No idea what's happening in between. It depends on a lot of things that are out of my control. Which is actually fine with me because then I don't have to do anything until I know. I'm all about having fewer things to do right now.

Anything you'd like to add?

I love my son. I love my community. I love you.

Baby Mama: One Woman’s Quest to Give Her Child to Gay People is produced by Caps Lock Theatre and Jack Sharkey and directed by Sara Lyons. It runs through January 29th at IRT Theater located at 154 Christopher Street, 3rd Floor Theater. For more information and tickets, go here.