by Martin Denton · October 20, 2015
You seem to pursue a lot of different creative endeavors: you’ve been an actor and a standup comic and you’re a HuffPo blogger as well as a playwright. How did you get involved with playwriting? How does it fit into your overall career landscape – are you planning to do more playwriting, or is one of these other activities more in the forefront for you at this time?
Well, I was also writing prose and getting some of that published so I think playwriting was a natural convergence of all those different fields--stage acting, writing, comedy... also storytelling. I guess I never felt totally right or fulfilled doing any one of those. I'd do stand-up but then the sappy, sensitive writer in me would pull me off the stage, so I'd write but then the smart-ass in me would yearn to get in front of a mic. But it's not something I had planned or ever thought I would do.
I am working on a new play that is combining two topical themes--politics and the Black Lives Matter movement.
How do you write your plays? Please talk about both the mechanical aspects (do you write on a computer, with paper and pencil, on little note cards?) and also about the more abstract aspects (where do you seek/find inspiration, do you outline the plays or do the characters just appear to you, etc.?).
I carried notepads with me on the subway. Now I use a writing program called Scrivener which is like virtual note cards and it lets you break down your work by scenes and characters. I also use Simplenote, which is like an online notebook.
As for the process, I decide on the ending as quickly as possible, because structure and discipline are my weak points. When I wrote THE EGG PROGECT, the last line of the play was one of the first lines I came up with. Also I figure out what the dramatic premise is right away. Like, in this case, "running away from your issues will make them come back in a scarier form." I like what Jeffrey Seller (producer, Rent, Avenue Q) says: "Give me a major dramatic question in the first ten minutes that's going to sustain me through the end of the show."
Diversity and parity are important topics in the world of theater this days. How important is diversity to you in the creation and production of your own work? How important is it in the theater you see and enjoy and are inspired by?
Oh, believe it or not, I consciously decided to write smart, complex female characters who were over 40 into my play. I hope I succeeded. I think it passes the Bechdel test, as much as a play about a man can. But what I'm proud of is that I think the female characters in EGG are much more interesting than the male ones. And my next play is about black female characters.
I remember in the 80s when Alice Walker took heat for her portrayal of black men in The Color Purple, she was right to say she could portray men however she wanted according to her experiences. But I think the problem is not the presence of negative black characters in movies and plays and literature but the absence of positive ones. Or at least, complex ones. As a writer, I can use that for inspiration. Take the character you wrote for a man and give him boobs. Make her black. Make them queer. Make him old. Serve the community and your imagination at the same time.
How did THE EGG PROGECT come to be written? What inspired you to write the piece? What was the writing/development process like? How has the piece evolved from the original Dixon Place production?
The plot came from a nightmare. I had a dream that my father created a baby for me with my DNA. I thought it was an interesting premise because I knew what the dream was about, what it meant.
The play changed an awful lot over its development, especially the last act. The first two acts is revelation after revelation. The third act is about how those revelations unravel the characters--and that changed a lot. That unraveling had to be as absurd and dramatic as the revelations and yet at the same time real. The readings and productions showed me how that regression could be taken further and deeper, both in terms of the writing and the physical performance.
Why is it a PROGECT rather than a PROJECT?
Well...it's a project gone wrong. I think it goes well with the weirdness of the play, and the insertion of one wrong letter in the word is kind of like the insertion of a wrong/alien segment of DNA.
Did you write the role of Marty specifically to act yourself? If not, what made you decide to play him? What do you like about Marty and what don’t you like about him? If another actor were to tackle the role, what advice would you give him?
Yeah, I did write the role for myself. But I think it's a natural phenomenon that writers write plays with at least one character, and usually the main character, who is an extension of themselves in some way. Every play has a role in it that the writer would be perfect for.
I like Marty's affection for his strange and overly dramatic mother. I think I would tell another actor to let us see that love underneath the resentment. There's a lot wrong with Marty. He thinks he can run away from himself, from what he perceives as the baggage he was saddled with. But he learns to take ownership of it and hopefully let go.