by Martin Denton · December 15, 2015
RUNNING INTERFERENCE deals with a very timely and important topic—i.e., the grave injuries sustained by football players and the impact these can have on their lives. What made you decide to write about this? Why did you decide this was a play rather than a movie or a tv show, etc.?
The play centers around a character who is battling the long term eﬀects of multiple concussions, know as CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy). As of today, there is no way to diagnose someone definitively with CTE until they have passed away and an autopsy is performed on their brain. We thought that telling a story about someone going through the symptoms of CTE (memory loss, diﬃculty with speech, dependence on medication to manage pain) and trying to hide it would be interesting.
When we got to talking about football and what kind of football player we would want to base the story around, the idea of a helmet radio (an earpiece inside of the quarterback’s helmet in which a coach on the sidelines can communicate with him) would be an interesting thing to explore. We wrote a character named “Coach” that is a voiceover that only our main character can hear. There is something very theatrical about one person hearing something that none of the other characters can hear. And the immediacy of the voiceover being in the same room with an audience is very satisfying.
Ashley, you have a long resume as a director and stage manager; and Eric has spent much of his career acting on stage and TV. What brought you each to playwriting?
Most of the work Ashley has done as a director has included helping playwrights develop new plays. And almost everything that Eric has been a part of as an actor has been a new piece of theatre….We are both very passionate about new work for the theatre.
We’d worked together as writers a few years ago on an interesting project that Ashley thought up: 10 diﬀerent people all wrote scenes for the same play during Hurricane Sandy. No one could begin their work until the person before them,
chronologically, had finished. It was like a relay race of playwriting. We both had a great time with that, so we kept working together.
How did you two meet, and what made you decide to work together?
We met in 2009 during a developmental workshop for a musical that Ars Nova eventually produced called BLOODSONG OF LOVE. Eric was an actor in the piece and Ashley was the assistant stage manager. We liked working together and became good friends.
About two years later, Ashley got an original idea of her’s into Ars Nova’s 2011 ANT FEST called BEYOND THE iCHATTER. Ashley asked Eric to write a short scene for the piece. During that process Eric had talked to Ashley about how he loved writing and wanted to do more of it. When the idea came to Ashley about putting together a play about an athlete with CTE, she immediately thought of Eric because she also knew he was a sports fan. Early research included a lot of Eric making Ashley watch football.
I am very curious about how two people collaborate to make a play together. Do you outline the piece first together, and then go oﬀ and write separately? Do you work together in a room and riﬀ oﬀ each other? Something else? What’s the collaborative process like? Who makes the final decisions about what to keep and what to delete?
There were many phases of our collaboration. It took us awhile to find a way that worked best for us. At first we would both be in the same room or on Skype together, and we would open up a Google Doc and just start writing the same scene together. Eventually we figured out that if we were very specific about an outline and what we wanted to accomplish in every scene, we could then each write entire scenes on our own and let the other person edit it. Of course, once we were in rehearsal it changed and became all about what felt best with each particular actor and the story as a whole.
Neither of us had a final say, if someone had a better idea we would fight it out and reason would usually prevail. Thankfully the person with the better idea always won because they knew their idea was better, and they wouldn’t give up.
What has been the reaction to the play so far? Have you had any folks in your audiences who have
suffered injuries similar to what Ryan experienced in your play?
The best thing that has happened is that our play has made people aware and tuned into the issue of athletes and CTE. We both received a lot of emails from people who had seen our play and then read an article or seen a documentary about CTE. We felt that, in some small way at least, we were able to shine a light on an important issue.